The very best place to start exploring is Marktplatz, the town center of Bernkastel. This is the medieval heart of town and unanimously agreed to be among the best-preserved in Germany. Feast your eyes on row upon row of adorable, gabled, half-timbered houses dating back to the 17th century. There are many quaint cafés in this square; pick one you like and enjoy a traditional German breakfast of sausages, delicious breads, cold cuts, pastries and freshly brewed coffee.
At this point, you are already in the midst of the best-known landmarks of Bernkastel-Kues. The most photographed site in town is the Spitzhäuschen (Pointed House). Built in 1416, this half-timbered, pointed-roof building is among the oldest structures in Bernkastel and houses a small wine bar.
The next sight to see is the splendid Late Renaissance architecture of the Rathaus (Town Hall), whose period of construction is pegged at the late 13th century. Take your time to admire its basalt column, curved Baroque roof and the stone figure of Salvator carrying a globe.
Rathaus, Markt 30, Bernkastel-Kues, Germany, +49 6531 500190
A few steps away is the Graacher Tor (Graach Gate). Built in 1300, it is the last surviving gate of Bernkastel-Kues and connects Bernkastel with the tiny village of Graach. During its lifetime, it has protected the town from foreign invasions, been ravaged and reconstructed, served as a prison and housed the homeless. Today, a small museum dedicated to local history lies among its walls and displays weapons, coat of arms, flags, photos, illustrations and more.
Graacher Tor, Graacher Str. 3, Bernkastel-Kues, Germany, +49 6531 4659
A three-minute walk from Graacher Tor brings you to the starting point of Mosel cruises. Sign up for a romantic one-hour cruise that starts and finishes in Bernkastel Kues, and treats you to beautiful panoramas of vineyards and gabled houses en route. Cruise companies also offer longer cruises to Cochem or Trier, but if you only have one day in town, you’ll typically only have time for a shorter cruise (that’s big on the views however!).
Next stop is the ruins of the 9th-century hilltop Landshut Castle, that was once the home of the archbishops of Trier. If you’re feeling energetic, a great way to get your blood pumping is to hike uphill to the castle. However, be prepared for a very steep climb of about 750 meters (0.5 miles) through vineyards and forests. When you reach the top, reward yourself with sweeping views over the river valley and refreshing drinks at the castle beer garden. If you want to avoid the hike, hop aboard the vintage yellow bus that leaves from Marktplatz and drops you off at the castle gates.
Burg Landshut, Bernkastel-Kues, Germnay, +49 6531 972770
Once you make your way down to Marktplatz, you’re bound to feel hungry, especially if you chose to climb up to the castle. The Marktplatz really spoils you for choice when it comes to lunch. Try some pork knuckles, smoked Mosel eel, or traditional schnitzel (pork cutlet) with potato salad, and finish it off with a juicy slice of apple pie.
Cross the bridge to the other side of the river, and head towards St. Nikolaus Hospital (Cusanusstift), around 450 meters (0.3 miles) from Marktplatz. This hospital was founded in 1458 by Nicholas of Cusa to care for the poor. Nicholas of Cusa was born in Kues and was revered as one of the most significant German proponents of Renaissance humanism and for his mystical and spiritual writings. The hospital preserves a globally known collection of rare, ancient books, while the cellar of St. Nikolaus Hospital houses a vinotheque, where you’ll have the chance to try up to 160 varieties of wine!
At the multimedia Mosel Wein Museum (right next to the hospital), you are walked through the 2000-year-old history of Moselle, Germany’s oldest viticultural region and among the most significant in Europe.
Trace your way back to Marktplatz and spend a couple of pleasant hours browsing the quaint shops in the square, or do the very German thing of digging into delicious coffee and cake as you people-watch. To know more about the legend of Doctor Wine, you might want to sign up for a very special and interesting tour, called the Doctor-Wein-Tour. Remember though, the tour runs only on particular days of the year. Otherwise, may we suggest a stroll along the river?
For dinner, head to Doctor Weinstube, known for delicious German fare and wine, served in a beautifully restored 1668 building. It sort of goes without saying that Bernkastel-Kues isn’t famous for its pulsating night life, but there are many cozy bars and pubs in the Marktplatz, in case you wish to unwind over a refreshing drink or want to mingle with the locals.