Ludwig was notably eccentric in ways that made serving as Bavaria's head of state problematic. He disliked large public functions and avoided formal social events whenever possible, preferring a life of seclusion that he pursued with various creative projects. He last inspected a military parade on 22 August 1875 and last gave a Court banquet on 10 February 1876. His mother had foreseen difficulties for Ludwig when she recorded her concern for her extremely introverted and creative son who spent much time day-dreaming. These idiosyncrasies, combined with the fact that Ludwig avoided Munich and participating in the government there at all costs, caused considerable tension with the king's government ministers, but did not cost him popularity among the citizens of Bavaria. The king enjoyed traveling in the Bavarian countryside and chatting with farmers and labourers he met along the way. He also delighted in rewarding those who were hospitable to him during his travels with lavish gifts. He is still remembered in Bavaria as Unser Kini, which means "our cherished king" in the Bavarian dialect.
Ludwig also used his personal fortune (supplemented annually from 1873 by 270,000 marks from the Welfenfonds) to fund the construction of a series of elaborate castles. In 1867 he visited Eugène Viollet-le-Duc's work at Pierrefonds, and the Palace of Versailles in France, as well as the Wartburg near Eisenach in Thuringia, which largely influenced the style of their construction. In his letters, Ludwig marvelled at how the French had magnificently built up and glorified their culture (e.g., architecture, art, and music) and how miserably lacking Bavaria was in comparison. It became his dream to accomplish the same for Bavaria. These projects provided employment for many hundreds of local labourers and artisans and brought a considerable flow of money to the relatively poor regions where his castles were built. Figures for the total costs between 1869 and 1886 for the building and equipping of each castle were published in 1968: Schloß Neuschwanstein 6,180,047 marks; Schloß Linderhof 8,460,937 marks (a large portion being expended on the Venus Grotto); Schloß Herrenchiemsee (from 1873) 16,579,674 marks In order to give an equivalent for the era, the British Pound sterling, being the monetary hegemon of the time, had a fixed exchange rate (based on the gold standard) at £1 = 20.43 Goldmarks.
In 1868, Ludwig commissioned the first drawings for two of his buildings. The first was Schloss Neuschwanstein, or "New Swan on the Rock castle", a dramatic Romanesque fortress with soaring fairy-tale towers situated on an Alpine crag above Ludwig's childhood home, Castle Hohenschwangau (approximately, "High Swan Region"). Hohenschwangau was a medieval knights' castle which his parents had purchased. Ludwig reputedly had spied the location and conceived of building a castle there while still a boy. The second was Herrenchiemsee, a replica of the palace at Versailles, which was sited on the "Herren" Island in the middle of Lake Chiemsee, and was built as a monument to Ludwig's admiration for Louis XIV of France, the magnificent "Sun King." Only the central portion of the palace was built; all construction halted on Ludwig's death. Herrenchiemsee comprises
square feet, a "copy in miniature" compared
with Versailles' 551,112
The following year, Ludwig finished the construction of the royal apartment in the Residenz Palace in Munich, to which he had added an opulent conservatory or winter garden on the palace roof. It was started in 1867 as quite a small structure, but after extensions in 1868 and 1871, the dimensions reached 69.5mx17.2mx9.5m high. It featured an ornamental lake complete with skiff, a painted panorama of the Himalayas as a backdrop, an Indian fisher-hut of bamboo, a Moorish kiosk, and an exotic tent. The roof was a technically advanced metal and glass construction. The winter garden was closed in June 1886, partly dismantled the following year and demolished in 1897.
In 1869, Ludwig oversaw the laying of the cornerstone for Schloss Neuschwanstein on a breathtaking mountaintop site. The walls of Neuschwanstein are decorated with frescoes depicting scenes from the legends used in Wagner's operas, including Tannhäuser, Tristan und Isolde, Lohengrin, Parsifal, and the somewhat less than mystic Meistersinger.
After plans for a monumental festival theatre for Wagner's opera in Munich were thwarted by Court opposition, he supported the construction in 1872-76 of the Festspielhaus in the town of Bayreuth (Bayreuth Opera Festival Theatre), and attended the dress rehearsal and third public performance of the complete Ring Cycle in 1876.
In 1878, construction was completed on Ludwig's Schloss Linderhof, an ornate palace in neo-French Rococo style, with handsome formal gardens. The grounds contained a Venus grotto lit by electricity, where Ludwig was rowed in a boat shaped like a shell. After seeing the Bayreuth performances, Ludwig had built in the forest near Linderhof Hunding's Hut (Hundinghütte) (based on the stage set of the first act of Wagner's Die Walküre) complete with an artificial tree and a sword embedded in it. In Die Walküre, Siegfried's father Siegmund, pulls the sword from the tree. Hunding's Hut was destroyed in 1945 but a replica was constructed at Linderhof in
1990. In 1877 a small hermitage
(Einsiedlei des Gurnemanz) as in the third act of Wagner's Parsifal was erected
near Hunding's Hut, with a meadow of spring flowers, where the king would
retire to read. (A replica made in 2000 can now be seen in the park at
Linderhof.) Nearby a Moroccan House, purchased at the Paris World Fair in 1878,
was erected alongside the mountain road. Sold in 1891 and taken to
Oberammergau, it was purchased by the government in 1980 and re-erected in the
park at Linderhof after extensive restoration. Inside the palace, iconography
reflected Ludwig's fascination with the absolutist government of Ancien Régime
France. Ludwig saw himself as the "Moon King", a romantic shadow of
the earlier "Sun King", Louis XIV of France. From Linderhof, Ludwig
enjoyed moonlit sleigh rides in an elaborate eighteenth-century sleigh,
complete with footmen in eighteenth century livery. Also in 1878, construction
began on his Versailles-derived Herrenchiemsee.
In the 1880s, Ludwig'’s plans proceeded undeterred. He planned the construction of a new castle on Falkenstein ("Falcon Rock") near Pfronten in the Allgäu (a place he knew well: a diary entry for 16 October 1867 reads "Falkenstein wild, romantic" The first design was a sketch by Christian Jank in 1883 "very much like the Townhall of Liege" (Kreisel 1954, p. 82). Subsequent designs showed a modest villa with a square tower (Dollmann 1884) and a small Gothic castle (Schultze 1884, Hofmann 1886). a Byzantine palace in the Graswangtal and a Chinese summer palace by the Plansee in Tyrol. By
1885, a road and water supply had been provided
at Falkenstein but the old ruins remained untouched; the other projects never
got beyond initial plans.