Perched on a crumbling parapet, I survey river boats serenely gliding along the Rhine River below, while wind whips wildly through the valley chasm and my hair. Turning inward, I see the maze of sprawling ruins we just spent hours exploring before reaching this viewpoint. I am exhilarated by the complexity and beauty of what’s left of Rheinfels Castle.
Day trip: St. Goar and Rheinfels.
Jim and I have a little bit of time off in October, and we’re thinking of planning a fall trip to Germany. As I’ve been researching, I’ve also been remembering some of my favorite places we’ve explored on past trips like the Rhine River area. I’ve already shared some stories from Bacharach, and explained why it’s my favorite spot in Germany. But in addition to it being a cool place in and of itself, it’s also a great base for exploring the larger Rhine River region. By far my favorite day trip from Bacharach is the sprawling ruins of Burg Rheinfels.
Burg Rheinfels is the largest castle along the Rhine River, and it’s been in ruins for hundreds of years. Crawling through tunnels and climbing up spiral stone staircases, you’ll see its history everywhere. In one of the quads there is a pile of gigantic stone boulders eternally waiting to be catapulted over the battlements. Along the upper exterior walls, tiny slitted windows for archery peak out into the dense foliage below. And it seems like every square foot of rock is pockmarked from 18th c. rifles.
Give yourself at least two to three hours to explore the ruins and small worthwhile museum chronicling the castle’s history. Rheinfels was built in 1245 and remained undefeated in numerous battles throughout the centuries, until it was handed over to the French Revolutionary Army in the 1790s. The French blew up portions of the castle rendering it useless, and romantically, in ruins ever since.
How to get to there
Rheinfels castle sits above the medieval town St. Goar. It’s only a ten minute train ride from Bacharach. You can also take the more scenic river boats, which I highly recommend at least once for the breathtaking views of the valley. The Rhine river boats are free for all Eurorail and Germany rail pass holders. It’s a 40 minute cruise from Bacharach to St. Goar with the current, and 50 minutes back again against the current. Here’s the timetable. Once you arrive in St. Goar, simply follow the main drag and signs uphill until you reach the castle.
Bring a flashlight or headlamp for exploring the network of tunnels, many of which have no natural light and are pitch black. The tunnels are damp, and some of them get very small and require crawling, so wear clothing you don’t mind getting a little dirty if you plan to explore them.
— Laura Rowley