Füssen gets a lot of tourist traffic because it has the nearest train station to the most popular “fairy tale” castle of crazy King Ludwig II, Schloss Neuschwanstein.
To American tourists, the castle is best known as “the Sleeping Beauty Castle,” since it inspired Disney’s designs for the Disneyland princess castle. Neighboring Neuschwanstein is a smaller castle, Schloss Hohenschwangau, built by Ludwig I. Scads of tourists on a whirlwind tour of Europe get off at the station in Füssen, board a bus straight to Schloss Neuschwanstein, visit one or both palaces, then head back to Munich all in a day. I have done the day trip to Neuschwanstein TWICE myself!
According to this news story, in 2013, a record 1.52 million people visited Neuschwanstein! Up to 6,000 people visit daily. I have experienced a wait time of several hours there. Once you get inside the castle though, because it was never completed before Ludwig’s death, there isn’t all that much to see. You only get about a 20 minute tour. In my experience, the guides usher you through at a pretty quick pace, don’t encourage questions or lingering, and before you know it, you’re out of there. So when guests come to visit from abroad, I’m usually not to keen on taking this day trip again.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad I visited once, but for me, it isn’t worth the money to go again and again. Anyway, the really spectacular thing about the castle is the view from the outside. It is situated perfectly in the Bavarian Alps above the Alpsee (lake), and walking/hiking around is really a treat.
Since my parents were here in September and wanted to see the castle, we decided to not just do the typical day trip, but to spend a little more time in Füssen and experience more of the town itself and the surrounding area. We are so glad we did! Füssen is a nice medieval town itself (with a really old castle), and it is worth an extended stay. This is my report from our trip and, I think, a good guide for a weekend visit to Füssen and the castles.
How long we stayed: 2 nights
The RE trains gets you from Munich to Füssen in 2 hours, sometimes directly, and sometimes with a connection in Buchloe. Trains leave every hour. Without leaving too early in the day, we got to Füssen by early afternoon. We had a half day, one full day, then a third morning.
Where we stayed: Hotel Filser
We rented the little cabin apartment with two bedrooms and a living room. It was great to have space to sit around and play cards at night after long days of sight-seeing. Breakfast was included in our stay, and the buffet was great. There is a sauna and spa, which we didn’t use this time. However, we were able to rent bicycles. The hotel is located right near the König-Ludwig-Promenade, which was a handy walking/bike path with great views that helped us get where we needed to go. The staff was friendly and helpful.
What we did:
Day 1 — We arrived via train and after checking in at the hotel took a longer walk to the castles. Mom and Dad bought their tickets for the castles at the ticket center, which is the only place you can buy tickets, and were assigned tour times. When you visit both castles, the tour of Schloss Hohenschwangau is always scheduled first. Then you have time to walk up to Schloss Neuschwanstein before your assigned time there. You must show up for your assigned tour, or they won’t let you in! You can walk (it is quite an uphill hike), take a horse-drawn carriage, or a bus for 1 Euro up to Neuschwanstein. Julius and I sent my parents on their way and he and I got tickets for the new (since 2011) Museum der Bayerischen Königen, also at the ticket center. This is something neither of us had done before, but it was neat to learn a little bit more about the story of the Wittelsbacher family and the “crazy” King Ludwig himself. The museum is down the hill near the Alpsee.
Since we were right down next to the lake, we also took a little paddleboat (Tretboot) ride. We set off for the middle of the lake, and the view we had of mountains, sky, and castle from there was really stunning. For the whole first day we were there, the Alps were hiding behind misty fog, which doesn’t translate well into pictures, but looks really cool in person!
If you can read the sign in the picture below, you see that boat rental isn’t all that expensive. €5.50 for a half hour was well worth the view (and that was all the pedaling my weak muscles could take!) It was money well spent!
After this spontaneous boat trip, we entered the museum and spent about an hour there, then enjoyed a piece of cake in one of the restaurants nearby before we headed up toward Neuschwanstein via bus, which let us off at the beginning of the trail to the Marienbrücke. It is worth the extra trip around the back of the castle and to this hanging bridge for the view that it affords of Neuschwanstein.
A word about the views. This most famous postcard perspective of the castle is, as far as I can tell, only really available from a helicopter, or if you take a longer trip up the mountains and hike to a similar vantage point. I found it really disappointing the first time I came that I couldn’t see the front of the castle well. Of course, you can’t take off up the mountain in the fog, but if it hadn’t been so cloudy while we were there, we probably would have done some hiking to try to capture this magnificent frontal view… There’s always a next time!
So, after Julius and I took pictures, we waited on my parents to finish their tour. Afterwards, we ate dinner in Füssen then called it a night.
If you had 3 days there, you could have done my parent’s itinerary one day (touring the castles), and then our itinerary the next day (the museum, the lake, and some light hiking).
Day 2 — We rented bikes from our hotel. Bikes can also be rented at the Füssen train station. We loaded up on picnic-type food at the grocery store and headed out on a ride. We followed the signs for the Forggensee Runde. This route starts out (most conveniently) at the harbor (Bootshafen) and makes a 30 km circle around the lake Forggensee. The path does not stick to the lakeshore the entire time though. It also crosses through farm land. The hills were rolling, not too difficult, and there were plenty of places to stop for a break and to take pictures. Like on our first day, the sky was quite cloudy, so the Alps views were non-existent, but the landscape on the ground was really beautiful.
After our bike tour, we spent time in the town center of Füssen, checking out some of the churches, the medieval castle, and the town hall. It really is a shame that this lovely town is often overlooked by the millions who are just “passing through” on the way to Neuschwanstein.
We ate this evening on the bank of the Forggensee at Mar y Sol, which, despite the Spanish name, serves traditional Bavarian food. It was yummy! At this point in the trip, we had been biking and walking around the Füssen area for two days without having glimpsed the peaks of the Alps. At dinner, though, the sky started to clear. My parents suddenly looked up and exclaimed, “the mountains are out!” Sure enough, we turned around to see this beautiful sight.
I gasped! It was astounding to see the mountains so suddenly and a strange feeling to know that this enormous landscape was there the whole time, without us being able to see it at all. The two day wait made the clear view that evening that much sweeter!
We took another stroll around Füssen that evening and then cycled back along the stream toward our hotel.
We checked out the next morning after a relaxed breakfast and headed back to Munich. Upon leaving, we all agreed that this was a place we could vacation for a whole week!