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18 German Palaces and Castles that are Straight Out of a Fairy Tale
18 German Palaces and Castles that are Straight Out of a Fairy Tale

There aren’t any castles or palaces in the western hemisphere, not proper ones anyways. But this doesn’t keep these noble buildings from being an integral part of American fantasy and folklore.

Disney, for instance, has captivated audiences with films set in palaces and castles for nearly a hundred years. And despite castles being a definitely not-American architectural phenomenon, their presence in the fairy tales that we still cherish today inspire a persistent sense of nostalgia and wonder for these buildings.

Castles in Germany, however, can be found all over the place.

German palaces and castles are the enduring legacy of the region’s history of feudalism. Though the cultures and heritages that make up modern Germany can be traced back further than Common Era, Germany as a nation state is actually almost a century younger than the United States. Prior to unification, the region consisted of hundreds of fiefdoms.

The German castles and palaces that can still be visited today are a fascinating glimpse into the distinct cultures and medieval history of a country that is today by all measures decidedly modern.

What is a castle? What is a palace? What is the difference?

As an architectural work and from a historical and archaeological perspective, castles exist only in Europe and the Middle East and were built by European nobility during the Middle Ages. Castles are always fortified for protection and would serve as the private residence of a nobleman or lord.

Palaces are a broader category describing ornate homes, and they can also be found throughout Asia. But as far as European palaces go, palaces by definition were built during the Middle Ages for the same purpose as castles: a private residence for nobility.

The difference between a castle vs a palace is that palaces are not fortified for protection, while castles are. The German word Schloss can be used to describe both kinds of buildings, where the English language makes a distinction between palace and castle.

Visiting German castles and palaces

With hundreds of palaces and castles throughout Germany, no matter where you are in this country there is bound to be one nearby. We’ve made a list of 18 must-see German palaces and castles that feel like something out of a fairy tale. Some are feel like a time machine into a medieval world, others can be found in bustling city centers. But each one is worth a visit.

 

German Castles to visit:

1. Lichtenstein Castle, Honau

The word Lichtenstein means “shining stone” in German, and this castle was built with every intention of being a sparkling gem. One of Germany’s younger castles, Lichtenstein Castle was built in the Gothic Revival style in 1842.

An older, medieval castle lays in ruins just a few hundred meters away. It was these ruins that served as the setting inspiration for Wilhelm Hauff’s famous novel, Lichtenstein. Seized by the romantic nostalgia of the novel, architect Carl Alexander Heidelhoff erected this castle as a homage to the bygone era.

This iconic castle has sparked imitations as far away as South Africa. Visitors are offered a striking view of the river valley below as well as guided tours of the interior.

 

2. Heidelberg Castle, Heidelberg

heidelberg castle germany

Heidelberg is a quaint university city nestled in the Neckar Valley, and a highly popular tourist destination. Famous for being the birthplace of German Romanticism and the backdrop for the works of Schiller, Goethe, and Eichendorff, Heidelberg is also the only German city that was not bombed during WWII. While every other city in Germany underwent major rebuilding after the war, Heidelberg boasts a full city center of buildings that are hundreds of years old.

The ruins of the Heidelberg Castle sit on a mountain overlooking the river and city below. First built in the 13 century, the castle features an apothecary museum showcasing the medicinal arts of the time. Tours inside Heidelberg Castle will also show you the world’s largest wine barrel. Come during the summer to witness one of three annual Castle Lightings, during which the ruins are illuminated with a brilliant light and fireworks show.

 

3. Neuschwanstein Castle, Schwangau

neuschwanstein castle

The most visited castle in all of Germany, this Romanesque Revival castle attracts more than 1.3 million tourists yearly. Built in 1869 by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in patronage to the composer Richard Wagner, this highly romantic castle is likely Germany’s most famous. It’s mountaintop perch and striking views of the Bavarian country side have inspired numerous creative works. This is the castle on which Disney’s Sleeping Beauty is based, and the castle can also be seen in the movies Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Great Escape. A quick day-trip from Munich, Oktoberfest goers often make it out to Neuschwanstein during the festivities.

 

4. Cochem Castle, Cochem

cochem castle germany

Cochem is a tiny town of 5,000 residents that sits in the Mosel River Valley. Its famous castle dates back to the 13th century and boasts some fascinating medieval historical interest. One tower of the castle is known as the Witches Tower, where women suspected of witchcraft were thrown from a window to see if they’d survive, thereby proving them to be witches. The castle changed hands many times since its construction, but remains a hauntingly beautiful relic for this otherwise sleepy town.

 

5. Hohenzollern Castle, Bisingen

hohenzollern castle germany

Perched atop a mountain in the famous Black Forest, Hohenzollern Castle feels like something out of a fantasy novel. On foggy days during the fall, the castle appears to be floating in the clouds.

Built, destroyed, and rebuilt several times since the 15th century, this castle has endured many changing eras. American visitors may be interested to find within the castle museum a letter penned by George Washington to a Hohenzollern descendant thanking him for his contribution to the American Revolutionary War.

 

6. Braunfels Castle, Braunfels

This thirteenth century castle has, like many German castles, undergone many makeovers and a lot of destruction since it was first built. Now in the Neo-Gothic style, the Braunfels castle features elaborate hunting imagery in the form of paintings and artifacts. Open air plays and operas are held during the summer months in the castle garden. In fall the surrounding foliage is brilliantly colorful.

 

7. Sigmaringen Castle, Sigmaringen

sigmaringen castle germany

First built in the 12th century, this utterly regal palace sits in the Swabian Plateau region of Germany and overlooks the Danube river. Like many castles of its day, the Sigmaringen Castle sits atop a steep, jagged rock, an ideal location to keep building protected against revolting peasants or enemies. Meant to be a meeting place for Europe’s nobility, the many renovations undergone by this castle reflect the international affairs of its ruling family. With French, Portuguese, and Spanish influences as well as a hall dedicated to German ancestry, Sigmaringen Castle has a more cosmopolitan look many other German castles.

 

8. Hochburg Ruins, Emmendingen

hochburg castle germany

For intrepid travelers who would rather clamber on the ruins of a castle than shuffle through castle museum, the Hochburg Ruins between Emmendingden and Sexau offer an exciting and rustic experience with German castles. Hochburg castle has laid in ruins since 1688 when French troops demolished the fortification after occupying it during the 30-Years War. Hochburg today is one of the best spots in Southwest Germany for a picnic, with its eerie stone structures and breath-taking views of the countryside.

 

9. Wernigerode Castle, Wernigerode

wernigerode castle germany

First built in 1213, the Wernigerode Castle is among Germany’s oldest and best preserved. Located in a tiny East German town situated in the Harz Mountains, the Wernigerode Castle is located along the beloved German Timber-Frame Road: a tourist route through some of Germany’s most picturesque towns built with quaint, wooden frames. The Wernigerode Castle itself is made of more timber than is typical of German castles. This is of course due to ample supply; gorgeous forested scenery can be seen for miles from the castle perch.

 

10. Hämelschenburg Castle, Emmerthal

Haemelschenburg Castle germany

If your image of what a castle should be is a stately stone building surrounded by a moat, the Hämelschenburg castle will be like a dream come true. Jürgen von Klenke and his wife Anna von Holle built this castle in the late 16th century as a home for themselves and their 14 children. The moat kept the castle from being destroyed and plundered during the 30-Years War. Today, Hämelschenburg castle is best enjoyed with a locally brewed beer in the nearby beer garden.

 

German Palaces to Visit:

1. Schwerin Palace, Schwerin

schwerin castle

Schwerin Palace takes luxury to the next level. Not only is it an ornate palace, but it is also located on its own private island. Often called the Neuschwanstein of the North, the palace now serves as both a public tourist destination and the parliament for the Mecklenburg region. The palace is supposedly haunted by a well-meaning but troublesome spirit called Petermännchen. Only a few feet high and carrying a bunch of keys, this little ghost plays pranks, rewards the honest, and scares away liars and cheats. Statues and paintings depicting him can be found throughout the palace.

 

2. Mannheim Baroque Palace, Mannheim

mannheim palace germany

Mannheim is not the kind of idyllic European town that one might picture as home to a giant palace, especially in contrast to its famous neighbor Heidelberg. An industrial center bombed to rubble during WWII, Mannheim was rebuilt on a New York City-style grid without any old-timey neighborhoods to be seen. But in the middle of this very modern, industrial city and university town sits a sprawling Baroque Palace. Part museum and part university building, the Mannheim Palace is a great example of old-meets-new and excellent urban planning. It is also the second largest Baroque style palace in Europe after Versailles. Unhappy with his status as second largest, the palace’s founder Karl Philip III made certain that his abode had one more window than the famed French palace.

 

3. Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam

Sanssouci Palace Potsdam

Built in the Rococo style, Sanssouci Palace was the summer home of the legendary Friedrich the Great, King of Prussia. Located in Potsdam, a quick trip from capital Berlin, Sanssouci is considerably modest as palaces go. It is only a single story and features only 10 main rooms. The sprawling gardens featuring wine grapes and fountains, however ensure that there is no mistaking the palace as anything but utterly regal. The first Prussian King to be a child of the Enlightenment, Friedrich insisted that art and nature coexist in his estate. The terraced gardens with many ornaments and public spaces are a testament to this.

 

4. Nymphenburg Palace, Munich

Nymphenburg Palace Munich

Another Baroque style palace featuring a huge pavilion, the Nymphenburg Palace dates back to the 17th century. It has come to be one of the most famous sites in Munich, and some 300,000 yearly tourists enjoy feeding the swans that swim in the palace’s giant reflection pools. The palace is still home to the modern Duke of Bavaria.

 

5. Schleissheim Palace, Oberschleissheim

scheleissheim palace

Built in 1704 and modeled after Versailles, the Schleissheim Palace is located 14km outside of Munich. The complex is actually three different palaces with distinct styles that become flashier as you move to the more recent. The palace complex also features a beer garden with seating for up to 1,000 guests. The Schleissheim beer garden is one of the most scenic places to take part in Munich’s annual Oktoberfest festivities.

 

6. Schwetzingen Palace, Schwetzingen

schwetzingen palace germany

The peachy pink color of the Schwetzingen Palace makes it impossible to miss. Located in a small town between Mannheim and Heidelberg, this cheery palace is famous for its sprawling and impossibly well kept gardens. While the palace itself may be relatively modest, visitors can enjoy the sunny southern German weather with a stroll through some of the regions most incredible landscaping. With both French and English style gardens, an ornate Turkish-style mosque, and a Rococo theater, its easy to see how nobility could keep themselves entertained summering in such a place.

 

7. Dresden Royal Palace, Dresden

dresden royal palace germany

The eastern city of Dresden is famed for having some of the most beautiful and ornate architecture in Germany. The Dresden Royal Palace is one example of the many incredible historical buildings you can visit here. Though Dresden was relentlessly bombed during WWII, resulting in the destruction of much of the palace, the priceless artifacts inside of it were temporarily relocated and thus saved. Today, this neo-renaissance palace is one of the most impressive historical museums in all of Germany. It features both the historic and new Green Vault (one of the rooms destroyed in the war), the Numismatic Cabinet, extensive collections of prints, drawings, and photographs, the Dresden Armory, the Turkish Chamber, and the Dresden State Art Library.

 

8. Fürstbischöfliches Schloss, Münster

palace in muenster germany

Once the seat of the Prince Bishop, the Palace in Muenster is now used as an administration building by the city’s renowned university. Sections of this gorgeous baroque palace are still open to public for tours, most notably the sprawling botanical gardens. Filled with meadows, moors, greenhouses, man-made lakes and ponds, these striking gardens are home to a colorful biodiversity, all within the city-limits of bustling Muenster.

 


Looking for a chance to see some of the old-timey charm of modern Germany? Join Bucket List Events at Oktoberfest in Munich, the world’s largest folk festival. Strap on your Lederhose and get ready to experience the contagious merriment of Bavarian beer.


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