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Visit Castle Lichtenstein (Schloss Lichtenstein), the fairy tale castle of Baden-Württemberg

Visit Castle Lichtenstein (Schloss Lichtenstein), the fairy tale castle of Baden-Württemberg

If you are as obsessed with castles as I am, chances are you’ve seen photos of Schloss (Castle) Lichtenstein perched on a clifftop in Baden-Württemberg (NOT in the small principality of Liechstenstein). This little jewel of a castle is definitely worth visiting on your trip to southern Germany.

Please note: Schloss Lichtenstein is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Please do save this post for your future planning!

When you come through the entrance gate, don’t forget to turn around.

This is an old castle, right?

Actually, no. This is a new build from 1840, but the old castle ruins are about 500m away. The old castle was built around 1100, the property of the local count, who had a long-running unfriendliness with the nearby free city of Reutlingen. Skirmishes and all-out battles destroyed the old castle twice, despite its impressive location on the cliffs. Changes in the political landscape meant it was abandoned in the 16th century. The old castle saw a little action in the Thirty Years War that ravaged most of Baden-Württemberg in the first half of the 1600s, but by that time the last member of the Lichtenstein family had already died. In typical unsentimental fashion, King Frederick of Württemberg took apart the ruins and built a hunting lodge on top of it in 1802.

Ivy-covered building in the courtyard of Schloss Lichtenstein

Who built the Lichtenstein Castle?

Romanticism was in full swing in the 1800s, and a full-scale nostalgia for a largely imaginary medieval past full of knights and ladies had gripped the upper classes of Europe. German poet Wilhelm Hauff wrote a historical novel set in medieval Swabia (this region of Germany), and called it Lichtenstein. King Frederick’s cousin Count Wilhelm von Urach was so taken with the novel, he purchased the land in 1837 and built a castle on it, as he imagined it would have been in the 1500s. The castle is still owned by the descendants of Wilhelm von Urach.

While this castle is very picturesque, you may be a bit surprised when visiting as it really is not very big. The interiors, however, make up for its small size by being covered, on every surface, with a riot of colour, pattern, and ornament. I don’t have photographs of the interiors, as with most privately owned castles (!) you can’t take photos on the tour. Take a quick look at the gallery part of their website, however, to get a sense of the maximalism.

One of the most fascinating elements of the castle, for me, was the dining hall. It is connected to a room above and to the side by a large vent, covered with a decorative screen. For parties, the Count (later he became a Duke, as one does) would have his house musicians play in this adjoining room, and the music would float in to the dining hall.

>> Five more castles to visit in this region

Do I need to take a tour of Schloss (Castle) Lichtenstein?

Like most castles in Germany, a guided tour is required to see the inside of the building, and it is well worth your time. The tour is only half an hour, you can buy a ticket for a tour when you buy your castle courtyard entry ticket, though you don’t need to book a specific time but do ask when the next English-language tour starts when you buy your tickets. The groups for the castle tour meet on the bridge to the castle, so if you’d like a good photo from this vantage point, it’s best to catch the lull between tours. It’s worth noting here that there are stairs involved in the tour, so wear comfortable, sturdy shoes.

There aren’t many formal gardens around the castle, but the fortification wall offers some spectacular views down into the valley. There are some lovely meadows and hiking paths too. If you’re interested in the local hiking, there are maps to several local routes on the castle’s site here. The ruins of the old castle are very underwhelming, you might come upon them when wandering in the grounds. The stones have been thoroughly plundered for building the new castle!

Adventure park and cafe

Outside of the castle courtyard there is the adventure park, with a rope climbing course up in the trees. This is a popular type of activity in Germany, called a ‘Kletterwald’ or climbing forest. You get kitted out in a helmet and harness, and climb along ropes or narrow boards high in the trees. Children from eight years old can climb with an adult, and you can have up to two children climbing with you. This is adventure park is completely separate from the castle, but it’s literally next door, so they share a parking lot. To climb for three hours, it costs €23 per adult, and €17 per child, though there are family rates as well. You need to have a scarf to wrap your hair with under the helmet, and if you don’t have one they will sell you one for €3 each. Do check the rates and restrictions beforehand.  There’s also a little fast food café there too with tables outside, if you’re looking for something less formal than a sit down meal.  

View through the Schlosspark

When is the best time to go?

The Schloss Lichtenstein is open from March to December, 9am-5:30pm (April-October) and 10am-4pm (March, November, and December), though they close for Christmas each year from 24-26 December. It’s best to arrive as close as you can manage to the opening time for a less busy visit. The summer is of course a nice time to visit, but the autumn foliage in October is absolutely gorgeous.

How to get to Schloss Lichtenstein

There is no question that getting to Schloss Lichtenstein is easiest by car. However, it’s not impossible by public transport. The town of Lichtenstein is not, confusingly, the closest town to the castle. Buses leave hourly from Reutlingen, the nearest city, to Honau, the village in the valley below the castle. The hike up to the castle itself is fairly uphill and can take about half an hour. I have not done this walk myself so I can’t speak to the difficulty, but I have driven up the windy road and I would expect this hike would be too much if you’re travelling with kids and expecting to then explore the castle and grounds. There are organized tours to the castle, but as the grounds are currently closed, I can’t point you to any. Once this changes I will update this post!

Top image: Jacqueline Brooker

You can reach Reutlingen easily by train, you can book a ticket here in English.

PS – Looking for more great day trip ideas from Stuttgart? I have more here!

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Stay in a German Castle: Schlosshotel Hugenpoet

Stay in a German Castle: Schlosshotel Hugenpoet

My obsession with castles is well documented, but until recently, I hadn’t stayed overnight in a castle in Germany. This spring, I found my happy place, my readers, and it’s called Schlosshotel Hugenpoet outside Düsseldorf and Essen. From gorgeous grounds to friendly staff, this is such a glorious place to stay. 

Front door of the Schlosshotel Hugenpoet
Front door of the Schlosshotel Hugenpoet

Is it really a castle?

Oh yes, in fact, the first recorded mention of the place is in 778, as Charlemagne’s royal manor. The family that took over the estate after this, in the middle ages, were sometimes referred to as Hugenpoet. This romantic name actually translates to ‘toad pond’ in old German. Like nearly every large building in the area, the castle was destroyed in the Thirty Years War, and then rebuilt in 1647. This rebuild forms the framework for the castle you see today, with updates in the late 19th century. It first becomes a hotel in the 1950s. 

The check in desk is under this impressible marble arch.
The check in desk is under this impressible marble arch.

What’s it like to stay there

The rooms vary, depending on where you are in the building. My room was in the old stables building. It was spacious, with a hallway complete with closets and suitcase storage. The bathroom was all beautiful lighting, gorgeous deep bathtub, and separate shower. I had a view over the stone bridge at the entrance of the Schlosspark, and when I pushed the windows open on arrival, the birdsong flowed in. I was ready to move in, I have to say. A word on the staff as well: everyone I interacted with were genuinely friendly and lovely. 

Arch over the gate as you enter the courtyard.
Arch over the gate as you enter the courtyard.
The castle from the Schlosspark
The castle from the Schlosspark

Walking back to your room after a spectacular meal, or stepping out for a breath of fresh air in the morning – it is hard to explain how beautiful and amazing this place is. 

In the morning, I took a walk through the gardens. Throughout the Schlosspark behind the castle there are benches, chairs, and loungers tucked into little corners. 

Entrance to the Schlosspark
I'd like to spend a long, sunny morning here reading. How about you?
I’d like to spend a long, sunny morning here reading. How about you?

Michelin Star dining on site

I had the pleasure of trying Chef Erika Bergheim’s menu while I was staying at the Hugenpoet (as part of a press tour by the local tourism board). Her Michelin-starred restaurant Laurushaus is in the former tithe barn (where the surrounding farmers would store the goods due their local baron or duke). It’s a cozy space, with a limited number of tables, and a small private terrace open in the summer. If you have your heart set on dining here, it’s worth noting that the restaurant is only open from Thursday through Saturday, and has several closure periods throughout the year (including the last two weeks of July). Book early!

The Laurushaus restaurant, Michelin star dining right at the castle.
The Laurushaus restaurant, Michelin star dining right at the castle.
Golden light on the magnolia.
Golden light on the magnolia.

Heavenly breakfast, cake, and more

If you’re looking for a less fancy option, there’s the more relaxed Hugenpöttchen restaurant overlooking the Schlosspark. That’s where you’ll have your excellent breakfast, with creative house-made jams and excellent coffee to order. Fresh tulips in bud vases graced every table. The restaurant is open for lunch from 12 noon, and continuously until dinner with cakes and treats created by the in-house patisserie available for mid-afternoon requirements. Of course, if you’re looking for a basket backed for a romantic picnic in the Schlosspark, with some notice, they can provide that for you too every Sunday from May until September (with 48 hours notice). 

Impressive sitting area in the foyer
Billiards room at the hotel
Billiards room at the hotel

Where is this amazing place?

About a half-hour by car outside Essen or Düsseldorf, or about 45 minutes by train plus a short taxi ride. There’s lots of explore nearby, like the Zeche Zollverien, a huge old industrial site now transformed into art spaces, restaurants, and several museums. 

Little playground on site
Little playground on site
Always a good sign when your kids need to run around. (Kinderspielplatz = children’s playground)

Can you do this hotel with kids?

Yes! I have it straight from the hotel staff themselves. There is a little fenced playground at the end of the courtyard, great for smaller kids, including somewhere for adults to sit. There’s the Schlosspark behind the castle of course, which you’re welcome to roam around in. Not only that, there are special events for kids including an afternoon meal and castle manners lesson, that ends with a little run around outside of course, and cooking and baking classes as well. Possibly my favourite idea though, is the in-house babysitting. Contact the hotel ahead of time, and you can arrange a babysitter for the evening while you enjoy a romantic meal downstairs in the castle restaurant. How glorious would that be? If you’re looking to stay at the Schlosshotel with kids, book one of the junior suites or the larger suites, and let the staff know you will need space for children to sleep. 

Entrance to the hotel
Entrance to the hotel

Some great times to visit 

Christmas time, from the end of November to just before Christmas Eve, is a magical time to be in Germany. The markets in Düsseldorf and Essen are both gorgeous, and the Schlosshotel itself has its own market, in 2019 it’s on 5-8 December. In the summer months you can take advantage of their picnic baskets, and explore the local area, including the Zeche Zollverein, which has events on all summer. 

Book your visit right here:

Booking.com

The moat at the castle is pretty awesome too.
The moat at the castle is pretty awesome too.

Getting to Schlosshotel Hugenpoet

As I mentioned above, you can get to the hotel from either Düsseldorf or Essen by train in about 45 minutes, getting off at the nearby station of Essen Kettwig Stausee, A short taxi ride from the station will have you arriving through the picturesque gates of the castle in no time. By car, it is about half an hour. 

Book your train journey in English here:

This stay was included as part of a press trip exploring the region, organized by Nordrhein-Westfalen Tourismus. All opinions expressed are my own.

Enjoy a five star stay at this gorgeous German castle hotel just outside Düsseldorf and Essen. Michelin star dining, lovely gardens, and more.
Enjoy a five star stay at this gorgeous German castle hotel just outside Düsseldorf and Essen. Michelin star dining, lovely gardens, and more.
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Cochem Castle

Cochem Castle

I love castles, and I have visited a lot of them in our region of Germany. So when I tell you this is one of the best ones, you know I had quite a few to compare it to! It has a great combination of location, ease of access, and history. The town of Cochem itself is gorgeous, and well worth a weekend stay.

Looking through the many arches at Cochem Castle
Looking through the many arches at Cochem Castle

Is it Cochem Castle, or the Reichsburg, or Burg Cochem, or what?

Cochem is the town the castle is located in, and you can definitely call it Cochem Castle in English. ‘Reichsburg’ means the Imperial Castle, so Reichsburg Cochem just translates to Imperial Castle Cochem. You have probably seen other castles called ‘Schloss’ and this refers to their status as more of a palace as opposed to a defensive fortress (a ‘Burg’). It should never be Berg Cochem though, that would mean a mountain and while the hill the castle is on is steep, it’s not quite a mountain! In a land full of castles, you’ve got to start dividing them up somehow, right?

Suits of armour are everywhere
Suits of armour are everywhere
Can you imagine leaning by this window, reading a letter?
Can you imagine leaning by this window, reading a letter?

A bit of history

On the hill 100 metres above the town of Cochem, the castle was initially a fortification built around 1056. The first mention in print was in 1051, and in 1157, King Konrad III officially dubbed it an Imperial residence. The town of Cochem was important in wine growing and fishing through this period, and was well connected to the city of Trier. In the late 1690s, the castle and the town were taken by the French during the Nine Years War. Unfortunately, the French Sun King wanted to make sure the region was fully subdued, so he instructed his troops to wreak havoc. 

The castle lay in ruins for nearly 200 years, until the Berlin merchant Louis Ravené had it rebuilt as his family’s summer residence in a Neo-gothic style popular with the rich-people-rebuilding-castles movement of the 19th century. The castle has been owned by the city of Cochem since 1978. 

The beautiful hunters hall at Castle Cochem
The beautiful hunters hall at Castle Cochem
The Great Hall at Castle Cochem
The Great Hall at Castle Cochem

Should you do the tour at Cochem Castle?

Definitely. Like most German castles, you need to join a guided tour to see the interior rooms. There are many tours in English during high season, but you will want to check the times for English tours in the autumn and winter. The English tour was only available once a day when we visited in October – check their website in advance for the exact time of the English-language tour so you don’t miss it. The tour itself is one of the best I’ve been on. The guide knew a lot about the castle and the city of Cochem, but wasn’t overloading us with lists of every single noble who lived in the building. They have definitely designed the tour with children in mind as well, because there were some chocolate rewards and little surprises along the way. Even if you’re not travelling with children, you will be grateful they are entertained. 

It’s extremely unusual for a German castle tour, but you are allowed to take photos throughout the interiors, though turn off your flash. 

Peering down into the yard at Castle Cochem
Peering down into the yard at Castle Cochem
Always look up when you go on these castle tours
Always look up when you go on these castle tours

Join a Medieval banquet

If you plan ahead, you can join in a full experience of a medieval meal with costumed musicians and a castle tour. Most Friday and Saturday evenings starting at 6pm, you can join a group at the castle for a full meal, glass of wine, a special castle tour, and a take home stone mug. The tour is in German, but you can get a sheet with the English information on it. The whole package is €49 per adult and €24.50 per child (6-17 years old). If you’re thinking of booking one, do it soon, as they sell out months in advance. 

Cochem Castle is stunning in the autumn
Cochem Castle is stunning in the autumn

What time of year to visit Cochem Castle

In the summer, you have the benefit of the full leafy trees, sidewalk terraces, green vines clambering over everything, and the breeze off the Mosel. You also will have more crowds of visitors to contend with. Even though there were fewer tours available, the castle wasn’t that busy. The benefit of visiting in the autumn has to be the gorgeous colours of the grape vines. All over the castle, and the surrounding hills, the multicoloured vines transform everything into a riot of deep reds, yellows, oranges, and browns. 

The view from the cafe in the Cochem Castle
The view from the cafe in the Cochem Castle
Classic Schnitzel in the castle cafe
Classic Schnitzel in the castle cafe
Even the placements were cute
Even the placements were cute

What to eat

The cafe up at the castle itself is lovely, and we had a great meal of schnitzel at a reasonable price. I would say at least a little bit cheaper than the restaurants down in the town right on the river, so it’s definitely worth staying up here to have lunch. There’s an impressive selection of cakes, including a proper Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake) and the underrated Frankfurter Kranz, so if it’s afternoon and you just need a coffee and a sweet thing, have it up here with a view down over the town. 

View from outside the Cochem Castle
View from outside the Cochem Castle

Where to stay

I’ve got your weekend in Cochem covered in this post, but if you’re just looking for some quick hotel recommendations, I would check out these ones:

  • Hotel Germania, right next to the main bridge and in the Altstadt
  • Hotel am Hafen, across the river but next to the bridge, with good onsite restaurant
  • Zum fröhlichen Weinburg, a little ways back from the river, quiet and good value
  • Altes Fährhaus Cochem, is on the other side of the river with gorgeous views of the castle and town, and offers bike rentals on site
  • If you’re happy to be just outside of town, the little village of Ernst is our favourite spot, and the Altes Pfarrhaus our Mosel River home away-from-home. A lovely Dutch family runs this small hotel, and the food is lovely, with a quiet terrace overlooking the river. 
The Cochem Castle lit up at night
The Cochem Castle lit up at night

How to get there

From Frankfurt or Düsseldorf, Cochem is about a two and a half hour journey by train, with one or two changes, depending on the time of day. From Cologne, it is about two hours with one change. It’s a beautiful journey no matter which way you arrive, however, as most routes will take you along the Rhine and the Mosel. You can book your ticket right here in English:

To get up to the castle from the town, you can walk up, which is a little intense with quite a few stairs. Or, you can take the shuttlebus. There’s a detailed schedule on their website here. If you’re travelling with small people, it would be best to take the shuttle and save their legs for the tour. 

The Reichsburg Cochem (Cochem Castle) address is Schlossstraße 36, 56812 Cochem, if you’re driving, and I’ve marked it on the following map.

PS – Need help with packing for Germany? I’ve got you covered for packing for your Germany trip in spring or summer.

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Castle Mespelbrunn

Castle Mespelbrunn

The small but perfectly formed Mespelbrunn Castle (Schloss Mespelbrunn) in western Bavaria has survived for hundreds of years unscathed, mainly due to its location, nestled in the Spessart forest. This is a famous German forest, with its fairy stories and myths immortalized by the Brothers Grimm. The Mespelbrunn Castle is one of those that takes your breath away as you come around the neatly clipped box hedges. I don’t think I will ever tire of that moment when a castle reveals itself. Sometimes referred to as a Wasserschloss (water castle), Mespelbrunn sits serenely in its own little lake, complete with resident swans. 

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History

In 1412, the Archbishop of Mainz gifted some land next to a pond in the Spessart to a knight named Echter, for his part in defeating the Czechs. At this point, the Spessart was literally thick with thieves and bandits, which inspired the second generation of Echters to build fortifications around the stately home. From this period, only the round tower remains, with the rest of the castle being rebuilt in the Renaissance style from 1551-1569. The most famous resident of the castle was Julius Echter, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg (1545-1617), who founded a hospital and re-founded the University of Würzburg in 1583. 

Schloss Mespelbrunn was never in a high traffic location, and this saved it during the Thirty Years War when armies of all sides were rampaging through the area. 

The lake runs on all sides of the Castle Mespelbrunn, like a very large moat.
The lake runs on all sides of the Castle Mespelbrunn, like a very large moat.
The doors to the Castle Mespelbrunn. You can see the little crate that holds the fish food on the lefthand side there.
The doors to the Castle Mespelbrunn. You can see the little crate that holds the fish food on the lefthand side there.

By 1665, the last male Echter died without leaving a male heir. However, Maria Ottilia, Echterin of Mespelbrunn, married into the Ingelheim family which were later elevated to Counts. The current Count Ingelheim lives in the castle with his family today. 

Still from the title sequence of Das Wirtshaus im Spessart, shot at the castle in 1958.
Still from the title sequence of Das Wirtshaus im Spessart, shot at the castle in 1958.

Completely unrelated to the actual history of the castle, a famous German musical called Das Wirsthaus im Spessart was filmed in the castle and a nearby town in 1958, which seems to inspire many coach tours.  

Inner courtyard at Castle Mespelbrunn
Inner courtyard at Castle Mespelbrunn
Door to upper levels of the castle, dated 1569.
Door to upper levels of the castle, dated 1569.

Mespelbrunn Castle entrance fees and opening hours

To do anything other than lean over the gate and take photos, you need to pay an entrance fee. 

Adults 5€

Children/students 2.50€

The castle is open from March to November 9am-5pm daily, but check their site for exact opening and closing dates as they change each year. 

It’s worth noting that it’s difficult to get to this castle other than driving. The parking lot is a short (level!) walk from the castle on a smooth gravel and then paved path. Unusually for a castle, this one is quite easy to access with a buggy or if you’re travelling with folks using mobility aids. However, there are stairs on the tour and you won’t be able to bring your buggy with you.

Your first view of Schloss Mespelbrunn from the gates.
Your first view of Schloss Mespelbrunn from the gates.

Is it worth doing the tour at Mespelbrunn Castle?

Yes definitely. Like most German castles, you cannot see the inside except on a guided tour. All tours are in German, so you will need to ask the ticket seller at the gate to give you an English pamphlet, which provides the text of the tour in English. Often the guides can answer any questions you have in English, or someone on the tour can translate. On the tour, you will see the Knight’s Hall on the ground floor, with suits of armour and heraldic symbols in stained glass. Moving upstairs, you get to see the dining hall, which I found the most impressive. It’s a bit of a hunting lodge theme, with wild boars’ heads and antlers mounted all over the place, as well as an impressive table setting. The current Count of Ingelheim and his family have special dinners here, even now. There’s also a small but interesting display of weapons, including some wicked-looking early crossbows. 

View from the castle entrance across the small topiary garden.
View from the castle entrance across the small topiary garden.
Shady benches outside the Knight's Hall at Schloss Mespelbrunn
Shady benches outside the Knight’s Hall at Schloss Mespelbrunn

There’s a tower room dedicated to honouring Julius Echter, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg and all his works. The main interest here was the shrunken head he was gifted by someone who had visited Africa. Moving through to a bedroom, it’s hard not to imagine sleeping here with the window open to the breeze, listening to bandits call to each other in the woods. No doubt no one would have kept their windows open for fear of dying of unseen miasma, but that’s just my romantic fantasy. 

The tour lasts about 40 minutes, and moves along fairly quickly. 

Regal swan glides across the lake at Schloss Mespelbrunn
Regal swan glides across the lake at Schloss Mespelbrunn

What else is there to do at the castle?

The small lake is also home to schools of fat and happy looking fish, which you can feed with little packets of proper fish food for 0.50€, that are sitting on a stand just outside the main castle doors. The fish get gratifyingly excited to be fed, and the water is quite clear, so this can take up a good half hour if you’re travelling with kids. There are a few resident swans floating around looking regal as well. There’s a small cafe in the old stable building, across from the castle. We stopped and had an excellent Apfelstrudel, and Eiskaffee, in their little garden. An Eiskaffee, if you’re not familiar, is a gloriously cold concoction of vanilla ice cream scoops in a large glass, with coffee poured over it, with unseemly amounts of whipped cream and maybe even chocolate sauce dribbled over that. Like an obscene version of an affogato. But delicious. 

Getting to Mespelbrunn Castle

Despite being only an hour from Frankfurt, this castle is still quite hard to get to without a car. There is a parking lot very close, and it costs 2€ per vehicle. 

If you’d like to get there by public transport, your best bet would be to take a train to the Aschaffenburg station and then a taxi to the castle, which would be a half hour journey. Do check the sections above for opening hours, as many reviews I’ve read online seem to involve people trying to visit in winter and disappointed the castle is closed. 

You should leave two hours for your visit, but know this small castle won’t take an entire day to explore. It’s a beautiful spot that isn’t overrun with visitors, so enjoy yourself and take your time. 

Quick bonus! If you’re looking to stay in the area, the beautiful Schlosshotel Mespelbrunn is short walk from the castle and is all kinds of beautiful.

Beautiful Schlosshotel Mespelbrunn
Beautiful Schlosshotel Mespelbrunn

PS – Looking for some day trips from Frankfurt? Or maybe another incredible castle to visit?

PPS – Need help with packing for Germany? I’ve got you covered for packing for your Germany trip in spring or summer.

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Heidelberg Castle: A Local’s Guide

Heidelberg Castle: A Local’s Guide

Living in Heidelberg, the castle is a constant presence. Every morning on the way to school, my son and I see it up on the hillside as we cross over the river Neckar. My son goes with his school to see plays there in the summer, and we even had his birthday party up at the Heidelberg Castle – which was possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever pulled off as a parent.

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My son's birthday party playing knight's tag up in one of the ruined castle buildings (with a guide).
My son’s birthday party playing knight’s tag up in one of the ruined castle towers (with a guide).

So let me share with you the best ways to experience this amazing castle in southern Germany, from someone who has been there many, many times.

Note: Heidelberg Castle is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, including the grounds.

Photo taken the time I decided to climb the stairs to the castle the same day I went to the gym. Never do this.
Photo taken the time I decided to climb the stairs to the castle the same day I went to the gym. Never do this.

What does ‘Schloss’ mean?

‘Schloss’ is a word you’ll see, along with ‘Burg’, used to describe what we would call a castle in English. A Burg is more of a fortress, a building or complex of buildings, used for active military use and defense. A Schloss tends more on the palace end of the castle spectrum. One word you don’t use with any castle is ‘Berg’ – this means mountain rather than fortress! You will notice that Schloss Heidelberg has a bit of both fortress and palace going on. This castle complex has been in use for such a long time, it started life more as a fortress, and then over the years became more decorative in function. Unfortunately, by the time the French rolled in during the 17th century, canons and explosives were the weapon of choice for sieges and not even those thick, sandstone walls could compete with that, fortress or not.

Planning your trip to the Heidelberg Castle

There are many bus tours that offer a trip to the castle as part of a day trip. If at all possible, spend a night in Heidelberg and experience a bit more. Reading posts about the castle, everyone wishes they had more time to explore the city as well. I’ve collected our favourite things to do in Heidelberg with kids, so start there! Unlike many other German castles, Heidelberg Castle is right in the town, so it’s easy to visit without a car. There is the famous stairway, but it is quite an uphill trek, and you will be doing lots of walking when you’re up there. I’d recommend getting the funicular railway from the old town – you can get a ticket which includes your entrance to the castle, and find out when the next guided tour leaves.

There’s a hiking route that begins at Heidelberg Castle, Joe at Without a Path has all the details on how to follow this beautiful route.
A tumbling down romantic ruin indeed.
A tumbling down romantic ruin indeed.

Heidelberg Castle history

Like many castles, this one has been built, destroyed, and rebuilt many times. There aren’t many records pertaining to the first castle structure higher up on the Königstuhl, but the current castle complex’s history seems to start around 1200. Ruprecht made the first enlargement that you can still see evidence of today, and in fact he and his wife Elizabeth of Hohenzollern (her family has some amazing castles too) are buried in the Church of the Holy Ghost in the market square.

Romantic Heidelberg stories started a long time ago!

Frederick V, who took the position of Elector Palatine in 1610, has a special place in the hearts of Heidelbergers. He married Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I of England and Scotland, and by all accounts he was quite besotted with her. Look for the Elizabeth Tor (gate) in the gardens, which was carved and created in pieces and then assembled in the garden overnight to surprise Elizabeth on her birthday. The extensive formal gardens that were started, but never finished, were also the work of Frederick, ostensibly to entertain Elizabeth. Unfortunately, he accepted the crown of Bohemia right at the beginning of the Thirty Years War, and could not hold it for more than a season. Frederick and Elizabeth lived the rest of their lives in exile, earning them the titles the Winter King and Winter Queen.

 

The Elizabeth Gate at Heidelberg Castle is just the thing to post on Valentine’s Day. The Prince Elector Palatine Frederick V had stonemasons build this garden arch in pieces, and then assemble it overnight as a birthday surprise for his wife, Elizabeth Stuart (yes, daughter of James I of England and Scotland) around 1613. I thought that was possibly the most romantic thing ever, don’t you think? // Das Elisabethtor am Heidelberger Schloß ist die perfekte Post am Valentingstag. Die Kürfurst Freidrich V. ließ diesen Gartenbogen in Stücken bauen und über Nacht als Geburtstagsüberraschung für seine Frau Elizabeth Stuart (ja, Tochter von James I. von England und Schottland) um 1613 zusammenbauen. Ich dachte, das wäre die das romantischste überhaupt, denkst du nicht? . . . . #gofurther #dreamoflivingabroad #showthemtheworld #familytravels #familytravelblogger #letsgosomewhere #letsgoeverywhere #wanderwithme #familytravelblog #tinytravels #exploringfamilies #takeyourkidseverywhere #almostfearless #fearlessfamtrav #familyadventures #familytraveltribe #havekidswilltravel #familygo #familytraveler #familyjaunts #castleheideblerg #mytinyatlas #living_destinations #myeverydaymagic #pathport #abmtravelbug #visitbawu #visitbawü #historynerd #valentines

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The keeper of the giant barrel of wine

Perkeo is another personality associated with the castle. Clemens Pankert was a buttonmaker in South Tyrol, where he met Prince Charles III Philip. When Prince Charles became Elector Palatine in the first half of the 18th century, he brought Pankert up to Heidelberg with him. It was here that he was nicknamed Perkeo, because his response to being asked if he’d like another glass of wine was always ‘perché no?’ (why not)? Perkeo was a dwarf, and was essentially an entertainer at court in Heidelberg, though apparently he knew a lot about wine besides how to drink vast quantities of it. He alone kept the keys to access the famous Heidelberg Castle wine barrel. The legend goes that he drank nothing but wine through his entire life, but when he was sick and he drank water, at the behest of a doctor, he died the next day. To be fair, most people didn’t drink water at that point, it was quite sensible! You will notice pubs and restaurants named after Perkeo around town.

Romantic ruins

I was surprised to learn on my first visit that none of the damage was the result of the Second World War. All those tumbling down walls and half-collapsed towers are the work of the invading French army in the 17th century, lightning strikes, and the local populace making off with stones. After that final disastrous war with the French in the 1600s, the Prince Elector began the monumental task of rebuilding the castle, when it was struck by lightning several times, setting the castle alight. This was just too much. If you visit Heidelberg in the summer, look out for the special fireworks and light show that commemorates the burning of Heidelberg Castle, as well as the wedding celebrations of Frederick and Elizabeth (yes, Heidelbergers still celebrate this!).

After the Elector Palatinate gave up on the constant rebuilding of the castle in the late 18th century and moved the court to Mannheim, the castle buildings fell into disuse. Heidelberg residents started to take the stones, metal, and wood to rebuild their own houses. But the pile of disintegrating red Neckar Valley stone was stirring the hearts of Romantic poets and painters, who started to arrive in droves, just to experience the atmosphere. Goethe, of course, and William Turner, are some of the most famous visitors, though Turner’s paintings of the castle involve quite a bit of creative license when it comes to the surrounding landscape. We can thank, ironically, a Frenchman for saving the castle ruin when the government of Baden wanted to knock it down. Charles de Graimberg volunteered as a castle guard in the first half of the 19th century, and his many sketches of the romantic ruins brought tourists to Heidelberg. His residence was near the entrance to the funicular down in the Altstadt, off the Kornmarkt, I point it out in my audio tour. 

There’s a wonderful animation of how the castle has looked at various points in its history made recently, it’s worth a watch.

Heidelberg Castle tour

There are audio guides available, and they will share with you much of the history I’ve detailed above, and more, including the story about the world’s largest wine barrel in the basement of the castle. However, it really is worth doing the guided tour of our partially restored castle ruins. Like most German castles, you can’t see the inside of the structure without a guided tour. It takes about an hour, and you tromp all over the place, so bringing kids along isn’t as much of a chore as you’d think. The guides are lovely, quite keen local historians, and they have lots of stories to tell that you won’t find in the guidebooks or on Wikipedia. If you think you only have time for either the audio tour or the guided tour, I would do the guided tour. Ask at the ticket desk when the next English language tour leaves. Do remember to wear warm clothes (if it’s autumn or winter) and sturdy shoes, as you will be climbing many imperfect steps, and the castle buildings are unheated.

Can you imagine dusting all those jars?
Can you imagine dusting all those jars?

German pharmacy museum

Tucked into the basements of one of the Schloss buildings is the German Pharmacy Museum. If you’re with older children, and you don’t read German, you will get more out of this corner of the castle with the audio guide. However, it’s also quite a fascinating place to wander through even without a guide, so if your travel companions are running out of steam, it’s still worth a quick visit. Inside, you’ll find several apothecary shops set up nearly in their entirety, as the museum has been bequeathed a number of shop interiors. It’s fascinating, seeing all the many drawers and jars and bottles that would have been the stock and trade of a pharmacist not all that long ago. There’s a Kinder Apotheke (children’s pharmacy) where younger kids can pretend to examine someone and give a prescription. It’s worth noting that it’s very cool down here on hot summer days, and heated in winter. Entrance to the museum is included in your castle entry ticket.

Half the joy of the Pharmacy Museum for me is wandering around in these vaults.
Half the joy of the Pharmacy Museum for me is wandering around in these vaults.

Restaurants at Heidelberg Castle and nearby

While there is a fancy Weinstube (wine tavern), little cafe in the basement, Backstube (bakery restaurant) in the castle courtyard, and a cafe with Bratwurst in the garden, I would suggest eating your main meal down in the town first. The cafe is adequate for a coffee and cake, or an ice cream, but the staff is disorganized and harried. I highly recommend Mahmoud’s for a great falafel or döner, tucked down a side street with a view of the beautiful red sandstone catholic church. If you’d rather do easy Italian, Vapiano (opening summer 2018) across from the big church in the main square has a solid and affordable kids menu. Hans im Glück, also in the main square, is a local burger chain that has a really neat interior full of birch trees. They don’t have a specific kids menu, but it’s easy to find something most children will eat. If you’re looking for dinner, Hans im Glück fills up fast, but you can make a same-day reservation online here.

Take a picnic

Most of the other restaurants in the square are tourist traps, best avoided. If the weather is good, your best bet will be to pick up sandwiches at a bakery, or a few big soft brezeln, and picnic in the gardens. We had a picnic after my son’s birthday party, and the staff told me it’s perfectly fine – so don’t panic if you don’t see anyone else doing it! The closest bakery to the foot of the funicular is the Mantei Backerei, but there are many further along the Hauptstraße (the main pedestrianized street with all the shops).

I’ve got a full post on the best restaurants and cafes in Heidelberg here, too.

Opening hours and getting to Heidelberg Castle

Note: Heidelberg Castle is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the gardens are open

  • Entrance to the castle courtyard and Pharmacy Museum (doesn’t include the castle interiors, you need to go on a guided tour to see that) costs 7€ for adults and 4€ children, and this ticket includes the funicular railway up and down from the castle to the Old Town, on the opposite side of the big church from the Old Bridge (Alte Brücke)
  • The castle courtyard and the Great Barrel is open daily from 8am – 6pm, with last entrance at 5:30pm, with special times on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, and closed on Christmas Day
  • The Pharmacy Museum is open daily from 10am – 6pm (1 April – 31 October), and 10am – 5:30pm (1 November – 31 March), with special times on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, and closed on Christmas Day
  • Guided tours are about 1 hour in duration, and in the summer (1 April – 31 October) English language castle tours run every hour from 11:15am – 4:15pm on Mondays – Fridays, and 10:15am – 4:15pm on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. In the winter (1 November – 31 March) English language castle tours run every hour from 11:15am – 4:15pm on Mondays – Fridays, and at 11:15am, 12:15am, 2:15pm, and 4:15pm on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
  • Guided tours cost an additional 5€ for adults, and 2.50€ for children, though there is a family rate of 12.50€

The great thing about the Heidelberg Castle is it’s right above the old town, so there’s no need for a tour bus out to a remote site. Heidelberg is very easy to get to from Frankfurt, it’s about an hour by train. From Munich (Munich-Heidelberg), it’s about three hours, so you would want to stay overnight here. That’s not a bad idea, as the comment I see most is ‘I wish I had longer to explore the city!’ when I’m reading comments from visitors. From the Heidelberg train station, you hop on one of the many trams just outside the station. There is a tourist information booth right outside the station as well, and the people there can help you get your bearings. Once you get into the old town, you will want to take the funicular up to the castle itself, the station is just around the corner from the Kornmarkt square.

You can drive to the castle, but there is very limited parking nearby. You can walk up to the castle, but I think it’s worth saving your energy for exploring the castle and grounds and taking the funicular instead.

Book a train right here, in English:

It’s worth noting that your train tickets are cheaper the earlier you book, up to three months ahead.

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Get the local's guide to how to visit the beautiful Heidelberg Castle in Germany. It's a beautiful ruin that has inspired writers and artists for centuries.

Love castles? Me too! Here’s my list of the best castles to visit in Germany that aren’t the super popular Neuschwanstein.

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