Neuschwanstein Castle is set upon a breathtaking mountainside in Schwangau, Germany, which is in Bavaria and Germany’s Alps, not far from Munich. If this castle looks familiar to you, it may be because it was the primary inspiration for Walt Disney’s iconic Disney Castle (the one you see in the opening of Disney movies) and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland. Otherwise, it’s now of the most famous castles in the entire world. The somewhat bizarre, unusual, and sad history of this tremendous castle that was never finished was one of the most interesting things we learned about during our time in Germany, and I’m excited to share it with you, along with all of the details about how to visit, where to find the best views of the castle, where to hike, and more information you’ll need to have an excellent visit.
Location: Schwangau (Bavaria), Germany
Address: Neuschwansteinstraße 20
87645 Schwangau, Germany
Hours: April – Oct: 9 am-6 pm
Oct – March: 10 am-4 pm
Open daily, except December 24/25/31 + January 1st
Admission Price: €35 per Adult
Built: 1869 by King Ludwig II of Bavaria (never completed)
How to Reach Schwangau from Munich
Book a ticket in advance from Munich’s main train station, Munich Hauptbahnhof, to Füssen, a darling village that’s only a 10-minute bus ride from Schwangau. From Füssen, go to the visitor’s center and find the buses. Numerous buses run back and forth all day long from Schwangau to Füssen and back, so you don’t have to plan too carefully here. From Schwangau, either walk or take another public bus (about three euros per person) up to the castle. We chose to walk through the village and up the castle, which took about an hour, but it was well worth the journey!
History of Neuschwanstein Castle
Before I begin, it’s important to know a few things about this castle and the man who built it. The first is that Neuschwanstein literally translates from German to English as “New Swan Castle.” This is important because swans were not only King Ludwig II’s favorite animal and symbol of his rule, but also they’re ever present within the decor and castle grounds themselves for these reasons. Next, it’s important to understand that King Ludwig II of Bavaria (sometimes called the Swan King or the Fairy Tale King) built Neuschwanstein Castle as a. a way to withdraw from the public after a massive defeat in the Austro-Prussian War significantly reduced his power, b. in dedication to his favorite composer Richard Wagner, who was his “close friend and confidant” for many years of his life, and c. as a means to escape his reality where most viewed him as an incompetent, failed king. He was considered irresponsible with his finances (and his kingdom by extension), and while he was considered extremely generous, many thought of this as further proof that he was unfit to rule.
So, after losing power to his uncle, he became increasingly immersed in the world of fantasy, literature, and dreams and increasingly began to identify with the character Parzival from the Grail King legend, who became a true king due to his purity and deeply rooted religious faith. King Ludwig II was also deeply Catholic, and while he never married nor had any known mistresses, evidence left behind in his diaries and letters to others suggests he was exceptionally conflicted with the fact that he was very likely a gay man. Back in his time, this would have sadly been unthinkable and unacceptable, particularly in regard to a monarch who was expected to marry and produce heirs. It’s extremely sad to see why he would have had so many reasons to want to hide and roleplay a better life for himself where he could be free. It’s also quite clear that he idolized the idea of being deemed worthy through being virtuous enough to rule, just like in the tale of Parzival. Our tour guide told us that close friends even called him by this name instead of by his formal titles or real name, further proving his admiration of the character.
Based on this information, it’s very likely that he dedicated this breathtaking work of architectural wonder, far from the power he only had on paper in nearby Munich, to the man he loved and could never be with, the famous composer Richard Wagner. Unfortunately, unlike a Disney movie, there is no happy ending to this story. The castle, while stunning inside, was never finished because he was found dead in a nearby lake after being declared insane, according to our tour guide, likely after people found out about his sexual orientation. Whether he was murdered or ended his own life, no one knows for certain, and to this day, it remains as mysterious as the man was when he was alive.
What to Know Before Visiting
I recommend wearing comfortable walking shoes, bringing plenty of cash, along with some snacks and a water bottle, as well as clothing appropriate for the weather that changes quickly. There aren’t any places to grab food near the castle, although there are down in the village below the castle called Schwangau, so keep this in mind, particularly if you hike up into the mountains as we did, which can take a few hours round-trip.
Also, depending on the season, tickets might sell out far in advance, so as soon as you know you’d like to visit the castle, book your tickets online to reserve your time, or you may run the risk of being denied entry. Currently, medical masks are required of all visitors to the castle.
The castle is incomplete, so only very few rooms are shown on the tour, and they are extremely, extremely strict about not allowing photos of any kind during the guided tour. It’s such a shame and not something I saw mentioned anywhere online because the castle’s interior is incredible and something I would love to photograph someday!
Currently, the castle is owned by the Bavarian Palace Department, so it is not owned by any individual.
Why I Loved Visiting
The castle itself was so breathtaking, no matter which angle we looked at it. It was seriously like something out of a storybook. I’ve visited dozens and dozens of castles, palaces, and great houses around the world, but from an architectural standpoint, this is one of the most beautiful and impressive I’ve ever seen. Not only that, but the natural splendor of the German Alps and the plethora of fantastic hiking and landscapes that are practically begging to be photographed, it’s very difficult not to be in complete awe of this region. It’s obvious why King Ludwig II of Bavaria chose to build his monument here. I love that this man had an entire kingdom to run and instead essentially decided to LARP here instead.
Best Views of the Castle
View from Walk Up to Neuschwanstein from Schwangau Village
By walking, we saw beautiful views like this one, which we would have missed if we’d taken the bus!
View from Top of the Mountain – Accessible on Foot Only
We climbed to the very top of the mountain path to see this view of the castle from way up high. It took about an hour and a half round trip, and we didn’t see a single other person the entire time, so we had panoramic views of not only the gorgeous castle, the farmland, and the villages beyond but also of the snow-topped German Alps all to ourselves! This is definitely a core memory!
View from The MarienBrücke (Maria’s Bridge) – Accessible by Bus
This is the “main” viewpoint for Neuschwanstein Castle and is, therefore, extremely crowded. We had to wait to get on the bridge and then to get a good spot near the center (a total wait of 5 minutes), which was very worthwhile. This bridge was originally built by King Maximilian II of Bavaria and named after his wife, who loved hiking to that spot.
View from Base of the Castle, Before the Tour Begins
On the walk from the bus drop-off or the main path up to the castle, there are amazing close-up views for visitors to enjoy. It’s incredible to see how truly massive this castle is!
Bonus: View from the Castle’s Balcony of Schwangau
While this isn’t a view of Neuschwanstein Castle, it shows why the tour is so worthwhile. Not only will you learn far more about the castle and the man who built it than I’ve outlined here, but you’ll also get to enjoy a gorgeous view of the surrounding mountains, Hohenschwangau Castle (the yellow building below), the valley, MarienBrücke, the lake, and forest, but you’ll also get to see the area from a perspective that kings and more than 130 million other visitors to the castle have enjoyed throughout the castle’s history. This balcony is by the gift shop after the tour ends. If you can’t find it, ask for directions from the staff, and they’ll be happy to direct you.
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