12 Magnificent Castles along the Rhine River Valley

Today, Peggy and I are taking you on a trip up the Rhine River Valley between the towns of Koblenz and Bingen. The journey on the river is little more than 30 miles (48k), but wow, what an impressive 30 miles! There is a reason why this segment of the Rhine has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While there is much to see in the valley, the highlight for us was the castles. There are over 40. We’ve chosen 12 to feature. This post is a continuation of our family riverboat trip up the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Basel this past summer. All photos were taken by either Peggy or me unless otherwise noted.

First up, on our list is Stolzenfels Palace. Originally built by the Bishop of Trier in 1259, it was destroyed by the French in 1689 during the Nine Years War, one of the seemingly endless wars that have been fought in Europe. In 1823 the ruins were given to Frederick William IV of Prussia who had the castle rebuilt by 1842 as his summer palace. The Gothic chapel in front was inaugurated in 1845 during a visit by Queen Victoria.
A side view of Stolzenfels Palace. As I mentioned in my post on Marksburg Castle, one of advantages of viewing the castles by riverboat from the Rhine River is that different perspectives are provided as the boat moves up or down the river.

While each castle is unique, they share a common history. Many of their early owners could be described as robber barons. They made their money by charging ‘tolls’ to the boats traveling up and down the river. One can only wonder what it cost to cover the 30 miles through the valley when you had to stop every mile or so and pay up. A chain was often stretched across the river to force the boats to stop. It was let down when the boat paid and immediately hoisted up again to catch the next victim, er, boat. Another commonality is that most of the castles were also destroyed at one time or the other during the internecine warfare that rocked Europe over the centuries. Many were rebuilt based on their strategic location or the desire of some wealthy noble or the other to have a castle. More recently, The German Castles Association and local communities are responsible for a number of them.

This hand-drawn map was given to us by Uniworld as we started our day of passing through the Rhine River Valley. I think they must have run out of the maps they normally gave out. But this one worked fine. Stozenfels Castle can be seen on the top left at approximately mile 587. I’ve estimated the mileage when it isn’t included on the map.
I’ve already done a blog on the Marksburg Castle located at mile 580. If you haven’t read the post and want to, click on the link.
Rheinfels, once a mighty fortress, was the largest castle along the Rhine. In 1692, it withstood an attack by 28,000 French troops. The French succeeded in leaving the castle in ruins a hundred years later, but it is still makes an impressive sight against the skyline today.
A hotel and restaurant are now operated at Rheinfels, which is true of several of the castles. They provide an up-close-and-personal experience for visitors and help meet the expenses of maintaining the castles.
Katz Castle was built just across the river from Rheinfels in the 1400s to help protect the castle and to coordinate with it in collecting tolls. It was blown up by Napoleon in 1806 and then rebuilt in the late 1800s. Today it is owned by a Japanese company that runs it as a hotel.
Another view of Katz Castle.
Built by King Ludwig, the Bavarian, in 1327 to collect tolls, Pfalz Castle is located on an island. The German town of Kaub ,with grape orchards climbing up the mountain behind it, provides a scenic backdrop. Rapids above the castle forced boats to pass near the castle and a chain assured they would stop. Traders unwilling to pay the toll, would be kept in the dungeon until a ransom was paid for their release. Remember my earlier comment about robber barons…
A side view. Unlike the majority of castles along the Rhine, Pfalz was never conquered or destroyed. Gutenfels Castle, not included on my post today, can be seen in the upper left.
Our son Tony, his wife Cammie and their three sons Cooper, Chris and Connor (left to right) with Pfalz Castle in the back ground.
The Schönburg Castle, located near Pfalz Castle, dates back to somewhere around 1000 CE. It was burned down by French Soldiers in 1689 and remained in ruins until the late 1800s when it was bought from the nearby town of Oberwesel by an American family and restored. Ancestors of the appropriately named Rhinelander family had come from the region in the 1600s to the US and made a fortune in real estate.
The town council of Oberwesel bought the property back from the Rhinelander family in 1950. A hotel and restaurant is now operated at Schönburg.
Stahleck Castle at mile 543 was built in the 12th century as a fortified castle above the town of Bacharach. I was particularly impressed by the keep. In German, BTW, Stahleck means ‘impregnable castle on a crag.’
Sooneck Castle at mile 538 looks like the embodiment of of what a castle is supposed to look like, at least to me. It was built to protect the surrounding territory. Built in the 11th Century it went through the usual history of being destroyed and rebuilt, destroyed and rebuilt.
Another view of Sooneck Castle.
The large Reichenstein Castle is located at mile 534. Built in the 12th Century, it was owned by a robber baron like Castle Sooneck, and, like Sooneck, it suffered the same fate of being destroyed. It was rebuilt to its present status in the 18th and 19th centuries.
We will be visiting Rheinstein Castle in my next post so I will hold on any discussion until then. But isn’t it magnificent perched on its rocky prominence!
Surrounded by walls and grapes, the two towers of Ehrenfels Castle caught our attention. Today it remains in pretty much the same condition it was in when destroyed in 1689.
A closer look at the two towers of Ehrenfels Castle.
Mouse Castle, located below Ehrenfels Castle on the Rhine River, has a story connected to how it got its name. According to the folk tale, a particularly cruel man, Hatto II, performed a dastardly deed of burning alive several of his peasants and a number of mice as well. Seeking revenge, mice attacked Hatto. Lots of them. He fled to his tower in the river thinking the mice couldn’t swim. Bad choice. While thousands died, thousands more made it to the castle. They ate through the door, crawled up the stairs and ate Hatto alive. I once watched army ants eat a mouse alive in Africa. There may be a message here: whether you are a man or a mouse, being eaten alive is not a pleasant experience.
Our daughter Tasha and her husband Clay with the Mouse Castle in the background.
I’ll conclude today’s post with a photo of Tasha and Clay’s two boys, Cody and Ethan, posing with G’ma Peggy. Our next post will be a visit to Rheinstein Cast where we were turned loose to explore the castle on our own.

29 thoughts on “12 Magnificent Castles along the Rhine River Valley

  1. I’m not sure why, but castles just aren’t my thing. I’m glad you were able to have such a great trip, but I’ve decided it’s not one I’d enjoy. On the other hand, I love the photo of Rheinstein Castle, seemingly rising up from the rocks. That’s really cool.

    • We really enjoyed the variety, Linda, and the architecture. Also, being something of a history buff, there is a lot of it along the Rhine. Rheinstein is up next. That’s where I took Peggy’s birthday crown photo. We were allowed to roam free. Imagine how the grandkids enjoyed that.

  2. Great post, Curt. You did a wonderful job of giving us a comprehensive and magnificent look at these castles and the beautiful Rhine. Excellent photos by you both, and engaging narrative. And what a fun family trip.

  3. A marvelous trip. Can you give me an idea of how long it took to see all these castles along this stretch of the river? My thought is that I would not be able to eat or use the bathroom, out of worry of missing something! I enjoy castles, and apparently agree with you on which castles look like castles are supposed to look. I appreciated the map, and referred to it several times. I think the idea of using castles as hotel and restaurants is a good idea, as I know they must be incredibly expensive to maintain. Pfalz Castle made me giggle because it sounds like False Castle, and Mouse Castle didn’t seem like a castle at all, since it’s mouse-sized. Reichenstein Castle seems very safe and with enough accommodations for comfort, I might like to live there. Oh, the vineyards on those steep hills! People who tend the vines must have strong legs!

    • Snacks and drinks could be ordered on deck, Crystal. 🙂 And the boat traveled at a speed that you could easily break free to visit a rest room and still admire each of the castles. ” I think the trip took about three hours, starting around 10. We were able to make a late lunch. We really enjoyed how different each castle looked while still maintaining its ‘castle-ness.’ One would certainly keep in shape walking up and down those hills maintaining the vineyards. 🙂 I think it would be fun to stay at some of the castles! Thanks. –Curt

  4. A fascinating journey! And the weather was just perfect. So far, I’ve only been to the castle in Bacharach. There is a jugendherberge (youth hostel) inside the castle. The surrounding town is also lovely.

  5. We did a river cruise covering much of the same water. I didn’t do as well as you keeping track of the castles, but the Pfalz really stood out. It’d be fun to share it with so much family.

    Did they make a big deal of the Lorelei rock?

  6. I’ve never seen so many castles in my life! (Like, in my whole life up until now!) Interestingly, I am not one to spend much time actually touring inside a castle, but seeing them rise up from the ground to the sky is fascinating to me, especially when they are built right into the rock. I think I would really enjoy a cruise like this!

  7. Oh so fabulous. Having seen so little of Europe I’d be so excited to do this trip. One day . . .
    Lovely to see pics of your kids and their kids! Must have been a grand vacation for you all.
    Alison

  8. I have a thing about castles, Curt, and I think this trip would satisfy my curiosity! What an interesting history of robbery on the river, as well as destruction and reconstruction (seems a shame, but that war, I guess). I love the Rheinstein Castle built on that rock cliff – right out of a fantasy imagination. Sooneck is beautiful too. Thanks for sharing your pictures!

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