One of Germany’s oldest holiday routes, the Castle Road – or Burgenstraße – stretches for 770 kilometres between Mannheim and Bayreuth, taking in some sixty castles, palaces and stately homes along the way.
Meandering across almost the entire width of southern Germany through the states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, the route dates back to 1954, although many of the castles in Germany that it links together – such as those at Heidelberg, Colmberg, and Nürnberg – were first constructed several centuries ago during the medieval period of independent princely states.
Top attractions on the Castle Road Germany
There’s little doubt that the Castle Road boasts some of the best castles in Germany; structures that are not only very often open to the public to visit, but in some cases they also offer overnight accommodation.
Imagine sleeping in a castle in Germany! I can tell you from first hand experience, it is wonderful. Read on for further details.
Here are my picks of what’s not to be missed as part of any Castle Route Germany itinerary.
At the western end of the Castle Road, Mannheim is the third-largest city in Baden-Württemberg and boasts an unusual (for Germany) grid pattern of streets leading to the parkland around the stunning 19th-century Romanesque water tower.
However, the star of the town is the incredible baroque masterpiece of Mannheim Castle, situated on the River Rhine just a short stroll from the city’s main train station. It was built as a residence for the Prince-electors of the Electorate of the Palatinate (part of the Holy Roman Empire) in 1720 and is the second-largest Baroque palace in Europe. Only Versailles is larger!
Today, the palace can be explored as part of an audio guide-led route, which highlights the castle’s most important exhibits, including ancient tapestries, fine furniture, and sculpture. It’s open every day except for a few days around Christmas, with adult tickets costing around €7.
Other highlights worth seeing in Mannheim include the city's emblem, the Water Tower, the many Art Nouveau buildings and the lovely Rose Garden.
Distance from Mannheim to Heidelberg: 20 kilometres
Just 18 kilometres from Mannheim is Heidelberg, home to perhaps the most famous castle in Germany, and one that definitely cannot be missed on a Germany road trip. Spread across a hill on the edge of this pleasant university town, Heidelberg Castle Germany is a ruined castle and stately home, considered one of the most important Renaissance structures outside of Italy.
Dating from as early as 1214, with the present buildings started around 1650, the castle can be reached by funicular railway from the centre of town. Viewing the remaining interiors of the castle is only possible as part of a guided tour, which begins at roughly quarter-past the hour every hour and every day.
Admission into the grounds for adults costs €8, plus a further €5 for the guided tour.
Be sure to allow time when you visit Heidelberg to wander the pretty streets of the Old Town and to enjoy a cruise on the Rhine River.
Where to stay in Heidelberg: Browse hotels and check prices here
Distance from Heidelberg to Heilbronn: 70 kilometres
Heilbronn lies on the River Neckar in Baden-Württemberg and has not one but two castles nearby. The structure at Trappensee - a small lake roughly two kilometres from the city centre - sits on an island and dates back to the 18th century, although a castle on the same site was originally constructed almost 200 years earlier.
Even more impressive, however, is Stettenfels Castle, which is situated overlooking the town of Untergruppenbach, close to Heilbronn. Almost a thousand years old, this castle is best visited as part of the many cultural events that take place here, ranging from concerts to medieval jousting tournaments.
As one of the castles near Stuttgart, it’s popular with domestic tourists from across Germany, who come to admire its moat, impressive bridge, and ancient whitewashed towers.
Other interesting sites in Heilbronn include the Town Hall with its astronomical clock, St Kilian's Church (which has a unique Renaissance tower) and Wartberg Hill where you can enjoy stunning views of the vineyards surrounding the town. Heilbronn is the centre of the largest red wine growing region in Germany and there are plenty of opportunities to taste the local drop.
Distance from Heilbronn to Schwabisch Hall: 53 kilometres
Another of the Castle Road’s castles near Stuttgart Germany, Comberg - near the town of Schwäbisch Hall - was, in fact, a Benedictine monastery first founded in the 1070s. Since its earliest days, it has had a number of additional uses, including being a home for invalid soldiers, a prisoner of war camp (during the Second World War), and a teacher training college.
Nowadays, the castle is an attractive place to stop and stretch your legs before you continue along one of the most scenic drives in Germany.
The town of Schwäbisch Hall itself is also well worth a couple of hours of your time, with a mix of historic buildings dotting its streets - from timber-framed medieval structures to those of the baroque and gothic architectural style.
The former Imperial city boasts one of the most beautiful Market Place's in southern Germany and amongst its many museums and galleries you'll find numerous works by the Old Masters.
Where to stay: Just 24 kilometres from Schwabisch Hall you'll find Castle Hotel Kirchberg. Sitting high above the River Jagst, the castle features a Great Hall and many towers. It is now one of the castle hotels in Germany in which you can spend a night. Click here to check current prices.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Distance from Schwabisch Hall to Rothenburg: 67 kilometres
The town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber (or ‘Red fortress over the Tauber’) lies over the state border from Baden-Württemberg in Bavaria and provides visitors on the Castle Road with a fascinating old town centre that dates from the medieval period.
This fairytale town has to be seen to believed with its brightly painted half-timbered buildings enclosed by medieval walls oozing charm.
Rothenburg Castle may be small in stature compared to some on the Castle Route – and sometimes referred to as an elegant townhouse – but it still dates back some 500 years, and leads to castle gardens that proffer fantastic views over the town.
The castle was destroyed by an earthquake in 1356 but the original site is now home to the town’s castle gardens which are particularly attractive in spring and summer, when its many flower beds are in full bloom.
Rothenburg is also located on another of Germany’s famous scenic routes, the Romantic Road. You can read more about Rothenburg and which other towns I suggest you visit on the Romantic Road in this article.
Distance from Rothenburg to Colmberg: 19 kilometres
Not to be confused with Comberg Castle in Schwäbisch Hall, the small town of Colmberg boasts one of the best castles in Germany to stay in! Perched on a hilltop and protected by formidable ancient walls complete with turreted corner towers, this hotel castle offers all the comforts of the modern age within a structure from the Middle Ages.
Castle hotels in Germany really don’t get any better, with standard contemporary double rooms and the extra-special tower guard suite to choose between, before perhaps sampling some fine Franconian region cuisine in the on-site restaurant. And better still, the rates are very reasonable. Click here to check current prices.
You don’t have to be staying overnight at Colmberg Castle to visit, though. The grounds and some rooms of the castle - including the chapel - are open for visitors to wander around.
Distance from Colmberg to Ansbach: 15 kilometres
Ansbach Residenz, also known by the alternative name Markgrafenschloß (or ‘the Margrave’s Palace’), has a classical façade that reminds many of London’s Buckingham Palace. It is the administrative seat of the local government of Bavaria’s Middle Franconia region.
However, this newer visage was built from a complex of structures originally from the late medieval era. Its treasures, including the medieval Gothic Hall, and the paintings of the Festival Hall, can be admired as part of a 50-minute German-language guided tour (every day except Monday) that starts every hour on the hour. Standard admission is €4.50.
Across the road, the Orangerie and the surrounding Palace gardens are well worth a visit. Now used as a concert venue and cafe, the Baroque-style orangery sits amidst beautifully manicured gardens.
Distance from Ansbach to Nurnberg: 65 kilometres
Perhaps better known as Nuremberg to English-speakers, Nürnberg has an impressive ridge-top castle that has sat at the heart of the town for centuries.
One of the residences of the Holy Roman Emperors, the site is less a castle and more a small town within a town. It comprises two separate castles – the Imperial Castle and Burgraves’ Castle – alongside structures built by the then imperial city.
Open throughout the year, the castle can be visited freely without the need for a guide, with a €7 ticket giving access to the entire complex. The newly-renovated Knights' and Imperial Hall are worth visiting and you'll be rewarded with wonderful views if you climb the Sinwell Tower.
Admission to the 50-metre Deep Well is a further €3 and requires a guide, while the gardens (open between April and October) are free to visit.
Whilst in Nurnberg you should also visit Hauptmarkt, a busy square in the centre of the Old Town, the Gothic cathedral and the Schoner Brunnen spire which rises 19 metres into the air.
Where to stay in Nuremberg: Browse hotels and check prices here
Distance from Nurnberg to Bamberg: 58 kilometres
Also situated on a hilltop, Altenburg Castle in Bamberg is another of the highly-regarded medieval castles in Germany. With records dating back to the beginning of the 1100s, it is particularly recognisable for its tall, round, stone tower.
The keep - or central fortified tower - dates to the 13th century, while much of the rest of the castle dates to the late 1500s, after the original structures were destroyed in the Second Margrave War.
The castle is open every day from 10 am until 6 pm, with entrance costing €7 plus an additional €2 to enter each of the towers. Guided tours take place every hour until 4 pm.
Make sure you visit Bamberg's Old Town which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. With its many bridges crossing canals and rivers, half-timbered houses and narrow, cobbled streets, its not hard to see why Bamber is a favourite with visitors.
Distance from Bamberg to Bayreuth: 71 kilometres
At the eastern end of your Germany castles tour along the Castle Road, you will find Bayreuth in northern Bavaria. Famous for its annual Richard Wagner Festival, the city also has a beautifully-maintained historic centre, dating back to the city's foundations in the late 12th century.
The town has a surprising number of cultural institutions, including museums to Wagner, Franz Liszt (in the building where the composer died), history, and art.
However, Bayreuth’s piece de resistance has got to be its Hermitage. It consists of an Old Palace, built by the incumbent margrave (military leader) in 1715, and a New Palace, connected by a series of exquisite gardens.
From May until October each year (when the buildings are also open to the public), these gardens also have hourly water displays from the series of historic fountains.
Another of Bayreuth's impressive buildings is the Margravial Opera House, regarded as the most beautifully preserved Baroque theatre in Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Where to stay in Bayreuth: Browse hotels and check prices here
Another picturesque scenic drive in Germany is along the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. This article has more info.
How long should you allow to drive the complete Castle Road?
At 770 kilometres in length from Mannheim to Bayreuth, you’ll want to allow at least six full days to cover the entire route, covering not much more than 100 kilometres in any one day.
This sort of timescale will give you plenty of time to visit the many castles in southern Germany along the route, and you could easily visit two or three per day.
Alternatively, you could instead decide to base yourself in one particular area, such as Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and make day trips from there to the various castles and towns in the vicinity.
Either way, there are plenty of castles to visit on your Germany road trip.
Click on the map of the Castle Road below to zoom in and out.
Can you travel the Castle Road Germany by train?
It’s not possible to follow the exact road route of the Castle Road by train, although most of the towns along the route have railway stations and can be reached by regular train services operating from across the region.
Tips for driving the Castle Route in Germany
- Book your rental car in advance to ensure you get the best rates. Click here to get a free quote from Rentalcars.com
- Pick up a Castle Road map from the Tourist Office in Mannheim or Heidelberg before you start. The route is signposted but it’s easy to ‘lose’ signs in traffic, etc. so having a map to follow is handy.
- You can follow the route in either direction. I've chosen a west to east route above but you can travel in the opposite direction if it suits you better.
- Lots of towns have car-free centres so look for parking signs as you approach town. Minimal parking fees usually apply but many ticket machines accept both cash and card payments.
- Allow more time than you think you’ll need at each stop. It’s easy to become bewitched by the beauty of a town and linger longer than expected over a coffee or browsing the shops. Likewise, road works can cause delays and extend the journey time, so factor this in when you are planning your drive along the Castle Road.
- Whilst it’s not a requirement of most car rental companies, all foreigners driving in Germany should hold an International Driving Permit. In the case of an accident or being stopped by police, failure to present an IDP can result in heavy fines. Read more about IDPs in this article.
- Even in tourist towns, many shops and services are closed on Sundays. Fuel stations usually have pumps that accept credit cards but if you are uncomfortable using these, I recommend you fill up your tank on Saturday.
As you can see, there are many worthy destinations along the German Castle route. Whether you choose to visit just one castle or many, the route connecting the towns and villages in which you find these castles is very scenic and deserves its reputation as one of best drives in Germany.
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