Just 10 km away from the Bastei Rocks you will find the Königstein Castle, Germany’s largest fortification. Rising 240 meters above the river, the 24 acres rock plateau on which the fortress sits offers some of the most amazing views the Elbe Valley and the villages around.
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A Brief History of Königstein Castle
Königstein Castle (Festung Konigstein, in German) started in the early 13th century as a medieval fortress belonging to the Bohemian kingdom. In the 1400s the Saxon rulers conquered it and later transformed it into a monastery.
In the mid 1500s by the order of Augustus, Elector of Saxony, a deep well (152 m) was drilled through solid rock on the site. That created an important condition for the construction of a fortress. The conversion of the castle into a fortress was done in 1589 by Elector Christian I, who continually improved the old armoury and the fortress’s defense.
The Many Roles of Konigstein
Due to its strategic position no enemy ever attacked the fortress. That made Königstein Castle a sure retreat for the Saxon rulers who often fled behind its thick walls in times of crisis.
Because they considered it unconquerable, the Germans often used the fortress as a hiding place. As a result, they stored here the state treasure, the secret archives and many works of art from the Zwinger Palace during the times of war.
Königstein was for the most part a prison. Until 1922 it was the most feared state prison in Saxony. During the two world wars the fortress served as a prisoner of war camp for the French and Russian officers. Later on, the fort became a military hospital.
Konigstein Castle Today
In 1955 Festung Konigstein (Konigstein Castle) became a military and historical museum and has been since open to the public. The citadel is very well preserved and represents Saxony’s foremost tourist attractions, with 700,000 visitors per year.
The wall surrounding the fortress is 1.6 km long and 42 m high and was reinforced with palisades and watch towers. The enclosed area covers about 24 acres of wide green spaces, exhibitions and buildings.
There are currently around 50 buildings, some over 400 years old, displaying many types of architecture including the Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. The walk around the 2.2 km fortress wall offers breathtaking panoramic views of a large part of Saxon Switzerland.
Best Time to Visit the Castle
Visiting the Konigstein Castle is possible year round, even in the cold winter months. Summers are particularly busy here, as many locals visit Konigstein as a day trip from Dresden.
The best time to visit the castle is either in spring or in fall. We visited the fortress in late November, hoping to find less visitors around. Unfortunately, Königstein is one of the most visited castles in Germany and is therefore always crowded. It’s almost as busy as Neuschwanstein Castle. Trying to find the perfect moment for a picture is a real hassle.
How to Get to Königstein Castle
There is no parking around the fortress and the only motorized vehicles allowed are the tourist trains and the double-decker busses. Festung Express –a vintage-look double-decker bus– runs from the train station to just below the fortress entrance.
If you came to Königstein by car, there is parking is adjacent to the station where you can also buy your bus/train tickets.
You can also reach the castle on foot, from the center of Königstein town. The slope is quite steep, but the road is well maintained and marked. Hiking to Königstein Fortress takes about 40 minutes.
Once you reach the foot of the fortress, you’ll see an elevator that will take you to the top. The original access to the fortress was through a 16th century hoist that was replaced with a modern panorama elevator.
Tips for Visiting the Konigstein Castle
The castle sits on a high rock plateau which is mainly flat. You’ll need however comfortable shoes as the roads inside the fortress are paved with uneven rocks.
I strongly recommend renting an audio guide when visiting the Konigstein Castle. You’ll find out a lot of useful information about the history of the fortress and the historical context in which it was built.
There are several restaurants in the fortress, a beer garden and some food kiosks. Food is mostly local Saxon cuisine, pretty heavy and hearty (mostly pork and potatoes).
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