If you think this confection of towers, turrets, frescoes, and sparkling white walls, cast deep in the green, green woods, could well be a palace plucked straight out of a fairy tale, you’d be absolutely correct. In fact, Neuschwanstein Castle, located in Bavaria, Germany, has served as the real-life inspiration for the abodes of not one, but two of your favourite fairy tale royal families.
Neuschwanstein (or in its native German, Schloss Neuschwanstein), was first cast as the happy ending home for Cinderella in the 1950 Disney classic. Then, just five years later when Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California, Sleeping Beauty’s palace bore more than a passing resemblance to the Bavarian beauty.
With its white limestone façade, intricate brickwork, and deep blue turrets, it is little wonder that Walt Disney himself, the king of fantasy, found more than enough here to fuel some of his dreamiest works. The true story behind this castle, though, is a far cry from the “happily ever after” endings of Disney dreams.
Commissioned in 1868 by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Neuschwanstein Castle was meant to serve as his refuge from a cruel world. Stripped of his powers and any ruling sovereignty in the Austro-Prussian War just two years prior, an already eccentric, reclusive King Ludwig II retreated into a private fantasy world. One in which Neuschwanstein played a key role. By building his dream castle, a grand recreation of his childhood home – Hohenschwangau Castle, he was building himself an imaginary kingdom. A kingdom where he could live out his dreams of being a true royal.
Sadly, Ludwig II would never see his final vision come to life. Although he was able to occupy parts of his castle in 1873, he died, suddenly and mysteriously, in 1886. The castle’s final towers weren’t completed until 1892.
Today, Neuschwanstein is one of the most popular of Europe’s many palaces and castles. Every year nearly 1.5 million people visit this castle – in peak Summer season around 6,000 visitors stream through rooms originally intended for a single inhabitant every single day. A palace once meant is a shy man’s retreat from the world, has become host to an endless stream of traffic, all agog at the beauty of his fairytale vision. (We imagine Ludwig II is shuddering in his grave.)
If you’d care to share in the fantasy (and really, who among us wouldn’t?), visiting Neuschwanstein Castle is an easy two-hour drive and from Munich along the A7. There are also multiple other travel options to get here, including tour groups, public trains and buses. (Note: trains to Neuschwanstein Castle from Munich will go as far as Füssen, from where you will need to transfer to a local bus.)
Whichever way you choose to travel, all visitors to Neuschwanstein will first arrive in Hohenschwangau, which is where tickets for the castle can be bought – although you can reserve tickets online, which is strongly encouraged. From Hohenschwangau, you will travel to Neuschwanstein by foot (a steep 40 minute climb), by shuttle bus, or by horse-drawn carriage.
Neuschwanstein Castle tickets cost €13 (adults), and include a guided tour at a specified hour. The castle is open from 9am to 6pm between April and October 15; and from 10am to 4pm from between October 16 and March, but is closed to tourists on December 24th, 25th, 31st, and January 1st.