Two Unbelievable German Fairytale Castles.

By all accounts, Ludwig II was a mad king.  Of course, madness is subjective, but most people agree that it’s a bit off the wall to build yourself a fantastic fairytale castle, then spend your kingdom’s vast fortune to build another one across the way, just so you have something nice to look at from your own, fabulous castle.  It’s even more ridiculous to hear that Ludwig II married a girl, then moved her into the other castle.  I’m sure that made for interesting sex, sending a messenger on the forty minute walk to ask: “Your castle or mine?” Only to receive a reply, eighty minutes later: “Oh, not tonight darling, I have a headache.”  May as well save oneself the effort and grab a villager instead.  Perhaps this explains why Hohenschwangau castle (often mistakenly called Hohenschwanstein castle) was quite near to the village of Schwangau and Neuschwanstein castle was way off in the distance.  Old Mrs Ludwig II couldn’t exactly complain if she couldn’t see anything that her husband was doing.  Perhaps if Henry VIII had adopted this two-castles-on-two-mountainsides approach, he could have saved himself all the nuisance of having to dispose of unwanted wives after the warranty period.

But he didn’t think of it.

In Britain, we never really consider Henry VIII a mad king, perhaps because he knew which end the crown was supposed to go on, and didn’t roam Buckingham Palace in his nightwear, and anyway, when he was compared to Charles I (who was so despotic, he caused the only English civil war) or George III (who figuratively wore his underpants on his head), he gets a free pass.  I think it comes down to the fact that, historically, we have tended to respect the institution of marriage a little too much.  Henry VIII was married to each of the six women who he wronged, but that’s fine because he married them.  If, as a bachelor, he had treated just one of those women properly but not married her, that would have been a scandal.  But beheading two wives?  That was reasonable, because he was married to them at the time.  I think the other reason we don’t remember any of our kings as properly, truly mad (rather than just bloody stupid), is because we’ve never had a proper despot on the throne.  Add to that the fact that we still have a monarchy and the Germans don’t, and it’s perhaps easier to see why the Germans embrace the madness of their erstwhile monarchy and open it up for tourists to see at low low prices (Austria’s got the market pretty well cornered on this too, but I’ll come to that in another article).

Ludwig II is suggested to have schizotypal personality disorder for which there is evidence from his autopsy – he died in 1886 under highly mysterious circumstances the day after he was dethroned for extremely paranoid behavior.  Fascinatingly, he was claimed to have drowned and it was recorded as a suicide, but he was known to be a good swimmer and there was no water in his lungs.  Add to that the further mystery that his psychiatric doctor was with him at the time – and the doctor was found dead with head and neck wounds and markings concurrent with strangulation.

There are plenty of things in Germany which are spectacular, or ludicrous, or despotic, but nothing in Germany is quite as spectacularly, ludicrously, despotically fabulous as the twin castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein.  We were so taken by them that we actually went to see them twice.

The drive was painful in both directions due to bad traffic around Munich.  We parked in Fussen for a breather and that was when we saw the first of the two castles.  I’ve been told by quite a few people that Schloss Hohenschwangau is supposed to be the best one, but Schloss Neuschwanstein was the first one I saw and it captured my imagination far more.  It was fit for a princess.  It looked like a Disney castle.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a castle that was quite so… well… castley.  If someone distilled pure essence of castle and made a castle out of it, Neuschwanstein would be the result.  This castle belonged to every Disney Princess who ever lived.

Neuschwanstein castle, Schwangau, Germany.
Neuschwanstein castle, Schwangau, Germany; taken from Fussen.
Neuschwanstein castle, Schwangau, Germany.
Neuschwanstein as seen from Schwangau.

We didn’t go inside either castle because (on the way to Salzburg) by the time we’d fought our way through traffic they were both closed for the day.  The same thing happened when we drove here on the way back from Rome, so I’ve not seen first-hand what they look like inside, but when they look like this from the outside, I can’t wait until we actually get to go in.  Photography is not allowed inside the castles.

Castle Hohenschwanstein, Schwangau, Germany, August 2014.
Castle Hohenschwangau, aka Hohenschwanstein, Schwangau, Germany, Taken August 2014.

The castles look even better in real life and I think they were well worth the  effort of driving here even though we didn’t go inside – I don’t think there’s anything like them to be found side-by-side like this anywhere else in the world.

Make it Happen:

There’s two parts to this – getting to Schwangau and then getting to the actual castles.  Once you’re in Schwangau the rest is pretty damn easy (as long as you DON’T mistakenly go to SCHWANAU which is 3 HOURS AWAY from where the fairytale castles are).

Getting to Schwangau:

  1. Fly to Munich airport then hire a car, accommodation is best in Fussen which also has a much better selection of restaurants and bars than Schwangau.
  2. Drive straight to Schwangau from your home address – this is what I did, it took two full driving days and one overnight stay in a layby in central Germany to get here after 5pm from the North of England.
  3. By public transport it’s really sketchy, which is why I never got here on my Interrail trip – basically Schwangau is a little bit remote and doesn’t have it’s own train station.  There is a direct train from Munich to Fussen which takes 2 hours 6 minutes, then you’re on your own to get to Schwangau (Google says it’s a 45 minute walk or a 12 minute cycle – so if you’re reasonably fit and mobile you can probably walk it in under 30 minutes; it wasn’t far at all by car), but if you’re willing to get a taxi this is another option from Fussen.  I can’t find bus info.

Getting to the Castles from Schwangau:

  1. Hohenschwangau is a very easy stroll from the centre of Schwangau.
  2. Neuschwanstein is slightly less accessible, you can take a 45 minute walk if you’re feeling sporty.
  3. The more common option to get to Neuschwanstein is to take the tourist buses (run by private companies) which costs about E2.60 there and back again.  I think there’s still some walking involved and the buses are unsuitable for disabled people due to the terrain between where the bus stops and getting into the castle.
  4. The most awesome option by far to get to Neuschwanstein is to take a horse drawn carriage, at E6 there and E3 back again.  There is a 15 minute uphill walk from where the carriage drops you off.  If you’re feeling especially fancy, you can also ride in a carriage to Hohenschwangau castle for E4.50 there and E2 back again.
  5. Entrance to the two castles on a twin ticket was 9am-6pm (summer) or 10am-4pm (winter) and cost E12 each or E23 for a combined ticket.  For more information click here.

Disabled, Wheelchair and Pushchair Access:
You can’t drive to the entrances, the closest parking is in Schwangau village centre which costs about E5, or there’s free parking even further down the hill in two large lay-bys. Neuschwanstein appears to sadly be generally unsuitable for wheelchair users or people with mobility-related disabilities due to its design (although some people have had success getting around, I think this has to be taken as the exception; if you’re planning a trip for a busload of pensioners, you’ll have to give Neuschwanstein a miss, but if you push your own wheelchair and you’ve got someone to help out on the hilly bits, you will be able to get around enough to see some of Neuschwanstein). Pushchairs can get to Neuschwanstein but if you’re not reasonably fit you will be utterly shattered afterwards.  If you have an invisible disability such as CFS or MS you may have extreme difficulty with Neuschwanstein because the bus queues are a lot of standing around waiting and the walk is hilly with no real breaks; if you’re having a low-energy day, I’d skip Neuschwanstein and go for Hohenschwangau instead.  Hohenschwangau on the other hand appears to be reasonably accessible if you can make it up the much gentler hill to the entrance (but if in doubt, double check this when you buy tickets, because everyone’s level of ability is different) and pushchairs are no problem at Hohenschwangau.  Everything I saw of both castles and Schwangau village was hills rather than steps.

For accommodation I strongly suggest you avoid the expensive hotels of Schwangau and instead stay in the beautiful large village of Fussen, as there is much more choice, it’s a bigger town and there’s lots of cheaper options and more amenities.  If arriving by train, staying in Fussen will also break up the journey a bit.  I found the absolute best selection of accommodation from Booking.com but do book early as it’s a popular but relatively undeveloped area, and when we were travelling to Schwangau/Fussen from Rome, I tried to book us a hotel for 2 days ahead but the cheapest options that were left started at 150 Euros which was out of my price range (this was September prices).  By contrast, there are currently options for mid-August available starting at £43 for two people, which is obviously a significant saving.  By comparison, for the same example date (12-13th August) hotels in Schwangau start at £93 per night for mid-August if you book now.

Has anyone else been to see these fabulous castles?  Let me know what you thought in the comments.

If you’re looking for more info on disabled access of major tourist destinations, I’ve also written about which parts of Rome were wheelchair accessible.

More info about ticketing etc here.

This article contains affiliate links, it doesn’t affect the prices you pay for anything, and if you choose to book accommodation from links on this page it just means I can buy food and petrol and all that lovely stuff (which gives me more time to write articles like this one).

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Rome in A Day (and pushchair, wheelchair accessibility)

So, unless you believe it was beamed here by aliens, most people can agree that Rome wasn’t built in a day, yada yada yada.

However, it can be visited in a day (although you will miss out on loads).  Here’s the 5 things to see/do if you only have one day in Rome, I’ve included accessibility information for wheelchairs and pushchairs because I know a few people who have been put off going to Rome due to a perceived lack of accessibility:

5. The Spanish Steps – I really liked them, and I used a network of back alleys to get to the top, just as it was going dark, then climbed down, because it was actually less touristy to do it that way around and we only got harassed by two flower sellers at the top, not the zillion or so at the bottom, because I realized I couldn’t get a good shot from the bottom so I bought a postcard instead.

Spanish Steps Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility:

It’s a monumental staircase.  The back way isn’t totally wheelchair friendly, if you’re a solo wheelchair traveller you would be disappointed, but it’s one flight of stairs after a bit of a hill (see my first picture, that’s the back way not the actual Spanish steps, which are much less accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs, particularly due to size and shape of the steps, as well as crowds), so if you’ve got a carer with you, you might be able to possibly get to the top (depending on your circumstances).  Personally, I would have flagged down a strong person to help me lift the wheelchair to get my mum up these steps if I’d taken her (if she’d wanted to see the top, and obviously at a time when I was still caring for her), but obviously it depends on how comfortable you are with doing that.  No way in hell I would have got an electric wheelchair up these steps or a scooter, unless it was a child’s.  This is also the way up that I’d recommend if you’ve got a pushchair, pram or buggy.  If you look at a map of Rome, just trace back from the top of the Spanish steps down some alleys (alleys are a bit hilly) to see how to get up here.

The back entrance to the Spanish Steps.
The back entrance to the Spanish Steps.  Note these aren’t the actual Spanish steps, this is a MUCH shorter, shallower staircase.
The only VAGUELY in focus picture of the view from the top of the Spanish Steps.  My camera does NOT cope with low lighting very well.
The only VAGUELY in focus picture of the view from the top of the Spanish Steps. My camera does NOT cope with low lighting very well.

4.  The Trevi Fountain would usually come here, but due to current renovations it’s actually empty and covered with scaffolding at the moment.

The Trevi Fountain restoration work September 2014
The Trevi Fountain restoration work September 2014

Instead, I’m going to bump up The Pantheon, which has had all its repairs completed and is fully open.  I first saw the Pantheon in 2007, when it was covered in indoor scaffolding, and I was very pleasantly surprised this time that it was restored to its stunning former glory with nary a builder in sight.  It’s well worth a visit and when you do, look up at the ceiling as well.

The Pantheon is completely wheelchair accessible.  Entry is free.
The Pantheon is completely wheelchair accessible. Entry is free.

Trevi Fountain Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility:

It’s all flat ground to get to the Trevi Fountain, but you can’t actually get to it, usually at Easter and Summer there are huge crowds, so I’m not sure how you would get to the front to see anything, also the actual sides of the Trevi Fountain are quite high to stop people falling in, so you might need to either stand up (if you are able) or get someone to lift you to see all of it.  It’s 100% pushchair accessible, though.  With the current glass floor, if your wheelchair isn’t too wide, you could get to see the current renovations up close before they restore it to its former anarchic glory.

Pantheon Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility:

The Pantheon is totally accessible by wheelchair and inside is nice shiny flat floorage and wide thoroughfares.

3.  Eat At A Pavement Cafe – one of my most memorable experiences each time I go to Rome is the food.  Yeah, it’s somewhat overpriced, and yes, it’s just pasta/pizza at most eateries.  But when it’s 9pm, the heat of the day is still in the air, the twinkling fairy lights are on above you, and some guy with an accordion is busking up and down the street, eating a pizza at a pavement cafe, either with someone you care about or solo, is one of the finest eating experiences of my life.  “But you have a milk allergy!” I hear you declare (or if you know me less well, “but you’re vegan!” which has only been since January)  I found this awesome place where the owner was really helpful and did me a dairy free pizza with no cheese, and the base was dairy free anyway, so that was fantastic.  I was very excited to have a vegetable pizza.  Mine cost 7 Euros, my drink (Sprite) was 4 Euros.

This place was at the bottom of the Spanish Steps round a corner, and were happy to oblige me with a dairy free pizza.  They didn't overcharge us, either.
This place was at the bottom of the Spanish Steps round a corner, and were happy to oblige me with a dairy free pizza. They didn’t overcharge us, either.

Pavement Cafe Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility: 

Pretty much every pavement cafe is wheelchair accessible, you can just roll up and they’ll pull the chair away from the table if you don’t want it, and they will bring everything to you, like they do for everyone else, although there’s often a step or three to get inside and toilets (where they have one) are rarely wide enough for a wheelchair, baby changing stations are also non-existent.

2.  The Coliseum – Being an archaeology graduate, Rome means Ancient Rome to me.  Getting to see the Coliseum (some nations spell it Colloseum, or Coloseo) and actually stand where thousands of people stood, watching the games that used to go on, wondering what they thought and how they responded when they saw such spectacles… that’s just tremendous for me.  While here, I bought a 7 Euro guidebook for the Forum and Palatine, because you get a combined ticket (which is easier to obtain from the forum with less queueing, but I did the coliseum first).

The Coliseum from the bottom end; the wooden platform is where the floor level would have been after (I think it was Caligula) renovated from the original dirt floor.
The Coliseum from the bottom end; the wooden platform is where the floor level would have been after Domitian (the original builder Vespasian’s son) renovated from the original dirt floor and added the top layer of seating, doing both in wood, which was later fire damaged around AD217.

Coliseum Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility:

There is a lift to get to the top stone floor where you can look at the actual arena, and the exhibition area, although once you’re up there, I don’t think the actual monument has wide enough walkways for a standard wheelchair plus hand clearance, so you’d have to go back to the lift to get back down again.  I’m not sure I’d pay full price for this, and I don’t know how wheelchair friendly the lower levels are, where only the guided tours are allowed, because I didn’t want to pay for a tour guide.  There were plenty of people with pushchairs at all levels of the coliseum.

1. The Roman Forum and palatine – There’s no decorum in the forum!  Depending which path you take from the entrance, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is just a big hill with not a lot of interesting stuff on it, without any plaques etc to tell you what’s going on.  Go back to the entrance and either go right or straight on, rather than left, and you go round the hill to it’s foot, where you will see the most awesome remains, such as these, which made me wonder if I’d wandered onto the set of Xena, Warrior Princess:

I wish my house looked like this.
I wish my house looked like this.
This copper door is still keeping this building's contents safe, two thousand years after it was all built.  I wonder whether anyone still has a key to get inside...
This copper door is still keeping this building’s contents safe, two thousand years after it was all built. I wonder whether anyone still has a key to get inside…
And the verdant plant life is another reason the Roman Forum is my number 1 favourite part of Rome.  This area was reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli anime.
And the verdant plant life is another reason the Roman Forum is my number 1 favourite part of Rome. This area was reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli anime.

Roman Forum and Palatine Wheelchair and Pushchair Accessibility:

The Forum’s accessibility is surprisingly good.  Another reason why it’s scored quite highly on this list.  There is a separate entrance for wheelchairs and pushchairs, with a lift to get to the correct level.  You can’t get to the Palatine at all as far as I can see but the Forum’s where all the best stuff is (all the above photos are of the Forum) and you can get around most of it that’s all on the same level.  If I was in a wheelchair or planning a trip for someone in a wheelchair, I’d have no worries about the Roman Forum.

Hat Tip:

And I also strongly recommend that you take a hat and plenty of water.  I had water (and there’s a hosepipe in the coliseum where you can refill although the water quality is not quite British tap water quality, something I gladly pay my water bills for back home) but I had no hat, and I still got heat exhaustion after 24 hours in Rome using factor 50 suncream because my head just got too hot during the heat of the day, from visiting so many outdoor monuments without ample breaks.

Toilet Tip:

The biggest issue facing disabled tourists in Rome will be the toilets, or lack of toilets.  I strongly recommend you find the McDonalds restaurants which are all over Rome because they have a standard design in Europe, which means EVERY McDonalds in Europe must have a ground level accessible disabled toilet.  They’re usually pretty easy to spot as well.  How do I know this?  I worked at McDonalds all over the UK for 2 years, full-time, and I always make use of their facilities when I’m on the road.  I am very conscientious and always buy something (cup of tea, large fries or even a garden salad if I’m not overly hungry, it’s part of my 5-a-day if nothing else), because some stores get really sick of tourists literally pooping on their facilities and not even buying anything, which means these people have no respect for the person who cleans those toilets (hi!), and I don’t want to see stores charging people to use the toilets or otherwise restricting access.  KFC and Burger King may also have accessible toilets, but I can’t personally recommend them since I’ve only ever had overcharged, bad food experiences at Burger King, and KFC’s food is excellent (love love LOVE their corn on the cob, fries and BBQ sauce) but I rarely use their toilets because their Drive Thrus tend to have short opening hours and they don’t have as many city locations.

Note on the Vatican:

You’ll notice that I didn’t include il Vaticano on this list.  The Vatican City is really a completely stunning experience, and very accessible, BUT you really need a full day, or at the very least, an entire half a day, to soak up everything.  I also recommend you getting an ISIC card (the European Student card) if you are possibly able to (I get mine from the amount of language courses I’m studying at my Uni – you don’t need to be a full time student to get one, just studying at a university that participates in NUS/ISIC) because it slashes prices for you at all the major sites, including the Vatican, and I wish I’d had it when I went to Italy last year because it’s accepted pretty much everywhere in Rome.