Germany; a land full of myths and legends, deep and dark forests dotted with cute timber towns, Bavaria and Rhineland is the perfect setting to find some of the most beautiful fairytale castles of Germany.
This southern Germany road trip will take you past nine stunning German fairytale castles, including the iconic and most photographed castle in Germany, Neuschwanstein. You’ll also visit the beautiful UNESCO listed Cathedral of Cologne, a GIGANTIC slide in the middle of the Black Forrest as well as quaint villages and medieval towns while sampling the vineyard offerings in the Rhineland. This is a pretty epic road trip in Germany!
German castles self-drive tour covers two regions although it can easily be tweaked to just focus on a Bavarian Road Trip or just a tour of the Rhineland, or if you have a different plan for your Germany itinerary, just pick and choose the bits that apply to your own trip.
You’ll notice that this south of Germany self-drive tour starts and finishes in the beautiful city of Cologne, then travels south-east, passing beautiful landscapes and Bavarian castles before heading back to the Rhineland region. You can choose the start point anywhere along the route.
This Germany road trip itinerary is suitable for doing with a car, campervan or motorbike. In total, this fairytale castle road trip covers about 1500km. I found driving in Germany relatively simple, the roads are well maintained with good signposting and outside of the main cities, traffic was minimal.
So grab a brew and let’s get stuck into the nitty-gritty of this fairytale castles road trip of Germany.
What you can expect in this article...
Don’t forget your travel insurance.
If you’re planning a road trip to Germany be sure to check that your insurance policy covers you if you were to have an accident, or if things get cancelled last minute because of Coronavirus.
Both companies Coronavirus cover.
Hiring a car for your Germany Road Trip
Everyone loves a road trip, right? So, depending on where you’re starting from, you could drive your own car on this tour. However, to save time and fuel expense, I flew to Germany from the UK and then hired a car when I arrived.
To make the most out of this German road trip, you’ll need your own set of wheels; how you do that, it’s up to you.
It’s worthwhile checking out AutoEurope.They cater for car and campervan hire. They are a great choice because their platform searches across a whole load of different car hire companies in a specific destination to find you the best deals possible.
Fairytale Castles in South Germany - Bavaria & Rhineland Road Trip - Useful Information
When is the best time to visit Germany?
You can visit Germany all year round, although late spring to early autumn is better for the longer and warmer days with the warmest months being July – August.
Peak prices coincide with the school holidays in with Easter and then July and August being the busiest. Expect tour-group dodging and queues for all of Germany’s top attractions.
Winters in Germany are cold. But the can be quite special, especially on the lead up to Christmas with traditional festive markets popping up all over the place. If you’re really lucky, you might even see some of the castles covered the snow.
Like with all of Europe, it can rain at any time of the year and sometimes (even in summer) evenings can get chilly. So be sure to pack something waterproof, as well as having a lightweight jumper or jacket for cooler summer evenings.
If you’re after the warmer weather with fewer crowds, then aim to visit Germany between May and June and then September to October.
Fairytale Castles - Southern Germany Road Trip Map
Start in the city of Cologne (Köln in German) and to meander your way down to southern Germany, calling in at a few fairytale castles en route to Neuschwanstein Castle. Make your way back up through the Rhineland.
Interactive Map: Click on the map to zoom, pan and find out more details about the route that I took for my fairytale castle road trip.
Driving in Germany
Driving in Germany is an absolute doddle compared to the overcrowded, pot-hole riddled roads in the UK.
I did have the odd crazy swerve as I reminded myself that Germany drives on the opposite side of the road to the UK but thankfully most of the roads are quiet.
Because fo the amount of driving, make sure you have a comfortable and reliable car. Check out for some great deals on hiring a vehicle for this southern Germany road trip.
I was given this beauty for the week. Compared to my near-museum-artefact car I drive back home, this thing felt revoltinary. Since when did cars not have a regular key?
Eventually, I’d sussed out what all the flashing buttons did, (no one told me I had to put my foot on the break to make it start!) I was also feeling the absence of a gear stick and a clutch pedal. A shameful 40 minutes later I finally managed to get my hire car started and was on the move.
Pre-organised fairytale castle tours
Sometimes it’s easier to let someone else do the tours for you, check out this great selection from the castles featured in this article.
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 hasn’t really changed much over the years. It’s also remained in the same family for over 600 years and is STILL inhabited by them to this day. 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 5.50 Euro. The tour is in German, the last time I spoke German was during my GCSEs! However, your 5.50 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.
Compared to other castles on this southern Germany road-trip, Neuschwanstein isn’t particularly old. The building of the castle didn’t begin until 1869. It was built for Ludwig II, who became king in 1864 but only two years later had to accept defeat from Prussia.
Because Ludwig II was no longer the sovereign ruler of his country (he was demoted to ‘just’ a constitutional monarch), he decided to create his own fantasy-like World. Basically, Neuschwanstein castle is a bit of middle-finger up to this ruling.
Ludwig II’s solution was to build a castle where he could live like a King of the Middle Ages. The ‘New Castle’ was built over the top of the remains of two much older medieval Castles. Neuschwanstein 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 originally called this 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 Neuschwanstein.
However, it’s 13 Euro if you want to do the 35 minute guided tour inside the castle (or 25 Euro for a combined ticket for Hohenschwangau 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, starting at 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.
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.
Lichtenstein Castle (Schloss Lichtenstein)
Lichtenstein Castle could be cut and pasted onto any fairy tale castles postcard. 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 Castle, which is listed as a fortress, sits directly above the small town of Honau, looking down on the source of the river Echaz.
Lichtenstein gets its name from ‘Lichter’ meaning bright and ‘Stein’ which translates to stone.
There are two sites at 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 where Lichtenstein castle is today and dates from as far back as the 1100s. 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.
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.
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 and iron gateways.
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.
Baumwipfelpfad Schwarzwald in Bad Wildbad
This unpronounceable attraction is on a relatively dull leg of the journey between Hohenzollern and Heilderberg. A short detour and you’ll end up in the Black Forest. Baumwipfelpfad Schwarzwald translates to ‘Treetop Walk Black Forest’, which is exactly what it is.
If I had more time here, this would be a great area to walk some of the trails. The trails are free to do, however, it’s 11 Euro, to do the canopy and tower walk. After so much driving, it was nice to get out of the car and stretch my legs in the beautiful surroundings, plus the aroma of the pine trees all around was so refreshing.
The relatively flat tree-top walk has lots of fun interactive things for kids (and adults) including alternative routes where you can scramble over rope ladders and 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!
Heidelberg Castle (Schloss Heidelberg)
Probably the second most iconic of the fairy tale castles in Germany in Heidelberg. Despite it being listed as a Schloss (Castle in German) it’s actually a Palace.
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.
Look out for are The Ottheinrich Building , boasting German Renaissance architecture at it’s finest
The world’s largest wine barrel resides at Heidelberg. The Fassbau Building (Barrel Building) houses the Heidelberg Tun.
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 8 Euro and an additional 6 Euro for the guided tour inside the Palace. Tours run in German and English. You can not take photos inside the Castle!
For more information click here.
Rheinstein Castle (Burg Rheinstein)
Compared to the rest of the Castles, Rheinstein is tiny. Sat upon 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 without having to pay extra to go on a guided tour.
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.
Eltz Castle (Burg Eltz)
Eltz was my favourite castle on my southern Germany road trip and the ULTIMATE fairytale castle.
Berg Eltz differs a little compared to the other castles on this German fairytale castles road trip. For starters, 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.
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.
No one can resist the postcard-perfect colourful houses along the banks of the river. Just look at it. Cochem Castle is perched on top of a hill looking down on the town.
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 and past the vineyards, you’ll find the entry gate of Cochem 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 craftsmen repainting some of the wall murals.
It’s nearly impossible to miss the UNESCO listed Cathedral – in fact, arriving in the centre, it 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.
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 6 Euro to go up the tower. For more information click here.
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.
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.
Final thoights on the beautiful Fairytale Castles in South Germany - Bavaria & Rhineland Road Trip
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.
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