By Erick Widman
If you’re going to spend a lot of time and money traveling overseas with your family, it’s probably best to plan a trip that pleases both young and old. There’s a happy middle ground between serious art museums that satisfy the parents and sugar-focused amusement parks that thrill the kids.
Just like a good movie from Pixar, a good family vacation can and should be enjoyable for all ages. The bucket list trip that my family has in mind is to do a “Knights and Maidens” tour of the major German castles in the southern part of the country.
Why Southern German Castles?
It’s true there are stunning castles throughout Europe, but probably the biggest and best group of them are in Bavaria, southern Germany. These castles were built fairly recently—many in the 1800s—which makes them better preserved and pleasing to see.
Car fans know that “Bavaria” is the “B” in “BMW.” Rather than all the nice automobiles, though, what struck my wife and I most about a prior (pre-kids) trip to Bavaria was the region’s natural beauty. The brilliant mountains, dark green forests, amazing lakes, and hiking trails made us want to extend our time there. So we feel confident that the trip would be a success even if we didn’t see any castles and simply hiked around the area–but by adding in the German castles, satisfaction for one and all is guaranteed.
We like the idea of taking at least a week to see nine castles located throughout Bavaria. After flying into Munich, we would head down to the town of Fussen, just north of the border with Austria. Many people choose to stay at a nearby lake: the gorgeous Hopfen am See.
Then we’d start things off with a bang by seeing the castle reckoned by experts as the most beautiful in the world: Neuschwanstein Castle. Its name is challenging for English speakers to say, but young and old alike will appreciate its architecture and stunning setting in the mountains. Walt Disney was inspired by this structure in particular as the model for his iconic Disneyland castle.
We’d then visit the nearby Schloss Hohenschwangau, which was the childhood residence of King Ludwig and the inspiration for the construction of Neuschwanstein.
Zugspitze Mountain And Schloss Linderhof Castle
Since we would be fairly close to Germany’s highest mountain, Zugspitze, we’ll seize the opportunity to ascend it while we’re in the area. So we’ll drive down further south and stop at Garmisch, a resort town near Zugspitze.
Our ultimate destination today is the Schloss Linderhof castle, but first we’ll take a cable car up to the top of Zugspitze to enjoy the incredible 10,000-foot view.
Supremely invigorated by the view, we’d then head back to the area around Fussen and enjoy a visit to the majestic Schloss Linderhof castle, which is nestled deep in the forest. King Ludwig was inspired by the France’s Versailles castle when he had this one built. Linderhof is the smallest of Ludwig’s three castles, and some would say it feels quaint and cozy in comparison.
Ludwig’s Huge Castle on an Island
King Ludwig clearly had good taste. When he combined this with nearly unlimited resources, he ended up with his largest castle: Herrenchiemsee. This castle is located on an island in the middle of Bavaria’s largest body of water—Lake Chiemsee, southeast of Munich. Due to its extensive grounds and surrounding palace buildings, you can also see the influence that Versailles had on it.
How to Keep this Trip Exciting for the Kids
At this point, you’ll want to have already decided if you’d like to keep seeing more castles in the area. Bavaria has several more that are truly architectural marvels but your kids may be ready for a change. This could be to simply hike in the woods, stroll through a village, or spice things up in the city. However, our plan–in order to keep our kids’ endurance levels up–is to help them get interested in the history and architecture of the castles before the trip starts.
By understanding the main players in the area, the names “King Ludwig” and “King Maximillian” will not just sound like more “blah blah blah” in their ears. By going back even further in history and learning about knights, armor, battles, and chivalry throughout Europe, this trip will be an inspiring one that the entire family remembers forever.