Approximately 2 hours southwest of Munich lies the small alp-side down to Hohenschwangau. In it lies the childhood home of Mad King Ludwig, Schloss Hohenschwangau, and the fairy tale home he was building for himself in the 1800’s. Schloss Neuschwanstein. It is said the later was the castle that inspired Walt Disney to build his infamous castle – maybe the most well visited “castles” on earth.
When we arrived in the town we enjoyed some lunch and a brief wander up and down the one main street before beginning our ascent to the castle. As a school group we were able to make a reservation, but if you don’t I suggest arriving in town early to get your tickets for entrance. If you are going to see both castles, you would do Hohenschwangau first – which gives a great background into the life of King Ludwig and his father King Maximillian. If you choose to see just one (many do) then Neuschwanstein is much more popular. Both castles are high up on hills, though there is a bus that goes close to the top. We planned on taking the bus to skip the 45 min – 1 hour long walk up the steep hill, but it was icy out and buses had been cancelled. The kids weren’t sad though when I told them that we were going to take horse drawn carriage up instead. The carriage isn’t fast and the line up can vary. We waited 20-30 minutes to get all 30 of us on to the carriage for the 15 minute ride to the base. You do still need to walk 10-15 minutes up to the castle entrance, but there is a great viewpoint for pictures on the way, so this is well worth it.
The entire castle system runs on timed entry. Something to be said about German efficiency. When you get your ticket it has a very specific time. You need to be up top at the castle gates when your time is called. You then have a few minutes to scan your ticket and get into the queue for your tour. They have tours in many languages, German, English, French, as well as multi language tours with audio guides. If you miss your tour time, you are our of luck. And given that there are no ticket sales at the top, you have no choice but to return to the bottom of the mountain, disappointed. This is a great system to avoid unnecessary waiting, and a bad system if you are the kind who is chronically late. However, I would take this system any day over the hectic “systems” you find in Italy and France (aka: very long lines and no order what-so-ever).
Inside the castle you get a tour that is 35-45 minutes, depending on your group and guide. You are not suppose to take photos inside, though it didn’t prevent many from trying to take stealthy photos on the iPhone. The castle was in construction for 17 years, and got finished enough for King Ludwig to move in and live there for 6 months before his death (murder? suicide? no one quite know the truth). 6 weeks later the castle was opened for tourists, and spent the next 30 years recouping the costs. Complete with indoor heating, automatic plumping, and telephone and lighting, Ludwig’s castle was car above and beyond the technology of the mid-19th century.
At the end of the tour you had to work your way through a maze of stairs and tunnels to finally make it to the outside, and of course walk all the way down the hill to get back to town. In the past I would have recommended enjoying the view of the castle from Marienbrücke, but it’s been closed just this spring.
This wasn’t our first visit to Neuschwanstein. We were here three years prior (see here). During that time we had our own car and could explore the area more authentically. We did’t have the same luxury with a large group, so we did the more typical tourist day trip. 4 hours in town, one tour, a handful of photos, and then we are off. It’s not my favourite way to travel, but when traveling with students it is a balance between giving them unique in-depth authentic experiences (like time on a farm in Normandy or cooking classes in Rome), and some of the more famous tourist sites. Being a tourist site isn’t a bad thing. There is lots to learn about Bavaria and Mad King Ludwig from this particular visit. It’s always my hope that we give them just enough variety in experiences, culture, art, history, food and more so that they will be as addicted as I am – and will come back both here, as well as venture out to new destinations, time and time again. And I have no doubt that we achieved this goal.