Neuschwanstein Castle is the castle of my dreams! Built between 1868 – 1892, (but made to appear much older) it was the fairytale retreat of King Ludwig II of Bavaria so he could escape the world. Much has been written and spoken about Ludwig II and it is certainly a very interesting story. Our tour guide told us the story in instalments throughout the day, which definitely helped pique our interest. I’ll briefly recap it here.
The history and mystery
King Ludwig II was born in 1845 to Maximilian II and Marie of Prussia, who were not particularly loving parents. He and his brother Otto were brought up with the duty of their titles evident. Ludwig became king at the age of 18 with no experience of ruling but was incredibly popular with the public, particularly women! Ludwig was a big fan of the arts and was especially fond of Wagner. Wagner visited Munich and it became the musical capital of Europe. Ludwig continued to support Wagner financially, even after Wagner was exiled from Germany.
Ludwig was a recluse and did not enjoy the constraints and pressures of being king. He wanted to create a world that he could retreat to and ignore reality. After his grandfather died, money was available for his dream to become a reality. This was how Neuschwanstein Castle was born. It was based on Versailles and was to be sat high on the mountain top above Hohenschwangau castle. Lots of the latest technology of the time was used to help build it, including TNT to create the space. Ludwig spent lots of time and money designing and creating his fantasy world and was always changing his ideas. He spent so much money on the castle that he practically bankrupted himself and Bavaria. His refusal to sort out the money issues allowed the state to declare him insane in 1886. He was arrested in his bedroom at Neuschwanstein castle and taken to Berg Palace. He had only spent 11 nights in total at the palace, even though it took 16 years to build.
The next day, Dr Gudden (who had yesterday declared Ludwig insane) took a stroll with his patient around the palace gardens. He told the attendants to leave them be so the 2 men took this walk alone. Neither of them returned. After an extensive search of the castle and it’s grounds, their bodies were found in Lake Stamberg. No one heard or saw anything and to this day, no one knows exactly how they died. There are plenty of theories of course!
As the building of Neuschwanstein Castle cost so much and created so much debt, Ludwig’s family opened the castle up to the public within months of his death to try and recover costs. It’s rather ironic that a castle originally created for a man to escape the world and reality is now a huge tourist attraction, with thousands of visitors per year.
After hearing this story, I believe that Ludwig wasn’t mad as many people suggest. Instead, I think he was camp, flamboyant, reclusive and just didn’t want to deal with his reality and pressure of ruling.
As I’ve said MANY times before, visiting Neuschwanstein Castle (or New Swan Castle) was my reason for going to Munich. I had the best day! It started early by meeting the rest of the group at Munich’s train station. There were probably about 20- 30 of us (and this was supposed to be a small group tour!) and we all got the public train to Fussen, the closest town. Our guide was really good. She was knowledgeable and local, which I think always helps. The journey took about 2 hours and got more and more scenic as we approached the Alps. The houses got more and more German like and wooden chalet styles as well. They were so pretty! I’ll also remember that train journey as my friend was in Barcelona at the time and text to say she’d gotten engaged!!
Anyway I digress! As we got closer, we kept a look out for our first glimpse of the castle. I’ve got a few very blurry pictures of a white smudge in the mountains that is the first view of the castle. To entertain us on the train journey, the guide began the story of Ludwig II, even showing us pictures in a book she passed around!
Eventually we arrived in Fussen, and this was when I was pleased I was on an organised tour. Everyone on that train was heading to Neuschwanstein. I’m talking a few hundred people. Some were in organised tours, others were doing it independently. One of the perks of organised tours is organised transport! We were whisked straight onto one of the waiting buses to take us on the 10/15 minute journey to Hohenschwangau. The alternative was to either join the huuuuuge queue or walk!
As we approached the town, the castle became more and more visible and there were several audible gasps from the entire group! It really is stunning in person. I was kind of worried that it would be an anticlimax after I’d built it up in my head. Luckily, it turned out to be just as impressive as I’d hoped!
We reached the town, had a free half hour or so to get food and take photos of the castle towering over us! Luckily, during this time, our guide had secured us a shuttle bus up the mountain to the castle. Again, very grateful for an organised tour! It cost us an extra 2 euros but I don’t mind if it means no hill walking! The journey up was a bit of a death climb! I’m talking narrow, windy, mountainous roads but an ever increasingly impressive view! At one point I stopped looking out the window as it was making me nervous! When we reached the top, we had time to visit Marienbrucke (the bridge named after Ludwig’s mother). This was crazy busy! I’ve never seen people queue to walk on a bridge! They even had a security guard to stop too many people being on it. Apparently, it has been recently renovated, but I’m not going to lie… the ricketiness and swaying made me a bit nervous!! The wooden slats were rather worn! When you look at the bridge from the castle, you can see how high up it is! I was kind of glad I saw that after I’d been on the bridge.
Anyway, Marienbrucke is where you get the impressive postcard shots, so is definitely worth the hassle! After that, we headed to the castle instead. Another perk of organised travel is queue jumping. We went on the next available tour of the castle and were given a time to meet our guide back at the town.
The tour of the castle lasts about 45 minutes and you are not allowed to take photos inside. Only about 10 of the 200 rooms in the castle are completed and open to the public. We then visited the gift shop (obvs) and the back balcony to take in yet more incredible views. I have to say that autumn is a lovely time to visit. The colours of the trees and leaves just make the view even more stunning and picturesque.
After a jaunt down the mountainside, we met our guide, heard the end of Ludwig’s story and conspiracy theories (which our guide told expertly) and then caught a shuttle bus back to Fussen. By this time we were tired. The train was really busy so we were all spread out over the carriage. Our guide was super helpful though and gave us all personal recommendations for restaurants or accommodation or anything else! We followed her advice and went to a beer hall for tea that night. A fab ending to a fab day!