Nearly everyone who visits Bavaria goes to see Crazy Ludwig's castle at Neuschwanstein — mostly on guided tours. Here's a better way to do it on your own, taken directly from the latest editions of my guidebooks Daytrips Germany and Daytrips Bavaria.
*Füssen and Neuschwanstein
A Daytrip from Munich
The most instantly recognized symbol of Germany is undoubtedly Neuschwanstein, a sight that graces the covers of numerous guidebooks, brochures, and travel posters. Everything a fairytale castle should be, "mad" King Ludwig II's most spectacular creation has even served as a model for Disneyland.
While countless tourists trek through it every year, relatively few visit the neighboring castle of Hohenschwangau — in which Ludwig was actually raised — and only a small minority venture down the road to the delightful frontier town of Füssen. This trip combines all three for an exciting day filled with memorable sights, far more than you would get on a guided bus tour.
Trains leave Munich's main station hourly for either Buchloe, where you change to a local for Füssen, or direct to Füssen. Check the schedule. Return service operates until mid evening. The journey takes about 2 hours each way.
By Car, leave Munich on the B-12 road, going west to Landsberg, then turn south on the B-17 to Hohenschwangau and Füssen for a total distance of 120 km (75 miles).
The Royal Castles are open all year round, but are more crowded on weekends during the tourist season. There is a Tourist Information Office (Kurverwaltung) in Füssen at Kaiser-Maximilian-Platz, 3 blocks east of the station, T: (08362) 938-50, W: fuessen.de. Bicycles can be rented near the station all year round. Füssen has a population of about 14,000.
FOOD AND DRINK:
Restaurants near the Royal Castles tend to be touristy, with better values in Füssen. Some good choices are:
Gasthaus zum Schwanen (Brotmarkt 4, near Kloster St. Mang) Bavarian and Swabian dishes in a cozy setting. T: (08362) 61-74. X: Mon., mid-Jan. through mid-March. €
Gasthof zum Hechten (Ritterstr. 6, by the castle) An old favorite inn with Bavarian and Swabian dishes. T: (08362) 916-00. €
Müller (Alpseestr. 14, near the bus stop) Country-style dining. T: (08362) 819-90. X: early Jan. through early March. €€€
Lisl und Jägerhaus (Neuschwanstein Str. 1, just south of the bus stop) Local and Continental cuisine. T: (08362) 88-70. €€
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
Leave the Füssen train station (1) and walk over to the bus stop across the street. Check the posted schedule of service to Hohenschwangau, also called Königsschlösser or Royal Castles. From this you can determine the amount of time available for exploring Füssen, allowing at least three hours for Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles.
Stroll down Bahnhofstrasse to Kaiser-Maximilian-Platz, where the tourist office is located. From here turn right on Reichenstrasse, a charming pedestrians-only street lined with outdoor cafés, which leads to Kloster St. Mang (2). This former Benedictine abbey was founded in the 8th century and rebuilt during the 18th. It now serves as the town hall and contains a small museum. In the courtyard is the Chapel of St. Anne, noted for its unusual Totentanz (Dance of Death) painting from 1602, and the parish church with its ancient 9th-century crypt.
Climb uphill to the Hohes Schloss (Castle) (3), once a residence of the bishops of Augsburg, who claimed it after Emperor Heinrich VII forfeited on a loan they had made to him. The present structure, curiously painted, dates from the 13th and 16th centuries. Long before that, in the 3rd century AD, the Romans had a castle on the same site to protect their Via Claudia road that ran from Verona to Augsburg. The splendid Knights' Hall and other rooms, now an art museum, may be visited. T: (08362) 903-146. Open Apr.-Oct., Tues.-Sun. 11-4; Nov.-March, Tues.-Sun. 2-4. €.
Now follow the map to the Lech Waterfall (4), a very beautiful spot just yards from the Austrian border. Cross the Maxsteg footbridge over the cascade and return via Tiroler Strasse. Once across the main bridge, bear right onto Brotmarkt and Brunnengasse, then return to the bus stop.
Board the bus to Hohenschwangau (Königsschlösser), a distance of about two miles. You could, of course, walk or drive there instead, or even rent a bike near the station. Check the posted return bus schedule upon arrival and purchase your tickets at the booth on Alpseestrasse.
From the Hohenschwangau bus stop (5) it is a fairly steep climb via a woodland trail to Neuschwanstein Castle, with park benches provided en route. This can be avoided by taking one of the rather touristy horse-drawn carriages, or by a special bus (still requiring a little uphill trek), both of which start from a point opposite the bus stop, next to the parking lot. At the top of the climb, just below the castle, there is a restaurant and outdoor café where you can rest before tackling the main attraction.
View from Neuschwanstein Castle
*NEUSCHWANSTEIN CASTLE (6), T: (08362) 930-830, W: ticket-center-hohenschwangau.de. Tours April-Sept., daily 9-6; Oct.-March, daily 10-4. Closed Jan 1, Shrove Tues., Nov. 1, Dec. 24, 25, 31. Tickets are for timed mandatory tours in English or German, with audio devices for other languages. Visitors must be at the castle entrance at the specified time. Handicap assistance available on Wed. only by advance arrangement. €€.
Neuschwanstein Castle is pure fantasy. By comparison, King Ludwig II's other creations of Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee, although wildly extravagant, have at least some basis in reality — other kings have built lavish palaces for themselves before. For this one, however, there is no model except possibly the Wartburg in Thuringia. Ludwig was obsessed with strange notions of a transfigured past whose gods, knights, and swans form the hazy bedrock of Wagnerian opera. Completely withdrawn from the industrial world of the 19th century, this lonely monarch wrapped himself in a cloud of long-forgotten dreams, of which Neuschwanstein is simply the most spectacular manifestation. Painting of Ludwig arriving at Neuschwanstein, right.
The castle, rising from a rocky crag high above the Pöllat gorge, was designed by a theatrical scene-painter employed by the court. This was Ludwig's first creation, begun in 1869, but it remained unfinished at the time of his death 17 years later. He lived there for a total of 170 days, and it was from there that he was taken into custody after being declared insane. The young king's life ended tragically in the waters of Lake Starnberg the very next day.
Painting of Ludwig in 1887, left.
Enter the castle and join one of the very frequent guided tours, many of which are in English. Unlike the rococo fantasies of his later structures, Neuschwanstein is heavily Teutonic, with wall murals depicting those heroic sagas so dear to the hearts of Wagnerians.
After the tour you may want to take a short but invigorating walk to the *Marienbrücke (7) for some truly splendid views. Return to the bottom of the hill and visit:
HOHENSCHWANGU CASTLE (8), T: (08362) 930-830. Tours April-Sept., daily 9-6; Oct.-March, daily 10-4, closed Dec 24. €€.
Despite its excessive decoration, this Schloss (photo, left) has a homely, lived-in feel about it. Dating from the 12th century, it was heavily reconstructed by Ludwig's father, Maximilian II. The future king spent much of his youth here and was undoubtedly influenced by its dreamy, romantic atmosphere. It was here, too, that he entertained the composer Richard Wagner, who milked him for all he was worth.
From here, stroll down to the Pindarplatz (9) for another gorgeous view across the Alpsee, then return to the bus stop (5) and Füssen.
Text and map copyright © 2009 Earl Steinbicker