1. Home
  2. Cruise Styles
  3. River Cruises
  4. European Castles to See Along Germany's Rivers

European Castles to See Along Germany's Rivers

  • A main draw of any German river cruise is the abundance of castles along the way, especially along the Rhine River, a portion of which has actually been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because there are so many castles in one short stretch. What's more, the castles on the Rhine and on the Moselle rivers are some of the oldest and most impressive you can see in Germany, despite many being just ruins.

    The best way to see the most number of castles in Germany is on a Rhine River cruise, most of which will also spend time on other rivers including the Main and Moselle and their tributaries.

    Here are just a few of the castles you can see in Germany while on a river cruise.

    Photo: Dori Saltzman/Cruise Critic

  • 1

    Reichsburg/Cochem Castle

    Cochem, Moselle River

    Bits and pieces of the Reichsburg Castle -- more commonly referred to as Cochem Castle -- are among the oldest remnants you'll see along Germany's rivers. First built at the start of the second century of the second millennium A.D., the original castle was used off and on until it was set on fire and blown up in 1689. It remained in ruins until 1868 when a German businessman began to restore it as a summer residence, incorporating the remains of the medieval Gothic structure into the new edifice. Among the original elements are the four-story Octagonal Tower and the "Hexenturm" (or witches tower), so named for the legends that link it to witchcraft trials. Today cruise visitors to the castle will see displays of Renaissance and Baroque furniture, as well as paintings dating to the 19th century.

    Set on a hill some 300 feet above the Moselle, a highlight of any visit to the castle are the fantastic views: from one side you'll look down on the Moselle Valley, from another side take in the panoramic vista of the town below, from a third side you'll see the rocks of the Brauselay nature preserve.

    Photo: travelpeter/Shutterstock.com

  • 2

    Wurzburg Residence

    Wurzburg, Main River

    Built between 1720 and 1780, the Prince Bishop's residence in Wurzburg is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. The gorgeous Baroque palace is decorated with numerous paintings, frescoes and stucco ceiling art, though the highlight of them all is the stunning wraparound fresco on the main staircase depicting the four known continents of the time (Europe, Africa, Asia and America). The painting, measuring 59 by 98 feet is one of the largest frescoes ever created. After the fresco, visitors make their way through a series of 40 more ornate rooms and hallways. Not all of what you'll see in the residence is original (though the entire fresco is), as the palace did suffer significant damage during a 1945 bombing, but it has all been restored to look exactly as it did before the bombing and subsequent fire. In fact, knowing a bombing was likely, many of the tapestries were removed beforehand to protect them.

    River cruisers visiting Wurzburg Residence should not miss stopping in to the Court Chapel, which though small is beautifully decorated. During the summer a stroll through the Court Garden is a must as well.

    Photo: Littleaom/Shutterstock.com

  • 3

    Wertheim Castle

    Wertheim, Main River

    Dating back to the 12th century, the mostly ruined Wertheim Castle sits high above the tiny town of Wertheim, offering a lovely panoramic view. A stereotypical medieval stone fortress, the castle was continually added to through the 17th century but was partially destroyed by a gunpowder explosion in 1619, then further destroyed during the Thirty Years War in 1634. Starting in 1982, the ruins were slowly restored to appear as they do today.

    Visitors can circumnavigate the castle from the outside or go inside to see the upper rampart, climb the keep and tour the stucco ballrooms. A castle restaurant is also onsite for a small snack or quick drink.

    Photo: PRILL/Shutterstock.com

  • 4

    Heidelberg Castle

    Heidelberg, Neckar River

    Set high above the Neckar River (a tributary of the Rhine) is one of the most impressive castle ruins in Europe -- Heidelberg Castle, which towers some 300 feet above the city of Heidelberg. It is a combination of several buildings built around an inner courtyard over a period of several centuries, starting in 1300. From the late-14th century to the middle-17th century it served as the residence for most of the Prince Electors of the region. The castle has been built and rebuilt several times over the years: after being struck by lightning in 1537, which resulted in the destruction of the upper castle; and twice between 1688 and 1697 when it was destroyed twice by the French, but it was during the third rebuilding that lightning struck again resulting in such extensive damage that the Prince Electors abandoned it. Preservation began in the late-19th century; today only a tiny part of the ruins have been restored.

    Cruise visitors to Heidelberg Castle will be struck by the beautiful views offered by the castle's lofty location. From the Great Terrace, visitors have an amazing view of the city, the Neckar River and surrounding valley.

    Photo: Sergey Novikov/Shutterstock.com

  • 5

    Old Court and New Residence

    Bamberg, Regnitz River

    On the way to the Rhine River from Nuremberg, cruisers might find themselves on the Regnitz River (a tributary of the Main) stopping at the quaint town of Bamberg. Here, they can visit not one, but two princely palaces: the Old Court (or Alte Hofhaltung) and the New Residence. The Old Court, built in 1576, was the residence of the prince bishops Bamberg in the 16th and early-17th centuries. It still contains fragments of masonry from the original great hall and chapel of the 11th-century palace that used to occupy the same space. Today, most of the building is too dangerous to visit, but the lower level does house the Historical Museum of Bamberg. The open court was used to film scenes from the 2011 "The Three Musketeers" movie.

    Across the street from the Old Court is the New Residence, built in two stages, the first in 1602, and the second between 1697 and 1703. The mixed Renaissance and Baroque palace served as a home to the prince bishop of the city during the 17th and 18th centuries. The building has over 40 rooms featuring beautiful stucco ceilings, and furniture, wall tapestries and life-sized portrait murals from the 17th and 18th centuries.

    Photo: manfredxy/Shutterstock.com

  • 6

    Upper Middle Rhine River

    Between Rudesheim and Koblenz is a 40-mile-long stretch of the Rhine River dotted with castles on both sides. Its abundance of castles, fortresses and palaces (there are more than 40!) earned it a place on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites. Among the many Rhine River castles you'll spot during a scenic afternoon of cruising in this region are edifices with names like Ehrenfels, Rheinstein, Sooneck, Heimburg, Stahleck (now a youth hostel!) and Maus. Many are accompanied by legends, like Maus Tower so named because the cruel ruler who lived there was punished (and eaten alive) by an army of mice inside his tower for burning hundreds of peasants who had complained to him because they were starving.

    River cruisers won't get to visit any of the castles on this portion of the Rhine (with one or two exceptions that are located either near Rudesheim or Koblenz), but the dizzying back and forth of castle upon castle on both banks of the Rhine is an experience you don't want to miss.

    Photo: Dori Saltzman/Cruise Critic

  • 7

    Augustusburg Palace

    Bruhl, Rhine River

    Built on the ruins of a medieval castle, Augustusburg Palace was built between 1725 and 1768 for the Archbishop of Cologne and is considered a masterpiece of German Rococo architecture and art. A highlight of any visit is the beautiful staircase, designed by the same architect who did the Wurzbgurg Residence staircase, and the ceiling frescoes. Much of the furniture and tapestries on display, while of the same period, are not original to the palace as most furnishings were sold off to pay the archbishop's debt after he died.

    Just a short walk from the palace is the smaller Falkenlust Hunting Lodge, which is far bigger than anything you'd normally envision as a lodge! Built from 1729 to 1737 in a more secluded area, the lodge was designed for the archbishop to enjoy his passion for falconry.

    Both Augustusburg Palace and the Falkenlust Hunting Lodge together were added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1984.

    Photo: Jule_Berlin/Shutterstock.com

  • 8

    Marksburg Castle

    Braubach, Rhine River

    Located at one end of the 40-mile stretch of the Upper Middle Rhine River valley, Marksburg Castle is the only Rhine fortress never destroyed (though it was damaged by artillery fire during World War II). Because it was never destroyed, Marksburg maintains an authentic medieval feel. The foundations of the castle date back to 1100, but most of the current building was built in the 14th and 15th centuries. It was used more for protection than as a residence, though it has also been used as a prison and barracks for soldiers. Today the structure houses a museum and serves as the headquarters of the German Castles Association. A tour of Marksburg includes the kitchen, wine cellar, bed chambers, Great Hall, armoury, blacksmith's workshop, and small and great batteries.

    Visits to Marksburg Castle usually start from the river cruise port of Koblenz.

    Photo: Harald Lueder/Shutterstock.com

Find a Cruise
Email me when prices drop

Popular on Cruise Critic

13 Cruise Fees That Might Take You By Surprise
Like any vacation, cruising can come with good and bad surprises. Finding out your favorite specialty restaurant is bargain-priced for lunch or that spa treatments are discounted on port days might make you feel like you've discovered buried treasure. On the flipside, realizing you have to pay a $15 corkage fee to drink the wine you brought onboard or that the room service you ordered is saddled with a surcharge can be a real letdown. Despite the "all inclusive" lingo commonly used to describe cruises, all lines have "hidden" cruise fees. Additionally, each cruise line has its own policy when it comes to tipping, room service and more. Ordering bacon and eggs from your cabin might be free on one cruise line, but cost you on another. If you're under the impression something is included, having to pay can put a damper on your worry-free vacation mood and potentially leave your budget in a bind. So how do you prepare for fees that aren't as obvious? Here are 13 cruise fees that might take you by surprise.
8 Best Luxury Cruise Ships
The moment you step aboard a luxury cruise ship, a hostess is at your arm proffering a glass of bubbly while a capable room steward offers to heft your carry-on as he escorts you to what will be your home-away-from-home for the next few days. You stow your things (likely in a walk-in closet) and then emerge from your suite to get the lay of the ship. As you walk the decks, friendly crew members greet you ... by name. How can that be? You just set foot onboard! First-class, personalized service is just one of the hallmarks of luxury cruise lines. You can also expect exotic itineraries, varying degrees of inclusivity in pricing, fine wines and gourmet cuisine as well as universally high crew-to-passenger ratios. That being the case, you might think any old luxury cruise ship will do, but that's not quite true. Like people, cruise ships have their own unique personalities -- and some will be more suited to your vacation style than others. Lines like SeaDream might not offer the most spacious suites, but their intimate yachts can stealthily visit ports that large ships can't manage. Regent Seven Seas and Oceania Cruises are owned by the same parent company but Regent offers a completely inclusive vacation experience, while Oceania draws travelers with a more independent streak. Take a look at Cruise Critic's list of best luxury cruise lines and ships to see which one resonates with you.
6 Cruise Ship Cabins to Avoid
You might expect loud noises, close quarters and crazy maneuvers in the dance club onboard your cruise ship -- but not in your cabin. Even if you don't plan to spend much time there, it should be a restful and private place so you can maintain that much-needed vacation stamina. To help you do so, we've compiled a list of cabins you'll want to avoid booking if closet-like dimensions or scraping chair sounds overhead aren't appealing to you. Heed our advice, and you might be feeling a bit less claustrophobic and a tad more refreshed come disembarkation.
Best Time to Cruise
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. For example, fall foliage enthusiasts will find September and October the best time to cruise Canada/New England, whereas families prefer to sail in summer when temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.
Onboard Credit: How to Get It, Where to Spend It
Free. Money. Are there two more beautiful words in the English language? While money doesn't grow on trees, increasingly it can be found somewhere else -- on the high seas. Call it an incentive, call it a bonus; whatever you want to call it, onboard credit lets you spend more freely with less guilt. You've paid your cruise fare, and now you can splurge on those enticing extras -- Swedish massage, specialty restaurant, an excursion to snorkel among shipwrecks -- without busting your budget. Not many need convincing as to why onboard credit -- money automatically deposited into your onboard account-- rocks, but finding out exactly how to get it and where you can spend it is a bit trickier. We found eight ways to hit the OBC jackpot and offer even more suggestions on how to burn through it, although you probably have your own ideas already.