Neuschwanstein was my top priority on my first trip to Germany. It is a stunning fairytale castle, but I was one of nearly a thousand people there. It was hard to enjoy it while dodging large tour groups and waiting in lines.
As I began planning for my month-long road-trip through Germany last fall I knew the country was studded with castles, perhaps the most in Europe. I wanted to find the hidden gems; the ones I could visit without hoards of tourists and motor coaches in my way. These are my five favorite castles from Germany. Each one is unique, under-the-radar, and worth a day trip. When I visited each of these, there were no more than two dozen other people there so I felt like I had the place to myself!
1) HOHENZOLLERN CASTLE
I found Hohenzollern Castle buried deep on a long list of castles in the region. It sits high on a hill; a sprawling, golden palace perched above the town. While I can’t imagine a bad time of year to visit, the changing autumn foliage was particularly magical – transforming the hill into a deep, muted rainbow of leaves.
There are no organized day trips here and it doesn’t even come up in any list online I found of “must visit places in Germany.” This castle had (at most) a dozen visitors the day I was there: every one of them a local and cozied under layers of wool with their baby and or dog in tow.
To get the best view we drove towards the nearby mountain, Zeller Horn. We hiked through the thick woods until we came to a clearing ahead and there it was: a rolling green meadow and the castle ahead framed in a border of plum and pumpkin-colored leaves. It took all I had not to kick off my shoes, lie in the grass, and roll down the hill towards it. But instead I sat on the grassy hill and just marveled.
There is a restaurant at the castle that serves a very limited menu or an outdoor stall with fries and currywurst. But I recommend packing a small picnic, taking the aforementioned hike to Zeller Horn, and enjoying it overlooking the castle.
GETTING TO HOHENZOLLERN
Hohenzollern is about a one hour drive from Stuttgart, Germany. Zeller Horn is a fifteen minute drive from the castle and after about a fifteen minute hike from the parking lot, you’ll reach the viewpoint.
2) WÜRZBURG RESIDENCE
Germany’s answer to Versailles is the Wurzburg Residence – the purest example of true Baroque architecture in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was built in just one hundred years, so there is no influence from another style here just opulent Baroque at its finest. This “residence” is the only one on the list where a tour of the interior is a must to see giant banisters, intricate ballrooms, and an entirely mirrored room that is unique in the world. You can take a self-guided tour or join with a group which allows you access to more areas. There is a very strict no photo policy. I snuck a few on my iPhone but an Instagram photo shoot in this place is so not happening.
There is an exquisite garden where you can take as many photos as you like and a lovely restaurant, just opposite the entrance to the gardens, serving full meals, drinks, coffee, and cakes.
Würzburg is along the Romantic Road. About one hour and a half drive from Frankfurt.
3) BURG ELTZ
Tucked away deep in the forest, this is one of only two castles in Germany that has never been destroyed. At first sight Burg Eltz looks a bit more eerie than beautiful- like it’s under an enchanted spell. The same family has lived there for thirty-three generations making it quite a unique and special place! Word is getting out about this place so go soon and in mid-week to avoid the crowds. This small gem won’t take more than an hour to see but will stay with you forever.
There is small restaurant at the castle that serves full meals, coffee, and cakes in case you work up an appetite on the hike.
Burg Eltz is about a hour an half drive from Cologne. Once you park you can take a short bus ride or fifteen minute hike to the castle.
Cochem is undoubtedly one of the most charming towns along the Mosel River in Germany. The castle here is special because it is perched high above the half-timber, candy-colored houses of the city. The best way to take in the views is by a boat cruise, which is just a few euros and lasts one hour. You can take it roundtrip or use it as transport to get to your next destination on the Mosel if you’re not traveling by car. (You can actually take this boat all the way to be near to Burg Eltz.)
There is a small cafe that serves cakes, coffee, and a limited menu inside the castle. But the best place to take in the view and grab a bite is the town of Cochem, which is full of cute restaurants and bakeries.
Cochem Castle sits high above the town of Cochem on the Mosel. You can arrive via boat if you are doing a Mosel river cruise, or drive about an hour from Bonn.
5) BAYREUTH – L’HERMITAGE
The most unusual palace I came across in Germany, the facade of Bayreuth Palace is made entirely of small, colored pebbles. Up close it almost looks like something Gaudi built. This beautiful palace was built between 1712 – 1753 and kept receiving additions to create what is today a sprawling amount of land dotted with scenic buildings and gardens. The palace is majestic, unique, and colorful, making it the perfect day trip if you need a break from all the half-timber houses and fairytale turrets.
There is biergarten and a full restaurant that served some of the loveliest food I ate in Germany. I had this palace to myself, passing just a few other tourists and a few other locals celebrating a special occasion. I recommend visiting the restaurant for lunch and going on a sunny day to enjoy the lovely paths and gardens.
Bayreuth is a charming little town about an hour from Nuremberg.
TOP TIP FOR TRAVEL GIRLS ON A BUDGET
After seeking, exploring, and photographing many castles throughout Europe I came to a realization: the best way to visit a castle is often not to visit it at all! Many castles, particularly of the medieval variety, are best enjoyed from the outside. The best views are often a little far away, on a nearby hilltop, or from the other side of the river. This is not always the case – so do your research – but more often than not you save yourself the entry fee by just visiting the exterior and not missing a thing. Google the history so you know what you’re looking at and save your ten euros for a schnitzel.
We hope that this article has inspired you to take a trip to see castles in Germany. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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