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What You'll See at the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg

The Imperial Castle of Nuremberg sitting on its hill with the odd juxtaposition of a modern parking lot in front of a medieval castle

Although the sun was shining brightly, it was bitterly cold as we walked up the steady incline towards the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg. When we reached the base of the castle, a parking lot stood just before it, posing an odd juxtaposition of modern and medieval. We were early, the castle hadn’t opened yet, but there were still school groups already posing for group photos in the frost bitten castle gardens. I admired their youthful daring as they leapt onto craggy rocks for selfies. I was timidly walking on the inclined cobblestones, wondering where the handrail was.

What You'll See at the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg | Double-Headed Imperial Eagle Ceiling Mural

Heathen Tower and Stables from the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

Inner Courtyard & Kunigunden Lime Tree
Sebastian and I were hoping that perhaps the ticket area had a heated waiting area, and ventured in towards the castle’s inner courtyard. After all these years, Germany’s castles still make my jaw drop. I was torn between wanting to take pictures while there were few tourists in the viewfinder, and wanting to find heat. We found the inner courtyard and saw several other like minded couples sitting on frozen benches looking at the Kunigunden lime tree 3.0. The original tree was replaced in 1934, but that planting did not have enough space for the roots between the rocks, and the current tree was planted a few years ago.

The Kunigunden Lime Tree in the Inner Court of the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

The Legend of the Kunigunden Lime Tree
“The Empress Kunigunde planted it, says the legend, some seven hundred years ago. For once, when King Henry was a-hunting, he came in the pursuit of a deer to the edge of a steep precipice, and this in the heat of the chase he did not perceive, but would have fallen headlong had not a lime-branch, at which he grasped in his extremity, stopped and saved him. And he, recognising the special protection of the Most High, broke off a twig of the lime-tree in remembrance of his wonderful preservation, and brought it to his anxious wife, who planted it at once with her own hands in the earth, and it soon grew into a beautiful tree.” Excerpt From: Cecil Headlam’s “The Story of Nuremberg,” published in 1901 and available for free as part of The Gutenberg Project, click here.

Always punctual, an elderly German gentleman walks slowly with keys jingling in hand towards the ticket office. Our cold colleagues started to gather behind him. We bought our tickets, and went back out to the inner courtyard to enter through the Knight’s Hall. It was an expansive stone room devoid of furniture. On the wall with the windows overlooking Nuremberg, there was a moving illustrated border wallpaper of the imperial processional. I looked around and wondered how we would get into the next exhibit, as the only door in the hall was so impressive and authentic looking there was no way it was intended for our use. It receded into the wall with a pointed arch, and being at the top of a few steps it seemed so tiny. All around the door frame was a gothic mural of Emperors on either side, and Christ on the cross over the top of the arch. When someone else reached for the door handle, I still hung back, suspicious an alarm would sound. Instead, only an obnoxious squeak from the hinges and a smiling attendant greeted them from the other side of the door.

The Romanesque Double Chapel in the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

Double Chapel
The door opened to the double chapel, the lower level. It's in the Romanesque style and survived the bombings of WWII for the most part. Graceful, simple columns connect the two levels, the lower for the court, and the upper for the Emperor. You can even peek down below your feet into St. Margaret’s Chapel. It wasn’t accessible to tour. In the back corner we found a stone staircase to continue up to the Emperor's level of the Chapel.

The Dining Hall now has modern exhibits explaining the Holy Roman Empire in the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

Imperial Hall and Apartment
The next room was by far my favorite. They allocated the space that was the original dining hall for the Emperor and lengthened it an additional third and created a wonderful and modern interactive exhibit space that explains how the Emperors were elected in the Holy Roman Empire. It always seemed a contradiction to me that Emperors were elected, and not inherited. The German lands are unique compared to the United Kingdom and France in this aspect. This exhibit really brought the distinction to clarity to me. Do you understand how Emperors were elected? Let us know in the comments. We may do a post about the process in the future.

Imperial Castle Museum, a branch of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum
After going through a few more smaller rooms of the Imperial Apartment, we stepped into the Bowery. Here was endless artifacts from history, coins, toys, weapons, armor, shields (with deflection marks!), a throne chair, and more.

Suit of armor of a member of the patrician family Rieter, end of the 16th century, on display in the Imperial Castle Museum, a branch of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany

Sinwell Tower & Deep Well
If you’re not opposed to steps or heights, definitely climb Sinwell Tower. The view of Nuremberg is fantastic, and they have black and white photos of how the city looked after WWII for comparison.

The Sinwell Tower and its beautiful views of Nuremberg | Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

For the Deep Well, you visit with a guide at assigned times, and yes it is more than a really deep hole in the ground. The guide pours water down the well so you can hear how long it takes for the water to splash. Then the guide lowers a candle all the way to the bottom with a video camera all while sharing the history of the well. It was really interesting and definitely worth the time.

Planning Your Trip to the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg
To do everything, tickets are 7 Euros. You can choose your own adventure and visit for less. Walking through the courtyards and gardens is free. Audio guides are an additional 2 Euros. Prices subject to change. Be sure to check the website for the most up to date prices and hours.
Imperial Castle of Nuremberg Admission Prices
Imperial Castle of Nuremberg Opening Hours
Printable English Brochure

View of the Heathen Tower and Inner Court of the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, Germany

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The Sweet You Have To Try in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Beautiful, tempting, delicious Schneeballen...another reason to love Rothenburg, Germany!

No trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber is complete without a Schneeballen. This dessert is slightly bigger than a baseball and traditionally covered with confectioner's sugar. If you put enough sugar on, it looks like a snowball - hence the name Schneeballen. Tastes much better than a snowball though.. The Schneeballen have been tempting die-hard sugar fans for over 300 years in several parts of Bavaria. The origin story of the Schneeballen is unknown, but we do know they were originally baked for special occasions only, such as weddings or baptisms. Today you can buy Schneeballen all year round, many of them pre-packaged in gift boxes in Rothenburg, ready for you to share them with your loved ones. While Schneeballen are best eaten fresh, we were told that they have a shelf-life of about 8 weeks at room temperature.

How to Make a Schneeballen

The Schneeballen gets its wavy-ball-like shape from strips of shortcrust pastry that is alternately folded over a stick. Next, a quick 4-minute dunk in the fryer, then cover with a topping of your choice, not limited to confectioner's sugar. We spotted them dusted in cinnamon, chocolate or coconut flakes, and even filled with lemon or hazelnut cream at different stores all over Rothenburg. For those of you who would like to create a Schneeballen at home, here is a recipe, courtesy of Bavaria Tourismus.

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Schloss Nymphenburg and the Generations of Stories

Schloss Nymphenburg, a family vacation home with stories to tell • German Travel Blog Tourist is a Dirty Word

Seeing the tiny, child-size chair and kid's table in the Queen’s room made the palace feel like a home rather than an ongoing museum. That chair and table was once King Ludwig II’s when he was a child. Generation after generation, ultimately this palace, Schloss Nymphenburg, is a family vacation home with many stories to tell.

It was a Sunday morning during Oktoberfest, and we chose to visit Schloss Nymphenburg out of a dizzying array of choices because it felt like it had a little bit of everything; art, history, architecture, and gardens. We had the entire morning to visit the palace and gardens, but to see everything including the pavilion interiors and not be rushed, allow for a full day.

The Great Hall
We entered the Palace through the Great Hall, and the sight of the vaulted ceiling and accompanying gold-gilded stucco work simply took my breath away. When I see such historic, beautiful architecture still existing in person, my eyes tend to water with joy. Yep. I’m that girl, getting all misty-eyed looking at art.

The ceiling was huge, technically two stories since on one side there was a staircase that went up a level to also overlook the hall. I looked at Sebastian, and he knew what was about to happen. I needed to stare at this ceiling, agog in wonder, for a healthy 10 minutes, and take fifty photos or so of various angles before moving on. The stunning ceiling fresco was the work of Johann Baptist Zimmermann, his son Franz Michael, and Martin Heigl between 1755-1757 under Max III Joseph’s rule. The Great Hall has remarkably remained unchanged and preserved as an authentic Rococo room since 1758.

Great Hall, preserved rococo room, Nymphenburg Palace, Munich • Germany Travel Blog Tourist is a Dirty Word

Ten Minutes Later...
We start our way through the wings of the castle, and its immediately ‘choose your own adventure’ as rooms broke off into other rooms and we weren’t sure if we’d end up missing something by accident or going around in circles.

One thing that stood out to me was how often paintings of the palace itself showed up in frames on the wall. It was as if the palace was a family pet that had numerous photos of its antics over the years. The truth is, they needed to constantly paint the palace in order to remember what it looked like. Every generation left their mark on the palace and its design. Many of the furnishings were original or of the time of the palace, often filled with portraits of previous homeowners looking back at you while you’re looking at their belongings and collections.

Nymphenburg Palace Paintings, Munich • Germany Travel Blog Tourist is a Dirty Word

Nymphenburg Palace Bedrooms, Munich • Germany Travel Blog Tourist is a Dirty Word

King Ludwig I Gallery of Beauties
When I asked Sebastian what stood out in his memory of the palace, he immediately said the Gallery of Beauties. In the dining room of the Queen’s apartment, the Gallery of Beauties is displayed, a collection of 35 paintings by Joseph Stielier as a commission of King Ludwig I. They were all beautiful ladies, but from all different walks of life, and not necessarily German. The ladies’ wit, personality, and virtue must also be ideal to be included.

King Ludwig I's Gallery of Beauties, Nymphenburg Palace, Munich • Germany Travel Blog Tourist is a Dirty Word

King Ludwig was wholly involved in the project, and out of fourteen ladies nominated by the artist, the King would choose one. His step-mother nominated Elise List, and his wife Therese nominated and convinced Miss Erskine to be a part of the collection. The king would be present during the portrait sittings with Stielier and even direct the outfits. He hand selected and purchased the traditional Bavarian costume for the master shoemaker’s daughter Helene Sedelmayer. Ultimately his friendship with one of his ‘beauties’ would result in his abdication from the throne. If this is interesting for you, I have the perfect book recommendation: King Ludwig I's Gallery of beauties (affiliate link)

It took us several hours to visit all of the accessible rooms in the palace. After concluding our palace visit, we took a leisurely stroll through the park.

Nymphenburg Palace Flowers and Outdoor Lamps, Munich • Germany Travel Blog Tourist is a Dirty Word

Nymphenburg Palace, Munich • Germany Travel Blog Tourist is a Dirty Word

Park Pavilions
Schloss Nymphenburg was the ‘I want to get away from it all’ recluse for the ruler of Bavaria. It was a 2-hour carriage ride from the Munich residence. When you want to escape, reflect, or relax, you’ll need gardens, baths, and sports to unwind with. Over time, the palace grounds provided all of that through numerous pavilions; Amalienburg hunting lodge, the Badenburg bath house, Magdalenenklause for spiritual solace, and Pagodenburg for resting between outdoor games. You’ll need a combination ticket to get inside the pavilions, but to see the outside of them it's part of the public park. We knew we wouldn’t have time to visit inside, but we still wanted to visit the grounds and get an idea how big the park was.

Well, it turns out it's pretty big, and we got lost! Ha! We were trying to hunt down the Monopteros by the lake, and our direct path in our minds turned out to be very roundabout way. We found the Little Village with ‘Green Pump House’ way before we found the picturesque Monopteros. Wear something you can walk comfortably on gravel paths. To explore all of the pavilions you’ll have to walk! To rest up, we had a light lunch Café im Palmenhaus alongside the park before hitting the gift shop for art books on our way out.

Nymphenburg Park and Monopteros, Munich • Germany Travel Blog Tourist is a Dirty Word

Souvenir Recommendations
I chose and whole-heartedly recommend these two:

1. Nymphenburg Palace, Park and Pavilions - Bayerische Schlösserverwaltung. Small but swarthy overview of the building history and room by room descriptions of the objects in each room, including the paintings.

2.King Ludwig I's Gallery of beauties (affiliate link) by Gerhard Hojer which reproduced all 36, including the 1 lost portrait painting, with several essays as well as biographies of each of the ladies. I knew it would have all the details I needed and didn’t have time to read in the exhibit. This book may be best served buying in advance of your trip and reading before you go. The biographies on the ladies’ alone are fascinating.

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Touring Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle Travel Tips and Recommendations • Germany Travel Blog Tourist is a Dirty Word

“If you get up early, you will have more of the day,” he’d tell me. My grandpa, lovingly called Opa, was always on my case when I slept in until noon during my teenage years. I gave him, at best, a weary smile.

When we planned a family visit to Neuschwanstein Castle, Opa exhorted us to leave early, right after sunrise. My navigation app forecasted about 4 hours of driving, which Opa would cut to a little over 3 hours. He has a heavy right foot. I did not know it yet, but this time I was relieved that I listened and got up as early as I did.

Construction and Tragedy

Neuschwanstein Castle (Schloss Neuschwanstein) in southern Bavaria is without a doubt the most visited German castle with more than one million visitors every year. The castle was built for King Ludwig II on a rugged hill within a short walking distance from nearby Hohenschwangau castle, the summer residence of the royal family. Construction started on September 5, 1869 and was mostly finished 17 years later in 1886. King Ludwig II moved into his castle for the first time in 1884, where he only spent eleven nights from May 27 until June 08 before drowning on June 13. To this day it is unclear if his death was suicide, an accident, or murder.

Inspiring Walt Disney

One of the biggest ironies of Neuschwanstein is that the castle was built to be a private refuge on a high hill, but now hosts up to 6,000 tourists per day. The unique and breathtaking location paired with the sheer size of the castle, makes for a fantastic, magical sight. Even Walt Disney could not resist and used Neuschwanstein as inspiration for his Cinderella castle at his theme parks.

Neuschwanstein Castle Panorama and Through the Trees • Germany Travel Blog Tourist is a Dirty Word

Getting the Postcard Photo

I still remember the cool and partly foggy morning when we arrived at the foot of the castle and my Opa walked up to the will-call counter and returned only a couple of minutes later smiling with tickets for all of us in his hand. I think he enjoyed the fact that he had been to the castle before and could be our tour guide.

And a great tour guide he was, leading us up the hill onto the Marienbrücke (Queen Mary's Bridge). This bridge is THE viewing platform with a great view of Neuschwanstein and I highly recommend not to miss the view from there. Here is a picture of us on the Marienbrücke, but a picture does not do the view justice. Underneath your feet you will hear a waterfall crashing down the rock walls into a gorge, making it quite “an experience” for someone who is afraid of heights, like me.

Marienbrucke path sign • Germany Travel Blog Tourist is a Dirty Word

The Marienbrücke is currently closed until Summer 2016. If you still want a great picture and don’t mind a little adventure hiking into unmarked territory, check out this blog post from Justin Goes Places.

After we enjoyed the view and exhausted all of our photo ideas from the Marienbrücke, we wandered up to Neuschwanstein Castle and waited about 10 minutes in a courtyard crowded with others waiting for their entrance time to show up on a digital screen.

Neuschwanstein Castle Facade • Germany Travel Blog Tourist is a Dirty Word

Neuschwanstein Castle Gate House and Tegelberg • Germany Travel Blog Tourist is a Dirty Word

Neuschwanstein Castle Gate House • Germany Travel Blog Tourist is a Dirty Word

Neuschwanstein Castle Courtyard, Ladies Bower and Knights Building • Germany Travel Blog Tourist is a Dirty Word

Our Guided Tour of Neuschwanstein

We met the guide who took us through the 14 finished rooms. The original plans for Neuschwanstein had more than 200 rooms planned, but Ludwig died before finishing them. The half hour tour went fast. The timing was down to the minute, and by the time we entered the next room, the group ahead was just leaving.

Early Bird Gets the Worm, or Opa is Usually Right

After the tour we walked down the hill again and as we got closer to the Welcome Center ticket counters, where Opa had no problem getting tickets earlier, we were amazed to see hundreds of people standing and waiting. More than a dozen buses had pulled up, unloading more people and at that moment I was very thankful that Opa made sure we arrived early and avoid as many crowds as we could.

So, is Neuschwanstein very touristy?

Yes, definitely. Easily the most touristy-experience I’ve ever had in Germany.

Should you skip it?

Definitely not, but go early and be prepared for crowds already in the late morning.

Neuschwanstein Castle Travel Tips

Here are 8 more tips and resources to help you plan your ideal visit to Neuschwanstein Castle:

1.You must buy your tickets in advance! Pick a date and time to visit and reserve tickets in advance here. That way you can skip the ticket purchase line and go directly to the will call counter, both located at the foot of the hill. Don’t go up to the castle expecting to buy a ticket there – you can’t. Tickets can be bought up until two days before. Tours run every 5 minutes and when you reserve your tickets online, you also reserve your tour language and tour time. Tours take about 30-35 minutes.

2. Check the weather and dress accordingly. You will be outside walking up and down a hill in order to get to the castle, so be prepared for lots of steps and some steeper trails. The walk takes about 20-40 minutes each way depending on your stride. Besides walking you can also take a horse drawn carriage or a bus. Both will be packed with people, so do not expect a romantic carriage ride up the hill with your loved one. You can not reserve the bus or carriage in advance. Also, neither the bus nor the carriage will take you all the way up to the entrance due to the tight space up there. Your walking time will be cut from 20-40 minutes to 10-15 by taking a bus or carriage.

3. If you arrive early, make sure to go onto the Marienbrücke before you go to the castle. Enjoy the grand view from there and catch your breath before going uphill again. The bridge will only get more and more crowded as the day goes on.

4. Bring small change for parking, restroom use, and or bus/carriage transportation up to the castle.

5. Backpacks, child carriers, and any bulky objects are not allowed to be taken onto the tour, and there are no lockers available at the castle. Leave them in the car or at your hotel.

6. No photography is allowed inside the Neuschwanstein castle. If you’re not passionate about photography, travel light: a decent mobile phone camera will suffice since you can only take outdoor photos anyway. You can see some of the rooms and a view from the Marienbrücke in this video from Rick Steves:

7. Here is an overview map of the Neuschwanstein Castle walking time estimates and bus/carriage pickup spots. Print this before you go and you’ll be a step ahead of the crowd.

Overview map of the Neuschwanstein Castle Walking Time Estimates and Bus/Carriage Pickup spots

8. Listen to this episode from Denise’s favorite podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class which includes an explanation of Ludwig’s trap door dining table.

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Thank you For Reading! Denise & Sebastian | Photo by Irene Fiedler