The castles in Bavaria are a true honey-pot for heritage lovers – there’s a good reason for its tourist-brochure moniker of ‘castle country’.
This southern-German state has an internationally unrivalled array of castles, Medieval buildings and palaces. Every year, these historical marvels draw millions of international tourists to this green, forested and fertile region.
Bavaria is the largest state in Germany, and has a feisty, independent spirit which makes the state feel quite distinct from the German ‘mainland’. It borders Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Austria; and its capital is Munich.
Germans from other states may roll their eyes at Bavaria – it’s nationally perceived as a tourist-trap – but the density of phenomenal castles is quite special indeed.
Why are there so many castles in Bavaria?
Well, it’s partly thanks to Bavaria’s Medieval importance. The (so-called) ‘Romantic Road’, a vital trade route, sliced through Bavaria during Medieval times.
This route brought prosperity and wealth – but required protection, too. Castles and fortifications sprang up alongside the trade route to collect tithes, and to protect the highway from mischief-makers.
Bavaria also enjoyed political importance within the Holy Roman Empire. From 1050 to 1571, the beautiful Medieval Nuremberg Castle hosted every single Holy Roman Emperor at some point during their reign.
The most famous – and modern – castles in Bavaria are the work of one truly eccentric individual – King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
Nowadays, he’s commonly known by the moniker of ‘Mad King Ludwig’. Without doubt, it was he who’s responsible for forming Bavaria’s indelible connection to castles.
The world’s most recognised castle, Neuschwanstein, can be found in Bavaria, and is a spectacular monument to King Ludwig’s passion for Wagner – and his gathering insanity.
His other palaces, including Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee, equally have to be seen to be believed.
The Greatest Modern Castles in Bavaria – The Work of King Ludwig II
Ludwig II of Bavaria (King from 1865 – 1886) was an eccentric and enigmatic individual, responsible for building some of the most ostentatious castles and palaces the world has ever known.
Nowadays, he’s colloquially known as ‘mad’ King Ludwig, although the jury’s actually out on if he really was insane.
Whatever the verdict, the troubled monarch was undoubtedly detached from reality, and immersed himself in a fairy-tale world of Medieval chivalry, rather than deal with his real-world problems.
In the late 1870s, and until after his death, he set out on a bizarre spree of building palaces and castles in Bavaria, all of which grab the imagination of tourists today.
Neuschwanstein Castle – The World’s Most Famous Fantasy Castle
Half-fairytale, half engineering miracle, Neuschwanstein Castle has been a tourist magnet from the day it opened (just months after the death of Ludwig in 1886).
Designed by a theatrical set-designer, and conceived to be homage to the work of Wagner (the composer with whom Ludwig was obsessed), this is the world’s most impressive fantasy castle.
The place is a breathtaking mix of exaggerated camp decor and neo-gothic splendour; it’s also positioned in an area of phenomenal natural beauty with jaw-dropping views. This palace – in it’s bizarre glory – is the defining castle of Bavaria. I’ve written an entire page on Neuschwanstein, here.
Hohenschwangau Castle – A Palace for a Prince
Why did King Ludwig become so obsessed with building castles in Bavaria? The fact that he spent his childhood summers in his father’s 1800s replica castle, Hohenschwangau, undoubtedly planted the seeds of his future fixation.
Hohenschwangau is, quite literally, a stone’s throw from Neuschwanstein – at the other side of the valley.
Ludwig wished to build Neuschwanstein (or, as he called it, ‘new Hohenschwangau castle’) to face across the valley from the castle of his childhood dreams.
Indeed, he set himself up a telescope in his bedroom in Hohenschwangau, from where he could peer out at the progress of the building work going on in Neuschwanstein. I’ve written another section on Hohenschwangau if you’d like to know more.
The Other Palaces of King Ludwig – Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee
King Ludwig also lavished attention – and money which he simply didn’t have – on building bizarre and elaborate palaces.
Linderhof is the most psychologically troubling — it’s a tiny, hidden little castle in Bavaria.
The entire place was designed to be a solitary residence for a lonely king – the dining table is big enough only for one. It also sports a truly Disney-esque grotto in the garden – a chintzy spot for opera renditions.
The palace of Herrenchiemsee is slightly less camp and gaudy, but it’s nonetheless quite a spectacle.
The entire palace is built to emulate the beauty and structure of Versailles in France – you can see the ordered, vertical columns and the Franco-gothic style.
It’s said that Ludwig wished to reconstruct the Alhambra as his next project – unfortunately, his untimely death ended any such ambition.
‘Authentic’ Medieval Castles in Bavaria: Nuremberg Castle
Nuremberg has always been a seat of power. During Medieval times, this city was one of the most important in the region, and, during the period between 1050 and 1571, the castle played host to every single Holy Roman Emperor at some point during their reign.
Of course, Nuremberg was also intricately linked to the Nazis and, for obvious reasons, the city was bombed to bits during World War II. This lead to the destruction of most of its old Medieval buildings; but painstaking restoration in more modern times means there’s ample to keep visitors happy.
The castle of Nuremberg was founded in the early 1000s, making it one of the oldest castles in Bavaria.
Nowadays, after more modern building work, it consists of three main sections, of which the ‘Kaiserburg’ is the most historically significant (the other bits are municipal buildings which, interestingly, enough, include a youth hostel – so a chance to stay in a castle!).
The castle was well equipped to withstand siege – it’s built on a phenomenally steep hill (you’ll be extremely out of breath getting up there).
Entrance is only by guided tour, which is unfortunately mainly in German, but there’s a chance to enjoy some outstanding views from atop the Sitwell Tower, which gazes out across the entire city.
The 47m deep well is also an impressive sight; and helped the castle withstand Medieval siege.
Burghausen Castle: The Five Courtyards of this Phenomenal Medieval Fortress
Burghausen is another ‘true’ Medieval castle in Bavaria – and a world away from the camp theatre of King Ludwig’s eccentric creations.
This phenomenal fortress is stretched along a precipitous hilltop, and is more than a kilometre long, making it the biggest castle by length in Europe.
Burghausen is also notable as it’s wrapped by a remarkably-intact curtain wall, which also encircles some of the adjacent small, pretty town of the same name.
You’ll discover this mighty Bavarian castle in the South Eastern tip of the state – closer to Salzburg, in fact, than Munich.
Alongside its length, the defining feature of Burghausen is its five, internal courtyards (well, six, if you count the main castle courtyard too).
Each courtyard is effectively ‘a mini castle’ in its own right – with its own fortifications, and living quarters. The courtyards were built successively from early Middle Ages onwards, and represent the growing strategic and military significance of the castle.
The fifth courtyard – the last to be built, and also the largest and most impressive – features a grand clock tower and a deep, adjacent well-house. It also affords lovely views across the surrounding countryside.