It's time for Ludwig II castles tour and I will start with the most famous one: Neuschwanstein. Pronounced something like /noiƒvanƒtaIn/ and meaning "New Swan Stone Castle", it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Germany and one of the most visited castles in the world today.
I was lucky to visit the castle twice and it was a wonderful experience each time, despite the crowds. The first time I went with the bus tour and the second time I went solo. Going solo is definitely much better because it allows you to stay longer and move on your own. But only on the outside! And do you know why? Because you cannot go inside the castle solo. To see the rooms in the castle you have to be a part of a guided tour. For me, that is the only disappointing thing about visiting this wonderful castle. Oh yeah, taking photos inside is forbidden too, but I did manage to take a snap or two.
I realized this castle is so famous that you probably can find tons of information about it online, so if you are unfamiliar with the castle, here is just a short trivia:
-in the 19th century, many castles were constructed or reconstructed; often with significant changes to make them more picturesque (aka fairy tale castles)
- built from 1869-1892, only about 15 rooms and halls out of more than 200 planned rooms were finished before Ludwig II, the king of Bavaria died
- since Ludwig was not interested in politics and ruling, he imagined Neuschwanstein as his private retreat where he would enjoy the nature, architecture and the music of Richard Wagner
- in fact, the king was Wagner's patron and Richard's operas served as a major inspiration in designing some of the rooms in the castle
- during the building of the castle, many considered it to be a kitsch, particularly because you can see Romanesque, Gothic and Byzantine architecture mixed with, among others, oriental element
- less than two months after Ludwig's death, the castle was open to paying visitors. They smelled the money immediately!
- during the World War II, when Hitler needed a place to store the art he had stolen from museums, he used Neuschwastein as he supposedly believed no one would dare to destroy such place. I guess he was right! This is recently covered in George Clooney's The Monuments Men.
- around 200 000 people visited the castle in 1939, now that number has risen above 1.6 million
One side of the castle
So, how about my experiences? Well, let me tell you that I enjoyed visiting the castle in spring much more. I loved the contrast between the greenery and the limestone. In November everything was quite grey and a bit snowy, so the castle didn't stand out as much. The first time I was part of a bus tour coming from my own country, so I didn't have to worry about anything. We visited Hohenschwangua first and then proceeded to Neuschwanstein. Since it was November and it was like 6 years ago, there weren't many crowds. I was really impressed with the interior. I think it's good to start with Hohenschwangau as it gives you a bit of insight what to expect in Neuschwanstein, but the former is more spartan (for Ludwig's standards). The tour lasted for half an hour and the guide was telling a lot about Ludwig II's life too. The most unusual room is certainly Grotto, which is is actually an artificial cave. Built into the castle between the living room and the study, the cave is illuminated with various colors and even has stalactites and a small waterfall! Again, this was inspired by Wagner's opera.
Rarely do you have a castle so tightly connected with its owner. He was completely involved in every detail regarding the castle, who knows how many great castles he could have built. Contrary to the popular belief, he didn't use public funds to build this castle. He was also supposed to be in love with the famous Sissi, homosexual and lunatic. Eh... there is always so much drama and speculation about famous and interesting personalities. While we were approaching the castles, the guide was telling us everything about his life, his relation to other royals and history of Bavaria. Very informative, but when you hear about most of those names for the first time, it's not easy put the pieces of the puzzle together. So maybe reading a bit about Ludwig before visiting the castle prove useful.
On our way back, me and my family shared a horse-drawn carriage with an elderly German couple. They were very amused by my attempt to eat sausage with ketchup. Yeah, I made a mess and they couldn't hold back the laughter.
On my more recent visit, everything was green, green, green. So relaxing. I was in Munich for a couple of days and I wanted to get the views of the castle from Marienbrucke. So this is how it looked like:
The view from Marienbrucke- in the meantime, the scaffolding is gone :)
I didn't go inside this time, but I will post some pics I took few years ago later.
Yes, you are getting closer!
1. Buy your ticket online
It is one of the most popular destinations in Germany, God knows how much you'll have to wait. I would suggest buying combined ticket with Hohenschwangau Castle, which is just nearby and gives you a better insight into Ludwig II's life and it's a nice castle after all. If you are crazy about Ludwig II and his castles, there is a combined ticket for all 5 castles. I must add that the entrance fee is going up quite often. Regular ticket for Neuschwanstein costs 12 EUR, reduced 11. It is becoming a tourist trap, but what can you do.
You must book online at least 24 hours in advance and there is a small fee per person for the advanced booking. When you get there, go to the reservation counter and pick up the tickets.
Alternative: You can go there and try to buy them. It might not be a bad idea if you are visiting in October-March period. You can work out your time based on the time of your entrance. But my friend was there last September and the line to purchase same-day tickets was about 2 hours long, with tickets only being available for 6 hours later.
2. Be ready for some walking
|Hohenschwangau village and the namesake castle|
Soak up the peaceful atmosphere, move away from the crows and don't forget to go to Marienbrucke (Queen Mary's Bridge) for the most spectacular view of Neuschwanstein. If you want to visit Marienbrucke, take the bus up the hill as the bus stop is closer to the bridge than the footpath route.
Alternative: There are buses (1.9 EUR up, 1 EUR down) and horse-drawn carriages (I think 5 EUR one-way). Bear in mind that in case of snow and ice buses do not run.
3. Follow the guide
As you already know, official tour is the only way to visit the rooms inside the castle. The tour is quite short, but pretty informative (this basically depends on the guide). If the group is larger and you want to follow everything your guide says, try to be just behind his back. As I already mentioned, taking photographs is forbidden, but they won't attack you if you try. Still, there are quite a few guards, so try to be discreet because otherwise it can be pretty embarrassing for you and annoying for the guard. Just imagine how many stupid tourists (like me :)) try to sneak a photo or two.
Alternative: Hang back and try to be one of the last to leave each room to have a better look of the rooms. You may even sneak a photo or two just before the next group fill the room. Here are my results:
Not good, man. Not good. I had a really bad camera back then.
Much better attempt! Study room
I have a funny little story behind this last picture. My mother was trying to sneak a picture of Singers' Hall, the largest room in Neuschwanstein. Most of the crowds (except for omnipresent Asians, as oyu can see :)) finally left the room and just when she was about to push the button, she heard: "No pictures please!" My mother started cursing in our (Croatian) language, babbling that she is trying whole day to take one good photo from the inside, so the poor female guard said: "Jedna, jedna, moze jedna!" (One, one, one is okay), implying that we are allowed to take one picture of the room. I was quite embarrassed and told my mother that the reputation of the people from Balkans is bad enough and that everyone knows about our curses lol... So, I guess there is a way to take pictures after all :)
Anyway, the picture don't do any justice- the whole interior is rich in details, colours and it's really shiny. But personally, I would never want to live in a castle like this, there is absolutely nothing homely and cozy. It is very obvious that Ludwig was channeling medieval castles to every detail. He improved the richness, but not the comfort I'd say.
4. Keep your expectations (relatively) low
The spectacular setting of the castle, the unique exterior and rich interior are absolutely worth visiting. Are you going to like it? Most probably yes. Things that might take away from your experience are the crowds, waiting (for buses too), costs and the duration of the tour (about 35 minutes). Also, bear in mind that this castle was never used as a "castle". It was intended as Ludwig II's residence, it was his dream to live in such "castle". If you have a feeling it looks too new, well it is. It is just 120 years old. So don't try to compare it to real castles. This one had a toilet with an automatic flushing system!
Alternative: Act like a real tourist. Be completely overwhelmed, take gazillion of pictures like the Asians do, or just utter "amazing" and "beautiful" every few minutes like the Americans do :)
How to get to Neuschwanstein by public transport?
Since I was based in Munich, here is how I did it. You have a train + bus connection to Fussen about every hour or so. The journey lasted more than two hours by train (I think). Make sure that you catch the direct train to Füssen which runs every 2 hours (07:50 and 09:50), otherwise you have to change trains additionally.
In Fussen I took bus 73 to Steingaden/Garmisch. You can also catch bus 78 to Tegelbergbahn. The bus stop is called Hohenschwangau, Schlösser.
Unfortunately, transport in Germany is expensive. I paid around 20 EUR for one-way ticket + few more euros to reach Hohenschwangau. So, about 50 EUR return. However, you can save money if you buy Bavaria ticket, it costs 22 EUR for one adult, or 38 EUR for up to 5 adults. You have to return on the same day. Children up to 14 years travel for free with their parents or grandparents. You can purchase the Bavaria ticket online or at ticket machines. It is valid from 9am to 3am the next day on all regional trains and most buses (not on ICE & IC train).
View of Marienbrucke from the entrance of Neuschwanstein
a) Opening hours
Tickets on sale:
April to 15 October: 8 am-5 pm | 16 October to March: 9 am-3 pm
Opening hours of Neuschwanstein Castle:
April to 15 October: 9 am-6 pm | 16 October to March: 10 am-4 pm
open daily except 1 January and 24 / 25 / 31 December.
12 EUR regular/11 EUR reduced
Children and young people under 18 enter for free.
Combined tickets with other Ludwig II castles are possible.
Neuschwanstein has been used as a filming location on quite a few occasions, most notably in:
1. Spaceballs (1987) -featured as the castle of Druidia
2. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) -perhaps the most famous use of Neuschwanstein on film
3. Ludwig II (1972) - the lengthiest use of the castle on film? I own the 4-hour version of the film and supposedly all of Ludwig's castles are used as filming locations. I still haven't seen it though.
4. Ludwig II (1955) - German biopic
5. The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)
5. The Monuments Men (2014)
There is even a video game which features Neuschwanstein- The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery. Too bad I'm not a gamer, though. It sound very intriguing!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery
So, what are your thoughts on Neuschwanstein? Have you visited it already? Did it exceed your expectations? Tell me about you experience!