Castle Neuschwanstein is probably the most famous german castle and one of the country’s most notable landmarks. Located just a few kilometers away from the Austrian border, in a small Bavarian town of Hohenschwangau, this fairy tale castle attracts millions of visitors every year and is on every tourist’s “to see” list. Obviously, this means it has been photographed thousands of times before. So is it even worth going to for photographers? Is it still possible to come up with a unique image of such an iconic location?
I first learned about castle Neuschwanstein years ago, long before I moved to Germany. I knew I definitely wanted to visit it some day, but I never really found myself close enough to justify the travel. As I settled in Stuttgart a year ago though, I realized that the infamous romantic castle is now only a couple hours drive away. So I figured – what the hell? Even if I end up getting the same image as everybody else, it would still be totally worth it. So late September last year we packed our things for a weekend and went to see what the fuzz was all about.
Before you read any further, I should probably mention that as much as I am fascinated by castles, ruins and all things medieval, I’m not a huge fan of castle and palace interiors. Sure, these can be very fancy, but to me it just feels that once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. It’s the external beauty and the surrounding landscape that attract me the most. Given how popular and crowded Neuschwanstein gets, I never even intended to go inside. Instead, my plan was simply to explore the area and see if I can find a composition that has not been shot to death before. So if you’re wondering how the inside looks like or whether the tickets are worth their price, there won’t be any of that info in this article, sorry. On the bright side, if you’re a photographer looking for the details of where to shoot the castle from, you’ve come to the right place, read right on!
There’s three places that I found that offer a great view of Neuschwanstein. The first one is right from the parking lot in Hohenschwangau. Just park your car, grab the long lens and spend five or ten minutes framing the shot. Sounds very easy but beware that if you arrive early in the day, even step one may prove troublesome. With the amount of tourists that visit Neuschwanstein daily finding parking space might be a fun endeavor. One way to avoid this in summer is to come in the evening – visitor hours are only until 6pm, and most of the crowds will quickly dissipate after that. In summer, that’s also a good three hours away from sunset and as a photographer that’s when you want to be there anyway, so you’ll have plenty of time to explore.
Anyway, back to that parking lot photo. Surprisingly, I don’t see a whole lot of images from that point on the web. One reason for that could be that most people don’t have long lenses on their iPhones or just rush straight to the castle. The other – that this composition actually looks rather dull most of the time. It’s really the combination of the time of year and the weather conditions on site at the time of my visit that made it work for me. Bright autumn colors below and the mist swirling behind and above castle created what is likely my favorite image from the trip. I guess the takeaway here is that there is always a photo opportunity, even at the locations as popular and as iconic as this. And hey, I didn’t even have to hike for it!
The second vantage point with a great view of the Neuschwanstein is from the bridge Marienbrücke. There’s two ways to reach it. You can either hop onto a shuttle bus from Füssen that’ll take you all the way up or go on a 20 minute hike uphill. It is a rather steep climb that’ll quickly get you puffing, but totally manageable if you’re in decent shape. There is also a longer route that follows the paved road and is less difficult, but will take 40 minutes to complete. When aiming for sunset, hiking will be the only option since buses won’t be running that late (make sure to check the schedule here).
Marienbrücke bridge is where you get that classical postcard photo of Neuschwanstein from, with the castle right in front of you in all its glory. Absolutely gorgeous, but there’s two things to keep in mind here. First, this place can get extremely crowded, up to a point where setting up a tripod might be a hassle – again, come later in the day for a less stressful experience. And two, there’s not much room for experimenting. You’re pretty much limited by the length of the bridge and will be getting the exact same perspective as everyone else, so the chances of it being unique are somewhat slim. After all, that’s where everyone and their mother take photographs from.
Pretty much your only chance for an original image from this spot is rare or unusual weather. The photo that I got above is in no way unique, but what sets it apart somewhat is once again the fog that was there that day. It does create a certain mood and that makes it stand out a bit. However, this might have easily worked against me as the fog only cleared right before sunset, barely allowing me to get the image. Below is the how the view looked like when we got to the bridge. The mood is certainly there, but it wouldn’t have been a very interesting image, had the weather not changed.
Finally, the last viewpoint I want to talk about is the one that can be most beneficial and lends itself best to that epic sunset photo. I never got to it on my first visit, so you won’t see it in my YouTube video. Most likely, it wouldn’t have been any good that day anyway due to all the mist. But when I came back to Füssen this year on a clear sunny day I made certain I check it out. To get to it, continue past the bridge on a hiking route that goes steadily uphill. This is not an easy trail, so make sure to bring your hiking shoes. Luckily, you only need to follow the path for an additional 20 minutes or so to reach an opening with a marvelous view of the castle below and its surrounding landscape. Be here for sunset and that beautiful photo is yours. Just don’t forget to take the flashlight for the return trip.
A note on drones. Official website states that flying drones is not allowed as Neuschwanstein is located at the border of the protected natural reserve. There is also a sign stating the same as you reach the bridge. It is not, however, mentioned where exactly the border of the protected areas is. All in all, you should not be flying from the bridge, which would be a bad idea anyway. Flying right next to the castle is also a no-go and I’ve read reports of guards being less than appreciative of it. However, checking my go-to site for no-fly zones in Germany, it seems there is some space in between the castle and the hiking trail to the last viewpoint that is in between the natural reserves and where there’s no restrictions. If you launch from there in the direction of the castle, technically you might be in the clear. Whether or not to trust that argument is for you to decide. I’ll just say that if you fly responsibly, you’ll probably be ok, there’s not many people in that area.
So there you have it. I’ll let you be the judge of that, but I think that in every place, no matter how many people visit or photograph it, there’s beautiful images to be had. Just look for the opportunities and they will undoubtedly present themselves. I hope these tips were useful, as always, have a look at my YouTube video about castle Neuschwanstein and its surroundings for more details and let me know in the comments below what’s your experience been in Neuschwanstein? Are you content with getting an image that looks like everyone else’s? Do you wait for unusual weather conditions? Do you avoid coming to such iconic places altogether? Let me know!