The UNESCO World Heritage portion of the Rhine Valley is breathtaking. Surrounded by lush vineyards, German fairy tale towns, and gorgeous medieval castles, you can’t help but feel like you have whisked away to a far off land as you cruise this beautiful region.
Nowhere else in the world can you find as many castles as close together as the castles in The Upper Middle Rhine Valley.
These castles highlight the wealth and prosperity of this region in The Middle Ages, and a cruise along the Rhine River gives you an amazing view.
Castles on the Rhine
Travel Like Us
Accommodations: For our trip to the Rhine Valley, we decided to make the charming town of Bacharach our home base.
You can read all about why we chose Bacharach in our post, Ultimate Guide to the Fairy Tale Town of Bacharach, Germany. We stayed in a charming bed and breakfast, Bistro Rene, where the town castle overlooked our balcony!
We always book with Hotels.com. Not only do we get a great rate, but we also earn free nights. You can’t beat that!
To begin exploring the castles on the Rhine, we chose to do a day cruise on the most scenic portion of The Rhine, from St. Goar to Bingen.
We recommend cruising in one direction, and then taking the train in the opposite direction. Marty and I chose to use KD Cruise line for our trip. The lady working the ticket office in St. Goar was super helpful so she won our business.
When to Visit: The boats run from early April through October, with the summer months being the nicest weather and therefore the most tourist.
Rheinfels and Katz Castle
Boarding our boat in St. Goar meant we were immediately greeted by two castles. The ruins of Rheinfels Castle sit high above St. Goar like a ghost from the past, while the Katz Castle sits across the river staring at the town of St. Goar.
Rheinfels Castle sits watch over the town of St. Goar and is one of the largest castles of the Rhine. Built in 1225 to protect the tax St. Goar tax collectors, Rheinfels quickly became one of the most spectacular castles of the Rhine Valley.
Only to gain more power in 1479 when Neukatzenelnbogen ‘Katz’ Castle was built across the river.
In the Medieval days, these two castles of the Rhine combined had clear views up and down the river where they could control traffic and collect their duties.
A long-standing history, Rheinfels was one of the only castles on the Rhine’s left bank to withstand the attacks from King Louis XIV.
Today, visitors can immerse themselves in medieval history by touring the many towers, halls, and passageways that intertwine to make up Rheinfels castle.
While cruising past Rheinfels, be on the lookout for the infamous statue of the Loreley, the beautiful-but-deadly nymph.
Legend has it that a young maiden threw herself into the river in a fit of despair over an unfaithful lover. Upon her death, she was turned into a siren that sailors say could be heard singing a hypnotic song that lured them to their death.
It’s funny, you’re cruising right along, and then suddenly, the whole ship breaks out into song!
Why you ask? Well, they didn’t want the Loreley to sink our ship, so they were serenading her, of course!
Luckily our captain didn’t fall under her spell, and we sailed safely past!
Oberwesel and Schonburg Castle
The charming town of Oberwesel is overlooked by Schonburg Castle.
Oberwesel has a magnificent medieval wall and 16 of the original 21 towers of the town are still standing! If you have time, definitely stop in Oberwesel.
You can take in Liebfrauenkirche, the town’s beautiful red church. Here you will find gorgeous sculptures, paintings, and one of the oldest altars in Germany! Wander up to St. Martin, the ‘white church’ with the fortress-like tower that sits up on the hill.
And of course, you will want to visit Schonburg Castle!
Schonburg Castle was built in the 12th century for the Dukes of Schonburg, the ruling family of Oberwesel at this time. After the family died out with their last heir, the castle was burned down in 1689 by French soldiers and sat in ruin for over 200 years.
That is until it was purchased by the Rhinelander family in the late 19th century and restored.
Schonburg Castle is now a hotel that boasts 27 rooms along with a prison tower and a library! Definitely on my list to stay in next time we visit the castles on the Rhine!
Sitting on a tiny island in the middle of the Rhine River, Pfalz Castle can’t be missed. Like most other castles in this area, it was built for the sole purpose of generating revenue from boats traveling down the Rhine River.
While being one of many toll castles on the Rhine, it was the unique location of Pfalz Castle that gave it a clear advantage over the other toll castles of the Rhine.
For you see, Pfalz Castle would string large chains across the river forcing traffic to stop and pay their taxes before crossing. This helped to make the town of Kaub very wealthy!
You can tour the tiny castle if you like, but it’s pretty boring so I wouldn’t bother. Just admire it from your cruise.
Bacharach and Stahleck Castle
The charming town of Bacharach sits right along the Rhine and is overlooked by Stahleck Castle up on the hill.
Known for the wonderful white wine that has been exported from this area since the medieval ages, Bacharach is surrounded by vineyards just waiting to be explored.
You can climb into the hillside, walking into the vineyards before exploring the remaining town towers and the town wall.
Visitors will definitely want to see the ruins of Wernerkapelle, the ruined church that has an interesting story behind it, before stopping into Altes Haus, the oldest house in Bacharach. This half-timbered village will have you falling in love with it in a matter of minutes.
Before leaving, be sure to head up to Stahleck Castle, the 12th-century castle that has one of the most picturesque views of the Rhine River that we experienced during our time in the Rhine Valley.
Stahleck is now a youth hostel where you can spend a night or two if you choose to do so. Even though the castle doesn’t offer guided tours, you are welcome to come up and admire the views while sipping a glass of wine in the castle’s courtyard.
Surrounded by vineyards, as are most towns on the Rhine, you will find the quaint town of Lorchhausen.
Famous for being the starting point of the Rheingau Riesling Route, you will find the area growing Riesling and pinot noir grapes. Visitors can roam the vineyards and explore the towers and castles on the Rhine from this charming town.
The Gutenfels Castle has been owned by the Falkenstein family since the 11th-century. One of the many castles on the Rhine that was used to charge tolls in order to transport goods down the Rhine River.
Since 1277, the castle has served as a castle of the Electorate of the Palatinate. After surviving an unsuccessful siege in 1504, the castle was renamed Gutenfels, meaning solid rock. Rebuilt between 1889 and 1892, the castle is now used as a hotel!
Niederheimbach and Heimberg Castle
The town of Niederheimbach is overlooked by Heimberg Castle. Although Heimburg Castle is individually owned today, and not available for tours, you can still visit the town of Niederheimbach.
Enjoy the view of the historic ring wall, as well as some 17th-century relics in the church.
Up on the hilltop near Aachen, is one of the many castles of the Rhine that have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Sooneck Castle.
Originally built in the 11th century, Sooneck Castle was destroyed twice. It was also the sight of several medieval battles and sieges, including one in 1282 when the castle was overtaken by King Rudolph I.
It was during this siege that the castle was destroyed and the king put a ban on rebuilding it.
It wasn’t until 1346 that a new castle was built on the site to later be destroyed in the War of the Palatine Succession.
In 1834, the remains of the castle were rebuilt and today is open to tours. Touring this castle gives you insight into wonderful paintings and furniture.
The village of Assmannshausen is well worth a visit during your time in the Rhine Valley.
Known for growing a different type of grape than the traditional Riesling of this region, Assmannshausen specializes in a delicious red wine that is ruby in color with notes of cherry, blackberry, and a hint of smoke.
Visitors will definitely want to stop in one of the historic taverns to enjoy the town’s famous red wine made from grapes grown on “hell hill”. Ride the chair lift to the top of the hill while overlooking half-timbered houses and beautiful vineyards.
There is also a Gothic-style church, a 12th-century basilica, and the Niederwald hunting lodge.
Assmannshausen is also known as a health spa region with its warm thermal spring that has lithium-rich water flowing through it. The thermal spas, wonderful wine, and great places to stay make Assmannshausen a desired destination for visitors from all over the world.
Reichenstein Castle is a perfect example of romanticism that is contained within the castles of the Rhine.
Although the castle was first built in the 11th century, it was rebuilt in the beautiful Romantic era. Passed around several times, the castle fell into despair in the 1500s until it was purchased and rebuilt in 1834.
This gorgeous castle is a classic example of the neo-Gothic style. Pay particular attention to the castle’s impressive shield wall.
Today the castle houses a modern roomed hotel where guests can immerse themselves in history. Inside you will find a large collection of cast-iron plates, hunting trophies from all over the world, weapons, arms, porcelain, and furniture from centuries.
Built by the archbishop in 1219 to protect his lands, Furstenburg Castle is now one of the ruined castles of the Rhine. The oldest part of the castle is the tower which contains walls that are over 3-meters thick!
For years the castle provided protection to estates of the area and of course, collected tolls for passage along the river.
Today the castle is privately owned and is not available for tours.
Located opposite of Assmannshausen, Rheinstein was our favorite castle on the Rhine.
Built in the beginning of the 14th-century, Rheinstein screams romance to me. Situated on a rocky outcrop, Rheinstein stands 270 feet above the Rhine River.
Rheinstein was home to the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph von Habsburg where he founded the Noble Knighthood. Like most castles of the Rhine, it fell into disrepair for many years until it was purchased by the Hecher family in 1975 who spent 19 years restoring it to its glory.
The castle possesses a working drawbridge, a gorgeous courtyard with fabulous views of the Rhine, a garden still producing grapes, and a small chapel.
Inside the castle is decorated with are stained glass windows, beautiful paintings, and period furnishings. Today the castle hosts many events including medieval games and romantic tours.
Look up near the town of Rudesheim and among the vineyards, you will see the ruins of another fabulous castle of the Rhine, Ehrenfels Castle.
Ehrenfels Castle was one of three castles originally built to protect the archbishop of Mainz. In Medieval times, it was of strategic importance because of its location above the Binger Loch.
It was destroyed in 1689, but the ruins are still pretty impressive. You can access the castle via a hiking trail through the vineyards.
Here are some suggested tours while you’re in the region!
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Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight:
We love using CheapOAir, Kayak, and Kiwi to search for the best prices on flights. We love using these search engines because they search the web for airlines all over the world to ensure you get the best deal! In addition to flights, you can also find great hotel prices on Kayak and Kiwi.
Book Your Vacation Package:
If you want to book an entire vacation package, then we suggest using Expedia. We love how easy Expedia is to use and we always find good deals on entire vacation packages on their site.
Another great site for vacation packages is BookVIP. BookVIP offers super cheap vacation packages to incredible destinations. You are sure to save money using their site!
For full guided vacations including hotels, some meals, transportation, and guides, then we book with Trafalgar. Trafalgar is a trusted tour company that will meet all of your needs while ensuring that you have a great experience.
Trip.com allows you to book flights, hotels, train tickets, rental cars, airport transfers, tours, and more all on one site. Owned by the parent company that also owns Skyscanner, this is a trusted resource for travel booking and a great “one-stop-shop.”
Book Your Accommodations:
We always begin our search by checking out the honest review on hotels at TripAdvisor. This allows us to narrow our search for specific properties once we are ready to book. Of course, you can also book directly on the TripAdvisor site as well!
There are several accommodation sites that we like to use. One of our favorites is Booking.com because it gives you a wide variety of hotels and guesthouses at a good price.
Another “go-to” hotel booking site for us is Hotels.com. We love their loyalty program that allows you to earn free nights, and their “secret prices” for members are fabulous deals!
If you are looking for a luxurious all-inclusive vacation, then consider checking out the Sandals/Beaches properties. Sandals properties are for couples only and Beaches are for families. We have visited Sandals in the past and absolutely love the attention to detail and the service they provide.
Tour Companies We Trust:
We love taking guided tours when visiting new places. Our go-to tour companies are Viator.com and Get Your Guide. Both of these companies have been in business for years and provide excellent customer service. You can trust booking tours from their sites for sure!
CityPass is a great way to save money when visiting large cities. CityPass allows you to get free admission to major attractions once you buy their pass. The savings add up quickly with this pass, often saving 50% with combined admissions.
Another great pass to save money in larger cities is the Sightseeing Pass. This pass allows you to save valuable time and money by combining admissions to major attractions. They also have a handy app that keeps everything you need at your fingertips.
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About the Author
Michelle Snell is a travel writer, history buff, wine lover, and enthusiast of different cultures. While she is a professional educator by day, her passion for travel has her jet-setting all over the world during her free time.
Michelle enjoys bringing places to life through her informative writing style on her blog, That Texas Couple. Her practical tips and suggestions help make travel dreams a reality while immersing her readers in the history, culture, and food of a region. She is happiest sipping wine in Italy or chilling on a beach with her husband, Marty.