When visiting the Thuringian Forest in Central Germany, you sure need hiking boots to explore the many wonderful trails and vistas. But one location in particular demands more of a Sunday best.
After all, Altenstein Palace in Thuringia (Schloss Altenstein) is a grand estate with charming English gardens and historic architecture. Here’s what you need to know for your visit.
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Where in Germany is Altenstein Castle?
Germany consists of 16 states and the one most centrally located is called Thuringia. In it you find the Thuringian Forest, which basically divides the country geographically and climate-wise. In winter it has alpine climate (and hosts winter sports and Olympic Games)!
Germany’s Altenstein is located in the South-West of the Forest, on a slope from whence you can see far and wide into the surrounding area and – on a clear day – even as far as the Rhoen mountains. The palace is part of the spa town Bad Liebenstein in the Wartburg district of Thuringia.
Yes, you can totally visit on a quick trip from Eisenach and the Wartburg!
How do you get to Palace Altenstein?
From Gera, Weimar, Erfurt or Jena you can get to the A4 in the region, turn onto the L1025 towards Schweina and follow the signs. There are parking lots at the beginning of the park landscape and closer to the palace as well.
By public transport
The best thing to do is to take the train to Bad Liebenstein since it’ss connected to the rail network. Next, take bus 41 directly from Bad Liebenstein to Altenstein. Buses leave daily two to four times a day.
Alternatively, you can take the bus from Bad Salzungen to Schweina and change buses in town, taking number 41 to Altenstein.
Monday to Friday 11:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Saturday to Sunday 11:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Informationszentrum Förderverein Altenstein
36448 Bad Liebenstein
You can book guided tours at Altenstein Palace (but I presume they are in German) to go inside or attend cultural events. The monthly program can be viewed here. And yes, celebrating a wedding at Palace Altenstein is also possible.
Altenstein Castle Restaurant
If you want to round off your day trip to Altenstein in Thuringia, you can also take a seat in the onsite restaurant. Relax outside in the courtyard and eat hearty meals or enjoy coffee and cake.
There is also a snack bar, in case you just want a quick bite to go, such as the amazing Thuringian bratwurst (a must when in Thuringia!).
There is no hotel at Altenstein Castle. But in the town of Bad Liebenstein you can find numerous gorgeous accommodations in historic buildings.
Do you like art nouveau? Then take the beautiful Hotel Villa Rossek into consideration. Here, everything is super romantic, with red half-timbering, leaded glass windows and a terrace with mountain views.
The hotel offers apartments and double rooms with a fully equipped kitchen, including dishwasher and fridge. Breakfast is also provided. If you are travelling with children, the little ones can use the hotel’s children’s playground.
Plus, the hotel’s location is only a 40-minute walk from the palace. Reserve your room here*.
How about spending the night in a former town hall? Here too, you are right in the city centre and not far from the Park at Altenstein (4.4 km). I love that you get to book an apartment, which is great if you want to be self sufficient and cook for yourself.
Each apartment has a seating area, a flat-screen satellite TV, a well-equipped kitchenette with a dining area and a private bathroom. Book your stay here*.Booking.com
The castle as you see it now was actually built on top of a much older castle. Back in the 7th century, the fortress Steyn, nicknamed Alte Steyn, was built on the Tarres rock on the edge of the Thuringian Mountains.
It was built by the Frankish conquerors to mark their victory and later became a live-in castle. To cater to the change of purpose, it was rebuilt in the 14th century and a castle for the robber knights known as the “Dogs of Wenkheim”.
Sadly, it burned down in 1733, but was then replaced by Altenstein Castle at the end of the 19th century. However, the design did not retain any of the original form, as it was based on typical English country houses.
You can still see remnants of the original medieval building, such as parts of the round castle tower that served as an actual witch’s dungeon, the medieval cistern or the former residential tower.
Today’s palace design was created following the neo-Renaissance style and was based on the English mode. Building it took two years since the architects had to meet the many and extremely strict dictations of Duke George II. Having satisfied his wishes, it served as the summer residence of the Dukes of Saxe-Meiningen.
The Duke himself loved to indulge in his great love, the theatre. No wonder that Altenstein Castle soon became a popular gathering point for intellectuals, artists and musicians from all over. The great German composer, pianist, and conductor Johannes Brahms was a frequent visitor. To commemorate him, a memorial was established at Altenstein in 2017.
Unfortunately, the castle burned down yet again in 1982 (this time due to a defect in the electrical installation). The restoration of Altenstein Castle began in 1984, but only really commenced and was completed between 1995 and 2010.
The beautiful landscape park was created in 1798 and expanded three times throughout the centuries to adapt to the tastes of the respective times. The first phase of development was based on a classic sentimental garden design, which particularly valued regularity and symmetry of design.
The concept was then later expanded to include large-scale landscaping in the 19th century and got finally completed around 1900 with the many landscape details including intricate flower beds and different Romantic sculptures.
The famous Renaissance man Hermann von Pückler-Muskau was in charge of the concept together with Eduard Petzold and Peter Joseph Lenné. Altogether the Altensteiner Park measures 160 hectares now and offers many paths with romantic accents for casual strolls:
- Chinese cottage
- Devil’s Bridge
- Knights’ chapel
- Morning gate
- Ducal grave
- Altenstein cave
- Luisenthal waterfall
The many paths are easy to navigate and mostly even, so many parts of wheelchair accessible. To get to some of the higher vantage points and attractions at Altenstein Park, such as caves, the Devil’s Bridge or Knights’ Chapel, walking slopes or stairs is required.
But even from the even paths, you can enjoy wonderful vistas over the Werra valley and the Rhoen mountains from the many visual axes within the landscaping.
Fun fact: On the lawn in front of the castle of Altenstein you can find many local German tree species (marked on a special map to help you spot them) as well as a Redwood Tree! Not sure why that’s there. Probably a souvenir from the Duke.
Knights’ Chapel Devil’s Cave
One of the first park architecture details that were placed on the Altenstein complex was the chapel. George I had it built in 1789/9 and it was designed in a Gothic-inspired style. At first glance, it looks like it was used for religious purposes. It never was. Initially, it even had stained windows and a giant cross.
However, the real purpose was to romanticise medieval times, which can be seen through the objects inside. It used to house weapons and flags and was apparently also a meeting point for Freemasons.
You can find the the chapel behind Palace Altenstein on an outcrop of the mountainside. It’s locked but the view from here is definitely worth the climb. If you can’t be bothered to get up there, you can still see it from below. Plus, there’s a small cave.
As part of the second round during redesigning the park of Altenstein, some rocks and caves were converted into charming Romantic attractions. For example, the Devil’s Bridge at Altenstein Castle came to be to connect two free standing rocks and add some “edge” to it.
Also, the cave below was extended to appear to be a tunnel (yes, you can walk through it). It basically served as a very practical metaphor and depicts the Romantic notion of going from the darkness of the past into the light of the future.
The original chain bridge, which lacked a proper railing, can no longer be seen as it was replaced by a safer version. We Germans do love security measurements. When you’re up here, you can gaze as far as the Werra valley and spot the northern façade of the palace as well as the chapel.
The area at the side entrance to the castle is known as the pheasant trough. The name is pretty telling because that’s what it was: a place for the many free roaming gold and ring pheasants, turkeys as well as other birds to rehydrate.
It’s not a massively interesting thing to look at, but the historical context matters. The pheasantry was created at the request of Duke Georg II. However, pheasants no longer exist here. (For the time being. They are considering reintroducing them.)
In the past, the many high-class visitors used to like going on hunting outings around Park Altenstein. To make sure that it was a worthwhile attempt, pheasants were kept and bred directly on the property.
In addition to the many attractions at this castle in the Thuringian Forest, the forest itself is a worthwhile spot to explore. Besides the many trails all over the park, you can continue onward along the Rennsteig, which is one of the most popular hiking trails in Germany.
After all, the Thuringian Forest is mainly known for hiking (and winter sports) and hiking you can do throughout all four seasons. It really is always beautiful and there are different levels of difficulty, but nothing really dramatically difficult. Unless you participate in a run. Those are tough!
If you are traveling by car, you can also stop by the Inselsberg, the highest point in the west of the Thuringian Forest. The restaurant here is awesome and serves amazing German cuisine with glorious views!
You can find a hiking map for the Luther Trail along Altenstein Castle and Park here.
• Length of the route: 22 km
• Walking time without a break: 5 hours 38 minutes.
More sightseeing tips in Germany here:
- Where to find the best Christmas markets ON CASTLES in Thuringia
- Where to eat in the nearby state capital of Erfurt
- What to expect when travelling the Rhoen mountains
- Taking an old-fashioned steam train in the Ore Mountains
- The 7 Wonders of Jena City and 50 Attractions