After spending a few days wandering around the Christmas markets in Alsace region, we needed a little change in scenery. European Christmas markets are no doubt fun, but who doesn’t need a dose of nature every once in a while?
If you like crystal clear alpine lakes, imposing mountain views, fairytale-like castles, skiing and/ or hiking, then you must visit Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany’s Bavaria region! As the name implies, Garmisch-Partenkirchen was originally two towns – Garmisch in the west and Partenkirchen in the east. Today, they have merged together into one city.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen has a lot to offer. Whether you are looking for a relaxing vacation or an action-filled one, you have plenty to chose from. This travel guide will help you plan the perfect itinerary for this region – right from where to stay, how to get around to best things to do and see !
We visited this region as part of our 11 day trip to France and Germany in 2023. If you want to read more about Christmas markets in Alsace region and German towns, click on the individual links. We have also visited a few other German towns in the past (Moselle valley, Monschau, Rudesheim am Rhine) – click on the individual links to read more about them.
Best Way to Reach
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is located in Southern Germany, bordering the country of Austria. If you are flying from overseas, the closest airport is Munich. From Munich, you can either take the bus or drive to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1-1.5 hours.
Best Way to Get around
Buses are available from Garmisch-Partenkirchen city center to most places of interest. However, it is advisable to rent a car for the entire duration of your trip so you get the flexibility and freedom to go wherever and whenever you want. Also, if you are visiting in winter months, buses may not be operational if it is snowing heavily.
We rented a car via Europcar for the entire duration of our trip.
Where to Stay
While Garmisch-Partenkirchen is just an hour drive from Munich city center, advisable to stay in the town vs making a day trip. There is enough to see and do here and you don’t want to cram it all up in a day. Also, on a clear day, you can spot mountains from pretty much every street and window in this city.
Since most of the places to see and things to do are close to the city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, it makes the perfect base to explore this region. Also, there are many restaurants, cafes and small shops in this city so no need to leave the town once you get back from your day trips.
The area around Garmisch-Partenkirchen is very scenic so most accommodations provide great views of the mountains. Also, the town itself is super cute – you can stroll along the main street and find some beautiful cafes and shops that sell the cutest things. And they also have a small and cozy Christmas market during the holiday season.
We stayed at this beautiful Airbnb just steps away from the city center. While the apt was comfortable with heated floors (a big plus given the sub-zero temperatures), what sealed the deal for us was the view from the balcony! Imagine waking up to this view – isn’t it simply breathtaking?
It was perfect in every way and undoubtedly, one of the best airbnbs we have stayed at!
If you are unable to find accommodation in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, you can check out the towns of Fussen/ Mittenwald.
Best Time to Visit
This region is beautiful in all seasons. But pick a time to visit depending on what are you are looking to do here.
Spring (April to May) is a great time to see the flowers blooming in the meadows. Temperatures are good for hiking but it may be too cold to swim in the lakes.
Summer (June to August) is the best time to visit if you are looking for postcard perfect pictures and indulging in all the activities. Right from swimming to hiking to scenic boat rides – you can do it all! But, keep in mind that summer is a busy time to visit this region.
If you like chasing autumn colors, then October would be the perfect time to visit. It is much quieter since the tourist season has ended but it can get cold.
In winter (November end to March), this region turns into a paradise for winter sports. There are lots of ski slopes, winter hiking routes and you can do tobogganing. You will definitely get snow, so if you’ve always wanted to see snow, then winter would be a great time to visit!
While we were planning our trip, we didn’t anticipate snow at all in November end. But we lucked out with snow and how !! It started snowing just five days before our visit and by the time we got here, this whole region was enveloped in a thick blanket of snow. It looked nothing short of a winter wonderland.
But it was also very cold – temperatures were in the range of -3 degrees C to 2 degrees C and it snowed almost every day. So if you are visiting in winter months, ensure you layer up and wear appropriate shoes to avoid slipping on snow.
How Many Days to Stay
You need to set aside at least 3 full days to explore this region.
Things to do / Places to Visit
Lake Eibsee is probably the most beautiful lake in Bavaria, if not in the whole of Germany. The water is crystal clear and shimmers in every shade of green and blue you can imagine. On a clear day, you can even see the reflection of Zugspitze, the tallest mountain in Germany. While Lake Eibsee is a private property and belongs to Eibsee Hotel, it is accessible to everyone.
This lake was formed more than 3000 years ago by a landslide. In summer, you can swim as well as rent pedal boats, rowing boats, electric boats here and explore the lake on your own. In winter, it becomes a magical landscape covered in snow. From January to early March, the lake can get completely frozen.
Lake Eibsee is located around 11 km southwest of Garmisch-Patenkirchen and roughly 100 km southwest of Munich. There are two main parking lots at Eibsee lake: one near Zugspitze cable car and the other near Eibsee Hotel. Both are accessible from 5 am to 10 pm. If you are visiting in summer months, try to reach early since both parking lots can fill up fast. There are also several boat rentals where you can grab a kayak or canoe.
There is a beautiful hiking trail which goes all the way around the lake – the hike is 7 km in total and takes 1h 40 minutes to complete at an average pace. During some part of the trail, you can even walk right alongside the lake, depending on the water level. The hiking trail is accessible to everyone and suitable for all ages.
TIP – Start your hike counterclockwise (the trail is behind the Eibsee hotel parking lot) to get to the best views first (see the first two images below). Most people go in the other direction so this means there will be less people when you start on the hiking trail. For this, recommend parking your car near Eibsee Hotel.
We started the hike around 9.30 am and there were just a handful other people on the trail. Since this region had received a lot of snow over the last few days, the entire trail was covered in snow. The snow made the hike a little tiring, but I have to say the snow really added to the beauty. Lake Eibsee was truly the highlight of our trip.
Even though we did not do the entire loop, we spent close to 2 hours here playing in the snow and stopping at every single viewpoint. If you are hiking in winter months, ensure you wear weather appropriate shoes.
One of the most photographed viewpoints at this lake is the one at the triangle rock. Sadly, the path to the rock was covered in a lot of snow so we did not venture all the way in.
Zugspitze is Germany’s highest peak at 2,962 meters above sea level. It is also Germany’s highest ski resort.
In order to get to the top of the mountain, you need to take a cogwheel train and / or cable car. Access to the cable car is near Lake Eibsee. However, for the cogwheel train, the starting point is near the train station Garmisch-Partenkirchen at the Zugspitze station.
Before visiting, check the weather and live webcams on Zugspitze website. If you have flexibility in your schedule, try going to the top on a clear day so you can enjoy the best views. On a cloudy day, while the journey to the top will be fun, you may probably not see anything at the top! Also, the weather can change quickly in shoulder months and winter season, so plan your trip accordingly.
Click here for more information on the tickets. This is how it works – the 90-year old cogwheel train will first take you from the Zugspitzbahn station in Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Zugspitze plateau, at 2,600 meters above sea level. Then, you will hop on the Gletscherbahn cable car to the summit. After spending time at the summit, you can descend on the Zugspitze cable car back down to Lake Eibsee and take the cogwheel train back.
You can buy roundtrip tickets – which allows one mountain ascent and descent, either in the form of a round trip on the cogwheel train ride or cable car.
As luck would have had it, we had just one sunny day during our entire trip. And even on the sunny day, the mountain was partially covered in snow. Given that the cable car ride doesn’t come cheap (around Euros 62), we decided to skip this and spend more time hiking.
However, sharing a few essential pointers which will help you plan your visit to the top of the mountain.
- When boarding the cable car, make sure to stand on the side facing the lake, so that you can enjoy the magnificent view of the Eibsee from the top.
- Once at the summit, you get an impressive 360° panorama. Not only can you stand at the summit of the highest peak, but on a clear day, you can also soak up panoramic views of 400 mountain peaks from four different countries – Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland.
- There is a large observation deck at the summit where you can walk around to admire the amazing views. Plus, you can check out Germany’s highest church, an igloo village, three toboggan runs, mountain restaurants, or relax on the deck chairs in the sunshine. Also, you can explore the glacier on your own or sign up for guided tours.
Looking for yet another beautiful hike in this region? Then keep reading further.
Partnachklamm Gorge is called Partnach Gorge in English. Whenever you see the word “klamm” in the name of a place in a German-speaking word, it means a gorge.
Partnachklamm Gorge is a beautiful natural wonder located in the Bavaria region. It is a 700m long gorge featuring tunnels and caves. These tunnels and caves are carved directly into the rock, allowing visitors to trek past trickling waterfalls. On a rainy day, you can spot little waterfalls coming from the edges of the rocks.
This place is located around 5 minutes from the town of Garmisch-Patenkirchen and 15 minutes from Lake Eibsee. Once you get here, park your car near the Olympic Ski Stadium. From here, the hike to the gorge will take around 25-30 minutes.
When we visited in late November, this area had received a lot of snow. Because of which, most of the trail was covered in snow. All this snow made the trail bit slippery, but the hike was easily doable. We ended up taking longer, 40 minutes one way. But with all the snow, the hike to the gorge felt nothing short of a fairytale! Don’t believe me? Check this out:
The hiking trail follows the river – keep walking and you will reach the front entrance. Here, you need to pay entrance fee of Euros 7.5 for adults and Euros 3 for children. There are clean washrooms located here as well.
The walk along the gorge itself is very safe as there are railings on the way. Recommend wearing proper running shoes (and snow shoes in winter months) as the rocks can get slippery and the can be uneven in places. However, it is a flat path and easy for almost everyone to visit. Since we visited in winter, there were just a handful few people on the hike. But I can imagine it getting crowded in summer months.
The gorge is open from 8 am to 8 pm from June to September and 8 am to 6 pm from October to May. The last admission is 30 minutes before closing time. This trail may be closed sometimes in bad weather so check the official website before you go.
Visit the Olympic Ski Jump
Did you know the Olympic Games were held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936?
Today, the Ski Stadium has become a popular spot in this region. In 2007, the original Ski Jump was torn down and replaced with a huge Ski Jump. You can access the stadium and the grounds for free. For those interested in learning more can sign up for a guided tour. Even if you aren’t taking a tour, you can admire the Olympic Ski Jump on your way to the Partnachklamm like we did. It looks quite impressive.
Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the most iconic castles in this country and looks straight out of a fairytale. This castle is said to have been Walt Disney’s inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle. Intrigued to visit? Then, keep reading further.
This castle is easily reachable from both Munich (1 hour 45 minute drive) and Garmisch-Partenkirchen (1 hour drive).
There is no ticket required if you only want to stroll around the castle and garden area. But if you want to see the castle from inside, then you need to sign up for a guided tour. As there are limited spaces each day, make sure to book your tickets online in advance on the official Neuschwanstein website. Note that photography is not allowed inside the castle.
Once you get to the base of the castle, you will notice that there are several parking spots here. Park at P4 – the parking lot closest to the hiking spot. From here, you can either continue by foot, shuttle bus or horse carriage to the castle.
If you plan to hike, it is an easy hike but note that the path is mostly uphill. The hike is 1.5 km long and can take around 45 minutes – 60 minutes depending on your speed.
Shuttle buses are the most popular and easiest option and run regularly throughout the day from the bus stop next to the P4 parking lot to Marienbrücke. They depart every 10 minutes and a roundtrip shuttle bus ride costs Euros 3.5 per person. The horse carriage ride takes 20 minutes to reach the top and costs Euros 8 uphill and Euros 4 downhill per person. For more information, click here.
Now sadly, the day we were visiting, it was snowing very heavily and due to slippery roads, buses weren’t operational. So, we either had to hike (a difficult task in all the snow) or take the horse carriage. Since, the shuttle wasn’t operational, there was a huge queue for the horse carriage. Plus, with the snowy weather, the visibility at the top was very poor – the castle kept playing hide and seek among the clouds. So, with a heavy heart, we decided to just admire the view from bottom and head back to our apt.
But if you have better luck than us, then don’t forget to head to the Marienbrücke, from where where you get that iconic view of the castle. It is about a 10-minute hike from the castle entrance. But note that the bridge may be closed at times for maintenance and bad weather (such as snowfall during the winter months) – so check at the ticket counter / official website before you make the hike.
There is another castle, Hohenschwangau Castle located at a stone’s throw from Neuschwanstein Castle. In fact, you can see this castle from P4 parking lot. You can buy tickets for a guided tour of this castle on this website.
Fussen and Lechfalls
After you are done visiting the castle, stop by the town of Fussen, a cute and colorful German town. If your primary purpose of visiting this region is for the castle, then you can even base yourself in Fussen. With plenty of hotels and cafes and restaurants, it can make a great base.
And while you are here, highly recommend checking out Lechfalls. A man-made waterfall built for flood control may not sound exciting to a regular traveller. But the turquoise green water of Lech River and the snow covered trees definitely made it a sight to behold!
You can walk from the centre of Fussen town – just a 15 minute walk. Or take a longer scenic 40 minute hike along the river to get to the falls. There is limited parking available at the site. Once you park, the waterfall is easily accessible from the side of the road.
Wagenbrüchsee, also known as Geroldsee, is a mountain lake renowned for its beauty. The lake is surrounded by lush meadows, dense forests, and towering peaks, providing a picturesque backdrop for hikers and photographers alike. Best part – it is located just a few minutes drive from Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
If you are looking to spend time amidst nature, then certainly add this to your list. It is a great place for relaxation, picnics, or simply enjoying the serenity of nature. You can sit by the lake, listen to the soothing sounds of nature and take in the scenery.
I had seen photos from this place during spring and summer months and it looked nothing short of a painting. But sadly, in winter, it looks more or less similar to the views you other wise get during driving. So, we decided to skip this place.
The small town of Mittenwald is located just 20 minutes of driving east of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and is a must visit if you enjoy visiting small towns.
Once you get here, go for a stroll on the cobblestoned streets and admire houses adorned with murals in the old town. It is a cute little town known for its colorful frescos, brightly painted homes, and violin-making history.
There are couple lakes and hiking spots near the town but it was too cold for us to venture out for long. Also, we visited in end of November when the town was pretty much dead – there were just a handful restaurants and stores open. Since this town is essentially a ski town, tourism picks up only in December and once the Christmas markets begin. We roamed around for a while admiring the murals on building, picked up coffee at the only bakery that was open 😊 and made our way back home.
Bavaria is full of fairytale castles and palaces and Linderhof Palace is one of them. It is located around half hour drive from Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Visit to Linderhof Palace is only possible as part of a guided tour – click here to read more.
If you decide to visit this palace, also check out the cute town of Oberammergau.
We missed both these places due to bad weather but do check it out if you have time on hand.
The Austrian town of Innsbruck is located just an hour drive from Garmisch-Partenkirchen. If you haven’t been to this beautiful Austrian town already, then highly recommend a day trip. You can wander around its charming old town, take a cable car to the top of the city at Nordkette or check out the dazzling Swarovski museum. I had visited Innsbruck almost 8 years ago but if you are looking for more things to do here, then click here.
*All prices are as of December 2023