The first time I saw photos of Neuschwanstein Castle, I was just a kid who’d recently relocated to a small logging community in North Idaho. Lounging on the brown shag carpet of our mobile home, I was flipping through an old National Geographic magazine from the stack my mom always had lying around the house. A dreamer who never had the chance to travel, she enthusiastically collected articles about exotic cultures, bizarre landscapes, and all manner of spectacular wildlife. Combined with her love of photography, National Geographic was an obvious choice with its full-page glossies of Iguazú Falls in Brazil and lions hunting on the Serengeti. Lovingly collected from thrift stores, yard sales, and used book stores, her pile of magazines grew with age as we did.
It would be years before I learned the name of this famous castle. As a kid, I only cared about the photos. Back then, I didn’t know how to pronounce the funny name (Noish-von-shtine) and I didn’t know where it was in Germany until we moved to Switzerland.
Knowing our time living in Switzerland was limited, we spontaneously decided to visit Neuschwanstein Castle on our way home from a road trip to Germany for a job interview. It would only add a couple of hours of drive time. 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! If you’re planning your own visit to this fairytale castle in Bavaria, the info in this post will undoubtedly prove useful.
Travel Tip: The tiny village of Hohenschwangau is home to both Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castle.
When you arrive in Hohenschwangau, you’ll immediately see the yellowed turrets of Hohenschwangau Castle on a hill above town. It’s clearly visible from the ticket office and parking areas.
Since we were short on time and mostly interested in Neuschwanstein, we didn’t hike up to Hohenschwangau or go inside. However, visitors who want to tour both castles can buy a combo ticket that allows entry into both.
Travel Tip: The two castles share a single main ticket center, which isn't located immediately at the entrance to either. It's in the village between the two castles. *For a map, scroll to the end of the post.
In an effort to divide and conquer since it was pushing 5 pm, I dropped Travis off to scope out the ticket situation and 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 the few remaining tickets for the last tour 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 – we were at Neuschwanstein Castle!
If you end up with some free time before your castle tour starts, we’d highly recommend a stroll along Alpseestraße to the edge of Alpsee.
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.
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 these facilities, which are 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.
DO thank the kind passerby who gestures frantically in broken English that your skirt is neatly tucked up into your panties, thereby informing the castle’s 6,000 daily visitors who’re 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.
Indulge in German Iced Coffee
But first, one more detour. We were amazed to see iced coffee for sale.
Ice in Europe?
Not exactly. “Iced” coffee in Germany is its own stroke of genius. 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.
Travel Tip: If you've never had German iced coffee, you'll love it on a hot summer day.
Trail to Neuschwanstein Castle
From the ticket office and nearby parking area, Neuschwanstein is still 1.5 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, it definitely bears a strong resemblance to Disneyland’s famous Sleeping Beauty Castle. Built in the 1950s, the Disney castle drew heavily from elements of Neuschwanstein, as well as the Château d’Ussé in France.
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 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 and the surroundings.
When you arrive at Marienbrücke, be prepared for it to be crowded with tourists.
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 tour. 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.
For the absolute best view of Neuschwanstein, cross the 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.
Guided Tour of Neuschwanstein Castle
Schloss Neuschwanstein, which in English means “New Swan Stone Castle,” is not very old. Under the orders of a young Ludwig II of Bavaria, construction began in 1869 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 less than 15 years of construction, 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.
In light of that, perhaps what I found most surprising during our visit was the castle’s whimsical opulence, which owes no doubt to Ludwig’s fanciful tastes. This became most apparent during the 35 minute guided tour of the interior.
We saw the ever-present swan motif repeated throughout nearly every room, often intermingled with scenes from Wagner’s operas, particularly the tragedy of Tannhäuser, Lohengrin and his silver swan, and the love story of Tristan and Isolde. 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 German composer Richard Wagner.
In my opinion, the most incredible rooms are Ludwig’s own bedroom, featuring frescoes from Tristan and Isolde; the Throne Hall with its unusual “circle of life” mosaic floor and golden staircase; the Singer’s Hall with chandeliers shaped like crowns along the entire upper floor; the Grotto, a room built to look like a cave; and the Conservatory, a bright sun-room boasting tall arched windows, huge plants, and a gravel floor, all overlooking the lake and fields far, far below.
Sadly, interior photography is completely banned everywhere except the small museum, so we don’t have interior photos to share.
The great tragedy of this 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, he was dethroned and declared insane based on little more than anecdotal evidence from his servants.
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 determined his mental instability. 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.
Just how exactly did Mad King Ludwig II die?
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.
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Know Before You Go
Location: Neuschwanstein Castle is located in the village of Hohenschwangau near Füssen in Bavaria, Germany near the Austrian border. It’s about 1 1/2 hours by car from Munich.
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.
Parking is available for motorcycles, cars, and even RVs in 4 large lots open from 0800 to 2000. We paid €6 to park a 4-door sedan all day in the lot nearest the ticket office.
Access to Neuschwanstein Castle:
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.
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. Tickets can be purchased directly from the carriage driver.
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.
Tickets can be purchased in advance through an online reservation system but still have to be picked up at the ticket office in the village of Hohenschwangau, notat Neuschwanstein Castle itself. A reservation fee of €1.80 per person is charged. The ticket center sells tickets for tours the same day only.
Price: It is possible to visit the castle and walk around the outside for free, but you can only tour the interior as part of a guided tour. We paid €12 per adult ticket. Check for current ticket prices directly with the venue.
More Useful Travel Tips:
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. Prepare for lots of tourists and long lines.
Photography (even without flash) is not allowed anywhere on the interior castle tour.
Drones are not allowed near the castle because it borders the Ammergebirge Nature Reserve.
Marienbruecke (Queen Mary Bridge) offers some of the best exterior views of the castle. It’s about a 10 minute walk from the castle.
Dogs are not allowed in the castle, but we saw quite a few small dogs on leash on the trails up to it and around it.
This useful map shows the village of Schwangau, both Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenschwangau Castle, parking areas, etc. When you buy or pick up your tickets, you’ll also be provided with a map.