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!
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.
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.
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.
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