Does the picture above look familiar to you? No surprise, because a) this fairy tale Bavarian castle is all over Instagram these days and b) it was the inspiration behind Disney’s Cinderella castle. Schloss Neuschwanstein, as it’s called, is a breath-taking castle on a mountain top in southern Bavaria, Germany, close to the border with Austria. It was built in the 19th century by the Bavarian King Ludwig II. Fascinated by dramatic operas and medieval legends, the king decided to create his own fairy tale with Neuschwanstein at the heart of it. The castle became his private playground, a recluse where he could escape reality and live in his own fantasy world. Ludwig II kind of was the Michael Jackson of his time, really.
Sadly for him, Ludwig II was not able to enjoy his fantastical retreat for long. Before the castle was even completed the King was declared insane and died a mysterious death in 1886. More than a hundred years later, the castle has turned into one of Germany’s top tourist attractions, with people coming from all over the world to admire this mesmerising place.
Are you, like so many others, planning to add this marvellous destination to your bucket list? Having just returned from a trip to Neuschwanstein myself, I’ve put together of list of six things you need to know before visiting this fascinating place castle:
1. Book tickets in advance
You can be sure of one thing when visiting Schloss Neuschwanstein: you won’t be alone. Hordes of tourists make their way to the castle every day, with July and August being peak season. Although it is possible to buy same-day tickets at the foot of the castle, they often run out in the afternoon. And even if you do manage to get hold of a ticket on the day, it might be that the earliest available entrance time is a few hours away (which is what happened to me). So, save yourself the hassle (and the queues!) and book an advance ticket online. Tickets can be purchased up to 2 days in advance on a somewhat complicated website and include a guided or audio tour of the castle’s interior. Visiting the area surrounding the castle is free (and frankly, just as impressive!).
2. Don’t be late
Looking at images of Schloss Neuschwanstein it’s easy to imagine your trip to this fairy tale place to be a romantic and relaxed one. Unfortunately, nothing could be less true. In order to process the gazillions of people that visit Neuschwanstein each year in an orderly manner, visits are limited to 30 minutes and are bound to very precise time slots. The castle is a well-oiled tourist machine these days and although this may take away some of the magic of the place, it’s the only way to manage the number of visitors.
You’ll be given a starting time of your tour when buying a ticket. If you miss your slot by 5 minutes, your ticket will no longer be valid and you won’t be able to access the automatic gates leading to the castle. This is German pünktlichkeit, or punctuality, at its finest. Do bear in mind it’s a 30 minute uphill walk from the ticketing stalls to the castle entrance. So, don’t be late!
3. Walk up to the Marienbrücke for real Instagram material
The guided tour of Neuschwanstein provides a great snapshot of the castle. Photography is not permitted inside though, but not to worry, because the most picturesque sights are actually found outside. For real Instagram material, head to the Marienbrücke, a narrow pedestrian bridge spanning a small, but deep gorge. From here, you will have the best view of the castle and its surroundings. Be warned though, because this is not a place for those that have fear of heights!
4. Go late afternoon for the best shots
The die-hard Instagrammers among us know that early mornings and late afternoons usually provide the best sunlight to take brilliant photographs. The same goes for a trip to Schloss Neuschwanstein. On a sunny afternoon, as the sun starts to set between the mountains in the southwest, the white facades of the castle lighten up beautifully, creating a stunning golden glow. This is one of the best moments to capture the beauty of Neuschwanstein. From the Marienbrücke you’ll have a gorgeous view of the southwestern part of the castle and it’s from here that you can take some of the most impressive shots of this stunning place.
5. Turn your visit into a proper day trip with a stop in some of the nearby quaint towns
A 1.5 hour car drive south of Munich, Schloss Neuschwanstein can perfectly be visited on a day. Although you could just drive directly back and forth, it would be a shame not to make a quick stop in one or more of the nearby Bavarian towns and villages, because they too are often incredibly photogenic!
Füssen is the nearest town and kind of forms the gateway to the castle. It has a charming old city centre with cobblestone streets and Bavarian houses. It’s perfect for a quick lunch, coffee or ice cream in one of its many cafes and restaurants. I also made a pit-stop in Landsberg am Lech. Situated on the banks of the river Lech at less than an hour drive from Munich, this idyllic medieval town is a great place for a quick sightseeing break on the way to or coming back from Neuschwanstein.
6. The castle can be reached by public transportation
Don’t have a car? No worries, because Neuschwanstein Castle can also be reached by public transportation. Several bus companies, such as FlixBus, offer direct connections between Munich’s central ZOB bus station and Schwangau, the tourist village at the bottom of the castle. Busses depart regularly, tickets are cheap (if you book ahead) and the journey takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Alternatively, but slightly more complex, you could take a train to the town of Füssen and from there walk in 45 minutes to Schwangau.
So, are you ready to add this fantastic destination to the bucket list…?