While in Munich I took a short day trip out to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp and I remember seeing two phrases repeated posted throughout the memorial: “Never Forget” and “Never Again.” Now I fully understand the seriousness of never forgetting the terrible atrocities of the Holocaust, but I would use those exact same phrases to describe my experience at Neuschwanstein Castle.
Yep, ladies and gentlemen, this my first bad review.
Look how far I’ve come as a traveler.
The moment I stepped foot on the train to Füssen I noticed an unusually large number of Asian tour groups brandishing their trusty Nikon DSLR cameras around their neck. I took my seat on the train and didn’t think much of it, but it was a giant red flag that should have caught my attention. After the two hour combination train/bus ride, I finally arrived in Schwangau where the famous Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles are located. Both buildings are iconic in their own right, but the majority of people (myself included) come to visit Neuschwanstein because it was Disney’s inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle. When I arrived in Schwangau, my worst fears were realized - I stepped into a tourist trap.
I should've known better than to trust a recommendation on TripAdvisor.
Ironically enough, the entire city of Schwangau felt like a German version of Disney World. Everything there was catered to tourists: nice manicured flower beds, innumerable souvenir shops, and cafe’s offering egregiously overpriced coffee/food. When I got off the bus I was blown away by the sheer number of tourists walking around the small town. Each one of them armed with their giant wide-angle lens camera strapped around their neck and index finger poised over the trigger so as not miss a single ill-framed shot.
There is one thing that I can’t stand about the flocks of tourists equipped with these giant cameras. They walk around hitting that trigger like a rat on methamphetamines, snapping pictures of every single thing they see and don’t even take the two seconds required to compose the shot. I am by no means expecting everyone to be a professional photographer - god know’s I’m not - but at least look at your screen, center the object of the shot, and try to make it leveled. These idiots don’t even stop walking to take their pictures and fewer even look through the viewfinder!
I shook my head, took a deep breath, and figured I may as well make the best of my current situation. I already paid the money and spent two hours in transit to get to Schwangau, surely there are a few redeeming qualities about this place, I just have to find them. I walked over to the ticket line and discovered more disappointing news; the line extended around the block and would take over 40 minutes just to get my ticket for the castle.
Well I’m here, might as well...
I stood in line and waited with the pushy crowd until I finally managed to get at ticket for the next available entry in to Neuschwanstein Castle - which wasn’t for another three and a half hours! Disappointed in myself and society, I felt the urgent need to escape the chaos of the city center, less I give in to my desire to punch an innocent passerby. I started walking north toward Lake Alpsee and while I didn’t know where I was going, I felt anywhere else was better than where I was. Turns out Lake Alpsee was just the rest-bit I so desperately desired. No tourist dared venture this far away from their prefabricated “civilization,” so I made my way into the forest and I could not have been happier.
The atmosphere that afternoon was dark, cloudy, cold, and rainy, but the moment I left town I was in better spirits. While my hike didn’t result in any particularly great pictures, the weather did serve to enhanced the overall feeling of being in the Bavarian Alps. Everywhere around me seemed peaceful; the little tap-tap-tap created by the rain on the surface of the water was both incredibly relaxing and helped to drown out the noise of people back in the city. The clear water in this tranquil environment reflected a light green hue from the surrounding trees and a flock of twenty ducks floated along the lake enjoying the day, hardly even noticing the ominous weather lingering above. Thanks to a heavy rainstorm earlier in the day, the forest around me was a particularly deep green and the air was light and crisp. I continued to walk, completely lost in my own thoughts and appreciating my wonderful surroundings because I knew sooner or later I would have to return into town.
As the storm grew more intense, I called it a day and made my way up to Neuschwanstein Castle, but first I wanted to stop at Marienbrücke (Mary's Bridge) to get a picture of the castle from the famous vantage point. The further I walked up the hill the more dense the crowds became and before I knew it I was back in the thick of it. There were all sorts of visitors, but for some reason the stereotypical Asian tourist comprised the vast majority of the group; upwards of 70% of the people I saw were either from Korea, Japan, Vietnam, or China. Now say what you will about stereotypes, but they exist for a reason - these people only travel in giant packs. As I made my way to Marienbrücke the crowds became more and more cramped until finally culminating in the biggest bottleneck I’ve ever seen in my life.
Marienbrück isn’t a big bridge by any stretch of the imagination; at best it can allow three people to walk down shoulder-to-shoulder. Sadly, this tiny bridge was no match for the swarms of tourists that descended upon it, and the resulting traffic jam was unbelievable. As I fought my way through the crowd I was poked in the face by an umbrella and body checked by a little elderly Korean lady just to find out that everybody was cramming themselves into the first twenty feet of the bridge. Literally, the exact spot where you could first see the castle, that’s where everyone stopped and clogged the entire bridge, because that's where they had to take a picture. Never mind the fact that if you just keep walking another ten feet they would have all the space they needed.
Whatever, I got my picture.
Next up was my tour of Neuschwanstein Castle, this is quite an impressive building and the overcast weather only served to enhance the fairytale atmosphere surrounding this majestic structure. At the top of the hill stands this remarkably imposing castle jutting out of the thick forest surrounded by mountains and lakes with a light fog hanging in the air. I can see why Disney was inspired by the castle, it is truly a sight to behold and invariably begs the question, “How did they manage to build this place?”
Entrance into the castle is only allowed with a guided tour, although I would hardly consider it “tour.” The reality of the matter was that this building was actually never completed; Ludwig II (the man responsible for the castle) only spent a grand total of 172 days there and after his death construction promptly stopped. The tour only takes people through the complete rooms, which while very impressive, limits the amount of the building we could see. Out of the rooms we did see, my personal favorite was the throne room. Even though it was never actually used to received guests - and even lacks a proper throne - everything about this room is just mesmerizing; from the spectacularly intricate mosaic floor, to the gargantuan chandelier, to the beautiful frescoed walls and ceiling, the room is just incredible.
But heaven forbid you take a picture of the place.
I tried to sneak a two crummy pictures and was scorned by the guide.
The entire tour lasts less than 25 minutes and for €11 felt like quite a rip off. Even though I was technically admitted to the castle, I wasn't allowed to explore the place on my own and was instead shepherded through everything so fast that I couldn't appreciate anything. Before I knew it I was are thrown into the gift shop to buy more overpriced trinkets and then asked to leave. Altogether a disappointing experience.
And this is coming from the man who is currently sleeping in a 100-person dorm tent!
While there were a lot of nice things about Neuschwanstein Castle, I can honestly say that unless you have some burning desire to see this place , just skip it. Look, here’s a picture! If you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a thousand times. Save yourself the 5+ hours of transit time and just skip this place, it's not worth it. Instead, may I recommend you visit one of the fantastic beer halls back in Munich. For the amount of money I spent on transit and entry to visit Neuschwanstein Castle I could have easily ordered two giant plates of food, a liter of beer, and still had change left over. Believe me, opt for the beer, it is a much better use of your time and money.