Neuschwanstein one of king ludwig's castles
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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 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 Neuschwanstein 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.

Stefan Cosma KSgAkqr Cwk Unsplash
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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