If you love Christmas as much as I do and are in the Asheville area during the holidays, you and your family will love seeing Christmas at the North Carolina Arboretum. It’s called Winter Lights, and you don’t want to miss it!
Bundle up and head to the arboretum, located just 20 minutes outside Asheville, to wander through an amazing display of over 500,000 holiday lights scattered throughout the gardens. Enjoy a cup of hot cocoa, cider, or beer, while you walk through this outdoor winter wonderland. I particularly enjoyed the enormous Christmas tree and light display that dances to holiday music, while my fiancé showed off his skills at playing the whimsical games of snowflake tic tac toe and wreath Simon. Where else can you do that?!? If you’re vising on a Friday or Saturday night, consider taking a Winter Holiday Lights Tour. A trolley will pick you up and drop you off at a specific location in Asheville or Hendersonville. Upon arrival at the gardens, you’ll receive a complimentary cup of hot cocoa to enjoy as you see the lights. Admission is included. For more information see the botanical gardens’ website.
Christmas at the North Carolina Arboretum: Winter Holiday Lights is held in the evening from mid November to the end of December. Check out their website for exact details and to purchase tickets.
The North Carolina Arboretum is located at 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way in Asheville, North Carolina. Click on the map below to get specific driving directions.
Ever since I was young and my mother and I watched the TV special “Christmas at Biltmore”, I’ve wanted to visit the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. As an early gift for my birthday, my fiancé surprised me with a trip to Christmas at Biltmore. In this blog post, I’ll fill you in on how to get the most out of your time at the Biltmore Estate during the holidays and the remainder of the year
Christmas at the Biltmore Estate
Christmastime is a truly magical time of the year to visit to visit the Biltmore Estate, and you must experience it at least once in your lifetime. During the day, the house is decked out with more than 55 Christmas trees decorated in the Victorian tradition and with evergreen wreaths and garlands, incredible floral displays in the conservatory, and a gingerbread house in the main kitchen. At night, you can visit the Biltmore Estate for a Candlelight Christmas Evening. Upon entering the gates, you’ll be confronted by an enormous Norway spruce covered in giant white snowflakes and glittering lights. Make your way towards the mansion on pathways lined with holiday luminaries. Inside, you’ll find each room aglow with candles, roaring fireplaces, Christmas trees, and early 20th century lighting. To add to the holiday spirit, a choir in the Winter Garden and musicians scattered throughout the house perform holiday classics for your enjoyment.
If you’re planning on experiencing Christmas at the Biltmore Estate, I have three pieces of advice for you. First, you need to book as early as possible. Dates sell out quickly. We visited the day after Thanksgiving, and my fiancé booked in April! Second, I highly recommend going to a Candlelight Christmas Evening Tour. There are a great deal less people at nighttime, so you’ll get to enjoy your time and see all of the details in each room. Third, you may want to consider seeing the mansion both during the day at night. If you wish to do so, book the Candlelight Christmas Evening Tour, and during checkout, you can upgrade your ticket to allow you to see the house during the day as well, at significant savings. Christmas at Biltmore and the Candlelight Christmas Evenings run from the beginning of November through early January. Check their website for exact dates.
Tips for Seeing the Biltmore Estate All Year Long:
It takes a while to actually get to the mansion, so arrive at the main gate with at least 45 minutes early. There’s a significant drive from the main gate to the parking lot. From the parking lot you have to wait for, board, and take a shuttle to the house. If you miss the entry time on your ticket, they may not be able to accommodate you.
Book your tickets for an early morning entry time. The crowds arrive in the late morning and early afternoon, so you’ll want to get there early.
Purchase tickets and an audio guide online at their website. You’ll save time by not having to wait in line, and the audio guide will enrich your experience by providing information about the history of the house, its decoration and contents, and life on the estate.
See the mansion first and then tour the gardens and the conservatory. The gardens are truly amazing, but even if you visit in winter, the huge conservatory is alive with magnificent tropical plants, it’s specially decorated for the holiday season. Don’t miss the gardener’s store located on the lower level (down the steps) behind the conservatory.
Check out the wonderful gift shops located inside the former stables. You’ll have an array of shops to choose from including a Christmas store, candy shop, gift shop, bookstore, and toy shop. Each have their own array of goodies, so be sure to leave time to check them all out.
There are many options for dining on the Biltmore Estate, but I recommend eating at the Courtyard Market. Right in the middle of the former stable compound is an outdoor (but covered and heated) café. We found the food there to the yummiest and cheapest. We enjoyed a Bavarian pretzel and German knockworst and brawtwurst. However, there are also other travel options including a full service restaurant, bakery and sandwich shop, and ice cream shop.
If you’re so inclined, the Biltmore Estate also features a winery in Antler Village. There’s more information about the winery and Antler Village on their website.
Add-Ons to Your Visit to the Biltmore Estate
Stay in the nearby city of Asheville which is full of quirky shops to explore and a plethora of restaurants to dine in. While in Asheville, check out:
Loft of Asheville – a quirky gift shop where you’ll find unique and hilarious items that you never even knew existed!
Perfect Gifts – another gift store full of fun products and cards for all occasions
Old Europe Pastries – a cafe featuring coffee and gourmet European pastries that taste as good as they look!
Rhubarb – a farm to table restaurant featuring a variety of small plates and larger dishes; reservations recommended
Pack’s Tavern – a modern tavern serving a wide variety of dishes – We enjoyed an amazing Thanksgiving buffet dinner there!
Explore the shops in Biltmore Village. Located just outside the main gate of the estate, the village was designed by the same architects as the mansion and built as a place where estate workers could live with their families. It originally included rental cottages, a post office, shops, a school, a doctor’s office, and a church. Today, Biltmore Village features shops and restaurants for both tourists and locals to peruse.
Camden Maine is known by locals as the “Jewel of the Maine Coast”, and the adorable seaside town certainly lives up to its reputation. A walk along the historic 19th century downtown area is a shopper’s delight. Dozens of local stores and boutiques carry something for everyone, from gifts and home décor to toys and nautical goods. On our last trip, we got a head start on our holiday shopping by purchasing some distinctly Maine gifts.
If you’re a fan of outdoor activities, Camden is definitely the place for you! A variety of boating companies will take you out of the harbor on a sightseeing trip or a day sail. If you’re more interested in hiking, Camden Hills State Park, located just a few miles from downtown, has over 30 miles of trails (click here for trail info and a map), including one that winds its way up to the 800 foot summit of Mount Battle. Don’t feel like making the trek by foot? There’s also an option to drive your car to the top, for a small fee. In either case, don’t forget your camera to capture the sweeping views of Camden Harbor and Penobscot Bay. For all of you outdoorsy types, Camden Hills State Park also offers over a hundred different very private camping sites. Click here for information or to make a reservation.
Camden is home to a wide variety of cafes and restaurants. My favorite place for breakfast is Marriner’s Restaurant, where you absolutely must try the blueberry pancakes. If the weather is nice, be sure to sit outside on the deck, which has picture perfect views of the harbor. For lunch or dinner, take a 15 minute drive to Claws in Rockland for the best lobster roll in the area. Claw is only open seasonally (late spring to early October) so be sure to call ahead or check their website. Order at the window, take a seat on the patio (which is heated and enclosed during inclement weather) and dig into what many consider to be the best lobster roll in Maine. My mouth is watering just thinking about them!
Now that you’ve had the required Maine fare, how about another Maine treat? Located only 25 minutes outside of Camden atop a peninsula that juts way out into Penobscot Bay, the 30 foot cylindrical tower known as Owls Head Lighthouse was built in 1825 (and rebuilt in 1852) as a navigational aid to ships going in and out of Rockland Harbor. A lighthouse keeper’s cottage was added in 1854, and it now serves as the headquarters for the American Lighthouse Foundation. Owls Head Lighthouse is also supposedly haunted by at least two ghosts. Locals refer to one spirit as the “Little Lady”, and she is most often seen in the kitchen or looking out a window. The other ghost on the premises is believed to be one of the former lighthouse keepers. Reports of mysterious footprints in the mud and snow, slamming doors, rattling silverware, ghostly apparitions, and human-sized indentations in beds have all been reported by staff and the family of former keepers. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to do any ghost hunting for yourself because neither the lighthouse nor the keeper’s cottage are open to the public since they are still in use. However, visitors can still climb the wooden steps up to the lighthouse for the most incredible view of the harbor.
Other activities in the Camden area are Owls Head Transportation Museum, which features over 150 exhibits on antique aircraft, motorcycles, bicycles, and automobiles, and Barrett’s Cove, a hidden cove of Megunticook Lake that has a lovely designated swimming area. If you’re up for a short drive drive, Fort Knox (a huge 19th century fortification and the most popular historic attraction in Maine) and the adjacent Penobscot Narrows Observatory are are a great half day trip (about an hour from downtown Camden) that the entire family will enjoy.
For driving directions to Camden, click on the map below.
Camden Hills State Park is located at 280 Belfast Rd in Camden, ME
Marriners Restaurant is located at 35 Main St in Camden, ME
Claws is located at 743 Main St. in Rockland, ME
Owl Head Lighthouse is located on Lighthouse Rd in Owls Head, ME
Owls Head Transportation Museum is located on Museum St. in Owls Head, ME
Barrett’s Cove is located at 104 Beaucaire Ave in Camden, ME
Fort Knox and the Penobscot Narrows Observatory are located at 740 Fort Knox Rd in Prospect, ME
St. Fagans National Museum of History is a living history and open-air museum located outside the city of Cardiff, Wales. According to TripAdvisor, St. Fagans is one of the top ten free attractions in the entire United Kingdom, and in 2011, Which? Magazine named the museum as Favorite Visitor Attraction in the United Kingdom. What draws so many people to St. Fagans? In my opinion, there’s no better way to learn about the past than by going to a living history museum, and St Fagans is one of the best one that I’ve been to (and as a history buff and teacher, I’ve visited many!). At St. Fagans, you interact with historical interpreters, dressed in period costume, in order to experience how the Welsh lived, ate, dressed, worked, behaved, worshiped and played, from Celtic times to the present.
The museum is made up of more than 40 buildings, from throughout Wales, that have been moved to the site. You can definitely spend all day at the museum! Some of my favorites buildings are:
St Teilo’s Church may seem plain from the outside, but once you step inside, you’ll be blown away! The church was built in the 12th or 13th century and shows off how religious structures were once elaborately decorated with brightly colored wall paintings all over. The church was taken apart, moved, and reconstructed at St. Fagans, piece by piece.
The Abernodwydd Farmhouse is a timber and thatch farmhouse that shows how a relatively well-off Welsh family would have lived in the 17th century.
The 1936 post office is made up of two adorable rooms and was originally run by a father, his daughter and her husband. Deliveries were made by bicycle, and the counter also served as a wireless (that’s radio) repair shop. The building was moved to St. Fagans in 1992.
The row of houses for iron-ore miners allows visitors to marvel over how entire families lived in tiny homes consisting of only three rooms! Visiting each row house shows how living conditions and styles have changed over time, as the contents of each portray a different period of history: 1805, 1855, 1895, 1925, 1955, and 1985. These row houses will make you appreciate how lucky we are today to have as many things as we do.
The tailor’s workshop, which was originally built in 1896, is stocked as it would have looked in the early 1950’s. I got a kick out of seeing the fashions of the time and how they were hand-made.
The 1880 general store is divided into three sections over two floors. The store once served as a bakery, ironmongery (place to buy items made of iron), grocery, gentlemen’s outfitters, chemist, and animal feed retailer. Today it’s still stocked to the brim!
The 1771 toll house represents a time when local landowners built private roads (also called turnpikes) and charged tolls for their usage. Sound familiar? Local riots caused the eventual banning of toll houses by Parliament in 1864.
St Fagans Castle was built in the 16th century and later remodeled in the Victorian Era, as it became part of the Earls of Plymouth’s estate. Some of the mansion’s rooms contain original 16th century features, while others, such as the marvelous Victorian kitchen, contain furnishings from later time periods. In 1947, the family donated the mansion and its estate to the National Museum of Wales, who transformed the grounds into St. Fagans National Museum of History. Behind the castle are a reflecting pond and beautifully manicured gardens that would be perfect for a picnic.
Take a trip back in time to see these and over 30 other structures at St Fagans National Museum of History. Before going, check their website for special events and programs that are commonly held at the open air museum.
Location of St. Fagans
St. Fagans National Museum of History is located just four miles outside of Cardiff. For specific driving directions, please click on the map below. For satellite navigation purposes use the postcode CF5 6XB.
When I went to St. Fagans, I took the bus from Cardiff. You have 3 different bus options:
If you’re visiting the Welsh capital city of Cardiff, Cardiff Castle should be on your “must-see” list. The castle is a hit for people of all ages and interests. Children will love exploring the tunnels, the ruined motte and bailey castle, and the wide open spaces. Adults will enjoy touring the magnificent interiors of the Gothic mansion and experiencing what it was like to live in air raid shelters during World War II. The easiest way to visit the castle is to divide it up into three parts, each of which represents a different period of history.
The oldest part of the castle is a motte and bailey structure that was originally built by the Norman invaders of England all the way back in the 11th century. The year is 1066; William the Conqueror wins the Battle of Hastings and establishes himself as king of England. He needs to assert his power over the conquered English and Welsh people, so he builds a series of castles and fortifications across those lands. In Cardiff, he orders the construction of a wooden motte and bailey castle, which was later converted into a stone structure in the 12th century. The bailey, also called a keep, is located on top of the artificial hill. The lord and his family would live inside, and this keep would serve as a final defensive structure if the bailey was taken by attackers. The bailey is the lower courtyard, surrounded by a wooden palisade (later, a stone wall), where outbuildings, such as stables, kitchens, and storehouses, were located. In the 1400’s and 1500’s, Cardiff Castle was expanded beyond the motte and bailey to become a full-sized medieval castle with outer curtain walls as a means to prevent Welsh rebellions against the English crown. After the English Civil War, a garrison was established at the castle to protect against an invasion by the Scots. This military presence prevented Cardiff Castle from being destroyed, like many other fortifications, by Parliamentary forces led by Oliver Cromwell. During the early 19th century, the wealthy Marquesses of Bute inherited the castle, and the aristocratic family spent millions of pounds to remodel it into a Gothic fantasy mansion, to conduct archaeological work, to landscape the grounds, and to restore the motte and bailey castle to its 12th century design, which can still be seen today. Explore these medieval parts of the castle castle by taking a walk around the battlements and by climbing up into the Norman keep to see the ruined interior of the 12-sided structure and to take in the incredible views of the city.
Next up on our visit are the opulent interiors of the Gothic mansion. The third Marquess of Bute hired architect William Burges to redesign the castle into a stunning Gothic revival mansion. If you only have enough time to take one tour of the mansion, make it the 50 minute guided tour of the castle apartments, including the Guest Tower, the Arab Room with its incredible ceiling, the Chaucer Room filled with images from the works of the medieval author, the Nursery, the bedrooms full of religious imagery, the Library with its immense collection of books, and the armor-filled, two-story Banqueting Hall. For me, the highlights of this tour were the elaborately decorated, first on-suite bathroom in Cardiff and the gorgeously-mosaiced roof garden with its quirky fountain. The decoration of the mansion’s rooms is so elaborate that Cardiff Castle has been called a “three dimensional passport to fairy kingdoms and realms of gold” and the “most successful of all the fantasy castles of the nineteenth century.” If you have time, you can also take the 30 minute guided tour of the inside of the 150 foot tall clock tower to see the Marquess’ bachelor suite of rooms (which he used before he married), including a bedroom, servant’s room, and fantastical summer and winter smoking rooms.
The final stop is a trip down into the tunnels beneath the battlements. During the Second World War, the tunnels were used as air raid shelters for an estimated 1,800 citizens of Cardiff. The self-guided tour allows visitors to see recreated bunks, kitchens, toilets, and first aid posts and to experience, through the use of multimedia, what it was like for people to shelter in these tunnels from German bombs being dropped on the city around and above them.
A visit to Cardiff Castle is a trip back in time through Welsh and British history that the entire family will enjoy. For more information about the castle and for opening times and special events, visit their website.
Cardiff Castle is located on Castle St. in Cardiff. For specific driving or walking directions, click on the map below.
Nuremberg is a city filled with top-notch cultural, historic, and culinary sites. There’s so much to do in the city that Germans call “Nurnberg”, you might have a difficult time planning an itinerary. Don’t worry! I’ve done the on-site and online research for you. Here’s my list of the top seven places to visit in Nuremberg.
7. Craftsmen’s Courtyard (Handwerkerhof)
Although it looks medieval, the Craftsmen’s Courtyard was built in 1971 as a collection of half-timbered structures to house artisan’s shops, local restaurants, and pubs. The setting evokes a feeling of walking around a medieval courtyard, albeit a very touristy one. All of the artisans are locals, and many demonstrate their crafts for visitors inside their stops. We really enjoyed the woodworker’s shop and the “arts and craft’s shop,” especially the latter’s Christmas items. The Craftsmen’s Courtyard is located just inside the medieval city walls next to the Frauentor, one of four towers that once served as an entrance to the city. This website has a nice map of the courtyard and a list of the stores.
6. St. Lawrence Church (Lorenzkirche)
Located on Konigstrasse, the main pedestrian street in the old city, St. Lawrence Church was completed in 1477, and the main attraction here lays inside, suspended above the choir in front of the high altar. The Angelic Salutation is a carved wooden sculpture of the Annunciation of Mary, created by the German artist Veit Stoss in 1518. When seeing it for the first time, my initial thought was: “Wow! That’s made out of wood?!” The sculpture portrays the angel Gabriel bringing the news to the Virgin Mary that she is bearing the child Jesus. Surrounding the pair smaller angels ringing bells to joyously announce the news and medallions portray scenes from the life of Mary and Jesus. Be sure to walk around to the back to see the cascade of Mary’s hair and depictions of the sun and moon. During the Protestant reformation, many religious works of art were destroyed, but the Angelic Salutation was saved and preserved as it was seen as the private property of the Tucher family who paid for its creation. This amazing piece has remained on display for generations and provided artistic and spiritual inspiration to countless worshipers and visitors.
5. Hauptmarkt of Nuremberg
The Hauptmarkt is the main market square in the old city in Nuremberg. It’s located on Konigstrasse immediately in front of the Frauenkirche. All year long, the square is alive with vendors selling fresh fruits, beautiful flowers, souvenirs, and tasty treats. During the holiday season, the Hauptmarkt hosts Germany’s largest Christmas market. No matter the season, take a stroll around the square and sample the local produce and delicacies. Then walk across the Hauptmarkt to take a look at the gilded 14th centuary “Beautiful Fountain” (Schoner Brunnen). The fountain is built in the shape of a spire, and each level features significant people in history such as Moses, King Arthur, Julius Caesar, King David, and Charlemagne. You’ll also likely spot people turning two rings mounted to the fountain. Local legends states that spinning either of these brass rings brings the person good luck. Go ahead and give it a whirl. It definitely couldn’t hurt!
4. Tanner’s Lane
For one of the two best photo opportunities in the city, head over to Tanner’s Lane (Weissgerbergasse). Walk down the street until you reach house #35 and then turn around. In front of you are the best collection of half-timbered houses to survive the bombing of World War II. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that many houses feature a dark red colors in their beams. It’s oxen blood! Soaking the lumber in the blood of this work animals helps to prevent rot and termite damage. Take a photo and be sure to put that information in the caption to get everyone’s attention!
For another fun sight, cross the street and walk through the beer garden (Biergarten Kettensteg) to find the old iron footbridge (dated 1824) in Europe. It’s a chain bridge that allows pedestrians to cross over the river Pegnitz. The bridge has no particular name, so locals simply call it the pedestrian bridge (Steg) with chains (Ketten). Take a walk across just so you can say that you’ve crossed the oldest iron footbridge in Europe!
3. The Best Photo Opportunity in Nuremberg
For the best photo opportunity in Nuremberg, go across the chain bridges (as described above) and cross the island of Kettensteg. After you’ve crossed two bridges, take a left to walk up Pegnitzstufer which runs alongsidethe river. You’ll catch glimpses (and some nice photos) of the river and small waterfalls. You’ll be dumped onto a wider street called Untere Kreuzgasse. Take a right and walk up to the next major street, where you’ll take a left onto a bridge called Maxbrucke. Stop in the middle of the bridge and look down the river to see what is, in my opinion, the best view in town. What could be more picturesque than a medieval water tower, a covered bridge, the largest half-timber buildings in the city (a former hospital and wine cellar) and weeping willow trees, all in one photo!
2. The Imperial Castle (Kaiserburg) of Nuremberg
From 800 to 1806, Germany was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperors. Germany did not exist as a country but was rather divided into kingdom, duchies, principalities, counties, free imperial cities, and other domains, each of which having their own rulers. The Holy Roman Emperor, unlike other monarchs, was elected by the highest ranking nobles, called prince-electors, of the land. The emperor also has no capital city, but instead, travelled throughout the empire to hold court and dispense justice, staying at various castles in larger cities. Being a free imperial city and an economic powerhouse, the Imperial Castle at Nuremberg was one of those castles at which the Holy Roman Emperors spent time. A visit to the castle is a fascinating look back in time to understand how the Holy Roman Empire worked and how the emperors lived. A self guided tour will take you into recreated chambers used by the royal court where you’ll encounter both traditional displays and state of the art interactive multimedia terminals that allow you to explore topics to whatever depth of information you prefer. My fiancée, who isn’t nearly as interested in history as am, spent a great deal of time using the terminals and commented on how engaging they were. After your tour inside the castle, take a walk around the castle grounds for some great photos and be sure to check out the incredible city view from the front ramparts. When purchasing admission, I wouldn’t waste my money buying tickets to see the Deep Well. It’s not worth your money or time.
1. Eat at Bratwursthausle
You’re probably wondering why I choose a restaurant at my number one choice of what to do in Nuremberg. A visit here will explain exactly why. Bratwursthausle is a wonderful restaurant to enjoy the local Germany cuisne during all seasons of the year. If you’re visiting during warmer weather, be sure to sit outside on the lovely, street-side patio. If it’s too cold to site outside, enjoy the cozy interior that makes you feel like you’re eating in a big, old farmhouse. Whatever the case, you must order the local sausage, the tiny Nurnberger Bratwurst. Little Nurnbergers are my fiancée and mine favorite German sausage. At Bratwursthausle, they’re made in house by the restaurant’s butchers and are cooked over an open, beechwood fire. You can order them in groups of 6, 8, 10, or 12, and with traditional Germany side dishes such as sauerkraut, potato salad, pretzels and more. The restaurant has other items on the menu, but you absolutely must order Nurnbergers! Ever since eating them for the first time at Bratwursthausle, we continue to eat them at our local German sausage shop in Massachusetts. They’re absolutely delicious and are my favorite memory of Nuremberg!
Want dessert? Head over to Gelateria 4D on Konigstrasse. You’ll recognize it by the long lines of patrons and long counter of countless flavors.
Click on the map below to open up a Google My Maps with all of the locations above marked.
The Craftsmen’s Courtyard (Handwerkerhof) is the located Am Königstor.
St. Lawrence Church (Lorenzkirche) is located at Lorenzer Platz 1.
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: