What You Need To Know Before Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle
Germany, September 2017
Bavaria had been on my must-visit list for years thanks to its romantic countryside, charming villages, famous pretzels and of course, its castles. Located in southern Germany, just north of the Austrian border, lies Neuschwanstein Castle - the place I most looked forward to exploring in this region - and where we headed after saying farewell to Italy. The journey from Lake Como to Bavaria couldn't have been more spectacular, as we drove through the snow-covered Alps of Switzerland, setting the stage for what was to come. Our GPS routed us off the highway and up a steep mountain pass, and while we're not completely certain we didn't make a wrong turn, we were thrilled with the road less traveled as the views were truly indescribable! After a seemingly short four hour drive, we stumbled into the picture-perfect village of Fussen just in time to rest up for what the next day had in store.
With its towers, turrets, frescoes, and throne hall, Neuschwanstein looks like it was plucked straight from your favorite fairytale, and in a sense it was, as it was Walt Disney's inspiration for Cinderella's castle! Built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the late 1800s, its allure makes it one of Germany's most visited attractions. From the moment we saw the castle emerge from the fog in the distance to the moment we left, it was a magical day for me. But even as much as I had been anticipating this visit, there were things about the experience I didn't expect, so below are a few tips you should know before arriving in order to make the most of your visit at Neuschwanstein.
Book TICKETS IN ADVANCE
My biggest piece of advice is to buy your tickets in advance online. I booked ours a few months out mainly because our trip schedule only allowed us one specific day to be in the area, and there was no way I was going to risk tickets being sold out upon arrival. What I didn't take into account (but am so fortunate wasn't a problem for us) is that the lines at the ticket center can get quite long (sometimes 90+ minutes during peak season), so reserving your tickets in advance will start your visit off on the right foot.
GO IN THE OFF-SEASON & arrive early
There's an argument for each season being the best time of year to visit Neuschwanstein, but most people will tell you that if you can avoid the months of July and August, avoid them, as roughly 6,000 visitors a day tour the castle in the summer. Like most popular attractions, you'll have a more enjoyable experience if you can go during the off-season. We were there during the last week of September and it was wonderful! The weather was cool and overcast, the leaves had started to change (another week or two and the fall foliage would have been breathtaking!) and the crowd was large but manageable. We happened to be there during the height of Oktoberfest which I'm sure added to the busyness.
Even if you don't have much control over what time of year you visit, you still have control over what time of day you visit. And that time should be early - like opening hour early! The parking lots won't be full, lines at the ticket center will be short and fewer tourists make the grounds more pleasant to explore. We arrived at 9am and had zero issues, but by late morning the crowd had grown considerably.
PLAN TO SPEND HALF A DAY there
There's more to the day than simply touring the iconic castle you came for. Your day will revolve around the tiny village of Hohenschwangau - situated at the base of the mountain - where the ticket center, parking lots and a handful of restaurants, shops and inns are located. Though at moments you may feel like you're in Magic Kingdom, the village is full of charm and worth exploring. From this home base you can visit not only Neuschwanstein, but a second castle as well, Hohenschwangau Castle. I'd suggest touring it first, as it's "small and understated" compared to its opulent neighbor. While each of the castle tours clock-in under 35 minutes, once you factor in the strolls to each castle, some time to walk their grounds, a visit to Mary's Bridge for the iconic photo you'll definitely want to take, and maybe even a hike through the wooden trails surrounding Neuschwanstein, I'd definitely plan on spending at least half the day there. We arrived at 9am and didn't leave until 4pm!
WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES
While it may seem obvious, I recommend wearing comfortable shoes. The day consisted of more walking than I anticipated, much of which was on steep hills, which combined with the actual tours made for a full day of standing on our feet. From Hohenschwangau village, you can reach Neuschwanstein by foot, shuttle bus, or a horse-drawn carriage. If you're capable of walking, I highly recommend doing so! It was a 30-minute walk uphill (fairly gradual) through a beautiful thick forest on a stone-lined path. For us, this was a highlight of the day as the peaceful, idyllic scenery encapsulated a true storybook spirit and didn't feel touristy at all.
STAY NEARBY if you can
While Neuschwanstein is easily accessible from Munich and Garmisch-Partenkirchen (both under 90 minutes drive), the small town of Fussen is a great alternative and much closer - only a five minute drive! - which makes it perfect for arriving early and beating the crowds. The town itself is very charming, and I was bummed we didn't have more time there. There are a handful of hotels, all which fill up months in advance, so make sure to book your room as far out as possible. We stayed at Hotel Sonne and were very pleased by the hospitable staff and cleanliness of the room.
WHERE TO TAKE the best PHOTOS
It's no secret that the best shots of Neuschwanstein Castle are taken from the vantage point of Marienbrücke - Mary’s Bridge - but it is so busy that taking a decent photo amongst the crowd is near impossible. However, most tourists don't venture past the bridge, so if you cross over it and head up the hiking trails, it will be much less crowded and you'll get stunning shots overlooking the valley and castle that most people miss. Keep in mind that no photography is allowed inside the castle, so enjoy the tour and save that perfect shot for after the tour!
If done right, a visit to Neuschwanstein can feel very authentic regardless of the potential swarms of people and numerous gift shops. It was everything I hoped it'd be, and the location and scenery played a big role in the magic. I hope your visit is just as memorable as ours!