Visiting Sleeping Beauty’s Castle: a day at Neuschwanstein

Visiting the inspiration behind Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle was a highlight of my trip to Germany. Here I share photos and tips on how to get the most out of a day trip to Neuschwanstein from Munich.

One of the highlights from my recent trip to Germany was visiting the place that inspired Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle- Schloss Neuschwanstein.

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Two things struck me when I visited the area. Firstly, it’s crazy busy with tourists, so much so that it almost detracts from the charm of the castle. Secondly, the natural beauty of the region is so incredibly stunning that I’d list it in the top 5 most scenic places I’ve visited in the world. The mountains are rugged, thick with snow and pine trees and the rivers and lakes are the most intense green-blue colour I’ve ever seen.

Visiting the area is possible as a full day trip from Munich, but as there’a a lot to see in the surrounds I’d recommend staying a few days and exploring at a relaxed pace. Things to see include: two other castles- Hohenschwangau and Hohes, museums and galleries, beautiful hiking tracks, a ski resort at nearby Tegelberg and the charming town of Füssen.

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Below are some photos from my visit, info on the key sites and tips on how to make the most of your trip to the area.

 

 

Neuschwanstein Castle

Construction of the castle began in 1869, after King Ludwig II of Bavaria enlisted a stage designer instead of an architect to draw up the plans. The castle was to be his fairytale palace and was built in honor of Richard Wagner, whom Ludwig had been patron to since 1864. Sadly, the castle was still not complete in 1886 when Ludwig died.

Neuschwantein would go on to become Walt Disney’s inspiration for Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty’s castles and the company’s logo. The castle now attracts over 6 million visitors a year, ironic as Ludwig intended that none of his castes ought to be visited by a stranger.

 

 

Hohenschwangau Castle

Located just across the valley from Neuschwanstein Castle, Hohenschwangau is the castle that Ludwig and his family actually lived in. The 19th century Gothic castle was built upon 12th century ruins and has an authentic, well lived in feel, due to the presence of all the original furniture. The paintings, decor and ornaments inside the castle provide an interesting insight into aristocratic Bavarian life during the 19th century.

Füssen

This 2000+ year old town was founded by the Romans and is the perfect place to stroll around, taking a walk along the river or through the old streets. Whichever way you turn a scenic view will greet you. My only regret during my Germany trip was that I didn’t stay a few nights in the town- it was my favorite place in the whole country.

There are also a few notable sites, including the Hohes Schloss (High Castle) which houses a gallery that’s part of the Bavarian State Collection of Paintings. Most of the artwork in the gallery is late Gothic and Renaissance works.

Then there’s St Mang’s Basilica which houses Germany’s oldest fresco (dating back to 980) in its crypt and plays a central role in St Mang’s Feast Day (September 6th) where a holy mass is followed by a torch-lit procession through the old town. For the week of the feast special ‘Magnus Wine’ is sold- with only 500 bottles produced.

 

Walking from Füssen to the Castles

The highlight of my day was waking from Füssen along the river to the castles, and then back by lakes and the forest. This beautiful walk is roughly 4km in each direction, and the best bit was that I saw less than a handful of people- welcome solitude compared to the hundreds of tourists milling around the castle area. Walking also means you can appreciate different views of the castle from afar.

If you prefer not to walk then you can take the local bus for a few euro. It leaves from the train station and arrives in the castle precinct, but is very busy during peak times, so be prepared to wait.

 

Practicalities

Getting to Füssen from Munich: A return train ticket cost me 50€ in peak season, for a 2hr (each way) trip. I booked my ticket from the Deutsche Bahn website.

Castle Tickets: The only way to go inside the castles is on a tour, which you can book online up to two days prior to your tour date. There are various combinations of tickets available. You need to fill in a form and enter credit card details, but pay when collecting the ticket on the day. A 35 minute tour is 13€ for one castle or 25€ for both.

If it’s a last minute decision, you can still get tickets at the site until they sell out for the day. To have the best chance of getting last minute tickets, arrive early (the ticket center opens at 7.30am from April-October, otherwise at 8.30am) and if there are long queues head straight to the museum rather than waiting at the ticket center. When I visited there were at least 100 people queuing at the ticket center. I walked past them all to the very end of the road near the lake, where there wasn’t a single person at the museum counter and I was able to purchase one of the last 4 tickets for a castle tour. I’m very grateful to the friendly local who advised me on this little trick!

Map of the Castle area:

Further Tips

  • The Marianne Bridge (where the iconic photos are taken) is often closed in the colder months as ice makes the path dangerous
  • No photos are allowed inside any of the castle buildings
  • It can be very busy during peak seasons (summer and around Christmas) so be prepared for long wait times and many other tourists trying to get photos with the castle in the background. I coped with this by walking to the castles from Fussen- the solitude allowed me to recharge my introverted batteries!

 

 

Have you visited Füssen or one of these castles?

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Ghent: my favourite city in Belgium

With a beautiful old town, meandering canals lined with cafes and bars, and a medieval castle, Ghent is enchanting. The main tourist area is located within a cluster of huge cathedrals, where two large canals intersect. It’s the perfect place to wander aimlessly, with endless cafes to rest at when you’ve worked up an appetite or thirst.

For more structured sight seeing you can’t go past Gravensteen, a medieval castle dating back to 1180. For 10€ you can do a self-guided tour through 13 points of interest within, outside and ontop of the castle. The views from the tower alone are worth the entrance fee.

If you’re looking for somewhere to eat then try Gust, a trendy cafe with large front windows that open onto the street, allowing you to sit half in and half out of the cafe. Their breakfast set comes with delicious coffee, freshly squeezed juice, home-made granola, eggs, bacon and a bunch of different freshly baked breads with cured meat, cheese and home-made sweet spreads. Damn delicious!

 

 

 

De Haar Castle: the perfect day trip from Amsterdam

My fascination with castles is so borderline obsessive that when I was visiting relatives in Italy, eager for all opportunities to explore anything remotely resembling a castle, they nicknamed me Dracula.

In the following decade my love of all things castle related hasn’t waned in the slightest, so when I was studying in Amsterdam last year and heard that De Haar Castle was a mere 1.5hrs away, I couldn’t wait to jump on the next train. Here’s some photos from the afternoon adventure.

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The castle is open from 11am-5pm daily, but be sure to arrive before 4pm if you want to look inside the castle. Entry is a little steep at 17€ to go inside, or much more reasonable at 5€ just for the grounds. I think it was worth the fee to go inside because of my aforementioned obsession with all things castle, but the grounds are definitely worth a visit on their own. You can find more info about visiting the castle here.

An icecream in the castle grounds is the perfect way to finish the day!

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Aeolian Islands: an unmissable Sicilian adventure

Nestled in the corner of the Tyrrhenian Sea off the north-east coast of Sicily, you’ll find the Aeolian Islands. This volcanic archipelago is comprised of eight main islands; Lipari, Panarea, Salina, Vulcano, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi and Basiluzzo. Named for the demigod of the winds- Aeolus, the islands are famous for their volcanic action and thermal ‘healing’ waters, attracting around 200,000 tourists a year.

 

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Dolphins circling the boat on the way to the Aeolian Islands

 

I first heard about the famous island of Stromboli from a fellow Aussie I met in Naples. She described an island which regularly produced a flow of larva into the sea, creating a spectacular contrast between fire and water and earning the island the nickname of “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean”. Not surprisingly, the famous eruptions and flow of lava is best viewed in the evening against a dark sky, with several tour companies offering evening cruises. While I didn’t have a chance to visit Stromboli during my trip to Sicily, I did get to two of the other islands in the archipelago and absolutely loved the experience- I can’t recommend the Aeolian Islands highly enough!

Part of the reason I was unable to get to Stromboli was the lack of information or tour options I was able to find online. The only day trip I could find left from the eastern side of Sicily, at Taormina and involved a 1+ hour coach trip to get to the northern town of Milazzo, followed by a full day of island hopping and then another coach back. It sounded dauntingly exhausting.

So we decided to stay in Milazzo for a few nights, where I managed to find an amazing AirBnB directly across from a beach with the clearest green water I’ve ever seen. As is the case in much of Italy, Milazzo encompasses both fascinating ancient history and stunning scenery. Our apartment was also located beneath a large cliff, on top of which  castle ruins perch on a site that was first fortified in 4,000 BC, and has experienced a rich history ever since

 

It was then our AirBnB hosts that then recommended two local companies (Tarnav and Navisal) that offered a range of trips out to the islands from the Milazzo port. These options were not only so much more diverse than the single option I could find online but also so much more affordable. I definitely recommend staying a few days in Milazzo, as the perfect jumping off point to explore the beautiful and varied Aeolian Islands as well as exploring the town, castle and deliciously clear sea.

 

 

Lipari

The largest and most populated of the Aoelian Islands, Lipari is a wonderful spot to spend the day. There’s a charming port town with a plethora of restaurants and cafes offering cool drinks, Italian lunch fare and of course gelato. The castle ruins perched above the town offer stunning coastal views and there’s also a church and museum to explore. The winding streets provide an immersion in the local culture and there are also many shopping opportunities. If you have more time, the further reaches of the island, including four other villages, can also be explored by foot or bus. 

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Vulcano

As you might guess from the name, the big attraction on this island is a volcano crater. This volcano is one of four non-submarine active volcanoes in Italy, with bright yellow sulfur gas and powder visible from the top of the crater. It’s around an hour walk from the port, firstly along a quietish road and then up the side of a mountain to the crater. Here you can spend another half hour or so walking around the crater and taking in the scenery. While I met many other people climbing up the mountain, I only came across one other person exploring the crater itself, adding to the eerie vibe of the place. The climb also rewards you with stunning views of the port town, beach and neighbouring islands.

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I then rushed back down the hill for a quick dip in the thermal ‘healing’ waters of the beach before getting the boat back to the mainland. The water was warm and a little waxy feeling. A one point my foot moved the sand away and the rock beneath was so very hot- definitely an interesting experience! There’s also a sectioned off mud bath area that costs a few euro to enter and a few more if you want a shower afterwards. The mud is purportedly great for your skin and many people slather it on and bake in the sun.

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I hope one day you also get to explore this stunning Archipelago. Next up, Ravello- my favourite town in all of Italy!

 

 

 

 

 

3 Beautiful Places to Visit in Denmark

You could definitely spend much longer than a week exploring Denmark, but if you’re limited for time then these three very different places will give you a snapshot of Danish life.

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1. Copenhagen

Denmark’s capital has to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Full of picturesque streets and historic buildings, the city also has an abundance of green spaces in the form of beautiful parks, gardens and cemeteries.

Highlights include the colourful Nyhavn waterfront, Freetown Christiania, and the engy neighbourhood of Nørrebro. For ideas on what to do for free in this nieghbourhood have a look at this post. If you’re interesting in other free activities in the city center thenc check out at this post.

2. Helsingør

This stunning town is only 40 minute train ride from Copenhagen and the perfect escape from the bustling capital.

The main sight is Kronberg Castle, touted as Shakespeare’s inspiration for Hamlet. The innovative Culture Yard is also worth a visit- packed with interesting things to do, see and taste. For more ideas on what to do in Helsingor, have a look at this post.

3. Odense

This university town is pronounced ‘O-ence’. If you really want to sound Danish, then locals advised me to imagine having a hot potato in your mouth when saying anything!

Odense is only 1.5 hours by train from Copenhagen, making it a wonderful day trip destination. However, the city is so enchanting I’d recommend staying at least one night. There’s a meandering river, beautiful parks and a relaxed, picturesque old town. Odense is also the birth place of Hans Christian Anderson, with several museums and monuments dedicated to him throughout the city.

 

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Tip:  Scandinanvian countries have retained their own currencies over the Euro. While most places accept cards, places like markets and smaller cafes only accept cash, so it’s a good idea to get some out from the ATM upon arrival. 

Helsingør: a Perfect Day Trip from Copenhagen

Possibly my favourite experience in Denmark was a day trip to Helsingør. The picturesque coastal town is home to Kronberg castle- Shakespeare’s inspiration for Hamlet, and a beautiful old town which feels remarkably peaceful after Copenhagen’s busy streets.

One my favourite experiences in Denmark was a day trip to Helsingør, or Elsinore in English. A train from Copenhagen to Helsingør takes around 40 minutes and will set you back 15€ (100 Danish Krone) each way.

This picturesque coastal town is home to Kronberg Castle– Shakespeare’s inspiration for Hamlet. Helsingør also boasts a beautiful old town, which feels remarkably peaceful after Copenhagen’s busy streets. Large green-topped churches provide a pretty backdrop for the skyline.

A relatively new addition to the town is the Culture Yard which houses a superb library, cafes, communal spaces, a rooftop lookout and many events both. The center is located next to the restored harbour area. At the back of the Yard you’ll find an indoor/outdoor food market with a large range of delicious food and drink.

Here are some of my photos from this wonderful day trip

 

The Old Town

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The Harbour

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My kind of place
My kind of place

 

 

 

The Culture Yard

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Kronberg Castle

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If you’re looking for other day trips from Copenhagen, why not visit the beautiful town of Odense- famed as the birth place of Hans Christian Andersen. Find out more here.