Neuschwanstein one of king ludwig's castles

Mad King Ludwig’s Fantasy Castles in Bavaria

King Ludwig II of Bavaria is a name that will forever be linked with some of Bavaria’s most beautiful and extravagant castles. These castles are some of the most popular tourist attractions. A visit to Bavaria isn’t complete without seeing at least one of them.

This eccentric king built several fantasy castles in the late 1800s, and today they are popular tourist destinations for people from all over the world. If you’re looking for an enchanting day trip out of Munich, these castles should definitely be on your list. So, if you love castles as much as I do, you’ll want to bookmark this post for later.

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Who was King Ludwig II of Bavaria?

Ludwig II was the King of Bavaria from 1864 until 1886. He was born in 1845 as the eldest son of Crown Prince Maximilian II of Bavaria and Princess Marie of Prussia. After the early death of his father, Ludwig succeeded to the throne at the age of 18.

He spent his life designing and building opulent castles. Ludwig’s other passions included romantic literature, swans and operas, especially those created by Richard Wagner. While popular with his subjects, he was known as an eccentric who was more interested in building his castles than ruling his people.

The more Ludwig withdrew from public life and the more he spent on his castles, the more unpopular he became with his ministers. His lack of interest in his duties and lavish spending drew criticism and accusations of insanity. In 1886, he was declared unfit to rule and was deposed. Hence the “mad” king moniker. He was found dead in Lake Starnberg six days later under mysterious circumstances, and his death has remained a mystery.

What is King Ludwig known for?

He is perhaps most famous as the patron of composer Richard Wagner, whose operas appealed to his fantasy-filled imagination. Ludwig’s extravagance was legendary, and he is said to have spent millions on his opulent palace at Neuschwanstein. His sudden death in 1886 remains a mystery and has only added to the intrigue surrounding his life.

Ludwig’s architectural and artistic legacy lives on in the fantasy castles he devoted his life to creating. He commissioned some of the most famous castles in Bavaria, including Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee.

I wish to remain an eternal enigma to myself and to others.

King Ludwig II of Bavaria

Mad King Ludwig’s Castles

Ludwig’s parents didn’t really care for each other and were indifferent to each other and to their children. As a result, Ludwig’s childhood was lonely and detached. He grew up in the Hohenschwangau Castle, built by his father. There, fuelled by his own imagination, Ludwig gazed through a telescope, dreaming of a castle he would build one day.

Fascinated by medieval tales and legends, Ludwig let his imagination run wild. He became obsessed with fairy tale castles, Medieval chivalry and romantic literature. This fantasy world he built around him was his refuge and a safe place even if it was removed from reality. Judging by the castles he left behind, he had quite the imagination.

Note: Photography is not allowed inside any of the castles, but you can take pictures of the exteriors and the grounds.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle is a 19th-century Romanesque Revival palace that Ludwig commissioned as a retreat in honour of the singer Richard Wagner. It was  designed by Georg Dollmann and Eduard Riedel. Construction began in 1869, but it was never completed due to the king’s untimely death in 1886. Even so, the castle is considered one of the most beautiful castles in the world, and it continues to be a popular tourist destination.

Neuschwanstein Castle, one of Ludwig's most famous castles
View of the Neuschwanstein Castle from the Marienbrücke bridge

You can explore the vast grounds, including a formal garden, an Italianate terrace, and several streams and waterfalls. Admission includes guided tours of the castle’s interior, which features exquisite rooms decorated with intricate frescoes and tapestries. I recommend visiting the Marienbrücke bridge, for spectacular views of the castle and the surrounding area. The bridge is about a about a 10-minute walk from the castle and can get pretty crowded during the high season.

Hohenschwangau Castle

While Ludwig didn’t build Hohenschwangau Castle, it was his childhood home. Ludwig developed his passion for castles while living here, as I guess anyone living in a castle surrounded by fairy tales would. It’s worth noting that his father, King Maximillian II, bought what was an abandoned medieval fortress and had it rebuilt in a neo-Gothic style. You can argue that Ludwig inherited the building castles trait from his father.

Hohenschwangau Castle, childhood home of King Ludwig II of Bavaria
Hohenschwangau Castle | Tim Dennert on Unsplash

The castle is situated on a hill above the village of Hohenschwangau, and it offers stunning views of the surrounding Alps. You can explore the castle’s lavish interior, including several grandiose rooms decorated with tapestries and paintings. The castle grounds are also worth exploring, and there are a number of hiking trails that lead through the nearby forest.

A visit to Hohenschwangau Castle is the perfect way to learn more about King Ludwig II and his passion for castles. Both Neuschweinstein and Hohenschwangau castles can be visited on the same day as they share parking facilities and a ticket booth. You can also get a combination ticket for both attractions.

Linderhof Palace

Linderhof Palace is the only castle that King Ludwig II ever lived to see completed, and he spent the last eight years of his life here. The palace’s interior is just as lavish as the exterior. It features several luxurious Roccocco-styled rooms decorated with opulent furniture and paintings. As he spared no expense to build this lavishly decorated palace, a visit to Linderhof Palace is the perfect way to step into his world.

Linderhof Palace is one of Mad King Ludwig's castles
Linderhof Palace | © Softeis/Wiki Commons

The palace is situated in a stunning location amidst forests and meadows. It offers breathtaking views of the nearby mountains. There is also a beautiful formal garden on the palace grounds, which includes fountains and sculptures. There is even a heated cave that was used for theatre performances, with Ludwig the only one in attendance.

Herrenchiemsee Palace

Herrenchiemsee Palace is an opulent palace complex located on an island in Germany’s largest inland lake. King Ludwig’s inspiration for this extraordinary palace was none other than Versailles and is an homage to his idol, King Louis XIV of France, the Sun King himself.

As you’d probably come to expect, King Ludwig didn’t hold back when building this dream. The inside of Herrenchiemsee is even more opulent than that of Versailles. There is a grand staircase, the Hall of Mirrors, large staterooms and small apartments decorated in the French Rococo style. Everything is made from the finest quality that is beyond comparison.

Nymphenburg Palace

King Ludwig was born at Nymphenburg Palace in 1845, and this is where his story begins. It’s an opulent Baroque palace that served as the primary residence of the Bavarian rulers for centuries. It surpasses Versailles in size and features opulent interiors with equally rich decor and priceless art.

As one of Munich’s most famous sites, Nymphenburg Palace is a perfect place to start or finish your Mad King Ludwig’s castle tour. The palace is surrounded by an extensive park with a pond and a perfect place to relax.

Mad King Ludwig's Fantasy Castles in Bavaria | kasiawrites
Nymphenburg Palace | Stefan Cosma on Unsplash

Final thoughts

King Ludwig II was known as the Mad King because of his extravagance. You could call him mad or see him as a visionary who would have been a great architect if he didn’t have to be king. Today, his castles bring thousands of tourists each year, proving that he was on to something. Just imagine what else he would have built if he lived longer. 

Today, Ludwig’s castles remain some of Bavaria’s most popular tourist destinations. You’ll be blown away by the opulent interiors, stunning views, and fairy tale atmosphere, no matter which one you choose to visit. So make like Mad King Ludwig and start planning your own castle adventure in Bavaria.

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    31 May 2022

    Interesting post, hopefully we will be hitting Bavaria this year at some point. I believe peles Castle in Romania has elements of these.

      1 Jun 2022

      Thank you! I can’t wait to explore Romanian castles! They are incredible.

    31 May 2022

    All of these places look amazing and the history of the man makes it all the more intriguing. I would have been happy to live in any of these places LOL!

      1 Jun 2022

      So would I! Imagine even having just one of them – it would cost a fortune to upkeep it. 🙂

    Tiffany Pence
    31 May 2022

    I remember visiting Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau as a kid and again when I was 20 with my (then) boyfriend. It was always impressive and grand! I didn’t know about these other castles. I think its time to plan another trip to Germany!

      1 Jun 2022

      Same! I think I’m way overdue for another trip to Germany. I think this time I’d like to visit in the fall.

    1 Jun 2022

    What a pity about King Ludwig II though. Being a visionary in his time could end up being called as mad. If is alive today, he would probably be one of greatest ‘starchitects’ of our time. Heard of Schachen House?

      1 Jun 2022

      Totally agree! The man definitely had vision. I know Schachen House but it didn’t seem very fairytale to me 🙂

    Colin and Mitch VeryTastyWorld
    2 Jun 2022

    Really enjoyed this fascinating post. I knew of the many of the castles but didn’t know the history behind them nor that of King Ludwig. I think you’re right, he was a visionary and it is such a shame that he was given the “mad” moniker and eventually deposed. The castles and palaces remain a remarkable legacy.

      2 Jun 2022

      So glad to hear that! I agree – Ludwig’s castles are stunning and definitely are a remarkable legacy. I wonder how he would feel about their popularity today?

    2 Jun 2022

    I really enjoyed reading your post, Kasia. Like all good Bavarians I hate Lucki’s guts, of course, because his lavish spending led to the end of the Bavarian monarchy haha… That said, the castles do look pretty cool and I regularly took visitors there when living nearby..

    In Bavaria, Ludwig II still draws a lot of attention and debate, including but not limited to the crazies from the Guglmänner who want to convince the rest of the world that the Prussian secret service killed their king. 🙂

      2 Jun 2022

      Haha! I think it’s a different situation when you’re an outsider looking at these castles centuries later than it was to the people around Ludwig during his time. Do you think the legend of Ludwig and the conspiracies are still talked about to keep those tourists coming? 🙂

    Paul (Paul Passing Through)
    2 Jun 2022

    We’re going to be in the region over the holidays so this is a good first look at some places to visit. We already knew Neuschwanstein but will look more at these others. What is it like visiting these castles in winter?

      5 Jun 2022

      I haven’t been in winter, but I’d assume there might be fewer people. The gardens won’t be as nice as they are in the summer, but still worth visiting.

    2 Jun 2022

    We are going to Munich in November and we’re planning to visit Neuschwanstein but these are all so interesting! I’ll have to see how much time we can carve out! Love the historical tales!

      5 Jun 2022

      You’re gonna love it! It should be stunning in the fall with all the foliage 🙂

    Carina | bucketlist2life
    2 Jun 2022

    I only ever made it to Nymphenburg. I badly want to see Neuschwanstein and the others as they are super pretty…

      5 Jun 2022

      They are all gorgeous! Hope you make it to the others soon.

    Bernie and Jess Watt
    3 Jun 2022

    It was the golden age of mad kings – like George III in Britain too. This post is full of cool info – like I never knew he had multiple castles or his link with Wagner.

      5 Jun 2022

      It really was! Maybe it was something in the water? 😉 Ludwig was busy indeed!

    6 Jun 2022

    I mean Ludwig may have had some unresolved issues but you can’t fault is taste in castle design. They’re beautiful! Would love to see Neuschwanstein castle (if that’s how you spell it…) One day!

      6 Jun 2022

      Can’t argue with that! He was very good at castles and they are incredible to visit. Hope you get to visit soon.