Since people responded to my blog Arches and said they had always wanted to visit Neuschwannstein, I thought I'd blog with some advice.
In 2018 over 1.4 million tourists visited the castles called Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein near Füssen in Bavaria, Germany which belonged to King Ludwig II. In the high season (summer) there are around 6000 visitors per day. (*1)
The names of the castle contain the German word "Schwann" which means swan and it is their symbol.
Personally I thought the Hohenschwangau castle was much more interesting than its more famous neighbor Neuschwanstein and it gets far less visitors.
You see, Neuschwanstein never got finished. King Ludwig II had big ambitions and a lot of fantasy for his castles but he ran out of money about 130 years ago and didn't finish building or decorating Neuschwanstein or his other palaces and residences.
Hohenschwangau, on the other hand, was the castle his parents built and is a better representation of how the royal family actually lived. Ludwig II grew up in that castle.
I first visited the Neuschwanstein Castle in 1985 and had not been back until this year. It has changed in the past 40 years. It had to, in order to accomodate mass tourism. There is an entirely new entrance with electronic turnstyle gates to allow for the bar-coded tickets. The staircase is made out of massive concrete. Obviously the wooden staircases which I remembered from 1985 would never withstand millions of people.
Over the past decades, the wear and tear of approximately 80 million visitors as well as the normal aging of natural materials like wood has taken its toll. If you plan to visit in the next three years expect to see scaffholding on the facade and many pieces in the interior might be in renovation. The interior / decoration of 93 rooms contains 2239 objects which need to be restored: 664 doors and windows, 355 pieces of furniture, 65 paintings, 322 pieces of handiwork etc. Approximately 20€million Euros is being invested in the renovation work scheduled until 2022. (*2)
The architecture of the Neuschwanstein castle was the inspiration for the castle in Disney World in Florida USA, and the experience is weirdly similar. The tours inside the castle start every 5 minutes and have at least 25 people in the group it could also be 50. It is like an amusement park for adults. The tour of each castle lasts 30 minutes. You get a headset for a recorded tour in your language. The tours conducted by a live guide are in German or English. Refer to the webpage for the languages. (*3)
The castles are administered by the Bavarian government however they still belong to a private family, thus you are not allowed to take any photographs inside. You can, however, take a picture from the inside looking outside. The view in the next photo is taken from the balcony which you see on the left side of photo #1.
If you book a combination ticket for both castles, there is just a short amount of time to transit in-between them. You will most likely want to take the shuttle bus (extra charge) because you won't want to hurry the walk between the castles. If I remember correctly it was something like a 10 minute bus ride uphill.
The distance from the ticket office to Hohenschwangau was about a 15-20 minute walk, also uphill.
Allow extra time to go the Marienbrücke if you want to view Neuschwanstein from that perspective (photo #1).
There is no ticket necessary to get to the Marienbrücke and there is no official organization by the castle administration. Fortunately most tourists are courteous and are used to patiently waiting in a line. There is a bus stop nearby and then a 800 meter walk uphill.
In the summer the waiting line extends all the way from the bus stop up the hill to the bridge. Since it is in the woods, you are waiting in the shade, which is good on a hot day. Plan on at least one hour in line on a summer day to wait to get up to the bridge. Once you are there, you will not be alone for the shot - expect a lot of jostling and interference (other people and their selfie sticks...)
The castles are open year round except for major holidays. Even if you are travelling outside of the high season, I still recommend that you use the official online ticketing service of the Bavarian Castle Administration: https://www.neuschwanstein.de/englisch/tourist/admiss.htm
This ticketing system is not what you might expect. Most online ticket systems show you the available slots and you choose one of them. Not this system. It asks you when you want to visit and then they "get back to you" on whether your wish can be fulfilled. The "getting back to you" part is particularly nerve-wracking because you might be planning your entire iternary around this visit and may not be flexible and need to know whether it will work out.
If you think that requesting multiple slots might improve your chances of getting one of them, you are wrong. You are most likely not to get any at all. They throw out multiple requests by the same person.
I reserved tickets in June for August. In July I still had not heard back so I called the administration office. She replied, oh, "we're still processing July's requests we haven't gotten to August yet". When I pressed her for some kind of an answer she replied that since I had requested so far in advance, it was very likely I would get my requested time slot. (I did). Yes, in the high season it can be sold out and you cannot just "show up" and get in.
When you go to the ticket office to pick up your pre-paid and pre-ordered ticket, make sure you allow extra time in the summer to wait in line just for the pickup. We almost missed our entry slot because we had underestimated that there would be such a long wait just for ticket pick-up.
I work in the software industry (in Germany) so I know there are better ways to handle online reservations, however, it is a government-run agency, so there's that.
I hope you found this blog helpful and enjoy your visit.
Sources (mostly in German, use a translation program if you like):