Day Trips

The Most Beautiful Castles and Palaces in Germany

When you come from a young country like the USA as I do, the fact that castles dating back hundreds, if not thousands, of years exist throughout the country of Germany is astounding. How have they managed to last all this time?!? It’s incredible. Visiting castles and palaces is one of my favorite things to do while traveling in Germany, and the charm hasn’t worn off even after living here for several years. I never get sick of visiting them! 

Germany has the largest network of castles in the world, which makes visiting a castle or two (or 20) a must-do activity while traveling in Germany. Each castle and palace is unique from the others with styles ranging from Rococo to Baroque to Medieval. From the fairytale-like Neuschwanstein Castle to Instagram-famous Burg Eltz, there are lovely palaces and castles throughout Germany worthy of exploration. Plus, many of them are located in stunning locations like wood shrouded valleys or perched above winding rivers. 

These are the Most Beautiful, Instagrammable Castles and Palaces in Germany

Drachenfels Castle 

Location: Konigswinter (40km from Cologne)

Towering over a slight bend in the Rhine River, Drachenfels Castle in Konigswinter is an ideal day trip from Cologne with plenty of Instagrammable appeal. You are welcome to hike up the hill, but an easier way to get up is via the funicular. Buy a one way ticket and you can meander your way back down on foot. At the top of the funicular, you will find a large viewing platform offering sweeping views of the region along with a perfectly placed beer garden and cafe. We visited on an ideal fall day in October, and the beer garden was packed with young families, friends and doggos spending a lovely day in the sun. 

As you make your way down the hill via the well-marked walking paths, you will stumble upon castle ruins and garden houses until you reach Schloss Drachenburg. The castle was built privately by a wealthy family in the 19th century, but it has changed ownership many times since then. It fell into disrepair during the post-war period, and was only restored within the last few decades. If you want to see the gardens and interior of the castle, you’ll need to purchase a ticket at the entrance for a marginal fee. Unlike other castles on this list, photos are allowed throughout the premises, perfect for mini photo shoots.  

Moritzburg Palace

Location: Moritzburg (20 km from Dresden)

For a stunning example of Baroque architecture and grandeur of the Saxon empire, then a stop at Moritzburg is a must-do day trip from Dresden. This palace is truly something to behold. Surrounded by a colossal man-made pond, the pale yellow exterior is only the beginning of the splendor of this incredible palace. If you have extra time, hop on a rental bike from Moritzburg palace to the Little Pheasants Castle at the end of the canal for more Baroque beauty. 

This castle was the primary residence of notorious King Augustus the Strong. I really loved the content and layout of the museum inside this palace because it tells a simple story — the life and lifestyle of King Augustus — but in an engaging way of ‘debunking’ common myths and depictions of this lively historic figure. You wander through the opulent wallpaper clad rooms of the palace while reading about the real lives of people that happened inside the palace. From sordid affairs to over-the-top feats of human strength, you are bound to learn at least a few interesting stories while wandering through the palace. 

Augustusburg Palace

Location: Bruhl (18km from Cologne)

If you are a lover of Rococo style architecture, then a visit to the jaw-droppingly beautiful Augustusburg and Falkenlust Palaces in Bruhl is a fun day trip from Cologne. It used to be the residence and hunting lodge for Cologne’s Archbishop, and in more recent history, hosted receptions and state dinners for Western Germany during the era of partition. Dating back to the 18th century, this massive palace has been painstakingly restored with marble pillars, gold décor, and hand-painted murals. It is really a marvel! 

The French gardens at the palace are another highlight with tree-lined boulevards, well-manicured flower beds and of course, a variety of fountains and busts to discover along the walking paths. The gardens are open and free to the public year round, but the only way to see the interior of the palace is on a guided tour in which photography is strictly forbidden (and enforced by surveillance cameras). Always an advocate for responsible and rule-abided tourist behavior, the interior photo below is not mine — it is from the museum’s website. 

Eltz Castle

Location: Moselle Valley (40km from Koblenz)

While slightly out of the way on a tour of the Moselle valley, the challenge of getting to Burg Eltz will be worth the reward! This is by far one of the most Instagrammed places in Germany and rightfully so — it’s beautiful! Of the German castles that I’ve seen so far, this one comes closest to rivaling the iconic Neuschwanstein Castle. Its tucked away location in a perpetually mist shrouded valley in the Moselle region simply screams romance. It’s relatively remote location also protected it during the war periods, which means it remains largely in its original condition. 

Construction of the castle dates back to the 9th century, and this castle has been continuously privately owned by the Etlz family, whose 33rd generation of descendants still maintain the castle today. After paying for a ticket at the castle entrance, you will be whisked onto a 45 minute guided tour through the various Medieval styled rooms. Because one family has consistently owned the castle, you will find the rooms filled with original artifacts, like paintings, armor and furniture. Tours are offered in English and no photography is allowed during the tours.

Heidelberg Castle

Location: Heidelberg (80km from Frankfurt)

With beautiful views overlooking Heidelberg’s Altstadt, Heidelberg Castle serves as a romantic backdrop to one of Germany’s most beautiful cities. It is one of the most important attractions to see during a one or two day visit to Heidelberg. This castle was built over a series of centuries under different rulers, so you will notice different styles, from gothic through to the renaissance period. The pink sandstone façade in the main courtyard is decked out in renaissance details like busts and statues, while the terrace overlooking the river is much older. 

You can access the castle via walking path for free, or if you want to take the funicular up to the top, it only costs 8 euros and includes a ticket to the castle as well. In my opinion, a combination of both is ideal, choosing to take the funicular up and then the walking path down. You can only visit the interior of the castle on a guided walking tour, which is an extra fee; or you are welcome to explore the terraces and squares without a guide. You cannot take pictures inside the castle and you will be asked to put your camera/phone away during the walking tour.

After your tour, pop into the Schloss Café to see the world’s largest wine cask inside the castle – it’s a lot bigger than you might guess! Don’t miss the view from the garden. We almost didn’t go to this viewpoint because it was raining and cloudy, but I’m so glad we did because it is the only viewpoint on the castle grounds where you can get a view of the castle and the city simultaneously. Plus, the gardens have an extensive sculpture collection and, in the springtime, I’m sure the flowers and blooming trees would be lovely! 

Benrath Palace

Location: Benrath (15km from Dusseldorf)

Another marvel of Rococo design, Benrath Palace is a favorite of influencers and Instagrammers for two big reasons — the pale pink exterior and mirrored grand hallway inside. Every room on the interior is gorgeous, ranging from colorful wallpapered bedrooms to an impressive marble-clad entryway. Unlike some of the other palaces and castles on this list, you are fully able to photograph inside the palace. It is popular place for wedding photos, so you may need to wait a few minutes to snap the perfect photo.

This palace is much, much smaller than other palaces in Germany, but it is perfectly restored and largely unknown so you can expect minimal crowds. The largely untamed gardens behind the palace are a nice place to go for a long walk. There are lovely wooded paths leading all the way to the Rhine River.You’ll see lots of locals going for a run or walking their dogs in this relatively unknown, yet lovely park.

Albrechtsburg

Location: Meissen (30 km from Dresden)

You can learn about the history of porcelain making (along with plenty of other regional history) at the towering Albrechtsberg Palace in the center of town. Meissen was the birthplace of porcelain making in Europe in the early 1700s. The origin of this 300+ year tradition dates back to King Augustus who was an avid art collector, with porcelain being one of his favorite mediums. He started a royal commission specifically for the production and perfection of porcelain in Meissen.

You can tour Albrechtsberg on your own without an organized tour, and actually the interior of Albrechtsberg is packed with well-designed exhibits. If you wanted to make this day trip from Dresden an all-day affair, you could easily spend several hours here reading all of the material. I particularly liked the helpful signage at this museum! Make sure to pop across the river after your visit to snap a great photo of the palace overlooking the charming town.

Linderhof Castle

Location: Near ​​Füssen (100km from Munich)

This is the first of three ostentatious palaces created by or for Bavarian King Ludwig II that I will mention on this Instagrammable German Castle list. You can visit all three of these Ludwig castles – Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Hohenschwangau – on the same day, although it will be an exhausting & long day. I would recommend spacing out the castle visits for a longer stay in the Füssen area. 

Linderhof is the least visited of the three Ludwig palaces mentioned here, but it was actually my favorite (it was his favorite too). It was the only commissioned palace that Ludwig II actually saw through to its completion. I loved Linderhof for two main reasons. The first is the beautiful scenery and gardens around the palace. It is nestled into this wooded valley with a beautiful mountain backdrop. Surrounding the palace are stunning French gardens modeled off of the ones at Versailles. There is a naturally powered fountain in the middle which shoots an 80 foot spout of water every 10-15 minutes. 

The second reason I loved Linderhof Palace is the sheer amount of Rococo detail inside. Because this palace is smaller than the others, the rooms are packed with ornate details to make it seem more grand. Similar to the gardens, the inside is meant to replicate Versailles, so there is a Hall of Mirrors with stunning decor and details. The King’s Bedchamber here is also incredible with a massive glass candelabra hanging in the center. No pictures are allowed inside, and you can only visit the interior on a scheduled tour.

Hohenschwangau

Location: Schwangau (120 km from Munich)

Hohenschwangau was home to King Ludwig II of Bavaria throughout his childhood, and he lived there during the construction of Neuschwanstein until his mysterious death. Designed in a neo-gothic style, a guided tour of this palace will show you some of the 90+ paintings that adorn the walls of this underrated castle. I actually preferred the visit to Hohenschwangau to Neuschwanstein because the tour was more informative and it was FAR less crowded. It felt like a much less touristy experience, even though, of course, it was still only tourists visiting.

Perfectly paired with a visit to Neuschwanstein (mentioned below) thanks to its practically next door location, you can buy a dual ticket to visit both castles in one day! With a marginal price difference, a visit to both castles is a no-brainer if you have the time. While there are no pictures allowed inside Hohenschwangau, the lovely yellow exterior and wholly underutilized gardens make for a lovely photo backdrop. Don’t miss the quirky swan fountain along the side garden which Ludwig personally designed himself. 

Neuschwanstein

Location: Schwangau (120 km from Munich)

If there is a German castle that you definitely know already, it is Neuschwanstein. This is one of the most visited castles in the world and is certainly the most iconic of Germany’s castles. Bankrolled by the enigmatic King Ludwig II, everything about this castle was designed in the high romantic style he loved. It was meant to serve as the private residence for Ludwig, but his suspicious drowning at age 41 prevented the castle from being fully completed. Its fairytale-like appearance and stunning location in the German Alps may look familiar to any Disney lovers — Walt Disney is rumored to have designed the Sleeping Beauty castle after Neuschwanstein. 

Available for visitation throughout the year, be prepared for large, large crowds at Neuschwanstein. You need to buy your ticket with a scheduled time slot a minimum of one week in advance. No pictures are allowed inside the castle, and you are required to be on a guided tour in order to see the interior. The whistle-stop tour leaves a lot to be desired in my opinion, but you can at least get an impression of the romantic style and grandeur of King Ludwig II. 

Neuschwanstein is located at the top of a small mountain which can be accessed on foot via steep paved walking trail, by horse-drawn carriage or by shuttle bus. However, the shuttle bus doesn’t run in adverse conditions. We happened to visit Neuschwanstein on a late April day when it was 34 degrees F and sleet snowing, which we were completely unprepared for. Under these conditions, the shuttle was shut down and our only option was to walk which takes about 25 minutes directly uphill.

Stolzenfels Castle

Location: Koblenz (125 km from Frankfurt)

Schloss Stolzenfels is a perfect stop if you are exploring the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, sometimes called the Romantic Rhine. This region of Germany has one of the densest quantity of castles in the whole country, and some of them have even been converted into hotels. You can literally sleep in a historic German castle! Stolzenfels Castle is a13th-century fortress was largely destroyed during the 30 Years War, but then rebuilt in the 1800s in neo-Gothic style. The castle can only be accessed on foot, and you’ll be required to park your car at the bottom of the steep hill. 

Similar to other castles in Germany, you can only see the interior on a guided tour and photography is strictly forbidden. When I visited, the tour was only in German but there were language translation sheets for each room, offering English, French, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese translations. In the various rooms on the tour of Stolzenfels, you’ll find paintings, weapons, armor and furnishings from the mid-19th century which were left when the castle was abandoned. I especially enjoyed the quaint gardens surrounding the castle as well as the lovely views over the Rhine.

Cochem Castle

Location: Cochem (180 km from Frankfurt)

Also known locally as Reichsburg, Cochem Castle is precariously perched 300 feet above the charming town of Cochem sitting along the banks of the Moselle River. I could go on at length about how wonderful a visit to the Moselle is, but for the purpose of this post, Cochem Castle is a worthy castle to add to your list of must-visit castles in Germany.

Believed to have origins dating back to 1100, this castle has seen many iterations over its long history. King Louis XIV actually had his troops destroy the castle completely in 1689, after which it sat in ruin for almost 200 years. It wasn’t until a wealthy Berlin businessman bought the ruins that the castle was rebuilt into the splendor you see today. 

The original castle was built in a Romanesque style, but when the new one was constructed, it took on a largely neo-Gothic appearance. Like many of the other castles on this list, you are required to take a guided tour if you want to see the interior. If you are more interested in the views of the Moselle and surrounding area, you can simply amble up the shop-lined streets of Cochem at your own pace up until you reach the castle. 

Zwinger Palace

Location: Dresden (in the city center)

Set in the heart of Dresden, this is one of the rare palaces in Germany that is super easy to get to! It is a must-do activity when visiting Dresden. The massive complex of the baroque-styled Zwinger used to be the home of Saxony’s royal family and government, but it has since been converted to a number of different museums and restaurants. 

Sunset is the best time to visit the Zwinger Dresden because the lighting is absolutely stunning as it bounces around the courtyard of this historic baroque building. The central pools in the garden create perfect reflections of the building, and you’ll definitely be inspired to snap some creative shots. You’ll see plenty of other people taking photos around the garden and crowned tower of the Zwinger at golden hour, but thankfully the palace is big enough to get uninterrupted photos regardless of any crowds. 

If you want to actually admire the interior of the palace, you’ll need to visit one of the museums inside the Zwinger. I recommend the national porcelain collection. This might sound like a snooze to anyone whose mother collected porcelain statues as a child (mine certainly did) but trust me — this museum is so much more than little figurines. The porcelain collection at the Zwinger includes many pieces from one of Saxony’s most notorious kings, Augustus the Strong. His love for porcelain was seemingly boundless and some of the pieces are absolutely huge. He commissioned an entire zoo featuring life-size animals made of porcelain which you’ll find inside this museum.  

Hohenzollern Castle

Location: Near ​​Tübingen (70km from Stuttgart)

With origins all the way back to the 10th century, Hohenzollern Castle is an impressive complex that serves as the ancestral residence of the Prussian royal families. A drive up the mountain to Hohenzollern Castle truly makes you feel like you’re approaching a royal residence. The castle sits on the literal top of a mountain in Swabia surrounded by forests and overlooking a large plain. It’s visible from the highway!

Hohenzollern Castle is one of Germany’s most imposing neo-Gothic castles. With its many towers and fortifications, you’ll wander through the courtyard and garden marveling at the architectural details. It is currently undergoing ongoing restoration, so make sure to check opening times before visiting.The entry ticket is rather expensive imo, and the tour is self-guided, so I’m not sure it’s entirely worth the cost. But there are some cool artifacts inside the castle, and I really liked looking at the family tree room which shows all the generations of Prussian leaders. It is best to visit Hohenzollern on a clear day when you can truly appreciate the amazing location and beautiful viewpoints from the castle. 

Lichtenstein Castle

Location: Near ​​Tübingen (60km from Stuttgart)

Teetering precariously on a large rock in the Swabian region of southern Germany, Lichtenstein Castle is a privately-owned Gothic Revival castle. This is one of the less-visited castles on this list, so maybe you’ve never heard of this one. Lichtenstein Castle is the thing of fairytale dreams with a wooden drawbridge leading up to the entrance, a grand turret overlooking the Echaz valley, and intricate spires climbing towards the sky. The viewpoint overlooking Lichtenstein Castle is the cover photo of this blog post! 

Although it was built on the foundation of an older knight’s castle, the current castle was largely constructed during the 19th century. It was designed by Carl Alexander Heideloff based on inspiration from Wilhelm Hauff’s novel Lichtenstein. If you’re already planning to visit Hohenzollern Castle above, then making a stop at the nearby Lichtenstein Castle is an easy add-on to your day trip itinerary. I don’t think this castle is necessarily impressive enough to warrant its own trip; but when added on to a larger Black Forest itinerary, it’s a lovely stop. You can purchase a ticket for only the gardens or for a garden & interior tour.

Würzburg Residence

Location: Würzburg (in the city center)

Situated in the heart of the Bavarian city of Würzburg, the Würzburg Residence is absolutely enormous. Just look at that picture below! The architects were inspired by several different European styles of the time, including Viennese baroque and French chateau, so the appearance feels familiar yet distinct. Dedicated to the arts, the interior is truly a masterpiece, especially the staircase room, the imperial hall and the white hall. Stunning fresco murals are painted on the ceilings and walls showing a number of religious and secular scenes. You can expect to see lots of gilded details and ornate intricacies as you wander through on a self-guided tour of the residence. 

For me, one of the most impressive parts of the Würzburg Residence is how much was rebuilt after WWII. Würzburg, an industrial hub in the 1900s, was essentially razed by the Allied Forces with 90% of the city destroyed. There is a small exhibit inside which shows pictures from then and now. It is incredible and horrific to see the level of destruction. Yet the modern structure is evidence of the resilience and capacity to rebuild, at the cost of a quick $20 million Euros. Only a small part of the Residence is open to the public, and much of it is used as administrative and municipal office space. Don’t miss the gardens behind the structure, full of extensive walking paths and a large French garden.

Did I miss any of your favorite German castles? Comment below so I can go to visit them!

1 Comment

  • Tanvir
    March 27, 2024 at 1:52 pm

    Castle Altena could be an exciting place to visit.

    Reply

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