I dreamed about visiting this castle for as long as I’ve wanted to travel. A few years ago when I applied to be a tour guide for BusAbout, I was given King Ludwig II of Bavaria, “The Mad King,” as my topic. I waxed poetic about his dream castle that was never completed, how he may have had some homosexual tendencies and his very mysterious death.
After a number of days with too much beer in Munich, I needed to get into the Bavarian countryside. I signed up for an early morning tour with New Europe Tours, which I had heard great things about. I met my group at the Munich train station, where I met a group of female American volleyball players who were living in Innsbruck.
The ride from Munich to the small town of Füssen took around two hours before we started to see the mountains come into view. From the train drop off, there was still a bus ride up to the main level where hikes to Neuschwanstein Castle begin.
Our guide Jonathan pointed out Hohenschwangau Castle up on the hill, where Ludwig grew up. He made sure to stay close to home as an adult, building his own castle a short hike away. If you don’t know the history of this family, I highly recommend doing some research as they make the Kardashians look like the Cleavers.
On our ascent of to the castle, we stopped by the lake where tourists were feeding the swans that the castle was named for. Neuschwanstein literally means “new swan stone.” As I wasn’t sure how to dress for this tour, I started to shed some layers every few steps.
As you may know, I’m not one for hiking, but this steep climb was still more than I was expecting. I was huffing and puffing as children and the elderly zoomed past me. But the view along the way was worth the slow pace. You could see lakes in the distance and mountains beyond.
I was very glad to reach the top, but my journey was just beginning. I now had to fight my way into the castle to go on one of the tours. Ludwig’s journey to create the castle began in 1869 and took over two decades and an insane amount of money to build. Ludwig had his own private theater, chapel and state-of-the-art toilet.
Unfortunately, Ludwig died before he truly got to enjoy his new digs, after only 172 days. The circumstances surrounding his death are still unknown, but the official verdict was drowning, despite the fact that he was an experienced swimmer. When Ludwig died in 1886, the palace was still incomplete and unpaid for. Only six weeks after Ludwig’s death, the castle ran paid tours to raise money to finish the project.
I was not impressed with the crowds at the castle as it felt like we were being pushed through every room and squeezed through all the doorways. I felt more claustrophobia than I did wonder, despite the stunning interior. Nothing seemed to change when we got to Marienbrücke Bridge, where everyone gets the “perfect shot” of the castle. There was a line just to get onto the bridge and everyone was pushing to get their photo taken. I had enough and snapped one photo before getting out of there.
But when you see this view, it’s easy to see why Walt Disney was inspired by Neuschwanstein Castle when he created Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland and why over 1 million people visit it every year. The scaffolding you see on the left side and tower is part of a long-standing building project that has been going on for the past four plus years and will continue until summer 2013. If you want to see some beautiful images of the castle in the snow, see the ones from my friend Christine’s visit.
And of course, what goes up must come down. Once the group had been able to tour the castle, buy any souvenirs and take photos from the bridge, we began the hike back down to Füssen. Some members of the group chose to take the bus back down, but I was committed enough to go the “real” way, down slippery walkways and dirt paths.
We passed a number of waterfalls and a shallow area that would be a nice place to cool off on a summer day. It was covered with hundreds of stacked rocks that I’ve seen in the same style in Hawaii and Australia. When I finally made it back down to the bus stop that would take us back to the train station, I treated myself with a much-needed beer, complete with the logo of Neuschwanstein Castle.
Tours cost €32, which covers your train ticket and guide. It costs an additional €12 to tour the inside of the castle, which is recommended. The tour lasts 8 hours and starts and begins at the Munich Hauptbahnhof. They run on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. No photos are allowed inside of the castle.