Exploring the ruins of Rheinfels Castle

by Sharon Odegaard
Stripes Europe

Castles sit above the Rhine River in Germany every few miles. The most imposing castle ruin you can tour is Rheinfels Castle, which towers over the tiny town of St. Goar.

 
Photo by: Sharon Odegaard

The castle, built in 1245, housed Counts and stood for centuries as an impregnable fortress. It was assailed by a strong invading army only a year after it was built, and it withstood the siege for a year until the army gave up. Across the river is a “sister” castle built by another count. Together, these two castles kept out intruders for hundreds of years. The castle survived for centuries, passing to the counts von Katzenlbogen, a powerful family that kept up the rule of the castle fortress. When the french King Louis XIV sent troops to attack the castle in 1692, it withstood the onslaught. The long history of the castle as a German defense ended in 1794, when it was handed to the French revolutionary army. Two years later, the French blew up the castle.

Photo by: Sharon Odegaard

Today, Rheinfels Castle lacks roofing on the top areas, but many of the walls, walkways, and rooms survive. You can see the layers of stones and tangles of bricks in the exposed walls. Imagine the years it took to build this complicated structure in the 1200s. Young and old alike will enjoy exploring the labyrinth of tunnels and trenches. Be sure to have a flashlight on hand to find your way through the pitch-black underground rooms. A small museum displays ancient illustrations of the castle and gives you a good idea of just how important and strong this fortress was once upon a time.

Photo by: Sharon Odegaard

Nature encroaches on the grounds, but the beauty of the area is only enhanced by the greenery and trees. If you climb the high walls, winding up staircases built centuries ago, you can take in an awesome view of the Rhine valley. Let your imagination run wild as you immerse yourself in this world of fortresses and intrigue.

To reach the castle, travel by boat or train from elsewhere along the Rhine. We stayed in St. Goar at the Hotel Rheinfels, which is comfortable, overlooks the Rhine, and has a fabulous breakfast spread. Once in St. Goar, you can walk up the hill from the town or you can take the tram, the Castle Express, for 4 euros round trip. It’s a steep hike, and it was raining off and on when we visited, so we took the tram. It was fun and so easy.

If you're looking for a spectacular weekend getaway, head towards St. Goar alongside the Rhine River and make time for a tour of the Rheinfels Castle ruins. 

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