Bavaria's Fairy-Tale King, Ludwig II, commissioned a stage designer in 1868 to create this over-the-top architectural masterpiece high atop Swan's Rock and overlooking the peaceful waters of the Alpsee lake. Just a stone's throw from his childhood summer home of Hohenschwangau, the five-story castle was to pay tribute to the operas of Richard Wagner, for whom Ludwig was a great patron. While the exterior was constructed in Romanesque style and modeled on the Wartburg castle, the interior contains numerous murals alluding to sagas and legends, such as that of Siegfried forging the mighty sword in the entrance to the Royal Apartments and the so-called "Swan's Corner," a living room dedicated to the Swan Knight Lohengrin. King Ludwig's untimely death at the age of 40 under suspicious circumstances put an end to the 17-year-long process of construction of the castle. Despite being incomplete—the extravagant Throne Room, for example, contains no throne—the castle became—and remains—one
of Germany's top tourist destinations after Walt Disney used it as inspiration for his castle in the movie Sleeping Beauty and later for the Disneyland castle itself.
The castle is not easy to reach as it requires a 45-minute steep uphill walk of 1½ km (1 mile) to its entrance. Alternatively, to reach Neuschwanstein from the ticket center, take one of the horse-drawn carriages that leave from Hotel Müller next door (uphill €6, downhill €3). A shuttle bus leaves from the center of town (uphill €1.80, downhill €1) and takes you halfway up the hill past an outlook called Aussichtspunkt Jugend to a spot just above the castle. Even with these added means of transportation, there is a steep walk the last 500 yards; strollers and wheelchairs cannot be used due to stairs inside the castle itself. Tickets need to be purchased at the ticket center in the village of Hohenschwangau, so be sure to stop there first, and reserve an entry time online in advance at www.hohenschwangau.de. You'll still have to arrive at least one hour early to pick up your tickets but without a reservation you might wait for hours to get a tour spot. There are also some spectacular walks around the castle. The delicate Marienbrücke (Mary's Bridge) is spun like a medieval maiden's hair across a deep, narrow gorge. From this vantage point there are giddy views of the castle and the great Upper Bavarian Plain beyond.
Castle concerts are held in September in the Neuschwanstein Castle's lavishly decorated minstrels' hall. Tickets are hard to come by as performers generally include world-famous classical singers and orchestras and the concerts are a cultural highlight of the area. Tickets go on sale in early February for the coming September, so plan ahead if you want to go.