Day trips from the KMC: German castles
It can be overwhelming to live in a different country with a different language and culture. But one of the blessings hidden in the chaos is the prospect of discovery. Germany is right in the middle of a beautiful part of the world rich in history, where every village and scenic drive offers the chance to find centuries-old castles, relics and artifacts. Here’s a quick look at castles near the Kaiserslautern Military Community (KMC) perfect for affordable family day trips. These destinations are well worth the effort to venture out away from home and off installations. So, pack your picnic lunch, grab some sunscreen and hit the road.
First built before AD 1214, the Heidelberg Castle expanded into two castles around 1294 before the upper castle was struck by lightning. Through the next few hundred years, the castle went through a series of rebuilds as wars, fires and another lightning bolt wreaked havoc on the structures.
The castle—situated on top of a hill with its expansive veranda and views of all of Heidelberg—is visited annually by more than three million tourists. The walk up to the castle is steep cobblestone roads, though, so consider taking the funicular railway or driving if you have children and/or a stroller.
The castle is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; paid tours are also available daily in English. Visit the first Saturday in June and September or the second Saturday in July to see the fireworks display that commemorates the three times the castle went up in flames. The castle is located 1 hour, 5 minutes from Wiesbaden (via A5); and 1 hour, 5 minutes from Kaiserslautern (via A6).
Burg Lichtenberg, built around 1200, is the largest castle ruin in Germany. The area became occupied by the French during the French Revolution in 1792, and the castle was plundered and significantly damaged by a fire. After the French rule, the region became the Princedom of Lichtenberg before being sold to Prussia, and the castle was left to ruins until 1895 when the castle came under historical monument protection.
Restoration began in 1971, and now the grounds feature a youth hostel, restaurant, a church and museum. The tower provides a 360-degree view of sprawling vineyards. Lichtenberg Castle is free to visit; restaurant is closed Mondays and open every other day from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch, 6 to 10 p.m. for dinner, and a small assortment of food from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.. The castle is located only 30 minutes from Kaiserslautern (via A6, A62); and 1 hour, 20 minutes from Wiesbaden (via A63).
Built around 1162 for regional defense by German emperor Frederick “Red Bear” Barbarossa, the castle was inherited in 1504 by German knight Franz von Sickingen. He continued the process of fortifying the castle before leading the Knights’ Revolt in 1522 in which Protestant and humanist German knights rebelled against the Roman Catholic Church and Holy Roman Empire. Sickingen was wounded and died at Nanstein after one week of artillery barrages.
Burg Nanstein is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Mondays. The castle is located 1 hour, 10 minutes from Wiesbaden (via A63), 20 minutes from Kaiserslautern.
This region is beautiful, with the Eltz forest boasting hiking paths, scenic views and vineyards, and the castle itself is more than 800 years old. Burg Eltz is owned by a branch of the same family that lived there in the 12th century and is called a Ganerbenburg, or a castle owned by a community of heirs.
The castle is located 70 meters above the Eltz River on a rock crag, which is the reason for some of the peculiar shapes and floor plans of some rooms. Because it only faced armed conflict once in its long existence, the castle is still very well preserved.
Burg Eltz is open 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; tour lasts about 40 minutes and is offered in English, French and Dutch. Enjoy two self-service restaurants and indulge in the German custom of coffee and cake in the afternoon. The burg is located 1 hour, 50 minutes from Kaiserslautern (via A63, A61); and 1 hour, 20 minutes from Wiesbaden (via A61).
Built around the year 1000 AD, this castle sits 100 meters above the River Mosel and overlooks the village of Cochem. It was originally home to a Palatine count, but was seized by King Konrad III and became an imperial castle. While the original castle was destroyed in the Palatine Wars of Succession in 1689—and then seized again by the French and Napoleon in 1794—the castle is now property of Cochem and has been restored to a Neo-gothic glory.
Make an evening out of your visit and book a guided tour that also comes with a medieval feast. Learn about medieval customs and enjoy a feast complete with wine, soup, bread drumsticks, cheese, grapes and biscuits; jesters entertain and a knighting ceremony takes place. Guided tours are daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; restaurant is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Cochem is 1 hour, 30 minutes from Wiesbaden (via A61); and 2 hours from Kaiserslautern (via A63, A61).
To continue your search for German castles, fortresses and palaces, check out www.roadstoruins.com and www.loreley-info.com for a map of castles along the Rhein river. For ideas on more day or weekend trips, visit StripesEurope.com where the research is already done for you. Wherever you go, don’t forget your camera. You might even consider starting a scrapbook of your castle explorations. Have fun!