Updated: February 2020
Berlin, Munich, Hamburg – all cool German cities that are absolutely worth visiting. I never hate on big cities – I actually love them! And there is a reason they are so popular. But if you want to break away from the city hustle and bustle, Garmisch-Partenkirchen is the place to get off the beaten path in Germany. And although it’s only an hour drive from the “Beer Capital of the World,” it feels worlds away from Munich. With its stunning mountainous views, authentic Bavarian restaurants and ample hiking and ski trails, Garmisch-Partenkirchen is the perfect place to unplug, de-stress and connect with Mother Nature. And although this area beckons for a lot of R and R (think cozied up in a cabin with board games and mulled wine), here are a few things to do in Garmisch-Partenkirchen when you’re up for an adventure.
Wake up early, grab some coffee and bundle up (even if it’s a warm summer day) before heading up to Germany’s highest peak, the Zugspitze. Although experienced hikers can trek to the Zugspitze, most travelers ride up in the Zugspitze train or the Eibsee cable car.
Walk around the Zugspitze glacier and pop into the small church. This church holds a record in Germany – the church with the highest altitude (2,600 meters). From the glacier, take the steep lift ride to the Zugspitze summit. Once at the summit (2,962 meters), the panoramic mountainous view of Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland seems to extend forever.
The Zugspitze Ski Resort is the perfect place to do some skiing in the wintertime, too. In fact, many people choose to visit Garmisch in the colder months for its array of winter activities! Fun fact – Garmisch hosted the 1936 Winter Olympic Games. And you can still visit the Olympic ski jumps in Garmisch.
Garmisch to Zugspitze
There are several transportation options for ascending and descending the Zugspitze. Even with lots of reviews and research, it was difficult to determine the “best” route. After visiting, I realized there isn’t a best way. However, the transportation we chose worked really well!
I recommend ascending by cogwheel train and descending by cable car. The views of the mountains and lake are stunning from the cable car. However, the cable car is packed with other visitors. So try to stand by the window if you want a good view!
Zugspitze Restaurant and Beer Garden
Take in the serenity of it all over a beer in the Zugspitze beer garden or at the summit’s restaurant before making your descent back to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
As of August 2019, a round-trip adult ticket to Zugspitze is 58 euros. Family discounts are available. Visit the Zugspitze website for the most up-to-date pricing and hours of operation.
Zugspitze from Munich
A day trip from Munich to the Zugspitze is doable! Purchase a train ticket from the station in Munich to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Once in the Garmisch train station, you will see the Zugspitzebahn Bahnhof, which can then be taken to the Zugspitze.
Visit the Castles near Garmisch
Channel your inner Cinderella and castle-hop through the palaces of the former Bavarian King, Ludwig II. Here are a few of his castles near Garmisch:
Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle may just be my top recommendation for things to do in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area – even if it is a day trip from Garmisch! This colossal castle is deservingly the most popular of them all. It soars high above the town on the cliffs and is just a short walk from nearby Hohenschwangau Castle. King Ludwig II’s magnificent masterpiece, although never finished, is breathtakingly beautiful – from the vibrant, ornate interior to the grand, gothic-style exterior. Wear comfortable shoes, as it’s a bit of a hike to the castle. The tour of Neuschwanstein Castle takes you through many of the extravagant rooms.
Following the tour, make your way to the nearby pedestrian bridge, Mary’s Bridge, which offers a picturesque view of the entire castle. The drive from Garmisch to Neuschwanstein Castle is only an hour. Easy peasy! Public transportation makes for a much lengthier journey, so I recommend joining a formal tour group if you don’t have a rental car.
Fun Fact: Neuschwanstein is referred to as the “Disney Castle in Germany.” Walt Disney loved it so much that it was the inspiration behind Cinderella’s castle. And if you love touring castles and palaces, check out the gorgeous Italian villas and gardens in Ravello, the enchanting mansion tours in Newport, Rhode Island, and the Royal Palace while traveling to Madrid.
Neuschwanstein Castle Tickets
You can purchase your Neuschwanstein Castle tickets online in advance or at the ticket office (which is located at the base of the castle grounds near Hohenschwangau Castle). You receive a small discount for purchasing tickets to both castles. Be mindful that Neuschwanstein Castle is one of Germany’s most popular tourist attractions. In the summer months, it’s not uncommon for up to 6,000 tourists to visit in a single day. If something is important to you, I always recommend booking in advance (or you may miss out – like we did on our second trip to Barcelona to tour the La Sagrada Familia).
Hohenschwangau Castle was the former Bavarian royal family’s summer residence. King Ludwig II spent many summers here as a child. It’s located right by Neuschwanstein Castle, so be sure to check this one out too.
Although Linderhof Palace is small (in comparison to some of the other German castles), it is opulent and lavish. The decor and design were inspired by King Ludwig II’s idol, French King Louis XIV. The interior consists of mostly porcelain and gold. Bring sunglasses – the gold is THAT overwhelming (kidding … well, actually not really). The exterior gardens are lovely – especially during the warmer months when the flowers are in bloom. The picture-perfect gardens reminded me of traveling in Salzburg and exploring Vienna (both of which also have big, beautiful castles).
King Ludwig II resided in this palace and enjoyed the tranquility of the surrounding nature. Following the tour, wander through Linderhof Park if the weather is nice.
Hiking in Garmisch
Take an easy stroll in the Partnach Gorge. This Garmisch gorge is chilly, damp and a bit dark, but Mother Nature shows off her beauty with crystal-clear water, waterfalls and magnificent cliffs. Heads up: the path is extremely narrow, so expect to duck your head a time or two as you navigate through the cliffs. Be sure to check out the 1936 Olympic Games ski jump that is located near the Gorge.
You’ll find plenty of authentic Garmisch restaurants in the city’s “Old Town.” Bavarian cuisine can be very heavy (think meat and potatoes). You will find plenty of sauerkraut, potato salad and knödel (dumplings rolled into a ball, then boiled), radler (beer and lemonade mixed), käsespätzle (noodles and cheese), schnitzel (flattened and fried veal) and bratwurst on the menu.
For dessert, be sure to try spaghettieis, which is ice cream made to look like spaghetti. For more food recommendations, check out other German city guides (like the best sushi experience in Freiburg and trying currywurst in Berlin’s oldest beer garden).
How to get to Garmisch
Most travelers arrive in Garmisch from Munich. And although Garmisch is considered off the beaten path in Germany, it’s quite easy to get to. I highly recommend renting a car, as many of the things to do in Garmisch are easier to get to with your own transportation. Expect just over an hour car ride from Munich to Garmisch.
Garmisch Train Station
If you are unable to rent a car, there is a train from Munich to Garmisch. The train journey takes roughly the same as a car – just under 90 minutes. Use the RailEurope booking site to reserve your train travel.
Garmisch Bus Station
If you prefer buses over trains, you’re in luck! Because there is also a bus to Garmisch from Munich. FlixBus offers low-cost, bus routes throughout Europe. Visit their website to book your bus ticket.
Where to Stay in Garmisch
Garmisch is a great place to visit all times of the year. Whether you are looking for a cozy lodge or a simple apartment, you can find plenty of accommodations in Garmisch on Booking.com. I recommend choosing a place that is highly rated and offers stunning mountainous views – like the Downtown Suite Alpi, Riessersee Hotel or Golden GaPa Penthouse. If you are looking for budget-friendly accommodations in Garmisch, Booking.com can assist with that too. Check out Hostel der Athleten, Alpis Apartment and Hotel Garni (which is very close to the Zugspitze!).
What currency is used in Germany?
Germany’s currency is the Euro.
What airport is closest to Garmisch?
Most travelers fly into the Munich International Airport (MUC) and then rent a car for Garmisch.
What language is spoken in Germany?
German is the official language in Germany. However, I have always been so impressed with every German I’ve met, as many Germans can speak multiple languages. I recommend learning a few basic phrases in Germany, such as “hello,” “how are you,” “where is the restroom,” and “thank you.” And let’s be real – you need to know how to order a beer. “Ein bier, bitte” translates to “one beer, please.”
What to pack for Garmisch?
Well, that completely depends on the season. However, bundle up when visiting the Zugspitz and the Gorge (even if it’s warm outside). I also recommend travelers pack a reusable water bottle and a quick-dry towel for any trip (whether you are backpacking for several months or taking a week-long vacation). Finally, you need to pack an outlet adapter if you’re traveling to Germany from outside most European countries. I have traveled with this universal travel adapter since 2016, and it’s still going strong!
And there you go! If you’re ready to get off the beaten path in Germany, Garmisch is your place to do just that.