Neuschwanstein is best known as the castle that inspired Walt Disney and it's instantly recognizable as the symbol of his media and theme park empire. If you ask the little C&Gs, Neuschwantstein is best remembered as the biggest waste of a day on our Summer 2012 vacation. "It isn't even old", cried Little C&G as we started our hike back down the mountain after touring the 19th century castle. Even a stop at the ice cream shop halfway down the trail didn't cheer him up. It didn't do much for the rest of us either after an incredibly disappointing day.
We planned our stop at Neuschwanstein as an adventure to break up the drive between Munich and Innsbruck, Austria on our way to Venice. Unfortunately for us, thousands of other tourists also arrive every day by the bus load to tour Bavaria's most visited destination.
My dear friend Rick Steves recommended buying tickets online to avoid long lines at the ticket booth in the center of town. Timed tickets are required for the 30 minute tour of the castle, and I guessed that a 1:00 tour would give us plenty of time to drive the two hours from Munich, have lunch, and get up to the castle. I didn't account for the single road into town, blocked by tour buses, camper vans, and crazy European drivers. Mr. C&G dropped us in town then started the perilous journey to find parking. We discovered we missed the window for our 1:00 tour, but my look of desperation inspired the ticket guy to book us into the 2:30 tour. If you don't book your tickets ahead of time, you could easily be waiting hours on line at the ticket booth, so either book ahead or don't go at all (which is my recommendation).
We barely had time to scarf down hot dogs from a stand in the center of town run by an Australian surfer dude (cash only) before we had to get on line for the shuttle up to the castle. The shuttle will take you closer, but you still have to make the trek uphill to the castle courtyard. Or if you have the time and energy you can make the 30 minute hike up the steep trail to the castle. We chose to shuttle up, but this involved another 30 minute wait on line for shuttle tickets. We were already cutting it too close and the afternoon was nothing but stress, but walking uphill with the little C&Gs just wasn't going to happen.
Mad King Ludwig inherited his title in 1864 at the young age of 18, and then proceeded to construct a castle that matched his boyhood dream of a royal residence. He hired a theater set designer to draw up the plans and then turned it over to architects. Even after 17 years of construction it was never finished, and the crazy King only lived in it for 172 days before he died at the age of 40. Interior rooms reflect Ludwig's impression of medieval grandeur, but the 15 rooms on the tour were obviously decorated in the late 1800s. Both little C&Gs were more impressed by the story of the King's mysterious death in the lake at the bottom of the hill than they were by any part of the castle.
Unless you really feel the need to visit this castle on your trip through Germany, I would definitely skip it. Neuschwanstein is crowded, overpriced, a hassle to get to (especially with small kids in tow), and definitely not worth the time and effort. Tickets can only be bought online the day ahead of your visit, and adults are 12€ (roughly $15), children under 18 are free.