Heard about the real-life Disney castle in Germany? Wondering what Cinderella's or Sleeping Beauty's castle is modelled after? It REALLY is an actual castle, in Germany, called Neuschwanstein Castle and it's one of the most famous castles in Germany, if not the world!
Not only can you walk around (and touch!) the walls of this incredible fairytale castle, you can actually go INSIDE Neuschwanstein- and boy is it worth it!! Who knew the Disney castle had a grotto?!!?
If you're planning a trip to Germany's fairytale castles, dreaming about being Cinderella or visiting Sleeping Beauty's palace, this guide will tell you everything you need to know, including whether Neuschwanstein Castle really lives up to the hype, how best to visit the Castle, what NOT to do (you didn't think this visit was going to go smoothly, did you!?!), and tips & tricks we discovered during our visit to arguably one of the most famous attractions in Germany.
What is the Disney Castle modeled after?
When you think of Fairytale Castles, what springs to mind? Does it look anything like this?
FUN FACT: Did you know that the firework is actually Tinkerbell? (I didn't know that until recently!)
Another fun fact-did you know that the Disney Castle is based upon an ACTUAL real-life fairytale castle? In Germany. That you can visit, and walk around. It's called Neuschwanstein Castle.
Apparently, Mr Walt Disney saw a picture of Neuschwanstein Castle and instantly fell in love with it. He visited the Castle with his wife and shortly afterwards the Sleeping Beauty castle appeared.
Cinderella's castle also bears a striking resemblance to Neuschwanstein!
I'm not sure when I became aware that the Castle was a real place. Probably not that long ago, but ever since I've been desperately wanting to visit the castle and see it for myself.
Where is the Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella Castle?
Neuschwanstein Castle is located in Bavaria, Germany, about an hour south of Munich. You can easily visit Neuschwanstein in a day trip from Munich, but if you get a chance to visit the area for longer, take it!
The full address of Neuschwanstein Castle is: Neuschwansteinstraße 20, 87645 Schwangau, Germany
Can you go inside the Disney Castle?
Yep! About a third of Neuschwanstein is open to the public, and tours happen most days. You can ONLY visit on a tour (more on that later!)
Does anyone live in Neuschwanstein Castle?
Neuschwanstein Castle isn't occupied. The reason only a third is open to the public is that is all the rooms which were finished before the Castle (and country!) ran out of money. It's a really sad story which I'll share below.
Is Neuschwanstein Castle the most famous Castle in Germany?
Very possibly. It's certainly one of the most visited. Over 1.5 MILLION people visited Neuschwanstein Castle in 2017.
1.5 MILLION. In one year.
That's a heck of a lot of people. There's a reason Germany is famous for having the best fairy tale castles in the world!
When is the best time to visit Neuschwanstein Castle?
The best time to visit this fairytale castle is NOT IN SUMMER. Remember those 1.5 million people? Most of them arrive between June-September. I've heard the crowds are ridiculous.
Having said that, if your only option is to visit in high season or not visit at all, then visit.
Seriously, this is one of the few places we've visited in Europe that I'd come back to and stand in a massive crowd for. It's a fairytale castle worth waiting for!
We visited in April, in the Easter Holidays and that was fairly busy, but bearable. You can also visit Neuschwanstein Castle in the winter – it looks amazing in the snow, but do be careful when planning a road trip in winter.
Reasons to visit Neuschwanstein Castle in the Spring
We didn't deliberately plan to visit in the Spring. We just had other plans for July & August (Norway- whoop!), so our only opportunity to explore southern Germany and its beautiful castles was in April.
Having said that, we feel it's a perfect time to visit. Here's why:
- The crowds haven't really kicked in yet
- The weather has a good chance of being warm. We were there in April and it was 19 degrees C and sunny.
- The spring flowers are BEAUTIFUL
- There's more chance of getting a campsite nearby- or a hotel if you're not roadtripping Europe in a camper.
- The staff and employees all over the area haven't yet get sick of tourists. They're genuinely smiley and helpful. I admit we haven't tested this theory, but I would expect those smiles to be slightly more strained by the end of summer!
- The forests are at their best. We walked back through the woods down the hill and it was just gorgeous.
How to visit the Disney Castle on a day trip
Neuschwanstein is easily reached from Munich (it's about 90-minute drive.) Which means you could easily visit Neuschwanstein as part of a city break or during that most awesome of all awesome celebrations- Oktoberfest! If you're planning to visit, be sure to book your table reservations to Oktoberfest in advance!
Other fairytale castles in Southern Germany and Europe
If you're looking for other inspiring castles (and really, who isn't?) here are some other posts you should check out:
Tips to visit Neuschwanstein Castle
We highly recommend staying overnight the night before you want to visit the Castle, as we believe the best time to go is in the morning. First thing in the morning. Like, as early as you possibly can. So getting a place to stay the night before is a great idea.
Camping near Neuschwanstein Castle
Campsite for Motorhomes
We stayed at a motorhome campsite near Neuschwanstein Castle at Schwangau, about a 5-minute drive away from the Castle parking zones.
There's also a campsite near Fussen, which is €15/night and a 20-minute walk into the town. If we went again we'd stay there.
Hotels near the Disney Castle
If you're not in a camper van, the best place to stay is Füssen- the closest town and a really pretty place to visit. You might even get a view of Sleeping Beauty's castle from your bedroom!
Füssen has lots of hotels, B&B's etc and is easily reached by car, train or organised tour from Munich (here's a fun guide to Munich).
Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle on a day trip
It's pretty easy to get from Munich to Neuschwanstein Castle. It's also easy to get a bus from Füssen up to Schwangau (which is where the Castle is). You can also tie a trip to Neuschwanstein in with a visit to Nuremberg Old Town or Zugspitze- Germany's Highest Mountain!
Can you stay in Neuschwanstein Castle?
Sadly, no. Wouldn't that be so cool! However, there is a hotel called Schlossrestaurant Neuschwanstein, which is right next to the castle.
Watch our visit to Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany's fairy tale Castle
Before we share our top tips to visit the castle which inspired Walt Disney, watch a video of our visit. It will make all my tips make so much more sense!!
Timeline of our visit to the most famous castle in Germany!
Here's a rough timeline of our visit to Neuschwanstein Castle, so you can plan your own visit:
- 08:30 Arrived at P4 car park (we had to go into the bus car park as we were too long for the Motorhome area)
- 08:35 Walked the 2 minutes to the ticket office and queued for about 4-5 minutes for tickets. We hadn't booked in advance.
- 08:58 (exact time on my photos!) got into Horse & Carriage
- 09:14 arrived at top of the hill… and then realised we still had to walk UP. This took us about 20 minutes as we took lots of photos and Jade is the world's slowest walker. Seriously.
- Our tour was at 10:45 so we spent an hour walking around the exterior taking photos. We didn't go to Marienbrücke bridge first- but we should have!
- 10:45 When our tour was called we entered through the automatic turnstile which scans your ticket; then met by our guide who handed out earpieces so we could hear him without him having to shout.
- 11:20 Tour finished. We walked up to Marienbrucke bridge
- 11:45 At Marienbrucke Bridge. Spent some time taking photos of the castle from that incredible viewpoint. Decided to walk all the way back down the hill and save the poor horses in the heat. Was a lovely walk on a proper path, but it's a little steep in places.
- 12:20 Arrived back in Schwangau. Had lunch. Fainted at cost. (This was our biggest mistake at Neuschwanstein. More on that soon!)
Some people can climb the hill in 20 minutes apparently… I am in awe of them. I reckon you could definitely shave 10/15 minutes off all our ‘walking time' if you were in a rush, but the hill is STEEP!!
Planning your visit to Neuschwanstein Castle, Europe- top tips!
- Try and visit on a clear, sunny day if at all possible. Otherwise your view of the Castle might be obscured
- The hill up to the Castle is VERY STEEP. Even if you get a bus/ horse up. Wear sensible shoes and be prepared to stare in horror!
- Get a ticket before you go up the hill (see below!)
Getting tickets to go inside Neuschwanstein Castle
The first thing to know- your entrance into the castle is timed.
At the bottom of the hill, near Car Park 4 which is where the horse and carriage go from, there is a ticket office. Do NOT climb up the hill without a ticket unless you don't want to see inside, as you can't buy a ticket up there.
Each ticket has a time on it, and the tours are available in many languages. English tours went roughly every half an hour and I assume that's the same for most of the languages (I believe the languages offered varies, depending on staff availability. English & German are always available.)
TOP TIP: Factor in your time to get UP the hill when you're choosing your tour time– it takes longer than you think, especially if the buses aren't running, which they weren't during our visit at the beginning of April.
Do you need to book tickets in advance for Neuschwanstein?
You can (and in the summer definitely SHOULD) book your tickets in advance to ensure you get the time slot you want. Click HERE for the official website.)
When is Neuschwanstein Castle open for tours?
Neuschwanstein Castle is open all year except for Christmas/ New Year, but opening times vary. Check their website for full details and more information.
How much does it cost to visit Neuschwanstein Castle?
In 2018 ticket prices were 13€/ adult, under 18s free. You can also buy a combined ticket for entrance to some of Ludwig's other castles too- check the website for full information.
How to get up the hill to the castle
There are three possible ways to get up that VERY steep hill to go inside Neuschwanstein.
- Bus (if it's running!)
- Horse and Cart
We wanted to take the bus, which costs 1.80€ (tickets can be bought on the bus) but, due to maintenance, they weren't running that day. I don't know if this is normal in the Spring or not.
Instead, we took the horse & carriage (6€/pp) which we thought would be a fun experience. Heck, I even sweet-talked one of the drivers to let us sit up front with him, right behind the horses.
Our first mistake on visiting Neuschwanstein- the horse ride
Let me tell you something which will serve you well for the rest of your life– NEVER sit behind a horse. Never, ever, ever.
Apart from watching the poor things sweating & straining to cart (see what I did there?) us all up the very steep hill, they repeatedly broke wind.
Loudly & smellily. And one of them let go much more than that, right in front of our eyes.
It was, quite frankly, not an experience I would rush to repeat.
Having said that, it is a crazily steep hill and I have no wish to walk up it, although lots of people do. So it's your call.
How long does the horse ride up the mountain take?
In total, we queued for about 20-30 minutes at the bottom of the hill and the journey up took about 15 minutes. So allow at least long between buying your tickets and the tour time.
The bridge at Neuschwanstein Castle- Marienbrucke (Mary's Bridge)
Do you want a photo of yourself with the castle in the background?
If you do, you have to go onto a wooden bridge, above a high gorge. Some people may not enjoy that.
The bridge is called Marienbrücke (Mary's Bridge) and is just above the Castle. I believe the bus actually has a drop-off point near there.
Go to the bridge FIRST. As early in the morning as you can.
Plan your tour time around spending half an hour or so first doing the ‘bridge shot'.
How to find Marienbrucke
From the main drop off area at the top of the hill, follow the sign for the bridge. If you can't see them, walk up towards the castle.
About halfway up, right next to the castle on the right, you'll see a metal gate with a ‘no-entry' sign on it. If the gate is open, you're good to go through.
The sign is for when it's locked. Walk through here and follow the path for about 10 minutes. It's a fairly steep climb (shocker!) so take breaks and allow extra time if you think you'll need it.
Eventually, the signs will point you up to the left, where you'll find the bridge. If you've done this all correctly, you should be here first thing in the morning with VERY few people.
Therefore, you can take as many photos as you like of Neuschwanstein Castle without being jostled, pushed and tutted at. If we went again we would DEFINITELY do the bridge first, as by the time we went it was pretty busy.
And in the summer it gets CRAZY busy! I'm not sure I'd want to go onto that bridge with a huge jostling crowd on it.
What to wear to visit Neuschwanstein Castle
You're going to be doing a LOT of walking.
Up a mountain.
This is not the time for style (or heels.) Wear sensible shoes and comfy clothing. (Honestly, this is my motto for most of my travelling. I've never really learnt how to do comfy & stylish. If you've sussed it, please send tips!)
You can bring water bottles into the castle but expect your bag to be checked on arrival at the top. I'd also recommend a hat if it's sunny as there's very little shade.
NOTE: You cannot take rucksacks, pushchairs, prams, child carriers or any other ‘bulky' items into the castle. Pushchairs can be left outside but everything else should be left in your car.
Reduced Mobility visitors
You cannot drive your car up to the castle, even if you have reduced mobility. They ask you to book your tickets at least 48 hours in advance and give them notice that you require additional assistance.
Manual wheelchairs can be taken on the horse-drawn carriage, but it's a STEEP climb after that (at least 15%). I'm told the buses have a lowering floor, but they don't take you all the way to the entrance.
Apparently, there is a special taxi which can help you but it needs to be taken up the hill before 10am, and they're not clear on how you would get back down again as the taxi is not allowed up the mountain after 1pm. I think the safest thing to do would be to contact them in advance to get clear assistance.
Going inside Neuschwanstein Castle
So, to recap, you should have allowed yourself at least 90 minutes to get up the hill, go to Marienbrucke bridge, take photos/ wander around/ gawk at the incredible Disney castle above you and dream about being Sleeping Beauty/ Cinderella etc.
MAKE SURE you don't miss the allocated time on your ticket. It is not a suggestion. If you are not there within 3 minutes of your time, you won't be allowed in. And there are no refunds.
Cameras/ videos are forbidden within the castle. Which is a shame as the interior is stunning.
(TIP- if they see you with your camera or phone out, they will shout. There are guards pretty much everywhere and angry shouty Germans are scary. Don't say I didn't warn you.)
How long is the castle tour at Neuschwanstein?
The tour around the interior of the castle is actually very quick, no more than 35 minutes. The guides are also on a strict schedule, so there is no time to ask questions or look at anything more closely as you go round, which is a bit of a shame.
Having said that, we're not fans of long, drawn-out Castle tours, so it was pretty good for us. And there are so many incredible things to see- including a fairytale grotto!
King Ludwig actually built a grotto in his castle. Give that man some respect!
Alas, I have no photos, so you'll need to go see that for yourself.
Neuschwanstein Castle- the history of the German fairytale castle
Ludwig & Richard Wagner
King Ludwig (the man who commissioned Neuschwanstein Castle) was a dedicated patron of the opera composer Richard Wagner. Some say his support is the only reason we have heard of Wagner today.
Ludwig chose to decorate Neuschwanstein with images of the medieval legends on which Wagner based his operas. The artwork and detail around the rooms are staggering and incredibly beautiful. It's such a shame the Castle was never finished… but then Bavaria would have gone bankrupt. Let me explain.
A tale of two castles
What I didn't really realise until we arrived (I must learn to research places better)is that there are actually TWO castles. Yep, two proper actual castles within about half a mile of each other. It's an impressive sight.
The yellow one is called Hohenschwangau and was the childhood home of King Ludwig II.
I love the saying that “Hohenschwangau was his reality, but Neuschwanstein was his fantasy.”
For those who don't know, King Ludwig II was King of Bavaria. He actually became King on his 18th Birthday in 1864 and started building castles almost immediately.
He was young, fanciful and full of ‘childish enthusiasm' with grand ideas of what the monarchy should be. Unfortunately for the young King, he was living in a time of War, and the role of the monarchy was changing rapidly. He had been bought up to believe in elitism and ‘King by the grace of God', but those were no longer the feelings of his people or the countries around him. His role was actually mainly ceremonial, with very little power.
To combat this, the King began to build fantastic & imposing castles. As well as Neuschwanstein, he is responsible for the building of Schloss Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee, a partial replica of the Palace of Versailles.
He also constructed a royal apartment in Munich and had plans for many other elaborate creations.
Hohenschwangau Castle- in the shadow of Neuschwanstein
You can visit Hohenschwangau castle on the same day as Neuschwanstein. Additional fees apply (unless you bought a combined ticket) and it's an easy (by comparison!) walk from P4.
Admittedly, we didn't visit it- I know my family and there's only so much walking/ castles they can do in a day before I get lynched. Travelling as a group means compromises need to be made… and in this case it was Hohenschwangau.
People have told me that it's worth a visit if you particularly enjoy architecture or old buildings, as the tour is longer and more in-depth, but it pales in comparison to Neuschwanstein. If you've been, let me know what you thought of it.
Neuschwanstein Castle- the costs of building it
Ludwig started construction on Neuschwanstein castle in 1869, as well as several other projects, and almost immediately the bills spiralled out of control. Indeed, he spent money so fast and so thoughtlessly that he almost bankrupted the Kingdom of Bavaria.
With only 15 out of the 60 rooms in the castle completed, Ludwig found himself the equivalent of 8 million USD in debt. By 1885, with the castle not even half finished, the banks threatened to take it all away.
In June 1886, in what appears to be a desperate attempt to stop his spending, King Ludwig was declared ‘insane' and taken away to Berg Palace in Munich. Less than 24 hours later, he was found dead in a lake, despite being an excellent swimmer.
No-one ever determined the cause of his death and the Royal Family have refused all requests to exhume the body to find out. They started to call him ‘Mad' King Ludwig but I don't believe he was. I think he was just a sad, lonely, and flamboyant young man whose only escapism was dreaming up incredible & foolhardy buildings to create and enjoy.
The sad thing is that the castle which almost bankrupted the country is now one of its most successful and lucrative tourist attractions. Less than 7 weeks after Ludwig's death, the castle was opened to visitors as a tourist attraction. It has never been finished.
Where to eat at Neuschwanstein- our second Mistake!
We didn't see a cafe in Neuschwanstein itself, but there were a couple of restaurants at the top of the hill. As you might expect, these are expensive.
There are LOADS of cafes and restaurants in Schwangau at the bottom of the hill near P4 parking. Seriously, it's an entire street full of eating establishments and tourist shops.
DO NOT go to the first cafe on the corner by the horse & carriage. I mean, you can- it was nice enough, but the menu was very limited, the service was ‘meh' and the price was extortionate. 85€ for 3 of us for lunch!!!
With no alcohol and only one course. Crazy prices.
If we'd only used our brains (which I admit were a little tired & sun-addled at this point) we'd have walked 50m further down the road and found somewhere better. I predict the prices here are all pretty steep, but on the way out we spotted Bratwurst stalls and many other eating places which would have been a lot cheaper and probably more satisfying.
How long should you allow for a visit to Neuschwanstein?
Our visit took about 5 hours from car park to return to the motorhome, including a stop for lunch. That was a fairly leisurely pace in April, without too many crowds and including a walk back down the mountain in the sunshine.
Neuschwanstein Castle- Fun facts
- ‘Neuschwanstein' means ‘New Swan Stone Castle'
- The castle was state of the art. Ludwig even had telephone lines installed.
- There was hot air central heating
- The kitchen had hot & cold running water
- The toilets had automatic flushes
- The walls are normal brick, with the white colour coming from Limestone cladding, which needs regularly replacing. That's why many photos of Neuschwanstein have some sort of scaffolding in them.
- The building is not stable and has to be monitored constantly for movement!
- Over 6000 people visit every day in summer
- The second floor and many rooms are still unfinished
- There was NEVER a throne in the throne room.
- Ludwig only lived in Neuschwanstein for 6 months before his death
Want to see more beautiful castles? Oh ok- here are 16 of the best Castles in Southern Germany!
Have you ever visited Neuschwanstein? Would you like to? Let me know in the comments below- I'd love to hear your thoughts.
How else can I help you today??