Schloss Hohenschwangau (Hohenschwangau Castle) is one of the four famous castles attributed to ‘Mad’ King Ludwig of Bavaria, Germany.
Hohenschwangau is the smallest of Ludwig’s four eccentric creations, but it has a special, homely atmosphere which sets it apart from his other three palaces – which are a little colder and more formal.
This custard-yellow castle can be found on the Western side of Hohenschwangau Village, set against the dramatic backdrop of the looming Alps.
Directly opposite – on the Eastern side of the village – you’ll see Schloss Hohenschwangau’s younger and more famous sister-castle, Neuschwanstein, looming in the distance.
I visited the castle in Winter 2013, and all the photos are from my (cold and snowy!) trip.
Planning on Visiting Hohenschwangau Castle?
Schloss Hohenschwangau is just a few hundred metres from Schloss Neuschwanstein – the world’s most famous castle.
However, whilst Neuschwanstein receives around 1.3million visitors a year, only around 300,000 people make it into Schloss Hohenschwangau – which is a real shame, in my opinion.
There are tour operators I recommend who run excursions to Schloss Hohenschwangau from the city of Munich, which is the easiest option of all.
If you’re planning on doing-it-yourself, you need to travel to Hohenschwangau Village in Southern Bavaria. Most tourists therefore travel from Munich to Fussen, which is the nearest big town. This is about a 2hr rail trip.
From Fussen, you can then take a bus to Hohenschwangau Village, where the castles are. The bus only takes about 10min.
Therefore, the castle is possible as a day-trip from Munich, or you could stay in Fussen or Hohenschwangau Village to break up an otherwise long day.
Unfortunately, access to the castle is strictly only by joining a timed, guided tour. The 30min tour is conducted in many languages and is the only way to see the castle interior. Sadly, it’s not enough time or detail for everybody, although my experience was good.
Tickets for the tour are exclusively sold in the Hohenschwangau Village ‘Castle Ticketing Centre’ which is nearby. Entry is Euro12 per adult (2013 prices).
Unfortunately, any photos of the castle interior are strictly prohibited – explaining why you’ll only see exterior shots on this page 🙂
More About the History of Hohenschwangau Castle
As you can see from looking at photos of Schloss Hohenschwangau, the present-day castle isn’t exactly a Medieval structure.
Most of what you can see was built in the 1830s by King Maximilian of Bavaria (father of ‘mad’ Ludwig). He didn’t choose the location at random, however. Bavaria’s oldest castle – which was named Schwanstein, and dated to the c12th – had once stood on this exact spot.
Maximilian was fond of country pursuits and hiked up to the old castle ruins. He was so amazed at the romance and views that he chose to build a new castle right here.
However, Maximilian didn’t just want an authentic rebuild of the old castle. As a precursor of his son’s eccentricity to come, he commissioned a romantic, c19th vision of what a Medieval castle should look like.
The chief designer for the project was Dominik Quaglio, a theatre-set painter: proof that neo-gothic artistry was to take precedence over historical accuracy. However, Quaglio quickly became out of of his-depth when project-managing real world architecture, and the project passed to two other designers.
Construction of the castle took the best part of 10 years, although further additions were made up until about 1855.
A Summer Home For a Royal Family
The castle quickly became one of the favoured homes of the Royal family, and King Maximilian would bring his Queen Marie, and their two little princes Otto and Ludwig, to the castle every summer.
They’d stay a few weeks at a time, with the King occupying himself with hunting; the Queen hiking; and Prince Ludwig dreaming of fairytales and years gone by.
One final note is that the name ‘Hohenschwangau’ means ‘The High District of the Swan’. It’s likely it got its name from the neighbouring Schwansee – an Alpine lake where Maximilian’s Queen Marie would take her two princes to feed the swans.
The swan, of course, became an important motif in the life of King Ludwig.
The Castle as the Inspiration for ‘Mad’ King Ludwig
Spending a few weeks of every summer in Schloss Hohenschwangau undoubtedly stimulated the already excitable mind of young Ludwig.
As you’ll see if you visit today, the walls are full of romanticised murals of Medieval battle and fairytale legend. These include the important character of Parsival – in later life, Ludwig began to alternately idolise and identify with this mythical Knight.
You can find out more about this obsession in my biography of King Ludwig.
As a Prince, Ludwig would have lived separately from his parents – in the annexe next to the castle, whereas his mother and father (who were always distant figures) resided in the state rooms of Schloss Hohenschwangau.
His father died when Ludwig was just 19, and, at that point, Ludwig would have been able to take the state rooms of Hohehschwangau. We know that he adapted his fathers’ bedroom to include a series of twinkling electric lights within the ceiling, to emulate the stars.
As Ludwig grew older, he grew more and more introverted and isolated, and became increasingly frustrated by the fact that his mother spent a good deal of time staying at Hohenschwangau Castle.
This was one of his motivations for building Neuschwanstein Castle across the valley.
Indeed, the excited King had a golden telescope, which he could use to peer across and spy on the progress of building works in Neuschwanstein. You can still see the telescope if you visit the castle today.
My Impressions and Thoughts of Hohenschwangau
Of all of King Ludwig’s castles – Neuschwanstein, Linderhof, Herrenchiemsee and Hohenschwangau – I definitely found Hohenschwangau to be the most likeable.
This is probably because the schloss was actually used as a residence. Neuschwanstein, by contrast, was never truly lived in for any length of time, and its furnishings feel a bit too cold and ornate to be homely.
By contrast to King Lugwig’s palace of Linderhof, the decor of Hohenschwangau is grand but restrained – Linderhof is absolutely drowned in gold leaf, to the extent that it could induce a migraine.
The views from many of the windows – particularly to the lake of the Alpsee, from the Southern face – give a truly dazzling view of the scenery surrounding the castle.
It’s a shame that visits are only by guided tour, as it’d be more pleasant to wander the rooms yourself in your own time.
But the castle is a really special site, and helps you to understand much more about the evolution of King Ludwig’s personality – and how he came to obsess upon creating neighbouring Neuschwanstein.
Visiting Schloss Hohenschwangau? Don’t miss these details . . .
Look out for the two swan fountains in the castle gardens. One is of a swan alone with water cascading from its beak; the other shows a peasant carrying two swans under his arms. The emblem of the swan is fundamental to this castle.
It’s often closed nowadays, but there’s a deep red bathing house grotto hidden deep within the castle gardens. Ask your guide.
You’ll notice that, at the front of the castle, there’s an annexe containing the modern day gift shop. This was once the servants’ quarters, and the rooms of the young princes.
There’s much more to explore. . .
Schloss Hohenschwangau is just part of a much grander story. There’s much more to discover about the eccentric life of King Ludwig of Bavaria, and also his world-famous creation – spectacular Neuschwanstein.