A complete guide to the best castles on the Rhine and Moselle Rivers (+ 3-day castle itinerary, the best location to stay and how to visit the castles by train, car or river cruise).
If you’re into castles, there is one place to go – Germany. There are more than 20,000 castles all over the country. For centuries they decorate the German mountains, turning them into a fairytale setting. Some of the castles are restored to their former glory, others – partly destroyed, closed or transformed into hotels.
However, there are plenty of them open to visitors. And the best place to start is the Moselle and Rhine River Valley. Continue reading to find out the best castle to visit on the Rhine, including how to get there by train, car and river cruise.
You’ll also find a map and a 3-day itinerary for the best castles in the Rhine and Moselle Valleys at the end of the post.
Rhine River Castles
The Rhine cuts the Rhenish Slate Mountains into a dramatic landscape. This valley is one of the most beautiful areas in Germany. Small picturesque towns occupy the river’s bank while the castles’ towers are reaching for the sky on the top of the hills.
Rhine River meets Moselle River at the small town of Koblenz. I highly recommend staying in Koblenz if you’re planning to explore the castles along the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. It’s a lovely town, plus there is a huge 11th-century fortress!
Planning to visit Koblenz as well? Then take a look at my guide on what to do in Koblenz. It covers all must-see places, including where to eat the best gelato and burgers.
The best castles on the Rhine River
- Rheinfels Castle
- Cat Castle
- Mouse Castle
- Marksburg Castle
- Stolzenfels Castle
- Lahneck Castle
Burg Rheinfels served as a residence of the counts of Katzenelnbogen since 1245. Later in 1479, Landgraves of Hesse expanded it to a fortress. Almost 300 years later, the French Revolutionary Army blew up the fortification.
Nowadays, one part of the castle houses the Romantik Hotel Schloss Rheinfels. The rest of the complex is still in ruins. However don’t skip it, as the views of Rhine, Burg Katz and Burg Maus are spectacular.
You can visit the site on your own. An English booklet is provided along with your ticket.
How to get to Rheinfels Castle from Koblenz
Take a train from Koblenz Hbf to St Goar station (25min journey). From there it’s about 700m to the site.
As Rheinfels, this 14th-century castle was also a property of the Katzenelnbogen. Cat Castle was used as a military base to reinforce Burg Rheinfels. Later it was upgraded to a bastion against Burg Maus. Burg Katz remained the property of Katzenelnbogen till 1479 when their family line died out.
Today, it is private property and houses a hotel. Unfortunately, it’s not open to visitors.
The Electors of Trier built the fortification in the 14th century to protect their newly acquired territory. Although the castle was called Thurnberg, it remained in history as Burg Maus. And the nearby Burg Katz was the reason behind this. From distance, it seems that both castles spy on themselves like a cat and mouse.
The site is open occasionally for special tours and falconry shows.
Marksburg started its history in the 12th century as a fortified house of the Noble Freemen of Brubach. Later the Lords of Eppstein enlarged the building in Romanesque style. The Counts of Katzenelnbogen bought the property in 1283 and built the Gothic part.
In 1479 the castle changed its owners again. It was passed to the Landgraves of Hesse, who turned it into an early modern fortress. Today, Marksburg houses the headquarters of the German Castles Association.
Marksburg can be visited only with a guided tour. Tours usually start every 15min (English tours at 01:00 PM and 04:00 PM). There is a small restaurant featuring a panorama terrace overlooking the Rhine valley.
How to get to Marksburg from Burg Rheinfels
Take the ferry boat to cross the river. If you have a VRM day ticket you can use it for the ferry.
Then take the train from St Goarshausen to Braubach station. From there it’s a little more than a kilometre to the site. However, don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes as half of the route is hiking.
Schloss Stolzenfels is the most romantic of all castles on the Rhine. In fact, it resembles more a palace, than a castle.
Surrounded by a huge forest, it’s one of the most beautiful examples of Prussian Rhine Romanticism. This 19th-century palace served as a residence of the Prussian Crown Prince Frederick William.
You can visit the site only with a guided tour. Unfortunately, no English tours are available. However, they provide an English booklet to follow along.
How to get to Schloss Stolzenfels from Koblenz
Take bus number 650 from Koblenz Hbf to Koblenz-Stolzenfels Schlossweg. From there it’s about 500m to the site through the woods along an asphalted road. The VRM day ticket is also valid for bus 650.
Burg Lahneck has a really romantic medieval look. The Archbishop and Elector of Mainz, Siegfried of Eppenstein, built the fortress in the 13th century. Its purpose was to protect the northern borders of his territory.
Burg Lahneck is connected to the story of the Knights Templar. In 1312 the last 12 of them sought refuge in the castle after the executions of their order in France. The Archbishops’ soldiers besieged the site and after a bloody battle, they succeed to take over the fortress. The last Knights Templar met their heroic death there.
You can visit the site only with a guided tour (the first one starts at 12:00 PM). Tours are every hour on the hour only in German. English booklet is provided.
How to get to Burg Lahneck from Koblenz
There is no way to cross the river after you visit Schloss Stolzenfels. Thus you have to get back to Koblenz and take a train from Koblenz Hbf to Oberlahnstein station. From there it’s about 1.3km to the site. Bear in mind that the last 300m is a hiking trail.
The most popular Moselle castles are Eltz and Cochem. In fact, Eltz is one of the most visited castles in Germany. Thus, if you’re in the region, don’t miss the chance to see it!
Burg Eltz is one of the most famous castles in Germany. And there is a reason why. Tucked away in the hills above the Moselle River, this is the perfect fairytale setting.
It’s owned by the Eltz family for the last 33 generations (since the 12th century). They built it to secure the trade route Mosel-Maifeld-Eifel and since then this is their family home.
You can visit Burg Eltz only with a guided tour (tours start every 10-15 minutes). Yet, you can visit the treasury on your own.
How to get to Burg Eltz from Koblenz
Take the train from Koblenz Hbf to Hatzenport. From there take bus number 330 that takes you to Eltz Castle. The bus stop is right next to the train station. Keep in mind that the bus runs only during the weekends. If you have a VRM day ticket you can use it for the bus.
Don’t miss the viewpoints on your way up to the castle.
Ezzo, Count Palatine of Lotharingia, built the Reichsburg Cochem in the 11th century. Later in 1151, King Konrad III took control over the property making it an imperial residence of the Hohenstaufen dynasty.
Several centuries later in 1689, King Louis XIV (aka the Sun King) invaded and completely destroyed the village of Cochem. The castle suffered the same fate. It remained in ruins until 1868, when a businessman, Mr Louis Ravené, bought it. Mr Ravené made the castle his home and rebuilt it to its former glory.
You can visit the site only with a guided tour (starts every 15min). However, the English tours are only at 12:00 PM and 03:00 PM.
How to get to Reichsburg Cochem from Eltz Castle
Take the train from Hatzenport Hbf to Cochem. From there it’s about 1,5km to the site.
Moselle and Rhine Valley itinerary
3-Day castle itinerary
Due to its fantastic location both at the Rhine and Moselle Rivers, Koblenz is an ideal starting point of your itinerary. To see the most popular castles you’ll need at least 3 days (depending on the way you travel).
You can find a map of all castles here. Note that most of them are open only from March to October.
You can follow this castle itinerary if you travel by train or car. Keep in mind that travelling by boat is much slower. You’ll need more time if you choose a river cruise.
Day 1 – Rhine River Castles
Start the day with a visit to Burg Rheinfels. There is a great view from there towards Burg Katz and Burg Maus. These two are not open to visitors. Then continue with Marksburg. I visited the latter in the afternoon, as there aren’t any English guided tours in the mornings.
Day 2 – Rhine River Castles
Start with Schloss Stolzenfels and in the afternoon – Burg Lahneck. The latter is not open before noon and it can be visited only within a guided tour.
Day 3 – Moselle River Castles
Start your day with Burg Eltz, as crowds get bigger in the afternoon. Then continue with Cochem Castle. Note that the English tours at Cochem are only in the afternoons.
You can find a detailed description of how to get from one castle to another above in the article. In fact, this is the exact itinerary that I follow to explore the Rhine and Moselle Valley by train.
How to explore Moselle and Rhine Valleys
There are several ways to explore these scenic valleys. Each of them has advantages and disadvantages, so choose according to the length of your trip and budget.
This is the fastest option, especially if you want to see as much as you can. The car gives you more flexibility as you can stop where you like. Also, you don’t have to take into account any train or boat schedule.
It’s a relaxing and romantic option. This is the best way to travel to experience the scenic beauty of Rhine Valley. The only disadvantage is that travelling by boat is rather slow.
Choose this option if you don’t want to rent a car, but want to see the most popular castles for a short time. There are trains every hour from the Central Railway station in Koblenz.
If you travel by train and start your day very early you’ll be able to see two sites a day. You can plan your journey using the Deutsche Bahn website.
I went with this option for my trip. I had 3 days to see everything, so I used 3-Day ticket (3-Tageskarte). It costs 42 EUR and it will save you a lot of money. If you want to travel from Koblenz to Cochem and Burg Rheinfels, you need to buy a card valid for more than 10 zones (Tarifwaben). No validation is required.