Schloss Neuschwanstein is, without a doubt, one of the most breathtakingly beautiful and interesting castles I have ever visited – and I have lived in Europe all my life, I’ve been to a lot of castles. Built surprisingly NOT that long ago in the second half of the 19th century by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, the castle is located deep in the heart of the Bavarian region of Germany, about two hours outside of Munich, towering above the small village of Hohenschwangau. The castle itself was originally intended to be a quiet and remote refuge, just far enough away from Munich, where Ludwig II, who was somewhat of a recluse, wanted to live out his last days in peace and privacy. As a personal homage to Wagner, the king adorned the interior rooms of the castle with stunning frescos that depict all of Wagner’s operas and, combined with strategically placed balconies that give truly awe-inspiring views, this is a REAL fairytale castle to behold.
For a long time now, I have been wanting and planning to visit Schloss Neuschwanstein, and I finally got the chance to last week. After my visit, I came away with many thoughts about the whole experience, which I thought might be worth writing up in a blog post here, in case any readers may also be interested in visiting this castle. I will say that a visit to this castle is definitely worthwhile and you SHOULD go. However, there are some extremely useful things to know beforehand, some that I did and others that I wish I did, so I hope you find this post helpful. * I will not discuss the castle itself or its history in this post, other than what I outlined in the introductory paragraph – this post will only cover how to visit the castle and what to expect when you get there.
The first thing to know about visiting Neuschwanstein, before you decide to go and start planning your trip, is that it is totally over-run with tourists. I don’t say this to put you off going – I still maintain that a visit to this castle is worthwhile – but you have to keep in mind that the crowds and tour buses and selfie-sticks and cheap souvenirs are RIFE. They try to get as many people through the interior room tour of the castle as quickly as possible, which means there really is no time to stop and admire the beauty of it all, except for a second, before being herded off into the next room (but more about the interior tour later). So, if you are OK with dealing with tourists and crowds and crowds of people, then great, but if you know you cannot get on board with that, then I would suggest doing something else.
How to get there
If you are travelling to Neuschwanstein independently by train from Munich, don’t worry, it’s not a complicated trip. You will need to take a train from Munich Main Station (München Hauptbahnhof) to Füssen – it takes about two hours and Füssen is the last stop on the line so you can’t miss it. By the way, the train journey becomes very scenic as you approach the mountains, so try to get a window seat! Once you arrive in Füssen, you take a bus no. 78 to Neuschwanstein Castle – it will say this on the front of the bus and there will be hundreds of people taking the same bus (usually they actually provide a few buses leaving at the same time) so just follow the crowd if you aren’t sure! The bus drops you off just at the bottom of the mountain on which the castle sits, and there will be signs to the ticket centre.
Buying the travel tickets
Very important: don’t fall into the trap of buying the VERY expensive full price train ticket from Munich to Schloss Neuschwanstein, which can cost over €100!! If you are travelling alone or in a group of up to 5 people, get the Bavarian region ticket, or Bayern Ticket, available from any ticket machine. This ticket allows you to travel anywhere within the region of Bavaria on any regional RE/RB train (so NOT an ICE train, which you don’t need for Neuschwanstein anyway), as well as on any local transport services, and it is MUCH cheaper.
For 1 person: €23
For 2 people: €31
For 3 people: €37
For 4 people: €43
For 5 people: €49
This ticket will get you all the way to the castle and back, and then to wherever you are staying in Munich city! One thing to remember about the Bayern Ticket, is that it cannot be used before 9am – for getting to Neuschwanstein this means the first train you can take from Munich is at 09:52, arriving at the castle at about 12:20.
Getting up to the castle
Once you have acquired your tickets for entrance to the castle from the ticket centre, you may hike up the hill to the castle, which takes 35-40 minutes, take a horse-drawn cart, €7 to get up the hill and €3.50 to go down, or take the shuttle bus, also for a small fee. Note: if you decide to take the horse cart or the bus up to the castle, you will be dropped off a little way down from the castle, so there will still be a bit of walking to do. If you are travelling with someone who is disabled, they may find this difficult.
When you arrive up at the castle, there will be many viewpoints and benches to sit and have a snack on, as well as maps and touristy souvenir shops. You will have a tour time designated to you on your ticket and you can enter the castle at that time. Upon entering the castle, your bag will be checked by a very friendly and jolly security team and if you are wearing a backpack, you will be asked to wear it front ways, so just be prepared for that.
What to do at the castle
I would highly recommend booking your tickets to enter the castle online in advance, as the queue to buy them then and there went on for miles! I know the website can be a bit confusing, but basically how it works is: you reserve the number of tickets that you want online, stating whether you also want to include the tour of the interior rooms, and provide your credit card info online in advance (you won’t be charged at this point). If you choose to do the interior tour, you must select a time for the tour that is 90 minutes after you arrive at the castle, so that you have ample time to look around and get up to the castle entrance. Therefore, at this point, you have to figure out your arrival times/train times. We took the 09:52 train mentioned above, and had booked our tour for 14:50, and this gave us loads of time to have lunch, take it all in, take some pictures etc. So I would recommend following a schedule like that.
When you arrive at the ticket centre, you may join the (much smaller and quicker) line for pre-reserved tickets – make sure you have your confirmation email of your reserved tickets to show the ticket person. Then you are free to do as you like until your tour time!
If you have opted out of the tour, there is still plenty to do; you can hike up to the castle and around it to the Marienbrücke, you can rent a paddle boat and go out onto the gorgeous lake, have a picnic, stop at a Gasthaus…
The interior tour
OK – I’ll say it again, I really do think that seeing inside of the castle is worth it. It is unlike anything I have seen; the murals and paintings depicting different Wagner operas are stunning, each room is different and decorated in a unique style and the views from the windows and balconies are absolutely amazing … it’s definitely a special place.
BUT. What they really mean by ‘tour’, is that you will be in a group of about 100 people, and every person will be given their own audio guide (mine failed to work for the first few minutes). The ‘tour guide’ will activate all the audio guides at the same time, to which we will all listen in silence. Each audio clip for each room lasts about 3 minutes, before we are quickly herded into the next. In most cases, as I was at the back of the tour, I didn’t even manage to squeeze into the room that the audio guide was telling me about at that moment, so the audio guide really became irrelevant to me. The tour behind ours even began to overtake me, so there really is NO time to linger and look more closely at the artwork, which is SUCH a shame.
So, there it is. If you are claustrophobic, or can’t stand that kind of treatment, this isn’t for you. I feel somewhat conflicted because I hated it, but am still glad I got to see those brilliant paintings, which I will remember. Also, good to know is that there are lots of windy narrow staircases, so if you have vertigo this might not be for you.
Leading off from the entrance to the castle, you have the option to walk over to the Marienbrücke – about a 20-minute hike that takes you to a bridge which gives you the best views over the castle. Again, I did it, and I’m glad because I got some good photos, but you could barely move on the bridge at all because of the number of people who were on it. We were all pretty much pressed right up against each other – not a nice experience and actually a little scary as you could definitely feel the dangerously thin-looking wooden planks under you wobble under the weight of all the people!
What to eat
There are several options for what to do about food on your visit to Neuschwanstein. First, you have the village of Füssen, where you arrived at by train. There are several Gasthauses there. I can’t say this for sure, but it looked to me like the closer you got to the castle itself, the more touristy and not very good the Gasthauses/cafes seemed to be! When you alight from the 78 bus near the ticket centre for the castle, you have more options for these kinds of cafes. They are all extremely typical Bavarian in style and food that they offer, and looked pretty expensive. As you make your way up to the castle, you will have more of these options, as well as the chance to buy ice-creams and snacks from the little shops around the entrance to the castle.
What I honestly suggest is to bring your own picnic. The nature of the place is what is most beautiful, and if you are lucky enough to go on a day with great weather, why not make the most of it! There are lots of nice spots to set up in, which is what we did, and it felt wonderful to enjoy some food outside in that environment.