Over the last few years I have been working my way through books and many, many lists, of ‘The places to see before you die’. Very slowly, and with a great deal of expense, I’m ticking them off one by one. With places like Mount Everest and Antarctica, I do wonder if I’ll ever get there, but one in particular has been on my hit list for some time. When I recently had a flight to Munich, I realised that I’d finally get a chance to visit the magical Neuschwanstein Castle. For some of you the castle’s name might not ring any bells, however when you see a photo it may conjure up a few memories from childhood films and stories. The castle is, in fact, the inspiration behind the pink castle in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, which also features as part of the famous Walt Disney Pictures logo.
Getting to the castle was easy enough, but a little further out from Munich than I originally thought. Don’t be misled into thinking that the castle is just a stone’s throw away from Munich – it is over two hours by train from the city, in a village named Hohenschwangau, in South-West Bavaria.
Once we arrived in Hohenschwangau – a mere three hours after leaving my hotel room in Munich – I wasn’t in the slightest bit disappointed. Stepping off the bus, you immediately see the fairytale-like castle nestled among the dense evergreen forest, looking down upon the small country village. The walk up to the castle takes you through a quaint Bavarian style street, lined with with small gift shops, pubs and hotels.
Streams, waterfalls and array of colorful trees surround you on the ten-minute walk up the twisting uphill road through the forest, and provide a stunning backdrop. Yet your eyes seem fixated on the enchanting castle that stands towering over you.
The nineteenth century Romanesque-style castle was built for King Ludwig II of Bavaria, as a retreat. After his death in 1886, the castle became open to the public for viewing, and over 100 years on, it is still as popular today.
When you wander around the inside and outside of the castle, you can only feel an essence of mystery, and I suppose, a kind of magical feel. The castle has the most incredible views looking out over the Bavarian countryside. At any time of year, those views would be nothing short of breathtaking, especially during the winter months when the tree tops are covered with a light white dusting of snow.
Neuschwanstein castle should take you no more than 1-2 hours to explore. If you have the whole day spare – which unfortunately I didn’t – then I would recommend visiting the Hohenschwangau Castle as well, which was the childhood residence of King Ludwig II, and built by his father.
If you are coming from Munich, like I was, then I would suggest getting on the metro to Munich HBF central train station and from there a direct train to Füssen, which takes approximately two hours. At Munich HBF, go to the ticket counter, as if you are traveling as a couple or a group they will arrange a Bavarian train ticket, which is a cheaper option than buying individual tickets from the machines. My ticket cost €28, and that was for two of us. I thought €14 each was a bit of a bargain, especially as it included the bus from Füssen train station to Hohenschwangau! When you arrive at the small Füssen train station, there will most likely be dedicated buses waiting for the train full of people to take you to Hohenschwangau only 10 minutes away. They leave every 15 minutes, and were timed with typical German efficiency to leave shortly after the train arrives and bring you back to the train station just before the train departs. With over one million people visiting annually, and up to 6,000 people a day during the summer months, the Germans seem to have a good process in place for the many tourists.
Once you get off at the Hohenschwangau train station its a short 5-minute walk uphill to the ticket office. This is the only place in the village to get a ticket, so DO NOT go up to the castle expecting to get a ticket there. At the ticket office you can buy a ticket to go inside the castle, there are dedicated tours which run regularly in English and German, with audio headphones available for other languages.
From the ticket office to the castle entrance it is a 30-minute uphill walk. However, if you are feeling lazy or unable to walk the distance, then there are horse-drawn carriages and buses that take you up to the castle for a small charge. The walk through the woods is very pleasant, so if you are able to, then I would highly recommend walking up to the castle entrance.
The best place to photograph the castle is from a bridge behind it. The bridge sits up above the castle and you can take photos looking down and across the countryside. I was unable to go up as the bridge was under construction, however this is the recommended place to capture the entire scene.