In March of 2015, for my milestone birthday, I decided to do a tour of Germany making a three or four day stop in Munich. Munich is the closest major city to the Bavarian Alps where the fairy tale landmark of Neuschwenstein Castle is located. If a visitor wants to see Neuschwenstein Castle, one must start in Munich. Since I was already in Munich, I thought I may as well visit Neuschwenstein Castle to avoid going home telling tales to friends and family that I did not see this famous Bavarian landmark – like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower.
Visiting the castle was made simpler by the local tourist board by simply booking one of the state approved and available tour groups from the Munich tourist office. Though it may sound touristy, this is one of the best way the Bavarian government are allowing visitors to see the castle and it is always best to book in advance. How is it done? Visitors will be asked to meet the tour bus group in front of the Munich Main Train Station at 8:30 in the morning sharp. There will be two tour buses – one in German and the other for English-speaking visitors. It’s about an hour and a half drive from Munich to the Alps. On the drive up to the Alps, the tour guide will give you some interesting trivia about Ludwig II and the history of Neuschwenstein Castle. You might think that some of this information as what you have already read in history books but there will be some you may never have known.
When we arrived at the foot of the mountain where the castle sits, it was cold and raining. It was late March after all. People have this impression that the castle is this grand white and blue structure seating at the base of the mountain. But in reality, the photos people have seen in books and the internet are taken from the top of the mountain opposite the castle and the photos was taken on a nice, sunny, clear day. This was a rude awakening to someone like me. The Neuschwenstein Castle seats on top of a very steep mountain in the Bavarian Alps and it is near impossible to get to from its base.
When the tour bus arrived at the base of the mountain, there are various shops and restaurants along with very limited supply of parking spaces for cars and buses. Even in March, there were hordes of tourists visiting the castle. Tours are booked in advance and by the hour and tour guides had to collect tickets from the ticket office at the base. There are two ways to get to the castle. One is by horse-drawn carriage that can take up to 12 people at a time but you need to get in line in a queue at the base. This would have been the easiest and most convenient way except the wait in line can take up to an hour maybe more. The other way to get to the castle is one foot – by hiking up the steep, somewhat zigzag but paved path leading to the castle. This only takes about 50 minutes as our guide told us. If you want to do it on foot like I did, I recommend having a big if not substantial meal before heading up. You will need it. This is exactly how I was able to do it. With a full stomach, I headed up the steep somewhat zigzag paved path tailing a small group to tourist who later became too fast for me to catch up. So there I was with my waterproof coat and tiny umbrella climbing the mountain in dismal cold and wet. I was not alone in this endeavor. There were other tourists who were brave enough to take the mountain head on in this cold and wet weather. It might have taken me more than 50 minutes to get up to the top because I would sometimes stop on the way for a minute or two so I could catch my breath. Just imagine how the people who built this castle took materials and supplies up this part of the alps.
When I started to see the turrets of the castle, I started to feel a bit relieved. “Almost there!” I said to myself. When I got to the top, I was very happy and proud of myself considering that I’m not a hiker. I was able to achieve something I’d never thought I would. I took photos of the exterior of the castle even though it was raining. Some of photos turned out to be dark looking like the castle lived in a dark and enchanted forest. Others came out fairly good because the sun would occasionally peek through the cloud.
The castle tour is led by a docent as they do not allow visitors to freely roam the castle. The tour took a little over 30 minutes stopping for a few minutes in rooms such as the throne room, Ludwig’s bedroom, the theater, the throne room, etc. The tour ends once you reach the gift shop – of course. They do not allow photography inside the castle however I manage to take a couple of the very large and impressive kitchen in the end.
There are many lessons one could take from this story. The one thing I would like to stress is there are many guidebooks our there about Munich and Bavaria giving the impression to the reader that this part of Germany is very fantastical and romantic. That is partly true. However, they will never tell you about the nitty-gritty of how to get to this part of the world such as the hike to a steep hill just to reach the castle doors. Another lesson you can also take from this story is that what best describe the most famous of travel proverbs – The best part of traveling is the journey and not the destination.