5 off-the-beaten-path castles in central Germany

Author Carina Klein
· 5 min read · 3 comments

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These 5 unknown castles in the middle of Germany are true hidden gems. You can easily combine these 5 historic destinations in one road trip or explore them in several day trips. This travel guide highlights untouristy local secrets as well as main attractions in the centre of Germany.

Did you know that we have two different words for castle in Germany? First, there is the "Burg". In Medieval times, from the 6th to the 15th century, they were built to protect the population from enemy attacks. A "Burg" is a fortification. Second, there is the "Schloss". They were built later, starting in the Renaissance in the 15th century. A "Schloss" is a residence where noblemen and women lived with their families. The walls are thinner, the decor is more lavish, and oftentimes there are big gardens to show power and wealth. Many "Burgen" were converted into "Schlösser" throughout history.

You probably all know the famous German "Schlösser" like Neuschwanstein. In this article, we talk about "Burgen" in the truest sense of the word. They are often rugged, ruined and unknown to the tourist masses but they have a long history and are immensely fun to explore – think towers and cellars.

Burg Hanstein, western Thuringia

Burg Hanstein is one of the biggest and prettiest castle ruins in all of central Germany. This hill castle was first mentioned in the 11th century. I love this castle because there is so much to explore. You can climb two towers (the view from the higher tower is 360°!). Additionally, there's a small exhibition, a knight hall and several basements. And it's not overrun by tourists at all – a real adventurer's dream!

There are many great hikes in the area. A short 4 km (2.5 mi) hike brings you to our bonus castle of this article: Burg Ludwigstein. Inside, you'll find an amazing youth hostel with a pool! As someone, who was fortunate enough to spend a couple of nights here, I must say it's a great budget alternative to expensive castle hotels.

Picture of Burg Hanstein
Burg Hanstein

Reichsburg Kyffhausen, northern Thuringia

The Imperial Castle of Kyffhausen was founded in the year 1000 to replace the nearby imperial palace (Kaiserpfalz) of Tilleda. It's a huge area, comprised of a lower, middle, and upper castle. The lower castle is the best-preserved part: It features the outside wall, a chapel and several structures like remnants of foundations of residential and farm buildings. You walk through the middle castle to reach the upper castle but you cannot enter it. The upper castle is the oldest part of the castle. It was mostly destroyed to build the Kyffhäuser Monument between 1890 and 1896. The best-preserved part is the keep.

The Kyffhäuser Monument is a sight in itself. With 81 m (266 ft) it's the third-largest monument in Germany. It aimed to depict the German Empire as the legitimate successor to the Medieval Holy Roman Empire. If you climb the 247 steps to the top of the monument, you have a great view over the surrounding Kyffhäuser Mountains all the way to the Harz mountains with the Brocken.

Picture of Reichsburg Kyffhausen
Reichsburg Kyffhausen

Krukenburg, northern Hesse

This hill castle was first mentioned in the 13th century. You can climb the tower for a great view over the North Hessian mountains and the Solling, as well as the old historical town of Helmarshausen with its monastery. You can explore an old church and many other nooks and crannies. There's a basement you can rent for celebrations. Additionally, there's a Sleeperoo Cube if you want to sleep in the castle.

You are very close to the amazing towns along the Weser River which offer amazing opportunities for sightseeing and bike rides.

The legend of the Krukenburg: The giant Kruko had three daughters – Brama, Saba and Trendula. Brama and Saba had turned to the Christian faith, while their sister Trendula continued to be pagan. They moved away from the Krukenburg and founded their own castles, Brama the Bramburg, Saba the Sababurg, and Trendula the Trendelburg. Out of anger, Trendula killed her sister Saba. Trendula herself was struck by lightning in a divine judgment.

Picture of Krukenburg

Sababurg, northern Hesse

Like the Krukenburg, the Sababurg belongs to the North Hessian castles in the catchment area of the Reinhardswald. It was first mentioned in the 14th century. It's called "Sleeping Beauty Castle" and is part of the German Fairytale Road. There used to be a hotel inside but nowadays you have to divert to the hotel in the nearby Trendelburg.

The Sababurg is adjacent to one of the first zoos in Europe, the Tierpark Sababurg. It was founded in the 16th century. Nowadays, you can see local animals like wild horses and wolves, but also exotic animals like kangaroos, monkeys, penguins and llamas. Next to it is the Sababurg Primeval Forest, a nature reserve with 1000-year-old oaks, high ferns, and beeches.

Picture of Sababurg

Burg Plesse, southern Lower Saxony

This castle from the 11th century is my personal favourite. In all honesty, I try to go there at least once a year. The castle wall with a view over the Leine Valley is my favourite sunset viewpoint. Bring some drinks and food and enjoy a picnic with the locals. If you're not into picnics, there's also a lovely restaurant. You can climb the tower for an even better view of the area. It's so beautiful, you can even get married here. And every once in a while there's a Renaissance Fair.

Of course, there are plenty of hiking opportunities. The wall fortification of the Wittenburg is very close. If you're looking for a longer hike, you can walk the 7 km (4.3 mi) to the Hünstollen observation tower.

Picture of Burg Plesse
Burg Plesse

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Stefan (BerkeleySqB)

30.07.2021, 19:44

Great post, Carina. Obviously, as a Bavarian, don't get me started on Neuschwanstein haha.. Hanstein and bonus castles anytime, though. :-)

Carina | Bucketlist2Life

01.08.2021, 17:21

I haven't been to Neuschwanstein but I want to change that!

Alexandra - Vire-volte

21.07.2021, 15:36

Nice article! I would love to do some hiking to discover these castles, and I would definitely take my drone there. Thanks for sharing!

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

29.07.2021, 13:10

Thank you! They are prefect places for a drone!

Cindi | aneasyjourney

19.07.2021, 16:09

Great post on some under the radar castles to visit in Germany! Love the German Fairytale Road- have to get back to this wonderful place! We’re there any hotels, Biergarten’s you would recommend if visiting this area? Thank you 😊

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Carina | Bucketlist2Life

21.07.2021, 11:44

The Teufelskanzel Biergarten is an easy hike away from Burg Hanstein. My favorite close to Sababurg and Krukenburg is Zur Fähre in Hemeln because it has lovely river views. I think Göttingen is a great base because it's perfectly located and also has a lot of variety when it comes to restaurants and hotels.