The Best Castles in Germany

Besides its modern cities, medieval towns, and beer, Germany is perhaps most well-known for its castles, from the fairytale Neuschwanstein to the historic Hornberg. Home to everything from Renaissance paintings and Neoclassical furnishings to treasuries, museums, and resplendent gardens, these palaces make for worthy visits, whether to learn about their fascinating histories or simply enjoy their sweeping views.

Alpseestraße 30, 87645 Schwangau, Germany
You know you’re in the Bavarian Alps when a majestic, fairy tale–like castle appears in the distance, perched atop a rugged peak. Thanks to King Ludwig II and his obsession with 19th-century Romanticism, this mountainous area is home to a wide array of beautiful castles. While Neuschwanstein is the most famous, Hohenschwangau actually served as King Ludwig’s home and is now open for tours of its ornate banquet halls and charming dressing rooms, as well as the king’s bedroom.
Neuschwansteinstraße 20, 87645 Schwangau, Germany
The most famous castle in Germany—and one of the best known in Europe—Neuschwanstein is renowned not just for its fairy-tale architecture (which directly inspired the Disney Castle) but also for its creator, “mad” King Ludwig II. Begun in 1868, it wasn’t completed until four years after Ludwig’s death, in 1892, but was very advanced for its time, with larger-than-usual windows, central heating, an elevator, telephones, and indoor plumbing. However, it’s the castle’s mountaintop setting and soaring towers that really impress. When visiting, be sure to check out the paintings inspired by the operas of Richard Wagner—Ludwig’s friend and the person to whom he dedicated the castle. Also take in the stellar views from the Marienbrücke, and if you want to visit in style, consider a horse-drawn carriage ride back to your car. There’s a restaurant on-site, but plenty of cheaper options are in the town below.
Residenzplatz 2, 97070 Würzburg, Germany
The former residence of Würzburg’s prince-bishops, this UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most important Baroque palaces in Europe. It was—remarkably, given its scale and level of detail both inside and out—built almost entirely within a single generation. Court architect Balthasar Neumann oversaw the construction, while leading architects from Germany and France created the fabulous ornamentation. Woodcarvers, sculptors, and artists from Italy—including Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, regarded as one of the greatest fresco painters of the 18th century—also contributed to the design.

Rebuilt after World War II, the palace now features a bevy of architectural styles, from German and Viennese Baroque to French château. Inside, the White, Imperial, and Garden halls are can’t-miss attractions, as are the grand staircase and ceiling fresco by Tiepolo and the Mirror Cabinet. Before leaving, be sure to take a walk in the court gardens, which feature fountains, charming yew trees, and a group of cherub statues by Johann Peter Wagner.
Schloßgasse 26, 63739 Aschaffenburg, Germany
Completed in 1614, Johannisburg Palace is one of the most important Renaissance castles in Germany. Located along the Main River, the immense, four-winged complex served as the second residence of the archbishop-electors of Mainz until 1803. Today, it’s home to innumerable cultural and historical treasures, including a unique collection of cork architectural models called Bringing Rome Across the Alps. The State Gallery displays early German and Dutch paintings, with a special emphasis on Lucas Cranach the Elder, while the Princely Apartments offer a fine array of neoclassical furnishings. In the Palace Church, modern technology brings the Renaissance altar to life in a new way, using light and sound installations to highlight the 31 alabaster sculptures and almost 150 relief figures. Also not to be missed is the Palace Museum, showcasing the history of Aschaffenburg, as well as the gardens, where the fruit trees and flower beds are particularly splendid in summer.
Schlosshof 1, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany
Perched picturesquely on a rocky hilltop overlooking the city, Heidelberg Castle is enigmatic, romantic, and one of the few castles in Germany that hasn’t been fully restored. Dating back to the 1300s, it served as the seat of the Palantine electors for several centuries. While it expanded substantially during the 16th and 17th centuries, it was plundered and destroyed on many occasions and now consists of mainly Renaissance and Baroque ruins. It’s free to roam the gardens and exterior, but guests must pay an admission fee to visit the interior. Take a guided tour for a historic overview and access to highlights such as the English Wing (built in 1612 by Elector Friedrich V), the graceful Renaissance courtyard, and impressive rooms like the Knight’s Hall and the Imperial Hall. The Grosses Fask (Great Cask) in the cellar is also worth seeing—the world’s largest functioning wine barrel, it’s made from 130 oak trees and can hold some 58,117 gallons of wine.
Hohenzollern, 72379 Bisingen, Germany
For many centuries, the Hohenzollerns were one of Germany’s most powerful families, their influence only diminishing with the end of the monarchy after World War I. During their dominance, they lived in this majestic neo-Gothic castle, visible from miles away thanks to its prime location on a conical hill. Inside, a series of opulent rooms remain resplendent with period furnishings and valuable oil paintings. The Treasury—which hosts personal items of Frederick the Great and Queen Louise, the Prussian Royal Crown, and a great deal of expensive porcelain and silverware—and the royal chambers can only be seen via a guided tour, but the grounds are free to explore. Also open to the public is the café-restaurant Burg Hohenzollern, with decent regional food and an outdoor beer garden in summer.
Schloßbezirk 10, 76131 Karlsruhe, Germany
Built between 1715 and 1718, the Baroque Karlsruhe Castle served as the residence of the electoral princes and grand dukes of Baden for more than two centuries. Designed by Jakob Friedrich von Batzendorf, the palace exterior is especially pleasing—not least because it was planned as the focal point of the city, with streets radiating out from all sides like wheel spokes (which in turn inspired Pierre L’Enfant, planner of Washington, D.C.). The castle also features picturesque pavilions and ornate wings, but for many the real highlight is the Baden State Museum inside. Opened in 1919 and generally regarded as the best in the region, the museum spans pre- and early history, with exhibits on the Ancient Greek and Roman eras as well as sculptures from the Middle Ages, a particularly celebrated art nouveau collection, and an impressive range of 17th-century Ottoman handicrafts.
Schloß Nymphenburg 1, 80638 München, Germany
Built in the 17th century, Nymphenburg Palace is one of the largest royal castles in Europe. Planned as a summer residence for the Bavarian monarchy, it was expanded over time and now features additional pavilions and gallery wings, plus a French Baroque façade by Joseph Effner. The palace exterior and expansive, English-style gardens—complete with lakes, geysers, and waterfalls—are the real highlights here, but the interior, with its Baroque, Neoclassical, and Rococo era rooms, is also worth seeing. Be sure to check out the Steinerner Saal (Stone Hall) with its striking ceiling frescoes, the Schönheitengalerie (Gallery of Beauties) with works by court painter Joseph Karl Stieler, and the palace chapel of St. Magdalena. There are also a few interesting museums on site, including ones dedicated to royal coaches, porcelain, and natural history.
Königstraße 61, 76887 Bad Bergzabern, Germany
Constructed between 1720 and 1725 on the site of a 12th-century fort, this castle once served as the residence of the dukes of Pfalz-Zweibrücken. Attacked, burned down, and destroyed innumerable times over the centuries, it was restored in the 1980s and today houses Bad Bergzabern’s local government offices. It also offers some interesting architecture to explore, from its distinctive round towers to its polygonal staircase turret in the courtyard. Equally compelling is the town of Bad Bergzabern itself, which features half-timbered houses from the 17th and 18th centuries and a striking guesthouse with a Renaissance facade that dates back to 1579.
Schlossgasse 29, 67157 Wachenheim an der Weinstraße, Germany
Although it has just 4,800 inhabitants, the town of Wachenheim is quite well known, both for its vineyards and its castle. Thought to be built in the 12th century by King Konrad von Hohenstaufen, Castle Wachtenburg is popular mostly for its tremendous views over the surrounding Rhineland, which earned it the nickname “Balcony of the Palatinate.” It’s much larger up close than it looks from down the hill, and also has a preserved tower, wall sections that date from its 12th century beginnings, and the remains of a historic palace. Look around, then head to the on-site café, which serves as a location for various events and wine festivals.
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