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Before we moved to Europe, I never in a million years imagined we’d end up visiting Neuschwanstein Castle someday. The magical castle in southern Germany is famously known as the inspiration for Walt Disney’s castle. When you see the real deal in person, you’ll definitely see why it’s the stuff dreams are made of!
If this fairytale castle in Bavaria is on your Germany travel itinerary, read on for everything you need to know before visiting Schloss Neuschwanstein.
Language Tip: In German, both Schloss and Burg mean castle. A Schloss usually refers to a palace or residence, while Burg is used when it’s more of a fortress.
The first time I saw photos of Neuschwanstein Castle, I was just a kid. My family had recently relocated to a small logging community in North Idaho. Lounging on the brown shag carpet of our mobile home, I came across it while flipping through an old National Geographic magazine from the stack my mom always had lying around the house.
My mom – a dreamer who never had the chance to travel – enthusiastically collected articles about exotic cultures, bizarre landscapes, and all manner of spectacular wildlife. With her love of photography, National Geographic was an obvious choice with its full-page glossies of Iguazú Falls in Brazil and lions hunting in the Serengeti. Lovingly collected from thrift stores, yard sales, and used book stores, her pile of magazines grew with age as my siblings and I did.
It would be years before I learned the funny name of this famous castle. As a kid, I only cared about the photos. Back then, I didn’t know how to pronounce Neuschwanstein (Noy-shvaan-stine), and I didn’t know where it was in Germany until we moved to Europe.
With our time living in Switzerland coming to an end, we decided to visit Neuschwanstein Castle on our way home from a trip to Germany for a job interview. The detour to the castle would only add a couple of hours to our drive home.
After first missing the exit and ending up suddenly in Austria, we turned around and crossed back into Germany, hoping the castle would still be open by the time we arrived.
We were in luck! Not only did we snag tickets to Neuschwanstein without having to wait in line, but we were able to avoid the crowds by joining the last Neuschwanstein Castle tour of the evening.
While our spontaneous visit worked out perfectly for us, we recommend most folks plan their trip a bit more carefully. The castle is a popular tourist attraction, and tickets often sell out. We’ll answer all your questions here – from where to buy tickets and how much they cost to the best time to visit Neuschwanstein to avoid the crowds – so you can make the most of your visit.
Fun Fact About Neuschwanstein Castle: Schloss Neuschwanstein is one of the most visited castles in Europe with over 1.4 million visitors a year, or as many as 6000 on a busy day!
Where is Neuschwanstein Castle located?
The castle is in the village of Schwangau near Füssen in the state of Bavaria, Germany. It’s just 5 km from the Austrian border.
Driving to Neuschwanstein Castle from Munich only takes 1 1/2 hours, which makes it a very popular day trip from the city. Tour buses ferry visitors back and forth nearly every day of the year.
Click on icon in upper right corner to enlarge map of Neuschwanstein Castle.
Visit two castles in one town.
The tiny village of Schwangau is home to both Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenschwangau Castle. Hohenschwangau Castle is the childhood home of Ludwig II, who later built Neuschwanstein Castle on an adjacent hill.
When you arrive in Schwangau, you’ll immediately see the yellowed turrets of Hohenschwangau on a hill above town. It’s visible from the ticket office and parking areas.
Since we were short on time and mostly interested in Neuschwanstein, we didn’t visit Hohenschwangau Castle, but visitors who want to tour the two castles can buy a combo ticket that allows entry into both for a discount.
How do you buy tickets to Neuschwanstein Castle?
It’s free to explore everywhere outside the castle, so you only need a ticket to visit the interior. Since the only way to see inside is by guided tour, you’ll definitely need a ticket.
Travel Tip: Guided tours are only available in German and English, but audio guides are available in other languages.
The first option for buying tickets is to do it in person from the ticket center on the day of your visit, like we did. Tickets are cheaper this way, and you won’t be locked into a non-refundable ticket for a specific tour day and time. If you do buy them in person, you should know that the ticket office only sells tickets for tours for the same day.
Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau share a single ticket office, which is called the Ticket Center Hohenschwangau and is located in town between the two castles. This is where you buy the tickets. You cannot buy tickets directly at either castle.
A second option is to buy Neuschwanstein Castle tickets online in advance through their reservation system. Advantages are that you can avoid waiting in line to buy tickets, you can choose your day/time in advance, and you won’t run the risk of tickets being sold out.
When you buy tickets for Neuschwanstein online, you still have to be pick them up at the ticket office though, and the same is true for Hohenschwangau. This means you’ll likely still have to wait in line, albeit a shorter one.
A third option is to buy tickets directly from the carriage drivers that transport people from the ticket office up to the castle. The carriages don’t run all the time though, so don’t count on getting tickets this way.
Since it was pushing 5 pm when we arrived at Neuschwanstein, I dropped Travis off to scope out the ticket situation.
In an effort to divide and conquer, I continued on in search of parking. Throngs of tourists crowded around a horse-drawn carriage and advanced en masse down the main street, at times right down the center like a Wild West posse. I carefully nosed the car through to the nearest paid parking lot and met up with Travis at the ticket office.
As luck would have it, the ticket office was open until 5:30 pm, so we nabbed a couple of tickets for the last guided tour of the castle interior starting at 7 pm. We briefly debated about staying for such a late tour since we still had a 4-5 hour drive home, but of course we decided to stay.
How much does visiting Neuschwanstein Castle cost?
As mentioned above, visiting Neuschwanstein Castle is free if you just want to walk around outside. For those not dying to see the interior or who are on a really tight budget, this is a nice option. The castle is definitely worth seeing, even if only from the outside.
That said, we highly recommend the guided tour inside! We’ve seen a lot of castles in Europe but none quite like this one. The tour itself isn’t mind-blowing, but the interior of the castle is.
We paid €12 apiece for adult tickets for the guided tour. As of March 2022, the cost has increased to €15 per adult. Because prices only go up over time, make sure to check for current ticket prices before you visit.
For tickets booked online, an additional reservation fee of €2.50 per person is charged.
Travel Tip: Kids under the age of 18 are free when you buy tickets in person at the ticket office, but even if you book them online in advance, you still have to pay the processing fee of 2.50 per child ticket.
Have some time before your guided tour starts?
Stroll around the Alpsee.
If you end up with some free time before your castle tour starts, taking a stroll along Alpseestraße to the lake, Alpsee, is really nice.
The lake is absolutely stunning. You can stretch your legs along a network of trails, including one that follows the 5-km shoreline of the lake.
Boats are also available for rent.
Travel Tip: If you’re wondering if you can bring your own kayak or canoe to paddle Alpsee, you can’t. (We confirmed with the local tourism office.) This made us sad. 🙁
Visit the Museum of the Bavarian Kings.
History buffs might like visiting the Museum of the Bavarian Kings right on the shores of Alpsee. The museum chronicles the history of the Wittelsbach dynasty, particularly the exploits of Ludwig II and his father, King Maximillian II.
You can buy tickets to the museum online, in person at the museum, or buy a combo ticket for the museum, Neuschwanstein, and/or Hohenschwangau at the ticket center in Schwangau.
Avoid the public WC!
If you need to use a restroom when you arrive in town, wait until you get to Neuschwanstein Castle. Despite the high volume of visitors it gets daily, the bathroom facilities are free and clean – or at least they were during our visit.
I can’t say the same for the paid public facilities near the tourist office. I made the mistake of using their WC, which is housed in the same building as the Museum of the Bavarian Kings.
A word of caution. Do NOT pay the 50 cents to use the public WC near the lake. Just. Don’t. Do. It.
The smell alone probably took a year off my life, and I have low standards, folks. When Travis and I were kids, neither of us had running water or electricity for years, so we’re no strangers to an outhouse. In all of our years of travel and rough camping since then, we’ve used some gnarly facilities.
Lemme tell you, this WC was nasty.
Travel Tip: DO thank the kind woman driving by for gesturing frantically in broken English that your skirt is neatly tucked up into your panties, thereby informing the castle’s 6,000 daily visitors staring at your a** that the day is “SATURDAY,” at least according to your panties.
Thank you, kind stranger!
Cheeks flaming with embarrassment after my unintentional display of immodesty, I was more than ready to start hiking to the castle.
Try a German EisKaffee.
But first, one more detour.
We were amazed to see Eis Kaffee for sale. Iced coffee in Europe??
Eis Kaffee in Germany is its own stroke of genius. Eis is German for iced cream, not ice, so instead of using iced cubes in coffee, they use ice cream. YUM!
We bought two, enjoying the unexpected surprise of creamy vanilla ice cream balls swimming in our coffee instead of the ice cubes we expected. The blissfully cold drink all but erased the memory of my recent indignity as we set off up the hill to the castle.
Hike the trail to Neuschwanstein Castle.
From the ticket office and nearby parking area, Neuschwanstein is 1 1/2 km uphill on a wide, paved path. Visitors can opt for a carriage ride or a shuttle bus for part of that distance, but neither goes all the way to the castle. You’ll still have to walk about 500 meters.
Because the trail is heavily shrouded in trees, you won’t actually see the castle until you’re practically at its doorstep, but some of the best views of it are from the trail.
Rising up into the pale blue sky, the resemblance to Disneyland’s famous Sleeping Beauty Castle is obvious.
Built in the 1950s, the Disney castle drew heavily from elements of Neuschwanstein, as well as the Château d’Ussé in France.
Continue past Neuschwanstein to Queen Mary’s Bridge.
From the castle itself, you can look toward the mountains and see where Marienbrücke, or Queen Mary’s Bridge, crosses Pöllat Gorge.
The bridge was named after Ludwig II’s mother, Queen Mary.
Whether you choose to hike to the bridge at Neuschwanstein Castle before or after your tour of the castle, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure you do it!
The hike takes only about 10 minutes, and it offers some of the best views of both castles, the surrounding mountains, and Alpsee.
The bridge is often closed for renovations, repair, or because of winter weather, so if your heart is set on hiking to it, it’s a good idea to check the castle’s official website before you plan your visit.
When you arrive at Marienbrücke, be prepared for it to be crowded with tourists. Don’t despair!
During our visit, we noted that most stayed only long enough for a quick glimpse of the castle and a photo with their selfie stick, leaving en masse to catch the next guided tour or to run for their tour bus. Within minutes, the bridge was virtually empty.
If you want the bridge to yourselves, be patient and wait for the lull between groups starting the next tour.
Travel Tip: Don’t wear a skirt on the bridge! Even on a calm day, the wind whips down the canyon, sending loose or short skirts sky high. Yes, I flashed the other visitors again.
Don’t miss the best views of Neuschwanstein Castle.
For the absolute best view of Neuschwanstein, cross Queen Mary’s Bridge and continue up the trail for a few minutes. Follow the switchback (it’s part of the official trail) to the left, and you’ll pop out into a small clearing with a direct view of the castle.
The views aren’t drastically different than the ones from the bridge, but they are better. The vantage from this overlook is a bit closer and higher than the bridge. It also has a pretty log right at the edge of the overlook which is a popular Instagram spot for selfies.
What is the Neuschwanstein Castle guided tour like?
Finally, the guided tour!
When it was almost time for our evening tour to start, we walked back down to the castle from Queen Mary’s Bridge.
We stood in a very short line while someone checked our tickets, and then we gathered at the outer gate to wait for our tour to start.
Learn about the history of Neuschwanstein Castle.
As is the case with many German words, the name of the castle is made up of several smaller words smushed together. Neuschwanstein is actually “Neu Schwan Stein,” which in English means “New Swan Stone.”
As the “New” in the castle’s name implies, it’s not very old. It actually dates from the 19th century. Construction began in 1869 under the orders of a young Ludwig II of Bavaria. The castle was built on the same site where two more modest castles once stood.
As a child, Ludwig II lived at Hohenschwangau Castle. As an adult, he was desperate to build a castle more grand than his father’s.
“…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.” (source)
After the castle had been under construction for less than 15 years, Ludwig II moved into his new palace before it was even complete. As the work continued around him, he made frequent changes to the plans, always in keeping with his desire to imitate the grand castles of the Middle Ages.
Ludwig II didn’t just want to build an impressive castle; he wanted to build a home where he could retreat from the world and live in his imagination, almost as a child would. He wanted a home befitting the heroes of days gone by.
His love for whimsical opulence and fanciful tastes is very apparent during the 35-minute guided tour.
The ever-present swan motif is repeated throughout nearly every room, often intermingled with scenes from Wagner’s opera – particularly the tragedy of Tannhäuser, Lohengrin and his silver swan.
The numerous paintings, sculptures, furniture – all are clearly a reflection of Ludwig’s appreciation for art and music, his eye for detail, and a singular love for the German composer, Richard Wagner.
Travel Tip: Sadly, interior photography is completely banned everywhere except the small museum, so we don’t have photos of the castle interior to share.
and the Conservatory, a sun room with tall arched windows, huge plants, and a gravel floor, all overlooking the lake and fields far below.
Pop into the Neuschwanstein Castle Museum.
At the end of the tour, you can visit the small museum inside the castle. It won’t take long, but you can spend as much time as you like there.
The great tragedy of Neuschwanstein Castle is that Ludwig II was never able to fully enjoy it. At the time of his death, it remained unfinished. Not only did Wagner, Ludwig’s hero, die before he was able to visit the castle, but Ludwig himself only spent a matter of days there before his untimely death in 1886.
After miring Bavaria in debt with “frivolous” projects like his beloved Neuschwanstein Castle, Ludwig II was dethroned and declared insane based on little more than anecdotal evidence from his servants.
Just how exactly did Mad King Ludwig II die?
To this day, the death of Ludwig II remains a mystery.
While in official custody at Berg Castle on June 13th (which incidentally is my birthday!), he took a stroll along the shores of Lake Starnberg with Dr. Gudden, one of the very same doctors who had decided he was mentally unstable.
Late that same evening, the bodies of both men were discovered floating in the lake in the pouring rain. Dr. Gudden’s body showed evidence of physical assault, but Ludwig’s body was unmarred. His death was ruled a suicide, yet an autopsy revealed his lungs had not been submerged in water.
It’s ironic that this enigmatic, reclusive king who once proclaimed, “I want to remain an eternal mystery to myself and others,“ did in fact receive his greatest wish.
More Travel Info for Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle
How do you get to Neuschwanstein Castle?
By car: Heading south on the A7, take either the B310 or Kemptener Str through the village of Füssen. Then take the B16 and Parkstraße to the village of Hohenschwangau. Northbound from Austria, follow the B179, take exit Vils onto Weisshaus Landesstraße where it becomes the B17 at the German border, then take the Parkstrasse to Colomanstraße to Hohenschwangau.
By public transportation: Deutsche Bahn offers regular train routes to Füssen, where travelers can catch a bus to Hohenschwangau.
Is there parking at the castle?
Parking is available for motorcycles, cars, and even RVs in four large parking lots. They’re open from 0800 to 2000 (8 am to 8 pm).
We paid €6 to park a 4-door sedan all day in the lot nearest the ticket office.
Note that you cannot drive directly to either Hohenschwangau or Neuschwanstein Castle and park there. The nearest parking is in the town of Hohenschwangau.
How do you get to Neuschwanstein from the ticket office/parking?
On foot: The castle is 1.5 km from the ticket booth. The path is paved and wide but steep; allow about 30 minutes for the walk uphill.
Shuttle bus: It runs from the P4 parking area near Hohenschwangau Castle to the Jugend lookout point near Marienbrücke above the castle. From there, it’s about 500 meters (10 minutes) downhill to the castle. The cost is €2 uphill, €1.50 downhill, or €3 roundtrip.
Horse-drawn carriage: For €7, visitors can take a carriage from the Hotel Müller, Alpseestraße, or Hohenschwangau. Guests still need to walk about 450 meters (about 10 minutes) from where the carriage ride stops. The ride down from the castle is €3.50.
What’s the cheapest way to visit Neuschwanstein?
The cheapest way to visit Neuschwanstein is to buy tickets in person. That way you don’t have to pay the online reservation fee per ticket.
It’s risky, but your best bet at snagging tickets this way is to arrive early and be at the ticket office the day you want to visit just before 8:30 am. That’s when they start selling tickets for that day that didn’t already sell online.
If you’re flexible, you can also stop by after 4 pm. Most of the tour buses will have departed and tickets for evening tours may be available.
When is the best time for visiting Neuschwanstein Castle?
To have Neuschwanstein to yourself as much as possible, visit in the early morning as soon as they open (and before tour buses start arriving, which is between 9 and 10 am) or in the evening once they leave. After 5 pm is a good option. Weekdays are less crowded than weekends, as is so often the case.
The best time of year to visit is shoulder season, either May or September. Most tourists visit from June-August, so you have a better chance to get tickets and see it without big crowds if you avoid these months.
Also consider visiting Neuschwanstein Castle in winter when it’s blanketed in snow!
Can you visit the castle and/or bridge if you’re mobility impaired?
Very likely, yes! Staff have a variety of ways to accommodate wheelchairs and other mobility aids.