Whatever you do, don’t hem in Garmisch-Partenkirchen region in the Bavarian Alps of Germany. One of the area’s busiest year-round vacation destinations, Garmisch Partenkirchen one hour south of Munich, Germany, appeals to families, outdoor enthusiasts and culture seekers. It’s well known for its winter sports, sitting as it does at the base of several sky-soaring mountains, including Germany’s highest peak, the Zugspitze. In fact, the 1936 Winter Olympics were held here, as well as the International Alpine Skiing Championships in 1978 and 2011.
Garmisch Partenkirchen has been around a long time – and we mean long. The town history dates back to AD 15. At the time, Partanum was a stopover along the trade route between Venice and Augsburg.
Today’s visitors come for the skiing, yes, but they come all four seasons for the hiking, riding in cable cars, spa treatments, Baroque architecture and river walks. Certified guides are eager to show visitors around, taking you past artistically painted houses and along the footsteps of Richard Strauss and Michael Ende. Be sure to include these highlights when you visit the Garmisch Partenkirchen region.
Start with the most commanding mountain in the area, the 9,717-foot-tall Zugspitze, Germany’s tallest peak. Wintertime brings winter-sports enthusiasts, who aim to make fresh tracks where once did Olympian skiers. Skating competitions, shows and ice skating take place at the Ice Stadium, as well on several lakes and outdoor rinks.
Summer begs the attention of hikers, many of whom head for the summit or the Zugspitzplatt, a plateau known for its caves and glaciers. Ride up to a viewpoint on the mountain via the cog railway, the Bayerischen Zugspitzbahn, or combine the rail journey with a ride on the Gletscherbahn cable car.
Hike the trails that open up the wilderness of the Partnach Gorge on the River Partnach. It’s particularly beautiful during the winter when massive icicle formations cling to the cliffs. The Hollentalklamm gorge is also worth a stop, with miles of trails that lead to the summit, some of which go through tunnels and over bridges. Get a great perspective from the 225-foot iron bridge. Many of the area’s popular hikes start from here, including excursions into the Ferchenbachtal Valley, the Reintal Valley and the hiking areas of Mounts Eckbauer, Hausberg and Kreuzec.
If you dare, step out on the platform of the AlpspiX, two steel beams cantilevered in an X formation off the edge of a cliff 3,280 above the ground. Standing here, high above the Hollental Valley, your panorama includes the Zugspitze, Waxensteine and north face of the Alpspitze. It’s free to stand on the platform, but there is a fee to ride the Alpspitzebahn, where it’s located. There are few walks from AlpspiX, including along the Genuss-Erlebnisweg to the top of the Kreuzeckbahn lifts.
King’s House Hike
If you’re seeking a longer hike, head for the King’s House in Schachen, the one-time hunting lodge of King Ludwig II – it’s a three-hour trek each way. It’s fairly small as far as palaces go, but charming in its wooden architecture and setting on the Schachen Alp. Inside, find living rooms with intricate wood paneling and the great Turkish Hall with stained-glass, embroideries and delicate candelabra. There are friendly guides on hand ready to show you around.
Cable Car Rides
Thirsting for Bavarian Alps views, but limited by your hiking ability. Ride the many cable cars and gondolas! Garmisch Partenkirchen has a wide network of lifts and cable cars, including the Hausbergbahn Gondola from Garmisch up the Hausberghohe, to the Kreuzwanklbanh to Kreuzwankln. Or, ride the Kreuzeckbahn up the Kreuzeck.
In Partenkirchen, you’ll have plenty of choices as well. Ride the Wankbahn Cableway to the upper station on the Wank, where you’ll have incredible views of the Garmisch basin. Or, head to the Olympic Ski Stadium to ride the Eckbauerbahn up the Eckbauerhohe. For gorge and river views, ride the Graseckbahn to the Alpenhotel Forsthaus Graseck.
Explore adorable Partenkirchen between the Parnach River and the Wank Mountains. The Ludwigstrasse will woo you with its storybook homes and flower-bedecked window boxes. Photograph the beautifully carved wooden balconies, wrought-iron shop signs and pretty fountains. Or, sit for awhile in a bustling square to listen to Bavarian music and enjoy a local treat. While you’re here, pop into the Werdenfels Regional Museum, which houses a fantastic collection of local archaeological treasures, including examples of bauernmalerei, the distinctive folk art painted on furniture and household objects.
Michael-Ende Kurpark, Garmisch
Pay homage to Germany’s famous 20th-century storyteller, Michael Ende – he wrote The Neverending Story. To visit his namesake park, visit Garmisch, on the banks of the River Loisach. Wind your way through the picturesque homes of Fruhlingstrasse, then sit for awhile amidst the park’s greenery – be sure to try the turf maze.
Richard Strauss Villa
Dedicated to another of Garmisch Partenkirchen’s famous residents, the 1908 Art Nouveau Richard Straus Villa pays homage to the great conductor and composer. If you’re a true classical music connoisseur, time your visit with the Richard Strauss Festival in early June, five days of orchestra and chamber concerts, as well as vocal and piano recitals.
Venture farther into the countryside surrounding Garmisch Partenkirchen to visit Grainau and Eibsee – postcard-perfect villages full of alpine architecture, ancient churches and Bavarian charm. Grainau sits at the foot of the Waxenstein, while Eibsee is farther up, with views of the Riffelwand on the Zugspitze. Take a walk around the lake – or, ice skate on it during the winter.
Take a daytrip through the Bavarian countryside to the Neuschwanstein Castle, fairy-tale palace of King Ludwig II. While you’re there, take the time to explore pretty Oberammergau village and the Ettal Abbey.
Festivals and Events
Immerse yourself in Bavarian culture by timing your visit to Garmisch Partenkirchen with one of the area’s many annual festivals. During the winter, attend the world-famous New Year’s Ski Jumping competition. Summer brings music in the park, the AlpenTestival and many other cultural events.