Once Upon a Castle in Segovia

This is our third year in Europe and it was not until a recent visit to Madrid and Segovia with some of our high school students that I finally came to understand the difference between a palace and a castle. (Please keep in mind that both castles and places are in short supply in my native Canada.) So here’s my take on the castle/palace difference. Both are massive homes for Very Important Peope including monarchs and their courts. A castle, however, is also a fortress, often situated on a hill. A castle, by design, is scrappy and ready to defend itself against the enemy. A palace is simply a grand residence, a lovely home for the King and Queen. A palace offers up thick slices of leisure time and decadent treats like bon-bons… a la Versailles or the Royal Place in Madrid. If I found myself shopping for a new home, I’d take a palace for sheer comfort and sumptuous style. (I acknowledge that the lack of central heating might be problematic. More tapestries!). When it comes to guided tours, however, I am game for both palaces and castles.

These photos were taken inside the Alcazar of Segovia (literally Segovia’s Castle) which rises out of a rocky crag where the Eresman meets the Clamores River about an hour from Madrid. The Alacazar is famous for its shape; from a distance it looks like the bow of a ship. Originally built as an Arab fortress, the first reference to the Alcazar was in 1120, 32 years after the city was taken back by the Christians. It has served as a royal palace, a prison, a Royal Artillery College and a military academy. The suits of armour made the kids positively giddy and it proved challenging for them to focus on what our guide was saying. He provided them with a photo break and we spent five frenzied minutes taking photos of each other posing beside our favourite knights.

Which do your prefer? Palace or castle… and why?


  1. If I had to choose a palace or a castle to live in, I'd prefer a castle. I like the 'earthiness' of castles.Did you go to the top of the castle? I was oh-so-tired when I visited but I did make the climb – so glad I did. (I took some really great photos that I'll have to go look at now!) Spectacular views all around!

  2. Hi Kiki!I did make it up to the top of the castle – we all did. The view was just amazing! My photos are just so-so but my memories of it are still fresh. I could actually see the Alcazar – all lit up at night – from my hotel window.

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