St. Goar: Explore Ruined Rheinfels Castle and Go Cuckoo Over Clocks and Steins
St. Goar, or Sankt Goar, is a small tourist town dominated by a huge, ruined castle, located on the west bank of the Rhine River in an area known as the Romantic Rhine Valley. The town is named after a monk who converted local people to Christianity and constructed a hospice and chapel, making the town a pilgrimage site. Today, tourists, rather than pilgrims, trek to St. Goar to partake in the great local shopping, pass the time in sidewalk cafes, and explore the ruined castle.
My favorite cuckoo clock shop and stein shop in all of Germany are both located on the main pedestrian street in St. Goar. The Montag family runs both stores, and you definitely can’t miss them. Look for the tourists taking pictures under the largest free-hanging cuckoo clock in the world. That’s the cuckoo clock store, and immediately across the street, you’ll spot the large beer stein sign of the other shop. Even if you’re not a fan of cuckoo clocks or steins, stop into both for an impressive introduction to two authentically German traditions. The staff are incredibly friendly and helpful and delight in telling you all about their wares. In the stein shop, you’ll be amazed by the variety of German beer mugs. We were warmly greeted by one of the Montag brothers who taught us how to recognize quality Germany steins over foreign-made cheap alternatives and informed us about the decoration of the different types of beer mugs. You’ll see steins depicting various cities, countries, hobbies, professions, holidays, and more. We left with a Christmas present for my fiancée’s father. Across the street, one of the Montag sisters told us about the history behind the cuckoo clocks, which are made in the Black Forest. We couldn’t help but bring home a cuckoo clock for ourselves! The Montag family securely packs both clock and steins and ships them overseas to any country. We received ours less than two weeks after our trip.
After a bit of shopping, you’ll need a treat to re-energize. Stop into Café St. Goar for a huge slice of the most delicious strudel that we had in all of Germany. I scarfed down the mixed berry, and my fiancée devoured the rhubarb. The café also features many other types of desserts as well as pretzels and light lunches. Across the street, they have a lovely sidewalk seating area with table service. Don’t visit St. Goar without stopping here for strudel!
Kids and adults alike will love exploring the ruins of Rheinfels Castle, which towers over St. Goar. To get up to the castle, you can hike about 15 minutes, board a small “tourist train” (that usually waits for customers near the Catholic Church), or take a short taxi ride. If you’re hiking, walk up the main pedestrian street, and just after the tourist information center, turn onto a street named Scholossberg, and then take a right onto another street named Bismackweg. At the fork in Bismarkckweg, stay left, and at the end, you’ll find the steps leading up to the short hike to the castle.
Built in 1245, Rheinfels Castle (Burg Rheinfels) was designed to protect the St. Goar tax collectors. After the construction of another castle immediately across the river, the local rulers were able to block the river valley and levy a tax on all traders passing through. That’s why all of the Rhine castles were built . . . money, money, money! When the castle passed into the hands of the House of Hesse, Burg Rheinfels was heavily developed and impressive fortifications were added, making it one of the largest and strongest fortresses in Germany. In 1796, armies of the French Revolutionary government captured and blew up parts of the castle, which is why it remains in ruins today. Evens in ruins, the Burg Rheinfels is quite impressive and fun to explore. Be advised that, starting in 2017, parts of the castle are undergoing renovations, so the outer fortifications can only be explored via guided tour, which is included in the price of admission. However, you can explore the inner parts of the castle on your own. Start in the museum that has exhibits (with English descriptions) on the castle and local history and has models of the castle, to give you a sense of what it was once like. Then explore the remainder of the ruins. Don’t miss the incredible view of the Rhine from the highest tower. While you’re up there, take a look around you and remember that the castle was once five times as large as it is now. It’s a reminder of the tremendous importance that Burg Rheinfels played in shaping local history and in making the town of St. Goar the lovely tourist stop that it is today.
St. Goar is located along the stretch of the river known as the Romantic Rhine, approximately minutes south of Koblenz or 80 minutes west of Frankfurt. It makes an easy day trip from either of those cities, especially if you’re flying in or out of Frankfurt Airport. Click on the map below for driving directions.
A visit to St. Goar can also be combined with excursions to:
- Bacharach: The Most Romantic Town on the Rhine River
- Oberwesel: A Medieval Walk on the Walled and Wined Side