I’ve decided to walk all the way up to Wartburg Castle.
I can see it high on a mountain, far away from where I am down in the town of Eisenach in the middle of Germany. Buses and cars go past me as I leave town and start the uphill section into a forest.
I’m sure some of the people passing are looking out the window and wondering why anyone would be so foolish.
But I don’t see this as a foolish endeavour. When the castle was first built in the 11th century, this is how everyone would have approached it – up winding paths through the trees towards the summit.
The forests have changed very little in the millennium since Wartburg Castle was built. I like that the nearby urban areas have not encroached too far.
This great fortress has stood on the same spot for more than a thousand years, looking out over these same landscapes.
Why is Wartburg Castle important?
One of the reasons Wartburg was named as a World Heritage Site is because of the way the surrounding forest blends with its architecture – a mix of feudal style and 19th century renovations. But Wartburg Castle is also important as the site of various historical events, including Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament.
What happened at Wartburg Castle?
The most famous thing to happen at Wartburg Castle was Martin Luther’s German translation of the New Testament, which he did in a room here during his exile in 1521. But it is also known as the home of Saint Elizabeth, and the beginning of a democratic nation with the Wartburg Festival of German student associations.
Is it worth visiting Wartburg Castle?
There’s lots to see at Wartburg Castle and it is well worth a visit. From the outside, the castle presents a stunning image of a ‘perfect castle’ but some of the real delights are in the lavishly decorated rooms and areas full of fascinating history.
It’s these centuries of history at Wartburg Castle that make it what it is today, each part of the complex telling its own story.
Some are perhaps more significant – such as the room where Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German – but even the trivial gossip about the rulers is fascinating.
You can only visit Wartburg Castle independently after 15:20. Before that it is by guided tour, but the only English one each day is at 13:30. So you may want to plan the time of your visit accordingly.
Visiting Wartburg Castle gives you a chance to see this gallery of history: more than a millennium of art, architectural styles, and important events captured in this heritage complex.
Wartburg Castle has even been featured in films like The Princess Bride and The Neverending Story.
It may not have inspired a Disney castle, but it’s still pretty magical.
History of Wartburg Castle
The first construction of Wartburg Castle was in 1067, when a Thuringian count called Ludwig der Springer wanted a small fortress overlooking the town of Eisenach.
But changes over hundreds of years have left the complex like a museum, documenting the shifting culture of the region.
There are Romanesque structures, medieval touches like the drawbridge, half-timbered buildings from the 14th century, and interior design from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The castle reached its first peak of importance in the 12th century, when it was the residence of the Landgraves of Thuringia. During this period, it was the site of the legendary Sängerkrieg, or Minstrels’ Contest, a gathering of the greatest poets and musicians of the day.
Then, in 1521, Martin Luther sought refuge at Wartburg after he was excommunicated by the pope. He spent the next ten months in the castle, translating the New Testament into German. This translation, known as the Luther Bible, is considered to be one of the most important works of German literature.
In the following centuries, Wartburg Castle was used less and fell into disrepair, although it was used as a prison during the Thirty Years’ War from 1618.
It wasn’t until 1817, when the Wartburg Festival was held to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, that the castle had a revival. The festival itself was one of the key moments in the development of a unified German state… but the castle’s role in that was merely symbolic.
Still, it brought attention to the site, which was restored and has been a popular tourist site for decades now.
Things to see at Wartburg Castle
From the outside to the inside, the medley of historical ages and styles means there are lots of things to see at Wartburg Castle.
You can easily spend some time in the courtyards getting a sense of life in the fortification, or you can head inside to see the opulence of many of its residents.
Inside the castle, the evidence of styles of even more generations is on display. From beautiful golden mosaics, to magnificent frescoes, to the ornate decorations of the Festival Hall, the artwork tells the story of the castle’s history through the images and through its influences.
These are some of the highlights to look out for:
The drawbridge is a wooden bridge, spanning the moat and providing the only access to the castle. It’s one of the first parts of Wartburg Castle that you’ll see when you visit.
Made of oak and supported by two stone pillars, the drawbridge is raised and lowered by a winch mechanism. The original one was destroyed in a fire in 1774 so this is a replacement from the 19th century, although it’s as close a replica as possible.
The drawbridge is a reminder that, despite all the glamour of the castle, at its heart it was meant to be a defensive stronghold.
Beyond the drawbridge, the first main section of Wartburg Castle is an area called the Vorburg, which consists of an open courtyard surrounded by buildings.
Back in the day, it was used as a staging area for troops and supplies, and it also housed the castle’s kitchen and stables. In the 12th century when it was first built, it was large and also included the castle’s chapel
Since then, several new buildings have been added, including the Ritterhaus (knight’s house) and the Elizabeth Hallway. You can explore most of the Vorburg for free.
The largest structure at Wartburg Castle, and the focus of the interiors you’ll see with paid entry, is called the Palas.
It’s a three-story building originally built in the late Romanesque style between 1157 and 1170, but altered many times over the centuries.
This was the main residence of the landgraves of Thuringia, and was also used for important functions. That includes the Knight’s Hall on the ground floor, the large entertaining area covered in wooden panels and decorated with artworks, flags, and chandeliers.
Another highlight in here is the Elizabeth Room, dedicated to Saint Elizabeth of Hungary who lived here in the early 13th century.
The Elizabeth Room was created in the early 20th century by the artist Hermann Schaaff and it’s a stunning sight to see for yourself. It is decorated with mosaics (made of glass, gold, and silver tesserae) depicting scenes from the life of the saint.
Some of the other halls and rooms are just as grand, and I think it’s actually quite surprising that there’s so much in here, seeing as it doesn’t look nearly as large from the outside.
The Luther Room
For some visitors, this will be the highlight of their visit to Wartburg Castle – not for the aesthetics of the room, but for what it symbolises.
The Luther Room is where Martin Luther lived and worked during his stay at the castle from 1521. As you can see from my photo, it’s small and simple and the desk is the focus (it’s a replica, if you’re wondering).
It’s here that he sat for months and translated the New Testament into German, an act that both developed the German language and helped spread the Protestant Reformation. (You may also be interested in visiting some other landmarks about Martin Luther in Germany).
At the southern end of Wartburg Castle, you’ll easily spot the three-story construction known as the South Tower. Built in the early 14th century, it’s one of the oldest parts of the castle that still remains.
The South Tower was originally used as a dungeon and, because of this, it’s still got a rather dark and gloomy feel to it, with thick walls and small windows. Although prisoners were criminals at first, in the 16th century it held members of a religious group called the Anabaptists, who were being persecuted by the Catholic Church.
You can go up the tower for a small additional fee, and it’s a good way to spend some time if you’re waiting for a tour to start.
As well as seeing the rooms themselves, it’s well worth see the museum at Wartburg Castle, which has an excellent collection of artefacts and exhibitions telling the story of the castle and its many famous residents.
Some of the items are extremely significant, such as a copy of the Luther Bible from 1541 that includes handwritten inscriptions by Martin Luther himself. And then there are those that are important but also fun, like a small lute from 1450 made from a single piece of maple.
With artworks, furniture, a reliquary and more, there are plenty of treasures to discover in the museum, so I suggest leaving some time to have a waner.
Visiting Wartburg Castle
A large part of Wartburg Castle – the drawbridge, the courtyards, and the outdoor areas – are free to visit and you can definitely get a sense of the site just from visiting this part of Wartburg Castle.
But, really, it’s the interiors that are the highlights and I don’t think it’s worth coming all the way here and not paying to go inside to see them.
It’s worth planning when you want to visit Wartburg Castle because there’s a little quirk with the way things work. Before 15:00, you can only see the interior rooms on a guided tour, but the only English one each day is at 13:30.
If you come after 15:20, you can just go into the interior rooms independently without a guide. Regardless of how you visit, the entrance fee is the same.
A visit to Wartburg Castle offers more than just one experience. It’s a combination of the architecture of the buildings, the art treasures inside, and the views across the wooded plains beneath.
Speaking of views, you can also choose to climb up the South Tower without going inside the interior rooms, although there’s an additional charge to do that.
For accessibility, most parts of the castle and grounds are not wheelchair-friendly, however there are some shuttle buses with wheelchair access and the Thuringian experience portal at the Wartburg is barrier-free accessible, including a barrier-free bus stop and barrier-free toilets.
Where is Wartburg Castle?
Wartburg Castle is located on a hill outside the town of Eisenach in central Germany, about 170 kilometres from Frankfurt.
The official address is Auf der Wartburg 1, 99817, Eisenach, Germany. You can see it on a map here.
How do you get to Wartburg Castle?
To get to Wartburg Castle, catch the train to Eisenach and then take bus line 3 up the hill… or walk through the forest for about 45 minutes like I did.
If you’re travelling by car, you can reach the castle via the A4 motorway and the B7, B19, and B84 federal roads. I suggest going on B19 as this is where the driveway to the castle is located and you can get to the car park easily.
The castle’s car park does have fees and the shuttle to the castle costs €2.50.
When is Wartburg Castle open?
The outdoor areas of the castle are open at the following times:
April – October: 08:00 – 20:00
November – March: 09:30 – 17:00
The inside rooms are open at these times:
April – October: 09:00 – 17:00
November – March: 09:30 – 15:30
What is the Wartburg Castle entrance fee?
The outdoor areas are free to enter, but there is a charge to go inside the main rooms.
A standard ticket costs €12 and €8 for a concession. Kids under 18 pay €5 but under 6 years old are free.
You can also buy a family ticket (2 adults + max 5 children) for €29 or a small family ticket (2 adults + 1 child OR 1 adult + max 5 children) for €20.
You also have to pay €2 for photo permission and €1 for access to the South Tower.
Are there tours of Wartburg Castle?
Until 15:00 each day, the only way to see the interior parts of Wartburg Castle is with one of the regular tours, although most of them are German.
There’s only one English guided tour that lets you explore Palas, the Museum, and Luther’s chamber. It starts at 13:30 on every opening day.
If you want a tour in your language, you can book on request by contacting their visitor service.
While it’s not exclusively about Wartburg Castle, there’s a private walking tour around Eisenach that combines the castle with Luther’s Museum, St George’s Church and other sights, which is a great option if you’re staying in town.
For more information, see the official website of Wartburg Castle.
As you can see, Wartburg is more than just one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Germany. Along with its architecture and the collections of styles you can’t underestimate the importance of what was achieved by people here.
It may have been a small and rather bland room where Martin Luther did his translation, for example, but he started a religious movement that was to change the nature of European society.
There are a few other important World Heritage Sites in the region that also have a significant history. If you decide to stay in Weimar as a base to visit Wartburg Castle, you’ll be able to see two of them – the Bauhaus movement and Classical Weimar.
And, of course, there’s Eisenach itself, which has plenty of sights, many of which you’ll perhaps appreciate more on this private tour of the town.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN EISENACH
If you’re planning to visit Wartburg Castle, the best place to stay is in Eisenach, which is an interesting town in itself.
The best hostel in Eisenach, which is also nice and modern, is Hostel & Pension Alte Brauerei.
For a simple hotel at a good price, I would suggest Hotel Klostergarten.
Set at the foot of Wartburg Mountain, I think Haus Hainstein has a lovely traditional feel.
And if you want to treat yourself, you can stay at the top of the mountain next to the castle at Romantik Hotel.