On our way home from Munich, we took a detour to visit Schloss Neuschwanstein, the castle that inspired Disney’s Cinderella Castle.

Our approach to Schloss Neuschwanstein was really lovely. We drove along winding roads through the Bavarian countryside, past farmland, herds of cows, flocks of sheep, quaint churches, placid lakes, and Alpine foothills adorned with vibrant fall foliage.

The castle is located in the village of Hohenschwangau, which seems like it would be a sleepy little town but for the hoardes of tourists that come to visit its famous castles. (Hohenschwangau is actually home to two castles, but due to time constraints we opted to visit only the more iconic one.)

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Our approach to Schloss Neuschwanstein

Schloss Neuschwanstein is nestled into the side of a hill overlooking the village, and visitors have the options of hiking, riding a shuttle bus, or taking a horse-drawn carriage through the forest up to the castle. Neuschwanstein is not like most European castles I’ve visited, which are more like large, old compounds with several buildings encircled by a wall; rather, Neuschwanstein is a single, relatively new building. Aside from this difference, Schloss Neuschwanstein seems to be the result of an effort to make the castley-est castle ever built.

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A view from Schloss Neuschwanstein, looking out on the valley below

Sadly, no photography is allowed inside the castle, so I will just have to try to describe it. The castle was commissioned by Ludwig II, sometimes called the “Swan King” or the “Fairy Tale King,” who reigned as the king of Bavaria from 1864 to 1886. Schloss Neuschwanstein was intended to be a retreat and homage to Richard Wagner, and its design was heavily inspired by Ludwig’s visits to other castles and his romantic nostalgia for the middle ages.

Each room that we saw seemed to be a caricature, and the whole castle seemed to take on the feel of a theatrical set. Each room was completely full of vibrant murals, tapestries, paintings, sculptures, and other decorations depicting medieval legends and poetry. Many of the rooms were designed to be similar to something Ludwig saw in another castle except slightly bigger or more ornate. Ludwig was also obsessed with swans, so there’s a prevalent swan theme throughout.

 

Unfortunately, Schloss Neuschwanstein was never actually completed. Its many ornate halls designed for entertaining were never used, and Ludwig apparently only slept 11 nights in his very fancy bedroom there. Ludwig never intended to open the castle to the public, but six weeks after his very mysterious death, his estate opened it to the public and used the revenue to pay the construction debts.

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The forest, gorge, and waterfall just outside the castle

It is easy to see the influence Schloss Neuschwanstein had on Walt Disney. The castle depicted in Cinderella incorporates Neuschwanstein’s exterior blue and white color scheme and its many turrets. The Neuschwanstein ballroom has a large mural that depicts a romantic forest with almost-cartoonish woodland creatures, very similar to the happy forests in Disney’s Bambi, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. One part of the castle is designed to have the appearance of a grotto with rocks, vines, and water features, and it feels strangely similar to the areas where long lines of Disney theme park visitors wait before embarking on an animatronic ride.

After our visit to Schloss Neuschwanstein, we took a little time to explore the surrounding forest. The castle is situated very close to a very deep gorge with a beautiful waterfall. Visitors who are not afraid of heights (unlike me) can walk across a bridge that spans the gorge for a spectacular view of the castle and the beautiful countryside beyond.

 

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