While planning our three-week trip through Germany for December, we knew we had to include Neuschwanstein Castle in our itinerary. We love castles and this is THE castle to see – especially with a snowy backdrop. So, we added it to our route and decided to base our trip out of the nearby Bavarian town of Füssen. But funny enough, we were so impressed by everything else this beautiful area had to offer that Neuschwanstein was far from our favorite part. Our winter visit to Füssen was filled with beautiful outdoor vistas, interesting stories from the past, and so much baroque wonderfulness we were constantly picking our jaws up off the floor.
This more than 700-year-old town at the edge of the Alps is the southernmost point of Germany’s famous Romantic Road (which starts in Würzburg) and is also just a short trip from Münich. Pair that with a fairy-tale castle nearby and that makes it a top destination for tourists. However, it is a shame that many probably miss some of its most wonderful offerings – like the amazing Heritage Museum! Luckily, we had a fantastic guide to give us all the best tips and a thorough education of Füssen’s interesting history.
Walking Tour of Füssen
We were immediately taken aback by the beauty of the small town of Füssen, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and filled with beautiful buildings. It has a very medieval feel to it, with its Gothic-style houses and town wall. But it is also home to multiple baroque churches and other architecturally wonderful places.
After checking into our lovely hotel, we met with our wonderful local guide, Renate Carré. She grew up in the area, speaks fantastic English, and has thousands of interesting facts and stories about this part of Bavaria stored in her brain. Spending a few hours with her was the perfect way to begin our trip, and get a true taste of what Füssen has to offer. We usually just wander on our own, but will be seeking out a guide much more often after our wonderful experience with her! (You can inquire about booking a tour by contacting the tourism office by email.)
As we walked to our first destination, she told us about Emperor Maximilian I and how his love for the city – visiting about 40 times – really helped Füssen gain popularity. Renate also told us that the road we were waking on was once part of the route of an ancient Roman road – the Via Claudia Augusta. Some people tour the area by walking or cycling the route themselves, which begins in Italy. Maybe next time! 😉
Füssen Heritage Museum
The first stop of our tour ended up being one of our favorite places from our trip. Located inside St. Mang Abbey with its baroque rooms and beautiful art, this museum was unlike any other we’ve been to. Usually, it would have been closed during our visit due to limited winter hours. But the fantastic people we worked with through Füssen Tourism to plan and share our trip were able to get Renate special access. While we would have loved the Heritage Museum in normal circumstances, this private tour made it even more of a magical place!
As we walked through the quiet, empty halls, Renate pointed out important displays or artwork and made sure to take us to the most impressive places.
The Most Beautiful Library You May Ever See
Our favorite part of the tour by far was getting to see the library. We first got a glimpse of it from the refectory below, where the Benedictine monks who used to live in the Abbey would eat. Usually, music would be played in the library above or someone would read aloud to them.
And once we ventured our way into the library, we were in complete awe. It looked gorgeous from below, but this was probably the most strikingly beautiful place we had ever stepped foot in (so far). We had seen baroque architecture before, but this Rococo version was so much lighter and just filled us with joy. We could have stayed there all day.
Other Striking Places
However, I’m glad we moved on to enjoy some of the other beautiful areas of the museum. One of those gems was the stunning Prince’s Hall, where musical concerts are still held today. Here Renate pointed out some of the symbolism in the artwork. The monks were extremely scholarly and imparted that knowledge in the artwork they had commissioned. The entire world was explained through the symbolism above us and little details began to spring out the more we stared.
Another stand-out place was the Chapel of St. Anne. While not as elaborate as the library by any means, it is home to an interesting and haunting famous piece of art.
On the wall hangs the Dance of the Death, painted by Jakob Hiebeler in 1602. While many versions of this exist, this is the oldest of its kind still preserved in Bavaria. They were used to warn and explain the dangers of the plague, to make sure no one thought they were immune. The note above translates to: “Say Yes, Say No, Everyone Has to Dance.” Eery.
As we walked through the various exhibits, Renate explained that Füssen was once included along an important trade route, however, the town actually went through many years of poverty as well. While the lives of the monks were filled with strict rules, life in the abbey was actually much cushier than outside where people were struggling to survive. Eventually, tourism became the main income stream due to castles nearby and still is today.
One of the most memorable museum exhibits that showed an interesting look into Füssen’s past was the lute and violin area. These stringed instruments actually gained recognition for the city in the 15th and 16th centuries, since Füssen was filled with craftsman at the time. At one point, the town of only 2,000 at the time had up to 20 lute master craftsman – giving it the nickname ‘The Cradle of Lute Making.’ Later, the craftsman migrated to make shops elsewhere.
We also passed by a portion of the building that showed the original exposed walls. Love that the museum included this! Overall, the museum’s archaeological finds, art, and architecture make up 1000 years of history. And they do such a great job displaying it all.
While the museum visit was the highlight of our tour, it was far from the end. As we tried to wrap our heads around the beauty and history we were just exposed to, Renate guided us up the hill to the High Castle. Looming above the city, this beautiful place was once the summer residence of the Lord Bishops of Augsburg. Now, the castle houses artwork from Gothic and Renaissance periods.
It’s most unique feature is the 500-year-old illusion paintings covering the outside. The budget didn’t include ornate architectural pieces, so they had them painted on! It really is gorgeous and was very ahead of its time.
St. Mang’s Church
Created by Füssen architect for baroque style, Johann Jakob Herkomer in the 9th century, St. Mang’s Church is another can’t-miss stop on a tour of Füssen. And it is one of the only churches where you will see dragons!
According to legend, Saint Magnus defeated dragons – which seem to be seen as symbolism for paganism, since he brought Christianity to the land. Renate explained that the dragons holding the candles are facing away, like they are being forced to be there.
While there, she also mentioned it would be worth our time to visit nearby Weiskirche as well. As you’ll read later, this was a grand success!
Before the sun’s light faded (earlier than usual, due to the time of year), we walked around town to take in some of the most picturesque views. Renate showed us one of her favorite spots, across the bridge from the Heritage Museum.
With the snow-topped mountains in the Alps and nearby Austria towering above us, an ice-cold river below us, and a stunning old city in front of us, we could see why this is a popular photo opp.
Up the road a little bit, is another great spot for photos – Lechfall. Renate gave us this tip, which we followed up on the next day. What a gorgeous stop!
And in the warmer months, it is also close to an awesome tree-top walk that gives stunning views of the river below and surrounding scenery. Just another excuse to return!
Our route back to our hotel after the tour was through back roads to admire even more of the town’s beautiful architecture. We couldn’t believe how much we had seen and learned in only two hours. Renate truly made our trip one to remember and we loved her company.
A Cozy Night in Füssen
After our tour, we were ready for an early dinner and an early bedtime in preparation for another busy day. We really enjoyed our dinner at Bistro Relax. I highly recommend the käsespätzle – a cheesy, soft noodle dish usually with fried onions on top. It is one of those things you just have to go for while in Germany. And after a cold afternoon of wanderings, I appreciated something that would warm me up and stick to my bones a bit.
Our beautiful room at Hotel Sclosskrone was a welcome sight at the end of the day! We loved getting to stay in this nice and centrally located spot while visiting Füssen. Bonus points for having a garage to park our car, so that we didn’t have to scrape the windows in the morning! And the kind staff was more than helpful whenever we had a question.
They also have two on-site restaurants, a spa, and WiFi – the true key to a digital nomad’s heart. But the champagne breakfast buffet had to be our favorite. It was great to fill up on goodies, scrambled eggs, and lots of coffee before we set out. They even had a chocolate fountain for dipping fruit. So classy!
Day Trip to Schwangau Castles
In German, ‘schloss’ means castle. And if you look at a map of the country, you will see a schloss close to any city you may end up. However, the most famous of all the castles in the country – and maybe even in the whole world – is Neuschwanstein. Luckily, Füssen is the perfect base for visiting this nearby castle and its predecessor, Hohenschwangau. Both are only a few miles away in nearby Schwangau, known as ‘The King’s Nook’.
It is difficult to get tickets to Neuschwanstein Castle online since they book out so early. So, we got up bright and early to have breakfast and be at the ticket center in Schwangau before it even opened. Even though we weren’t visiting in busy season, there was still a chance we would miss this bucket-list experience if we couldn’t snag tickets early enough!
However, we picked up our tickets for an English guided tour with no problems before heading out to see our first castle of the day. Since we were already there, the combo ticket which included both castles and a visit to the Museum of the Bavarian Kings made the most sense (at about €30 each) – and made for a busy day!
Hohenschwangau was built as a summer residence by King Maximilian II (King Ludwig II’s father) in 1832 using the ruins of a previous version of the castle. This scenic castle overlooking the beautiful Lake Alpsee was where Ludwig spent much of his childhood.
From the main parking area near the ticket center, it is only a 10- to 20-minute walk up the hill to Hohenschwangau Castle. Just make sure to use the restroom before leaving, since the one at the castle may not be open when you arrive.
After a short up the hill, we wandered through the gift shop before our tour began. Our tour guide was fantastic – she took her time on our 40-minute tour, answered the many random questions thrown at her, and told us all sorts of fun little details. We loved that original furniture was still available to view and how over-the-top it all was. Even the paintings on the walls are originals and have not been restored, except for in a few places. (No pictures were allowed though, so you’ll have to just imagine!)
We learned about various fairy tale stories depicted throughout the castle, as well as how the real-life people lived. More so than Neuschwanstein, this tour really gave us a feel for what it was like to live there – like the ridiculous amount of gifts visitors brought. We really enjoyed learning that the stars in the ceiling over the bed were lit by reflecting candlelight from the room above. How very royal!
Construction on the “New Castle” commenced in 1869 by art-loving King Ludwig II, but he sadly never saw it completed. Even so, this fairytale castle is probably on every Disney-lovers list – us included. It just looks so magical perched on the hill, surrounded by mountains. Who wouldn’t want to see inside?
To get to Neuschwanstein, we had yet another hill to climb – this time steeper and longer. It took us about 30 minutes. But we made sure to get there extra early, since our time slot was only good for five minutes before we missed our tour! Luckily, we met another couple from the U.S. and enjoyed talking with them while we waited.
While excited to finally be beneath those tall towers, the best views of the outside of the castle are from further away or at Mary’s Bridge (which was closed due to the icy conditions on our trip).
No pics were allowed inside. And this tour did seem to move much faster with less time for questions. However, it was still very beautiful and interesting. We went through a cave and a secret door, plus got to admire some great views of the area at the end – where pictures were allowed! But, the history was our favorite part.
The castle is fascinating, and stories around the King even more so. The building of his fairy-tale castles (which also includes Schloss Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee Palace) was supposedly his way of coping with his life – an escape. The castle is decorated in a medieval style with tales from sagas on which the King’s friend Richard Wagner based his work. After being declared insane, King Ludwig II was mysteriously found dead in Lake Starnberg. A few months later, outsiders were finally able to view his castle. After his death, it was renamed Neuschwanstein instead of Castle of the Grail, which Ludwig called it. It is now one of the most visited and photographed buildings in the world!
Bavarian Kings Museum
For a better understanding of the Kings who lived in the castles and other interesting stories about the history and people of the area, we stopped into the Bavarian Kings Museum.
Much of the exhibits centered on the history and myths revolving around one of the oldest dynasties in Europe – the Wittelsbachs. Still around today, it was fascinating to learn about all the ups and downs and drastic changes this family has gone through.
With minds spinning with more than a century of history, we ended our day at a unique burger restaurant called M43 Burger Bar-BQ that gives you free popcorn when you arrive. Then sleep. So much sleep.
Bonus Stop: Weiskirche
Before leaving this gorgeous part of Bavaria, we made a stop at a famous pilgrimage church called Weiskirche. And it is the prettiest place we have ever stepped foot in. EVER.
You would never know it when looking at the outside, but the ornate, other-worldly architecture and artwork in this church are unlike anything we have ever seen. When I opened the door, I actually gasped.
The architect Dominikus Zimmermann, really created something spectacular in this Bavarian Rococo masterpiece. And how special to have a few rare minutes alone there to admire the stunning details. It just fills you to the brim with awe.
Some of the most beautiful places and landscapes we have seen are in or within a short drive of Füssen. I think that makes it more than worthy of a place on your must-see list. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore this area in-depth. It is an amazing Bavarian gem any time of the year.
We would like to thank Füssen Tourism for supporting our trip. As always, all opinions are our own. We really, genuinely fell in love with Füssen.