If you like castles, you’ll love Germany, for Germany has castles the way Venice has canals, or Norway has fjords, or the Napa Valley has wineries. There are literally scores of them, virtually in every German state and seemingly on every other hilltop, especially along the river Rhine. There are schlosses (which are essentially castles or palaces) and there are burgs (castles or fortresses); and then there are festungs (quite simply, fortresses).
Here are ten of the most famous German castles, the must-sees, the “great castles” of Germany.
At the top of the list is Burg Eltz, one of Germany’s most beautiful medieval castles, 850 years old and unscathed! It is located in the lower Mosel Valley, high above the Rhine. Although still family owned and occupied, it can be seen on guided tours for 6 euros a pop. And it’s well worth it, for you’ll get a peek at not only the original period furniture and decor, but you’ll also get to see 20 flushable toilets that supposedly date back to the 15th century!
Meersburg Alte Burg
Another famous ‘burg’ is the Meersburg Alte Burg, located in the scenic Black Forest area in Baden-Wurttemberg. It dates from the seventh century and offers superb views out to the Bodensee. This is also the oldest of Germany’s castles that is inhabitable. A Merovingian king, Dagoberth, originally started it, and it then served as the residence of the bishop of Konstanz for decades. For 8 euros you can meander through 30 rooms of the castle, including the chambers used by the famous 19th-century German poet, Annette von Droste-Hulshoff.
The Wartburg, situated just outside Eisenach in the Thuringia region, is considered to be the most German of the German castles. It was here that Martin Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into German while in hiding. The castle is open to public tours for 5 euros per head.
This one, the Marksburg, is perched on a hill on the shores of the Rhine, high above the town of Braubach in the Rhine Valley. And make no mistake, this is not just another 19th century imitation – and yes, there are several of those in Germany! – this is the real thing, boasting one of the most impressive armory collections anywhere, including one of the oldest cannons in Germany. And for 4.50 euros you can see it all on a guided tour.
Here’s a castle that’s hard to miss, Schloss Sanssouci. It is centrally located in Potsdam in the Brandenberg region, not far from Berlin, and is a genuine masterpiece from the Baroque period. What’s more, it has its associations with Frederick the Great. It was in this small but lively summer palace that the sovereign entertained the thinkers and musicians of his time, notable among them Voltaire. The Rococco residence can be toured for 8 euros apiece, albeit with German-only commentary.
Schloss Braunfels is an 800-year-old palace located in the Hesse region’s Lahn Valley. While well worth visiting, the unfortunate thing about it is that it was rebuilt in the 19th century in the Neo-Gothic style. But don’t let that deter you. A guided tour of the castle’s interior is a realtime romp through rooms filled to the gills with medieval weaponry, porcelain, and paintings. And it’s only 4 euros for the tour.
And then there’s Schloss Neuschwanstein, perhaps the most picturesque, the most recognizable of Germany’s great castles. In fact, this is the one that inspired the magical castle at Disneyland, the one with interiors that resemble scenes from Wagnerian operas. Set on a hill in an alpine setting in Schwangau, along Northern Bavaria’s Romantic Road, the castle follows a distinctly Romanesque style. It was built between 1869 and 1886 and was the ultimate fantasy of the Mad King Ludwig. Public tours of it are 9 euros each, not cheap, but worth it.
Festung Konigstein, located near Dresden in the Saxony region, is easily the largest fortress in Germany, and a triumph, if ever there was one, of fortress construction in Europe. Now more than 750 years old, it represents a confluence of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and 19th century architecture. During world War II, it housed senior French prisoners of war as well as Dresden’s best artworks. Guided tours of the fortress and its grounds are available year-round for 6 euros.
The Residenz, the principle address of the ruling Wittelsbach family for over 500 years, is located in Munich, Bavaria. It is a massive complex, lavishly decorated, constructed between 1720 and 1744 by Balthasar Neumann for the bishops of Wurzburg. It is also one of the finest Baroque palaces in Europe and a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. And it’s 4 euros for a guided tour.
Schloss Heidelberg, located in Heidelberg of course, in the Baden-Wurtemberg region, is easily Germany’s most famous ruin, and possibly also one of its most romantic sights. For five centuries the principle residence of the Prince Electors of the Kurpfalz, it was destroyed by the French in the 17th century but continues to dominate Heidelberg’s skyline. Photograph this, if only for the memories and the joy of it!