THE castle to see in Germany. Actually, I think there are several to see, but this one is something special. Built by Ludwig II as mostly a private home rather than a functioning part of state, it is one of the youngest castles in Europe. It was never fully finished when Ludwig II died of mysterious happenings in 1886, but due to the large debt Ludwig left behind, his family opened the castle up for tours within weeks of his passing. Today a mere 15 rooms have been completed to Ludwigs design, though more are used for administration purposes. Ludwig himself lived in the castle for 172 days. Only sleeping in the elaborate bed he had built the last 11 days of his life. He had a great love of the composer Richard Wagner and much of the castle decor gives a nod to his theatrical compositions. His favorite animal was a swan and you’ll see them all over, from drapes, murals, chandeliers and even door handles. Important to note that the castle is currently undergoing restoration and will continue to be until approximately 2023. However, tours will not stop during renovation, you may just have some scaffolding blocking the view of certain areas.
I did quite a bit of research on the best way to visit the area without a private vehicle as we were relying on public transportation. The best option I came up with, for a few reasons, was to use a tour company. Very happy with that decision. While you can totally drive there yourself, parking is limited. If you don’t get there early enough, tickets can be sold out. The area can get incredibly crowded that driving your car down the Main Street to parking can be a challenge with the hoard of people in the way. While I did visit during a holiday period, our tour guide said it’s been increasingly busy lately and the crowds are becoming the new normal. You’ve been warned. There are tours from several large towns if you are staying nearby in Munich, Salzburg, Stuttgart, even for my military friends, Graf MWR offers a tour and I’m sure other posts do as well. We used the tour from Garmisch-Partenkirchen that the Edelweiss Military Resort offers. A bonus, it also stops at a wood carving shop, a beautiful old church with a nearby cafe that serves fresh donuts, and a restaurant for dinner before you head back. Tours of this type range from $50-80 per person and I recommend checking the reviews for the tour company you wish to use. It certainly alleviated the headache of figuring out public transportation, food, tickets, etc. Very nice to just sit back and enjoy the day. While I could have used a public bus to get there and made my trip cheaper, it took significantly longer from where we were staying so for me, this was worth it.
Once in the town, our tour left us with enough time to walk up the mountain to the castle but our guide recommended to take the bus to the bridge to get that iconic castle picture at ist best view point. If it’s open, we were told it’s often closed in the winter as the ice makes it unsafe, we got lucky but it was icy and I’m surprised they still allowed guests on. We followed our guides advice which worked out well as there was a line to get on the bridge. Sadly the fog was a little too thick to get a great picture while we were up there, but with some heavy editing, I still captured enough detail to have some fairytale pictures of my own.
You can also take a carriage ride up to the castle if you do not wish to walk or take the bus. I’m not sure on carriage ride cost but the lines were very long. The bus line was long too, but they’ll cram you in like sardines and you’ll be to the top in 5min so it wasn’t too big a deal. Do be aware that once the bus or carriage drops you off, it’s still a 10-15min walk to the castle. The castle is handicap friendly and offers an elevator for the inside tour, but please check with them in advance as they have a limit of how many wheelchairs are in the castle at a time due to fire evacuation restrictions. The elevator is only big enough for one wheelchair. There are many stairs during the tour, it might be a challenge if stairs are difficult for you. They also do not allow large backpacks, strollers or big diaper bags, so pack for the day accordingly.
Sadly photography inside the castle is not allowed, but if the balcony is open (at the end of the tour, past the cafe) you can take a photo from that vantage point of the surrounding valley.
Some personal insight from someone who has to pee every 20min… there are two bathrooms in the town, one by the info center that was incredibly crowded with long lines and one with a much smaller line in the small indoor shopping center directly across from the other bathroom. I chose the latter and it was a free bathroom. Yay for free European bathrooms! But after your castle tour you’ll also get access to free bathrooms right after the gift shop area. For anyone reading this wondering what the heck I’m talking about, most bathrooms are not free around these parts. They’ll cost around €.50 on average, but I have paid up to €1.50. It’s probably one of the most frustrating things for me as my bladder just doesn’t cooperate with waiting when it needs to. Most trains also have free bathrooms but not train stations, so go before you get off. And just because you pay for it doesn’t always mean it will be clean either, but I haven’t been too grossed out, except train bathrooms… equivalent to airplane bathrooms. Yuck.
Same options to get down the mountain, by either walking, carriage or bus. If you want to take the bus, buy a round trip ticket from the town as I’m not sure there is a ticket center at the top. We chose to walk and going down is quite pleasant, offering some pretty vantage points along the way. Also fun to watch all the carriages go by.
Food options can be pretty crowded in the immediate area, but we stopped at a brewery (https://schlossbrauhaus.de) a few minutes away from the crowds that I highly recommend. You may want to put in a reservation as it seemed quite busy during our visit. It has a play area downstairs for kids, free bathrooms, a small bowling ally and mini golf outside in warmer weather. Plus castle views.
We really had a great visit, despite less than stellar weather and I greatly recommend this tour. The castle is gorgeous with an amazingly picturesque setting. It’s a must see.