High above the Thuringian town of Eisenach sits Wartburg Castle, a large and imposing complex rich in German history. With hundreds of visitors every day, this well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Germany’s most famous castles and a must-see attraction when in the state of Thuringia.
By the end of this post, you’ll have an idea of what makes Wartburg Castle such a magical destination and why it’s worth going there on a getaway or day trip.
The castle grounds are open daily 8.30am to 8pm (Nov – Mar 9am to 5pm). Guided tours run daily from 8.30am to 5pm (Nov – Mar 9am to 3.30pm). There is one English tour at 1.30pm every day.
During summer, more than 3,000 people make their way to Wartburg Castle every day. During high season, it will therefore be best to visit the castle grounds in the morning or afternoon on a week day rather than the weekend. That way you’re more likely to escape the crowds.
1. Medieval Castle Grounds
Wartburg Castle was originally constructed in 1067, though various additions over hundreds of years have given the complex a mix of architectural styles, such as Renaissance, Gothic and Romanesque. The castle grounds are pretty large and consist of a three-story palace, numerous half-timbered houses, two courtyards, and an imposing entrance gate. While you can visit most of the outdoor areas for free, you’ll need to purchase a ticket to see the castle’s historic interiors. With medieval rooms decorated with mosaic tiles and paintings, the Wartburg Castle interiors are very impressive and definitely worth a visit.
2. Castle Events
Wartburg Castle hosts numerous events in its beautiful medieval buildings throughout the year. Its castle grounds are used for chamber music performances, blues and jazz shows as well as for religious services in the Castle Chapel or Festival Hall. During Christmas season, the castle organizes Christmas concerts and offers a medieval Christmas market on the weekends.
3. History & UNESCO
The hilltop castle is indeed a very historic place. The legendary Wartburg Song Contest presented in Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser, allegedly took place at the castle at the beginning of the 13th century. Also, Saint Elizabeth used to live at the castle and devoted her life to the poor until she died at only 25 in 1228.
However, the most famous historical figure to visit the castle was Martin Luther. He sought refuge at Wartburg Castle after he’d been declared a heretic and sentenced to death by the Holy Roman Emperor in the 16th century. Luther resided at the castle for 300 days, during which time he translated the New Testament into German and thereby made the Wartburg Castle the birthplace of both the Luther Bible and the modern German language.
Wartburg Castle was awarded the UNESCO World Heritage Site honor in 1999.
4. Beautiful Scenery & Views
Situated on a hill 410 meters above sea level, Wartburg Castle offers fantastic views of Eisenach as well as the thick Thuringian Forest. In fact, the Thuringian Forest is one of the most densely forested landscapes in the whole of Germany. You can hike most of the nature park by following the 168 km long Rennsteig trail, which dates back to the 9th century. In historic times, this trail marked the border between Thuringia and Franconia, and it is still part of a somewhat prestine environment with unique dialects, customs, and old traditions. With many cultural attractions and traditional events, the Thuringian Forest is worth a trip on its own.
5. Great Hiking Trails
Speaking of hiking, the attraction is best accessed by taking one of the numerous hiking trails leading to the majestic castle. Most of the paths are an easy 45-minute walk.
However, you may also take a longer trail and not only visit Wartburg Castle but also explore the impressive and legendary Drachenschlucht (Dragon’s Gorge) on a roundtrip (1.5 hrs). The highlight of this path is a short section that passes through very narrow (70 cm), high and mossy rock passages.
Nature around Eisenach is incredibly beautiful and offers many opportunities for both hiking and mountain biking. Most of all, the trails are family-friendly, well-signposted and in excellent condition.
Located below Wartburg Castle, Eisenach is the gateway to the Thuringian Forest and its favorite hiking trail Rennsteig. On top of that, this gorgeous small town has a well-preserved Old Town as well as plenty of cultural and historical attractions, some of which you will definitely be able to fit into your Wartburg Castle-itinerary.
Eisenach was the birthplace of the famous German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. In the Bachhaus (Adm: 9,50 €), a museum dedicated to Bach’s life, you can visit exhibitions and listen to music performances with baroque instruments.
Most people know the town of Eisenach for being an important Luther city. Martin Luther attended Latin School here for three years and, later on, hid out in Wartburg Castle after being declared a heretic. Today, you can learn all about Luther and the reformation in a permanent exhibition as well as temporary special exhibitions in the Lutherhaus (Adm: 8 €), a museum inside a beautiful old half-timbered house in the city center.
Despite its small size, Eisenach is a vibrant town with many sub-cultures. For centuries, the city has been a major meeting place for student fraternities, and is also home to the Landestheater (state theatre).
7. Perfect Day Trip
Frequently rated one of Germany’s top castles, Wartburg Castle should definitely be on your list if you’re around Eisenach. Since the location is close to other cities and visiting Wartburg Castle can easily be done in just one day, you may squeeze this historical site in while en route in the state of Thuringia.
Distances (by car) from Wartburg Castle…
…to Erfurt: 70 km (1 hr)
…to Jena: 115 km (1.5 hr)
…to Weimar: 90 km (1 hr 15 min)
…to Meiningen: 55 km (50 min)
…to Gotha: 35 km (45 min)
Are You A Castle Fan?
If you’re as fascinated by the magic of medieval castles as I am, you should add the following places to your bucket list as well.
Not far from Wartburg Castle, you’ll find the impressive Leuchtenburg Castle, which is probably one of the most diverse castle complexes in Germany.
>> See also: 8 Reasons To Visit Leuchtenburg Castle
Southern Germany is also home to many gorgeous castles, the most famous one being Neuschwanstein Castle with thousands of visitors every day. If you’re looking for more off-the-beaten-path castles, I recommend checking out medieval ruins and castles in the Franconian Switzerland region, including Rabenstein Castle, Egloffstein Castle, Hohenstein Castle or Altenburg Castle near the UNESCO town of Bamberg.
Or why not dedicate an entire trip to Germany’s romantic locations with this medieval-themed two-week itinerary?
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