Visiting the Royal Castles
The royal castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein are the most popular tourist attractions in Germany, receiving nearly a million visitors a year. In any season, especially during the summer crush, you’re well advised to reserve tickets for both castles in advance online at www.hohenschwangau.de, up to two days before your visit. You’ll be asked to select a desired time slot for the visit and by return email you’ll be instructed when to pick up your tickets at the office near the parking lot of the castles, where you’ll pay. You can show up without a reservation but be prepared for long waits to enter, provided tickets are not sold out.
You can see the castles only on guided tours, which last about 35 minutes each and are cursory at best, designed to herd visitors through as quickly and efficiently as possible. Tours in English are available throughout the day. A tour number and entry time are printed on your ticket. Once you reach the castles, a digital sign informs you when your tour is ready. When the time comes, feed your ticket into the turnstile in front of the respective castle and you will be ushered to the meeting point with your guide. Note: It is imperative to arrive by the time indicated on your ticket; otherwise, you will have to go back to the kiosk at the base and pick up a new ticket and start all over again.
From the ticket office, it’s an easy amble over to Hohenschwangau. There are three ways to reach Neuschwanstein from here. You can make the steep half-mile climb from the Hohenschwangau parking lot, or you may take a bus from outside the ticket office (fare is 1.80€ for the ride up and 1€ to return). However, the traditional way to reach Neuschwanstein is by horse-drawn carriage, also leaving from in front of the ticket office; the cost for this is 6€ for the ascent and 3€ for the descent. Note: Lines to crowd into one of the carriages can be long, and there is no guarantee of arrival time at the castle entrance—if you miss your timed entry, you’re out of luck. It’s best to forgo the ride unless you have plenty of time to wait in line to board a carriage and make the ascent before your timed entry into the castle.
Photography Tip: The best views of Neuschwanstein are from Marienbrücke, a bridge that crosses over the Pöllat Gorge at a height of 90m (300 ft.) and is reached on a steep path from the castle and the road leading up to it. From that vantage point, you, like Ludwig, can stand and meditate on the glories of the castle and its panoramic surroundings. If you want to photograph the castle, do it from here instead of at the top of the hill, where you’ll be too close for a good shot.