Knights, Baroque princes and kings once set the tone in Bavaria. Their fortresses and magnificent buildings still shape the landscape to this day. Here are the seven most visited castles and palaces and seven quieter insider tips
14 x Castles and palaces
Dream castle above Füssen in the Allgäu. Global icon for Bavaria and Germany. Romantic setting against the backdrop of the Ammergebirge mountains. King Ludwig II (1845 to 1886) planned this idealised medieval knights’ castle as his own private retreat – for himself alone! The design was based on the Wartburg in Thüringen. It was rebuilt in the 19th century in Historicist style.
Work on Neuschwanstein Castle began in 1869. Many of the paintings in the interior feature operas by Richard Wagner, whom Ludwig idolised. However, it also boasts the latest technology of the time, such as hot air central heating and an electrical call system. Ludwig only spent a few months in the castle, dying in 1886 before it was fully complete. The castle was opened to the public just a few weeks later. Today, Neuschwanstein Castle is the top tourist attraction in Bavaria.
As Crown Prince, Ludwig II used to stay in a forest lodge in the Ammergau Alps when hunting with his father, Maximilian II. A long period of building and renovation began in 1869 and resulted in the Linderhof Palace. The second most popular castle in Bavaria.
It is the only one of his major castle and palace projects that Ludwig lived to see completed. Its design was based on the French pleasure palaces of the 18th century. Various motifs of Bavarian Rococo can be found here. Richly decorated interior. Bedroom in the style of the French Sun King. Palace garden with many decorative buildings: water basin with fountain, cascade with Neptune fountain, Moorish kiosk and more.
The famous Venus Grotto: an artificial stalactite cave with a lake and a waterfall as well as electric lighting. The power comes from a Siemens dynamo in a special machine house - considered one of the first power plants in Bavaria.
Founded as a summer residence for Bavaria’s rulers in 1662 and based on Italian designs. The palace assumed its current dimensions (wider than Versailles!) under Elector Max Emanuel (1662 to 1726). Along with the palace, the complex features a park with a large waterfall, four pavilions (including the Amalienburg, a Rococo masterpiece) and a Grand Circle.
Nymphenburg is one of Europe’s great royal palaces. The interior was created by renowned artists such as François de Cuvilliés and Johann Baptist Zimmermann. The most famous highlight: the “Gallery of Beauties” (38 portraits of Munich’s society women, including Lola Montez), commissioned by King Ludwig I. Mozart once played in the palace and it is where Ludwig II was born (25 August 1845). Today, the palace also boasts a large collection of carriages as well as a porcelain manufactory and collection. The House of Wittelsbach still has right of residence in the palace.
Herrenchiemsee New Palace
King Ludwig commissioned this palace in 1878 on the largest island on Lake Chiemsee. It is modelled on the Palace of Versailles. It pays homage to the absolutist French Sun King Louis XIV and is both a glorification of the divine right of kings and Ludwig’s last great building project. He only spent a few days there. Work on the “Bavarian Versailles” was stopped after his death in 1886 and the building remained incomplete. Like Neuschwanstein Castle, this palace was designed as a private retreat. The most expensive of his building projects!
State rooms: State Staircase, State Bedroom and Great Hall of Mirrors (two metres longer than the one in Versailles!). Of the park, also designed to emulate Versailles, only the elements along the main axis with fountains and water features were realised. Today a museum about King Ludwig II has been installed in the south wing.
Imperial Castle of Nuremberg
In the Middle Ages, the Castle of Nuremberg was an important Imperial palace (a base for travelling emperors or kings). It is said to date back to the year 1000. The complex consists of two castles: Burggrafenburg and Kaiserpfalz. For a long time, the Zollern (later named the Hohenzollern) held the office of “burgrave” (the representative of the king or emperor). Later, on being given the fiefdom of Brandenburg, the Zollern dynasty became increasingly powerful. When Nuremberg became an independent Imperial City, the city took over the castle and integrated it into its fortifications.
Nowadays, the castle is used purely for special events. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the complex underwent many structural changes. Today a museum provides information about the continued existence and function of the castle, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, and the importance of Nuremberg in the Late Middle Ages.
Many owners, a long history: the Burgberg was settled as far back as the Bronze and Iron Ages. Celts and Romans also liked the location. The narrow ridge towers over Burghausen. A large part of the fortress that you see today dates back to the Late Middle Ages. At that time (around 1250 to 1500) it was the second residence of the House of Wittelsbach from the duchy of Bavaria-Landshut. This is where they hoarded their silver and gold.
The most famous resident was Hedwig Jagiellonica, whose wedding to Duke George the Rich in Landshut (1475) is still celebrated every four years. At one kilometre in length, it is the longest castle in the world. The curtain wall is mostly intact. The complex includes five great courtyards, plus gate, towers, residential and commercial buildings. The castle has never been conquered!
This castle can be seen from a distance, high above Landshut. Originally, the castle bore the name of the town; it was only in the 16th century that it changed to Trausnitz. The castle was built in the 13th century. It served as a residence for the Dukes of Lower Bavaria from 1255 to 1503. Famous guests: Emperor Friedrich II, Walther von der Vogelweide and Tannhäuser! Many extensions and renovations under the “Rich Dukes” of Bavaria-Landshut in the 15th century. Under Duke Wilhelm V, wonderful wall frescoes in the style of Florentine Mannerism. It was damaged by fire in 1961.
As you walk round it, you see medieval halls, the castle chapel of St. George with valuable sculptural decorations and three Gothic winged altars as well as the famous Fools’ Staircase with scenes from the Commedia dell’arte. The balcony gives a fantastic view over Landshut. Also worth visiting: the Chamber of Art and Curiosities, a ducal collection of the artistic, exotic and curious.
Cadolzburg near Fürth
On a rocky outcrop, the mighty Cadolzburg Castle reigns high above the town of the same name. A splendid curtain wall surrounds the main castle with its Alte and Neue Schloss, linked by a chapel. Before it is a spacious outer bailey. The oldest parts of the building date back to 1250. In those days, the Zollern (later Hohenzollern), burgraves in nearby Nuremberg, made the castle their main seat. In 1415, Burgrave Friedrich VI was appointed Elector of Brandenburg. This means that in the Late Middle Ages, Berlin was for a time ruled from Cadolzburg!
In 1486 the Zollern regions were divided into Brandenburg, Brandenburg-Ansbach and Brandenburg-Kulmbach/Bayreuth. The castle lost importance as a residence. A devastating fire took hold at the end of the Second World War. In renovated condition since 2016. Today a place of experience and reflection for visitors. In a museum you can immerse yourself in the Middle Ages: through original objects, reproductions and media stations.
In a scenic location, the impressive Burg Prunn sits on a vertical rocky promontory above the Altmühltal. It was founded in 1200. The noble Fraunberg vom Haag family moved there in the 14th century. Their coat of arms can be seen from afar on the castle façade: a white horse on a red background. A well maintained complex with a mighty keep and a ditch nine metres deep. Large Gothic Great Hall, Gothic portals and frescoes in other parts of the building.
Spectacular: in 1566, the fourth oldest complete manuscript of the Nibelungenlied was found, presumed to date back to 1330. The “Prunner Codex” (today in the Bavarian State Library). Visits only as part of a guided tour. After the exhibition about the Nibelungenlied, themed rooms provide information about life in the Middle Ages, including clothing, laws, hunting and the role of women.
One of biggest and oldest castles in Bavaria. It towers over the town of the same name on the River Wörnitz, north of Donauwörth. The core of the castle is surrounded by a curtain wall with six towers. It has a bailiwick, two baileys (“Diebsturm” and “Faulturm”), a great hall, a well, a church and a crypt chapel. First written mention 1150. Roman finds suggest that the location was highly prized before that.
The Dukes of Oettingen took over the castle in 1299 and expanded it. It is still owned by the charitable cultural foundation Fürst zu Oettingen-Wallerstein today. Many parts date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. It contains elements of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque.
During a tour of the castle you will see, among other things: church, battlements walk with towers and corners, courtroom, bailey, Prince’s Hall and Prince’s Building. There are also themed tours including musical, night, children’s and archive tours.
burg-harburg.de (only in German)
1156 was the first documentary mention. Built in an impregnable location on a narrow rocky promontory. Once the seat of the Walpoten, a ministerial family. From 1300, official seat of the Nuremberg Burgraves, later the Bayreuth Margraves (Hohenzollern). Large parts of the Late Romanesque castle have been preserved. The bailey offers views across Franconian Switzerland. In the castle, there is an exhibition on the history of the castle and the hunting activities of the court.
Don’t miss: below the castle, Margravine Wilhelmine von Bayreuth had a rocky piece of woodland turned into a Baroque rock garden and a small pavilion (of Oriental construction) was built there. Caves and rocks in the garden are meant to embody the famous French novel of the day, Telemachus, including the Calypso and Mentor Grottoes. A theatre in the form of a ruin still stages shows today. Because of their uniqueness, complexes such as Zwernitz are often called “Sanspareil” (French for “unequalled”). Or, in Franconian dialect: Samberell!
Leuchtenberg Castle Ruins
The oldest parts date back to around the year 1300. They were built in the time of Landgrave Ulrich I of Leuchtenberg. He stood at the side of Ludwig of Bavaria (King of Germany from 1314, Emperor from 1328, died 1347) and fought with him at Gammelsdorf in 1313 (a battle between the Houses of Wittelsbach and Habsburg over supremacy in the duchy of Bavaria - Ludwig won!).
After the family died out around 1650, the castle fell into disrepair. From 1902, it was restored and preserved. It sits on the 585 metre-high Leuchtenberg mountain in the district of Neustadt an der Waldnaab and offers views of the Oberpfälzer Wald. The ruins are well maintained with clearly visible elements such as the chapel and the Knights’ Hall (a community living and dining room that boasted smoke-free heating). An exhibition provides information about the history of the castle.
burgruine-leuchtenberg.de (only in Geman)
Weissenstein Castle in Upper Franconia is one of the best preserved German castles of its era. Franz von Schönborn, Prince-Bishop of Bamberg and Elector of Mainz, had it built as a summer residence from 1711 to 1718. It then took an additional ten years to complete the interior decoration! The famous architect Johann Dientzenhofer was involved in the planning.
Opulent design with magnificent frescoes in the staircase (providing the model for the staircase in the Würzburg Residence), a grotto decorated with shells and gemstones and a marble hall with a ceiling fresco. Today it serves as a concert hall. The private apartments with a Hall of Mirrors are largely still in their original condition. Visitors can also view Schönborn’s significant collection of paintings, including some by Old Masters (Breughel, Rubens, van Dyck, Titian). “Baroque Lounge” for visitors to the stables. Independent visits possible, with various guided and themed tours on offer.
schoenborn.de/schloss-weissenstein (only in German)
Near Kronach, close to the border with Thuringia, the imposing Lauenstein Castle keeps watch from its hilltop position. Bavaria’s northernmost castle was of great strategic importance. Its oldest parts can be dated back to the 12th century. An extensive complex with a bailey and a main castle building. Beautiful arcades, a curtain wall to the northwest and west. From the 13th to the 15th centuries, the castle was lived in by the Counts of Orlamünde, with many different owners since.
In the 19th century it fell into disrepair before being rebuilt in the Late Historicist style (based on Wartburg) with Jugendstil nuances. Charming interior design with paintings and furniture. Under ownership of the state of Bavaria since 1962. An extensive museum covering 20 rooms. On display are armour, weapons, furniture and a collection of hand-crafted locks, lamps and instruments.