Southern Germany is known as Bavaria. It’s iconic oompahpah and pretzels are some of the most recognizable symbols central Europe has to offer. Stunning mountains and dizzying switchbacks serve as the backdrop for fairytale castles and historic churches. Bavaria is well worth exploring and with a bit of planning can be memories in the making.
While Munich serves as the prefect transfer point, digging into Bavaria can be better served by getting out of the city and into the bucolic countryside. My choice is Garmisch. This little resort town is located on the border of Germany and Austria. It connects to Munich by efficient train service and has plenty to offer in the way of lodging.
While the region is laced with rails, the reality that is Bavaria necessitates a car rental. The well maintained roads make driving a breeze and the countryside adds to the fun of the drive. From Garmisch, look for any of the sites that we mention to be no more than two hours away and most are far closer.
Military members and veterans, please take note that Garmisch offers one of four Armed Forces Resorts that dot the globe. Click here for information on Edelweiss Lodge.
The fabled Zugspitze is Germany’s highest point. Straddling the Austrian-German border, it was once known for it’s mountaintop passport station before the EU and the Euro. These days, casual onlookers and outdoor enthusiasts can all enjoy the mountain as there are plenty of ways to get to the top. From a historic cog wheel train to expertly maintained hiking trails and rock climbing opportunities, Zugspitze is the mountain that caters to every kind of traveler. We took the vernicular right to the top and thoroughly enjoyed the view all the way up.
At the top, there are several moments that make the trip worth it. First, enjoy the view!! On a clear day, it is beyond beautiful. Check out all of the fun things that you can do at the lake at the bottom while you are there. Be sure to get yourself a traditional breakfast of pretzel, cheese and egg at the restaurant that serves up scenic views with it’s food.
Go ahead and walk over to the Austrian side and check out their visitor’s center while you are there. It’s kind of neat to think that this is an international border. Lastly, explore the history of the peak and find out what that gold cross is all about in the very small exhibition located on floor number two. If you are brave and skilled enough get to that highest peak, follow the path toward the outcropping to try it yourself!
By far, the biggest and most popular attraction in the all of Bavaria has to be this stunning “how’d they do that?!” mountain home. It’s a huge draw and everyone else wants to be there when you are. We went on a very rainy day and, quite frankly, I think I stuck with it just because I knew that I wouldn’t make the trip again.
Truthfully, the area contains two castles: one for Ludwig the dad and one for Ludwig the mad. The interior of the less famous yellow castle is a far better tour as the entire thing is finished. Conversely, the newer Disney castle perched up high is only about one third of the way completed. in other words, the outside far outpaces the inside.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of amazing things to see especially if you are a Wagner fan like Ludwig. His best buddy inspired lots of themes throughout the castle and inspired good ole’ Walt way back in sunny California too. The best bet is to plan this stop very early as tickets sell out at lightening speed. It is best to see the yellow Hohenschwangau then make your way up by hike or bus to the drop off point. Be sure to take in the Marionbrucke Gorge and Bridge before you end with your guided tour at the upper castle.
Known as Little Versailles, this petite country estate is an amazing example of jealousy at it’s best. Our buddy, Mad King Ludwig, was out to show that he could have a swanky place just like all of those uppity French before the revolution. He did not take the hint that all that pretentiousness would end badly.
Holy cows- Holy beer- Holy cheese. What more can you want?! Ettal Abbey also has a distillery and a seriously packed gift shop. We loved this stop nestled in the mountains and we were totally awestruck by this amazing example of rococo architecture. It was some of the best I’ve ever seen. The little area just outside the is the perfect place to stop for lunch. It certainly is touristy but the weinerschnitzel and beer are just fine. The tiny hamlet of Ettal is the perfect morning stop for both Weiskirche and Linderhof.
Weiskirche or white church is a pilgrimage site and it is widely considered the finest example of baroque architecture- ever. This church, which literally sits in the middle of nowhere, is an awe inspiring site to see. As in most historical buildings in Europe, start by looking up. The ceiling is painted with a rainbow, a chair, and a decision as to whether the judged will go to Heaven or Hell. We walked around to the side of the alter to light a candle and get a better look at the artwork in the nave. This stop is a perfect hour and has a little tourist cafe next door just to make things easier.
Here’s the deal: any major European city can offer days upon days of unbelievable sites and experiences. Cities like this can also afford any traveler a jumping off point for exploring the region around it. Munich is no exception. In fact, Munich just might be one of the best examples of it. Highlights in Munich or Munchen include world class museums, countless beer halls like the uber-touristy Brauhaus, and a Glockenspiel that ensures your wait is well worth it. I could go on and on and on. So could your guide book.
It’s The Little Things
But before I cut Munich short, let me tell you about two little moments that may pass you by. First, I totally recommend taking a bicycle tour through the old town. Whether you pedal yourself or allow one of the many guides to allow you to sit back, Munich is a fun town to see on two wheels. Be sure to include the great English Garden in your tour and check in on the lazy river and the surfers. You heard me right- surfers! End your ride at the Bierhaus and you’ve got yourself a pretty perfect afternoon.
Lastly, if you’re a little like me, the stories that are held in the walls of historic places tend to be the ones that stick with you the most. Directly on the Nuerhauser Strassa– the main promenade through the historical district- is the Burgersaalkirche. This particular church is usually not mentioned in many guide books as its larger siblings like St. Michaels usually make the grade. The draw to this particular church is not the sanctuary, although it is lovely, it’s the story that lies below in the crypt. It’s the story of Blessed Father Rupert Mayer, a Jesuit who fought with all his might against the Nazis. The crypt has been turned into an amazing homage to this brave man and explains how the Vatican honored him. This church was his Parish. This church now tells his story.
- Look for Bavaria to be a great jumping off point to explore:
- Northern Swiss Cities like Zurich
- The Black Forest