A fairytale castle set in the spectacular Bavarian Alps
There are only a few movies that really stuck in my memories when I was a child. One of these was “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, the Disney movie in which the magical car flew over the most amazing castle. This was pre-CGI (the movie was made in 1958) so I knew the castle had to be real. It was many years later, as an adult, I discovered the name of the castle was Neuschwanstein and that it was located in Germany’s Bavaria region.
Neuschwanstein, which literally translates to “New Swan”, is located near the village Hohenschwangau, which has its own castle that is also open to the public. This castle was the ancestral home of King Ludwig II and growing up he dreamed of a building a second castle just up the hill to act as his personal retreat. He commissioned the castle in 1868, just two years after Austria and Bavaria were conquered by the Prussians in the Austro-Prussian war. Sadly, Ludwig never got to see the work completed as he died in 1886 and the final towers were not completed until 1992. The castle was originally known as New Hohenschwangau Castle and did not take the name of Neuschwanstein until after Ludwig’s death. Originally, the castle was intended to have 200 rooms, but funds ran out and only a dozen or so rooms were completed. Today, you can visit the fourteen completed rooms.
Unfortunately, they don’t like you taking pictures during the tours. Below are some stock shot images of the beautiful interiors of Neuschwanstein. The advantage of the these shots is that they are free of the tourist hoard.
Neuschwanstein Castle is elaborately decorated with romantic images from the Middle Ages, along with religious depictions. Despite its medieval appearance, it had all the modern conveniences of the time. This included running warm water, a bell system, flushing toilets, and even large window panes (which were very uncommon at the time.) Ludwig had great attention to detail, which accounts for the interesting features throughout the castle. For instance, a large ceramic swan is in almost every chamber. These served to help heat the rooms with hot water, and as decorative vases in the summer. Other fascinating aspects of the castle include a grotto between the drawing room and the study. You read that right- an indoor grotto! It opens up into a conservatory with the most spectacular view of the valley. It even had its own fountain and rainbow machine!
Much of the castle’s details were inspired by the operas of Richard Wagner (whom Ludwig greatly admired.) For example, the grotto was representative of Wagner’s opera, Tannhäuser.
In addition to the fascinating architecture, Ludwig also had the interior painted with beautiful murals. Some of the most stunning are in the Throne Hall, with depictions of Jesus, the twelve apostles, and canonized kings. This room also has a massive chandelier modeled after a Byzantine crown, which weighs more than a car! Another beautiful mural was painted in the Singers’ Hall (one of Ludwig’s favorite rooms.)
THE REAL LIFE DISNEY CASTLE
As well as a scene backdrop in the Disney movie “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” the castle had a more lasting influence on the Disney empire. While on vacation in Europe, Walt Disney and his wife visited the Neuschwanstein Castle. Disney was so inspired by the fairy tale architecture and surrounding landscape, that he modeled his Sleeping Beauty Castle after it. He returned home and constructed Disneyland with the castle as it’s centerpiece.
There are no self-guided tour around Neuschwanstein but there plenty of tours that leave regularly through out the day. The tours of the castle take around 45 minutes but you can spend as much time as you like wandering around the courtyards of the castle. There are several trails that lead from the castle into the surrounding woodlands, which are very enjoyable in their own right and offer fabulous views of the castle and provide great photo opps.
Whilst you are here you should also visit Hohenschwangau castle, King Ludwig II’s childhood home.
TIPS FOR VISITING NEUSCHWANSTEIN
As one of the most popular destinations in Europe, lines to get your tickets for the castle can be long. As in, hours and hours long. For that reason, you should get your tickets ahead of time (at least 2 days) if you want to avoid wasting precious vacation time at the ticket counter.
Because there is no parking at the castle itself, you’ll need to park down the hill near the Ticket Center. There’s a large parking lot on the corner of Parkstraße and Schwangauer Str. Helpful hint – you need to pay at the kiosk before you can exit (not at the exit itself.)
GETTING TO THE CASTLE:
Neuschwanstein is about a mile up the road from the Ticket Center. If you don’t feel like walking, you can take a shuttle or horse drawn carriage, for a fee.
WHAT TO EXPECT:
Castle tours last about 35-45 minutes and are offered in several different languages. The entrance can be crowded and confusing, so I’d recommend getting there at least 10 minutes early to find your group. Also, photography is not allowed inside the castle. They are very serious about that. If you wish to take pictures, you must apply for a permit here at least 10 business days prior to your visit.