Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany’s iconic postcard image, is a must-visit destination for travellers. This fairytale-like castle, crowning a hilltop in Bavaria, has captivated the imaginations of millions of people around the world. Its enchanting beauty even inspired Walt Disney in the creation of his famous Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty Castles. But wait…there’s more…
Neuschwanstein Castle’s predecessor is within walking distance and almost nobody talks about it! In all the research I did about Neuschwanstein, almost no one said “hey, there’s another castle right next door!” Built on the ruins of a medieval fortress, nestled amidst picturesque surroundings, Hohenschwangau Castle, is also worthy of your attention. This castle served as the childhood residence of King Ludwig II, the visionary behind Neuschwanstein. Therefore visiting Hohenschwangau Castle will give you a deeper appreciation for the history and significance of both castles.
Whether you’re visiting these two Bavarian castles as a day trip or you’re spending the night in the region, we’ve got some top tips for you! Explore the wonders of Neuschwanstein Castle and its neighbouring Hohenschwangau Castle for memories that will last a lifetime.
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Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein Castle history
Hohenschwangau Castle and Neuschwanstein Castle have a rich and intertwined history that adds to the allure of these magnificent structures. Originally built in the 12th-century, Hohenschwangau Castle, served as the ancestral seat of the Knights of Schwangau. Over the centuries, it was renovated, pillaged, abandoned, purchased, sold and re-purchased. Eventually it became a summer residence and hunting lodge for the Bavarian royal family under Maximilian II of Bavaria.
The connection between Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein Castle is deeply rooted in the life Maximilian II’s son, future King Ludwig II. As a child, Ludwig II spent many summers at Hohenschwangau Castle, where he developed a deep love for the surrounding landscape and the romantic ideals of chivalry and medievalism. These influences would later shape his vision for Neuschwanstein Castle.
King Ludwig II grand design was a romanticized, medieval-style schloss (that’s German for castle), with all the mod-cons of the 19th-century. The castle would crown a rocky outcrop set among the alpine evergreens and overlooking the bucolic lowlands to the north. Neuschwanstein Castle was built as a personal refuge for the reclusive King Ludwig II.
Construction began in 1869 and the topping-out ceremony was held a budget-blowing 15-years later in 1884—though it was never 100% completed. The build was slowed by the logistical challenges of Neuschwanstein’s steep-sided location. The castle’s design was heavily inspired by medieval architecture and romantic themes from Wagnerian operas.
Despite being unfinished at the time of Ludwig’s suspicious death, Neuschwanstein Castle quickly became a symbol of Bavarian identity and a testament to Ludwig’s eccentricity. Today, both Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein Castle stand as reminders of the region’s rich history and the visionary dreams of King Ludwig II.
Visiting Hohenschwangau Castle before Neuschwanstein allows you to delve into the Ludwig II’s fascination with castles and gain a deeper understanding of the historical context surrounding these architectural marvels. So, make sure to explore both castles to fully appreciate the captivating history and enchanting beauty they offer.
Neuschwanstein Castle facts
Neuschwanstein Castle is a fascinating architectural masterpiece that attracts millions of visitors each year. Here are 8 interesting facts about Neuschwanstein Castle that will enhance your visit and deepen your appreciation for this German landmark:
1. Inspiration from Wagner: Neuschwanstein Castle was greatly inspired by renowned composer Richard Wagner, whose operas were beloved by King Ludwig II, the castle’s creator.
2. Innovative Technology: Neuschwanstein Castle was equipped with the latest technological advancements of its time, including running water, flushing toilets, central heating, a bell system for summoning staff and an elevator.
3. Romantic Architecture: The castle’s design combines elements of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Ludwig II drew inspiration from Wartburg Castle near Eisenach in the centre of Germany, as well as Chateau de Pierrefonds in France.
4. New Swan Stone: Neuschwanstein translates directly to “New Swan Stone”. The reference is to the older fortress, Burg Schwanstein, that Hohenschwangau was built upon. It was the “old swan stone” and Ludwig II’s castle was the “New Schwanstein”.
5. Movie Star Status: Neuschwanstein Castle has served as a backdrop for numerous films such as The Monuments Men, The Great Escape and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
6. Tourism Icon: Neuschwanstein Castle is not new to tourism. It was opened to the public just weeks after King Ludwig II’s death. Today It attracts over 1.4 million visitors annually, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Germany.
7. Mary’s Bridge: Everyone’s favourite Neuschwanstein viewpoint, Marionbrücke (Mary’s Bridge), was actually constructed prior to the castle. Maximilian II had the bridge built in the 1840s as a birthday gift for his mountain-climbing wife, Marie of Prussia.
8. Cultural Heritage: In 2024, Germany is set to submit Neuschwanstein Castle for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List. UNESCO’s decision will be due in mid-2025. So watch this space!
Planning a Neuschwanstein Castle visit
If you’re considering a visit to Hohenschwangau Castle and/or Neuschwanstein Castle, there are a few things you should know. Whether you’re making a day trip from Munich or spending a night or two in the area, make sure you plan in advance.
You can purchase your tickets online in advance for an extra fee or on the day at the Ticket Centre in the town of Hohenschwangau that sits in the valley between the two castles.
The problem with buying your tickets on the day is that they sell out by 10am. During high season, you have to be lined up at the ticket booth at 8am to have a shot. Many of the tickets are pre-sold to tour companies, so if you are travelling independently, you need to lock in your spot in advance.
When you arrive in Hohenschwangau, you’ll still need to pick up your pre-purchased tickets from the Ticket Centre. Allow enough time before your tour time to do so, as there may be a line.
Note, there is no combined ticket for both Castles.
In terms of transportation, it’s important to note that cars are not allowed up to either castle. Instead, you need to pay for parking in Hohenshwangu. Then you have the option to hike up the hill, take a shuttle bus or a horse and cart ride.
Hikers should wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for a moderate uphill walk on well-maintained forest paths or a paved road. The forest hike is longer but more scenic. Both routes run virtually straight up the hill, there are no switchbacks. Allow 40-mins to an hour depending on your fitness levels, to reach Neuschwanstein Castle. The walk to Hohenschwangau is also uphill but much shorter, about 15-minutes plus time for photos.
For those that opt for horse and cart or shuttle bus, neither are included in your ticket and require an additional fee. Also, these modes of transport will not take you all the way to the front door. You’ll have an easy, 10-15-minute walk ahead of you once you alight.
Large backpacks, prams, child carriers and other bulky objects are not permitted in either Castle.
Photography inside the Castles is not permitted but you’re free to take photos of their exteriors. I was allowed to carry my camera (lens cap on) throughout the tour. There is one room in Hohenschwangau that you are allowed to take a photo from the window, of the view over Alpsee (the nearby mountain lake).
Day trip from Munich
Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles are a great full day trip out of Munich. You can rent a car and self-drive or jump on a tour.
The benefits of a tour are that you won’t need to worry about car hire and insurance, navigating etc and your ticket to the castle will have been secured in advance. The downside is that tours only tend to cover Neuschwanstein Castle’s interior (unless you book an expensive, private tour), not Hohenschwangau. Some tours combine Neuschwanstein with nearby Linderhof Palace instead.
If you prefer the flexibility of a self-driving, you’ll find the roads are in good condition and easy to navigate. You’ll need to pre-purchase timed tickets in advance for both the castle tours. Allow ample time in between to go to the viewpoints around Neuschwanstein, explore Hohenschwangau’s garden and travel from one castle to the other.
For those planning an overnight stay, there are several accommodation options available nearby. From charming guesthouses to luxury hotels, you can find something to suit your preferences and budget. There are a few options right there in the town of Hohenschwangau, but you’ll find more variety 10-minutes away in the lovely, historic city of Füssen.
Additionally, there are other attractions in the area worth exploring, such as the beautiful Alpsee Lake, Hohes Castle, the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Pilgrimage Church of Wies and Linderhof Palace. We also loved the treetop walk at Walderlebniszentrum, which crosses the Austrian border.
Neuschwanstein Castle viewpoints and photo tips
Neuschwanstein Castle viewpoints offer breathtaking opportunities for capturing the beauty of this iconic landmark. To ensure you get the best photos, it’s important to consider the time of day and the different locations available. Here are some great options. Note, that we experienced perfect blue-sky conditions, so if it is cloudy, some of these notes don’t apply 100%.
One of the most popular viewpoints is Marienbrücke, a bridge located just a short walk from Neuschwanstein Castle, crossing Pöllat Gorge. This spot provides a stunning panoramic view of the Castle looking out to the farmlands further north.
For the best lighting conditions, I recommend Marienbrücke in the morning, before 10am but not too early. Depending on the time of year, the Castle will not be sunlit immediately at sunrise due to shadows cast by the Alps. We visited in late September and the sun did not reach the Castle until roughly 2-hours after sunrise.
You should also aim to get there before the tourist crowds. The Bridge can only hold so much weight and was at capacity on our visit mid-afternoon. Therefore people were queued for an hour to walk across Marienbrücke. We returned early the next morning to get our photos instead.
Note: Sometimes Marienbrücke has to be closed during bad weather in winter. You can check its status on the official Ticket Centre website.
A short walk beyond the Bridge is another lookout point. That’s right, cross the Bridge and keep going for another great spot with unhindered views of the Castle.
There are also great views of the Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau, Alpsee and beyond from the walking trail between the Castle and Marienbrücke.
The morning is also the best time to get shots of Hohenschwangau Castle. At this time of day it is illuminated along its broadest wall facing Neuschwanstein and the town of Hohenschwangau.
Another great Neuschwanstein Castle viewpoint is Hohenschwangau Castle, located on the opposite hill. From here, you can capture Neuschwanstein from a different angle, showcasing its grandeur with the Alps in the background. The best time to photograph from Hohenschwangau Castle is the late afternoon. The warm hues of the setting sun cast a beautiful glow on the castle, creating a dramatic and enchanting scene.
In the late afternoon, the sun hits the end of Hohenschwangau Castle and this is a perfect for capturing the beauty of its garden.
I recommend spending sunset on the banks of Alpsee. Looking west you can capture the sun drop behind the mountains. The last light on the lake is also beautiful. I couldn’t stop taking shots of the little boathouse, glowing golden set against the darker mountains already in shadow.
Neuschwanstein is lit at night, and glows white against the shadows of the mountains. You can easily capture some nice shots from the town of Hohenschwangau after dark.
I hope your visit to Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles is everything you dreamed they’d be. For more Germany travel guides, check out this page.
Peace, love & fairytales,