If you have ever looked up photos of Bavaria or even Germany in general you have probably see a mammoth of a grey castle settled among the German Alps looking over a picturesque valley. Every review I saw of both the castle itself and tours of the surrounding area were glowing. It’s like the castle itself was enchanted; under a spell where no wrong could be done.
While I do believe the castle is absolutely stunning (the photos don’t lie), the experience surrounding it was less than perfect which is why I wanted to share it with you all. Let’s call this post a little reality check. Read the glowing tour descriptions and reviews then head back here for the proverbial “grain of salt.”
I took this trip with the Grey Line tour group. I woke up at dawn, found their pickup station, and only had to wait a couple minutes while they made sure there were seats available on the English speaking tour bus (they have 3 departing at the same time, one German, one English and one “Premium Experience” – whatever that means).
They offered a student discount which saved me a whole €10 off of €54 but the entrance fees to the actual tours were an extra €24 so I feel like it wasn’t the greatest deal. I packed my own lunch so the day trip (which lasted about 10 hours) cost me a total of €68.
After about an hour and a half we made it to the first stop on our tour, Linderhof Palace. This palace was one of three built by Ludwig II of Bavaria but was the smallest and the only one he actually lived in. The other two, Neuschwanstein and Herrenchiemsee are ginormous and were never even completed.
After a short tour through the castle (with a tour guide who’s English was passable but not the best), we had about 20 minutes to explore the beautiful grounds afterwards which was honestly not enough time. The castle itself was incredibly overdone and what you would expect in terms of opulence.
Next on the tour was the cute little town of Oberammergau. While there, I picked up a couple of gifts and wandered the streets. To me, this was wasted time. While many people enjoyed the opportunity to sit and have a coffee, the timing was off. This stop happened right at lunchtime but we were expressly told not to eat lunch there and there really wasn’t enough time to do that anyways.
On the flip side, once we arrived at Neuschwanstein, where we were encouraged to have lunch, we were surrounded by a sea of tourists where every line was out the door and a 20+ minute wait. This wouldn’t be so bad since we were given 3-4 hours at the castle except for the fact that you have to literally climb a mountain to get to the castle which takes a lot of time.
On top of that, once you got to the castle, it was another hike up a mountain to get the classic photo of the castle overlooking the valley from Marienbrücke (Marie’s Bridge) which crosses Hells Canyon. This was without a doubt the most touristy thing I have ever done. The line to get on the bridge winded for meters down the mountain and took almost an hour to get through. Once I battled my way back down the mountain to the castle, it was about a half hour wait before it was time for our tour through the interior of the castle.
Never has the term Sheeple been so accurate. We were a group of about 50 people equipped with audio guides, herded from room to room like sheep. With a group of 50 tourist in the room 5 minutes ahead and 5 minutes behind us, it’s insane to think of how many people shuffle through that castle every day let alone every year.
The actual audio tour was interesting; they really gave you a good sense of how nuts Ludwig II was. At the same time, it was very short and not worth the €24 ticket (which I’m sure the majority of the cost went to Neuschwanstein vs Linderhof). After the tour, we had enough time to get off the mountain before loading back on the bus and sleeping our way home.
Overall, I have conflicting feelings about whether or not the tour was worth it. On one hand, €44 for the bus, tour guide, itinerary preparation, etc was a great deal. If you look on a map you will see just how far we drove. Gas and the car rental would have cost more than what they charged and plus you didn’t have to plan where or how to go.
On the other hand, the extra €24 to see inside of the castles was a bit steep for what you got. But of course there’s really no point in going on the trip if you don’t see inside. Although there were a few people who didn’t pay to go inside, the vast majority including myself, did.
So, back to the big question, was Neuschwanstein Castle worth the hassle. Overall, I say yes although I think that the descriptions online set unrealistically high expectations. I do recommend Grey Lines or going on a bus tour in general but if at all possible, avoid the tourist season. The entire experience would have been so much more enjoyable if you weren’t wading through a sea of people the whole time. Also, hiking a mountain is not the best idea either in the summer.
So, go, see the splendor, but either make peace with the sea of tourists beforehand or go in the off season.
All figures given were accurate at the time of writing but will not be updated in the future.