The villages of Garmisch and Partenkirchen were joined together for the 1936 winter Olympics to form a small town, which over the years has become Germany’s top winter sports resort and a popular year-round holiday destination. Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a traditional Bavarian town with quaint cobblestone streets and half-timbered buildings. It lies in a convenient location just over an hour’s easy motorway drive from Munich to the north and just under an hour’s drive from the Austrian city of Innsbruck to the south.
Keeping fit in fresh mountain air
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is perfect for both the super fit and for those who prefer to take life at a gentler pace. In winter, downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and sledding are all on offer, and the fun continues into the summer with dry tobogganing, horse riding, cycling and swimming in indoor and outdoor pools and crystal clear mountain lakes.
A popular trip option combining sightseeing and fitness is a horse-drawn carriage or sleigh ride from the Olympic Stadium – worth a visit in itself – to the spectacular and slightly scary Partnach Gorge. The gorge is the starting point for numerous hiking trails, including a strenuous climb up to Schachen where ‘Mad’ King Ludwig II built a Swiss-style hunting lodge with an interior as outrageously ornate as those inside his famous fairytale castles.
Bavaria’s castles – the stuff dreams are made of
The king’s best-known castles – Linderhof, Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau – and the Herrenchiemsee Palace are all just a short drive from Garmisch-Partenkirchen. They are easily accessible by public transport too but make sure you reserve tickets in advance, particularly during the summer months when tours regularly sell out. Looking up at Neuschwanstein, teetering on an outcrop of rock over the River Pöllat, you’ll soon understand why visitors flock here from all over the world. Linderhof, where the eccentric king rowed his golden swan-boat on an underground lake inside an artificial grotto, is both beautiful and bizarre, and the Hall of Mirrors at the Herrenchiemsee Palace that dwarfs its counterpart at Versailles is utterly breathtaking.
Entrance to the castles costs around €13 per adult and is free for children but if you intend to visit more than one of the fairytale buildings that inspired Disney Group’s Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty castles, the Bavarian castles and palaces season ticket is a sensible buy. Valid for two weeks, it gives access to over forty properties for the very reasonable price of around €44 for a family of four. Private guided tours from Garmisch-Partenkirchen cost around £132 per person online and include stop-offs in Oberammergau and Ettel Abbey.
A train with a view
Another trip that must be booked in advance is to the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak, towering above beautiful Lake Eibsee. Hardy walkers may chose to hike from the Partnach Gorge but the short train ride to the lake gives equally stunning views of its green-blue waters and surrounding wooded mountain slopes. If you have time, wander along the shoreline to look at the yachts moored at secluded jetties. In summer, there are regular regattas and firework shows.
The journey from Eibsee to the summit of the Zugspitze is made in two stages: by an old-fashioned funicular railway that travels through numerous tunnels blasted through the rock face and a hairy cable car ride. At the summit, you can steel your nerves for the journey down with a bite to eat at the panoramic restaurant or a beer at Germany’s highest beer garden. A ticket to the summit for a family of 2 adults and 2 children costs around €126. A guided day trip from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which also includes a visit to Neuschwanstein, will cost around £162 if you book online.
A perfect rural base for exploring towns and cities
The train from Garmisch-Partenkirchen will transport you to two unique world cities within an hour…and you will barely notice you’ve left! In Munich, high-tech industries and modern buildings cohabit harmoniously with museums, monuments and parks. From the resplendently landscaped Englischer Garten you can even see the Alps on a clear day.
Innsbruck has a similar vibe with late medieval buildings, like the Hapsburg Palace and baroque cathedral, sitting alongside more modern constructions. The Nordkette mountain range is so close that within minutes you can be away from the city centre enjoying a picnic lunch and listening to the sound of cowbells chiming in Alpine fields.
Oberammergau is a small town, close to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, famous for its buildings painted with religious scenes, a trompe l’oeil effect known as Lüftmalerei. The town is probably best known for its Passion Play, which is performed by local residents and takes place every ten years. The next performance isn’t until 2020 but the custom-built open-air theatre that enables 800 people to take to the stage at the same time has an extensive and interesting exhibition.
Here even the roads are romantic
There are many lakes worth visiting within the vicinity of Garmisch-Partenkirchen – the Walchensee, Ammersee, the Chiemsee, the Starnbergersee – but the Bodensee, or Lake Constance, is arguably the most beautiful. It will take a couple of hours by car or train to reach the medieval town of Lindau but your efforts will be rewarded: Lindau is an island encircled by crystal clear water, snow-capped mountains and luscious green pastures, connected to the mainland by a rail and road bridge.
Lindau is also the starting point of the Romantic Road, which follows the course of the Roman Via Claudia all the way to Salzburg in Austria. The route is 280 miles long and passes through the most stunning parts of the German Alps, including all the main sights. If you love a road trip, this could make a great holiday, especially if you break up the journey in Garmisch-Partenkirchen to recharge your batteries.
Getting around is easy.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a veritable transport hub. It’s possible to get to all the major sights easily by public transport. The most economical way of using the transport system is to buy a Bayern Ticket, either online or from a vending machine (the cost is slightly more from ticket station windows. The ticket is valid for one day’s unlimited travel and may be bought for individuals or for small groups. A ticket for a family of four will cost around €43.
..and there’s accommodation to suit all pockets
There’s an extensive range of accommodation in Garmisch-Partenkirchen: ski chalets, house rentals, bed and breakfast, chain hotels, spa resorts as well as hostels and campsites. Some are in the town centre, some close to the Zugspitze, some in more rural locations. Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a popular year-round holiday destination for Germans and Austrians as well as for foreign tourists, so it’s worth booking accommodation in advance.
Sausage, schnitzel and so much more
All the traditional foods are on offer in Garmisch-Partenkirchen – sausages, dumplings, Wiener schnitzel, and pork chops – but there are more delicate offerings too: farm-produced cheeses and smoked meats can be eaten with black and rye breads as well as sourdough rolls.
River fish are on most menus and almost all restaurants offer vegetarian options. If you fancy something a little more international, try Colosseo or La Baita for pizza and pasta, Reindl’s for French cuisine and El Greco for Greek. If you can’t last a whole week without a curry, try the Restaurant Bollywood for a vindaloo.
Spending a leisurely hour or two watching the world go by in an ice-cream parlour or cafe is a German tradition and in Garmisch-Partenkirchen you’ll find ice-cream, desserts and cake to rival anything you might find in Italy or France. Try chocolate and praline sundaes, delivered with a smile, at the Eiscafe Magia Fredda and the plum, strawberry and blueberry waffles at Hoffmann’s Wafflehouse.
And there’s the beer, of course
Bavaria is famous for its beer, and there’s something in Garmisch-Partenkirchen to suit every palate, from the traditional sweet dark beers to the larger-type light beers. Bock and Doppelbock are local favourites as is the yeasty Weissbier, or wheat beer, which is usually served with a slice of lemon. A huge salty pretzel is great for getting up a thirst for the next round.
If you have a car (and a volunteer driver!) there are a dozen different breweries in the vicinity, but true beer lovers might prefer to consider one of the private guided bus tours that set out from Garmisch-Partenkirchen and cost around £143, including all beer and a hearty feast of traditional Bavarian fayre.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen has it all
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a tourist destination that never feels particularly busy. Fresh air, fields, fitness, fine food and fabulous mountain views make for a relaxing yet invigorating break. Whether you visit in the winter or the summer, it is the perfect holiday destination for couples and families – a place where fairy tales really do come true.