While not exactly “near” to the southern city of Munich, a trip to Germany’s third largest city didn’t seem complete without going to one of the world’s most famous castles, Neuschwanstein. It’s a bucket list item for countless people, D included, somewhat due to its notoriety (it was the home of the infamous Mad King Ludwig II) but also its stunning architectural design even though it wasn’t built until the late 19th century. It’s also a castle that would inspire Walt Disney when it came time to build his own “castle.”
Although a visit to Neuschwanstein is certainly something you can do on your own via public transportation, as I’ve gotten older, I prefer signing up for a tour that handles all the details. (I don’t mean tours where the people are packed in; I look for ones that are more exclusive, smaller in numbers, and perhaps more costly.) And that’s how I came across Mike’s Bike Tours, which leads guided tours to Neuschwanstein (or more accurately the village of Hohenschwangau where the castle is located) right from Munich’s city center.
The thing about tours of Neuschwanstein Castle is that they’re almost disappointing. I’ll get more into this below but that’s why if you’re going to travel a total of four hours roundtrip from Munich, you want to make a fun day of it considering the tour inside the castle is only 20 minutes long (I kid you not). And that’s what made Mike’s Bike Tours offering so enticing.
Upon arrival by bus in the village we were let off at the restaurant where we would later have lunch and met our main guide for the day, Brad, who was utterly fantastic and just awesome to listen to with his South African accent. But first, our memorable bike ride. Although I am hardly a biking nut (I wouldn’t ever take a biking-themed vacation), I do enjoy a bike ride while on a trip, especially when in such gorgeous scenery as the Bavarian Alps. (You’re not required to go biking; if you choose not to, you can visit Hohenschwangau Castle instead. However, doing this means you don’t rejoin the group until the visit to Neuschwanstein. About five people in our group did this, all I’d say in their 50s and older).
The bike ride was only about an hour, all on flat terrain with ample periodic stops to take pictures. The stop at Swan Lake was the longest as it was here that you could swim in the lake if you wanted to. Two people in our group did although they both said the water was quite cold (not surprising). But you definitely don’t need to be super fit or a great biker to do the ride. I definitely recommend it for something different.
Lunch was at a terrific German eatery, one enough away from the tourist eateries that clog Hohenschwangau’s main drag and as Brad said, someplace the locals go to so you know you’re getting good food. We preordered our food selections on the bus so within a short time of sitting down we had our meals. I got the Wiener schnitzel and D a goulash dish. We also split a delectable apple strudel for dessert. And being in Germany, ordering beer was also an option. I instead went for a German apple drink that quasi-resembled beer. My only slight critique is that I thought lunch drug on a bit (90 minutes were allocated for it although our tour group was quite small that day so I’m sure that really sped things along).
After lunch, our bus returned us to the touristy section of the village. From there we had the option of either hiking up the gorge or taking a bus. We did the hike and I don’t recommend it if you’re not used to very steep, uphill climbing. We survived it…barely. So do yourself a favor, have some Euros in change on hand and bus it.
At the top of the gorge we then had the opportunity for two iconic photos-the one which according to Brad is more unknown (it’s in the opposite direction of Mary’s Bridge) and the second being the famous shot of the castle from the bridge. The first was deserted, the second mobbed with people exhibiting all sorts of narcissistic behavior with their picture taking.
Tickets to the castle are required and it’s highly recommended you get yours in advance because they do sell out. Each ticket is timed and if you miss your entrance window, c’est la vie. The area for queuing up was ridiculously mobbed and it almost felt amusement park- like (they even have an automated sign displaying what ticket number should be entering).
As I mentioned above, the tour itself was quite disappointing. There were simply too many people on each tour and too many tours being led through (it was almost worse than Versailles in terms of crowds). I wasn’t the biggest fan of our guide; her English was quite accented, making it difficult to understand her at times, especially as it also sounded Cockneyesque. She also wanted to be funny but I felt the humor was not needed. And as with any large tour, if you’re at the front, you then had to wait forever for the rest of the group to come in.
The rooms that we got to see (the interior of the castle was never finished, and many are not available to the public) were stunning and unique (my favorite might have been the “inside” cave) but photography is not allowed and it was hard to really soak it in with the abruptness of the tour. (All tours to the castle are led by Neuschwanstein Castle tour guides; even if you visit the Castle as part of a tour, that tour guide doesn’t do the leading).
It was a very long day (we met up at 8:45AM in Munich and returned to the city about 7:30PM) but worth it. And even though the castle part was definitely a letdown (as I knew it would be from everything I had read), that’s what made the tour with Mike’s Bike Tours so much fun because we did other stuff and made a whole day out of it versus driving two hours each way for a short, uninspiring tour.
If you have your heart set on visiting this architectural gem (it’s a beautiful example of a Romanesque Revival building and paired with its incredible backdrop against the mountains, it’s easy to see why Ludwig built it there), then I would go. But book with a place like Mike’s Bike Tours, one that makes a special day of it that you will remember once you go back home.
Disclosure-there was no incentive for me to write this post. I did a ton of research on potential tour companies as there are many that visit Neuschwanstein and wanted to not only go with the one I felt strongly about but also to provide my readers with an unbiased view, considering it’s a big decision to make.