From imposing gothic masterpieces perched high upon cliff edges to romantic and chivalric spires nestled amongst wild landscapes, there’s little doubt that German castles capture the hearts and minds of all who gaze upon them. Its past being filled with knights, dukes, and tumultuous wars allows the castles to boast a colourful history.
Many castles in Germany have been painstakingly restored to their former glory, and some are even still lived in by the descendants of their founders. All 10 on our list are well worth a visit.
What are the top 10 German Castles to Visit?
The ultimate 19th century fairy-tale fortress, Neuschwanstein was built for Bavaria’s notorious King Ludwig II in accordance with his declared desire to live somewhere designed “in the authentic style of the old German knights”.
Intended be an extravagant retreat for this introverted and reclusive monarch, the castle was in fact only completed seven weeks after his death. Thus it was instead immediately opened to the public and now draws over a million visitors every year. Highlights include the Throne Hall, which through its depiction of medieval poets and sagas exalts Christian kingship and absolute monarchy.
Close to the Itz River around 100km north of Nuremberg is Coburg Castle, the former seat of the Dukes of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and one of Germany’s grandest surviving medieval fortress complexes. Dominating the town of Coburg, it is home to one of the most important art and cultural history collections in Germany.
The oldest surviving part of the castle, the Blue Tower, dates from 1230 but the rest of the complex dates from a post-fire 1499, with extensive renovations in the 18th and 20th centuries. As well as being a mightily-imposing, strategically important castle complete with huge walls, ramparts and internal and external structures, Coburg has welcomed many an important visitor, among them the key figure in the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther.
One time ducal home of the Grandduke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, picture perfect Schwerin Castle seems to floats upon its surrounding lake. Whilst it is thought that there was a fort on this location as early as the tenth century, the beginnings of this imposing fortress date back to 1160, when King Henry the Lion built a castle there. However, it was only from around 1843 that Schwerin Castle began to take the form we see today. Vast renovation of the building took place, with only some of its older parts having been kept.
Taken over by the German state in 1918, Schwerin is now both the seat of the local government and an art museum displaying pieces ranging from the ancient to the twentieth century. Some of the most important pieces at Schwerin’s museum are its seventeenth century Dutch and Flemish paintings.
The spectacular spired vision of Hohenzollern Castle is a 19th century creation and popular tourist destination. Located 40 miles south of Stuttgart, it is in fact the third castle to be built on this site, the earliest in the 11th century.
The current incarnation of the castle was commissioned by King Frederick William IV of Prussia and completed in 1867. The castle was modelled on similar constructions in England and France in the Gothic Revival style. In 1945 Hohenzollern briefly became the home of the former Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany, son of the last German monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Some 100km north-east of Nuremburg, Plassenburg Castle is an iconic symbol of the city of Kulmbach. This colossal fortress originally acted as protection for the Meranian rulers of the Upper Main and Franconian Forest. For most of the 14th to 18th centuries, Plassenburg remained in the hands of dynastic House of Hohenzollern. During this time, it suffered a devastating fire and was completely rebuilt in the German Renaissance style of which it is said to be a prime example.
Today, Plassenburg is one of Bavaria’s top tourist sites as well as a venue for myriad cultural events. It is home to the Frederick the Great Army Museum, the Hohenzollerns in Franconia Museum and the Margravial Rooms as well as the German Pewter Figure Museum which houses over 300,000 figures as well as what is described as a ‘treasure of dioramas’.
Burg Rheinfels was an imposing medieval fortification, the dramatic ruins of which lie in St Goar. Initially built in 1245 as a sort of medieval “toll booth” levying charges on ships that sailed along the Rhine, Burg Rheinfels was so hated by the citizens of the Rhineland that the affected towns together laid siege to it for over a year. However, this vast and powerful fortress withstood this as well as sieges in later centuries. Burg Rheinfels finally fell to the French in 1794 and was then slowly destroyed.
What remains is nevertheless fascinating. Visitors can even tour its fifteenth century underground tunnels or stay in part of the castle – which is now a hotel.
Konigstein Fortress near Dresden was such a power stronghold that it is said never to have fallen to enemy attack. It has however, served a variety of functions, from sixteenth century monastery to a prisoner of war camp in both World War I and World War II.
Visitors can now delve into the eclectic history of Konigstein Fortress through its museum.
The medieval complex of Nuremberg Castle hosted every Holy Roman Emperor between 1050 and 1571. With its strong fortifications, it retained its importance as an imperial palace right up until the Thirty Years’ War.
In 1945 almost the entire Imperial Castle lay in ruins. However, important Romanesque and late Gothic sections survived virtually unscathed. It was lovingly restored, and together with the city walls, is considered to be one of Europe’s most formidable medieval fortifications, and is a highly popular visitor attraction.
If Holstentor looks familiar, this might be because you’ve glimpsed it on a German 2 Euro coin. Of course, with its fairy tale appearance, Holstentor looks like the very image of an ideal castle. Completed in 1478, Holstentor was part of the medieval defences of the city of Lubeck. It is one of only two of the original four gates of the city, the other being Burgtor. In medieval times, Lubeck was a member of the Hanseatic League, an important merchant bloc.
Today, Holstentor is one of a long list of buildings included as part of the UNESCO Hanseatic City of Lubeck site. Inside this medieval gem is the city museum of Lubeck.
Babelsberg Castle is a picturesque 19th century Gothic creation which boasts stunning views of the surrounding countryside as well as beautifully manicured grounds. It is particularly interesting because it was modelled after an English Tudor style. The castle was built between 1833 and 1849 and was the summer residence of Emperor Wilhelm I.
Today, it is a popular visitor attraction which is located in Postdam, not far from the German capital, Berlin.