Today’s the day I’ve been looking forward to for a number of years. Due to multiple unsuccessful attempts in the past for one reason or another, I finally made it to Schloss Neuschwanstein, one of the most iconic castles in the world. Schloss Neuschwanstein has a unique place in history, as it sits against a beautiful backdrop of the Swiss Alps and the nearby Alpsee (lake) to one side, and the vast lands of Bavaria to the other. I’m excited to share more on its history below.
Special Note: I’m not going to go into too much history here, but check out these Wikipedia articles for a very comprehensive understanding:
- Schloss Neuschwanstein: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuschwanstein_Castle
- Schloss Hohenschwangau: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hohenschwangau_Castle
- House of Wittelsbach: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Wittelsbach
- Alpsee: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpsee
No Time for Snoozing
My final destination was roughly 2.5 hours away, or 228km (depending on how you like to measure your roadtrips), so I had a decent drive ahead of me. I made it out the door by 7:30 as planned. I quickly packed my travel bag, ate a light breakfast, and loaded the car. I was slow and groggy at first, but a coffee helped turn on the lights.
Five minutes into the drive, as I took a sip pulling out of the hotel parking garage, I didn’t see a slight bump in the road, and some coffee landed on my shirt. I’m not going to lie, I was quite annoyed at myself, because I knew this would happen and was definitely avoidable. I pulled to the side and started dabbing with water to avoid a stain. I changed my shirt, and was back on the road soon after. The coffee woke me up in more ways than one.
I was greeted by a bright, rising sun and clear blue skies. I sprinted along the Audubon from Stuttgart to the southern lands of Bavaria. I passed through Ulm, arguably the only major city on today’s drive. I could spot the giant tower of the Ulmer Münster, which is currently the tallest church in the world. On a past trip, I had the chance to climb up the steeple to the viewing platform, which I highly recommend to anyone who visits this historic city (birthplace of Einstein).
From Ulm onwards, it was pretty much smooth sailing on the Audubon. Traffic was light at this time in the morning. With these conditions, I felt comfortable pushing my Volkswagen Tiguan’s capabilities, which are not very impressive. It tops off at 205kph (127mph) as a rental, which isn’t bad, but it certainly doesn’t compare to the roaring BMWs or Porsches that sail right past. I still enjoy watching them drive by me. I was able to get to Neuschwanstein faster than Google expected.
Schloss Neuschwanstein is located in Schwangau, the southern-most territory of Bavaria touching the Swiss border. As you get closer to the area, the mountains get bigger and bigger.
Within a few kilometers, you can see the castle(s) from afar, perched high above the ground. I should clarify that there are actually 2 castles here: Schloss Neuschwanstein and Schloss Hohenschwangau. Both castles are about as different as night and day, which makes it all the more fun to explore.
The road to the castles is lined with trees and winds its way to the base, where you can park. As you continue walking towards the castles on foot, you’ll see many hotels, restaurants, and tourist centers spilling into a plateau in a valley adjacent to the Alpsee. Both castles are situated on either side of this valley, one castle (Neuschwanstein) perched much higher than the other (Hohenschwangau). From there, you can walk, bike or take the bus to whichever castle you’d like. I didn’t do this myself, but I would recommend the horse-drawn carriage ride if you’d prefer to really jump back into history.
The surrounding area around the castles is great for hiking or bike riding, and even paragliding. Many people were milling about with hiking gear ready to go up into the mountains for the day. I’d like to return at some point to experience more of the outdoors in this beautiful area.
My day started by exploring Hohenschwangau, the smaller and older of the two castles. Hohenschwangau was built by King Maximillian II of Bavaria in the mid-1800s on the ruins of an old knight’s castle from the 14th-century. King Maximillian vacationed with his family here during the summers. It was while living here that one of his sons, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, was inspired to create Schloss Neuschwanstein later in his life.
One of the first things that caught me off guard was the color of the castle. Driving up, I thought it was light brown. It’s actually yellow. I learned from the tour guide that at the time of construction in the mid-1800s, this was the fashion. Anyone who created a castle wanted it to stand out, both in size and color, following the trend towards a revitalization of neogothic styles.
While the castle itself is quite small, the grounds around it are pretty spread out. Granted, being on top of hill, there’s only so much available real estate to spread out before you basically go down the side. Nonetheless, the hike up to the castle is beautiful and lined with many trees and flowers. Multiple gardens and fountains are located around the main structure, with beautiful views of the valley below, the Alpsee, and the mountains in the background.
King Maximillian II spared no expense in the design and construction of the interior. King Maximillian admired and paid homage to the origin of Schwangau (translation: the swan district) from the Middle Ages, and portrayed the stories and Romances of Parzival and Lohengrin, the Swan Knight, from antiquity along the interior castle walls. Parzival and Lohengrin appear again in Schloss Neuschwanstein. While we weren’t able to take photos inside, it was clear that King Maximillian commissioned his painters to not only depict those stories, but to also educate anyone who visits by clearly describing each and every scene with painted text. This arguably led to King Ludwig II’s inspiration to create Schloss Neuschwanstein when he became an adult.
After my tour of the castle, I made my way down to grab some lunch. I had a delicious Bayern Hot Dog and local brew on tap. The sun was really coming out now and I was starting to sweat. I didn’t expect it to heat up so quickly, so I regret wearing pants. To compensate, I grabbed an ice-cream bar and headed off onto the walking path around the Alpsee to kill some time before my next tour.
Museum of Bavarian Kings
After my walk around the Alpsee (I didn’t go all the way around, just about half a mile or so), I decided to pop my head into the Museum of Bavarian Kings. This museum details the history, lineage and pedigree of the Wittelsbach family tree, a well-known ruling dynasty in modern European history. King Maximillian II and King Ludwig II descend from this dynasty. This was pretty eye-opening for me how expansive this family tree was and how far this lineage extended, as the family’s ancestral history is intertwined with the rise and fall of the Holy Roman Empire.
Unfortunately, I didn’t give myself enough time to visit the museum, because I needed to trek up to Schloss Neuschwanstein for my tour and hike of the surrounding area. In retrospect, I would recommend going to the Museum of Bavarian Kings first, and then visit the castles to get a well-rounded understanding of the family’s history that is not provided during the castle tours.
After my short visit to the Museum of Bavarian Kings, I trekked up the winding road to Schloss Neuschwanstein. I was regretting not wearing my running shoes, which were conveniently left in the car. With the sun coming down full force, I was sweaty and hot at the top. I decided to grab another ice-cream bar. It’s only fair, one for each castle.
From the pictures, Schloss Neuschwanstein looks big. When you stand in its shadow gazing at the massive towers, you start to feel pretty small. With about 30 minutes to go before my tour, I hiked over to a viewing area that provides a great view of the castle. There’s an iron bridge over a nearby river and waterfall that gives a great vantage point of the castle. If you hike up even farther, there’s another viewing platform, with an even better view.
Some things to note about the geography of the castle: When I said that both castles are located on either side of a valley, that statement was partially true. In reality, Schloss Neuschwanstein is significantly higher relative to Schloss Hohenschwangau, to the point where Neuschwenstein is actually on a peak itself. There’s another valley that’s created by the running river on the side away from Hohenschwangau. There are many hiking trails in that area, which are worth checking out.
Grabbing as many pictures as I could, both with my phone and my eyes, I made my way back to the castle for my tour. To understand the castle, I learned that you have to understand King Ludwig II. King Ludwig II, along with his brother Otto, was raised by his father, King Maximillian II, in isolation from the kingdom over which he governed on purpose. His father wanted him to be committed to his studies and to work hard, and not be distracted with the extravagance of royalty. King Ludwig II spent his childhood growing up at Hohenschwangau, dreaming over the stories of Medieval stories of Parzival and Lohengrin, the Swan Knight.
When his father suddenly died, King Ludwig II took over the throne, unprepared for the challenges of ruling in a modern age, an age where monarchies were diminishing in power as countries were increasingly being run by elected officials and governments. Growing up on the stories of kings and knights, King Ludwig II was not amused that his rule was merely for appearances and not absolute as a God-given right. Secluding himself to his books, King Ludwig II longed to live in past times. So, he embarked on a mission to create his fantasies, which led to the construction of Schloss Neuschwanstein. He diverted his royal assets and means to constructing not just Neuschwantstein, but multiple other royal palaces around Bavaria. He spared no expense whatsoever.
Following his admiration of the Swan Knight (schwan translates to swan in English), he adopted the Swan as the family symbol within this castle, evident by the design and decoration throughout each and every hall. As a well learned individual, he infused architectural and artistic styles from all over the world that inspired him into everything. As a life-long bachelor (with one failed engagement), he secluded himself to his fantasies to the confines of this castle, as the outside world changed. Equally poetic yet concerning, I got the impression that as you walked through these walls, King Ludwig II intended for it to be like walking through his world. I was impressed. This “dream castle” has been an inspiration to many around the world. It’s said that this castle even inspired Disney’s original production of Sleeping Beauty.
Stumbling out of the castle, I took a moment to let my eyes settle with the sunlight. I took my final photos and I made my way down to the valley and to the parking lot. Looking up at both castles, I was glad I could finally visit in person. While both castles were built less than 200 years ago, it was still something out of my own fantasy to see such a thing in real life. If you ever have find yourself in Munich, drive down to check it out.
Drive to Friedrichshafen
Finishing up at the castles, I was back on the road, now heading to Friedrichshafen. I’ll be spending tonight and tomorrow (Sunday) at Bodensee (also known as Lake Konstanz). Think of this as the Bavarian version of Lake Tahoe. Only, instead of sharing a border between two states (California and Nevada), Bodensee shares a border with three countries - Germany, Austria, and Switzerland! I can’t wait to explore this area tomorrow. With the Alps to my left, I cut across Bavaria and got in at about 8:00PM.
Dinner + Stroll
After checking in to my hotel, I jumped into the shower and set off to find food. Apparently, tonight is the Friedrichshafen City of Music Festival, so many restaurants only have outdoor dining to make space for makeshift stages and dance floors. I’m normally alright with that, but one thing I didn’t factor in, was mosquitos! Everywhere. Thankfully, I wore a jacket and pants. Otherwise, I would be eaten alive. Thankfully, they didn’t attack me while I was eating food.
I was craving Italian, so I was ecstatic when I found an Italian restaurant nearby. I had the Spaghetti Bolognese with a local red from Meesburg, followed by a delicious Mousse au Chocolate Tarte. Happy and fed, I walked around the water side, poking my head into the growing parties in various restaurants. I wish I had the energy to go inside, but I decided it would be better to go back to my hotel room and grab some 💤.
Today was amazing. Tomorrow should be an equally exciting day!
Frieden und Liebe ❤️ (translation: peace and love)