Some 25,000 castles, palaces and mansion houses bear witness to Germany's history: from splendid, perfectly preserved landmarks to ruined reminders of former glory.

Splendid palaces of great rulers

Germany is home to a great variety of castles and palaces, from simple mansion houses to the prestigious residences of great ruling dynasties, such as Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam. Known as the "Prussian Versailles", this castle was constructed on the orders of the Hohenzollern King Friedrich II. Together with its park, this Rococo building has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. Another favourite place of the Hohenzollern dynasty was Berlin's Charlottenburg Palace.

Situated close to the Saxon state capital of Dresden, the moated castle of Moritzburg was the emblem of the noble Wettin dynasty. The Baroque estate also includes the Little Pheasant Castle, visible from Moritzburg Castle 2.5 kilometres away.

Cultural heritage and architectural jewels

As well as Sanssouci Palace, other German castles and palaces are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Augustusburg and Falkenlust Palaces located in Brühl (North Rhine-Westphalia) and boasting gardens and parks that transport visitors back to the 17th century. One UNESCO Site in Hesse is Wilhelmshöhe Park, a landscape park above Kassel with the Classicist Wilhelmshöhe Palace at its centre. Wartburg Castle occupies an elevated position above the Thuringian city of Eisenach. This World Heritage Site is renowned as the place where the reformer Martin Luther sought refuge and translated the New Testament into German.

Some castles and palaces are perfect examples of their respective architectural eras. Ahrensburg Palace near Hamburg, for example, is regarded as one of the major works of Renaissance architecture in Schleswig-Holstein. Occupying a central location in the city, Saarbrücken Castle is a fine example of Baroque style, while the far smaller Schönebeck Castle in Bremen-Vegesack combines Baroque with a typical north-German half-timber construction. Jenisch House in Hamburg is a Classicist gem. Set in extensive landscaped gardens, this country house enjoys far-reaching views over the River Elbe.

Fairytale palaces and knights' castles

The Romantic era was the real heyday for castles, with the most emblematic example being Neuschwanstein Castle. This splendid white construction is perched on a hilltop near Füssen in the Bavarian Allgäu. Somewhat less well known is the "Neuschwanstein of the North": Schwerin Castle was once a residence for grand dukes and is now the seat of the state parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Romantic Historicism was also the inspiration for the construction of Marienburg Castle. The Guelph family's Neo-Gothic-style summer residence is a striking landmark, perched high on Marienberg hill around 20 kilometres south of Hanover in Lower Saxony. Further to numerous conversions over the years, Wernigerode Castle in Saxony-Anhalt is now another fairytale castle.

But what later constructions strived to replicate can be still be admired in their original form today: storybook-style Medieval castles. The most famous example being perhaps Eltz Castle. This 12th century hilltop castle in the Eifel mountains in Rhineland-Palatinate has been owned by the same noble family for over 850 years. And for many generations, the romantic appeal of ancient ruins has been attracting international tourists to Heidelberg Castle in the town by the Neckar in the north of Baden-Württemberg.