Probably everybody living in the Western Hemisphere is familiar with the image of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle created by Disney. Yet not everyone knows, it’s not pure fiction. Disney had found inspiration in Neuschwanstein Castle located Southwestern Bavaria, a castle commissioned by King Ludwig II. The Fairy Tale King ruled Bavaria in the late 19th century. He admired Baroque residences, ancient Germanic sagas and operas of Richard Wagner. He tried to escape reality by resurrecting the past and bringing myths and legends to life with his megalomaniac castle projects. In the end, he lost his throne to his passion. He was proclaimed mentally ill and therefore unable to rule. Moreover, his psychiatric evaluation is still a subject of psychiatric research on Munich medical schools.
This is the first part of our series about King Ludwig II’s castles. And of course, we begin with the most famous one:
Perhaps because of Disney, Neuschwanstein (New Swan Stone) is the most visited of Ludwig II’s castles.
He could not have chosen a better location for this romantic palace dedicated to operas of Richard Wagner. The residence is set on a hill in Schwangau, close to the town of Füssen, on the border between Bavaria and Tyrol. From almost every corner you can enjoy a magnificent, an almost kitschy view over Alpine foothills, nearby lakes and two castles. Neuschwanstein is not the only palace in the area. Ludwig II built it just opposite his childhood residence, the Hohenschwangau Castle.
Inside of Neuschwanstein, you’ll find rooms and halls decorated with scenes of Wagner operas and Germanic legends. The impression is perfect. There even is an artificial grotto inside. In the throne hall, you’ll feel like a knight from the saga pictured on the walls. Unfortunately, rather sooner than later selfie sticks will ruin your mental image.
Originally, about 200 rooms and halls had been planned, but only 15 were completed. Until this day, the castle remains unfinished. Which is why you’ll sometimes walk on simple wooden staircases surrounded only by brick walls. However, they lead to halls stunningly decorated with golden ornaments. This bizarre contrast is something pretty unique in the “castle-world”.
The castle was opened to the public soon after King Ludwig II’s sudden death in 1886 and has attracted more than 60 million visitors from all over the world since then.
After visiting the interior, it’s worth spending some time discovering the castle’s surroundings as well. Take a walk to the Marienbrücke (Marie’s Bridge) to have a panorama view over Neuschwanstein. Or, you can follow the signs for “Romantische Straße” (Romantic Route) and take a walk along the lakes “Aibsee” and “Schwansee” back to Füssen.
If you are a real castle enthusiast, you shouldn’t miss an excursion in the Hohenschwangau Castle, where Ludwig II spent many days of his childhood.
Some people called King Ludwig II a madman, for others, he was a genius. Be that as it may, he left an everlasting legacy with his castles. Neuschwanstein certainly is one of Bavaria’s and Europe’s must-see attractions.
How to get there
From Munich, Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) take a regional train to Füssen. From Füssen you can either walk (ca. 30 mins uphill) to the castle, take a bus or a horse carriage. On regional trains and buses, you can use Bayern Ticket. It is valid for up to 5 passengers (EUR 25 for the first passenger and EUR 6 for every additional one). On workdays, the ticket is only valid from 9 am, so be careful about your boarding time. On weekends and public holidays, it can be used all day long. Bayern ticket is also valid on public transportation in Munich and on some connection buses in Füssen.
When to go
Neuschwanstein is a tourist magnet, and it can get very crowded. Our personal favourite time for a visit is early spring. The Alpine hills are still covered with snow and stand in contrast with green blossoming meadows in the valley. The other option is to go in the late autumn. The light is magnificent and colourful trees makes your fairy tale impression complete. To avoid crowds, try to get there as early as possible in the morning. That way, you’ll have enough time to grab a “Halbe” of local beer and enjoy the views.