If you’re familiar with the area around the Disney World Resort in Orlando (I-drive, 192…), you’re familiar with tacky tourism souvenir shops, chain restaurants, mega hotels, and heavy traffic.
You’re probably also very familiar with this – Disney’s iconic Cinderella Castle.
It’s not just centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom. It’s also the symbol for Disney movies and television credits.
Most people also know that the main inspiration behind Cinderella’s Castle is Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle.
So what’s so surprising about Neuschwanstein?
Neuschwantstein is often pictured secluded in the hills of Bavaria. It’s easy to imagine the tranquil setting. However, the bottom of that hill (Schwangau) is the German equivalent of tacky tourist area. Which is a slight exaggeration, but the area does seem to personify every Bavarian (and thus, German) stereotype.
Instead of Mickey ears they sell lederhosen.
Instead of all-you-can-eat buffets they have currywurst and spaetzle.
Instead of miniature fun parks there are multiple nature hikes in the mountains and lakes.
Instead of a Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum visit King Ludwig II’s museum or the lesser-known castle practically next door to Neuschwanstein.
Instead of grand resorts with pools and valet parking there are private vacation rentals in half-timbered homes.
Instead of traffic jams people rely on great public transportation options or horse-drawn carriage rides.
Basically bottom-of-the-hill Neuschwanstein is surprisingly touristy, but equally charming.
If only I had known.
Unfortunately, most accounts of Neuschwanstein are pretty clear that it’s pretty shallow. Beautiful on the outside, drab on the inside. I made a decision to just make a quick stop en route from Stuttgart to Garmisch instead of dedicating the day to explore the area. And unfortunately, the GPS system played a few tricks with our routing which made us later than expected. So we really did not have enough time to see everything the area had to offer.
Neuschwanstein: Things to do
Our less than 2 hour visit was filled with schnitzel sandwich snacking, postcard browsing, sign reading, and posing for photos in front of gorgeous landscapes. Here are some things I would have been happy to do if we had a few more hours.
- Take a hike: Pick up a map at the tourist center or follow one of the signs. Everything is clearly marked with expected completion times and routes. Plus, how often can you hike up to a castle, or around a clear lake with Alp views?
- Learn more about the crazy King: This area of Germany meant a lot to King Ludwig II. He spent his youth there and built one of his three castles there. Visit the museum dedicated to his life and story.
- See a castle, no not that castle: I knew Hohenshcwangau was near Neuschwanstein, I didn’t realize they were neighbors. Ludwig lived in Hohenschwangau (when it was called Schwanstein (for language buffs Neuschwanstein means NEW Schwanstein and when naming Neuschwanstein, they changed the name of Schwanstein to Hohenschwangau – and believe me this can be more confusing, but I’ll leave you to finding the sign with more information (or you can email me if you want to learn more))) and although not as iconic from the outside it is worth a tour indoors.
- Perhaps a paddle boat: Between the castles and next to the Ludwig Museum there’s a large lake. Other than the estimated 90 minute walk around the lake, with gorgeous views of mountains and castles along the way, paddle boat rides are available in good weather.
- Marienbrucke: For excellent views of Neushwanstein, head to this bridge that dates back to the 1800s. It’s a little scary for my taste, but the more adventurous are rewarded with a better story and photo.
- Eat more Bavarian food: There are several restaurants, many with postcard views of something memorable. Try popular Bavarian dishes in the quintessential royal setting.
- Shop for tacky souvenirs: Ok, some of the souvenirs are not so tacky. The shops at the bottom of the hill sell both Bavarian and German branded items (most likely the cheap things actually made in China), to the quality brands Germany is known for (from Christmas ornaments to Steiff Teddy Bears to cuckoo clocks and biersteins).
- Compare and contrast the details of Ludwig and Cinderella’s castles: What parts of Neuschwanstein did Mr. Disney use as inspiration?
Thinking about going?
- Schwangau is about two hours from Munich, Innsbruck, and Stuttgart making it a good base to explore many areas.
- There are plenty of day trip operators, especially from Munich, available. Otherwise there a combination of trains and buses will get you there, but you should purchase your tickets in advance online if you are interested in touring the castle.
- For those driving, there are many parking spaces available for a small fee (at the time of our visit in the Spring of 2014 it was 5 Euros). While we had no issue finding parking, if the lots are full consider parking in nearby Fussen and taking the busses to Schwangau.
- You can easily make this area an all day – or longer – destination. There is more than enough stuff to do in the area, especially if for nature buffs.
- From my perspective, there were several trail opportunities that appeared stroller-friendly, though we didn’t do anything too extensive.
Who should go
I recommend this area of Germany to families who like to hike. Between the two castles and the museum there are definitely enough activities to fill a day, but I don’t know if those things alone would be enough for young kids. The trails, however, would be a fun way to explore the area. If you’re a King Ludwig II fan – you don’t need convincing. If you don’t know anything about him, I’m sure you’ll learn to appreciate him after a visit. Is this a must-see for Germany visitors? Well, my first visit to this castle was after living in the country a total of 7 years, so I guess that depends on you!
For more information
- Check out my post about another Ludwig castle, Herrenchiemsee.
- Neuschwanstein‘s official website
- Hohenschwangau‘s official website
- A great post from Little Siteseers and their day in the Schwangau area (hint: they did a lot more than we did).
- Monkeys and Mountains has visited many castles in Germany and didn’t like this one. But, she does still give great tips for those who want to go.