If you like castles, you’ll love Germany, for Germany has castles the way Venice has canals, or Norway has fjords, or the Napa Valley has wineries. There are literally scores of them, virtually in every German state and seemingly on every other hilltop, especially along the river Rhine. There are schlosses, which are essentially castles or palaces, and there are burgs, which are castles or fortresses; and then there are festungs, quite simply, fortresses.
Here are ten of the most famous German castles, the must-sees, the “great castles” of Germany.
1. Schloss Neuschwanstein
Schloss Neuschwanstein is perhaps the most picturesque, the most recognizable of Germany’s great castles. This is the one that inspired the magical castle at Disneyland, the one with interiors that resemble scenes from Wagnerian operas. Perched high on a hill in an alpine setting in Schwangau, along Northern Bavaria’s Romantic Road, the castle follows a distinctly Romanesque style. It was originally built between 1869 and 1886 and was the ultimate fantasy of the Mad King Ludwig. Public tours of it are 9 euros each, not cheap, but worth it.
2. Burg Eltz
Burg Eltz, located in the lower Mosel Valley, high above the Rhine, is one of Germany’s most beautiful medieval castles, 850 years old, and unscathed! It is still family owned and occupied, but can be seen on guided tours for 6 euros a pop. And it’s worth it, offering the visitor a peek at not only the original period furniture and decor, but 20 flushable toilets that supposedly date back to the 15th century.
3. Meersburg Alte Burg
Meersburg Alte Burg, located in the Black Forest area in Baden-Württemberg, is another of the famous ‘burgs’. It dates from the seventh century and offers superb views out to the Bodensee. This is also the oldest of Germany’s castles that is inhabitable. A Merovingian king, Dagoberth, originally started it, and it served as the residence of the bishop of Konstanz for decades. For 8.00 euros you can take a self-guided tour of the castle that leads through 30 rooms that include the chambers used by famous German poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, who frequently sojourned here in the mid-19th century.
4. The Wartburg
The Wartburg, situated just outside Eisenach in the Thuringia region, has been described as the most German of the German castles. It was here that Martin Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into German while in hiding. This one is open to public tours for 5 euros per head.
5. The Marksburg
The Marksburg. Indeed, the Marksburg is perched on a hill on the shores of the Rhine, high above the town of Braubach in the Rhine Valley. And make no mistake, the Marksburg is not just another one of those 19th century imitations – and yes, there are several of those in Germany as well! – this is the real thing, boasting one of the most impressive armory collections anywhere, including one of the oldest cannons in Germany. For 4.50 euros you can see it all on a guided tour.
6. Schloss Sanssouci
Schloss Sanssouci: Now there’s one you can’t miss. Located in Potsdam in the Brandenberg region, not far from Berlin, this is a veritable masterpiece from the Baroque period. What’s more, it has its associations with Frederick the Great. In this small but lively summer palace Frederick the Great entertained the thinkers and musicians of his time, including Voltaire. The Rococco residence can be toured for 8 euros, albeit with commentary in German.
7. Schloss Braunfels
Schloss Braunfels, an 800-year-old palace located in the Hesse region’s Lahn Valley. While well worth touring, the unfortunate thing about this one is that it was rebuilt in the 19th century in the Neo-Gothic style. But don’t let that deter you. A guided tour of the castle includes the interior, with rooms displaying medieval weaponry, porcelain, and paintings. And it’s 4 euros for the tour.
8. Festung Königstein
Festung Königstein, located near Dresden in the Saxony region, is easily the largest fortress in Germany, and a triumph, if ever there was one, of fortress construction in Europe. Now more than 750 years old, it represents a confluence of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and 19th century architecture. During world War II, it housed senior French prisoners of war as well as Dresden’s best artworks. Guided tours of fortress and its grounds are available year-round for 6 euros.
9. The Residenz
The Residenz, the principle address of the ruling Wittelsbach family for over 500 years, is located in Munich, Bavaria. It is a massive complex, lavishly decorated, constructed between 1720 and 1744 by Balthasar Neumann for the bishops of Würzburg. It is also one of the finest Baroque palaces in Europe and a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. And it’s 4 euros for a guided tour.
10. Schloss Heidelberg
Schloss Heidelberg, located in Heidelberg of course, in the Baden-Würtemberg region, is perhaps Germany’s most famous ruin, and possibly also one of its most romantic sights. For five centuries the principle residence of the Prince Electors of the Kurpfalz, it was destroyed by the French in the 17th century but continues to dominate Heidelberg’s skyline. Photograph this for the memory.