Germany’s picturesque Rhineland is famous for its terraced vineyards and rolling mountain ranges. But nestled within this luscious landscape are 40 hilltop castles that look like they have leaped straight from the pages of a fairy tale. With so many to explore in this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site, however, choosing which to visit can be a challenge. Luckily, our pick of the most stunning Rhineland castles will help you narrow your options.
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Perched majestically on a hilltop overlooking the Rhine town of Braubach, Marksburg Castle is one of the most stunning fortresses in Europe and the only medieval castle on the Rhine to have never been destroyed. It was built in the 13th century for protection rather than as a residence for royal families. Today it stands as magnificent as it did back then.
Over the centuries, however, the castle has served different purposes. It was a state prison and living quarters for Prussian soldiers before becoming the headquarters of the German Castles Association. Highlights include four medieval gates and drawbridges, a knights’ hall and armory, a medieval herb garden, and an ornate 14th-century chapel. The castle is open all year round and you can join a 50-minute tour in either English or German.
Marksburg Castle, 56338 Braubach, Germany
Located above the left bank of the Rhine in Sankt Goar, Rheinfels is one of the most magnificent castle ruins on the Rhine today. The Count of Katzenelnbogen originally built it in 1245. Some years later, it was extended to become the largest fortress in the Middle Rhine Valley, between Koblenz and Mainz. These additions also made it one of the strongest fortresses in the region; that was until the French revolutionary army conquered it in 1794.
Today, the castle is open to the public and a Rheinfels-Shuttle service offers transfers from Sankt Goar town center to the castle and back. Once there, you can join an open guided tour and explore the ruins. As well as wandering its many decadent rooms, you can enjoy fantastic views of the Rhine Valley down below.
Rheinfels Castle, Schlossberg 47, 56329 Sankt Goar
Located on Falkenau island in the River Rhine, Pfalzgrafenstein Castle is famous for its unique and picturesque surroundings. Unlike many other castles in Rhineland, it was built entirely for economic purposes. The castle was one of twelve customs offices. Ships carrying wine had to stop and pay a toll between Mainz and Cologne. This explains why the floor plan resembles a ship moving upstream.
The castle was erected in the 14th century and later modernized in 1607 and 1755. That said, much of it remains the same as it was back then. This includes the barren rooms which were once occupied by the 30-man crew. A quick ferry ride will bring you to the castle dock and from there you can explore its modest interior.
Pfalzgrafenstein Castle, 56349 Kaub
Perched on a steep slope and partially hidden by roses, Sooneck Castle resembles something from Sleeping Beauty. That said, its troubled past is far from a fairy tale. Although the castle was initially built for the abbey of Cornelimunster in the 11th century, it was destroyed twice. The first time was by King Rudolph I and his troops who besieged it in 1282. Under different ownership, the castle was rebuilt in 1349 to include corner turrets, a keep, and a great hall.
However, in 1688, ill fate struck once again and the French troops of King Louis XIV destroyed it. In 1823, a member of the Prussian royal family purchased the ruins and began restoring them in 1842. Today, the castle is a popular attraction in Rhineland and people come from all over to admire its impressive interior and fantastic view from the top.
Sooneck Castle, 55413 Niederheimbach
Nestled in the hills above the Moselle River between Koblenz and Trier, Eltz Castle is truly a beauty to behold. Soaring 35 meters into the sky, its eight majestic towers resemble a scene from a fairy tale. Remarkably, Eltz is one of only two castles on the left bank of the Rhine which has remained unscathed by wars; the other is Lissingen Castle. Indeed, its stunning architecture and many of the original furnishings of the past eight centuries still remain in place. It is still owned by a branch of the same family that lived there in the 12th century.
Among Eltz’s most impressive features are a 500-year-old courtyard, a knights’ hall containing important suits of armor and carvings, and a treasury and armory filled with precious gold and silver artifacts. Surrounding the castle, the Eltz Forest is a declared nature reserve and a popular hiking spot.
Eltz Castle, 56294 Wierschem
Dating back to the 11th century, Reichenstein Castle was once the dwelling place of German lords, churchmen, bailiffs, and notorious robber knights. As the legend goes, they often charged illegal toll fees to anyone traveling in the Rhine Valley. Over the centuries, parts of the castle were burnt down, attacked, rebuilt, and restored. The Kirsch-Puricelli family took over the castle in 1899 and oversaw most of its renovation, rebuilding it into a neo-Gothic English-style residence.
Today, a descendant of the Kirsch-Puricellis owns the castle and you can take a tour of its private rooms, ancestral gallery, library, and music room. You can also enjoy a guided audio tour of the castle museum and explore a collection of ancient weapons, armory, and hunting trophies. You can also marvel at the breathtaking view of the Rhine from the battlement walkways.
Reichenstein Castle, Burgweg 24, 55413 Trechtingshausen
Located just a few kilometers away from the center of Koblenz, Stolzenfels Castle rises proudly above the Rhine. The castle was built in the 19th century from the ruins of a 13th-century fort by Prussian Crown prince Frederick William. He wanted a summer residence and commissioned the well-known architect, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, to reconstruct it in 1836.
The castle officially opened in 1842 with a grand costume ball. Since then, people from all over have come to enjoy exploring the beautiful palace and its five gardens and landscaped park. Stolzenfels Castle is a prime example of Prussian Rhine Romanticism and remains one of the most beautiful Rhineland castles.
Stolzenfels Castle, Schlossweg 11, 56075 Koblenz