German and Czech Castle Route
The Castle Route: from the Kurpfalz to PragueNinety castles of all shapes and sizes over a 1,000 kilometre stretch ... the Castle Route more than lives up to its name. Follow this amazing route from west to east, from the Kurpfalz to the Golden City of Prague, marvel at the world-class sightseeing and the hidden gems, tucked away just off the tourist routes.
The winding Neckar and Tauber rivers are pure driving pleasure; take in the enchanting scenery as you head east on the narrow country roads into the hilly Fränkische Schweiz [Franconian Switzerland]. Eat and sleep like royalty in one of the many former baronial residences converted into sophisticated restaurants or stylish hotels. A gourmet road trip par excellence awaits you.
It goes without saying, but any wine stops detailed on this page are for the benefit of hire car passengers ... designated drivers must confine themselves to drinking in the scenery. Book a hire car now and explore Central Europe
Kurpfalz: where gorgeous gardens, baroque and romance meetThe north west of Baden Württemberg is home to three world-class castles. Schloss Schwetzingen features opulent gardens in a blend of French and English styles. Of all the buildings adorning this huge 72-hectare property, the one that really turns heads is the mosque, built in 1795 with its twin minarets, as a potent symbol of how religion and culture can peacefully co-exist.
With its prime location, the Mannheim Baroque Palace has a different feel. A must-see for visitors is the bel etage [main floor], with sumptuous rooms full of valuable furniture and art. From Mannheim you follow the Neckar River with a pit stop in the pretty town of Ladenburg before reaching Heidelberg with its magical castle that captures the hearts of everyone who visits its magnificent ruined walls.
If you have a taste for the finer things in life Scharff’s Schlossweinstube restaurant has a Michelin star to its name; restaurant guests have free access to the castle grounds after 6pm and can park there free of charge.
Along the Neckar: the water and the wineLeaving Heidelberg, the Neckar winds its magical way past peaceful, wooded hillsides. Catch glimpses of craggy castles on the hills along the way. This route follows the Neckar for 70 kilometres, through the Odenwald forest and on to Neckarzimmern via Neckarsteinach.
Wind your way up through the vineyards on a steep, narrow road to “Götz’s Castle”, the same Götz von Berlichingen later immortalised by Goethe. It is officially known as Hornberg Castle and welcomes travellers with a café, terrace, hotel and restaurant. The castle also makes quality wines.
Carry on to nearby Haßmersheim with the impressive Guttenberg Castle perched high above the river. The “fortress” was built by the Staufer dynasty in the 12th century and was aptly named since it has never been captured or destroyed. The Staufers still reside within the medieval walls and allow visitors to enjoy the stunning panoramic views across the countryside.
Noble Hohenlohe: Schwäbisch Hall to RothenburgMaybe you are tempted to check out the excellent wineries and vineyards around Heilbronn, but if temperance is your friend today, Heilbronn is where you wave a fond farewell to the Neckar and turn east on the E50, past Öhringen to Neuenstein Castle. This imposing renaissance construction was once the residence of the Counts of Hohenlohe and today is home to a good museum.
The Castle Route continues via Schwäbisch Hall and the Kocher valley to the jewel known as Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Stepping inside the city walls is stepping back in time to medieval, fairytale Germany. Walk through narrow cobbled lanes and wander past a jumbled collection of quaint half-timbered houses. It’s hard to say which image best captures the spirit of Rothenburg, but a good bet would be the Fleisch und Tanzhaus [butcher’s and dancing house] or the Feuerleinserker [Feuerlein house bay window].
Romantic Franconia: Ansbach and NurembergIf you switch to the Romantic Route in Rothenburg, it takes you through the Lovely Tauber Valley towards Würzburg, where all roads lead to the renowned Residenz Palace. But if you stay on the Castle Route, relax as you continue east on quiet country roads, the St2249 and the St2246, on a romantic road trip through Franconia.
When you get to Ansbach, you simply must visit the Residenz before continuing on to Nuremberg. The Kaiserburg Castle is the iconic emblem of the city it has watched over for more than 800 years. Locals recommend a visit to the Johannis cemetery, the final resting place of Albrecht Dürer. Nicknamed the “rose cemetery” due to the elaborate flower arrangements adorning the gravestones, this has to be one of the most unique in Germany, if not worldwide.
If you then go for a stroll in the baroque elegance of the nearby Hesperiden gardens, catch your breath with a coffee in the garden café.
Fränkische Schweiz: Gößweinstein und Rabenstein CastleSoak up the scenery and test your driving skills in the hilly Fränkische Schweiz. Experience pure driving pleasure as you explore the roads that criss-cross the area between the towns of Bamberg, Bayreuth, Forchheim and Pegnitz. Stretch your legs and visit forts, castles, amazing underground caves and savour the delicious local cuisine. Gößweinstein is a gem, with its 1,000 year-old castle, open to visitors from Easter until the end of October.
A few kilometres away Rabenstein Castle awaits you towering above a rocky outcrop in the Naturpark Fränkische Schweiz. Join the official guided tour and get the inside story on this remarkable castle. Perhaps the stunning scenery in the area will tempt you to stay overnight in the exclusive Castle Hotel.
Minutes away, visit the magical Sophienhöhle, one of southern Germany’s most spectacular limestone caves.
Coburg: four royal castlesCoburg is charming, with a vibrant market square. It's also home to one of the more fabled noble lineages: the House of Saxony-Coburg and Gotha. They were masters of the art of marrying into the right family and even the English royal family once bore their name. Queen Victoria was a frequent visitor here during the 19th century. Ehrenburg Castle, a neo-gothic gem, was where she met the Austrian Kaiser Franz Joseph I for the first time. Rosenau Castle, birthplace of her husband, was one of Victoria’s favourite places to relax and reflect.
Veste Coburg, the famous fortified castle, looks proudly down on the upper-Franconian town at its feet. 1530 marked the year Martin Luther spent time here as a guest of the electoral princes of Saxony. If the delicately sculpted walls of Callenberg Castle could speak, they would tell how the parents of the current King of Sweden got engaged here.
Moving into the Czech Republic: Bayreuth to PragueTake the B303 and the B85 through Kronach and Kulmbach to Bayreuth, the storied city of Wagner with its impressive historical landmarks, the Neue Schloss and the Eremitage. The next 250 kilometres of the Castle Route are no less impressive, winding through the lush green scenery of the Oberpfalz region and into Bohemia on the Czech side, dotted with numerous hidden gems such as the castles of Eger (Hrad Cheb), Loket (Hrad Loket) or Horovice. Then on to Prague, the ideal place to finish your trip.
Prague Castle is a true icon, boasting the world’s biggest integrated castle complex, illuminated at night and shining like a beacon above the Golden City. During the day a steady stream of visitors from across the globe make their way across the Charles Bridge up to the castle, many drawn like pilgrims to the St. Vitus Cathedral, one of the many remarkable buildings in the complex.
If you haven’t tried the beer made in the old brewery pub U Fleků, it could be argued that you haven’t really been to Prague. A celebratory dinner in the home of pilsner beer, the grand finale to a magical trip.