With only one week to do a trip, I decided to stay ‘local’ (local, as in stay on the same continent!). My agenda; Fairytale Castles of Germany and to visit a bucket-list destination that had eluded a few years back.
The top item on my hit-list, Neuschwanstein Castle.
The trip that kept evolving
My initial plan was to start in Cologne (Köln in German) and to meander my way down to southern Germany, calling in at a few castles en route to Neuschwanstein Castle.
Germany is a fair sized country and a quick web search would enlighten me to the fact that Cologne and Neuschwanstein Castle are a LONG way from each other, approximately 600km.
There are plenty of resources online for the ‘Romantic Road’ (North/South) or ‘Castle Road’ (East/West). Although aspects of those worked, neither were exactly a good fit to visit the Fairytale Castles from my own list.
If you’ve read or spoken to me about my travel style, you’ll know full well that my planning style is often on the minimal side. This trip was a little different, with a tight schedule, long distances and a load of Fairytale Castles to tick off, I had to succumb to planning.
Wasting no time, I spent one evening doing my research, followed by a mass flurry of booking everything from the car hire, airport transfers, flights and accommodation and I was sorted. Two days later I was on my way.
I’m efficient when I need to be.
Although I had my plan of visiting six Fairytale Castles as well as the stunning UNESCO Cathedral in Cologne, my itinerary evolved during my trip. By the end of my road trip, I’d managed to visit a total of nine Fairytale Castles as well as a giant slide in the middle of the Black Forrest!
Apart from the odd detour when I shot past a junction, this is the route; all 1400km of it.
Interactive Map: Click on the map to zoom, pan and find out more details about the route that I took for my Fairy Tale castle road trip.
Driving in Germany
I wasn’t too worried about driving abroad – I’ve driven in a fair few different countries before. Philippines is the most insane and an experience I NEVER want to repeat!
Compared to the overcrowded, pot-holed roads, filled with erratic drivers I’m so accustomed to in the UK, Germans roads are a doddle! Apart from the odd crazy swerve on my part, as I reminded myself that Germany drives on the opposite side of the road to the UK – thankfully lots off the roads are quiet – it was actually a very pleasant country for motoring!
My biggest hurdle, in fact, was learning how to use an Automatic Car. Things have certainly moved on in comparison to the near-museum-artefact car I drive back in the UK. It didn’t have anything that resembled a key for starters, just a button flashing at me (no one told me I had to put my foot on the break to make it start!) Also having never driven an automatic car, my gear stick was replaced with a letter stick. What’s all this automated nonsense?!? A shameful 40 minutes later I finally managed to get my hire car started and was on the move.
I planned for the biggest drive at the beginning of my trip. If you’re doing this trip and have more time you could easily make a few more stops on this leg; however, my schedule planned to be near to Neuschwanstein on the first night. Which meant an epic drive in one day.
Although the Sat Nav will tell you the drive is around the 6-hour mark, it’s realistically closer to a 7-hour drive in total – either way, you’ll be covering nearly 600km.
Mespelbrunn Castle (Schloss Mespelbrunn)
Hidden and nestled in the gorgeous green woodland hills you’ll find Mespelbrunn Castle, the first Fairytale Castle of the trip. Surviving all of Germany’s wars, the Castle still remains pretty much in the same form as the time it was built and has remained in the same family for over 600 years! It’s STILL inhabited to this day and if you’re lucky you’ll see some of the children running about and playing in the ancient corridors. What an awesome place to grow up!
Rapunzel wouldn’t look out of place in Mespelbrunn’s Iconic tower, which is also the oldest part of the castle. You’ll enter the main part of the castle through an arched doorway which leads into a courtyard. Slightly newer in style than the Tower, but equally as stunning in the German Renaissance style. Keep a sharp eye out for all the little carvings and features hidden everywhere.
The inside of Mespelbrunn Castle is accessible only with the tour guide, but this is included with the bargain entry price of 5 Euro. The tour is in German, the last time I spoke German was during my GCSEs! However, your 5 Euro entry fee also gets you a handy information sheet in English. It’s ok to take photos inside the castle but you can not use flash.
Mespelbrunn Castle gets its name from a well in the first room you visit ‘The Knights’ Hall’. The word Mespelbrunn translates to ‘medlar-tree-well’. In the middle ages, a spring was the symbol of life. This room is decorated with a carving of a man and woman to represent this.
Neuschwanstein Castle (Schloss Neuschwanstein)
Neuschwanstein Castle is the epoch of Fairytale Castles. It’s the Castle that ALWAYS comes up if you do any web search for ‘beautiful castles’ and always ranks somewhere in the top 10 things to do or see in Germany. You might not be able to pronounce it when asked, but you will most certainly have seen this Castle.
Compared to other castles on my road-trip, Neuschwanstein isn’t particularly old. The building of the castle didn’t begin until 1869. The Castle was built for Ludwig II, who became king in 1864 but only two years later had to accept defeat form Prussia.
Because he was no longer a sovereign ruler of his country and had been demoted to ‘just’ a constitutional monarch, he decided to create his own fantasy-like World. Neuschwanstein castle was his answer to this, where he could live like a King of the Middle Ages.
Ludwig II’s ‘New Castle’ was built over the top of the remains of two much older medieval Castles and was heavily influenced by the detailing and ornamentation of Wartburg Castle which he had previously visited.
Essentially, Neuschwanstein Castle was built to satisfy one man’s ego. I can think of a few powerful men today with similar attitudes – not much has changed.
Ludwig II died in 1886 and so never saw the completion of Neuschwanstein Castle. Within about six weeks of the Kings death, the Castle was opened to the public to paying visitors.
Ludwig II called his Castle New Hohenschwangau Castle; it was only after he died that it was it renamed Neuschwanstein.
It is said that Walt Disney was inspired by Neuschwanstein Castle and used it as a basis for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. It’s certainly evident that the castles share characteristics with each other, but I have come across quite a few castles claiming that they were the inspiration for Walt Disney. I guess they all want a piece of the action, eh?!
To walk around the Grounds of Neuschwanstein it’s Free, don’t forget to walk out to the Bridge (Marienbrücke) which sits above the Pöllat Gorge, for a fabulous panoramic view of the Castle. However, it’s 13 Euro if you want to do the 35 minute guided tour inside the castle. Book a few days ahead online as tickets sell out at peak times. Yout can buy them from the ticket booth in the village. Expect long ques. You can not take photos inside the Castle!
Neuschwanstein and the surrounding village gets busy! Options are to park in the main town, there are several to choose from, all charging the standard 6 Euro for the day. If you’re staying local then plenty of people were walking and cycling (the surrounding area is flat) to the area.
Love Fairytale Castles? Then you would absolutely adore the ancient UNESCO city of Segovia near to Madrid, Spain.
Segovia Caslte also boasts that it was the inspiration for Walt Disney.
Hohenschwangau Castle (Schloss Hohenschwangau)
While you are visiting the infamous Neuschwanstein Castle, it would be plain rude not to call into the overshadowed Hohenschwangau Castle on the opposite side of the valley.
Like with Neuschwanstein, this Castle was built on top of the remains of a medieval castle and was the summer residence for Ludwig II’s Father, King Maximilian II of Bavaria. (If you didn’t read the previous section, Ludwig II is the guy behind Neuschwanstein Castle).
Naturally eclipsed on the castle front, Hohenschwangau is certainly worth a visit to see the immaculate gardens and fountains overlooking the valley. It also provides a great opportunity to get a panoramic shot of Neuscweinsten Castle.
Similarly to Neuschwanstein, to walk around the Grounds of Hohenschwangau is Free,
The ticket for Hohenschwangau is 13 Euro and will gain you entry to the guided tour inside the castle. Book a few days ahead online as tickets sell out at peak times. Yout can buy them from the ticket booth in the village. Expect long ques. You can not take photos inside the Castle!
Lichtenstein Castle (Schloss Lichtenstein)
Lichtenstein Castle could be cut and pasted into any Fairytale postcard, it has everything a Fairytale Castle needs. Inside the fortress walls you’ll find a tower, perched on an escarpment overlooking a valley, surrounded by trees WITH (this is my favourite bit) the only access being a drawbridge! It couldn’t look more Disney if it tried!
Lichtenstein gets its name from ‘Lichter’ meaning bright and ‘Stein’ meaning stone.
Lichtenstein castle, which is listed as a fortress, sits directly above the small town of Honau, looking down on the source of the river Echaz.
There are two sites of Lichtenstein Castle. At the old site you will just see ruins and an outline of where a castle once stood, it’s a short walk away from the new Lichtenstein castle and dates from as far back as 1100’s. It was destroyed, twice! A rebuild, a few hundred metres from the old castle happened in the 1300s, this is where the present day castle stands. The new Lichtenstein castle was built during the mid-1800s by Duke Wilhelm of Wurttemberg after the castle was purchased as a crumbling ruin in 1837. In 1840 he demolished the crumbling ruins and constructed what we see today as Lichtenstein Castle.
If you stand in the main castle grounds you will see four outer towers. Each of the towers named after the four daughters of Duke Wilheim the big tower across the drawbridge is named after his son.
The tour inside of Lichtenstein Castle is certainly worth it, if not for the opportunity to walk across the beautiful drawbridge alone. It’s 8 Euro if you want to do the 40 minute guided tour inside the castle. The tour is in German, however, you are given a leaflet with some information about each of the rooms you visit. You can not take photos inside the Castle!
If you just want to walk around the grounds of Lichtenstein Caslte it is 2 Euro.
Hohenzollern Castle (Burg Hohenzollern)
If I had to choose a castle with THE BEST entry, then this Fairytale Castle would wipe the floor clean with the others. Once through the main gate, you’ll have a spiralling, pretzel-like walk to the main courtyard. The spiral goes under archways, through an undercover section, looping around and around, finally up to the second gate. It really is pretty amazing.
This loop like formation at the entrance of Hohenzollern Castle is called a Zwinger!
The wide open area between the two walls is for defence purposes and was used to help protect the Castle.
The Castle itself is sat on a peak of the Swabian Alb and looks down on the surrounding area of countryside. The panoramic views are stunning. Once inside the top gate, you’ll see why Hohenzollern was worthy of Fairytale Castle status. The main castle complex is made up of numerous towers and turrets, surrounded by gardens filled with statues as well as tons of nice features like cannons.
Don’t forget to visit the Casemates, which were the bomb-proof vaulted cellars. These were used for military purposes and part of this secret passage was opened to the public in 2004. The entrance is in the back corner of the main courtyard and it will lead out into the Gardens surrounding the outer walls of the Castle.
The basic entry ticket is 7 Euro, this gives you access to the Courtyards, the Gardens, a few outer buildings and the Casemates. A Guided Tour inside the Palace will cost you an extra 5 Euro. They run the tour in German and English. You can not take photos inside the Castle!
Baumwipfelpfad Schwarzwald in Bad Wildbad
This unpronouncable attraction was something that I added to my road-trip fairly late on. I had a relatively dull drive for the leg of the journey between Hohenzollern and Heilderberg. So I did a quick web search to see what was in the area, particularly as it’s so close to the BlackForest. A couple of minutes searching and this place came up; Baumwipfelpfad Schwarzwald, which translates to ‘Treetop Walk Black Forrest’.
If I had more time here, this would be a great area to walk some of the trails, but my time constraint meant I was only going to be able to do the tree canopy walk. The main entry is 10 Euro, which sounds quite a lot to walk through some trees, BUT then you think about the logistics of constructing this place in the forest, it’s probably justifiable. It was nice to get out of the car and stretch my legs in the beautiful surroundings, plus the smell of the pine trees was worth it.
The relatively flat Tree-Top walk has lots of fun interactive things for kids and a couple of alternate routes where to can scramble over a rope ladder and balance your way across over wobbling platforms. The pièce de résistance is the great big spiral structure, which climbs up to a height of 40m, well above the tree-tops to give a 360 view of the stunning Black Forrest landscape and surrounding regions; the Swabian Alb, Rhine Valley and on a good day it boasts the Swiss Alps!
The inner child in you won’t be able to resist the spiral tunnel slide which runs down the centre of the structure. The slide is 50m meters in length, and on the hessian mat you are given, it picks up quite a bit of speed. It’s an additional 2 Euro to ride the slide it but certainly worth every cent!
If you walk through the forest, you’ll see Trolls (ok, little piles of rocks everywhere), at some points you are surrounded by them. Gotta love a bit of German Folklore.
Heidelberg Castle (Schloss Heidelberg)
Probably the second most iconic castle in Germany, behind Neuschwanstein, and despite it being written as a Schloss (Castle in German) it’s actually a Palace. Nevertheless, it’s stunning. Parts of the Palace are in ruins, with tumbled down walls and roofless rooms, other parts are still in their full-on grand and elaborate state.
Look out for one of the more impressive ruins from the older part of the castle, The Powder Turret, split by an explosion.
Heidelberg is a lively University Town as well as being a big Tourist Hub. It’s hectic at times, but being spread over such a big site, it alleviates some of the bustle of tourists. The red sandstone Palace is set on a hillside above the town, looking down from the valley.
Heidelberg is packed full of little ornate details in every nook and cranny, but some of the more notable things to look out for are The Ottheinrich Building and The Fassbau (Barrel Building).
The Ottheinrich Building boasts German Renaissance architecture at it’s finest. The Fassbau (Barrel Building) houses just that, a giant Barrel. The Barrel is called the Heidelberg Tun, and it’s the world’s largest wine barrel. It was built in 1751. It’s massive, seven meters high, is eight and a half meters wide. This is the best bit, it holds 220,000 litres of wine, and is the largest wooden barrel ever to be filled with the delicous stuff!
Worthy of a visit and included with your basic entry ticket is access to the ‘Palace and German Apothecary Museum’. The museum houses an extensive collection of all things old and medicine based – lotions, potions, equipment – it’s all there.
Your entry ticket will also get you a return trip into the town below, take the Funicular Railway down, then take a walk across the Old Bridge to see Heidelberg Castle from a different perspective.
The basic entry ticket is a very modest 7 Euro, this also includes entry to the ‘Palace and German Apothercary Musseum’, the Courtyards, The Large Barrel as well as a return trip on the super cool Mountain Railway. A Guided Tour inside the Palace will cost you an extra 5 Euro. They run the tour in German and English. You can not take photos inside the Castle!
Rheinstein Castle (Burg Rheinstein)
Compared to the rest of the Castles, Rheinstein is tiny. Don’t be put off by its lack of size.
Sat up on a hill overlooking the Rhine Valley and surrounding vineyards, this pretty little castle has got plenty going for it. Because it’s small, it’s also a lot quieter than some of the larger and more widely known castles.
What Rheinstein lacks in size, it makes up for with the openness to be able to wander at free will. Some rooms have been cordoned off with a rope over the doorway because of objects which are on display in them but other rooms you can freely look around.
The gardens at this Castle are lovely, filled with flowers, vines with grapes and little fountains (they hire out the Castle for weddings!). There is also a ton of stuff to see. Look out for the really cute little-stained glass windows next to the spiral staircase. Also, if you’re not bothered by heights, check out the windy little set of iron stairs leading up to the towers. If you are into crypts, don’t forget to take a peek at the coffins through the portcullis in the chapel. There really is so much packed into this tiny place.
Rheinstein is a self-guided castle, so the entry is a bargain at 5.50 Euros. It’s certainly worth the money. You can also get trigger happy here as photographing inside is allowed.
Eltz Castle (Burg Eltz)
Eltz Castle was something else that sneaked into my itinerary fairly late on, and wow, I’m certainly glad it did. Eltz turned out to be my favourite castle on the trip! For me, Eltz Castle is the ULTIMTE Fairytale Caslte, it really has it all.
This castle differs a little compared to all the other Castles that I have seen on my trip so far. It’s down in the middle of a valley! so no up-hill slog to get here. The castle is perched on a steep rock surrounded by stunning woodland and next to a river, the River Eltz.
The 850-year-old castle has never been destroyed by war, and has been in the same family for 33 generations! Because of this peaceful history, the architecture of Eltz castle spans 500 years which you can see clearly in the different architectural styles.
The tour inside of Eltz Castle is certainly worth it, and the very knowledgeable guide gives you tons of information about the place it’s 10 Euro if you want to do the 45 minute guided tour inside the castle. They run the tour in German and English. You can not take photos inside the Castle! The ticket also gives you entry to the Armoury and Treasury which contains all things bling! To walk around the Grounds of Eltz Castle it’s Free.
From the car park there are two routes down, my suggestion is to walk down the road that the minibus takes. This will give you a hillside view – it’s quite steep which is why it’s better to walk down. For the way back, take the footpath, it’s a much more gradual incline and through the forest. From here you get the chance to photo the castle from the outside framed by the trees.
The little town of Cochem was on my original tour, to see the pretty colourful houses along the banks of the river. Cochem Castle was another bonus Fairytale Castle that was added to my final itinerary.
From the old town take the bridge across the river to photograph the colourful buildings with the Castle in the background,
A steep walk out of the old town, and up the hill, past the vineyards will lead you to the entry gate of the Castle, overlooking the rivers and the valley.
First documented in 1051, destroyed in 1689, and then left in ruins until 1868. It was then bought by a wealthy businessman who reconstructed the castle in the Gothic Revival style. The Castle (like some of the others I visited) could be plonked straight onto a movie set. The Castle has been lovingly restored, at the time of visiting we were able to watch the caftsmen repainting some of the wall murals.
Entry to the Castle is 6 Euro this includes the 4o minute guided tour inside the castle. They run the tour in German and English. You are allowed to take photos inside the Castle as long as there is no flash or use of a tripod!
If you arrive in Cologne by train, then leaving the station, the UNESCO listed Cathedral will probably be the first thing you see. If it’s not then you need to take your eyes off your phone and look up! It’s massive!
You can see the Cathedral from nearly every point in the City,so it’s a useful landmark to orientate yourself with. During the Second World War the Cathedral was badly damaged. However, the two towers survived, supposedly to be used as a reference point by the opposition.
The Cathedral’s gigantic pair of towers aren’t quite the same. The North Tower is actually 7 cm higher than the South Tower. Not that most people would notice anyway.
Take the opportunity to climb the dizzying spiral staircase up the South Tower (dizzy because of the circular direction of the steps – all 533 of them!) It’s a great workout for the legs and you’ll be rewarded by an impressive view across the city. It costs 3 Euro to go up the tower, which is an absolute steal!
There are other great vantage points to photograph the iconic Cathedral. The first is from The Hohenzollern Bridge (the one with the iron arches) that crosses the river from the Train Station. Don’t forget to check out the thousands of padlocks on the bridge which have been left by lovers over the years.
The second viewpoint is from KölnTriangle, which is a modern glass building with a viewing platform at the top. It’s 3 Euro to go up, you have the option to take the stairs or the elevator. Whether you walk it or take the lazy option, the views are awesome. They have even put silhouette stickers on the glass wall around the platform to explain what each of the buildings are.
Fairy Tale Castle Roadtip - Was it worth it?
Over 1400km driven and a multitude of Fairytale Castles seen, but was it worth the drive and the crazy schedule? Hell yeah! And I will certainly be back to Germany (and hopefully other parts of Europe) to see more awesome castles like these, If you’re into self drive holidays, then check out some of best road trips in Europe here.
Previously, I’ve shunned parts of Europe in favour of more exotic destinations, BUT Germany certainly satisfied the Culture and Old Building junkie in me.
My biggest revelation was that the Castle that had eluded me previously and that I was desperate to see; Neuschwanstein, wasn’t my favourite castle on this trip. And by a long shot! Although it’s certainly worth a visit, there are loads of other equally beautiful castles to see.
Are you interested in living it up like a royal and visiting amazing castles around the world? I know I’m super keen to do more road-trips in Europe, so please ping me any suggestions.
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Thanks for reading,