Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess who met her Prince Charming. She was then whisked off to a beautiful castle where she lived happily ever after...

Everyone knows the stories, but it seems that the beautiful castles where beautiful princesses lived out their ever after days are, in fact, not a fantasy tale. These fairy tale castles exist and Germany seems to have quite an eclectic collection of them. From castles that inspired fairy tales to castles that would be right at home in them, Germany has more than its share of these fantastical relics...

Neuschwanstein Castle

NeuschwansteinMichael Helmer via Flickr.com/98420307@N05/ - CC by 2.0 (www.allgai.de)

Neuschwanstein Castle was commissioned to be the new home of Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1869. However, Ludwig II lived in the castle for just six months before he died in 1886 and, even though he had moved in, the castle was still far from complete. But even though the master of the castle was dead, construction pressed on all the way until its completion in 1892. The resulting castle combined elements of Romanesque, Gothic and Byzantine architecture. The fairy tale charm of the exterior is only complemented by the vast scenery of the Bavarian Alps. In the winter months, the views of the snow-capped mountains from the grounds are absolutely unbeatable.

While the exterior is grand in every definition of the word, the interior is stunning as well. The throne room is decorated with frescos of angels, although the king died before his throne was ever completed. The rest of the decor is medieval in style, with imagery that is inspired by the operas of Richard Wagner and the medieval legends.

Tours operate daily, and after a visit to Neuschwanstein Castle, travellers can climb the nearby Mount Tegelberg for outstanding mountain views or visit the other nearby fairy tale castle of Hohenschwangau, which Neuschwanstein overlooks from its mountaintop.

While gazing at the exterior of the castle, visitors may recognize something familiar about it. The castle served as the model for the castle in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. This has made Neuschwanstein Castle not just a fairy tale setting in and of itself, but an inspiration for them as well.

Hohenzollern Castle

castle 2Creativecommons.org/ playlight55

Located south of Stuttgart atop Hohenzollern Mountain is the massive Hohenzollern Castle, ancestral home to the Hohenzollern family. The Hohenzollern family emerged in the Middle Ages and eventually rose to become a line of German Emperors. Clearly, by the size, location and grandeur of their castle, they amassed some wealth during their time.

No one is sure when the castle was actually built, the date is long lost in antiquity, but the first reference appears in 1267. However, it was destroyed in 1423 after a 10-month siege from the imperial cities of Swabia, but was rebuilt again in 1454. That version fell into ruin after neglect, but it was Crown Prince Fredrick Wilhelm of Prussia, son of the previous Hohenzollern monarch, that rebuilt again in 1850. The castle is still owned by the ancient Hohenzollern family and it is open for tours and attracts som 300,000 visitors each year.

The family houses several historical artifacts within the castle walls, including the crown of Wilhelm II who is also buried at the castle. There are also the personal effects of King Fredrick the Great and a letter from United States President George Washington, thanking Baron von Steuben for his service in the Revolutionary War.

Hohenzollern Castle is considered one of the most iconic fairy tale castles in Germany, although it did not inspire the folks at Disney, like Neuschwanstein Castle. The castle was designed to match the architecture of a medieval lord's castle when it was rebuilt. The interior is simple and clean, with lavish tapestries and artwork lining the walls. After a visit to this castle, visitors should consider heading down the mountain to the nearby Roman Open Air Museum or wander the quaint village at the foot of the mountain.

Sigmaringen Castle

castle 3creativecommons.org/ François Philipp

The Sigmaringen Castle in the Baden-Wurttemberg region was built for the prestigious Sigmaringen family, which later became a branch of the previously-mentioned Hohenzollern family.

Unlike previous castles, Sigmaringen Castle was not built on a tall mountain, but rather a cliff that rises over the Danube River. This is yet another castle that has no official date of birth, but its name appears in the oldest records dating back to 1077.

The castle has been expanded on several times, leading to the masterpiece that visitors see today. The castle is and its beautifully maintained grounds look as though they belong in a fantasy novel. The Danube River adds a certain level of wonder to the landscape. Today, the castle is owned by a Karl Friedrich, a member of the Hohenzollern family, although he does not live there. Friedrich has thankfully left it open for tours.

The interior castle has remained the same over the years, primarily as it has become a bit of a museum for the Hohenzollern family and the medieval ages. They host an extensive weapons collection, containing 3,000 different examples of weapons and armor from not just the Middle Ages in Europe, but from Persia and Japan as well. This also includes rare objects like the 15th century multi-barrel gun, a body shield and a richly engraved helmet from 1622.

Aside from the weapons museum, there is also a Torture Museum, Pre and Ancient History Museum and the Royal Stables, which showcase a variety of different carriages from throughout the ages.

Eltz Castle

castle 4creativecommons.org/ mxgirl85

Nestled deep in the hills above the Moselle River in between Koblenz and Trier is the beautiful Eltz Castle. Unlike many of the fairy tale-esque castles in Germany, Eltz doesn't have any war wounds. The castle has served as home to 33 generations of the same family since it was built in the 12th century. Now three different families of the same blood call it home. The castle is split between occupation by the Rubenach, Rodendorf and Kempenich families, although only the portions occupied by Rubenach and Rodendorf families are open to the public.

As the castle is still occupied, the interior shows hints of the modern age, but the families have done their best to keep their ancestral home as elegant and timeless as possible. Practically every piece of furnishing is an antique, passed down through the families. However, Eltz lacks the abundance of historical artifacts that others retain, perhaps because it has never seen much in the way of what people consider "interesting" history.

Heidelberg Castle

castle 5creativecommons.org/ Ralf Schulze

Heidelberg Castle is part fairy tale marvel and, sadly, part ruin. From afar, it looks like a perfect massive castle made of golden sandstone, but upon closer inspection the wounds of the castle show.

It was once a Gothic masterpiece, but now much of the architecture is only barely recognizable. The castle was badly damaged in 1620 by Holy Roman Empire forces. After the war was settled, repairs were made to the castle, but only partial ones. After a while, it was doomed to decay into dust - until the 1800s when interest in this marvel was renewed. While many of the rooms still exist today, they are barren, showing what eventually happens after the fairy tale ends. However, while Heidelberg Castle will never return to its former glory, it still stands proud as a symbol to German Romanticism.

Visiting Castle Heidelberg has been a vacation-favourite, particularly among American tourists after it was featured by Mark Twain in his novel, Tramps Abroad. Allegedly, it was this castle that inspired a chapter of Huckleberry Finn as well.

Another interesting fact of note is that in the castle's wine cellar sits the biggest barrel in the world, which holds 55,345 gallons of ancient wine. The cask has yet to be tapped, but it is likely that someday curiosity will overcome mankind.

Hohenschwangau Castle

castle 6creativecommons.org/ NiJ0

While this Neo-Gothic giant was built in the 19th century and served as the childhood residence to Ludwig II of Bavaria. It was built by Ludwig's father, King Maximillian II of Bavaria, on the remains of the Schuangau fortress.

Like Neuschwanstein, the castle has since been fit with electricity and other modern amenities, but it remains true to its  heritage within. The interior is so ornate, with walls, paintings and frescos blending seamlessly.