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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Drachenfelsentour: Königswinter nach Rhöndorf – AllTrails.com
This describes the route for a point-to-point hike from Königswinter to Rhöndorf. It’s not exactly the same route that we took but its close.
- Schloss Drachenburg – Official Castle Drachenburg web site
- Drachenfelsbahn – web site for the historic cog railway to the top of Drachenfels
Where are we now?
Location: Drachenfels, Germany
Dates: January 28, 2020
Vagabonding Journey Status: Day 120
For more details on our vagabonding journey, see my previous posts:
- Day 117: Amsterdam Windmill Tour: The Zaanse Schans Windmill Village
- Day 107: Amsterdam Blog in Photos: Impressions from Amsterdam
- Day 106: Cappadocia Itinerary: How to Spend 3 Days in Cappadocia
- Day 106: The Pigeon Valley Trail: A Cappadocia Hiking Adventure
- Day 103: Cappadocia Balloon Ride: Sunrise over Göreme
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