Neuschwanstein Castle – Schwangau, Germany - Atlas Obscura
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Schwangau, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle

The fairy tale castle of the "fairy-tale king." 

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom and numerous other magical castles were all inspired by a real castle: Neuschwanstein Castle, the awe-inspiring retreat of the “fairy-tale king,” Ludwig II of Bavaria. Commissioned by the king in homage to Richard Wagner, the fantastical castle was designed by theatrical set designer Christian Jank. The beautiful design was to further enhance the already romantic mountain and forest scenery.

The first stone of Neuschwanstein Castle (which literally means, “New Swan Stone palace”) was laid in September 1869. The technology used to build this castle was considered modern and advanced. New inventions such as electricity, plumbing, heat and steamboats were used in the construction of the castle, and Ludwig himself was considered responsible for the introduction of many of these inventions to the area.

In 1886, as the massively expensive castle neared completion, the State Commissioner pronounced Ludwig insane and arrested him soon after. The day after he was arrested, Ludwig requested the Commissioner go on a walk in the woods with him. The commissioner agreed and told his guards to stay behind. Both were found mysteriously dead in a lake later that evening. Ludwig was never able to see the finalized castle—and it didn’t receive its name until after his death—but his taste for elegant, and extravagant, design resonates throughout the interior of the Romanesque-style castle. After his death, the castle was opened for the public to help pay off the expenses and now attracts over a million people a year.

Of particular delight is the Grotto Room, an artificial cave complete with stalactites and a waterfall; it was intended to represent a cave from Wagner’s opera “Tannhauser.” Ironically, Wagner never stepped foot in the castle.

Know Before You Go

Most people take the train from Munich; once you arrive at the station, a bus or taxi can be taken to Hohenschwangau where the castle's ticketing office is located. You're given a block of time for your tour, so you may need to kill some time first in the small town at the base of the castle. From there, you can either hike to the top or pay for a horse-drawn carriage ride up the mountain. If you plan on doing the former, comfortable footwear is recommended.