Castles on the Rhine. There is a fairy tale quality to this abject reality: castles are truly everywhere along the Rhine River in between Mainz and Bonn. Some are ruins; some are intact. Some are medieval stone keeps; some are more modern chalets and villas. Some are museums; some are lived in still.
The Rhine town of Konigswinter is about thirty minutes outside of Bonn, connected to the city by the local light rail system. It is a pleasant town, with a row of cafes along the riverfront, several small museums, and the Sea Life aquarium. But for most who come to visit, it is Drachenfels, a hill just outside town, that is the star attraction.
Drachenfels (literally dragon rock) is just over 1,000 feet tall. Offering a majestic look over the Rhine, it has been a stalwart in local defenses for centuries. Sitting at the top is Drachenfels Castle, or what is left of it. And just below is the more modern Drachenburg Castle.
Both castles are accessible by foot, with a hiking time of a bit over an hour to reach the summit at the Drachenfels ruins, but I opt for the funicular instead. A combined ticket for the funicular and entrance at Drachenburg saves a few euros, coming to €16.50. The funicular has existed here since 1883, although the trains have been modernized a few times since. It is a pleasant ride, and the hikers who start out before I even purchase my tickets don’t arrive until I am about ready to leave the summit.
The funicular makes two stops, one at Drachenburg Castle and one at the summit and ruins of Drachenfels, and I opt for the summit first. Drachenfels Castle was built between 1138 and 1167. Today, only a small portion remains, and it is in ruins. But both the ruins and the view are stunning!
From here at the summit, it is easy to see why this would be such a good defensive position, as views over the Rhine go for literally miles. In fact, on a clear day one can see the spires of the Cologne Cathedral from here, roughly twenty miles away.
A quick ride partway down Drachenfels hill takes me to the main reason I am here today, Drachenburg Castle. This is a modern castle, with defensive ramparts that are only for appearance, as it was built in 1884, well after the utility of castles as military installations was over. Constructed in the neogothic style, it was built as a home for Baron Stephan von Sarter, though he never lived there. After his death, it made its way through various family members and ultimately to the state of North-Rhine, Westphalia. The state’s foundation runs it to this day.
Two floors of the castle’s interior have been nearly fully restored, and are open to the public. One can visit the master suite constructed for Sarter himself, although the guest of honor quarters offers more light. Since it wasn’t built as a defensive castle, Drachenburg Castle has a ton of large windows, so the inside feels airy, even though one is within thick stone walls.
The highlight of the interior is a long hall full of stained glass windows honoring famous people of the 1800s and past. It seems to make little sense to have glass portraits of George Washington and Mozart, but they, along with Christopher Columbus, Elizabeth I, and many others, are there. It should be noted that the windows here are reproductions, and more are going in as funds are raised. (There are other beautiful stained glass windows inside various rooms throughout Drachenburg Castle.)
After exploring the inside of Drachenburg Castle, it is time to walk the ramparts, in this case lovely patios and balconies. The main tower is able to be climbed – although the staircase is steep and narrow – to be rewarded with a commanding view of both the castle and Rhine below.
The inside is nice, and feels like an actual home, but it is the outside of the castle that is truly breathtaking. Twenty years of restoration have brought it to this point, and it is worth walking a loop around to get photos from all angles. Flower beds, fountains, and statues all add elegant touches in the foreground, but Drachenburg Castle really needs little to make it look majestic.
An hour or two is all one really needs to see everything here at Drachenburg Castle (and add another hour for the summit and funicular), unless you decide to bring a picnic lunch. I didn’t think to do so, so I head back down to Konigswinter for lunch and a beer along the Rhine. But first, one final view of the castle.
Castles along the Rhine have inspired so many stories, and it is easy to see why. When in this part of Germany, one has to explore a castle, whether it is a ruin like Drachenfels or a romantic modern stunner like Drachenburg. Or, from a base here in Bonn, you can spend a day seeing both!
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