A trip to Germany is never complete without one (or more) visits to a historic castle. The country is home to thousands of burgs and palaces, each with its unique design, setting, and experience.
On a recent trip to Deutschland, I had the opportunity to explore seven popular German castles. Here’s how I’d rank them in order and what I loved most about each.
7. Rheinfels Castle
Driving or sailing along the Rhine is a dream come true for castle lovers. Dotted along the riverbanks are countless fortresses, and in St. Goar, you’ll find the ruins of Rheinfels Castle, which was built in 1245.
Rheinfels was one of the strongest castles along the Rhine in its prime. Its size and hardy construction helped it survive multiple sieges throughout the years until it slowly started crumbling after the Thirty Years’ War.
Today, visitors can walk or shuttle from St. Goar to the castle. Step back in time as you explore the ruins for yourself, discovering mini alcoves and underground mine passages. You’ll also have a beautiful view of the Rhine River from the castle walls.
Why I love this castle? Although the fortress is technically in ruins, the foundation, some walls, and rooms are fairly intact. Exploring the castle complex on your own is a fun way to learn and experience the past.
6. Hohenschwangau Castle
The first castle was built during the 12th century but fell into ruins. In 1832, King Maximilian II (father to King Ludwig II) acquired the land and remnants of Hohenschwangau and ordered the palace to be rebuilt using the original floorplans and Gothic design. The castle became a beloved summer home for the Bavarian royal family.
Guided tours are available throughout the year, with tickets available online to book in advance. However, if you’re only interested in exploring the castle gardens, you can do so without purchasing a ticket.
Why I love this castle? The castle overlooks Alpsee Lake, features yellow-tinted stone, water fountains, and romantic gardens. A visit to the castle grounds feels like stepping into a fairytale.
Travel tip: Save money when you purchase a combo ticket with Neuschwanstein Castle, Hohenschwangau Castle’s neighbouring fortress. Both castles share a parking lot and are an easy walk from each other.
5. Imperial Castle of Nuremberg
Dating back to the Holy Roman Empire, the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg boasts cultural and historical significance for Germany and was frequented by Kings and emperors across the region.
The palace towers over the Old Town of Nuremberg, an easy walk from many hotels. Travellers can traverse the cobblestone streets to the palace gates or wander the surrounding Imperial Gardens.
Inside, you can join a group demonstration of the Deep Well – an interactive display of the 50-metre well that was carved into stone during the 14th century. Or ascend the steps of Sinwell Tower for a unique view of Nuremberg.
Why I love this castle? This was the oldest castle complex we visited during our trip. In the palace rooms and exhibits, travellers will find an assortment of historical artifacts, armour and medieval weaponry. We also really enjoyed the Deep Well demonstration – incredible engineering for its time.
4. Lichtenstein Castle
Lichtenstein Castle has a layered history, quite literally. Over the years, this castle has been built, torn down, and rebuilt– often on top of its previous foundation, illustrating the years of change through its stonework.
Travellers can explore the grounds at their own pace, stopping at the lookout to capture that iconic photo of Lichtenstein Castle, before joining a guided tour to see the armoury, chapel, and knight’s hall.
Why I love this castle? Lichtenstein Castle is uniquely built into a cliff. The sudden drop is jaw-dropping from both inside and outside the castle and makes for some stunning photos.
Travel tip: plan to have lunch during your visit to the castle. Schlossschenke Lichtenstein is a short walk from the castle gates and served a delicious currywurst when we visited.
3. Eltz Castle
Just north of the Moselle River and surrounded by lush forest is Eltz Castle. It is one of the few castles still owned by the same family since it was built almost 900 years ago. Unlike other castles in Germany, Eltz Castle has been relatively untouched by war and features much of the original furnishings, artifacts, and gold.
Travellers can enjoy a drink or snack on the castle grounds, join a guided tour inside, or wander through the courtyard. There’s even a Treasury with nine centuries of precious artwork, jewellery, weapons, and of course, silver and gold.
Why I love this castle? Unlike other castles that sit high in the mountains, Eltz Castle is nestled in a wooded valley. Eltz Forest is a quiet and serene setting with several hiking trails nearby. You can spend an entire day exploring the castle and the surrounding area.
2. Neuschwanstein Castle
Nestled at the foot of the Bavarian Alps is a stunning white castle atop a mountain ledge. Neuschwanstein Castle was built by King Ludwig II (also known as the Fairytale King) in 1868.
If you want to see inside the castle walls, it’s only possible by a guided tour. Tickets are available online, and you should book early for the most available dates and times. Before visiting, it’s important to know that photos and videos inside the castle are not permitted.
Why I love this castle? If you close your eyes and picture a fairytale land, you’d probably see Neuschwanstein Castle. In fact, the castle’s design is rumoured to have inspired Walt Disney’s princess castles.
Travel tip: Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the most visited castles in the world. For a more intimate experience, travel during the shoulder season and plan to arrive early in the morning. Bus tours don’t arrive at the castle until 8 or 9 a.m.
1. Hohenzollern Castle
Calling all Harry Potter fans – this castle is for you! Hohenzollern Castle is a neo-gothic fortress that sits atop a hill overlooking the valley. Hiking up to the castle gates felt like entering Hogwarts.
Like many castles in Germany, Hohenzollern has been built and destroyed several times. The earliest reference to the castle complex was in 1267, although the current structure today was started in 1850.
Guided tours are available at the castle in multiple languages, but unlike other castles on this list, travellers can explore at their own pace.
Why I love this castle? Travellers can discover its rooms, tunnels, and courtyards freely. It’s a huge castle with plenty of areas to uncover. While visiting, we stumbled upon tunnels that go underground and towers with incredible views – making this castle one of my favourites!
Visit Europe to explore these castles
You can book an appointment or call 1-800-267-8713 to speak with a CAA Travel Consultant to plan your next European getaway. Your travel expert can help you plan the perfect itinerary so you can cross off visiting these castles from your book-it list.