Neuschwanstein: The Swan Castle

The dreamy castle of Neuschwanstein is located in Germany not far from the city of Fussen. Built by the Mad King Ludwig II, it is one of the most visited places in Europe and is also one of the most photographed. You may not have heard of it, but if you look closely, Neuschwanstein may look like a real life Disney castle. Why? It’s said that Neuschwanstein inspired Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. I won’t go into too much detail about it’s history, but it’s well worth reading up on here.

Getting to Neuschwanstein

The best time to visit the castle is in the Spring or Fall. Hoards of tourists will make the trek to the castle in the Summer and as I learned in Winter, many parts of the castle grounds are closed due to heavy snow falls. None the less, it is the scenery of what surrounds the castle that is spectacular. The first glimpse you have of the castle off in the distance can’t be compared to anything else!

The castle itself is well secluded from any large cities. Munich is probably the closest. You have many different options to get to Neuschwanstein. Depending on the time of year, if you are planning to go on your own, I would highly recommend taking the wonderful German trains to Fussen and then the bus from Fussen to Neuschwanstein.

If you decide to take the trains Munich probably is the easiest to journey from. Train leave the Munich HBF train station about once an hour. Tickets will cost you about 40 Euros round trip. Total travel time is about 2 hours each way. If you are traveling with a group or if you are alright spending the entire day at Neuschwanstein, you have the option to purchase a Bayern ticket. It will save you a lot of money and only costs 25 Euros for the first person and 6 Euros for each additional.

A Bayern ticket is a ticket for travel within the German state of Bavaria. You can us this special ticket for up to 5 people and travel unlimited on pretty much any public transportation with it after 9 am. Kids under 15 are free! More specific information is available here. The only downside of the ticket is that it does not come with reservations. You may have to stand on a crowded train.

If you are driving yourself, the German Autobahn is a wonderful experience. You will have to ensure you carefully follow signs with speed limits near cities; otherwise there are no speed limits on the autobahn. Be warned that going over the speed limit will result in an expensive speeding ticket. The speed cameras are automated and are excellent at catching you even 1 KM above the speed limit.

Signs are well marked. Slower traffic must travel in the lanes further to the right. Passing is only done on the left and never on the right. In Winter, I would not recommend driving unless you are comfortable driving in snow. Snow fall can be heavy at times and the road leading to Neuschwanstein can be windy and narrow at times.

I choose to take the guided tour route on my trip to Neuschwanstein. It was snowing and I didn’t want to take a chance with the trains ad possibly lack of bus in Fussen due to heavy snow. I was staying in Munich and used Grey Line Tours as my company of choice. For 54 Euros, I thought it was well worth it to have a knowledgeable guide, stop at Lynderhof palace as well and be able to sleep in the bus. Normally I try not to do the larger guided tours, but I had a very positive experience.

Arriving at Neuschwanstein

When you arrive in the village of Neuschwanstein, you will be in one of 4 parking lots. There will be a lot of tourists and buses. Ensure you note where your bus is parked as it can be very chaotic upon arriving. If you are on your own, you will be dropped off in the bus stop near one of these parking lots. Watch out for traffic! Cars drive fast through the pedestrian zones.

I can not stress enough how important it is to have a ticket reservation to see the castles! As a popular destination, you do not want to arrive there and be turned away due to tickets being sold out for the day! You can do so up to 3 days in advance here. Note that you will have a few different options: a combination ticket to Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein, single tickets to each castle or a ticket that includes the Museum of Bavarian Kings.

If you have all day, do the combination ticket. You will received a timed entry into Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein about 2 hours apart. More on this in a bit. You will received a guided tour of about 25 minutes inside each castle. If you are on a Grey Line or group tour, you will only see Neuschwanstein. Hohenschwangau is Ludwig II’s childhood home and is said to be very interesting. Note that the tickets start at 12 Euros. Hours of operation vary depending on the time of year. The ticket Center is located next to the parking lot areas in the village.

The village itself has a handful of hotels, shops and cafes. If you are planning to eat lunch, grab something before you take the hike up to the castle. Most restaurants will prefer cash. I would have at least 20 Euros for a meal with you just in case. Don’t buy anything until you are ready to leave. You will not want to hike with heavy bags to the top of the hill. Bag sizes inside the castle are strictly enforced.

Hiking up to the Castle

Picture: Map of the the village of Hohenschwangau

The castle itself is about a 30 to 45 minute walk up to the summit and is steep! It is highly important that you have good walking shows on. The paths are not paved and as I learned are very slippery in snow. Signs from the village to Neuuschwanstein will point you to the left and Hohenschwangau on the right.

If you have a mobility issue or are with a young family, horse carts to the top of the hill are an option. Carts go to both castles; you will need to ensure your cart is going to the correct place. The carts are 7 Euros up will and 3.50 Euros downhill. They are cash only; no reservations are required. You buy your ticket from the driver directly. The carriages can be slow and in summer you may have to wait a long time to get one. In winter, my group waited about 30 minutes for one. I passed and choose to walk.

Depending on the time of year, a shuttle bus may be available to take to the top of the summit. Tickets are 2.5 Euros uphill, 1.5 Euros downhill or 3 Euros roundtrip. You buy your tickets on the bus. They do not run in the snow! There is no timetable, but I have been told it takes 10-15 minutes to catch one.

The valley itself is quite beautiful to see. There is a special path you can take to Marian’s Bridge to see the castle in the distance, but in winter months it is closed. In summer, this is one of the most popular places to photograph the castle. If you are scared of heights, do not go to the bridge. The path can be found just off the base of the Neuschwanstein path and is an extra 20 minute hike. I would do this first before my tour of Neuschwanstein if you intend to see it.

The horse carts and bus will drop you off not far from the castle look out area. There is a restaurant not listed on your map close by. It’s the best place to use the restroom before your tour and try some apple cider : ) The mulled wine is really strong if you are into that. The restrooms near the lookout area are a little too crowded in my opinion.

The Castle

when you finally get to the top of the hill where the castle is, the view is breathtaking. Allow plenty of time for photos! The castle interior itself is not as impressive as you would think. It was actually never finished! The ticket you have will give you a time on it for your tour. Note that you must pick up your tickets at least an hour before your tour. You go through a security screening on your way into the castle entrance. If your bag is too big, you will be asked to check it.

When it is time for your tour, your group number will light up at the castle entrance sign. You have only 5 minutes to enter while the tour group number is listed otherwise you will lose out! You will be asked what language you want the tour in and will be handed an audio guide. You will be walked through about 10 rooms and must stay with your group. No photos are allowed inside except for the recreated kitchen.

When your tour is finished, you will pass through 2 gift shops. This is a nice time to shop or if you wait, the same items are carried in Munich or in the village of Neuschwanstein. Prices are expensive. The cafe in the castle may be a good place to grab a snack before you hike down. You will hike down the same way you came up.

Final Thoughts

Neuschwanstein was a place I had been looking to for so long to see. I was glad I had gone with a tour group as one castle was enough for me to see. I was happy to sleep on the bus on the way back to Munich. The landscape was why you should go to the castle, but in Winter, be prepared to see everything covered in snow. I was disappointed I couldn’t see the lake below the castle, but it just means I will need to plan a trip back. Until next time, happy travels!