Toggle Sidebar

On a Rhine Cruise: Visit Marksburg Castle Germany


Braubach, a little-known town near Koblenz, Germany, has a surprise in store for its visitors. High on the hill overlooking the town sits the imposing Marksburg Castle, dating from 1117. It is arguably the best-preserved castle of the entire Middle Rhine Valley UNESCO site, and one of the best of the German castle tours.

Don't let the “castle” part of its name fool you. Marksburg has nothing in common with Disney fairy tales and it was never meant to be a palace for royalty. Like most countryside castles, Marksburg Castle was a fortress, built by the landowners to protect their harvest, hired hands, and local residents, who paid annual taxes for such protection. The countryside was the domain of outlaw bands, who raided farms and villages to fill their pockets and stomachs.

Some castles also “protected” key roads and rivers, extorting tolls from ships plying the river waters.

View of Rhine from the castle
They could see them coming from way down the river…
View in the other direction
… in both directions. There was no sneaking by these guys.

Why visit Marksburg Castle

For the most part, those dramatic castles lining the Rhine are Romantic Era reconstructions. Marksburg, however, was never destroyed, surviving conquests, Napoleonic rule, and World Wars, and so its construction is nearly all original. Actually, it is the only Rhine river castle never to have been destroyed, and so it has been continuously inhabited for more than 700 years.

Over the centuries Marksburg Castle has grown bit-by-bit from its original keep (still in the center of the complex). Most of the additions were for defense, which is obvious as you walk through the complex.

The Marksburg Castle experience

Our tour guide met our group outside the first castle gate, then escorted us up the path to the inner gate.

 

The entry gate was originally tall enough for knights on horseback to gallop through. Realizing that this would also make it easy for enemy hordes to enter en masse, they decided to reduce the entryway.

The arched entry gate, Marksburg Castle, Brauback Germany, the best preserved Rhine castle.

Knights' Stairway

Once through the gate, you come to a very well-worn staircase. Called the “Knights' Stairway,” it's made from slate. These steps were carved with a rough surface to keep horses from slipping on rainy days. The stones are worn and uneven due to all those horses riding over it for 800 years. Watch your step; it's easy to trip if you're not careful.

The staircase passes under a bridge that was quite handy for a useful form of defense — pouring boiling pitch on invaders.

Knights Staircase is the entry to Marksburg Castle in Germany. One of the German Castle tours.

Castle defense: the “Great Battery”

Most of the castle's defense construction was built for the purpose of housing the cannons that are aimed toward the lower Rhine, to protect the castle and the town of Braubach.

Oldest cannon in Marksburg Castle
The oldest cannon here dates from around 1500. It was quite short, loaded from the back and it had a limited firing distance.
Front loaded cannons ready to defend MarksburgCastle
150 years later they started using bigger, more modern cannons, which were much more powerful but had to be front-loaded. That’s why they were on wheels, so they could load them easily.

Marksburg Castle wine cellar

Wine, not beer, has traditionally been the preferred drink in these parts of Germany. Because castle water was unclean, everyone drank wine. Don't get too excited about that though, because the wine was actually less alcoholic than today's beer.

The pitchers on the wall held each person's daily allotment. The bellows was part of the winemaking process.

Gothic hall

This hall is actually a kitchen, including an oven big enough to roast an ox whole. The arms holding the pots have notches to control the heat.

The servants were able to stoke the fire without being seen by the noble family simply by opening the little metal door in this photo. The triangular chair was used to make the job more comfortable; that's not a backrest, it's what the servant would lean on.

The residential apartments

The bedroom was the only heated room in the castle.

Sleeping quarters

If the bed looks short to you, it is. The occupants slept with their backs elevated, because they had chronic breathing problems due to the constant exposure to smoke. At night the canopy helped to retain heat and it blocked some of the smoke from the fireplace as well.

Our guide also said it also kept out critters, but I don't quite see how that would work. What kind of critters?

Window seat

The “apartment” also had a deep window seat, which was designed for maximum light for handwork and reading. Women would sit here and gossip (or “spin a yarn”) while doing needlework or working on the spinning wheel.

The privy

The privy/toilet was the most vulnerable and yet the most necessary room of all. It was also one of the most memorable things in the entire tour.

I had mistakenly assumed that the occupants used chamber pots for their waste, but no … they had an actual room for such important functions! It was little more than an upstairs outhouse, a small outhouse-type seat in a tiny room that stuck out from the side of the building. The privy was positioned over a pigsty that, I assume, took care of any – er – droppings.

This is probably the only bathroom I've ever seen that locks from the outside. A clever idea, actually, because was such a weak point in the castle's defenses. Every potential invader knew that this toilet room would provide easy access to the building. All they had to do was use a ladder and climb through the opening on the bottom. The lock solved that problem.

Privy door, Schloss Marksburg in Braubach, a castle near Koblenz Germany

Chapel

Marksburg Castle was actually a community, with a lot of people living within its walls. Just as in every similar building of the era, it had a chapel for the residents. Marksburg, in fact, was named after St. Mark and its chapel was therefore dedicated to him.

This Gothic style chapel has beautiful frescoes of the apostle and the lion that symbolizes him, plus many other Biblical scenes. I was surprised at how brilliantly colored and well preserved they still are.

Armor museum

From thinking of heavenly things to thinking of war.

We ended up in a museum that displayed all sorts of armor dating from Celtic times. I didn't know until this tour that the present-day military salute comes from how knights and soldiers used to greet each other. They would tip up their visor with their right hand in order to reveal their identity and show that they were friendly.

And of course there's another form of armor.

Yes, folks, that's a chastity belt, a medieval lady's “armor,” haha. Despite its reputation, its real purpose wasn't to keep a woman chaste while her husband was away. Women actually used it to protect themselves from assault when traveling.

Horse Stable

Our last stop on our tour was the stable. Since the castle had been used as a prison in times gone by it stands to reason that they would show off some torture devices. Everything from pillories to face masks.

Not sure why they put it in the stable, though.

A mask with a heavy ball forced its wearer to crawl – yuck – down where all the mud and animal droppings were.
The power of suggestion … pictures like these would be intimidating enough to make anyone confess, guilty or not!

After you finish the castle tour…

Gift shop

After you tour Marksburg Castle, like almost every other attraction in the world, you'll be able to visit a gift shop. Unlike some places that sell a bunch of kitsch, Marksburg's gift shop actually has some pretty nice souvenirs.

Okay, you'll find some kitsch at the Marksburg shop – but they also have tons of good stuff: postcards, posters, books, local art, fun toys (shields and swords, princess and knight outfits, etc.) and my favorite: a paper scale model that you can cut out and glue together to make your own Marksburg Castle.

Tip: Because the castle is a river cruise attraction, the gift shop is able to ship your purchases if you don’t have room in your suitcase. That's a nice option if you've found something special but don't want to carry it throughout your trip.

 

 

Dining options

If you need a bite to eat, there's a cafeteria restaurant (Marksburgschänke) right next to the gift shop. It features a panorama terrace with a spectacular, unspoiled view of the meandering Rhine and its valley. You can see the surrounding landscape for miles and miles, so be prepared. It can be mesmerizing to watch the cruise ships, barges, and boats as they sail the river.

You will also find a picnic terrace right next to the castle – perfect for self-catered snacks and lunches.

Marksburg Castle tour details

Even though it's not a long walk, the climb to the castle is steep. If you are able to find a shuttle, take it – better to preserve your energy for the tour.

Ticket price

Adults: 7 € – Discounts for students, families and groups

Hours

Summer season (late March through October):

  • 10;00-17:00
  • Guided tours usually start every 15 to 20 minutes
  • English guided tours at 13:00 and 16:00

Winter season (November to late March):

  • 11:00-16:00
  • Guided tours every hour on the hour, German language only.

Tour details

There's no self-guided option here. This best-preserved castle on the Rhine can be toured only by taking the 50-minute tour with a guide.

Language issues

Tours are in German. Individual international visitors are able to join the regular guided tour with a leaflet in their own language.

There are two English guided tours daily during the summer. With prior notice, English-language tours can be arranged for groups of 20 or more.

Accessibility

Remember: This is an original, medieval-era castle.

  • You will need to navigate stairs.
  • The castle is not accessible by wheelchair.
  • People with other physical disabilities may struggle with the uphill climb during the tour.

Inspired?
Here are some resources to help you plan your visit.

If this article was useful, you can thank us without paying a dime. Some of these companies will pay us a referral fee (at no extra cost to you) if you make your arrangements using these links.

Plan:

  • Marksburg Castle's website offers information about the castle and practical tips. There are also links to details about Philippsburg Palace and the German Castles Association.
  • Lodging – For sleeping options, HotelsCombined is the best place to research who has good deals.
  • Transportation – Braubach is about an hour west of Frankfurt. Check Rome2Rio for how to get there.

See:

Read:

Here are some related books about Marksburg Castle for your convenience:

  • [easyazon_link identifier=”3930885379″ locale=”US” tag=”awsi09-20″]Castles on the Rhine – From Mainz to Cologne. In full colour with descriptions[/easyazon_link]
  • [easyazon_link identifier=”163121439X” locale=”US” tag=”awsi09-20″]Rick Steves' Germany guidebook[/easyazon_link] includes an English version of the 50-minute German-language tour.

Save this for later:

  • Flip this to Flipboard
  • Stumble this post
  • Pin it to PInterest

Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages has inspired her to create As We Saw It with her husband Dan, a professional photographer. Her goal is to make travel easier for others and to offer a brief escape to another land.

You may also like...

22 thoughts on “On a Rhine Cruise: Visit Marksburg Castle Germany

  1. Hi Linda,

    My husband and I are taking the same Viking cruise in August. Thank you for sharing your insights and beautiful photos.

    I have a question regarding the walk to the Marksburg Castle. I’ve read that it’s pretty tough. I have some knee issues and Iโ€™m concerned that I may have to forego it. Was it a tough hike to reach the castle from the ship? Iโ€™d really like to go if I can. Does Viking provide a shuttle or is it all on foot? I’d hate to miss it but I’m a little put off by all the warnings.

    Thanks again for sharing your wonderful experience with us!

    1. Hi Laura, I am so happy you like my stories!

      I think you’ll be fine. Viking is aware that many passengers have mobility challenges so yes, they do provide a shuttle. The only think to know is that there is some uneven ground entering (a stone walkway) and you will have to negotiate some stairs during the tour. Your Program Director will be happy to advise you if you would like some extra reassurance.

      That said, I hope that doesn’t deter you because it’s a very special castle. Should you change your mind after you get there, the castle has a nice picnic area with a view and gift shop where you can relax while you wait for everyone.

  2. Oh, I love this post. With a young son, it will be quite a while before we get to go on one of these cruises, so I have to live vicariously through you ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. We’ve been on quite a few ocean big boat cruises, but never a river cruise. I think a river cruise in Europe is the place to start. Thanks for including so many photos in this post. There’s nothing wrong with your well written words, but in this case, a picture is worth….well, you know.

  4. I took my first cruise last February, it was a Disney trip with my kids. It was a wonderful cruise, but afterwards I thought, good thing my husband couldn’t come along, he’d have been bored. Now this cruise, that has my husband (and me) written all over. Something to plan for. Have to admit though, I may have to make a pass on the “torture” portion of the tour. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. I’m with you – reading about the privy was interesting. I thought chamber pots as well. I guess that would’ve been for the poor folk. Love the pictures. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I loved your post. I have traveled alot and have never done a cruise done the Rhine. We have talked about. I would have to say my favorite castle is Palace of Versailles. It is absolutely beautiful. A fun thing to do is stay in a castle. We did that in France and it was an unbelievable experience. It is something out of fairyland. The castle you visited is a bit more rustic. I thought that the reason the beds were small as people were smaller back in those days. God I wouldn’t want to wear a chastity belt. Sounds like a great trip

  7. Wow Linda! Every time I suppress my itchy feet of travelling, up pops another great post giving me reason to travel again. I love European castles and i think from your post I will put this place on my bucket list! Thanks Linda.

  8. I have never taken one of these cruises before, I’ve only cruised in the Bahamas. I love the picture of the sign in German, I don’t know why foreign signs always interest me. Great post!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow As We Saw It on

67 Shares
Share7
Pin29
Tweet31
Flip
Buffer