Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Forts, Castles & Palaces in Germany

From defensive burgs to the Schlösser of medieval times and later, Germany has an extraordinary collection of fortresses, castles and palaces. Perhaps not surprising given the nation is made up of what was until the 19th century a number of independent princely states. Each with their own lords and nobles, royals and dynasties, and each requiring their own imposing, luxurious residences and palaces. Many of these historic buildings are attractions in their own right. Others, following extensive restoration, many have been transformed into museums and art galleries.

Albrechtsburg Castle, Meissen

Accepted by some as Germany’s oldest palace, this Gothic and Renaissance castle, and the site on which it was constructed overlooking the Elbe River, has had a long history. The first fortress was built in 929 for Henry 1, Duke of Saxony. And it was here in 1471 that brothers Ernest and Albrecht, both Dukes of Saxony, built their residential palace and administrative centre. Although they never used it as such. The Gothic masterpiece became a porcelain factory and in 1863 a museum. Innovative displays give insight into the castle’s complex history.

Anholt Moated Castle

The moated castle set within a Baroque English style park is one of the most beautiful castles of its kind in Münsterland. Although the earliest recorded mention dates back to the 12th century, it was around 1700 that the fortified castle was turned into a lavish stately residence for Prince Nikolaus of Salm-Salm. Today the castle houses a substantial art collection of some 700 masterpieces, including paintings by such artists as Rembrandt, Jan Brueghel the Elder and Holbein. Part of the castle is a four star hotel.

Brandenburg Castle

Known locally as ‘Burgruine Brandenburg’ are the remains of two castles, albeit built at different times in the mid 12th century. They each had their own towers, curtain walls with gates, and are located on a spur either side of a natural saddle. They do not feature in the history of the area, or Germany. Their greatest claim to fame is being called “Sleeping Beauty’s Castle” during the division of Germany as they lay in the restricted zone. Since Reunification they have been restored, and the residential tower of the Ostburg now houses a museum. The castle can be visited at anytime and makes for a great hike in the area, but the museum has set opening times.

Burg Maus

Originally called Peterseck Castle and completed in 1388, the fortified residence was built by Electors of Trier to enforce their toll rights on the Rhine River. But also to protect their territory against the Counts of Katzenelnbogen on the opposite side of the Rhine. As a response, they built Neu-Katzenelnbogen Castle (Burg Katz), which led the people to call the castles “Katz und Maus”. The castle was never destroyed in the region’s conflicts, but it fell into disrepair during the 18th century. In 1898 it was bought by a Cologne architect and restored as a residence while preserving its medieval style.

Castle outside Husum

Construction on Schloss Vor Husum began in 1577 on the site of a Franciscan monastery. It was built for Adolf I, the first Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf. At this time the castle was situated just beyond the town gate, hence its name. Just as this part of Schleswig-Holstein has changed hands between the Germans and the Danes, so too the castle has changed its role, from a ducal house to a royal residence for the Danish royal family. In May the park that surrounds the castle is a popular local attraction for the crocus blooms.

Charlottenburg Palace

With origins in the Baroque period and additions made until the 19th century, Schloss Charlottenburg is the largest palace in Berlin. This was the residence and ceremonial seat for Brandenburg electors, Prussian kings and German emperors. The palace was severely damaged in 1943, and it was feared that the ruins would have to be demolished. Rebuilding was completed in 1970 and soon after it was opened to the public and is now one of Berlin’s major attractions. The palace chapel and the bedchamber of Frederick I, faithful to the originals, are among the highlights of many visits.

Cochem Castle

The Reichsburg Cochem on a hill above the river Mosel is thought to have been built by Graf Ezzo around the year 1000 and only became an imperial castle in 1151. Under the occupation by Louis XIV in 1689, it was burned down and reduced to ruins. When the rich Berlin merchant Louis Ravené bought the remains of the castle in 1868, he reconstructed it with a new gothic style, while preserving it’s late gothic core. Since 1978 the castle has been owned by the city Cochem with regular tours on offer. Even dogs are allowed inside the rooms.

Ellwangen Castle & Museum

From about 1460 CE the castle of Zllwangen served as the residence of the Prince-provosts. Although the castle was remodelled in a Baroque style around 1726, visitors to the castle can still see evidence of its earlier architectural grandeur. Today the castle is administrated by the State of Baden-Württemberg, and it hosts a museum with permanent exhibitions that comprise spectacular objects from over 1,200 years of the building’s history and influence in the region.

Flossenbürg Castle

The ruins of the castle founded around 1100 stand on a striking, bare granite outcrop, overlooking the town of Flossenbürg. Originally a residential tower with a high ring wall, the castle was added to many times over the centuries, until it was set alight during the Thirty Year’s War and then abandoned. Recently, as part of a restoration programme, excavations were carried out during which a cellar vault was uncovered along with the remains of an oven. The ruins re a popular attraction, particularly for the striking view over the surrounding area.

Hanstein Castle, Bornhagen

Considered one of the most beautiful ruined castles in central Germany, Hanstein Castle certainly makes for a picturesque silhouette among timber-framed buildings. First mention of the castle dates to 1070, noting its destruction. Given its strategic value, the castle was rebuilt and damaged several times in its history. As it was close to the border between East and West Germany, the CDR took control of the ruins and the towers used as a border watch tower. No visitors were allowed until after Reunification. A popular  medieval festival takes place at the castle every year on the first weekend of August.

Hardenburg Castle

The hilltop Hardenburg Castle was built around 1210 by the counts of the Leiningen House, and is thought to be one of the most powerful castles in the Palatinate region. In the 16th century it was further fortified and expanded as a Renaissance residence for the family. After surviving the Thirty Years War as well as the attacks of Ludwig XIV, it was set alight by the French revolutionary forces in 1796. Although its interior was completely destroyed, the ruin is well preserved and now hosts a fully accessible visitor centre as well as a number of annual events.

Hohenzollern Castle

On the edge of the Swabian Alps atop Mount Hohenzollern, Hohenzollern Castle has breathtaking views. The current castle, built in Gothic revival style between 1846 and 1867, is the third castle to have been built here. Since the 11th century this has been the ancestral home of the House of Hohernzollern, specifically the Swabian branch of the family. Besides being able to tour historic rooms, a number of artefacts from the Prussian royal family are on display, including the Crown of Wilhelm II.

Katz Castle

The UNESCO world heritage site Burg Neukatzenelnbogen (more simply Burg Katz) was built in 1393 by Graf Johann III von Neukatzenelnbogen. Throughout the years, it was at the center of various infighting between the two family lines of Hessen-Kasseln and Hessen-Darmstadt. After its destruction in 1806 by Napoleon, the district administrator of the region in 1896 bought the ruin and rebuilt it without care for its original medieval form. Finally, in 1989 it was purchased by a Japanese hotel manager. To this day, the castle is private property and cannot be visited.

Kronprinzenpalais

Built in 1663, but remodelled and renovated many times since, the Crown Prince’s Palace has been home to many members of the Prussian Royal family. The last Emperor of Germany, Wilhelm II, was born here on 27 January 1859. After the dissolution of the German monarchy, in 1919 the palace became part of the National Gallery, where it showcased Modern Art until ordered to be “cleansed” of it by Hitler. The palace was heavily destroyed during the Allied bombing of Berlin, but again restored. On 31 August 1990 the palace hosted the signing of the German Unification Agreement.

Manningaburg

In the centre of the East Frisian town of Pewsum is a small moated castle, the origins of which date back to 1458. Once the seat of the Manninga family, in 1565 the castle was sold to Count Edzard II, an East Frisian Lord. The castle was substantially rebuilt, but the ravages of time and repair costs took their toll. Today only the first floor of the castle remains with a small courtyard, a wide moat and the gatehouse. The castle houses a museum inside to the East Frisian lord and the history of the castle.

Moritzburg Castle, Halle

Built in the final decades of the 15th century for Archbishop Ernest of Saxony, Moritzburg Castle is one of the finest examples of a residential late medieval fortress. By the beginning of the 16th century under Cardinal Albert of Brandenburg it was a magnificently furnished archbishop’s residence. An almost regular quadrangle, it was surrounded by a swampy moat. The castle suffered considerable damage during the 30 Year’s War. The castle lay in ruin until 1900 when renovations commenced and it became the venue for the art museum of the state Saxony-Anhalt.

Neuschwanstein Castle

What used to be two separate ruins in the Bavarian Allgäu was turned into the fairy tale castle Neuschwanstein by King Ludwig II. in 1869. It was Ludwig’s vision of the ideal medieval castle and the embodiment of the old glory of kingship. Constructions finished about 15 years later, after the king had already died. With its mixture of Romanesque, Gothic and Byzantine architecture, Neuschwanstein is an example for European Historicism. Nowadays the museum is visited by over 6,000 people everyday. It should be noted that the tour of the castle includes over 300 stairs.

New Palace

Built between 1763 and 1769 Neue Palace was Frederick the Great’s last palace in Sanssouci Park. It was also the official residence of the last German Emperor, William II. Before Kaiser William the palace was not a royal residence, rather it was built, at the end of the 7 Year’s War, to host state events and accommodate official guests. The magnificence of this large palace was intended to convey Prussia’s power, wealth and victory after the war. The palace has over 200 rooms, some of which have recently been restored and can be visited today. Highlights include the Grotto Hall, the Marble Hall and the Concert Hall.

Nuremberg Imperial Castle

The castle in Nuremberg comprises a series of fortified buildings and a city wall. Together they are one of the most formidable medieval fortresses in Europe. Earliest mention of the castle dates back to the mid 11th century. The castle was one of the Imperial residences of German kings as Holy Roman Emperors, as they moved about their realm. And it was here that they held their Court assemblies and Imperial diets. During WWII the castle suffered considerable damage, taking 30 years to fully restore. Exhibitions in the castle, designed to appeal to all ages, outline the historical context of the fortress, as well as the role of Nuremberg in the Holy Roman Empire.

Old Castle, Stuttgart

At the heart of the old city, still commanding an imposing sight, is the Altes Schloss. Originally built for the Duke of Swabia in the mid 10th century, in the 13th century it became the residence of the House of Württemberg. The moated stronghold, walls of which can still be seen in the basement, became a luxury Renaissance castle. With the building of the New Palace in the mid 18th century, the castle was then all but an outbuilding. Today the castle is home to the State Museum of Württemberg, one of the finest history museums in Germany.

Oldenburg Slavic Burg

In the middle of the town of Oldenburg in Holstein stands a typical Slavic burg – fort or castle. The first phase of this structure was built towards the end of the 7th century AD, making this the oldest Slavic castle in Germany. And one of the most important archaeological sites in Schleswig-Holstein. Even in the 11th century it was known as the ‘old castle’, hence the origins of the name of the town. Excavations in the 1970s and the 1980s revealed the site was a princely court in the 9th and 10th centuries, with an episcopal church and pagan sanctuary.

Orangery Palace

Inspired by Villa Medici in Rome and the Uffizi in Florence, the Orangery Palace is the last and largest of the royal places in Sanssouci Park. The style of the palace is a clear reflection of King Frederick William’s IV love of Italy and Italian architecture. Constructed between 1851 and 1864, the two wings of the palace are still used to overwinter plants susceptible to the harsh winters. The central section, known as the Raphael Hall, houses 19th century reproductions of the Renaissance painter Raphael, made by Prussian  artists. The palace had both servant’s quarters and guest apartments; the latter of which were lavishly decorated.

Pyrmont Castle

Pyrmont Castle, first mentioned in 1225, is thought to have been built by Kuno von Schönberg on top of a waterfall. After it had served as a defensive structure, it was left to decay. Following French occupation in 1810 the ruin was put up for auction. In 1912, it was bought by Captain Scharmberg who proceeded to live in the castles cellar as a hermit. In 1963 it was reconstructed by Hentrich and Petschnigg, who merged the medieval and baroque features with modern architectural elements. Today the castle is mostly used as a venue for special events, but it is possible to take guided tours.

Reichenberg Castle

Reichenberg Castle, within the UNESCO listed Upper Middle Rhine Valley, was built in 1319 by Graf von Katzenelnbogen. By the time of his death in 1331 the unfinished castle was divided between the brothers Willhelm II and Erbhard V. Willhelm II did not finish construction and the castle was abandoned for the following 700 years. In 2010, the ruin was bought by a businessman who is collaborating with the Cultural Heritage Preservation to save what is left of the castle. Since the ruin is very instable it can only be viewed from the outside.

Rheinfels Castle

The UNESCO world heritage site Rheinfels Castle was built in 1245 by Graf Diether V. von Neukatzenelnbogen and was used to clear customs. After a year-long, failed occupation, the fortress gained a reputation for being impregnable. In 1570 it was turned into a complex Renaissance palace by Landgrave Philipp I. von Hessen, who managed to hold out against the attacks of Louis XIV. However, around 1796 it was blown up by the French revolutionary army. The ruins are the property of the city St. Goar since 1925 and were partially turned into a 4-star hotel.