Have you ever wished to see a fairy tale come to life? To walk through a woodland castle and view everything as it looked nearly 200 years ago? If so, I’ve got just the destination for you! Situated a mere 30 minutes from Cologne, the charming village of Königswinter is home to one of Germany’s best-preserved castles: Castle Drachenburg. Yes, there is more to Germany’s castle scene than Neuschwanstein (a.k.a. the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella Castle). Castle Drachenburg, or Schloss Drachenburg in German, sits atop a steep, wooded hill that overlooks the Rhineland. Getting to the castle is half the fun, and this itinerary includes a choose-your-own adventure of how to ascend the Drachenfels.
Without further ado, here’s your day trip guide and custom map for the fairytale destinations of Königswinter and Schloss Drachenburg.
Table of Contents
Ascending the Drachenfels
Burg Drachenfels: A Ruined Castle
Schloss Drachenburg Castle
The Charming Village of Königswinter
With timbered buildings, multi-colored cafes, and tree-lined walkways along the Rhine, Königswinter is incredibly picturesque. Germany’s rail system is well-connected, making this one of the best day trips from Cologne. Bonn has the closest major train station, but you can also get here from Düsseldorf or Cologne via Bonn Hbf.
Once you arrive at Bonn Hbf, you have two options. Either take the #66 tram to Königswinter Clements-August Strade, or make your way to Bonn Beul and take the RB train towards Koblenz, getting off at Königswinter station. It’s faster and easier to take the tram, which is what I recommend. The only downside is that the Clements-August Strade stop doesn’t have a ticket machine, so for your return trip, you’ll need to bring coins to buy a ticket inside the car. You can also use the handy DB Navigator app to purchase a digital ticket. See my post on spending two days in Cologne for more info on how to use DB Navigator.
Once you arrive at the station, walk south on the Rheinalee, with the river Rhine on your right. If you’re looking for the perfect spot to grab a coffee or pastry, stop into Café NICE. They serve the best bienenstich I had in Germany.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating bienenstich, it’s a custard-layered pastry topped with a sticky-sweet almond crust. The woman minding the café was incredibly kind, and even put out a little votive candle and folded napkin for my dessert-only lunch.
Just behind Café NICE is the Marktplatz Königswinter, which is home to some of the village’s most charming buildings. Spend some time walking around the streets and alleys, working your way east towards the forest.
Once you’ve finished exploring one the best underrated places in Germany, it’s time to choose your own adventure. As I mentioned before, Schloss Drachenburg lies near the top of the Drachenfels, a 320 meter hill criss-crossed with walking paths. And there’s another gem at the top of the hill: a ruined castle and overlook point with sweeping views of the region.
Ascending the Drachenfels
If you’re planning to walk, head to the corner of Bahnhofstraße and Am Lessing. You’ll see the yellow Klubertz 4 er Wohnung accommodation on the corner. At the end of Am Lessing, just before it bends to the left, you’ll find the start of the Nachttigallental. After a minute or so of walking, it will branch out into the trails that lead towards Schloss Drachenburg. I recommend walking all the way to Burg Drachenfels, taking in the views (and some rest), and then walking down to Castle Drachenburg. See the map at the bottom of the post for more information.
If you want to enjoy a historical rail ride and/or prefer not to walk, head east up the Drachenfelstraße to the Drachensfelsbahn station.
Riding the Drachenfelsbahn
The Drachenfelsbahn is Germany’s oldest cog railway, making it a fun and historical way to reach the top of the Drachenfels. Riding it feels like you’re being pulled up the hill of a roller coaster, but without the scary drop. The tram’s first stop is the entrance to Schloss Drachenburg, and then it continues higher to the overlook point. The ride to the top takes about five minutes and offers lovely views of the surrounding nature preserve.
But history and fun come at a price, and a return (i.e. round-trip) ticket is about as steep as the Drachenfels themselves. It’s €10 for a return, or €8 one-way. If you want the best of both worlds, you can get a one-way ticket to the top, view the ruins, and then walk down to the castle and exit trails. The only place to buy the ticket in person is the village-level station, so don’t think you can decide once you get to the top how you’d like to get back down.
Save me for later!
Burg Drachenfels: The Ruined Castle With a View
At the top of the hill likes Burg Drachenfels, a ruined castle built in the 12th century. All that remains is a broken tower, which you can reach via the steep, winding path behind the overlook point restaurant. If it’s recently rained, take care on the path, as certain areas get quite slippery.
The view from the top is incredible but slightly limited due to the treeline. For a more sweeping view, head down to the large overlook space. When the weather is nice, you can enjoy some al fresco food and drink from the glass-walled restaurant. There are also free public restrooms around the back, near the trail leading up to the ruined tower.
Once you’ve finished staring out at the valley, make your way down the trail towards Castle Drachenburg. You’ll want to stay on the bending, paved path until it straightens out (see the map below for reference). Once you come through the third and final bend, you’ll see a path on your left. This is the most direct route to the castle, with the added benefit of passing through an old estate. The path can be a bit steep and rocky in places, so exercise caution.
After you reach the old estate house, you’ll be on the paved path that leads to the castle. Note that you cannot walk straight up the path and through the main gates. You’ll need to take a right and head through the entrance building (starred on the map below) to buy your ticket.
Castle Drachenburg: Where History Stands Still
Schloss Drachenburg is the closest of the castles around Cologne Germany. When you enter the admission hall/gift shop/museum, go to the register to pay for your ticket. It’s €7 for an adult. If you want a printed guidebook in your native language (all the info displays are in German), you can pay a €10 deposit or leave a personal item as collateral. I opted not to rent the guidebook, as it was too bulky to carry around comfortably.
Make your way through the barrier and to the immaculate castle grounds. The landscaping was lush and whimsical, with perfectly-groomed topiaries and golden statues of deer. You’ll want to spend a good 30 minutes walking the pathways that go through the front, back, and sides. The back patio in particular has lovely views of the valley below, with wildflowers growing along the side of the hill.
After you’re finished strolling the gardens and exterior, head inside the main doors. Photography is not allowed inside Castle Drachenburg, hence the absence of interior shots in this post! You can visit the official Schloss Drachenburg website and cycle through the carousel at the top for some lovely pictures.
Once you enter the castle, your eyes will be drawn in a dozen different directions. Make sure to look up at the ceilings, where you’ll find lavish murals reminiscent of the Renaissance. Every room in Castle Drachenburg is arranged just as it was in the early 1800s. Looking into the library and bedchambers is like peering through time. I enjoyed imaging how it would feel to brush my hair while looking out at the valley.
You’ll notice that most areas are roped off from entry. However, the staff regularly rotate which areas of the castle are open to foot traffic. Keep your eyes peeled for unblocked staircases and signs that say “[area name] is open for visitors”. This is how I made my way up the North Tower, where I had an undisturbed view of the top of the castle and the Drachenfels. Making my way alone through the narrow passageways and steep ladders to get to the top was my favorite part of my trip to Königswinter.
Returning to Königswinter
Take one last stroll through the castle gardens before heading back through the admission hall. If you bought a return ticket for the Drachenfelsbahn, make your way up the path to the platform. If you made the journey by foot, you can either return the way you came, or walk down the Drachenfelsstraße all the way back into town. The latter option is an easier walk, and there are a few places to stop and grab a bite before you head off to your next destination.