Germany certainly has no shortage of castles perched upon hills overlooking many scenic rivers and valleys.Castle spotting is definitely a favorite past time while driving through the country on a road trip. Some castles are as romantic as any homeless romantic could possibly imagine and even inspired Walt Disney, some are unique and no less impressive while others lie in ruins but still hold a special charm.
Some are called a ‘Burg’ and others are called a ‘Schloss’. So, what’s the difference, you might ask?
is usually a fortress that was built for protection during the Middle Ages by the nobility. During this time, things were unsteady and turbulent, so the nobility needed protection from unwanted visitors. In the beginning, these Burgen (plural) started out as just a watch tower where people took refuge and gradually, over time expanded the towers into a strong, steady and fortified “castle” accommodating those seeking shelter within.
is much more elegant and romantic than a Burg as these were generally built after the Middle Ages and usually were built as a residence for the nobility. They were not constructed to be a fortress for protection against outsiders. This was because the turbulent times from the Middle Ages had relaxed a bit and the nobility no longer felt the need for massive fortresses for protection. Instead, the nobility built these palaces for to impress, as is seen immediately upon entering the Grand Hall of many palaces.
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1. Neuschwanstein Castle
Perched atop a mountain overlooking the Schwangau valley below, Schloss Neuschwanstein (New-Swan-on-the-Rock-Castle) was the first of King Ludwig II’s romantic castles to be commissioned. Starting in 1868, plans were made to replace the ruins of a medieval castle to make way for the castle we know today and was planned to be his personal retreat since it was not big enough to house the royal court.
Unfortunately, like the rest of his castles, with the exception of Schloss Linderhof, the castle was never completed due to King Ludwig II’s untimely and mysterious death in 1886. After 17 years of construction, only 14 of the 360 rooms were completed. Today, it is Germany’s most visited tourist attraction! (More on Schloss Neuschwanstein here)
2. Hohenschwangau Castle
Upon arrival to Schwangau, many are amazed to find that just across the village is another castle. Schloss Hohenschwangau is easily over shadowed by the glory of Schloss Neuschwanstein. Actually, of the two castles, Hohenschwangau is actually older and is where young King Ludwig II spent much of his childhood.
While it might not be the most exciting castle you’ll see, it’s certainly worth a quick peak and a walk around the castle grounds. (More on Schloss Hohenschwangau here)
3. Herrnchiemsee Palace
Located on an island on Chiemsee (Lake Chiem) in one of the most beautiful lakes not far from Munich is the last of King Ludwig II’s stunning palaces to be built. Having been so inspired by the French monarch, he built this palace in honor of King Louis XIV “the Sun King” in Versailles. Therefore, Schloss Herrenchiemsee is almost an exact replica of the Palace of Versailles, found just outside of Paris but on a much smaller scale, as it was never completed. It was the final palace that the king would begin building and by far one of the most magnificent.
The palace was built between 1878 and 1885 and King Ludwig II only got the chance to stay in the palace for a few days, just the year before his death. Immediately after his untimely and mysterious death, the palace was finally opened to the public. By the time the King died, only 20 of the 70 rooms in the palace were complete. The sections that were not completed were later demolished. (More on the Herrnchiemsee Palace here)
4. Linderhof Palace
As mentioned previously, the small palace of Schloss Linderhof is located near Ettal was the only castle that the king lived to see be completed, which he even had the luxury of living in for the remaining 8 years of his life. This palace was inspired by the Palace of Versailles in Paris and you can see the stunning artwork in honor of the French monarchy.
King Ludwig II had a very extravagant taste in style and loved gold artwork throughout his castles. Schloss Linderhof is no different and every room is designed in beautiful French style with golden Rococo artwork. Eventually, he became more and more recluse and lived more like a hermit. From 1875 onward he only slept during the day and lived at night. Otherwise, he surrounded himself with beauty and therefore created a fantasy world around him in which he could escape. (More on the Linderhof Palace here)
5. Heidelberg Castle
The Heidelberg Castle is a unique castle which has had the unlucky misfortune to have been struck by lightning, not just once, but TWICE! In 1537 and again in 1746. The second bolt destroyed almost everything that had been rebuilt from the fire of the first bolt! Therefore, this castle was abandoned and lays in ruins.
You can take the Bergbahn up to the castle and have a look over the entire Altstadt of Heidelberg. You will have a fantastic view of the Alte Brücke (Old Bridge) and the Neckar river. (More on the Heidelberg Castle here)
6. Reichsburg Castle
Quite off the beaten track in Germany, but not completely unknown to tourists, the Imperial Castle is surrounded by rolling hills of vineyards making for a very picturesque castle.
The castle we see today perched above the scenic town is not the castle that originally stood there in the 12th century. That castle was destroyed by the French King Louis XIV in 1689. The castle would sit in ruins for 180 years before a wealthy Business man named Louis Ravené decided to buy the ruins and restore it to it’s original Romanesque beauty. Surprisingly, Ravené began reconstruction on the castle the same year that King Ludwig II of Bavaria decided to reconstruct the now famous Schloss Neuschwanstein. (More on the Reichsburg Castle here)
7. Burg Eltz
Not far from the Reichsburg Castle in Cochem is Burg Eltz, a medieval castle located between Koblenz and Trier which sits a along the Mosel River. This is one of the most beautiful regions in Germany and where the Mosel flows into the Rhine.
The castle is part known as a “Ganerbenburg” which means that the castle is owned by a community of joint heirs. Three branches of the family line have sections in this castle, but only the Rübenach and Rodendorf parts of the castle are open to the public. The original family from 33 generations ago still lives in and owns the castle. That’s over 800 years! Therefore, only a few sections of this castle are open to the public. (More on Burg Eltz here)
8. Burg Hohenzollern
Perched high upon the top of a mountain in the Schwäbisch Alb, built for strategic defense against intruders, sits the Burg Hohenzollern. Built first as a fortress in the 11th century, it has been destroyed and fallen into ruins only to be rebuilt a third time, in it’s current form.
Falling into ruins over time, it would later be rebuilt a third time as a family memorial for Hohenzollern by King Frederick William IV of Prussia. He had been traveling to Italy and wished to stop and learn about his family history by climbing Mount Hohenzollern. He designed the castle based on castles from the Loire Valley in France that now stands as one of Germany’s most visited romantic castles with up to 300,000 visitors per year. Eventually, over time, this fortified residence would eventually turn into a castle with works of art throughout the castle. Today, the castle is still privately owned by the Brandenburg-Prussian family line. (More on Burg Hohenzollern here)
9. Lichtenstein Castle
Known informally as “The Little Brother” to Schloss Neuschwanstein, it can be easily overlooked, but it has just as many charms and romance as any other castle, just without the hordes of tourists!
Compared to many other castles in Germany, this castle is a relatively young castle. Technically, there has been a castle here since around 1200, however it was destroyed twice – once in 1311 and again in 1377. A new castle was built about 500m away but soon fell into disuse and ruins. It wasn’t until 1840 when the castle would be redesigned, renovated and built up further by Duke Wilhelm of Urach who was inspired by the novel Lichtenstein written by Wilhelm Hauff. (More on the Lichtenstein Castle)
10. Nymphenburg Palace
In the outskirts of Munich, you can find the beautiful Schloss Nymphenburg which started out as a summer residence and was given as a gift the wife of Bavarian Elector Ferdinand Maria for the birth of their son and future heir to the throne who would eventually build Schloss Neuschwanstein and more. It was expanded and enlarged into the many different buildings, pavilions and the massively beautiful outdoor gardens in the popular French style in the front and the back of the castle, which include several different pavilions. (More on the Nymphenburg Palace here)
11. Munich Residenz
Originally built as a castle in 1385 and eventually turned into the royal residence of the Wittelsbach family and later as a government seat from 1508 – 1918. The Residenz is one of the largest city palaces in Germany, it has 10 courtyards, each unique. Inside you’ll discover the Antiquarium. Stretching 216 feet (66 meters) long, the room is was built by Duke Albrecht V in 1568 to showcase his antique sculpture collection, hence the name. It is the museum’s oldest room. The Residenz also houses the Bavarian Crown Jewels in the Schatzkammer (the Treasury). (More on the Munich Residenz here)
Stay tuned for more castles as we continue to visit more of Germany’s beautiful castles!
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