When we decided to meet up with my lovely German pen pal/friend on our last trip to Germany, a visit to Neuschwanstein seemed a natural choice. Somehow the famous castle that is seemingly on the top of every tourist’s Must See List just wasn’t a priority for me. Until last year. While Neuschwanstein Castle can be quite a hike to get to it is one of Germany’s most popular and recognizable tourist attractions. If you want to know how desirable the castle is, just ask Walt Disney. Neuschwanstein is the model and inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle. If you have the opportunity, it really is an absolute Must See. A visit makes a great day trip from Munich. But there is more to explore in the area than just Neuschwanstein!
Located about three hours southwest of Munich, deep in the beautiful Bavarian countryside is Neuschwanstein. The castle is just one of several sights worth seeing outside of the small and colorful villages of Füssen and Hohenschwangau. As visitors arrive to the communal visitor center that serves, essentially, the town, the grey and impressively perfect-looking Neuschwanstein looms overhead. On the other side, across the valley and high on a hill is Hohenschwangau Castle. And down along the lake is the relatively new — it was opened in 2011 — Museum of the Bavarian Kings (Museum der bayerischen Könige).
In addition to simply being beautiful buildings, there is a whole lot of history held in the walls of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. Neuschwanstein Castle is fascinating for a number of different reasons. Construction on the castle began on September 5, 1869. King Ludwig II intended the castle to be his private retreat. Because of his love of opera, some of the rooms are designed and decorated to recreate scenes in popular operas. For example, one room has a grotto, complete with waterfall, to pay tribute to Tannhäuser. But construction on the opulent and indulgent castle was never completed. Ludwig II died of mysterious causes in 1886 when he was found dead in Bavaria’s Lake Starnberg. Today, the castle remains unfinished. No one ever lived there.
While Schloss Neuschwanstein might be the diamond that everyone comes to visit, Schloss Hohenschwangau is not to be missed. The castle was built by King Maximilian II. It was the childhood home of King Ludwig II. The site of the castle has been in use since at least the 12th century. In the early 19th century Maximilian took a liking to the location and built what we today know as Hohenschwangau Castle.
Regardless of the time of year, you will likely find the area swarming with tourists. The local officials have done a fairly impressive job with coordination. Tours for both castles require timed tickets. Audio guides are available for a variety of languages. But admittedly, even with the amusement park-like logistics it is hard to handle the volume of people. Tours of the castles are quick. Visitors are rushed through each room so that the next tour group may enter. Sadly, only a limited number of rooms are open to the public. This is especially true with Neuschwanstein.
The Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty are destinations that no good tourist would miss. Neuschwanstein is also safely and comfortably on that list. A visit, at least once, is simply a Must. But more than once? Probably not necessary. Instead, consider using additional visits to hike and explore the surrounding area. Spending a day soaking in expansive views and appreciate the castles from the outside would be a pleasure. Or, in my case, to make a visit to the Museum of the Bavarian Kings and check another thing off My Must See List.
Both castles are accessible via public transportation or by car. There is parking available on site. It takes a bit of patience with public transit, but visiting is a very do-able (and popular) day trip from Munich. Once you’ve arrived, you can easily get to both castles on foot. The castles also have horse-drawn carriages that you can ride in, for a fee, if you’d prefer.
All photos are my own.