I had a slight obsession with King Ludwig II of Germany when I was in high school. And even with this obsession, I had never visited any of his castles. So, when we headed down to Prien am Chiemsee for a month of intensive language learning (specifically German) and I discovered that the nearby castle was one of his, we went.
For me, the main point of interest with Herrenchiemsee is that it’s a replica of Versailles in France. The major differences being that’s it’s even more ornate than Versailles. For those that have only been to Versailles (I haven’t been there, so I don’t know) they’ll probably think that’s impossible. Well, the news for them is that it is actually an incomplete, more ornate Versailles. Ludwig II died before construction finished.
Another thing that surprised me about this is that it was not built to compete with the original. Instead it is a tribute to France’s King Louis XIV, the Sun King. And that is equally crazy and cool.
Getting to the Herrenchiemsee Palace
The Palace is on an island in the middle of the lake. Herreninsel. There are several cities along the Chiemsee that offer transportation to both Herreninsel and Fraueninsel (Men’s Island and Women’s Island.)
We were there in the winter and the only comfortable way to get to the island was via a short 15 minute ferry ride. The boat was almost empty, which made it easy for us to roll our stroller on board.
From the ferry we walked directly to the palace to buy our tickets and waited the next available tour in English.
Off-season at the Herrenchiemsee Palace
Here’s the thing with off-season, specifically wintry destinations in Europe. Specifically castles. Specifically Herrenchiemsee (and Salzburg, which I will write about later this month.)
Off-season travel is great because there are practically no crowds so it feels like you have the place to yourself. One of the big negatives of touristy places are the crowds. Go off-season, though, and you get the benefit of visiting a touristy place without suffocating.
Off-season travel sucks because there are practically no season-dependent decorative items on display. Especially outside. Prien, Chiemsee, and the surroundings are beautiful in the winter – don’t get me wrong. The snow-capped mountains of the alps and the very stereotypical quaint German village makes visiting this area of the world in the winter a good thing. However, the big draw to Herrenchiemsee is the comparisons to Versailles. Part of the appeal of Versailles is its gardens. Obviously, the gardens at Herrenchiemsee are not in bloom in the winter. Also, the fountains? They are turned off and covered to protect them from the weather.
Once inside, we had more of the pros and cons of the off-season travel. Our English-speaking tour group was small – yay!. Some of the rooms were undergoing refurbishment and were missing some items – boo!
Our impressions of Herrenchiemsee
Still, with all the negatives of being there without getting to see the gardens in bloom and the full-picture of the interior it was spectacular. I’ve never been to Versailles, nor have I had much interest in it. But seeing Herrenchiemsee actually made me want to see the original.
My three-month old must have loved it because he refused his stroller and preferred to look around. I’m betting he was hoping we were leaving our 600 sq. foot apartment and trading up for serious royal treatment.
My favorite part of the tour was the visit to the Great Hall of Mirrors. I’m familiar with the idea of the room because of the popularity of Versailles version. As I mentioned earlier, Herrenchiemsee is even MORE ornate so this room is even more spectacular than the original. Whereas Versailles has paintings, Herrenchiemsee has 3-d artwork. Also the windows are slightly larger meaning the room is bigger.
Though we only went to Herreninsel to see the palace, there are other activities for people to do on the island. There are paths within the woods, a monastery, and a King Ludwig II museum. For us, though, we wanted to escape the cold and head to the indoor pool on the other side of the lake.
Thinking about going?
- At only 60 km from Munich it is easy to get to the island by taking a train from the city’s main train station directly to Prien. From Prien’s train station it’s a nice walk (perhaps 30 minutes), or you can take advantage of a small shuttle-train that runs in the summer. Once you get to the dock, just hop on a ferry over to the island.
- We didn’t take the shuttle-train, but everything else we did while there was stroller friendly. The palace doesn’t have elevators, so we had to carry the stroller up the stairs. They also have strollers and baby carriers for rent at the palace.
- There are several ticket options available, and a few English-language tours throughout the day. The tour is the only way to see the interior of the palace, and you can only enter at the time-stamped on the ticket. The other sites can be seen at a more leisurely pace.
- There is a small cafe serving select items within the palace. I didn’t feel it was overpriced. There are also several restaurants on the mainland near where the ferry docks, and on the walk between there and the train station.
- Photos are not allowed within the palace.
Who should visit?
I think this is a good side trip for anyone staying in Southern Bavaria or looking for a stop on a journey between Salzburg, Austria and Munich. Especially if you have an interest in Ludwig’s castles (or castles in general). I would also recommend it to people who are visiting Germany and don’t want to trek to France to see Versailles, or people who have seen Versailles and want to figure out for themselves how this one compares.
This is the biggest attraction within the Prien vicinity and can take from 2-4 hours to the whole day depending on how casually you visit the island.
Great Links for further reading
- The official website for Herrenchiemsee
- A family visits Herrenchiemsee when the gardens were in bloom and the fountains were running.
- Another visit to the palace in the winter, with everything covered in snow.
- Was King Ludwig II crazy?