Built by a mad king and copied by Walt Disney, Neuschwanstein castle is the world’s most famous fairytale castle and a sight for sore eyes. More than 1.4 million people visit Neuschwanstein annually, and this year I was one of them.
I joined a 12-hour organized tour from Munich. The tour took me to see Neuschwanstein and Linderhof castles, which were both constructed by King Ludwig II, a young eccentric who slept by day and worked at night. Along the way, we stopped at the fairytale village Oberammergau.
THE FAIRYTALE NEUSCHWANSTEIN CASTLE
We left Munich early in the morning and set out for Neuschwanstein castle (or Schloss Neuschwanstein to use its proper German name). From miles away I spotted the white castle by the soaring high turrets towering above the lush, green trees.
It was beautiful. This world-famous fairytale castle is surrounded by green meadows and snow-capped mountain tops. The setting is so idyllic it served as Walt Disney’s inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
Now, a bit of background.
Ludwig II was a peculiar man. In 1869, he ordered the construction of Neuschwanstein castle and intended it a place to retreat and live in solitude. Inspired by the medieval legends in Wagner’s opera, Ludwig created a fairytale masterpiece that included state-of-the-art technology like telephones and electric bells to summon servants. He even had flushing toilets.
“I want to remain an eternal mystery to myself and others”
– The Mad King Ludwig II
But like so many of Ludwig’s grand schemes, his fairytale castle was never finished. He spent just 170 days in Neuschwanstein before he was declared insane and arrested at the castle. Three days later he was found dead in Lake Starnberg in what was called a suicide. His drowning is still shrouded in mystery.
I walked up to the castle and waited with the group until it was our turn for the tour. We couldn’t take any pictures inside, but this is one of those places that are JUST as beautiful from the outside. We got the story of the castle and King Ludwig on the bus, which was good because the castle tour was mainly about Neuschwanstein.
Neuschwanstein has a lot of uniquely-designed rooms, but my favorite was Ludwig’s artificial grotto, which was an allusion to the Tannhäuser opera by Wagner. It really shows how eccentric he was.
When we got outside after the 35-minute tour, I looked for the postcard view of Neuschwanstein. The best view of the castle is from Marienbrücke (Mary’s bridge), but a fellow visitor told me that it was closed due to reconstruction.
Talk about bad timing
Instead I walked back down and got a few photos of the castle from other angles.
On the way down I saw Hohenschwangau Castle. This is where Ludwig lived when he built the fairytale castle. Hohenschwangau was also his childhood home and an inspiration for him to create a “more beautiful and habitable” castle.
While I was disappointed with not seeing Neuschwanstein from Marienbrücke, and feeling un-informed by our tour guide, it lived up to my expectations.
The number of tourists was a bit unappealing, but that’s expected at a popular site like this. I’m very glad to have seen Neuschwanstein castle and I would definitely go again – only next time I will check that Marienbrücke is open.
After a few hours, we drove on to Linderhof castle; the smallest of the king’s three castles.
Ludwig was a recluse. So it’s no surprise that he built Linderhof in a secluded area, surrounded by forests and hills. Ludwig wanted to build a castle similar to Versailles in France and although Linderhof is much smaller, it’s easy to see the similarity.
Linderhof has a more private or intimate feel as opposed to Neuschwanstein, which is big and grandiose. Ludwig’s favorite room – and mine too – was the mirror room. With large mirrors on every wall, it looked like an endless hall where-ever you looked. It was really cool.
Linderhof palace is beautiful inside, but we weren’t allowed to take photos. I did get some photos from the outside and the gardens and water fountains were spectacular. I also ran into a swan who lived by the nearby lake. He posed and waddled by the entrance and made a fun addition to the Mad King’s castle.
FAIRYTALE HOUSES IN OBERAMMERGAU
In Bavaria there’s this tradition of painting murals on the facades of houses. Germans call it Lüftlmalerei after the most famous Lüftl painter, Franz Seraph Zwinck. He lived in Oberammergau in a house named Zum Lüftl and people called him “the Lüftlmaler”.
These frescos or lüftl paintings often depict Christian motifs or everyday life, but in Oberammergau the theme is fairytales.
I found many beautiful painted houses in Oberammergau with some dating back to the 18th century. See this hotel’s colorful exterior? This is just one of the many charming homes.
While wandering around town, I saw paintings with Hanzel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, The Hare and the Hedgehog, The Valiant Little Tailor and Cinderella. It was fun to discover new fairytales on the houses.
Each of the fairytale scenes included a Christian word of wisdom about God’s love or everyday advice. Like the text under Gretel in the cage above: “Let courage and hope never fail as long as God’s heavens prevail.”
TIPS FOR VISITING NEUSCHWANSTEIN & LINDERHOF
- Make sure Marienbrücke is open on the day you visit.
- If you don’t have a car, I recommend booking a day trip to see the castles. Alternatively, you can organize the trip yourself from Munich or simply stay in Fussen, a small village just a few km from Neuschwanstein. But it’s difficult without a car and impossible to visit both castles on your own. If you join a trip, you get to see more than one castle, and everything is taken care of – from transport to ticket booking and tours.
- Oberammergau is 90 km from Munich. I recommend visiting Oberammergau, Neuschwanstein and Linderhof on the same trip.
- If you visit Neuschwanstein and Linderhof on your own, check the times of the castle tours so you won’t miss them.
- Neuschwanstein tickets: Adults 12 euros ($16 US)
- Linderhof tickets: Adults 8.5 euros ($9.5 US)
Have you been to a fairytale castle before? Do you like Neuschwanstein or Linderhof better?
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