Germany is one of the best destinations in the world for viewing gorgeous castles. Before its unification in 1871, the country was divided into hundreds of fiefdoms, each with an impressive palace ruling over it. Some of the most stunning castles are located in Bavaria, perched above charming historical towns, and can be reached on a day trip from Frankfurt or Munich. Known as “schloss” in German, each castle has a rich history and offers its own unique treasures (The hard part is narrowing down which ones to see!). Here are eight of our favorite castles to get you started on planning the ultimate fairy tale vacation.
#1 Heidelberg Castle
One of the most popular castles in Germany, Schloss Heidelberg receives around one million visitors each year. Built during the Renaissance, this hillside palace looms over the charming old town of Heidelberg. Head to the top to see the ruins on a 10-minute walk up a steep cobblestone trail or take the Bergbahn (cogwheel train) from Kornmarkt station. You’ll be rewarded with a beautiful courtyard and spectacular views of the Neckar Valley below. Discover life-sized statues of kings and emperors, as well as the Grosses Fass, the largest wine barrel in the world with a capacity of 221,726 liters!
Heidelberg is located in southwestern Germany. You can get to Schloss Heidelberg on a half-day or full-day trip from Frankfurt which also includes ample time to explore the postcard-worthy medieval city.
#2 Neuschwanstein Castle
Rumored to be Walt Disney’s inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle, Neuschwanstein Castle looks like it could be straight out of a fairy tale. In fact, it was commissioned by King Ludwig II (known as the “Mad King”) in the 1860’s to represent his ideal of a medieval fairy tale castle and he hired a theatrical designer to create it. Perched atop a forested hill in the Bavarian alps, Neuschwanstein features two immense banquet halls and an artificial indoor cave. For the ultimate photo opp, walk to Marienbrücke (Mary’s Bridge), which spans the spectacular Pöllat Gorge over a waterfall just above the castle.
You can visit Neuschwanstein Castle on a day trip from Frankfurt that also includes a stop in Rothenburg, the most well-preserved medieval town in Germany.
#3 Linderhof Castle
Another opulent attraction commissioned by King Ludwig II in the 19th century, Linderhof Castle was inspired by the Palace of Versailles in France and is the only castle in which he lived. Explore lavish interiors including the amazing hall of mirrors, built to reflect hundreds of candles at night for the nocturnal King Ludwig. Linderhof Castle also features wonderous lakes and gardens. Enjoy a stroll through Italian-style landscapes, gorgeous fountains and the Venus Grotto, which features a waterfall, fake stalactites and a swan boat floating on an artificial lake.
Linderhof Castle can be combined with Neuschwanstein Castle on an unforgettable day trip from Munich.
#4 Harburg Castle
For an authentic medieval castle experience, head to Harburg to see the town’s picturesque castle complex. One of the largest castles in Germany, Schloss Harburg is wonderfully preserved and considered one of the jewels of the Romantic Road. Built between the 11th and 13th centuries, the vast grounds include a castle house, chapel, sentry walk (you can still see the holes through which soldiers would pour hot oil on invaders), prison tower, dungeon, and an impressive ballroom.
Visit Harburg Castle on a day trip from Munich that also includes a stop in the magical town of Rathburg.
#5 Braunfels Castle
Perched on the crest of a basalt rock, Schloss Braunfels greets visitors from afar with its magical silhouette. Built in the 13th century, this gothic style castle features vast state rooms full of priceless paintings, sculptures and furniture. It’s also home to an impressive Knight’s Hall containing armaments and weaponry used in tournament, war and hunting from the 13th to 19th century. One of only two castles still privately owned in Germany, Braunfels has been home to generations of the same family for centuries. (However, it is open for public tours.)
Enjoy a day trip to Braunfels Castle from Frankfurt that also includes time to explore the beautiful half-timbered houses, historical town gates and medieval ramparts in the town of Braunfels.
#6 Wartburg Castle
Strategically hidden from view, travelers first approach Wartburg Castle through dense forest, where branches and treetops give way to soaring stone ramparts and an impressive watchtower. An UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best-preserved medieval German fortresses in the world, Wartburg Castle dates back almost 1,000 years and has served as a refuge to famous people throughout history. Martin Luther is said to have spent six weeks here translating the New Testament into German, and Wagner used it as a refuge while composing his famous Tannhauser opera.
See Wartburg Castle on a guided day trip from Frankfurt which also includes an in-depth tour on its history.
#7 Hohenzollern Castle
Another breathtaking castle placed atop a peak in the clouds, Schloss Hohenzollern is one of Germany’s most popular castles. Rebuilt three times over the course of eight centuries, this impressive palace was home to one of the mightiest dynasties in Germany which included the famous Frederic the Great, King of Prussia. Explore splendid halls embellished with valuable paintings, precious porcelains, gold and silver works, historical garments, and exhibits featuring the crown of the Prussian King and a letter from George Washington, in which the former American president commends Baron von Steuben (a descendent of Hohenzollern) for his service in the American Revolutionary War.
Take a guided day trip from Frankfurt to Hohenzollern Castle which includes a scenic drive through the lush German countryside.
#8 Burg Eltz
One of the few European medieval structures that remains virtually intact, Burg Eltz looks pretty much the same since the 15th century when it was home to three noble families. This pristine castle is still owned today by one of the original households (the Eltzes), who have had it for 33 generations. But while it is a private castle, it is still open to the public for tours. The inside of the castle is unique: the living and sleeping areas, the armory and Knights hall, the hunting room and kitchen have all been well preserved; most of the original décor and furniture remains exactly as it was. It is perhaps most famous for its vault which contains some of Europe’s foremost treasure chambers, housing a collection of medieval goldsmith work and other precious objets d’art.
Enjoy a day trip to Burg Eltz from Frankfurt which includes a scenic dinner on the Rhine River on your way back.
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