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 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’). 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 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. 

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Cochem Castle is one of the most beautiful castles to visit in Germany. Gorgeous and easy to reach, it perches among the vineyards, 100 meters above the Mosel river. Together with the pretty town below, it makes for a great weekend trip.

Cochem Castle is one of the most beautiful castles to visit in Germany. Gorgeous and easy to reach, it perches among the vineyards, 100 meters above the Mosel river. Together with the pretty town below, it makes for a great weekend trip.

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Schloss Mespelbrunn

Schloss Mespelbrunn

The small but perfectly formed 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 Castle Mespelbrunn 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.

Schloss Mespelbrunn 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 Schloss Mespelbrunn?

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 Schloss Mespelbrunn

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?

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Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle

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 spot, from someone who has been there many, many times.

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.

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. 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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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. 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.

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 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. 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. 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 Bakerei, but there are many further along the Hauptstraße (the main pedestrianized street with all the shops).

Opening hours and getting to Heidelberg Castle

  • 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
  • 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 (Frankfurt-Heidelberg), 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:




 

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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Five castles to visit in Germany that aren’t Neuschwanstein

Five castles to visit in Germany that aren’t Neuschwanstein


If you follow me on Instagram (and if you like castles, you really should because I am obsessed) you know my family and I visit a lot of them. The thing is, southern Germany is wall to wall with castles. I didn’t know that until I moved here, and if you look at Pinterest, you’d think the only one is Neuschwanstein. Oh no, my friends, there are more. So. Many. More. It’s also worth noting that the entrance fees of the castles on this list are half of what you’d pay for Ludwig’s folly, and they will all be much less busy.

A bit of history

Germany has only been a country for a short period of time really, and before the 19th century, it was a land of hundreds of little principalities, duchies, Free Cities, and more types of city states than you can rattle a sword at. Even more confusingly, due to the mind-bendingly complicated inter-marrying of all these ruling families, lots of these kingdoms would include little islands of land scattered across the countryside. Each of these places would have a castle or two, to show they were the boss, to serve as a reminder you had better pay your river tax, and defensible places for the Duke or Prince Elector or whomever to hole up when the going got rough, or to lavishly entertain other Dukes and Prince Electors. That explains the truly incredible number of castles.

Not all castles in Germany are all that old

There was a bit of a trend in the 19th century, everything medieval was cool. People wrote cheesy approximations of medieval music, and other people with too much money and rotting castles no longer needed for defence, built incredible monuments to castley-ness. That doesn’t make them any less interesting to visit, in fact they are often stuffed full of CASTLE things – crenellations on all available surfaces, over-elaborate knights halls – the whole bit. Neuschwanstein falls into this category, as do a couple of the ones on my list. These castles are often built right on top of an older castle site. The stone was there, right?

Guided tours – don’t miss them!

As with most German castles, you won’t be able to see interior rooms without going on a guided tour, and sometimes these are only available in German. There will always be an info sheet with the translation available, so don’t skip this! You will miss some amazing views, interiors, and furniture. Often the guide will speak some English anyway, and can answer questions.

On to the list! Five castles to visit that aren’t the super busy Neuschwanstein:

Heidelberg Schloss

Heidelberg Schloss is an extensive Romantic ruin.

Heidelberg Castle

This is a favourite of the river cruises, and our local castle. It is in ruins, but what ruins! They have inspired generations of writers and artists – Turner, Mark Twain, and Goethe. A portion of the castle has been restored with period furniture, and you can visit it on a guided tour. My favourite stories of Heidelberg Castle come from Princess Elizabeth Charlotte’s time there as a child, though she’s more famous as Liselotte, sister-in-law of Louis XIV. She loved the castle at Heidelberg, and urged her family to restore it when she was living in France. In her letters, she reminisces about climbing the cherry trees in the gardens early in the morning, and eating fruit until she was too full.

You can easily visit on a day trip from Frankfurt or Stuttgart, and if you do, I have a list of kid-friendly things to do in Heidelberg here besides visit the castle.

Castle Hornberg

Castle Hornberg is mostly in ruins, but there is some impressive restoration work going on.

Hornberg Castle

Above the Neckar river, and a short drive from Heidelberg, is Hornberg Castle. This one is surrounded by vineyards, and you can buy their wine in the same shop you buy your entrance token. It is also the largest and oldest castle in the Neckar valley. Again, this one is partially ruined, but is in the process of restoration. The original castle was built in the 12th century, and as you clamber around the ruins, each section is labelled with when it was built. There’s quite a bit left to see here, including a few guard towers with intact ‘toilet’, and an oubliette complete with (hopefully) fake skeleton at the bottom.

Castle Soobeck

Castle Sooneck is an impressive Neo Gothic ruin, all picturesque paths and pretty flowers.

Sooneck Castle

This one wins for most unnerving approach road. Winding up some very tight switchbacks up to the top of the crag looking over the Rhine, Sooneck Castle is a bit of a half-rebuilt deal. The Duke liked the idea of romantic ruins, so half of the castle is picturesquely tumbling down, and the current caretakers have made some beautiful plantings – climbing roses, sprays of tiny white flowers, and vines. Very picturesque. When we visited, an American high school group was there, and the photo taking was intense.

There is a tower that is intact, and you can visit it on a tour. There are no English tours, and the translation sheet is hilariously bad, but it’s quick and the views up top are beautiful. This castle is in the middle Rhine region, and would be a short trip from Koblenz or Heidelberg.

Castle Lichtenstein

Castle Lichtenstein has an impressive entrance. That’s stabilizing work they’re currently undertaking on the tower. 

Lichtenstein Castle

This castle is all over Pinterest and Instagram, and understandably so, as it’s very cute. A short drive from Stuttgart, Lichtenstein Castle is not actually in the country of Lichtenstein, but was named after a famous Romantic German novel that was inspired by the original medieval castle on the same site (got that?). In any case, ‘Lichtenstein’ in German is roughly translated as ‘shining stone’ – and you will noticed immediately that the castle is built on an outcropping of white rock. The current castle was built in the 1840s and is full of Gothic Revival castleness. Again, you will need a tour to see the inside, but the tours are only in German. There is a useful brochure with the details in English. My favourite spot? Inside the dining hall, there’s a large gilt grate that allowed the music from a small orchestra to filter down so Duke Wilhelm von Urach could dance with his guests.

Burg Eltz

Our favourite German castle, Burg Eltz is gorgeous and just what you imagine a castle to look like.

Burg Eltz

This is my favourite German castle, and I’ve dedicated a whole post to it over here. The tl;dr version is this: it is one of only three Rhine valley castles to have survived unscathed the many wars that ravaged this countryside, and is one of the most beautiful. The interiors are breathtaking. My favourite is the bed chamber with wall paintings preserved from the 15th century. Incredibly, the same family has owned the castle for the past 33 generations, and they still have quarters there. In fact, the Countess puts huge vases of fresh flowers in the public rooms every day. Burg Eltz is a short trip from Trier, Koblenz and Cologne.

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Castles in the mist

Castles in the mist

One of the things we love about this area of southern Germany are the castle ruins scattered over the countryside. For the most part, the original ones were built somewhere in the 11th and 12th centuries, and were destroyed in the Thirty Years War, which trampled over this region like a rampaging herd of dinosaurs repeatedly in the 17th century. We’ve been driving around, checking them out in the incredibly cold mist we’ve been having every day lately. Of course, this means our seven year old is completely over castles now it seems. *sigh*

St Michael’s Monastery

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The above is not actually a castle but someone’s house, directly below Heidelberg Castle.

Heidelberg Schloss (Castle)

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Dilsberg Altstadt (old city) and Castle

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I particularly like the sneaky storage box and wheely bin in this picture.

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