Off the Beaten Path in Germany: Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Last updated: October 2019

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.  

Zugspitz View of mountains and lake in Germany
The stunning views from the Zugspitze in Germany.

Zugspitze

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.

A woman posing with the mountains in the background at the Zugspitze in Germany.
Walk around the Zugspitze’s glacier and the small, quaint church.

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.

Zugspitze Tickets

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.

Views of the mountains from the Zugspitze cable car
Take in the scenic lake and mountain views from the Zugspitze cable car.

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. 

Hikers at the Zugspitze summit in Germany
Hikers celebrate reaching the summit of the Zugspitze – Germany’s highest peak.

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:

Neuschwanstein Castle

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 fairytale town of Sintra – an easy day trip from Lisbon.

A large castle sitting on a mountain.
Touring King Ludwig II’s prized castle, Neuschwanstein, is my top recommendation for things to do in Garmisch.

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).

The exterior towers of Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.
The gothic exterior of Neuschwanstein Castle. Note, you aren’t permitted to take photos inside the castle.

Hohenschwangau Castle

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.

Linderhof Palace

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.

A view of the castle gardens at Linderhof Palace in Germany.
Linderhof Palace is a tranquil oasis! Wander through the vibrant gardens and the serene nature.

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.

Water in the gorge in Garmisch
The best way to get off the beaten path in Germany? Do some hiking in the Partnach Gorge.

Garmisch Cuisine

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).

A view of the mountains and cabins in Garmisch.
It’s hard to imagine that these views are only an hour from Munich!

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!).

A woman walking on a hiking path in Garmisch
Find an accommodation in Garmisch that offers stunning views – like this one! After all, travelers head to Garmisch to connect with Mother Nature.

Common Questions

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.

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28 Comments Add yours

  1. Jas says:

    I’ve seen tons of pictures of Neuschwanstein Castle and been dying to visit. Will defs keep Mary’s Bridge in mind!

  2. I visited and stayed in this area last spring and loved it. There is so much to see and do all year round. The scenery is some of my favourite trips ever, especially going to Zugspitz and having a beer at the peak of the mountain. Thanks for bringing back some memories.

  3. Wow these places are os beautiful! I would love to explore off the beaten path in these areas. So much to see beyond the touristy areas. Thanks for sharing this helpful guide! The castles look amazing.

  4. Smita says:

    The views from Zugspitze are stunning! Love your photos! I’ve been meaning to visit Neuschwanstein Castle for a while now since it is quite close to where I love in Switzerland. So happy to see there are so many other sights I can add to the trip! Is it a good idea to visit in winter or should I wait till spring?

  5. Neuschwanstein Castle has been on my bucket list forever! How long is the hike up to the castle? It’s disappointing that you can’t take photos in the castle. Keeping this for future trip.

  6. We were just in Germany, and we actually didn’t visit any of those major cities! We actually loved Cologne best – so much charm! We’ll have to check out the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area. It looks absolutely beautiful!

  7. April says:

    Hiking and Castles? Yes Please, Garmisch sounds like perfection. Neuschwanstein Castle has been on my list for years ever since my German language classes back in high school, wonderful to learn some new things about it- Cinderellas castle, how cool is that!

  8. josypheen says:

    To be honest, you had me from the very first photo from Zugspitze! What an amaaaaazing area to explore! I would be keen to stay there for a while and hike.

    Still, the rest of the area around Garmisch all sounds brilliant. I always love the look of castles, but German castles are just extra epic. Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenschwangau Castle both look like they belong in a fairy tale!

  9. I enjoyed every bit of it and this made my hubby refresh his German vocabulary. Thanks for putting this altogether and hope we can come visit sooner.

  10. Ciara NíLionsigh VA says:

    Great post! I love reading about off the beaten track places!

  11. Sheila says:

    My Dad was stationed in Germany in about 1968 and has talked some of how neat things were. I’d love to visit someday as there is so much history there.

    1. I am sure he has stories to tell! What he stationed in Garmisch?

  12. Dillon says:

    Great article. That castle is now on my bucket list!

    1. It’s definitely a good one – you’ll have to plan a trip!

  13. Nitin Singhal says:

    I am not sure why Zugspitze glaciers and Neuschwanstein Castle are off-beaten path. They are so stunning. No words can justify their beauty. More people should visit these places.

    1. I agree! Both are incredible. I think more people are familiar with Neuschwanstein (and take quick day trips from Munich). But this entire area is so stunning like you said. More people should go!

  14. John R. says:

    Very cool! Good info!

    1. Thank you! You’ll have to visit 🙂

  15. Anonymous says:

    Nice!!

    1. Well, thank you! 🙂

  16. Mel & Suan says:

    Wow awesome!!!
    We went on a small bus tour to Neuschwantstein. And while we passed through thought: how nice it would be to stay here (Oberhausen we think) for a few days and explore the area…thanks for sharing and making us think of getting back there!

    1. Yes, you will have to re-visit! It was the perfect town to unwind… What’s your next trip?

      1. Mel & Suan says:

        Well we are trying to get to Cuba! Hope that can happen soon, like in a few months…

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