Cologne Day Trip: Hiking to Drachenburg Castle on Dragon Rock

Last updated Jun 28, 2021 | Published on Feb 24, 2020
Castle Drachenburg

During a visit to Germany in early 2021, I decided to arrange a Cologne day trip to see some of the neighboring countryside. As luck would have it, our friend Tim is attending university near Cologne and offered to take me on one of his favorite hikes. He suggested that we climb Drachenfels (which means Dragon Rock in German) and visit the fairy tale castle Schloss Drachenburg along the way.

Located between the cities of Königswinter and Bad Honnef in the Siebengebirge mountains, Dragon Rock has long served as a source of inspiration for poets and artists. According to legend, Siegfried – the hero of a medieval epic poem – slayed a dragon living in Drachenfels thus giving the hill its name. Lord Byron’s poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage waxes poetic about the castled crag of Drachenfels and describes surrounding area with flowery imagery. Beethoven is also said to have gained inspiration for his music from wandering the hill. With such a storied an romantic history, I couldn’t wait to check it out for myself.

The view from Cologne Day Trip: Dragon Rock (Drachenfels) over the Rhine towards Bad Honnef

The view from Dragon Rock (Drachenfels) over the Rhine towards Bad Honnef

Beginning our Cologne Day Trip

Tim and I started our adventure at the Königswinter Train Station, which is an easy 45-minute train ride away from the Cologne Central station (Köln HBF). We opted to do a point-to-point hike from Königswinter to the Rhöndorf Railway Station. There are many trails throughout Drachenfels, so it is also possible to do a loop trail and return back to Königswinter. Another option is to hike to the top of Dragon Rock and take the historic Drachenfelsbahn cog railway train back to Königswinter – or to skip the hike altogether and take the train both ways.

From the Königswinter Train Station, it is about a 7-minutes walk to trailhead (exact directions provided below). The trail Nachtigallental, or nightingale valley, is a pleasant path that follows along a wooded valley and is popular with trail runners. The trail also passes entrances to some underground caves which are blocked from access.

After a short walk along the Nachtigallental, we took a side trail on the right uphill towards the castle.

Arriving at the Königswinter Train Station for our Cologne Day Trip

Arriving at the Königswinter Train Station

The Nachtigallental trailhead

The Nachtigallental trailhead

Hiking along the Nachtigallental

Hiking along the Nachtigallental

Entrance to an abandoned cave

Entrance to an abandoned cave

Drachenburg Castle (Schloss Drachenburg)

Before long, the  magnificent spires of Drachenburg Castle came into view. Constructed from 1882-1884, Drachenburg Castle is located halfway up Drachenfels hill and boasts spectacular views of the Rhine Valley below. We lucked out with the weather and I could see all the way to the Cologne Cathedral from the viewpoint next to the castle. We decided to skip touring the inside of the castle and contented ourselves with admiring it from outside.

View from Drachenburg Castle on our Cologne day trip

View from Drachenburg Castle. I can see all the way to Cologne! Bonn is the city on the left partially obscured by trees.

The Drachenfelsbahn (Drachenfels Railway) train stop at Drachenburg Castle

The Drachenfelsbahn (Drachenfels Railway) train stop at Drachenburg Castle

Drachenburg Castle: the fairy tale spires of Drachenburg Castle

View of Drachenburg Castle from a viewpoint up the trail.

Drachenfels (Dragon Rock)

Tim and I continued past Drachenburg Castle towards the top of the hill. There are several paths we could have chosen, but we elected to ascend Dragon Rock from the west side as the path has better views of the castle. As we neared the top, Tim pointed out some supports affixed to the top of the cliff to keep it in place. Apparently, the site is the location of an ancient quarry which weakened the structure of the hill and is now in danger of collapse. Interesting fact: the quarry provided building materials for the construction of the Cologne Cathedral.

We eventually made our way to the top of the Drachenfels and were treated to an absolutely stunning panoramic view of the Rhine River Valley. We had the summit essentially to ourselves, with only the crumbling remains of a 12th century castle for company. Apparently the viewpoint is extremely crowded on the weekends so I was glad that we came on a Tuesday.

Drachenburg Cliff reinforced to protect against collapse

Drachenburg Cliff reinforced to protect against collapse

Cologne day trip: Remnants of Burg Drachenfels from the 12th century

Remnants of Burg Drachenfels from the 12th century

Just hanging out on Dragon Rock during our Cologne Day trip

Just hanging out on Dragon Rock

Our Cologne Day Trip Comes to an End

After leaving the Drachenfels summit, Tim and I located the trail down the other side of the hill near the visitor’s center. We followed a series of switchbacks as we descended through the forest, with late afternoon sun bathing the trail in a golden glow. We eventually exited the trail in the village of Rhöndorf and were soon on the next train back to Cologne. Daniel was waiting for us at a local brauhaus and we celebrated our successful hike with a refreshing Kölsch.

The Drachenfels Visitor Center. A great place for a Cologne day trip.

The Drachenfels Visitor Center.

Hiking down the other side of Dragon Rock towards Rhöndorf Station

Hiking down the other side of Dragon Rock towards Rhöndorf Station

Trail marker!

Trail marker!

The sun lowers in the horizon as we reach Rhöndor

The sun lowers in the horizon as we reach Rhöndorf

The charming village of Rhöndorf

The charming village of Rhöndorf. Tim says the reason it’s so charming is because the area was not bombed during WWI and so the buildings are much older than other nearby cities.

Tim and I end our Cologne day trip by meeting with Daniel for a celebratory Kölsch back in Cologne

Tim and I end our Cologne day trip back in Cologne with Daniel for a celebratory Kölsch

Additional Cologne Day Trip Resources

Directions to the Trailhead

From the Königswinter Train Station, cross to other side of the railway station using the underground pedestrian tunnel. From there head south on Ladestraße street and then turn east on Ferdinand-Mülhens-Straße.  After passing under a major highway interchange, look for the trailhead for Nachtigallental trail.

The exact coordinates are plotted on the map below, as well as other major waypoints from my hike. Expand the map to see all the waypoints.

Pro Tip: when arranging a train from Cologne, be sure to download the DB Navigator App to your smartphone. This will allow you to search for train schedules and purchase mobile tickets online. I initially used a different train scheduling app which didn’t have all of the German local regional trains. Thankfully Tim clued me into DB Navigator or else I would have taken a wacky route to Königswinter that would have taken twice as long.

More Information

Where are we now?

img_24297658089493121787728.jpg

Tim and I are at Drachenfels (Dragon Rock)!

Location: Drachenfels, Germany
Dates: January 28, 2020
Vagabonding Journey Status: Day 120

For more details on our vagabonding journey, see my previous posts:

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Hi, I'm Unicorn!

I am an avid hiker, traveler, and adventurer who is on the mission to explore hiking trails around the world.  I’m also obsessed with National Parks, long-distance trails and other outdoorsy things.

I hope to share this knowledge with you and inspire you to explore new hiking trails too!

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8 Comments

  1. Björn Rettig

    my daughter lives in Bonn and attends university there.

    Reply
    • Unicorn

      Ha that’s awesome! I was so close to Bonn 😀

      Reply
  2. Pia - Dream and Wanderland

    That´s such a cool day trip! I only visited the castle during Christmas season! They usually have a very neat Christmas Market and the castle is lit up during nighttime, and actors going around dressed in the clothes of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol”, which the play live in the evening! It´s one of my favorite castles in the area!

    Reply
    • Unicorn

      Thanks Pia – that sounds amazing n😀😀

      Reply
  3. Emma

    This looks so impressive, Germany really does castles well! Adding to the list of fairytale castles I must visit

    Reply
    • Unicorn

      Thanks Emma!

      Reply
  4. Jen

    Okay this looks amazing 😍 love those views! I bet this would be so gorgeous whenever it’s at the peak for fall foliage!

    Reply
    • Unicorn

      Thanks Jen! I bet this hike would be gorgeous in the fall 😀

      Reply

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