Fairy-tale palaces and imperial castles – 11 remarkable buildings in Rhineland-Palatinate


A trip to Rhineland-Palatinate is always a trip back into turbulent times. You see evidence of European history on virtually every corner and you cannot but gaze over venerable sites. Gladiators fought in the amphitheatre in Trier in Roman times, Martin Luther laid the foundations for the Reformation and, legend has it, the lovely Loreley enticed many ships to their doom along the Rhine. The region around the Rhine and the Moselle has been shaped by 2,000 years of history. The General Directorate for Cultural Heritage (GDKE) has made it its mission to preserve this valuable heritage. As well as its ancient Roman buildings and important churches and cathedrals, it is primarily the medieval castles and fairy-tale palaces that make Rhineland-Palatinate so special. We will take you on a trip to 11 of the most special of these palaces and castles.

1. Stolzenfels Castle near Koblenz: Taken from the pages of a picture book

The Prussian Stolzenfels Castle is an impressive sight even from afar, with its towers and bay windows towering over the wooded slopes of the Rhine valley. But the real excitement comes when you step inside. The romantic gardens and terraces boast magical colourful blooms and gently babbling fountains. In the summer, there is even the gentle fragrance of flowers in the air. Famous landscape gardener Peter Joseph Lenné was also involved in designing the space.

The Prussian Stolzenfels Castle above the Stolzenfels district of Koblenz, Romantic Rhine

The Prussian Stolzenfels Castle above the Stolzenfels district of Koblenz, Romantic Rhine

2. Sterrenberg Castle: In the heart of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site

Thought to have been built before 1100 as a Salian imperial castle, Sterrenberg Castle is one of the oldest hill-top castles on the Rhine. It and its neighbour, Liebenstein Castle, make up the ‘warring brothers’. Legend has it that two brothers built the two fortified castles during a dispute. The family feud is long over, and visitors can now enjoy both wonderful views over the Rhine and a range of refreshments.

Entrance to Sterrenberg Castle near Kamp-Bornhofen, Romantic Rhine

Entrance to Sterrenberg Castle near Kamp-Bornhofen, Romantic Rhine

3. Pfalzgrafenstein Castle: The castle in the Rhine

Many a visitor has described the view of Pfalzgrafenstein Castle as ‘unreal’. A castle on a Rhine island only slightly bigger than the castle itself. But it is not only its extraordinary location that makes Pfalzgrafenstein Castle so special. The stone ship on the rocky reef once served as a toll station. Today, you can cross over to this unique toll castle by ferry and enjoy a fascinating guided tour.

Pfalzgrafenstein Castle near Kaub, Romantic Rhine

View of Pfalzgrafenstein Castle near Kaub, Romantic Rhine

4. Sooneck Castle: The enchanted castle

Sooneck Castle sits on the steep slopes on the edge of the Soonwald forest. Surrounded by roses, it is the very essence of Rhine Romanticism. The rose was a symbol of luck, happiness and affluence that was prized even by the Ancient Romans and became one of the ultimate luxury goods. So Sooneck Castle between Bingen and Koblenz represents the ideal of a medieval castle. Wonderful gardens and a museum bring the legendary history of the castle to life for all ages. Sooneck Castle also forms part of some great walks through the Upper Middle Rhine Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sooneck Castle near Niederheimbach, Romantic Rhine

View of Sooneck Castle near Niederheimbach, Romantic Rhine

5. Nassau Castle: Seat of the Dutch and Luxembourgian royal family

Visible from afar, the silhouette of Nassau Castle rises from a tapering cliff above the little town of Nassau on the river Lahn. It was once the seat of the House of Nassau-Orange, still the reigning royal family in the Netherlands and Luxembourg. There is a narrow staircase leading up to the castle keep, which rewards you with wonderful panoramic views and a permanent exhibition on the history of the former defensive complex and the people who built it.

View of the keep of Nassau Castle in Nassau, Lahn valley

View of the keep of Nassau Castle in Nassau, Lahn valley

6. Nürburg castle ruins: The castle by the racetrack

Nürburg Castle, consisting of three ‘growth rings’, sits atop Mons Nore, the ‘black mountain’. The castle was built in three stages, with the last ring built in the 15th century to protect the then still exposed half-timbered houses. However, the castle became derelict by the 16th century and was finally destroyed by French soldiers in 1689. At 678 metres, it is the highest castle in Rhineland-Palatinate, but it is worth it. The panoramic views from the top take in the famous ‘Nürburgring’ racetrack.

View of Nürburg Castle in Nürburg, Eifel

View of Nürburg Castle in Nürburg, Eifel

7. Bürresheim Castle: Unspoilt and unchanged

In the Middle Ages, Bürresheim Castle was a knights’ seat and a defensive complex in one. This imposing residential castle has a magnificent interior more commonly associated with a palace. Bürresheim Castle has been used as the setting for various films, including ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’. There are guided tours around parts of the castle. Do you know where the expression ‘step it up a notch’ comes from? You can find out here.

Bürresheim Castle in St. Johann, Eifel

The enchanting Bürresheim Castle in St. Johann, Eifel

8. Trifels Castle: The castle on the Südliche Weinstrasse

Did you know that the famous English king Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned in Trifels Castle? And it still radiates immeasurable power today. The majestic red sandstone castle towers above you as you stand at the feet of the steep Trifels cliffs. Inside, there are some relatively small pieces with massive significance, including faithful reproductions of the imperial crown, sceptre, orb and cross as important symbols of legitimate power in the Middle Ages.

Trifels Castle in the Palatinate Forest, Palatinate

The Trifels Castle near Annweiler am Trifels in the Palatinate Forest, Palatinate

9. Hardenburg castle and fortress ruins: Great and powerful

Hardenburg Castle is the legacy of the Counts of Leiningen and one of the greatest and most impressive castle and fortress complexes in the Palatinate. Built in the 13th century as a relatively modest hill-top castle, Hardenburg Castle was extended in the 16th century to become a fortified Renaissance residence befitting the status of the Leiningens. As well as a permanent exhibition showcasing archaeological finds from the 16th and 17th centuries, it also hosts a medieval market in late summer.

View of the castle and fortress ruins of the Hardenburg Castle near Bad Dürkheim, Palatinate

View of the castle and fortress ruins of the Hardenburg Castle near Bad Dürkheim, Palatinate

10. Dahn Castles and their new sister castle: View into the Dahner Felsenland

While the Dahn Castles of Alt-Dahn, Grafendahn and Tanstein do huddle together on a single sandstone cliff, the gateways and turrets bear witness to numerous battles and family feuds. By the end of the 17th century, all three were derelict and uninhabitable or destroyed, although Tanstein was first to fall in 1571. The ruins of Neudahn Castle lie some 3 km away from its ‘sisters’. You can still climb up its towers today. From the top, you can enjoy wonderful views of the rocky landscape around Dahn.

View of the Palatinate Forest from the Dahn Castles, Palatinate

View of the Palatinate Forest from the Dahn Castles, Palatinate

11. Landeck Castle in Klingenmünster: A throne above the Rhine plain

The complex can look back on some 800 years of history but was destroyed by French troops during the Nine Years’ War. Today, there is a small museum dedicated to the castle and its history.

In 1857, Klingenmünster-born poet August Becker described the ruins: “Landeck Castle glares out from the chestnut forest, scenic, imposing and seemingly perfectly restored. The drawbridge leads to the stone pillars and the gate in a green gorge. A triple wall surrounds the massive square tower, while the external perimeter wall boasts lots of little round turrets. You reach the castle courtyard via a second huge gateway in the massive internal wall, which is still amazing in terms of its height, thickness and strength even today.”

Hikers at Landeck Castle near Klingenmünster, Palatinate

Hikers at Landeck Castle near Klingenmünster, Palatinate

More recommended excursions for culture lovers in Rhineland-Palatinate:


More information about the cultural highlights in Rhineland-Palatinate

Find out more about the events, exhibitions, sights and destinations of the General Directorate for Cultural Heritage Rhineland Palatinate.

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