Castles Along the Rhine

“The air is cool under nightfall.
The calm Rhine courses its way.
The peak of the mountain is sparkling
With evening’s final ray”.

German Poet, Heinrich Heine, “The Lorelei”

The Rhine’s lush hillsides are thick with wine grapes, thriving towns, and towering castles, many sitting aloft steep cliffs. The highest concentration of castles are in Germany’s 45-mile long Upper Middle Rhine Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This compact region contains 40 castles and fortresses.

The Rhine links northern Europe and the Mediterranean. Cities, castles, and impenetrable fortresses were built in key sites along the Rhine’s banks. A new spectacular sight greets you around each bend of the river, which makes river cruising the best way to appreciate the stunning scenery of the Rhine.

The castles of the Middle Rhine Valley are some of the best in Europe. Many of them were built in the 12th through 14th centuries, during the peak of the Middle Ages. Imposing, beautiful, and largely still intact, these castles are perfect examples of the fortified structures that defined Europe for so much of its history.

Schloss Drachenburg

Schloss Drachenburg (Photo: Wikicommons)

A villa rather than a castle, Drachenburg was built using numerous 19th century and Renaissance architectural styles, it has a very beautiful garden and spectacular views of the Rhine far below.

Where Marksburg is unpretentious and Pfalzgrafenstein is practical, Schloss Drachenburg in Königswinter is the fairytale castles of dreams and movies.

Drachenburg was built in the 19th century during a period when “historicism” was in vogue. Historicism was a fashionable movement where wealthy Europeans built or refurbished lavish castles in a style befitting the pages of their children’s favorite storybooks. The style was wildly romantic. Gleaming white castle towers were built as picture-perfect places for fair maidens to fall in love. Spotless courtyards called out for brave knights just itching for a good fight.

This castle is located in one of the most picturesque towns in Germany. Both Schloss Drachenburg and the town are romantic, charming, and designed to delight visitors, you’ll want to spend as much time there as possible.

Burg Ockenfels

Burg Ockenfels (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Lords of Leyen began constuction of Burg Ockenfels, originally called Burg zur Leyen, in Linz am Rhein in the first half of the 13th century.

The Leyen noble family and was under the rule of the Archbishop of Cologne. In the course of the Cologne Diocesan Feud, the castle was severely damaged in 1475 but then restored shortly afterwards. During the Thirty Years’ War, Ockenfels Castle was finally completely destroyed. From then on, stone thieves carried off the ruins right down to the base walls.

Between 1924 and 1927 the Cellitinnen of the Holy Mary in Kupfergasse in Cologne came upstream from the Rhine and erected a residential and commercial building on the mediaeval fragments. Since 1998, Ockenfels Castle has been the administrative headquarters of a shoe company.

Today, it is questionable what the original design was, as the rebuild of the castle plot in the 1920s was completed with insufficient research on the mediaeval remains.

Namedy Castle

Namedy Castle, or Burg Namedy, originally belonging to the Husmann Knights of Andernach, is located close to the village of Namedy in Andernach. The castle was built towards the end of the 14th century. It then passed through many hands and, from time to time, it was renovated with parts being added here and there as improvements in standards of living. At one stage, because taxes were levied on the height of estate towers, one of its towers was reduced in height to avoid those taxes.

In 1908 Prince Karl-Anton von Hohenzollern and his wife Princess Josephine, sister of King Albert 1 of Belgium, bought the castle as a residence.

Before and after WW2 the castle fell into disrepair. Prince Godehard-Friedrich, the grandson of Prince Karl-Anton,  inherited the castle in 1988 at which time he set about restoring the castle. Prince Godehard-Friedrich helped pay for all the work by establishing an arts and cultural program based in the castle. Chamber Music festivals, recitals, weddings, and banquets are held in the castle.

Schloss Koblenz

The Electoral Palace in Koblenz (Photo: Koblenz Tourism)

The Kurfürstliches Schloss (Electoral Palace) was built as a residence in 1786 and was the last great palace to be built before the French Revolution. The Schloss takes advantage of its position on the river with most rooms looking out at the Rhine Valley.

The palace, one of the best examples of early French Neoclassical design, was home to Clemens Wenceslaus of Saxony, the last Archbishop, and Elector of Trier. Later, in the 19th century, Emperor Wilhelm I took up residence within the palace.

Today the building is used by city officials, but the art galleries and the cafe are open to the public. Outside, the terraced Rhine Gardens are 2.1 miles of walkways, green space and flowers, and an elegant fountain of Empress Augusta. Every two years, a botanical show is held here. 

Stolzenfels Castle

Stolzenfels Castle, built in 1248, was taken by the Swedish in 1632, occupied by the French in 1634-36, and burned by the French in 1688. The City of Koblenz gifted the ruin to King Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1823, who had it restored and used it as a summer residence. It’s open and offers tours to the public.

The castle which has turned into a marvelous palace fascinates tourists from all over the world. It is located on the left bank of the Rhine. Despite the luxurious furniture in the palace, what is even more luxurious is the view of the Rhine Valley from the terrace of the palace.

Burg Lahneck

Lahneck Castle is strategically located where the River Lahn joins the Rhine River. Built in 1244, Lahneck Castle held an important position as it served to help secure the silver mines in the area.

This is a classic example of the castles from the Rhine Romanticism. Having been remodeled and added on throughout its history, the castle is an eclectic mix of medieval, neo-Gothic, and 19th century architecture. The castle is privately owned but you can visit it by taking the tour.

Marksburg

Built in the 12th century, Marksburg Castle is one of the principal sites of the UNESCO World Heritage Rhine Gorge and holds the distinction of being the only hill castle on the Rhine that has never been destroyed. A medieval masterpiece of defense the castle was built to protect the town of Braubach and was used mainly for protection rather than as a residence for royal families.

Perch hundreds of feet above the river, Marksburg has commanding views up and down the Middle Rhine Valley and of Braubach’s gorgeous medieval architecture below. The castle’s stone walls and roughhewn pathways are impenetrable, and built to withhold a long siege and extensive attacks, ensuring its survival nearly 1,000 years.

Because of its lack of damage over the centuries, this castle built by the powerful Lords of Eppstein, is one of the most intact and most historically authentic castles in the world.

Note: Visiting the castle does require an uphill climb and the ability to navigate stairs and uneven terrain. The castle is not accessible by wheelchair.

Castle Liebenstein

Entrance of Liebenstein castle near Neckarwestheim, Baden-Württemberg. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A sister castle of the Sterrenberg Castle, Liebenstein Castle, probably built in the 13th century, is the highest castle in the Middle Rhine Valley and a prominent landmark of the area. Both the castles together are called the “hostile brothers” due to the frequent differences between their occupants in the medieval era.

Today, the castle exists as a hotel and offers tourists a spectacular holiday in the Rhine Valley. The rooms and suites are well-furnished with modern amenities that provide utmost comfort. One can also request for trekking trips in the surrounding region.

The hotel also houses a charming medieval style restaurant that is known for offering delicious German cuisine along with an extensive wine list and stunning views of the region. The rates of the hotel are seasonal, it is best to check their current rates on their website before planning your vacation here.

Sterrenberg Castle

Burg Sterrenberg von der Burg Liebenstein gesehen (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Located in the Rhine Valley, the Sterrenberg Castle, sister castle to Castle Liebenstein, is an impressive fortress that is perched high up in the mountains overlooking the River Rhine. The “white castle” is the older of the two “Feuding Brothers” and served as an estate for the Bolanden lords.

Built in the late 12th century and known as castrum Sterrenberg, it is one of the oldest hilltop castles on the Rhine. As far back as 1568 it was already described as a ruin; between 1968 and 1978 it was partially rebuilt in the Gothic style. However, much of the original structure lies dilapidated.

Today, a popular restaurant and castle tavern with a pleasant panoramic terrace invites visitors to pause and take in the views of the Rhine. Regular exhibitions are also held that showcase the history of the area.

Burg Maus

Burg Maus or “Mouse Castle”

Burg Maus (Mouse Castle), built in 1356, resides on a mountain spur overlooking the Rhine River above the town of Wellmich. Originally called St. Peterseck and later Burg Deuernburg (Thurnberg), the castle came to be known as Burg Maus due to the cat and mouse rivalry between the Catholic Church and the powerful counts of Katzenelnbogen who owned nearby Katz Castle (Burg Neukatzenelnbogen).

Maus Castle is located north of Katz Castle (Cat Castle). If you look at the Rhine River castles map below, you will notice that these castles that are situated on opposing ends of Sankt Goarshausen, one of the towns along the Rhine River. Supposedly during construction of Burg Maus, the Counts of Katzenelnbogen called it a mouse that could be devoured by a cat.

Rheinfels Castle

Once the largest castle on the Rhine, Rheinfels Castle was constructed in 1245 and could hold up to 4,500 people while being besieged. In fact, this formidable castle withstood a siege of 28,000 French troops in 1692, the only Rhineland castle to withstand Louis XIV’s assault. But in 1797, the French Revolutionary army destroyed it.

Once the biggest castle on the Rhine, it spent the 19th century as a quarry. Today, while still mighty, it’s only a small fraction of its original size. The castle is open to the public with a hotel, restaurant, and museum on site.

Burg Katz

View on Katz castle from the Rhine valley

Burg Katz, or Cat Castle, sits atop a protruding hilltop between Rhine Valley and Forstbach Valley overlooking the Rhine River above the town of Sankt Goarshausen. Burg Katz (Burg Neukatzenelnbogen) was constructed around 1371 by Count Wilhelm II of Katzenelnbogen.

The counts of Katzenelnbogen served as a powerful family who controlled Burg Rheinfels and other castles along the Rhine. Just down the Rhine River, Archbishop of Trier built Burg Deuernburg (Burg Maus) in 1356. Shifting power and antagonism between respective castle owners, Counts of Katzenelnbogen and Archbishop of Trier, fueled much hostility. The “cat and mouse game” between them inevitably resulted with assignment of nicknames to castles that are still popular today.

In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered Burg Katz to be destroyed during his battle with the Prussians, reducing the castle to ruins. The ruins had several owners until 1896 when it was purchased by Landrat Ferdinand Berg who performed various restoration efforts based upon drawings by Johann Wilhelm Dilch. Since 1989, Burg Katz has been under private ownership.

Loreley Cliff

Just past Burg Katz, at the river bend is the legendary Loreley (or Lorelei) rock. Although not a castle, Loreley is an absolute must when visiting the Middle Rhine River.

Located between the wine growing villages of Sankt Goarshausen (St. Goar) and Oberwesel, the steep, 433 ft (132 m) high slate cliff is the narrowest point of the Rhine river. Shrouded in legends, this place has been depicted in countless paintings, poems, and songs. However, the most famous one is by Heinrich Heine.

The legend says that Loreley, a melancholic siren, sits on a rock, combing her golden hair. Sailors get easily distracted by her beauty and her mesmerizing song and wreck their ships against the rocks.

Schönburg Castle

Schönburg Castle (Photo: Wikimedia)

Documentation of Schonburg Castle goes back to the 12th century but its roots may go back as far as the Roman occupation in the 3rd century.

Schönburg Castle successfully defended itself until 1689, when it was overpowered by the troops of Louis XIV. After sitting in disrepair until 1885, it was restored to the splendid castle that you can visit today.

According to the castle’s website, this was one of the few castles where all sons inherited rather than following the system of primogeniture. Consequently, in the 14th century 24 families and up to 250 people lived there at the same time but, interestingly, by 1719, the line of succession completely died out. Today, this castle also features a hotel and restaurant.

Burg Gutenfels

Located in the hills, above the lush vineyards of scenic fortified town of Kaub, Gutenfels Castle was built in 1220 and was used with Pfalzgrafenstein Castle in the middle of the Rhein to provide an impenetrable toll zone for the Holy Roman Emperor until Prussia purchased the area in 1866 and ended the toll.

This castle, primarily owned by the Falkenstein family since 1257, is one of the most important examples of the Hohenstaufen military and house construction style at the Rhine. Since 1277 it has been a castle of the Electorate of Palatinate. After an unsuccessful siege in 1504 by landgrave Wilhelm from Hessen, the castle was renamed Gutenfels which translates to good or solid rock. Rebuilt between 1889 and 1892 it is now used as a hotel.

Pfalzgrafenstein Castle

Pfalzgrafenstein Castle in the Rhine

Pfalzgrafenstein Castle was built by King Ludwig the Bavarian on a tiny island in the middle of the Rhine River to collect river tolls. It is one of the Middle Rhine Valley’s most unique castles, due to its unusual location, eye-catching design and baroque color scheme.

The “Pfalz” could hold 20 men, who would stop passing ships using a massive iron chain spanning the length of the river. After their load was appraised, the ship’s crew would have to pay a fee in order to pass. Crews that didn’t or wouldn’t pay the fare were thrown into the castle’s dungeon. Scenic Kaub is also home to Gutenfels Castle. Look to the hills, above the lush vineyards, for the restored 13th century castle.

Fürstenberg Castle

View of Furstenberg castle ruins from the Rhein

Some of the castles, like Fürstenberg Castle, are ruins but the surrounding vineyard is still under cultivation. The castle dates to 1219 and was destroyed during

Burg Fürstenberg is situated along the Rhine River near the town of Rheindiebach in a picturesque setting overlooking vineyards and river below.

It was built by Archbishop of Cologne, Engelbert I, in 1219 to protect his property around Bacharach. Nearly 25 years later in 1243, the castle came into possession of Wittelsbach Count Palatines as a fief of the archdiocese of Cologne. Besides serving as protection for surrounding lands, it was used to levy tolls on boats traveling along the Rhine.

Burg Fürstenberg was besieged by Spaniards in 1620 and during the Thirty Years’ War by the Swedes in 1632. However, it was ultimately destroyed by the French during the Nine Years’ War, also known as the War of the Grand Alliance, the War of the League of Augsburg, or the Palatine War of Succession, which lasted from 1688 – 1697. For more than three centuries thereafter, Burg Fürstenberg has steadily deteriorated to its current ruinous state.

Burg Stahleck

Stahleck Castle beyond Bacharach from the Rhine

Stahleck Castle, located on the hillside overlooking the charming Rhine Valley city of Bacharach, was built on the orders of Archbishops of Cologne in the 12th century to guard the Upper Middle Rhine archbishopric. In 1194, it was the location of the secret Stahleck Marriage of Agnes of Hohenstaufen and Henry V, the Elder of Brunswick whose families were feuding. Legend has it when the couple produced a grandchild, the family reconciled.

The castle, whose name means literally “impregnable castle on a crag,” was destroyed by the French in 1689 and restored in the early 20th century. Today it houses a youth hostel.

Note: Due to the medieval terrain of the castle, the grounds are not wheelchair accessible and do require guests to be able to walk on uneven ground.

Heimburg Castle

Not much is known about Heimburg Castle, though it was built around 1300 by the Archbishop of Mainz as protection against the Palatines. In 1689, it was destroyed by French troops during the reign of King Louis XIV.

In the 19th century, the castle fell into the hands of industrialist Hugo Stinnes, who converted it to a neo-Gothic style residence.

Sooneck Castle

Sooneck Castle (Photo: Wikimedia)

You will definitely pass by this breathtaking castle while on a cruise. Sooneck Castle, constructed in the 11th century and named for Soon Forest. It was built, along with Burg Reichenstein, Burg Heimburg and Burg Vauzburg for the purpose of protecting the area around Niederheimbach, which was owned by the Kornelimünster Abbey.

Sooneck Castle was also a robber knight castle which Rudolf I of Germany besieged along with Reichenstein in 1282. Although rebuilding was forbidden, it was rebuilt in 1349. Today, it is also open to the public.

When viewing Sooneck Castle from the Rhine River, it looks as if the rocks of the hillside naturally formed the beautiful castle. Located high on a ridge above the Rhine River, and encompassed in rose vines, Sooneck Castle is the definition of a fairy-tale castle.

Burg Reichenstein

Who built the castle remains unclear. Reichenstein Castle was probably built as a Vogtsburg. However, Reichenstein Castle is said to have been built in the 11th century as a feudal castle by the bailiffs of the Kornelimünster Abbey near Aachen. The purpose of the castle was to protect the abbey’s manorial estate around Niederheimbach and Oberheimbach.

Reichenstein Castle was destroyed in 1253 and again in 1282 by Rudolph von Habsburg who banned reconstruction of the castle. In the 16th century, as a result of the Palatinate War of Succession, Reichenstein Castle was left to decay. In 1344, Rhenish Counts Palatine handover the Reichenstein to the Electorate of Mainz who began construction of a main castle with a double ring wall, an inner courtyard and a rectangular residential tower as well as a bailey to the north. 

In 1834 Friedrich Wilhelm von Barfuss started the reconstruction. Baron Kirsch Purcelli bought the castle in 1899 and continued the work of reconstruction. The shield wall is particularly noteworthy.

1899-1902 The wealthy industrialist and new owner of Reichenstein Castle, Baron Dr. Nikolaus Kirsch-Puricelli has the castle converted into a neo-Gothic residential castle in the English style. 

Since 2014, the castle has once again been owned by a great-grandson of the Kirsch-Puricelli family. He had recent renovation and modernization measures carried out on the Reichenstein. The following year (2015), the Burghotel and the Puricelli restaurant, located in the former outer bailey of the extensive castle complex, were able to open their doors. Of the numerous castles on the Middle Rhine, the Reichenstein is another castle complex that is owned and managed privately by a family.

In the castle are to be found in addition to the largest collection of cast-iron plates in Rhineland-Palatinate 1200 hunting trophies from all over the world, weapons, arms, porcelain and furniture from five centuries.

Note: Reichenstein Castle requires visitors to maneuver uneven surfaces and is not wheelchair accessible.

Burg Rheinstein

Rheinstein Castle is a medival castle near the village of Trechtingshausen on the Middle Rhine

Originally built around 900 A.D. to serve as a customs post for the German Empire, it was referred to as either the Vogtsburg or Feitsburg. Rheinstein Castle was home to generations of robber knights.

The castle became home to the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf von Habsburg who, after he was elected king in 1273, besieged the castle in 1282, finally forcing its surrender through starvation. From the castle, he passed judgment on the unruly robber knights of Burg Reichenstein, Burg Sooneck and Burg Ehrenfels. In addition, Rudolph von Habsburg founded the Noble Knighthood and renamed the castle to Konigstein.

From the 14th to 17th century, the castle was leased to the Archbishops of Mainz. However, it began to fall into disrepair after 1572 when it became unprofitable for Anton von Wiltberg, Chamberlain in Mainz, to maintain its upkeep.

In 1823, the castle ruin and its foundation stone were purchased by Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig, Royal Prince of Prussia and nephew of King Friedrich Wilhelm III. Thereafter, the castle was rebuilt under the direction of the famous castle architect, Johann Claudius von Lassaulx.

Note: Rheinstein Castle is only accessible by a footpath that is not wheelchair accessible.

Klopp Castle

Klopp Castle sits atop the hillside overlooking the city of Bingen am Rhein and has a unique and interesting history.

This is a castle on the top of the hill above the town called Bingium. This whole hill was a part of defensive belt which was surrounded by a wall. Today, this castle houses the city council.

Castles have stood on this site for centuries, being destroyed and rebuilt since Roman times. Like many of the castles of the Rhine, Klopp Castle was used by the Archbishop of Mainz to collect tolls on the river during its heyday. This is also the castle where the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV was held prisoner by his son.

Much of the castle you see today dates back to 1853, as the prior castles were destroyed in various wars. Currently owned by the city of Bingen am Rhein, Klopp Castle is now the town’s city hall and museum. 

Map of Middle Rhine Castles


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