For a country that ditched monarchical rule, America has some of the most intriguing "castles" in the world.
OK, maybe not castles in the classic sense.
To visit a fortress where ancient monarchs slept on stone pillows and knights bickered about grails, you'll still have to fly across the pond.
But for a different sort of castle -- the kind redefined by Gilded Age names such as Vanderbilt and Ringling, by proud Polynesian monarchs or by the occasional heartbroken Latvian-Floridian stonemason -- the United States is home to a melting pot of historic domiciles that would blow an 11th-century Scottish king's mind.
Here we crown seven favorites whose gates are open to gaping plebeians.
King of Cottages: The Breakers (Newport, R.I.)
Story: In 1893 Cornelius Vanderbilt II, heir to the New York Central Railroad, commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to design this palatial summer home inspired by 16th-century Genoan palazzos.
The largest and grandest of Newport's famous "cottages" (colossal leisure homes erected by America's turn-of-the-century baron class), the Breakers was created in just a few years by a team of 2,500 craftsmen from around the world.
Specs: Located on a 13-acre cliff-side estate overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the 70-room house covers 126,000 square feet from attic to basement to mezzanine.
Standout rooms include a 22-carat gold-leaf-adorned Great Hall stretching 50 feet in every direction (including overhead) and a two-story, alabaster-columned dining room featuring enormous Baccarat crystal chandeliers and a table for 32.
Stopping by: Now in the hands of the Preservation Society of Newport County, the Breakers is one of the five most-visited homes in the country. One-hour audio tours cover about 20 rooms on the first and second floors.
The Breakers, 424 Bellevue Ave., Newport, R.I.; +1 401 847 1000; admission $19.50
Little Brother Complex: Biltmore (Asheville, N.C.)
Story: George Washington Vanderbilt II clearly had bigger ideas than simply one-upping older sibling Cornelius (of the Breakers) with this massive, 1890s French chateau plunked on the edge of North Carolina's Smoky Mountains.
But when you use the same architect to dwarf your big brother's Newport fortress, there's probably some family competition etched into the blueprints.
Specs: America's largest privately owned residence occupies 175,000 square feet (or more than four acres) of floor space -- with 250 rooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, three kitchens, an indoor swimming pool, gymnasium and a bowling alley in the basement.
Estate holdings include original Renoir paintings, Napoleon's chess set, a 25,000-volume library and a pair of John Singer Sargent portraits of the Hunt and Biltmore landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted, the man behind New York's Central Park.
Stopping by: The 8,000-acre estate receives more than a million annual guests.
Five specialty tours of the house include a "behind the scenes" glimpse at some of its lesser-visited areas -- including the butler's pantry and Biltmore's catacomb-like sub-basement. Private bus rides through the property are also available.
Biltmore, One Lodge St., Asheville, N.C.; +1 800 411 3812; admission varies seasonally from $44 to $69
Forlorn Fortress: Coral Castle (Miami)
Story: Heartbroken 26-year-old Edward Leedskalnin would never love another woman after 16-year-old Agnes Scuffs broke off their engagement a day before their wedding.
Over the next 28 years, the eccentric Latvian-American artisan would -- as a testimony to lost love, it's been said -- dedicate his life to single-handedly sculpting a massive castellated compound comprised of locally harvested coral rock.
Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the place has been called "America's Stonehenge" and still leaves engineers wondering how a short, 100-pound fellow with a fourth grade education did all this using homemade hand tools and unrequited love.
Spect: Within its eight-foot-high, three-foot-thick walls, Coral Castle uses approximately 1,100 tons of coral rock -- including a stone sculpture garden with Flintstones-style furniture (500-pound rocking chairs that work), a nine-ton gate that moves with ease and a home-carved Polaris telescope.