Sunday morning and my second day in Munich started off extra early in order to watch the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight, which aired at 6 a.m. local time. It was still raining steadily when I got out of The Keg Bar, and it’s always a bit jarring when you enter an underground bar when it’s dark out and emerge hours later into the early morning light.
My friend and I had some time before we needed to head to Hauptbahnhof (Munich’s main railway station), where our tour was leaving from, so we escaped the rain by heading into a nearby McDonalds. I love checking out McDonalds all over the world not only because of the variety of the menus but because it’s interesting to see how the interior and atmosphere varies from country to country. My best memory of a McDonalds abroad was in Florence a few years back. It was incredibly expensive but the lights were dim and glowing, electronic music was playing on the speakers, and everyone was dressed up — it was basically a club that happened to serve McDonalds.
Travel tip: Check Viator regularly prior to and during your trip as they occcasionally offer specials for a savings of 20% - 50% off their original tour prices.
A coffee and scrambled egg McMuffin platter later, we headed to Karstadt department store, as all of the buses of Munich’s local tour company Gray Line Sightseeing depart in front of it. I had booked the ‘Royal Castles of Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Day Tour from Munich’ tour on Viator during the course of my research prior to leaving for Germany. As luck would have it, Viator happened to have incredible deals for Munich so I was able to book the tour for $35 as opposed to the usual $58 (offered locally for 49€).
There are plenty of ways to travel to sights and cities around Germany on your own but given my short time in Munich, I didn’t want to have to deal with the hassle of finding my way around and trying to book train and bus tickets. There are definitely cons to tour groups, such as a limited time at each location, but I also love the ease of being transported from place to place while being given a background of the destinations I’m visiting. Our guide, Elizabeth, explained in great detail the history of Munich, Bavaria, the life of King Ludwig II, and the palaces he built. In addition, these aren’t small Greyhound buses but large double-decker buses, which are rather roomy and comfortable. We grabbed the two very back seats on the upper level of the bus and set out towards castles in the rain.
Our first stop was Schloss Linderhof (‘Schloss’ is ‘castle’ in German), situated a little over an hour southwest of Munich in Graswang Valley, near the village of Ettal. It is the smallest of the three palaces built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria and the only one he lived to see completed. The “Royal Villa” is a splendid Rococo palace inspired by the opulence of Versailles from the age of Louis XIV of France.
Luckily, the rain mostly cleared up when we arrived and though overcast, we were able to roam the grounds and take incredible pictures before heading into the palace for our timed tour. (Timed tours simply mean your pre-purchased ticket is at a set time.)
You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside but from an ivory chandelier to the Hall of Mirrors, each room contains opulent and extravagant furnishings dedicated to the Sun King Louis XIV who King Ludwig II idolized. Linderhof is exquisite and absolutely worth visiting and touring inside if you have an opportunity.
We then boarded the bus to head to our second stop of the Bavarian village of Oberammergau, world-famous for its woodcarvers, richly painted houses (Luftl-paintings), and Passion Play. During the 17th century, the bubonic plague was raging throughout Europe. The surviving population of Oberammergau came together in 1633 and took a vow — that they would perform the "Play of the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ" every ten years if God would spare the village further suffering. From the moment the vow was taken, there were no further deaths in the village and all those who were ill from the plague recovered, and the town has been performing the Passion Play ever since.
I loved the fairy tale houses (Luftl fresco paintings are characteristic decorations on houses in Alpine regions) and it was interesting to see a Bavarian village but Oberammergau felt a bit like a tourist trap. Most of the shops in Germany close on Sunday but fortunately there were a few souvenir and wood-carving shops open to peek in and out of. We strolled around the neighborhood, looked at the grand theater where the Passion Play is held, and then headed back to the bus.
We continued our journey to the magnificent, neo-Romanesque style Schloss Neuschwanstein, which was the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle. The bus dropped us off at Hohenschwangau, a small village at the foot of the castle, where we had time for lunch and an opportunity to explore the grounds of Neuschwanstein before our timed tour. We wasted more time than necessary by going from restaurant to restaurant trying to narrow down the “best” place to eat. We ultimately settled on one and ordered rather untasty pasta dishes but we were full so it did what it needed to.
I had researched Neushwanstein prior to my trip for my own knowledge as well as for this blog but I hadn’t realized exactly how much walking it would entail. From the town of Hohenschwangau up to the castle is a 30 to 40 minute walk (depending on your pace) up a steep hill. Luckily, the Stairmaster and walking the treadmill at an incline is incorporated into my regular gym routine because without it I definitely would have struggled. Prepare to sweat. However, there are also horse drawn carriages that can take you up and down the hill if you prefer not to schlep it like a commoner.
Pictures don’t do Neuschwanstein justice, as it is a truly majestic and spectacular experience walking up the hill towards this towering castle set against the Bavarian Alps. We passed the castle and made our way towards Marienbrücke (Mary's Bridge), a wooden bridge crossing a large gorge with steep cliffs on both sides. The view from the bridge is unbelievable as you’re able to take in the grandeur of the castle in its entirety and the landscape from a great height. We ended up losing track of time taking pictures and videos on the rickety bridge and raced back down to the castle to our tour — we made it just as our group was walking in. The interior of Neuschwanstein wasn’t as lavish as Linderhoff but it was still so delightful to walk through the rooms and observe the artwork, furniture, and detailing throughout.
Following the tour, we made our way through the gift shop and spent far too much time trying to decide what unnecessary souvenirs to buy (magnet or shot glass?!), ended up losing track of time, again, and raced back down the hill to the bus and, again (thankfully), made it just in time. It was an exhausting day but my eyes and heart were filled to the brim by the awe and beauty of the day's magnificent sights. Even the rain and clouds added romance and enchantment to the experience.
Once we got back to the station around 7 p.m. we picked up a pizza and salads from a nearby restaurant, cabbed back to the hotel, and happily munched away at cheesy deliciousness while we stretched our sore legs and recapped the day.
Castle chasing is hard work.