Neuschwanstein Castle is Germany’s most famous castle, but you probably recognize it as belonging to Sleeping Beauty. In the real world, the fairytale centerpiece of the Disneyland theme park was inspired by the home of Bavarian monarch King Ludwig II. He wasn’t a cartoon, but he was definitely cartoonish.
If this magical castle looks familiar, it might be because it was the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. (Photo: iStock)
Part of the charm of his 19th-century Romanesque Revival manse is its location. Situated high on a rocky outcrop overlooking the German village of Hohenschwangau and the alpine foothills, it’s breathtaking. But after you get an eyeful of the view, the castle gets even more interesting. Here are a few secrets behind the famous façade and its unusual owner:
1. King Ludwig II was…creative.
The incredibly elaborate and over-the-top Throne Room is the stuff fantasies are made out of. (Photo: Joseph Albert/Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons)
Or more to the point, eccentric. Some would even say mad. According to legend, he told his governess, “I want to remain an eternal mystery to myself and others.” As a boy he had a vivid imagination and later was such a big fan of German composer Richard Wagner that he created his own opera festival. More eccentrically, he lived nocturnally, dressed up in historic costume to go riding around the mountains in fancy sleighs, and identified with Parzival, the knight who found the Holy Grail. He developed his own fantasy world, and Schloss Neuschwanstein was the fantasy made real: The castle was designed in a mix of Roman, Gothic, and Byzantine styles all randomly blended together — and its throne room is designed as the Hall of the Holy Grail. The overall effect is highly stylistic, over-the-top, and unique.
2. Ludwig was terrible with money.
The king’s taste didn’t come cheap, and in 1885, with just 15 of the 200 rooms complete, he found himself 14 million German marks in debt (about $8 million today). A year later, his government declared him insane and deemed him incapable of ruling.
3. Ludwig died under mysterious circumstances.
King Ludwig was a bit of an odd duck who met his untimely demise after being declared insane by the Bavarian Government. (Photo: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)
The day after King Ludwig was declared insane, he died mysteriously in the shallow waters of Lake Starnberg — despite being an excellent swimmer. The shrink who diagnosed him was killed too.
4. The castle opened to the public to make back the money he blew.
While Neuschwanstein Castle was a financial burden to King Ludwig, it was opened to visitors just seven weeks after his death and became an incredibly lucrative source of income for the House of Wittelsbach, who, nevertheless, didn’t last much longer as the rulers of Bavaria.
5. The castle was supposed to be private.
Neuschwanstein was meant to be a private retreat for the king. Today it’s visited by 1.3 million people each year. Ironic, don’t ya think?
6. To get the best views, you have to leave the castle.
Soak in the incredible view of the castle and the rolling Bavarian countryside from Marienbrucke. (Photo: Steven Gerner/Flickr)
The best views of the castle are not found at the castle itself, but from Marienbrucke (Mary’s Bridge in English). The bridge crosses the Pollät Gorge and offers fantastic views of Neuschwanstein. It’s about a 30-minute uphill walk from Hohenschwangau. For an ever better view and different perspective, you can often climb up just past the bridge, but check the castle’s website before you go for up-to-date access info; the bridge is currently undergoing some renovations through November 2015, and the trail is closed due to a rockfall.
7. You can only visit the castle on a guided tour.
If you want to see the castle, you’ll need one of these. (Photo (modified): Isriya Paireepairit/Flickr)
A guided tour is the only way to get inside Neuschwanstein. You may find yourself feeling rushed during the 30-minute walk, and stuffed into each room with the other 60 or so other visitors in your group, but that’s your only option. Tickets cost 12 euros (seniors and some other visitors are eligible for a reduced or free rate). It’s also worth noting that you aren’t allowed to take photographs once inside.
I actually recommend going on the tour — Neuschwanstein can receive up to 6,000 visitors a day in peak season, so it’s a mad house and a lot to navigate if you don’t know where you’re going.
8. Get your tickets in advance.
You need to be organized and reserve tickets in advance, otherwise you risk waiting several hours, or worse, finding out that all the tickets are sold out for the day. The downside of purchasing your tickets in advance is that they’re only good for a particular time, so you’ll need to calculate a big enough window to get to Hohenschwangau and tackle the 30-minute walk to Neuschwanstein. It takes a lot of planning to avoid waiting around for hours.
9. Neuschwanstein not the only castle in town.
The incredible Venus Grotto at Linderhof Palace. (Photo: Hemis / Alamy)
Besides Neuschwanstein, you can also visit nearby Hohenschwangau Castle and King Ludwig’s other two castles. Linderhof Palace is small, but for what it lacks in size, it makes up for in grandeur. The grounds are beautiful, and my favorite part about the palace is the Venus Grotto, an illuminated artificial cave made especially to illustrate the first act of Richard Wagner’s Tannhaüser.
Herrenchiemsee Palace is the grandest of King Ludwig’s castles. It’s modeled after the Palace of Versailles and cost more than both Neuschwanstein and Linderhof combined. Note: While it’s possible to visit both Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Palace in one day, it would be difficult to see both Neuschwanstein and the Herrenchiemsee Palace in the same day, so plan on some extra time.
Now go make the most of your visit to Neuschwanstein — it’s not everyday you get to live out a fairytale.