Few places in the world can be compared to the Neuschwanstein castle, and believe me this is not an overstatement. Only a few hours away from Munich, this fantasy-like castle constructed by the ‘mad’ king offers an unforgettable experience, one which can be expanded through a better understanding of the history behind the king and the castle themselves.
Here is my personal guide on how to get to the castle from Munich, as well as a little bit of background on who Ludwig II was, what he went through, and what the Neuschwanstein castle is all about.
The Story Behind the Neuschwanstein
The Legacy of King Ludwig II
His Highness, King Ludwig II, ruler of Bavaria, had already become a sort of a legend while he was still alive. The shy and introverted dreamer was early in his life brought to kingship and forced to deal with a huge loss in the war against Prussia.
Stripped of his political roles, he then sank into a fantasy world out of which he would never come out. The now vassal, far removed from reality, decided to materialize his fantasy world around him, where he would become a true king. And thus the idea of Neuschwanstein was born.
The story becomes even more tragic with what followed. Due to increasing debts and irrational mismanagement of the royal treasure, which was almost entirely spent on the creation of magical places, the Bavarian government decided to depose the king through an illegal move not provided for in the Bavarian constitution.
The king was officially declared insane and deposed by the Bavarian government in 1886, with the help of a sponsored psychiatrist, who on the next day after the king’s hospitalization, was found dead together with the king on Lake Starnberg.
The Construction of the Neuschwanstein Castle
Ludwig II spent most of his infant years at the Hohenschwangau castle, where he fell in love with the beautiful mountain scenery. After becoming king, he decided to build his own fantasy castle in this place which was so dear to him.
On the narrow mountain ridge near his father’s castle, there were the ruins of two small castles: Vorder- and Hinterhohenschwangau. It seemed like the perfect place to begin construction. The foundation stone of his fantasy castle was laid in 1869, but the castle itself would only be inaugurated eleven years later (1880), with the king moving in only in 1884, two years before being deposed.
How to Get to the Neuschwanstein Castle
Munich to Hohenschwangau
To reach the Neuschwanstein Castle, you have two main options, either going there by car or by train. By car is the easier option, as you only need to take the A96 route, and drive yourself for roughly two hours towards the parking lot of the castle. In case you don’t have a car, you should take the following routes:
Train: München Hbf → Füssen Hbf
Bus: Füssen → Steingarden / Garmisch-Partenkirchen (RVA/OVG 73) or
Füssen → Schwangau (RVA/OVG 78)
Hohenschwangau/Castles – Alpseestrasse (Alpsee Street)
Keep in mind that the cheapest option to go from Munich to Füssen is by purchasing a Bayern Ticket, which grants you a 2-way transfer. Also, the actual distance between Füssen and Hohenschwangau is 5km, so taking a taxi to the castle is also possible.
Hohenschwangau to Neuschwanstein Castle
Once you arrive in Hohenschwangau, it’s time to purchase your ticket. Ideally, you should have bought it beforehand here. But in case you haven’t, all you need to do is go to the ticket center by the foot of the mountain.
You cannot simply walk into the castle and wander freely. You can only visit it while accompanied by an official guide, both for the sake of the fragile architecture and your understanding of the history behind its construction.
After buying the tickets, all you need to do is walk to the castle, which can be quite tiresome for some. It’s an uphill walk of almost half an hour. In case you either do not wish to suffer this fate, or someone involved in the trip has any sort of physical impediment, you have two main options: a bus trip or a carriage ride. Honestly, the carriage ride is not that expensive and adds to the experience, so I would go for that.
Outside the Neuschwanstein Castle
The View of the Castle
Throughout most of the journey, from the moment you drop in Hohenschwangau to the entrance gate, you will have some sort of a view of the castle. The tiny distant towers slowly become larger and larger until this glorious structure materializes in front of you from behind the trees.
Its exterior appearance itself is already worth the visit. From it, we can already see that Ludwig II was not joking when he told everyone he intended to build a fantasy-like castle to honor his medieval heroes.
The View from the Hill
As glorious as the view of the castle is the view of the surroundings from its ledges. From up here, you can see the Alps, the large Alpsee and the little Schwansee lakes, as well as the tiny Hohenschwangau castle where Ludwig spent most of his early years.
Up the mountain, outside of the castle, there are many metal ledges where you can see the whole natural environment surrounding the place. At some specific places, you will even find fixed binoculars to help you admire the farther sights.
Inside the Neuschwanstein Castle
While taking pictures of the outside of the castle is allowed, it is strictly forbidden to take photographs or videos inside the castle. If you wish to take photographs or film, you need formal permission from the administration, and it comes with a fee.
For those reasons, I will be using the photographs of Joseph Albert, the photographer of Ludwig II, to illustrate the most beautiful rooms in the castle.
Wohnzimmer (Drawing Room)
This large saloon was mainly utilized by Ludwig II to spend time with family and guests. The room is divided by columns, wherein one side we find an alcove furnished with chairs. The curtains of this room are made of blue silk and embroidered with swans and lilies.
The paintings on the walls refer to the Lohengrin Saga, who is a character in German Arthurian literature, as in related to the legend of King Arthur. Lohengrin was the son of Parzival (Percival), and a knight of the Holy Grail sent in a boat pulled by swans to rescue a damsel who can never ask his identity.
Ludwig II had a personal connection with the story, mostly due to the fact that the swan was his heraldic animal, as he was the Knight of Schwangau (swan village).
Arbeitszimmer (Study Room)
Upon entering this room, we can see Ludwig’s study table right at the center of the room, where his writing set still can be found. The cupboard in this room used to contain the castle plans and drafts.
The paintings on the walls refer to Tannhäuser, a knight and poet who is said to have found the Venusberg, the subterranean home of Venus, where he spent a year worshipping her. Tannhäuser, filled with remorse, travels to Rome to ask Pope Urban IV for papal forgiveness. The Pope then replies that it would be easier for his papal staff to blossom, than for him to be forgiven for his heresy. Three days after Tannhäuser left, Urban’s staff bloomed with flowers.
Ludwig’s bedroom is one of the most ornamented rooms in the whole castle. The royal bed was carved in neo-gothic style and the seat coverings sewed in blue silk, with embroidered and appliquéd lions, swans, crowns, lilies, as well as the Bavarian coat of arms.
The paintings on the walls refer to the legend of Tristan and Isolde, the famous tragedy of adulterous love. According to legend, after defeating the mighty knight Morholt, Tristan returns to his home country with the beautiful Isolde for his uncle, the reigning king, to marry. The tragedy begins when, on their way home, both ingest a love potion which causes them to fall madly in love with each other.
Speisezimmer (Dining Room)
As the name suggests, this is the room where Ludwig II had his meals. It served as an entrance to the apartments of the king, where people entered through an oak-paneled anteroom. It even has its own electric bell system, which Ludwig used to call upon his servant in charge.
The paintings on the walls refer to the legendary Bavarian knight and poet, Wolfram von Eschenbach, who was responsible for the writing of the Parzival (Percival) epic; as well as the motif of the battle of Siegfried against the Dragon, as detailed in the epic Nibelungenlied (the Song of the Nibelungs).
Sängersaal (Singers’ Hall)
The Singers’ Hall was one of Ludwig’s favorite rooms in the whole castle, second only to the Throne Hall. It’s gigantic size, occupying a great part of the fourth floor of the castle, signifies the importance of what happened here: it was the king’s personal sanctuary to the knights and legends of medieval times. Here, musical performances of the epics of Tannhäuser, Parzival and Lohengrin took place, to honor the history of Bavaria.
All over the walls of this room, you will see allegories to medieval German myths, including and actually focusing on the ones mentioned here before. The hall itself provides a sight that no words can accurately describe, especially due to the artistic weight it has.
Thronsaal (Throne Hall)
Finally, we reach the Throne Hall. Inspired by Byzantine churches, it was built so to represent the role that Ludwig believed he was born to play, that of king by God’s grace, a mediator between the divine and the mundane.
This colossal hall occupies the third and fourth floors and the entire west section of the castle. It hosts a massive four meter tall chandelier, descending from a glorious cupola. On the apse area we can see Jesus Christ together with the Twelve Apostles, acompanied by six holy kings.
This hall was never intended to be used for ceremonial or State occasions, it was solely built to represent how Ludwig saw himself as king. Walking into the hall is a unique experience which grants us access to the deepest beliefs of the Bavarian monarch.