In the very southern part of Germany, in a town called Schwangau, there exists two castles, Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein, built by a father and son – royalty from the kingdom of Bavaria. Each castle has its own story, so a visit to one would not be complete without a visit to the other.
I suggest starting your tour with Hohenschwangau, built by the father, King Maximilian II. Explore the town and surrounding area until the time for your scheduled visit to Neuschwanstein, the castle built by the son, King Ludwig II.
The town of Schwangau was originally home to three castles, but by the early 19th century, only ruins were left. King Maximilian II built Hohenschwangau on the site of the ruins of the Schwanstein castle. It was intended as a summer retreat for the royal family. Visitors can easily imagine life in the castle, as many of the original furnishings remain. Unfortunately photographs of the inside of the castle are prohibited.
Hohenschwangau was finished in 1837, eight years before Ludwig was born. Maximilian and his wife, Queen Marie, spent summers in the castle, but also visited at other times of the year. Marie collected Alpine wild flowers, assembling them into gardens around the castle. Maximilian spent time in the castle until his death in 1864; Marie remained there until her death in 1889.
King Ludwig II
Young Ludwig spent many afternoons wandering through the countryside, exploring woods, creeks and the ruins of the two castles, Vorderhohenschwangau and Hinterhohenschwangau. Even as a child, he dreamed of building his own castle in the mountains near his father’s.
When Maximilian died in 1864, 19-year-old Ludwig became king. Each time he retreated to the country, he stayed in Hohenschwangau with his mother and younger brother, claiming his father’s bedroom as his own. Unfortunately, this did not satisfy him, so in 1869, he began building his own castle, Neuhohenschwangau.
Ludwig II paid for his castle with his own or family funds, and then, money borrowed from friends and acquaintances. Eventually, the King ran out of resources and asked for a loan from the state. The state refused, and the castle was never finished.
The king was a bit of a recluse. He spent more and more time at Hohenschwangau so he could keep an eye on the building of his new castle. He began to neglect his royal duties. Even though the castle remained unfinished, he was able to move into a some of the rooms. However, days later, he was deposed. The state threatened to remove him from the castle.
Before his opposition was able to confront him, King Ludwig II and the doctor who was caring for him died under mysterious circumstances. Their bodies were found in a shallow pond near the castle. Many theories exist about what caused the men’s deaths, but no concrete conclusions were made.
After the king’s death, the castle was renamed, Neuschwanstein, to better distinguish it from his father’s. It was claimed by the state and, in order to pay the creditors, was almost immediately opened for public tours.
The castle was built using a romantic interpretation of Medieval style. The many slim towers that adorn the exterior were Walt Disney’s inspiration when he built the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland.
King Ludwig II greatly admired the work of Richard Wagner, composer of many well-known operas. The rooms inside the castle are painted with scenes and characters from the operas. One of the king’s favorites was the Swan Knight, which is also referenced in the name of the castle.
The interior contains modern necessities – flush toilets, running water, and a heating system. However, there are also luxuries – a two-story throne room and fourteen exquisitely decorated rooms.
The Castle Grounds
Neuschwanstein is located on a rocky hill that is part of the Bavarian Alps. It overlooks the fertile Hohenschwangau Valley. The Pollat River runs through a gorge near the castle. King Ludwig designed the castle with an inner court filled with a garden.
From the castle, a ten minute walk along the gorge will bring you to the Marienbrucke, or Marie’s Bridge. Originally built by King Maximilian II for his wife, and then rebuilt by Ludwig, the bridge crosses the Pollat River. The view from the bridge is the classic one that is always photographed. Don’t miss the opportunity to stop and look.
There are hiking trails across the bridge if you want to spend more time on the grounds. It is also possible follow a steep path to the bottom of the gorge.
Visiting the castles is possible as a day trip from Munich – plan a full day. Take the regional train to nearby Fussen. A Bayern ticket will save you money, but the are not valid until after 9:00 a.m. In order to have some flex in your schedule, take the earliest trains scheduled after that. (See this post about buying German train tickets).
The train trip is about 2 1/2 hours, so schedule your castle tours for the afternoon. In Fussen, you will need to catch a bus for the last few miles – follow the crowd to bus 78. If you have access to a car, you can drive to the town of Schwangau where there are four parking lots. You will need to walk to the castles from the town, because there is no parking near the castles.
Neuschwanstein is the most visited castle in Germany with over one million people visiting every year. Planning ahead for your visit is essential.
The only way to visit the castles is by a guided tour. It is highly recommended that you reserve your tickets in advance. You can visit one castle, both castles, or one or both in combination with the King’s Museum. There is a small service fee to reserve tickets, but the convenience is worth it. If you have reserved tickets, you pick them up and pay at the ticket counter – cash or credit cards are accepted. Click here for more information and a link to the reservation system.
Plan your Visit
The next time you visit Germany, Austria, or Switzerland, be sure to schedule a time to visit the castles in Schwangau. If you are a photographer – even an amateur one – plan to walk to Marie’s Bridge. The views from this vantage point are amazing.
Before you go, you might want to read more about Bavaria and King Ludwig II. However, even if you don’t you will find the visit well worth your time. Enjoy a “kings and castles” day!