Story and photos by Megan Kudla
The biggest cities in Europe are oftentimes the most convenient to fly into and to build travel itineraries around. There’s a host of information to find when researching your trip, including hotels, sites, and tours. Munich, Germany, is one of these key places that tourists look to book for a few days when taking a European journey. And it’s a great city for history and art buffs, as some of the main sites include royal residences.
There are plenty of palaces to visit by walking or taking a short train ride from Munich’s Marienplatz (the main square); however, a trip to the countryside to see castles built into the Bavarian Alps can also be a perfect way to break up your time spent in the big city and to learn about the history of the larger area. We’ll start with the palaces most easily reached from the Munich city center, and then move to those that are probably best to drive to.
By Foot or Train
From 1508 to 1918, the Residenz München was the official home of the Wittelsbach family dynasty: the dukes, electors, and kings of Bavaria. Located in Old Town and just a 5-minute walk from Marienplatz, you’ll find that it’s one of the most easily accessible sites if you’re staying in the historic center of Munich.
The palace hosts a dizzying maze of rooms upon rooms—antechambers, galleries, places of worship—of elegant design in the Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical styles, according to the tastes of the late rulers. Much was destroyed in the 1945 bombings during World War II, but it has been reconstructed to what you see today. Although some of the furnishings were saved, many were remade to authentically resemble what it would have been.
Your journey to see the tapestries, furniture, and grand art is self-paced. You can get a singular ticket to tour the royal rooms, or you can purchase a combination ticket that includes entrance into the royal treasury exhibition and the Cuvilliés Theatre.
One of the most popular sites to visit in Munich, the Schloss Nymphenburg, began its construction in 1664 as the Bavarian electors’ summer residence. The grounds are expansive, so a trip here could take up as much as a half to a whole day, depending on how much time you wish to spend wandering the acres of residence and park. It’s fewer than 30 minutes away from the Marienplatz by public transit.
Like the Residenz München, you can purchase separate tickets to each museum and site, or you can purchase a combination ticket. The combination ticket will get you entrance into the palace rooms, the Marstallmuseum (where you can see the original royal carriages and sleighs of the past), the Museum of Nymphenburg Porcelain (where you learn about how the secret of Chinese porcelain came to Germany), and the park palaces.
The park palaces are worth noting. They are spread out across the grounds but, if you’re up for it, can add up to quite a nice day walking around and exploring. Each park palace had a different function and design, so the buildings you enter will give you even more of a look into the extravagant life of the royal family.
Ready to get out into the Bavarian countryside? A popular day trip, and one that’s easy to find group tours of, is the ride to Neuschwanstein Castle near Füssen and the Linderhof Palace in Ettal. Group tours can be as large as 40 people in a big bus. You can also get smaller tours that are capped at 20 people, which, of course, will cost a bit extra, but will give you a more intimate relationship with the tour guide and the fellow travelers. Or, you can opt to map it out yourself. Just ensure you grab tickets ahead of time, as there are timed entries for these popular German castles.
Around a 2-hour drive from the Munich city center, Schloss Neuschwanstein is often known as the “Sleeping Beauty” or “Cinderella” castle, as this is the famous structure that inspired Walt Disney’s depictions of the iconic Disney World and Disneyland main castles. Although the Schloss Neuschwanstein is medieval-looking, it wasn’t actually built during that era. King Ludwig II of Bavaria was simply inspired in 1869 to build his lofty castle in the medieval style. It actually has a state-of-the-art kitchen with the newest technology, including a stove and roasting oven with a plate warmer.
The story goes that castle construction did not go as quickly and smoothly as the young king had hoped—plus, it got rather cold living there in the winter—so he focused his attention on the creation of the Linderhof Palace for his winter residence. Therefore, the Neuschwanstein Castle tour only takes you through the two upper levels; the palace is largely unfinished. What you do get to see is still mind-blowing, with wall murals depicting medieval scenes, ceilings that seem to tower over you forever, and artistic odes to his favorite composer, Richard Wagner.
The location is right across the way from his father’s castle—Prince Maximilian II’s Schloss Hohenschwangau, where Ludwig grew up and which he cherished dearly. You can also visit the Hohenschwangau Castle, but note that it involves some steep steps to reach.
When Ludwig put his fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle on pause, construction of the Schloss Linderhof—just a one-hour drive away from Neuschwanstein—went into full swing. This palace was the only one that was completed during his lifetime. He was largely inspired by Versailles and King Louis XIV of France, otherwise known as the Sun King, and you will see obvious nods to the French king as soon as you walk into the palace. As Ludwig II’s winter home, you can almost imagine snow falling and Ludwig riding through the land on his royal sled at nightfall…
As with the Neuschwanstein Castle, you cannot take pictures on the inside. And it can take a lot to describe the grandeur of the rooms in this palace. The rooms feel smaller and give off a cozier feel, but there’s nothing quaint about the rococo decor. You will find yourself surrounded by objects of great worth and artistic merit, as well as walls and ceilings that are gilded in gold. There is even a “magic table” that could rise and lower from the king’s quarters down into a room where servants, staying unseen, filled His Majesty’s table with meals.
No less thought went into the Linderhof gardens and park, and especially not the fountain that graces the front of the palace. Every 30 minutes, you’ll get the chance to see water rush up into the air, reaching above 70 feet high. It’s quite an impressive sight.
Ready to Explore!
To ensure you don’t feel rushed, give these four German palaces and castles at least a full 3 days to explore. There are many other sites in Munich to pair with a day visiting the Residenz München, too, because Marienplatz offers markets, churches, biergartens, the nearby Englischer Garten, and more. You’ll find that although Munich is a modern city, it also grants you the opportunity to take a step backward in time to learn about Bavaria’s past.