PLASSENBURG CASTLE | DAY TRIP
Updated: May 14, 2020
On a lazy Sunday, we drove to the town of Kulmbach. From the parking lot, we can see the Plassenburg Castle, looming above us. This blog post is a guide to visiting the castle.
The castle consists of a cafe, gift shop, and four museums: Museum of the Upper Main Region, German Tin Figure Museum, Frederick the Great Army Museum, and Hohenzollern in Franconia.
Getting There + Parking
From our house, there aren’t any main roads to Kulmbach, so it’s a winding and lovely drive through multiple small towns. It’s an easy day trip from Grafenwöhr — a little over one hour.
There is free parking on a lot about 10 minutes from the town center, and about a 15 minute walk to the castle. If you put in “Parkplatz Schwedensteg” in your GPS, it will put you right there. It’s a large lot at the base of the castle hill, and even has a little bathroom hut near the road.
On the screenshot below, you’ll see the parking lot marked on the upper middle, the castle to the southeast, and the town to the southwest. The bathroom hut is located on that little road near the intersection of Schwedensteg and Pörbitscher Weg.
There is handicap parking at the castle, but you need to drive up and ring the bell at the barrier. We also saw several cars parked on the side of the road in front of the castle walls on the grass, but I would assume that’s not condoned.
Plassenburg Castle Entrance + Admission
There are two options for getting up this hill: walk or take the Plassenburg Express. In the Summer, it runs every half hour, and winter every hour. It’s about 3 euro round trip for adults, and 1.60 for children. The linked page contains timetables and group rates. Near the bathroom hut across the street, there’s a sign for it which I believe is its bus stop?
We chose to walk, and it was STEEP. There is a paved side walk and it’s totally doable, but I was huffing and puffing by the end.
There are a series of archways and courtyards before you reach the main entrance, which is in the far left corner of the castle courtyard.
Admission is listed on their website here, and we chose to buy a 7 euro each ticket for all four museums. Although you can chose to buy a cheaper ticket for only the Museum of the Upper Main Region and Frederick the Great Army Museum. Children/students under 18 are free.
We had never seen this before, but the entrance to the museums are provided by several cards. You take one card and insert it into a turn style, and you can precede one by one. If you’ve been to other palaces (like the one in Bayreuth), you’ve probably experienced this.
Plassenburg Castle Museums
Museum of the Upper Main Region
In German, this is the Landschaftsmuseum Obermain Museum. It is a large museum, and one could spend several hours here. All of the information is in German, but there is still a ton to look at (I usually use my Google Translate app if something looks specifically intriguing).
It covers the history of the castle and its ownership, the development of the town of Kulmbach, and has a lot of artifacts and displays. It goes so far back as prehistoric times, with sections about geology, biology, and archaeology. We especially enjoyed a large room filled with insect specimens — every type of beetle and butterfly you can imagine.
You’re led up stairs and outdoors and indoors again, but you will eventually find the special exhibition space. When we visited, it was a large exhibit about everything terrifying: werewolves, zombies, witchcraft, ghosts, torture, etc. I was super creeped out by it, so wouldn’t recommend bringing children to this portion.
The gem of this museum is the Ebstorfer World Map. It’s a floor to ceiling, hand stitched, illustrated, map created in the late 13th century. The original was destroyed in WWII, and only three copies were ever made. I recently read a book about Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, and this map was mentioned as an example of a Medieval world view of the Universe. If you look at the at each of the the cardinal directions, you'll see a head, hands and feet. This is the body of Christ, and the world is represented as being contained within his body. Da Vinci believed that if he understood the body, he could understand God and the Universe. Taking popular belief one step further, Da Vinci saw the human body as essentially a microcosm of the Universe. Here, you can see how this shift in mindset wasn't hard to make. The map shows the world contained within a circle (an etherial shape) which is contained within a man.
Frederick the Great Army Museum
The castle boasts one of the largest collections of Prussian military artifacts, dating from between 1700 and 1806. It’s a large hall, and has a ton of flags, weapons, personal effects, portraits, and clothing.
When you enter, there is a stand with informational booklets in other languages.
It’s through this museum that you wander into the next, the Hohenzollern in Franconia Museum.
Hohenzollern in Franconia Museum
I believe this is a two-part museum. With a guided tour (in German), you can be led up some secret stairs to another part of the museum. We latched on to a tour group, and the guide was kind enough to let us walk around independent of his tour. There were some models of the castle and a lot of portraits and tapestries, but I found the artifacts in the lower portion just as satisfying.
The artifacts downstairs in the main portion are from the 16th century, and give a glimpse into royal life. There is an impressive bed, chairs, furniture, and a handful of portraits and busts.
The German Tin Figure Museum
To find this museum, you need to leave the first building and walk across the courtyard to the opposite side. We did not have time to visit this museum, but it sounds pretty cool.
It’s the largest collection of tin figures in the world (300,000), and has the largest diorama featuring almost 20,000 figures alone. This is a German tradition, and the over 150 dioramas depict historical events and battles, but also fairy tales and other adventures. The castle even holds tin figure fairs and hosted an International Tin Figure and Diorama Competition.
Afternoon in Kulmbach
A short walk downhill from the castle, you’ll see signs for the town of Kulmbach. It first appeared in documents from 1028, and has had a long and tumultuous past (i.e. basically everywhere in Europe). Even on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, there were several shops and restaurants open for us to see.
When you eat in Kulmbach, there are several things to note. They are famous for the Kulmbacher Bratwurst, which is mostly veal and according to my husband is v. delicious. The Kulmbacher brewery is famous around Bavaria; their beer the EKU 28 was notably the strongest beer in the world for several years. While we chose to eat local specialities at Zunftstube, there are lots of other eating options and cafes around the town square.
Kulmbach Tourism Office
The city tourism office has an extensive ‘city guide’ on their website, here. I plan to do this guide myself and write about it in the future.
The town hosts a number of events each year, including a Medieval Market, Beer Week and Advent Festival. You can see the full list on the tourism website, here.
Let’s Go Again!
We really enjoyed our afternoon at the Plassenburg Castle and Kulmbach. We could have even spent more time at the museum, and look forward to doing a self-guided walking tour of the town using the map above. I would like to visit again to see the Brewery and Bakery Museum, as well as the Medieval Market.
This is a great outing to do on a rainy day, since you could spend hours indoors at the castle.