How to visit Neuschwanstein Castle for free
Even if you don’t know the name, you’ve seen the pictures; Neuschwanstein Castle in southern Germany is one of the picture-postcard spots on the tourist trail through Central Europe.
Perched up on a mountain side, with a dramatic escarpment as a backdrop and plains of rolling meadows before it, it dominates the landscape around. Built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the mid 19th century, it later served as the inspiration for Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty Castle” depicted in the company’s logo. Its iconic image also appears on many products associated with southern Germany; I remember it being on the old packaging for Cadbury’s Black Forest block when I was a child.
Travel to Neuschwanstein Castle is not really convenient – it’s not really near a major city, and most people seem to come here on package tours. If you are coming here under your own steam, the best option is to hire a car and drive two hours from Munich. If that’s not possible, then there’s a train to nearby Füssen, from where you can hire a taxi to get to the bottom of the castle.
When you get to the castle, it’s important to understand how to tackle the attraction. Tickets cost €12, and can be bought from the office at the end of the car park. Be aware that queues for tickets build early in the morning – when we arrived at about 11am, there was a 2 hour wait for tickets, and entrance times are designated to avoid overcrowding.
Call us boring, but for us, the interior of the castle was never really the attraction – we were much more interested in the exterior, and the stunning vistas across the forest to the castle’s hilltop location. And luckily, all of that can be had for free – and without queueing!
Once you’ve found a place to park your car, walk past the ticket office towards where the shuttle buses leave from. Follow the crowds climbing the hill, and the road soon enters a dense forest. The climb is not strenuous, but it is rather constant – expect to be walking uphill for about 15 or 20 minutes. At the top there are refreshments (such as Movenpick Ice Cream – yum!). Just beyond the shops, the road swings around into the front courtyard of the castle, from where you can enter the castle gates.
Walking into the castle gates, you can see as far as the central garden and steps of the castle right up close – a glass partition separates you from those who have paid to enter the rooms. Look over the valley behind the castle – that bridge spanning the two cliffs is the next stop!
Back out the front of the castle, continue walking towards the left – the path descends a little, before circling around the base of the castle then beginning to climb again. Five minutes up the hill you are afforded a view across the countryside towards Füssen, and a bird’s eye view of the lesser-known Hohenschwangau Castle (also part of the site’s attractions). Don’t forget to turn around here and glimpse Neuschwanstein Castle towering above the path.
A further five minutes up the hill brings you to Marienbrücke, the bridge you spotted earlier. It’s often busy here, and the bridge is narrow, but the further along the bridge you walk the lesser the crowd. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but for us, capturing this iconic sight with paying the entrance fee was quite literally priceless.