TEN MUST-SEE GERMAN CASTLES ALONG WITH THE BEST BEER GARDENS CLOSE BY
Nicolas Cage once owned a castle close to my German birthplace but got rid of it again after only three years. Maybe it was too much of a fixer-upper to tackle while simultaneously VIPing.
The takeaway: Treat historic structures the same as you would adorable puppies. Look at them, maybe touch and play with them and then hightail it out of there before they get a chance to grow into adult Great Danes requiring 89 Dollars’ worth of food daily along with weekly renovations of your living room.
To help with this, I have piled up a list of ten must-see castles and palaces that should go on your travel bucket list, along with the finest beer gardens outside their grounds for you to recharge at. And the best part: To spare you any potential temptation, I made sure none of these historic structures are for sale.
Please note: Since I am writing this while covid restrictions around Germany are easing, I am not including any info on fees or hours, as it’s impossible to stay up to date with the ongoing changes. Please check the respective websites for that.
But wait, don’t buzz off on your castle tour before checking out these SIX FACTS YOU WISH YOU HAD KNOWN BEFORE BRAVING THE GERMAN AUTOBAHN FOR THE FIRST TIME.
Let’s start with THE German castle – one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. The one that inspired Disney’s palaces in Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. The one that’s filled to the brim with visitors and the one that everybody and their dog’s sister will ask you about after you return home.
Located less than a two-hour drive southwest of Munich, at the northern foothills of the Alps, this relatively young castle was built as a retreat for King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Construction began as late as 1869 and it’s never even been fully finished.
After the King’s final exit 17 years later (just imagine living in a construction site for 17 years until the day you die!), the palace soon opened its doors to the public and now reels in almost 1.5 million visitors per year.
Check their ticketing website for up-to-date information on hours and fees.
Best beer garden close by: Schlossbrauhaus Schwangau (four-minute drive / 43-minute hike)
This combined brewery, distillery, bar, event venue, beer garden, and restaurant offers adventure golf, micro bowling, an indoor playground, an outdoor climbing structure for kids, and in the winter, there’s even an ice-skating rink.
Situated only 50 km/31 mi south of Stuttgart, this hilltop castle is the third one that was put up in this location.
The first one was built during the early 11th century but got destroyed in 1423.
While construction of the second one began promptly, it already started decaying in the late 1700s, after the Thirty Years’ War, when it was no longer strategically needed as a refuge for the Hohenzollern.
Today’s structure was knocked together in the 19th century by King Frederick William IV of Prussia. Some people build miniature ships for fun, he doubled as a construction worker. Never stripped off his crown, though, while schlepping the blocks. No, just kidding, he didn’t build it. But he initiated its construction.
Today, Castle Hohenzollern gets more than 350,000 visitors annually, making it one of Germany’s most popular castles.
Tickets are currently only available online.
Best beer garden close by: Hofgut Domäne (six-minute drive / 53-minute hike)
This combined event venue, restaurant, and Biergarten, which also offers vegetarian options, has its own merch store and features a golf park and a petting zoo with llamas, goats, and horses, right next to a playground. They offer many events throughout the year, like weekend Frühschoppen/morning pints with live music, torch-lit hikes, BBQs, and even a Christmas market in December (Covid restrictions may apply).
Another hilltop castle, this one’s located just south of Cologne, towering over the river Moselle.
It was first documented in 1051 but got destroyed by French troops in 1689.
In 1868, following the trend of the time, Berlin businessman Louis Ravené snapped up the ruins for 300 Goldmark (which would equal about 5,346 EUR/6,381 USD these days) and had the building reconstructed into a private summer residence.
Today, the castle is open for visitors. For more information, check out their website.
Best beer garden close by: Landgasthof Winzerscheune (10-minute drive / 60-minute hike)
Considered one of the most beautiful wine and beer gardens along the river Moselle.
Shut your eyes – okay, no, hold your horses instead and finish reading this sentence first – but then: close them and visualize a fairytale-like medieval castle up on a hill with countless towers and arches. Welcome to what probably looks a lot like Burg Eltz.
Located between Koblenz and Trier, this picturesque palace was first documented in 1157.
As a so-called Ganerbenburg, the castle has been jointly owned and run by several branches of the Eltz family, who still possess it to this day. At one point, they divided it into three sections, two of which are now open to the public from April until October (check hours and fees here), and the third one is being used by the Kempenich family branch.
Best beergarden close by: Alte Mühle Höreth (23-minute drive)
This is one of the most charming restaurants/hotels/event venues I have ever seen! The building is an old mill from the 11th century. They also offer vegetarian and vegan dishes and feature a winery (complete with tastings), along with a little shop.
An hour south of Stuttgart, you’ll bump into Schloss Lichtenstein – based on experience most likely in the pouring rain – a modern castle, built in the 1840s on top of the ancient foundations of an older structure from 1390. It was inspired by Wilhelm Hauff’s novel of the same name.
There is an adventure park nearby, along with several restaurants and hiking trails around the area.
Best beer garden close by: Klostergarten Pfullingen (17-minute drive)
Hotel, restaurant, and event venue in a charming historical town.
Königswinter, a small town at the Rhine River close to Bonn is home to this castle-mansion-villa-hybrid, which was thrown together within only two years in the late 1800s. It was originally intended as a home for Baron Stephan von Sarter, a financial expert, investor, and stock market analyst, who never ended up living there.
Is it just me or are you, too, sensing a pattern here? First Nicolas Cage and now this guy. People seem to not actually like living in castles. Probably because of all the ghosts. Or the amount of cleaning.
The building was passed from owner to owner, each one using it for different purposes: from summer resort to exhibition center; Christian boy’s boarding school to Adolf-Hitler-Schule (which got destroyed during WWII and then rebuilt), and later training center for the German rail.
Today, it is open to the public and serves as a scene for TV and movie productions like Babylon Berlin.
Best beer garden close by: Felder’s (eight-minute walk)
Beautiful restaurant, located in a 19th-century building, featuring a stunning view over the Rhine valley along with some vegan and vegetarian options.
This private home for landgrave Wilhelm IX of Hessen-Kassel was built starting in 1793 in Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe. I take back what I said earlier about castle owners not wanting to live in their property. Not only did Wilhelm IX live there – he even got buried in it.
In line with 18th-century trends, the palace was artificially made to look like castle ruins, complete with a garden, vineyards, arena, and zoo, and was among the most important constructions to introduce Gothic Revival to German architecture.
To this day, it still hasn’t been completely rebuilt after its destruction during WWII, but will be finished in 2022 after an observation deck is added at 25 m.
The palace was featured in several TV and movie productions – one of them being The Grand Budapest Hotel – and was also put on a 90 Cent stamp in 2016.
Check here for current hours and fees.
Best beer garden close by: Sudhaus (22-minute drive)
Also named Kassel’s greenest beer garden, this place is a combined beer garden, restaurant, brewery, and event venue. It features a fenced-in playground and also offers vegetarian options.
This castle is dubbed “Neuschwanstein of the North” and is situated on an island in the main lake of the city of Schwerin.
Out of the castles on this list, this one might be the winner when it comes to age. The first records of a fort on this island are from AD 973! That’s utterly retro – even for Germans!
During the Renaissance (15th – 17th century) the fort was changed to look more like a palace and has been the seat of the government since the 1990s, with parts of the building being open for tourists.
Visit their website for hours, so you can go check it out yourself and say hi to Little Peterman, a ghost that is said to roam the halls of the palace.
Best beer garden close by: Seewarte (ten-minute drive)
This is a beautiful restaurant, event venue, and beer garden, also offering vegetarian options. They are right at the lake and boast palm trees, beach chairs, and their own little marina – the perfect treat after dragging your kids to yet another historic site, when all they wanted was a beach vacation.
Located on a hill in the beautiful historic city of Heidelberg, which gets more than three million visitors per year, this castle was first mentioned in 1214 and later, around the turn of the century, got split up into two palaces.
In 1537, lightning struck the upper one and destroyed it. Over time, the structure faced even more destruction by wars and fires and another lightning bolt in 1764. It’s only been partially rebuilt since then.
My favorite tale surrounding the palace goes like this:
In the Middle Ages, the castle was protected by a wooden gate, which had a heavy, ring-shaped iron knocker. When the elector, who didn’t have any descendants, was on his deathbed, he urgently needed to find a successor, so he announced: “Whoever can bite through the iron knocker, will be gifted this palace, along with everything in it and will reign my dominion!” In his eyes, someone strong enough to bite through the ring would also be strong enough to rule.
And this is how casting calls with unrealistic expectations came to be… .
One of the people who tried their luck was a witch. She almost succeeded and even managed to bite a chunk out of it, but lost all her teeth before she got through. The nick can still be seen today and is called “The Witch’s Bite”.
Click here to check hours and fees so you can go see it yourself. Or try your luck – I don’t know if the offer still stands, but it could be worth a try. Unless I guess, you’re Nicolas Cage and are fed up with your German castle experience.
Best beer garden close by: Kulturbrauerei (six-minute drive / 15-minute walk)
Beautiful hotel, brewery, restaurant, event venue, and beer garden, located in between the river and castle.
This is the place where Martin Luther was hiding from Emperor Charles V and translated the New Testament – as you do when you’re on the run.
The hilltop castle, which was first mentioned in 1080, is right in the center of Germany, overlooking a small town called Eisenach, and has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1999.
The fortress is most famous for its Wartburg festival on October 18th, 1817 during which about 500 fraternity students came together to call for German unity and to celebrate the country’s victory over Napoleon four years earlier. They burned their adversaries’ books “in effigy”, meaning instead of the original works, they threw scraps of parchment with titles scribbled on them into the bonfire.
You simply cannot burn original books and Germans ALWAYS follow the rules – even a bunch of protesting zonked 19th-century frat boys.
After World War II, the Soviets took an 800-part collection of weapons and armor that was stored at the castle. Even though a few single pieces have been found and returned, to this day it is still unknown where the rest of it is hidden. Probably in some parallel universe along with the Amber Room that’s filled with everyone’s left socks.
After extensive reconstruction from 1952-54, the castle is now open to visitors and hosts concerts, operas, and other events.
Click here to find out hours and fees.
Best beer garden close by: Gasthof am Storchenturm (nine-minute drive / 30-minute walk)
Restaurant, beer garden, and hostel in one of the city’s oldest buildings from around 1150.
NOW GET GOING!
I could add countless more enchanting castles – even though, growing up in Europe, I’ve popped by a lot of them and am no longer easily impressed by ancient buildings.
They are scattered all over the country and you could just randomly cruise around until you spot one (or at least its ruins) in the distance. Most of the time it won’t even be long until then.
So, have fun exploring, stay clear of ghosts, and always remember: no impulse purchases of castles or puppies unless you’re into renovations.