Yes, it's that castle. The castle with the typically German, extremely complex and lengthly name is the one you're thinking of. It's the castle which inspired Disney's Magic Kingdom, and you've seen a zillion photos of. It's been featured in many movies and there's a lot of mysterious stories that go along with this magical place.
Neuschwanstein castle is located in the small village of Schwangau in Bavaria, Germany. (Pssst - that's in the south, 1.5 hours from Munich). The castle sits high up on the edge of the German Alps (the architecture job must have been a nightmare). It has a beautiful view of the green fields and lake in front as well as impressive mountains brushed by clouds from the rear windows.
The castle was built by the slightly mad King Ludwig II, who had a passion for building extremely elaborate and pricey castles. The castle is home to some mystery because as it was being constructed King Ludwig was determined not fit for his position as king and then found dead in a nearby lake shortly after... Regardless, the castle is beautiful and the location is stunning to spend time at.
Visiting The Castle
The castle is a little ways up on the side of the mountain. This requires you to work a little for your visit and walk from the town below about 30 - 40 mins up a fairly steep incline, or, keeping with the royal theme, pay for a ride up in a horse drawn carriage (€6 uphill, €3 downhill).
Neuschwanstein is the most visited castle in Europe so expect it to be busy at the typical times that most European sights are. If you want to avoid the crowds, head to the castle first thing in the morning, avoid weekends and if you can manage your visit during the shoulder season instead of in the middle of summer, you'll enjoy the castle without the crowd.
Thankfully, the Germans worked their efficiency magic and the tours run orderly and timely, even with so many visitors.
Have your tour led by a guide in either English or German, or by audioguide in a variety of languages. The tour leads your though the impressive and ornate halls, the servants rooms, the King's suite, the ballroom and the partially finished throne room. Every room is an overload of intricate decoration and art. No photos are allowed inside however, so you'll have to see what I mean about the ornate decor when you visit yourself.
The tour, like most things in Germany, is exceptionally reasonably priced. €12 for adults and free for anyone under 18.
There are two prime spots to have your photo with the castle in the background, or just generally get shots of the castle. First is just below the castle, where there's a little balcony set up and has a view on the castle entrance. The second is from a bridge to the side of the castle, however this was closed when we went, and I remember reading on Well Travelled Wife that it was closed when she visited in 2015. However, it seems it will re-open July 2016. Just know it seems to be hit and miss when the bridge is open. If it is when you go, count yourself lucky because it will absolutely afford you the best shot!
What/Where To Eat/Drink
At the base of the mountain where tickets are sold, there are many many restaurants that sit inside beautiful, typically southern German structures. Additionally, there is a little chalet part way up the hike to the castle to stop for food or drink if you would like a breather part-way.
When in southern Germany, do as the Germans do and order a beer with your meal. Regardless if it's just lunch time, it's still normal to enjoy a mid-day beer, so take advantage. Be sure to order a 'Helles' or a 'Hefeweizen' beer. These are two typical types of lightly coloured beer produced in southern Germany.
To Do In The Area
Many international tourists will bus to and from the castle from cities, mainly Munich, for a day trip. However, I would argue that what makes the castle so special isn't the castle itself, but the location.
The scenery of the area is truly breath-taking. Endless impressive mountains, all green and tree covered with perfectly snow-topped peaks. Clouds floating lazily between the mountain valleys, fields and fields of cows all adorned with bells, melodically chiming all day and night. Patchwork fields and winding roads spotted with trees perfectly every few feet creating a covered archway of deep green along every road.
It really is a sight to behold. Germans visit the region not for the castle at all, but for holidays to enjoy the stunning nature. And of course, locals always know a place best, so be sure to take a leaf out of their book and spend some time enjoying the scenery.
It's well worth spending a day swimming in the lake at the base of the castle, driving into the mountains and through the charming red-rooved towns, hiking on the many mountain paths or going for an evening walk by all the cow fields listening to the music they create with their bells. Or of course you may enjoy taking up German culture properly by renting a bike and utilizing the many bike paths to meander through the area that way.
Any day utilized by just enjoying the beauty of the area is a day well spent. I'm sure there was a reason Ludwig decided upon the specific spot for his castle, it's one of the most naturally beautiful spots in the country.
'The American Tourist Thing To Do'
When I settled into my German expat life after my visit to the castle, I soon learned when telling others about my trip that going to see Neuschwanstein is 'the American tourist thing to do'. As this was the castle I had heard the most about and had always seen photos of, I assumed it was the most famous because it was the largest, most beautiful, most historically important, or something of that sort. Turns out, it has a lot to do with the fact Disney used the castle as his inspiration for the Magic Kingdom castle and that's why all the Americans know about it.
So, the good news is, there's many more equally, if not more impressive and beautiful castles Germany has to offer. Keep an eye on the blog for future posts on the other German castles definitely worth a visit.
Do you have a favourite castle you've visited in Germany or Europe? Any suggestions on ones I must-visit while I'm here?