Around 2 hours outside of Munich, nestled in mountains above the town of Schwangau, sits Neuschwanstein Castle. This castle looks like something straight out of a fairy tale (it was even used as the inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle in Walt Disney World!). With a history as romantic as its location, a trip to Neuschwanstein is perfect for anyone with a love of history, architecture or who has a love of storybook worthy scenery.
To visit Neuschwanstein, I decided to enlist the help of the pros and booked a guided tour through Viator. The tour met up bright and early at Munich Central Station (which was right across the street from my hotel…yes!!). And my goodness it was cold!! Luckily the tour left quickly, and coffee in hand, we all piled onto the warm train and settled in for our 2-hr ride.
2 hours might seem like a long time to sit on a train, but the ride was actually very pleasant. Our tour guide told us stories of Munich, the Wittelsbach Dynasty, King Ludwig II and Neuschwanstein, all while taking in the beautiful scenery of the Alps and southern Germany.
Before I knew it, we had reached the small town of Fussen. From there, we hopped on a bus that took us to Schwangau, where the castle is located.
Upon arrival in Schwangau, we took a lunch break while our tour guide arranged the rest of our journey. Yes, I got more bratwurst and German coke. I had formed a fierce addiction to those wonderful sausages.
And then the journey continued on foot. We walked through Schwangau, passing by King Ludwig II’s childhood castle of Schloss Hohenschwangau.
The walk up to Neuschwanstein is pretty fierce, so we each paid a couple euros to take a tram. We stopped at Marienbrucke first, a small bridge stretching across Pollat Gorge that King Maximillian II (King Ludwig II’s father) had built as a birthday present to his mountain-climbing love, Marie. Those with a fear of heights might want to skip this one, as the gorge is a long way down. But the views of Neuschwanstein from the bridge are absolutely incredible, with rolling hills and small villages surrounding this magnificent castle.
After taking in the panoramic views from the bridge, we continued on foot to the castle. There was still some snow on the ground, and it just added to the magic of the castle.
As I’m sure you have figured out by now, this tour requires a TON of walking. You’ll definitely be wanting the comfortable shoes for this one.
Made it to the castle!
And then it was time for the guided tour. Neuschwanstein is absolutely gorgeous inside, and the decorative details are incredible. No photography allowed inside the castle though, so I don’t have any pictures of it. They wouldn’t have been able to do it justice anyways.
“Mad King” Ludwig II was a shy dreamer with a vivid imagination and a tendency to isolate himself. He had visions of grandeur, and identified himself with the kings of the Medieval age. He was obsessed with the idea of a holy kingdom by the Grace of God over which he could rule as a true king, instead of the reality of just being a constitutional monarch with little ruling power. Ludwig II retreated more and more into a fantasy world where he could live the old-world, poetic life he dreamed of. He spent less time in Munich, and sought a residence away from the hustle of city life. He wanted to build his own kingdom where he could be free to live in his world of fantasy, a world in which great kings still existed and resided in ornate and elaborate castles in the countryside.
Ludwig II selected a location near his childhood castle, and began construction of Neuschwanstein in 1866, two years after taking the throne. Ludwig wrote to his good friend Richard Wagner, saying:
“It is my intention to rebuild the old castle ruin of Hohenschwangau near the Pöllat Gorge in the authentic style of the old German knights’ castles, and I must confess to you that I am looking forward very much to living there one day (in 3 years); there will be several cosy, habitable guest rooms with a splendid view of the noble Säuling, the mountains of Tyrol and far across the plain; you know the revered guest I would like to accommodate there; the location is one of the most beautiful to be found, holy and unapproachable, a worthy temple for the divine friend who has brought salvation and true blessing to the world. It will also remind you of “Tannhäuser” (Singers’ Hall with a view of the castle in the background), “Lohengrin'” (castle courtyard, open corridor, path to the chapel); this castle will be in every way more beautiful and habitable than Hohenschwangau further down, which is desecrated every year by the prose of my mother; they will take revenge, the desecrated gods, and come to live with Us on the lofty heights, breathing the air of heaven.”
In reality, the castle construction took much longer than Ludwig II expected, and he was not able to move in until 1884, roughly 20 years after the original plans were drawn.
The lifestyle Ludwig II was building for himself proved to be in conflict with his duties as head of state. Neuschwanstein and the life Ludwig II lived in it were expensive; far beyond the means of a private king. Foreign banks threatened to seize the property, and Ludwig’s refusal to act rationally about the situation resulted in the government declaring him insane and removing his title and power. He was interned in Berg Palace, and the next day, he was found dead in Lake Starnberg under mysterious circumstances alongside the psychiatrist who had declared him insane. It is thought that he preferred death over returning to reality, and he choose to end his life while still in his world of dreams and illusions. However some people also believe he was murdered, with several witnesses claiming to have seen or heard King Ludwig II be shot and then dumped into the lake. The truth remains a mystery…
Following the tour, there is a cool gift shop where you can pick up some fun Neuschwanstein souvenirs. I got a hand-blown glass Christmas ornament and some postcard pictures of the castle interior.
But oh the walking has not yet ended. While we were able to take a tram up to the castle, we had to walk all the way back down to Schwangau. Our tour guide told us what time we had to be back in Schwangau to get on the bus, and then permitted us to shop and stroll our way back at our leisure. I stopped at a cute little stand and bought some hot chocolate in a souvenir mug and some German cookies to enjoy during the walk.
And then something magical happened. It started snowing!! I know that is not a big deal to a lot of people, but as a southern Californian, I had never been snowed on before. I had been to the snow of course, but had never actually experienced seeing snow fall. I was beyond excited. Everything about the castle felt like magic, as if Ludwig II was still creating his romantic fantasy world from beyond the grave.
Our tour group eventually all made it back to the bus in Schwangau, but some of the group took too long getting there and made us miss the train in Fussen. Thankfully there would be another train along in an hour, but until then, we had to kill some time in Fussen. Which normally would’ve been wonderful, because Fussen is a very pretty town with lots of fun shops and stuff, except for the fact that it was freezing and pouring rain.
Like I would let that stop me. I still went out and explored anyways. A little rain never hurt anyone (unless you are in an old movie, in which case rain = certain death).
The train ride back to Munich was decidedly less pleasant than the last ride. I was soggy from wandering in the rain, and the train was super crowded. A lot of people even had to stand, which was a bummer since it was a 2-hr ride.
By the time we made it back to Munich, I was starving, cold, and exhausted, but still mesmerized by the magic of the castle.
For more information on Neuschwanstein Castle, visit their website.