During the Middle Ages, Germany was divided into many intensely competitive feudal states and principalities. This unstable atmosphere encouraged the construction of fortified castles. As hostilities died down, architects began to design for comfort, style, and prestige, adding large windows, gilded stucco and plaster, frescoes, and formal gardens. As a result, Germany is full of all kinds and styles of Burg and Schloss (various names for castles and palaces).
- Heidelberg Castle, Heidelberg: This Gothic-Renaissance 16th-century masterpiece was massively expanded as rival rulers competed for control of the Rhineland. The compound never regained its original glory after a 17th-century French attack, and today the ruins brood in dignified severity high above the student revelry and taverns of the folkloric city below.
- Hohenschwangau Castle, near Füssen: Watching its bombastic younger brother from the opposite hill, this lesser-known residence built on 12th-century ruins and finished in 1836 merits a visit. King Maximilian II lived here with his family, and the Gothic environs inspired flights of fancy in his son, the young Ludwig II.
- Neuschwanstein, near Füssen: Love it or hate it, this over-the-top castle is nothing less than phenomenonal, the romantic fantasy of “Mad” King Ludwig II. The fairy-tale allure inspired Walt Disney and attracts millions of visitors, for whom the outstanding mountain scenery alone is worth the trip.
- Residenz, Würzburg: One of the most massive baroque palaces in Germany was built between 1720 and 1744 as the official residence of the powerful bishops of Würzburg, combining gardens, a gallery of paintings, frescoes by Tiepolo, and enough decoration to satisfy the most demanding appetite for ornamentation.
- Sanssouci, Potsdam: Friedrich the Great’s retreat was called Sanssouci (“Without Care”), because here he could forget the rigors of court life and exercise his intellect. Germany’s most successful blend of landscape and architecture sits among intricately landscaped gardens adorned with additional buildings.
- Schloss Nymphenburg, Munich: The summer palace of the Wittelsbachs, Bavaria’s ruling family, was constructed between 1664 and 1674. It’s fairly modest as palaces go but contains some sumptuously decorated rooms. The surrounding gardens contain a bevy of ornamental buildings, and the former armory displays an extensive collection of carriages and sleighs.
- Schloss Linderhof, near Oberammergau: Built in the 1870s as a teenage indulgence by Ludwig II, this whimsically eclectic fantasy was inspired by Italian baroque architecture. In the surrounding park, Moorish pavilions and Mediterranean cascades appear against Alpine vistas in combinations that are as startling as they are charming.
Zwinger, Dresden: This ornate baroque palace, with its galleries and domed pavilions surrounding a central courtyard, was completed in 1719 for Augustus the Strong, elector of Saxony and king of Poland. Salons are still hung with Augustus’s art collections, the most impressive of which is the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Gallery), which contains Italian, Flemish, Dutch, and German paintings by Raphael, Van Dyck, Vermeer, Dürer, Rubens, and Rembrandt.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.