Day 12- Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle
When you think of Fairytale Castles, what springs to mind? Does it look anything like this?
And did you know that the Disney Castle is based upon an ACTUAL real-life castle? That you can visit. In Germany. This isn’t the ENTIRE reason for our visit to Germany AT ALL…
(Ok, I’m totally lying. This is absolutely the reason I have dragged my family all the way to Germany. I want to see the pretty Disney Castle. Don’t judge me.)
Legend has it (how long does a story have to last before it becomes a legend??) that Mr Walt Disney saw Neuschwanstein Castle and instantly fell in love with it. He visited the Castle with his wife and shortly afterwards the Sleeping Beauty castle appeared and has been part of our social fabric ever since. Cinderella’s castle also bears a striking resemblance to Neuschwanstein. Just saying.
I’m not sure when I became aware that the Castle was a real place. Probably not that long ago and it likely involved Instagram, (talking of which, are you following me on Instagram? If not, you can fix that by clicking here!), but ever since I’ve been desperately wanting to come and see it for myself. And now we’re here!
I put together this guide so you can discover whether Neuschwanstein Castle really lives up to the hype, how best to visit the Castle, what NOT to do (you didn’t think this visit was going to go smoothly, did you!?!), and tips & tricks we discovered during our visit to arguably one of the most famous tourist attractions in Germany.
If you’re looking for other inspiring castles (and really, who isn’t?) here are some other posts you should check out:
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Why visit Neuschwanstein Castle?
Uh, duh. Did you NOT see the pretty picture? You want more??!! Ok fine. How about this one?
Apart from the obvious beauty, it’s actually a really good castle to visit, even if you know NOTHING about the history. I can say this with certainty because when we arrived we knew NOTHING about anything. Heck, I’d barely even heard of Mad King Ludwig II (the man who built Neuschwanstein.)
When to visit Neuschwanstein Castle?
Over 1.5 MILLION people visited Neuschwanstein Castle in 2017. 1.5 MILLION. That’s a heck of a lot of people. And honestly, the castle isn’t that big. From what I’ve heard (and read), do NOT visit between the months of June-September if you can possibly help it. Or unless you like crowds. Having said that, if your only option is to visit in high season or not visit at all, then visit. Seriously, this is one of the few places we’ve been that I’d come back to and stand in a massive crowd for. It’s THAT good. (Sorry, spoiler alert! I guess that answer the ‘hype’ question.)
Reasons to visit Neuschwanstein Castle in the Spring
Honestly, we didn’t deliberately plan to visit in the Spring. It’s just when the holidays worked out. As our entire summer is taken up with Norway and Scandinavia, (WHOOP!) we only had the opportunity to explore Germany in the Easter holidays, which this year fell at the beginning of April. Having said that, we feel it’s a perfect time to visit. Here’s why:
- The crowds haven’t really kicked in yet
- The weather has a good chance of being warm. We were there in April and it was 19 degrees C and sunny.
- The spring flowers are BEAUTIFUL
- There’s more chance of getting a campsite nearby- or a hotel if you’re not in a van.
- The staff and employees all over the area haven’t yet get sick of tourists. They’re genuinely smiley and helpful. I admit we haven’t been at the end of the summer, but I would expect those smiles to be slightly more strained.
- The forests are at their best. We walked back through the woods down the hill (more on that later) and it was just gorgeous.
Where to stay when you visit Neuschwanstein Castle
As we mentioned in our last post, we stayed at a Campsite in Schwangau, about a 5-minute drive away from the Castle parking zones. If you’re not in a van, the best place to stay is Füssen- the closest town and a really pretty place to visit. We highly recommend staying overnight the night before you want to visit the Castle, as we believe the best time to go is in the morning. First thing in the morning. Like, as early as you possibly can. So getting a place to stay the night before is a great idea. Füssen has lots of hotels, B&B’s etc and is easily reached by car, train or organised tour from Munich. If you want more info on that, here’s a great post to help you get from Munich to Neuschwanstein Castle. It’s also easy to get a bus from Füssen up to Schwangau (which is where the Castle is).
Neuschwanstein Castle- the history
What I didn’t really realise until we arrived (I must learn to research places better) is that there are actually TWO castles. Yep, two proper castles within about half a mile of each other. It’s an impressive sight.
The yellow one is called Hohenschwangau and was the childhood home of King Ludwig II. I love the saying that “Hohenschwangau was his reality, but Neuschwanstein was his fantasy.”
For those who don’t know, King Ludwig II was King of Bavaria. He actually became King on his 18th Birthday in 1864 and started building castles almost immediately. He was young, fanciful and full of ‘childish enthusiasm’ with grand ideas of what the monarchy should be. Unfortunately for the young King, he was living in a time of War, and the role of the monarchy was changing rapidly. He had been bought up to believe in elitism and ‘King by the grace of God’, but those were no longer the feelings of his people or the countries around him. His role was actually mainly ceremonial, with very little power.
To combat this, the King began to build fantastic & imposing castles. As well as Neuschwanstein, he is responsible for the building of Schloss Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee, which was to be a partial replica of the Palace of Versailles. He also constructed a royal apartment in Munich and had plans for many other elaborate creations.
More on the history later, let’s concentrate on how you can see it!
Neuschwanstein Castle- planning your visit
The first thing to know- your entrance into the castle is timed. At the bottom of the hill, near Car Park 4 which is where the horse and carrgo goes from, there is a ticket office. Do NOT climb up the hill without a ticket unless you don’t want to see inside, as you can’t buy a ticket up there.
Each ticket has a time on it, and the tours are available in many languages. English tours went roughly every half an hour and I assume that’s the same for most of the languages (I believe the languages offered varies, depending on staff availability. English & German are always available.) TIP: Factor in your time to get UP the hill when you’re choosing your tour time– it takes longer than you think, especially if the buses aren’t running, which they weren’t during our visit at the beginning of April (more on choosing a ticket time below.) You can (and in the summer definitely SHOULD) book your tickets in advance to ensure you get the time slot you want. Click HERE for the official website.)
Neuschwanstein Castle is open all year except for Christmas/ New Year, but opening times vary. Check their website for full details and more information. In 2018 ticket prices were 13€/ adult, under 18s free. You can also buy a combined ticket for entrance to some of Ludwig’s other castles too- check the website for full information.
How to get up the hill
There are three possible ways:
- Bus (if it’s running!)
- Horse and Cart
We wanted to take the bus, which costs 1.80€ (tickets can be bought on the bus) but, due to maintenance, they weren’t running that day. I don’t know if this is normal in the Spring or not. Instead, we took the horse & carriage (6€/pp) which we thought would be a fun experience. Heck, I even sweet-talked one of the drivers (is that the right word??) to let us sit up front with him.
Let me tell you something which will serve you well for the rest of your life– NEVER sit behind a horse. Never, ever, ever. Apart from watching the poor things sweating & straining to cart (see what I did there?) us all up the very steep hill, they repeatedly broke wind. Loudly & smellily. And one of them let go much more than that, right in front of our EYES! It was quite frankly not an experience I would rush to repeat. Having said that, it is a VERY steep hill and I have no wish to ever walk up it, although lots of people do.
In total, we queued for about 20-30 minutes at the bottom of the hill and the journey up took about 15 minutes. So allow at least long between buying your tickets and the tour time.
Marienbrücke (Mary’s Bridge)
First question- do you want this photo?
No, not MY photo, (although by all means pin it to your board!) but do you want a photo of you in this location?? Full disclosure, to get this, you have to go onto a wooden bridge, above a high gorge. Some people may not enjoy that. On the other hand, look at the photo!! You’ll be Insta-famous in no time. (Don’t look too closely. I’m squinting into the sun and have frown lines…)
So, if you want this photo, go to the bridge FIRST. As early in the morning as you can. The bridge is called Marienbrücke (Mary’s Bridge) and is just above the Castle. I believe the bus actually has a drop off point near there.
Plan your tour time around spending half an hour or so first doing the ‘bridge shot’. From the main drop off area at the top of the hill, follow the sign for the bridge. If you can’t see them, walk up towards the castle. About halfway up, right next to the castle on the right, you’ll see a metal gate with a ‘no-entry’ sign on it. If the gate is open, you’re good to go through. The sign is for when it’s locked. Walk through here and follow the path for about 10 minutes. It’s a fairly steep climb (SPOILER- the whole thing is a fairly steep climb) so take breaks and allow extra time if you think you’ll need it.
Eventually, the signs will point you up to the left, where you’ll find the bridge. If you’ve done this all correctly, you should be here first thing in the morning with VERY few people. Therefore, you can take as many photos as you like without being jostled, pushed and tutted at. If you’re anything like me, it takes about 30 photos before I figure out how not to look like a dork. And even then I don’t always manage it. See above photo as proof. If we went again we would DEFINITELY do the bridge first, as by the time we went it was pretty busy. And in the summer it gets CRAZY busy! I’m not sure I’d want to go onto that bridge with a huge jostling crowd on it.
What to wear
You’re going to be doing a LOT of walking. Up a mountain. This is not the time for style (or heels.) Wear sensible shoes and comfy clothing. (Honestly, this is my motto for most of my travelling. I’ve never really learnt how to do comfy & stylish. If you’ve sussed it, please send tips!) You can bring water bottles into the castle but expect your bag to be checked on arrival at the top. I’d also recommend a hat if it’s sunny as there’s very little shade. NOTE: You cannot take rucksacks, pushchairs, prams, child carriers or any other ‘bulky’ items into the castle. Pushchairs can be left outside but everything else should be left in your car.
Reduced Mobility visitors
You cannot drive your car up to the castle, even if you have reduced mobility. They ask you to book your tickets at least 48 hours in advance and give them notice that you require additional assistance. Manual wheelchairs can be taken on the horse-drawn carriage, but it’s a STEEP climb after that (at least 15%). I’m told the buses have a lowering floor, but they don’t take you all the way to the entrance. Apparently, there is a special taxi which can help you but it needs to be taken up the hill before 10am, and they’re not clear on how you would get back down again as the taxi is not allowed up the mountain after 1oam. I think the safest thing to do would be contact them in advance to get clear assistance.
Entrance into the Castle
So, to recap, you should have allowed yourself at least 90 minutes to get up the hill, go to the bridge, take photos/ wander around/ gawk at the incredible building above you. MAKE SURE you don’t miss the allocated time on your ticket. It is not a suggestion. If you are not there within 3 minutes of your time, you won’t be allowed in. And there are no refunds.
Cameras/ videos are forbidden within the castle. Which is a shame as the interior is stunning. I got my phone out to check the time and inexplicably these appeared in my camera roll. Seriously, I have no idea what happened…
(TIP- if they see you with your camera or phone out, they will shout. There are guards pretty much everywhere and angry shouty Germans are very scary. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
Neuschwanstein Castle- the tour
The tour is actually very quick, no more than 35 minutes. The guides are also on a strict schedule, so there’s no time to ask questions or look at anything more closely as you go round, which is a bit of a shame. Having said that, we’re not fans of long, drawn out tours, so it was pretty good for us. And there are so many incredible things to see- including a full on grotto! King Ludwig actually built a fairy grotto in his castle. Give that man some respect! Alas, I have no photos, so you’ll need to go see that for yourself.
Ludwig & Richard Wagner
King Ludwig was a dedicated patron of the opera composer Richard Wagner. Some say his support is the only reason we have heard of Wagner today. Ludwig chose to decorate Neuschwanstein with images of the medieval legends on which Wagner based his operas. The artwork and detail around the rooms is quite frankly staggering and incredibly beautiful. It’s such a shame it was never finished… but then Bavaria would have gone BOOM. Let me explain.
Neuschwanstein Castle- the cost of building
Ludwig started construction on Neuschwanstein castle in 1869, as well as several other projects, and almost immediately the bills spiralled out of control. Indeed, he spent money so fast and so thoughtlessly that he almost bankrupted the Kingdom of Bavaria. With only 15 out of the 60 rooms completed, Ludwig found himself the equivalent of 8 million USD in debt. In 1885, with the castle not even half finished, the banks threatened to take it all away.
In June 1886, in what appears to be a desperate attempt to stop his spending, King Ludwig was declared ‘insane’ and taken away to Berg Palace in Munich. Less than 24 hours later, he was found dead in a lake, despite being an excellent swimmer.
No-one ever determined the cause of his death and the Royal Family have refused all requests to exhume the body to find out. They started to call him ‘Mad’ King Ludwig but I don’t believe he was. I think he was just a sad, lonely, flamboyant and probably gay young man whose only escapism was dreaming up incredible & foolhardy buildings for himself to enjoy.
The sad thing is that the castle which almost bankrupted the country is now one of it’s most successful and lucrative tourist attractions. Less than 7 weeks after Ludwig’s death, the castle was opened to visitors as a tourist attraction. It has never been finished.
Where to eat
We didn’t see a cafe in Neuschwanstein itself, but there were a couple just outside at the top of the hill. As you might expect, these are expensive. There are LOADS at the bottom of the hill near P4. Seriously, it’s an entire street full of eating establishments and tourist shops. DO NOT go to the first cafe on the corner by the horse & carriage. I mean, you can- it was nice enough, but the menu was very limited, the service was ‘meh’ and the price was extortionate. 85€ for 3 of us for lunch!!! With no alcohol and only one course. Crazy prices. If we’d only used our brains (which I admit were a little tired & sun-addled at this point) we’d have walked 50m further down the road and found somewhere better. I predict the prices here are all pretty steep, but we fancied Bratwurst and there was a nice looking stall we passed as we drove out (after our expensive lunch), which would probably have been cheaper and more satisfying.
Here’s a rough timeline of our visit to Neuschwanstein, so you can plan your own visit:
- 08:30 Arrived at P4 car park (we had to go into the bus car park as we were too long for the Motorhome area)
- 08:35 Walked the 2 minutes to the ticket office and queued for about 4-5 minutes for tickets. We hadn’t booked in advance.
- 08:58 (exact time on my photos!) got into Horse & Carriage
- 09:14 arrived at top of the hill… and then realised we still had to walk UP. This took us about 20 minutes as we took lots of photos and Jade is the world’s slowest walker. Seriously.
- Our tour was at 10:45 so we spent an hour walking around the exterior taking photos. We didn’t go to Marienbrücke bridge first- but we should have!
- 10:45 When our tour was called we entered through the automatic turnstile which scans your ticket; then met by our guide who handed out earpieces so we could hear him without him having to shout.
- 11:20 Tour finished. We walked up to Mariensbrucke bridge
- 11:45 At bridge. Spent some time taking photos. Decided to walk all the way back down the hill and save the poor horses in the heat. Was a lovely walk on a proper path, but it’s a little steep in places.
- 12:20 Arrived back in Schwangau. Had lunch. Fainted at cost. Tried to stop Jade going into EVERY SINGLE tourist shop.
Some people can climb the hill in 20 minutes apparently… I am in awe of them. I reckon you could definitely shave 10/15 minutes off all our ‘walking time’ if you were in a rush. But it’s a lovely place to take your time and enjoy the atmosphere- especially on a beautiful warm Spring day. Which is another point- try and visit on a clear, sunny day if at all possible. The pictures look so much better and I think you’ll enjoy it more.
You can also visit Hohenschwangau castle on the same day as Neuschwanstein. Additional fees apply (unless you bought a combined ticket) and it’s an easy (by comparison!) walk from P4. Admittedly, we didn’t visit it- I know my family and there’s only so much walking/ castles they can do in a day before I get lynched. Travelling as a group means compromises need to be made… and in this case it was Hohenschwangau. People have told me that it’s worth a visit if you particularly enjoy architecture or old buildings, as the tour is longer and more in-depth, but it pales in comparison to Neuschwanstein. If you’ve been, let me know what you thought of it.
Neuschwanstein Castle- Fun facts
- ‘Neuschwanstein’ means ‘New Swan Stone Castle’
- The castle was state of the art. Ludwig even had telephone lines installed.
- There was hot air central heating
- The kitchen had hot & cold running water
- The toilets had automatic flushes
- The walls are normal brick, with the white colour coming from Limestone cladding, which needs regularly replacing. That’s why many photos of Neuschwanstein have some sort of scaffolding in them.
- The building is not stable and has to be monitored constantly for movement. (Uh, OK, I’ve just found this out. Ummm……!!)
- Over 6000 people visit every day in summer
- The second floor and many rooms are still unfinished
- There was NEVER a throne in the throne room.
- Ludwig only lived in Neuschwanstein for 6 months before his death
Having just re-read that list, I think I need to work on my definition of ‘fun’ facts…!
Have you ever visited Neuschwanstein? Would you like to? Let me know in the comments below- I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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