Visiting the castle that inspired Disney
Neuschwanstein Castle was the first place that I ever decided to visit just because I saw it on Instagram. I mean the photos of the castle are downright magical. The castle is the real-life inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella castles.
Soon after arriving, my fairy tale was smacked in the face by reality. Don’t get me wrong, it was magical, but the tourist department needs to get it together. I do NOT consider visiting Neuschwanstein castle to be anything like going to Disney world as others have misguidedly purported. Unless of course, you are talking about long lines and large crowds.
People usually go to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle but there are two castles to view. The other is Hohenschwangau Castle where King Ludwig resided while he built his perfect fairytale castle upon the hill. Unfortunately, he never lived to see his fairytale come true. Neuschwanstein has been a tourist site ever since it’s completion and is now one of the most famous castles in the world. I guess that last part would have made the former king proud.
Neuschwanstein Castle Tickets
Both Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau only allow guided tours. Everything I read online said the ONLY way to book a tour is online through the tourism department at LEAST 2 weeks in advance. I didn’t read that bit of information until a week prior and everything on that site was booked out. I tried calling a dozen times to see what my options were but never got through. We decided to head over anyway because we thought it would be nice to see from the outside if nothing else. (which, by the way, we were right!)
We found the ticket center, waited in line for maybe 15 or 20 minutes (not hours like I had read online) and bought a ticket to tour Hohenschwangau castle 30 minutes later. Not bad! We could have bought a ticket for Neuschwanstein also but those tickets were 2.5 hours later and I had read online that the Hohenschwangau castle was better anyway because you get rushed through at Neuschwanstein castle. Unfortunately, everything I read online was wrong.
Hohenschwangau Castle Tour
We headed up to Hohenschwangau Castle via horse-drawn carriage and walked around the grounds a bit. The grounds are beautiful and so are the views. Then came the tour itself. I wish I had something nice to say about the tour but I don’t.
Hohenschwangau tour with young kids
You may already think that I am insane thinking a history filled castle tour would be a good idea with toddlers. Well, my toddlers actually love castle interiors. Just a week prior, I took them through a couple castle/palace tours in Copenhagen. Not only were they enjoying themselves, they breezed through seeing the crown jewels in a sound alarm protected vault! Basically, the alarm would go off if anyone spoke louder than a whisper (or if someone sneezed – yikes!). My husband had joined us in Germany and I was no longer outnumbered by toddlers so I thought a castle tour would be fun for all.
I was dead wrong.
We started the tour and immediately began struggling. The tours were crowded, really it felt overcrowded. It was hard to see the decor and absolutely impossible to hear our tour guide. Everyone was being quiet but she was so soft spoken so we were all just standing in a crowded room trying to make out what was being said for 5 to 8 minutes at a time. Forget my toddlers, I was miserable. After she finished her explanation of each room, a couple of people would go up and ask her questions. Actually, it was the same people over and over while the rest of the tour group just stood around and waited for the private conversation to end.
How to get out of the Hohenschwastein Castle tour early
Around the 3rd room, my toddlers were already getting antsy. By the 5th room I had had enough of the tour, my kids really couldn’t handle it anymore. I asked for an exit route. There was an exit off to the side and we took what seemed to be an old spiral service staircase all the way down. The staircase itself was pretty cool, to be honest, there were a lot of windows with views we would have otherwise missed.
Tips and tricks
So, if I had a do-over here’s what I would do. I would not tour Hohenschwangau at all with young kids. The tour is too slow for their attention span. I would do the Neuschwanstein Castle tour since other reviewers online stated that you get “rushed” through. That’s more our speed anyway. On the other hand, If I had older kids with me, Hohenschwangau would be great as an educational tour since they allow time for additional questions in each room to be answered in person by experts.
Try to stand next to the tour guide. They are not provided with microphones and as I mentioned, depending on your guide, it can be near impossible to hear what they have to say. I would love to see them switch to a headphone guided system with staff monitors as they do at Westminster Abbey. That allows people to tour at their own pace and accommodates individual special needs while still being very engaging and informative.
Horse-drawn carriage ride
We took a horse-drawn carriage up to Hohenschwangau castle. (Buses only go to up to Neuschwanstein)You may have to wait 10-15 minutes to go up because they won’t leave until the carriage is full. Be sure to carry cash to pay the driver. It was wonderful. The forest and lake views were great. Since my toddlers are in a horse phase, they absolutely loved it! On the way back, a lot of people choose to walk (since it’s downhill) so we had the whole carriage to ourselves. My toddlers got to sit up front and watch the horses up close.
Neuschwanstein Castle Tour
After our tour of Hohenschwangau was finished, we wanted to head over to Neuschwanstein Castle. If you are active, there are several hikes you can take up to Neuschwanstein castle. I hear they’re pretty great. Strenuous hikes with a toddler on my back aren’t usually my first choice though so we looked for other options for the way up.
The Bus to the Top
There’s a bus that you can take to the top of Neuschwanstein castle. The very nice woman at the ticket desk suggested we go that route because the bus drops you off right at Marienbrucke bridge. So we waited in line for a bus for 25 minutes. 5 minutes before the bus came a large group of about 50 tourists came by. The Tour guide immediately started cutting in front of people and encouraging the people in his group come forward. A young girl next to me said something to him and he just rolled his eyes and motioned for his group to come forward some more. I wasn’t about to wait another 25 minutes – my toddlers had already attempted to sprint away 2ce so we made sure to stay ahead of his group. The bus was almost full and I was so happy to have made it on! My husband and I stood in the center of the bus each with a 2-year-old in hand, thinking we were ready to go. We were wrong.
The bus driver scanned the tour guide’s pass and ALL of the people in his massive tour group boarded the bus. I could feel it sinking beneath my feet from the weight. I mean, that bus was SO packed (this is coming from someone who lives in India btw) there wasn’t room to move. Even if I wanted to get off, I couldn’t have maneuvered through the people on board. My son became anxious because people were shoving and some people from the tourist group started yelling at the other people who got on the bus first to now make room for them. A very kind stranger offered her seat to me so we wouldn’t be shoved. The short ride to the top couldn’t have gone any slower for me.
After you get off the bus, most people will head straight down the wide paved path. If instead, you turn right, you’ll reach Marienbrucke after a short paved walk. This is where you get these fairytale views of the castle. What photos won’t show is that the bridge is usually pretty crowded. It’s also very high and you can feel the boards creek a bit beneath you. If you are terrified of heights this will not be your cup of tea. Otherwise, you absolutely must go and take in the views!
Neuschwanstein – The Fairy Tale Castle
We had finally reached Neuschwanstein Castle! I was a bit disappointed that the main picturesque entrance to the castle was covered in scaffolding. There was nothing on the tourism site indicating that was the case. It was still nice to walk around the massive castle. The forest lined walking paths surrounding the castle were really beautiful but the grounds of Hohenschwangau felt more grand and royal. Then again, a lot of Neuschwangau was blocked off for restoration work when we visited.
We had bought round-trip bus ticket but there was no way I was going through that bus ride again (not to mention 10-minute walk from the castle to the bus is all uphill) so we decided to take a horse carriage back down. The wait for a horse carriage was over an hour so reluctantly (I was pretty worn out) we started down on foot.
Walking down from Neuschwanstein castle
The walk down from the castle ended up being one of my favorite parts of the whole experience even though it started to rain on us. It is really beautiful. I am just super out of shape and man was it tough. My toddler was too tired to walk the whole way down and we didn’t bring a stroller so that was a bit rough. My husband like to remind me how much fitter he is than me so he went on ahead with my daughter and we met him in the car about 20 minutes later. Seriously though if I had to do it again I would take the horse-drawn carriage up, and just plan for a mild hike to Marienbrucke bridge, back to the castle and all the way back down.
Bring a stroller
I couldn’t find anything online about whether I should bring one or not but I know they weren’t allowed in the castle so I left them in the trunk. Don’t make that mistake. The whole path is paved – there’s just a small bit at the beginning and end that’s not but you can get even an umbrella stroller through it. Although the hills can be steep so keep that in mind.
How to get to Neuschwanstein Castle
Reaching Neuschwanstein castle is a bit of a trek. It’s a 2-hour drive from Munich. Unless you are a huge history lover its really not more than a day trip, so round trip that’s 4 hours in the car. Thankfully, the drive is pleasant with great views along the way. There are also many bus tour groups heading there daily.
Was it worth it?
Yes! Most of all I loved the horse-drawn carriage ride, the gorgeous scenery, and royal grounds. It’s pretty cool to think of who once walked the same grounds you are now. I had a fun history lesson too! History was never a favorite subject of mine but I find myself completely fascinated when I learn the same subject through travel. If you have older kids I think there is a great history lesson to be had at these castles! Plan for an active day outdoors to soak up the natural beauty. Just be sure you learn from all my mistakes and you’ll have a smooth, fun and educational visit!