Visiting Bavaria feels like stepping into a fairytale. Picture forests of tall pointy trees, rolling green fields and medieval towns set against a backdrop of the jagged, snow-topped Alps. Then there’s the castles that dot the landscape, including a turreted Disneyesque masterpiece that looks like it’s been pulled straight from the pages of a storybook. How could we resist visiting Neuschwanstein Castle?
Does Neuschwanstein look familiar to you? That’s probably because it served as the inspiration for Disney’s iconic Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty Castles. Neuschwanstein is also one of the most photographed buildings in the world and one of Germany’s top attractions, visited by over 1.3 million people a year.
The Fairytale King and his castle
Despite its medieval appearance, Neuschwanstein was built less than 150 years ago by Ludwig II, also known as the ‘mad’, ‘fairytale’ or ‘swan’ king. The eccentric character was obsessed with building grand castles, became a recluse and died in mysterious circumstances after being committed to a mental asylum in 1886. Tragically, Ludwig never got to complete his beloved Neuschwanstein Castle and spent just 11 nights there.
Ludwig grew up downhill from where Neuschwanstein now stands, in a yellow castle overlooking Hohenschwangau village. The king was obsessed with medieval history, romantic poets and operas, especially those created by his favourite composer, Richard Wagner. All these passions culminated in Neuschwanstein, which he built in a similar style as Wartburg, a medieval castle he admired.
Of the 200 plus rooms, the 14 that were completed feature elaborate, romantic portraits depicting scenes from Wagner operas. The most prominently featured is the Swan Knight character, a lonely, tragic figure that Ludwig related to. In fact, after his death, the castle was named Neuschwanstein, which means New Swanstone Castle, a reference to the knight and Schwangau (Swan Valley) where the castle is located.
There’s also a Singers’ Hall with a stage, elaborate throne room covered with angels and even a bizarre grotto, a corridor decorated like an underground cave with rocks, a waterfall and atmospheric lighting. For all its theatrical and medieval appearances, Neuschwanstein is also unique because it boasted all the mod-cons of its time. These include central heating and plumbing, running water and even a telephone.
Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle
As big castle fans, we decided to stop off at Neuschwanstein on the second leg of our European road trip. Being November, it was off season so we avoided the crowds (up to 6,000 people visit each day during the summer) and got some spectacular autumnal views of the castle.
You can only go inside on a guided tour, but the best way to see Neuschwanstein Castle for free is to take the bus or hike up to the Marienbrücke (Queen Mary’s Bridge) viewpoint. The bridge was built in honour of Ludwig’s mother and crosses the Pöllat Gorge, giving you a spectacular view of Neuschwanstein.
How to take a Neuschwanstein tour
To see the Neuschwanstein Castle interior, you’ll need tickets for a timed tour. You can buy these online two days in advance, or in person from the ticket centre in Hohenschwangau. We visited in November and had no problem getting tickets on the day but between July and September tickets often sell out by lunchtime, so book ahead. You can choose from either a live or audio guide, but you’re not allowed to take photos or video inside.
The tour lasts about 30 minutes and you get to see the completed rooms of the castle. These include Ludwig’s bedroom, which features intricate woodwork that took 14 carpenters over four years to complete and looks like a Gothic church. You’ll also get the chance to walk through the grotto, visit the Byzantine Throne Room and Singers’ Hall. At the end of the tour, there’s a film showing what the castle would have looked like had it been finished.
Neuschwanstein Castle tour tickets and opening times
Tours of Neuschwanstein Castle cost €13 for adults, €12 for concessions, under 18-year-olds are free. You can buy tickets online from the official website. The castle is closed on the 1st January and 24th, 25th and 31st December, opening hours are as follows:
- 24th March to 15th October: 9am – 6pm (ticket centre 8am-5pm)
- 16th October to 23rd March: 10am – 4pm (ticket centre 9am-3pm)
If you also want to visit Hohenschwangau Castle and the Museum of Bavarian Kings, a combined ticket for all three sights costs €31.50. Tickets for one castle and the museum costs €22 and a ticket for both castles costs €25.
How to get to Neuschwanstein Castle
The Neuschwanstein Castle location itself is idyllic. Perched on a hill set against the snowy Alps, the castle overlooks the Black Forest and Hohenschwangau village. It sits right on the ‘Romantic Road’, a 250-kilometre route that stretches through some of the most scenic roads in southern Germany. The nearest towns are Füssen and Schwangau.
Many people come on a Neuschwanstein Castle day trip from Munich by bus or train, as there’s a station in Füssen. You can catch a local bus from there to Hohenschwangau. Since we were driving through Germany, we stayed nearby and parked in the village, which cost €6 for all-day parking.
From the ticket centre, it’s a 30-minute walk to the castle. Alternatively, you can take a horse and carriage up for €6 and down for €3, or take the shuttle bus like we did to the Marienbrücke lookout point, which is a 10-minute walk to the castle. The bus up the hill costs €1.80 and €1 to go down, or €2.60 return. Leave plenty of time to get up to the castle before your tour, which is timed.
Where to stay near Neuschwanstein Castle
When visiting Neuschwanstein Castle, most people stay in nearby Füssen town, where there’s a selection of hotels, hostels and guesthouses, here are some of the top choices:
Instead, we opted to stay in a lovely Airbnb apartment a ten-minute drive away which had a kitchen so we could save money by cooking our own meals. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, you can get £25 travel credit if you sign up using our link.
What’s the best castle you’ve ever visited?