Bavaria is a fantasy world of fairytale castles and picture-perfect scenery. Bavaria’s landscape of snow-covered peaks, sparkling emerald lakes and lush verdant forests provide a magical setting for its legendary castles. It is a romantic and picturesque scene where you could easily lose yourself to the daydream of being a king or a queen as you ride through the forest in a horse-drawn carriage while visiting these enchanting Bavarian castles.
During the 19th century, Bavaria’s unconventional monarch, King Ludwig II, equipped his castles with cutting-edge technology.
Dining tables filled with food from the kitchen below were raised through the floor, internal communications systems were used to summon the servants and a grotto-shaped entertainment stage had the latest equipment capable of producing dazzling lighting effects and artificial waves.
The flamboyant king – who was thought to have been insane – built a fantasy world around him. But whether Ludwig II was truly insane or simply eccentric remains a mystery.
The fairytale Bavarian castles that were born from his fertile imagination have become one of Germany’s top attractions, drawing curious crowds from around the world.
1- Neuschwanstein Castle
Of all the castles in Bavaria, Neuschwanstein Castle is Bavaria’s most impressive.
The Bavarian castle is perched high up on a hill and surrounded by Bavaria’s stunning mountain scenery where in winter, the lush forest landscape transforms into a snowy wonderland.
Its romantic design with turrets and spires was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Stardust castle.
When visiting Neuschwanstein Castle, there are a couple of options. From the foot of the hill your choices are to walk, board a minibus or a horse-drawn carriage to Marienbrücke, a bridge that crosses over the Pollat Gorge.
The castle is a 10-minute walk from the bridge. The most romantic option is to hop on a horse-drawn carriage pulled by two magnificent work horses that trot beneath the green canopy of the lush Bavarian forest, a mode of transport King Ludwig II himself would have used during the 19th century.
Built in the authentic style of an old German knights’ castle, some sections of Neuschwanstein are lavishly furnished while other sections were never completed.
The rooms and halls were equipped with the most up-to-date 19th-century conveniences such as heating, running water, flushable toilets and a sophisticated internal communications system used to summon the servants.
The theme of the castle is operatic and the walls are adorned with paintings from Wagner’s (who was the king’s favourite composer) operas.
Gaze at the grand floor-to-ceiling scenes of the poet Tannhauser, the dashing knight Lohengrin and stately King Parsifal as you wander through the magnificent halls.
As Ludwig II identified with Parsifal, the castle’s throne room was built to resemble a stage set for Wagner’s last opera, Parsifal. Wagner even went as far as to incorporate Ludwig II’s own emotional issues into the Parsifal character in the opera.
2- Hohenschwangau Castle
From various windows and balconies at Neuschwanstein, there are views of the neo-Gothic Hohenschwangau Castle, which sits on a hill across the valley and is where Ludwig II spent most of his childhood.
Inside the castle the Hall of Heroes and Knights is an enormous hall which takes up the entire width of this castle.
Gothic columns soar up to the stucco ceiling, which is decorated with pink and silver neo-Gothic ornaments.
The Oriental Room is exquisitely decked out with ornaments from Greece and Turkey.
3- Linderhof Palace
Although Neuschwanstein was the grandest of all his castles, Ludwig II’s main abode was at the refined Linderhof Palace, a royal residence modelled after the Palace of Versailles.
Ludwig’s admiration of Louis XIV, France’s Sun King, is instantly recognizable in the design of Linderhof Palace.
The royal residence captures the spirit of French Baroque and Rococo styles with a smaller version of Versailles’s famous Hall of Mirrors. At the entrance to the palace, there is a statue of the French king looking stately on his horse.
The Sun King’s symbol – a sun with rays – can also be spotted throughout the palace. The centrepiece of the royal gardens is a glorious pool with a 25-meter fountain that splashes water on gold-gilded nymph statues.
Ludwig’s daily life was an operatic production. During meal times, a long dining table rose through the floor laden with food from the kitchens below.
When he wanted to be entertained, musicians performed his favourite music in a swan-shaped boat that floated on a man-made lake at the Venus Grotto, an artificial cave and lake tucked away in the hills.
The Grotto was the king’s private stage and was technologically advanced for its time. There were light displays with colourful special effects, a projector that re-produced waterfalls and a wave machine to generate artificial waves for the opera performances.
4- Herrenchiemsee Palace
Ludwig II admired France’s Louis XIV so fervently that the Hall of Mirrors at Linderhof Palace was not enough.
Herrenchiemsee Palace was built on a 240-hectare island and modelled after the Palace of Versailles.
Among other decorations, the lavish palace was equipped with 52 candelabras, 33 chandeliers and tubs of orange trees.
Even though this palace was the largest of all the royal residences, Ludwig II only ever lived there for a total of one week.
Herrenchiemsee Palace’s never ending Hall of Mirrors stretches for 98 meters, even longer than the original in Versailles.
It has a chandelier made of delicate Meissen porcelain, and like Linderhof Palace, the dining room also has a table that can be lowered into the floor.
Today, the King Ludwig II museum is located on the ground floor of the palace where among other items on display are paintings, antique coins, a coronation cloak, original furniture from Linderhof Palace and the royal apartment of Munich’s Residenz.
5- Nymphenburg Palace
Ludwig II was born in Munich’s Nymphenburg Palace, the stately summer residence of five generations of Wittlesbach rulers since 1664.
The monarchy was overthrown in 1918 and the main palace for Bavaria’s Wittlesbach rulers, The Residenz, is now a museum.
The highlight of Nymphenburg Palace is its Gallery of Beauties, a gallery with paintings of court ladies and mysterious unknown beauties whom Ludwig II’s grandfather, Ludwig I, admired.
Although during those days, it was generally accepted for court ladies to be painted, Ludwig I created an uproar by commissioning artist Joseph Stieler to paint common beauties.
Nymphenburg Palace’s Baroque-style gardens are a reminder of the chivalrous days when finely dressed ladies and gentlemen strolled past fountains, statues, pavilions and colourful flower-beds. Also on the palace grounds is the royal hunting lodge, the Amalienburg.
Hunting was a favourite pursuit of the ruling class and the luxuriously furnished lodge – which has a plush room with internal kennels to house the pampered royal dogs – was used as a day retreat during hunting season.
In 1886, Ludwig II decided to build another castle at a site on top of the Falkenstein Mountain near Pfronten. By this time, the people had become weary of his excessive lifestyle and his ministers plotted to remove him by declaring him insane.
Before they were able to carry out their plan, Ludwig II drowned mysteriously in Lake Starnberg while under house arrest at Berg Castle.
Although his last project will remain a dream forever, the legacy of royal castles and palaces Ludwig II left for Bavaria continues to inspire the imagination of millions of visitors.
Bavarian castle tours
There are several day excursions to the castles departing from Munich with commentary in both English and German. An organised tour is a relaxing way to see several Bavaria’s castles in a day, however, German tour guides operate according to precise schedules and anyone who doesn’t return to the bus at nominated departure times is likely to be left behind.
Best time to visit Bavaria
Avoid visiting the Bavarian castles in summer, especially in August, when there are long queues. There is a delightful ambience in September when there are concerts in the Singer’s Hall at Neuschwanstein,