Five Legendary Castle Hotels on The Rhine in Germany

A precious few castles have been restored to their former glory and are now hotels.

The Rhine River has been the highway of Germany since prehistoric times and fueled the economic development of Europe throughout the ages. Today it is still used by barges to transport goods but these commercial freighters now fight with cruise lines that sail down the UNESCO sanctioned Upper Middle Rhine—ships that are filled with passengers gawking at the 40 hilltop castles and fortresses which were built over a period of 1,000 years.

Many of these majestic buildings were built by the original robber barons—landowners who would extract fees from every ship sailing up or down the river. This practice went on for decades until the Habsburg Monarchy took control of the area and put a stop to some of the more ostentatious thievery. Through the centuries, the castles (barely) survived Napolean's Palatine Wars, the ravages of time and failing family fortunes and today, many of them are picturesque ruins. But a precious few have been restored to their former glory and are now hotels, where, for (mostly) reasonable prices, the hoi polloi can check in after spending their days traipsing through the medieval towns at the foot of the fortresses. As all the castles are within 65 kilometers of each other, rent a car and spend an idyllic week cruising through Germany's wine country and sleeping like a king.

Hotel Schonburg in Oberwesel

Rhine River Castle - Hotel Schonburg in Oberwesel
Hotel Schonburg in Oberwesel Hotel Schonburg

"Of all the many hoary towns lining the narrow shore of the Middle Rhine valley, none is so impressive, so intensely medieval as Oberwesel..." - Professor Edmund Renard, 1922.

Schonburg Castle has been around since the 10th century. It was occupied by the Dukes of Schonburg from the 12- 17th centuries when it was burned down during the Palantine Wars. In the late 19th century the Rhinelander family, of German-American descent, bought the ruins and restored the castle to its former glory. In 1950, the town of Oberwesel acquired the castle and since 1957 the castle has been run by the Hüttl family have been living at the castle on a long-term lease and for three generations have been running it as a hotel and restaurant. The hotel has 25 rooms – many of which have balconies with views of the Rhine and the medieval town below.

Hotel Castle Liebenstein in Boppard

Rhine River Castle - Hotel Castle Liebenstein
Hotel Castle Liebenstein in Boppard Rhine River Castle - Hotel Castle Liebenstein

Built in the 13th century, the castle is one part of the "Hostile Brothers"—made up of Liebenstein and the adjoining Sterrenberg—so named as it was formed by two siblings who rowed over their inheritance and thus built separate yet adjoined domiciles. In 1793, Baron Preuschen acquired the castle and it is still owned by his descendants—who turned the castle's main tower into a hotel in 1995. According to reviews, the guest room on the top floor has a four-poster bed, as well as a spectacular view of the Rhine and the attached Castle Sterrenberg. The castle is also said to be haunted by the ghost of one of the Baronesses of Liebenstein, who apparently likes to hang out late at night near the tower's spiral staircase.

Burg Reichenstein Hotel in Trechtingshausen

Rhine River Castle - Burg Reichenstein Hotel
Burg Reichenstein Hotel in Trechtingshausen Burg Reichenstein Hotel

Overlooking the Rhine river and valley, Burg Reichenstein is a classic example of a Rhine castle—with a bloody robber baron history. First established in the 10th century, by the 13th century it was owned by the thieving Reinbod and Hohenfels families who preyed upon any and all merchants traveling up the Rhine. Their crime spree ended in 1282 when the new Habsburg king lay siege to the castle, starving its occupants—many of whom ended up hanging from the surrounding trees after surrender. The castle fell into disrepair until bought by a few barons in the 19th century. In the 1930s, Nicolaus Kirsch-Puricelli, the iron industrialist from Rheinböllen, whose wife Olga was a direct descendant of the renowned "Huntsman of the Palatinate," moved in and had the castle rebuilt as a neo-Gothic English style castle residence. Their descendants run the castle hotel now which underwent extensive renovation in 2014. It's a 7-minute walk from Trechtingshausen train station and an 8-minute walk from the storied St. Clement's Chapel, which was said to have been built by the robber barons' relatives to repent for their many sins.

Stahleck Castle Hostel in Bacharach

Rhine River Castle - Stahleck Castle Hostel
Stahleck Castle Hostel in Bacharach Stahleck Castle Hostel

This historic 12th-century Stahleck Castle, towering above the Rhine valley, has had an ironic fate. While once home royals it now opens its rooms to backpackers as a hostel. Overlooking the romantic town of Bacharach, its right out of the pages of a Grimm Brothers' fairytale. Destroyed in the Palatine Wars, the castle was rebuilt in the 20th century based on the results of excavation and a 1646 engraving and turned into a youth hostel. During World War II, it was used by the Nazis first as a Hitler Youth camp and then as a youth prison for teenagers who were seen as not. Sufficiently loyal to the party. Today it welcomes over 42,000 hostellers a year.

Castle Rheinfels in St. Goar

Rhine River Castle - Castle Rheinfels
Castle Rheinfels in St. Goar Castle Rheinfels

While much of the 13th century castle is still technically a ruin, the outer buildings have been rebuilt and are now a luxury hotel and wellness spa. Surrounded by vineyards the castle hotel boasts great views of the river, the town of St. Goar and the legendary Lorelei rock—which is said to house the ghost of a deeply unhappy woman who has allegedly lured thousands of sailors throughout the millennia to their deaths.

Five Legendary Castle Hotels on The Rhine in Germany | Culture