CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FORTE
A place to hike.
+ Two castles.
+ Unesco World Heritage Site
+ And if you time it right, even a water show!
= Put it all together and you have a perfect destination for a day trip about two hours north of Frankfurt.
Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe sits proudly on a giant hillside, visible from many kilometers away, sitting like a sentinel watching over the city below. Topping it all Hercules stands atop his tower casually appraising the scene below his Greek feet.
This park is Europe’s largest parks on a hillside or mountain with places to visit sprinkled up and down the hillside. When we visited we parked at the bottom of the hill, hiked up and then back down, taking time to admire the scenes and monuments along the way. We were there about half a day and definitely didn’t see it all.
There are three main highlight buildings in the enormous park: Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, the Hercules monument, and Löwenburg. The park and monument were together made UNESCO World Heritage sites in the summer of 2013.
Starting at the bottom of the hill is Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, which is now an art museum. We parked at the nearby Schlosshotel Bad Wilhelmshöhe (parking information below). We didn’t go into the museum, but admired the building from the outside. If you have the time to spend a whole day at this park, you could add a visit to the inside of the museum. It has its own cafeteria if you’re getting hungry.
The Schloss (palace) was designed to fit into the park and was actually built after the Hercules Monument. During WWII a bomb destroyed part of the building and it was reconstructed to be a museum instead of a palace. The museum holds antiques, paintings, prints and drawings.
From Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, your eyes are immediately drawn straight up the hill to the Hercules monument. If you are ready to get your hike on, lace up your shoes and start hiking! It’s easy to orient yourself. You can choose trails to the right or left of the axis that leads from the Schloss to the Monument. Some of them cross through the center to get a great view both up and down the hillside.
If you stay to the right side of the center axis on your way up, you will see many interesting small buildings and well-designed gardens, small streams, an aqueduct and some small waterfalls. On the left side, you can see more extensive waterfalls and Löwenberg castle ruins. We choose to travel up the right side and then come down on the other side of the central axis.
At the very top is the Hercules Monument and the cascades coming down. The cascades only run on Wednesdays, Sundays and public holidays. The water is collected at reservoirs at the top at of hill and gravity pumps the water through its courses. I wish we could have seen the water features in action, but we weren’t there on the right day of the week. For more information on the water show, please see below.
We visited on a very hot-for-Germany day in the 90s (Fahrenheit) and the hike was sweaty. Be sure to bring some water! The idea of making it to the top and the visual reminder of where you are heading kept us moving forward – and UP!
At the top of it all is Hercules. He’s sitting on a huge tower with a massive base. If you’d like, you can pay a few euro and climb to the top of the tower. We decided we could see pretty much everything from the base of the tower and perhaps we’d had enough climbing. This part was also partially under reconstruction when we visited.
The view from here is very impressive; you can look all the way down to Schloss Wilhelmshöhe and then out to the city of Kassel. Beyond that you can see the hills surrounding the area. A nature park also surrounds Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, so the entire area is incredible! At the top there was a vendor selling much-appreciated cold drinks and ice cream treats. There was also a restaurant for those who have worked up a bigger appetite.
We took the long route back down, and took some of the longer trails going into the nature park. We were also excited to visit Löwenburg on our way down. Löwenburg was built in 1793 to be a castle ruin. Yep, you read right, it was designed to be a ruin! Landgrave Wilhelm IX built the castle as his private retreat and his burial site.
Löwenburg was built in the 18th century, when castle ruins were seen as romantic (kind of like today). Although it was built to look like ruins, there were royal apartments built and the prince and family spent time in this retreat. We enjoyed viewing the castle from the outside and didn’t take the tour. You can walk around the castle, including the courtyard, and the small gift shop for free.
After visiting Löwenburg we walked back to Schloss Wilhelmshöhe and on to our car. We really enjoyed our entire time here and marveled that we are the only people we know who have been here. It’s a very impressive park, with lots to do. We highly suggest it!
Tips For Your Trip:
The two best options are at the top and bottom of the park. We parked at the Schlosshotel Bad Wilhelmshöhe . The parking was around the hotel grounds and on a ticket system. We paid at the hotel’s front desk before leaving. The hotel looked very elegant! We chose this options since we preferred to climb first and then stroll down.
Address for your GPS:
Schlosshotel Bad Wilhelmshöhe
Another bottom of the hill option is a parking garage underneath Schloss Wilhelmshöhe.
Address for your GPS:
The other option is to park at the top near the Hercules Monument, near the Herkules Terrassen, the restaurant named for the monument. This option would let you start at the top and see down into the park. If you didn’t want to hike through the whole park, but wanted to see everything from up high, this would be a great choice. Remember if you hike down, you’ll have to hike back up to get to your car!
Address for your GPS:
Schloßpark Wilhelmshöhe 26
Schloss Wilhelmshöhe Museum
Tuesday – Sunday & German holidays: 1000-1700
Closed on December 24, 25 & 31
Limited hours on December 26 and January 1
Children under 18: Free
Water Cascade Show
1 May – 3 October
Wednesdays, Sundays, public holidays
The water starts at the Hercules Monument at 1430
As the water flows down, other features spring into action:
1505: Steinhöfer Waterfall
1520: Teufelsbrücje (Devil’s Bridge)
1545: Grand Fountain near Schloss Wilhelmshöhe
On the first Saturday of the month, from June – September, they also hold an illuminated water show. See the park’s website for specific times.
March 1 to November 15:
Tuesday – Sunday and holidays
November 16 to February 28:
Friday – Sunday and holidays: 1000 – 1600
Visits the inside by guided tour only (in German). Guided tours on the hour.
Children under 18: Free
Walking around the grounds, including the courtyard is free for all.