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German historic towns/castles

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Did You Know … ?

  • Bavaria’s King Ludwig II never saw Neuschwanstein Castle without scaffolding.
  • Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German while at Wartburg Castle (1521) in Eisenach.
  • The 19th century Hohenzollern Castle was never occupied except for a few months in 1945.
  • Germany’s oldest wine-growing village is Neumagen, dating from the Roman era.
  • Sababurg Castle is associated with Sleeping Beauty, and Trendelburg Castle, with Rapunzel.

The stuff of fairytales

Neuschwanstein Castle, built by Bavaria’s King Ludwig II in the 19th century, is the best known of Germany’s castles, but it is one of many. They range widely in age and size. Some castles and palaces are still owner-occupied, as well. Neuschwanstein, which answers the viewer’s romanticized notion of how a fairytale castle should look, was one of three homes built by Ludwig, and all can be seen today. The others are the oft-visited Herrenchiemsee and Linderhof palaces.

Additional popular castles appear below, but are only a small sample of the tourist’s choices.

  • Burghausen Castle in Upper Bavaria. It has a fairytale aspect, too, but given its 1,000 years, tourists glimpse more of medieval realities: The towers include a witches’ tower, a torture tower and the executioner’s residence.
  • Hohenzollern Castle near Stuttgart. Boasting multiple towers and turrets, the seat of the German kaisers looks as if it, too, were medieval, but it was built in the 19th century, a symbol for the ruling family. Some parts date from two earlier Hohenzollern castles on the site.
  • Sanssouci Palace at Potsdam outside Berlin. This is a small palace, with its oval marble hall where Prussia’s Frederick the Great hosted debates with Europe’s greatest thinkers in the 18th century.

Tourists also go out of their way to see the 13th century Heidelberg Castle. It is in ruins, but the surviving ruins are extensive and evocative.

As for historic towns, samples include Baden-Baden, the spa town; Bayreuth, a cultural center for 250 years now known for the Bayreuth Festival showcasing Richard Wagner’s operas; Hamelin, home to the fabled 13th century Pied Piper; Oberammergau, where attractions include a castle, besides the once-a-decade “Passion Play,” and Rudesheim, one of numerous charmers on Germany’s wine trails (with a vineyard right in town) and noted for its tavern-lined Drosselgasse alley.

Planning a trip around a theme is another way to determine which towns to visit. Possibilities include the historic Hanseatic towns; any of several wine trails; a route following Roman roads, or any of several routes devoted to villages with notable collections of half-timbered houses.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Go sailing out of Bremerhaven, the port from which more than 7 million Europeans emigrated to the New World between 1830 and 1974. Also, at the German Emigration Center there, search for your ancestors and even the origins and meanings of family names.
  • Come to Rudesheim to taste the wines and pass an evening in Drosselgasse alley, but cap that off by staying in a barrel room at the local Hotel Lindenwirt. These are tiny cottages fashioned from barrels that were once used in wine making.
  • Drive the Beer and Castle Route, which follows Route B 85 for more than 300 miles between Passau and Kyffhaeuser. See the castles, then sample the libations along the way.
  • The Ruhr district has historic towns, too, but they are associated with industrialization. Travel the Industrial Culture Route which extends 250 miles. Take part of this industrial safari by bike or on foot.
  • See the exhibit halls inside Dresden’s Zwinger Palace, a site that was almost totally destroyed during Allied bombing raids of Feb. 13, 1945, but has been rebuilt. Then, go rock climbing in the national park on Dresden’s doorstep, called Saxon Switzerland.
  • Come to the Hanseatic League city Rostock in August for the Hanse Sail, a major regatta for traditional sailing ships and an event born in the first months after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The event includes a festival on dry land, too, featuring a traditional Hanseatic market and options for a flight on a seaplane.

Things to do for Centrics

  • See the torture tower, now a museum, at Burghausen Castle near the Austrian border. After touring the site, admire it from a distance, too.
  • Come to Bayreuth to hear Richard Wagner’s music at the Bayreuth Festival.
  • Plan a driving trip through a selection of Hanseatic League towns. Among the possibilities are Anklam, Demmin, Greifswald, Lubeck, Rostock, Stralsund and Wismar. The towns feature brick houses with gabled roofs, typical of the league’s 14th century heyday.
  • Drive the Fairytale Route from Frankfurt to Bremen. It includes Sleeping Beauty’s Sababurg and Rapunzel’s Trendelburg. Be aware, the rat catcher in the free open-air Pied Piper shows in Hamelin catches spectators as well as actors.
  • Get married in a German castle.
  • Tour the porcelain factory in Meissen, the medieval town where porcelain was first made in Europe 300 years ago, and buy china to take home. Also, arrange to see the outstanding cathedral and, well, another castle, the Albrechtsburg Castle.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Choose one of King Ludwig II’s homes for a visit. Consider Linderhof Palace, which has fairytale-like charms and brings you close to Oberammergau, which has plenty of additional attractions, to say the least.
  • Germany stages hundreds of Christmas markets each year. If you travel in December, shop in the one or ones in historic towns on your itinerary.
  • If a lover of classical music, visit Johann Sebastian Bach’s home, the Bach House Museum, in Eisenach. The city, with traditions from the Middle Ages, has the Wartburg Castle, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, and numerous other castles and mansions to impress you with.
  • Stay at Castle Hotel, near Hamelin. Play golf on the grounds — and drive to Hamelin to see the town of the Pied Piper. The hotel is a renovated historical barn, located next to a Renaissance castle.
  • Attend an open-air concert or theater event at one of Germany’s castles. Have dinner in a castle restaurant.
  • Combine a love of gardens with an interest in royal living. Some sightseeing options are Eutin Castle north of Lubeck, Schwerin Castle in Schwerin, Pilnitz Castle near Dresden and the ever-popular Sanssouci Castle at the edge of Potsdam, and their gardens. And these are just the choices in northeastern Germany.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the German National Tourist Office at