13 Top-Rated Things to Do in Garmisch-Partenkirchen
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Garmisch-Partenkirchen is one of the busiest year-round holiday destinations in the Bavarian Alps. In a valley at the base of a number of tall mountains, it's well known as a winter sports resort and is famous for hosting the 1936 Winter Olympics, along with the International Alpine Skiing Championships in 1978 and 2011. In 2022, it hosts two men's slalom events for the Alpine Skiing World Cup.
The town's history can be traced back to AD 15, when Partanum was a major stopover on the Venice to Augsburg trade route. The wide valley of the Loisach is enclosed by mighty mountains: to the north, Kramer and the Wank; to the south, the towering Wetterstein group, with the Kreuzeck, the jagged Alpspitze, and the Dreitorspitze; and, rearing up behind the Grosser Waxenstein, the Zugspitze, at 2,962 meters Germany's highest mountain.
Between hiking, skiing, and riding cable cars to breathtaking Alpine views, active travelers will find plenty of choices in this list of things to do in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
See also: Where to Stay in Garmisch-Partenkirchen
1. Challenge Zugspitze: Germany's Highest Peak
One of the biggest draws to this corner of Bavaria is the 2,962-meter-tall Zugspitze, Germany's tallest mountain. Popular year-round, it's during the winter months that this impressive peak is busiest, as skiers from across Europe arrive to sample its many challenging runs and to enjoy its dramatic scenery.
In summer, the Zugspitze comes alive with the sound of tramping hiking boots, as outdoor enthusiasts visit the summit, as well as the Zugspitzplatt, a plateaued area well known for its caves and glaciers. The Bayerischen Zugspitzbahn, a cog railway, ascends the mountain and the Zugspitze-Round-Trip ticket combines this with rides on the Gletscherbahn cable car and the Cable car Zugspitze for a complete mountain experience.
If you're visiting Munich, the mountain is easy to reach on the Zugspitze Day Tour from Munich, a full day of breathtaking Alpine scenery. After a ride through the Bavarian countryside with your guide, you'll board the Gletscherbahn cable car to the summit of Zugspitze for views that include mountain peaks in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. Ride back down on the cogwheel train before returning to Munich.
Official site: https://zugspitze.de/en
2. Winter Sports: Ski and Skate in Olympic Venues
The 1936 Winter Olympics left a lasting legacy on Garmisch-Partenkirchen, earning the town its place as one of Europe's top winter sports destinations. Many of the community's colorful chalets and buildings were built especially for the event and remain in use to this day. The most notable examples include the Olympic Ski Stadium on the Gudiberg, easily identified by its ski-jumps and still used during the ski season for international and local contests.
Skating enthusiasts can strut their stuff at the same Ice Stadium used for the 1936 Winter Olympics. Today, public skating and lessons take place here, whether in speed skating or traditional choreographed dance routines. The stadium, which is a popular venue for skating competitions and shows, also has a curling rink. In the winter, several lakes and outdoor rinks are also available for skaters to enjoy.
Ski lifts and pistes extend from the valley floor to the Zugspitze and other peaks, creating a network of downhill and Nordic ski opportunities for all levels of skiers. Another historic landmark is the Olympiaschanze, the ski-jump used for the 1936 Winter Olympics. You can tour the jump for beautiful views and learn more about the sport at a small museum; you might even find an event or practice session in progress there.
Address: Karl-und Martin-Neuner-Platz, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
3. Walk through the Partnach Gorge (Partnachklamm)
Just three kilometers southeast of Garmisch-Partenkirchen is the wild and romantic Partnachklamm, the Partnach Gorge. This dramatic and rocky gorge on the River Partnach is 702 meters long and reaches depths of more than 80 meters. While wonderful to explore at any time of year, winter brings with it additional beauty in the guise of massive ice formations that cling to the cliff faces.
Another notable gorge is Höllentalklamm, just six kilometers southwest of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. A variety of excellent trails lead to and around the summit (1,045 meters), including a track that can be followed through numerous tunnels and over bridges to the end of the gorge.
4. Defy Gravity at the AlpspiX
Almost immediately upon its opening, the AlpspiX became one of the most popular places to visit from Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Consisting of two crossed steel beams that cantilever in an X formation from the edge of a cliff, the AlpspiX allows you to stand in mid-air, atop a vertical drop of about 1,000 meters above the ground. All around is a panorama of Alpine peaks: the Zugspitze, Waxensteine, and the impressive Alpspitze north face. Below is the broad Höllental Valley.
The platform is free, but of course you'll need to pay to ride the Alpspitzebahn to its top station, where the AlpspiX is located. Several walks begin here – a popular one is along the Genuss-Erlebnisweg from the top station of the Alpspitzebahn lifts to the top of the Kreuzeckbahn lifts.
5. Hike to the King's House
A three-hour hike each way from Garmisch-Partenkirchen is the King's House in Schachen, the exquisite "hunting" lodge of King Ludwig II (the king was opposed to hunting, but that was the accepted name for country retreats such as this). Built between 1869 and 1872 on the Schachen Alp, this relatively small wooden palace was designed to resemble a Swiss chalet and was a favorite of the king, who celebrated his birthday here each August.
Highlights include its five lower-level living rooms with their exquisite wood paneling, while upstairs the main focal point is the fabulous Turkish Hall with its stained glass windows, rich embroideries, and fancy candelabra. The stunning views, the incongruity of the opulent Turkish Hall amid such remote surroundings, and lively guided tours help make it worth the long hike.
6. Ride High in Mountain Gondolas
An excellent way to get the most out of your sightseeing and hiking high above Garmisch-Partenkirchen is to make use of the town's fantastic network of summit lifts and gondolas. In Garmisch, the Hausbergbahn Gondola travels 1,338 meters up the Hausberghöhe from where the Kreuzwanklbahn continues to the Kreuzwankln at 1,550 meters.
Another popular route is via the Kreuzeckbahn, which travels from Garmisch up the Kreuzeck at 1,650 meters and has fine views, particularly of the nearby Alpspitze.
From Partenkirchen, visitors are also well served by an excellent network of ski lifts heading into the surrounding mountains. The Wankbahn Cableway runs from Partenkirchen some 3,000 meters to an upper station on the Wank at 1,755 meters. From the summit at 1,780 meters, there's a magnificent view of the Garmisch basin.
The Eckbauerbahn departs from the Olympic Ski Stadium up the Eckbauerhöhe at 1,236 meters and also has fine panoramic views, while the Graseckbahn travels from the entrance to the Partnachklamm with its superb gorges and raging rivers, southeast of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, to the Alpenhotel Forsthaus Graseck at 903 meters.
7. Stroll through Ludwigstrasse and Historic Partenkirchen
Partenkirchen, the eastern part of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, lies between the river Partnach and the Wank mountains. Its main street, Ludwigstrasse, is lined with traditional houses with beautifully painted facades and window boxes abloom with geraniums. Although the house fronts are one dimensional, trompe l'oeil painting makes them appear to have elaborate carved scrollwork around windows and doors.
It's a good place for a leisurely stroll to admire the carved wooden balconies and the intricate wrought-iron and gilded signs on the shops and gasthofs. Fountains punctuate small flower-decked squares, and as you sit in an outdoor café or restaurant you might hear a local band playing Bavarian music. At the end of the street are steps leading to lovely views.
8. Hike or Skate at the Eibsee
Southwest of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the village of Grainau lies in rolling park-like countryside at the foot of the Waxenstein. Higher up is the Eibsee, from which there's a good view of the Waxenstein and the Riffelwand on the Zugspitze. The waters are so clear that you can watch fish swim far below the surface.
The four-mile walking path around the lake is interspersed with benches and scenic spots for a picnic. In the winter, the lake is popular with ice skaters. Any time of year, it's a picture-perfect slice of Bavaria, a scene made all the more perfect due to its alpine homes and lovely old church.
9. Walk Barefoot at the Michael-Ende Kurpark
With its picturesque old houses – particularly in lovely Frühlingstrasse – Garmisch sits idyllically on the banks of the 114-kilometer-long River Loisach flowing from Austria. A pleasant stroll through this small community takes you to the Kongresshaus, the community center set in pretty Michael-Ende Kurpark, named in honor of Germany's most famous 20th-century storyteller and a former resident (Ende wrote The Neverending Story).
The park is a quiet oasis filled with places where visitors are encouraged to become one with nature by walking barefoot on soft mosses and smooth stone pathways. Children love climbing on the whimsical grass and stone turtle and challenging the turf maze. Flower beds, pools, and plenty of places to sit and enjoy the surroundings make this a popular place.
Address: Richard-Strauss-Platz 1A, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
10. Franziskanerkloster St. Anton
The pilgrimage church St. Anton is a short walk above Partenkirchen; you can recognize it by its distinctive onion dome. Inside the dome is a beautiful fresco by Johann Evangelist Holzer, and elsewhere in the late Baroque/Rococo church are more wall paintings, and carved wooden pews.
Outside, in the covered walkways leading to the church are memorials to the local men who died in the two World Wars, mostly those who were lost in the Russian campaigns of World War II. Along the path leading from the town to the church are Stations of the Cross.
Other churches that are interesting places to visit are the New Parish Church, St. Martin's, built in 1733 with a rich Baroque interior, and the 15th-century Old Parish Church (Alte Pfarrkirche) with its Gothic wall paintings.
Address: St.-Anton 1, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
11. Walk through Mountainside Meadows
More than 300 kilometers (186 miles) of marked walking trails traverse the pine forests and high meadows of the lower slopes, and you don't need hiking boots to enjoy most of them. A favorite is the Philosophers' Trail (Philosophenweg), an easy five-kilometer walk from Partenkirchen to Farchant, punctuated by benches, so you can enjoy the views and ponder the words of famous philosophers inscribed here.
A bit longer and with a few more ups and downs, the 6.2-kilometer Katzenstein-Kochelberg Loop is a moderate walk through forests and meadows and along a glacial lake. Experienced climbers will find almost limitless options in the Bavarian Alps around Garmisch.
12. Richard Strauss Villa and Festival
Another famous resident, Richard Strauss, spent 40 years of his life in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Today, his lovely 1908 Art Nouveau villa in Garmisch is a museum and memorial dedicated to the great conductor and composer who lived and died here.
The pleasant two-story structure is itself quite interesting, particularly due to its picturesque oriel tower and pleasing stone and plaster facade. Locals also named the town's public square in Strauss's honor.
If possible, try to time your visit to coincide with the annual Richard Strauss Festival held in early June. Events during this five-day extravaganza include orchestral and chamber concerts, vocal and piano recitals, as well as lectures relating to the town's most famous resident.
Address: Zöppritzstrasse 42, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
13. Step into History at the Werdenfels Regional Museum
This fascinating little museum on Ludwigstrasse was started in 1895 and is housed in a 17th-century former merchant's home. Among its collection are local archaeological finds (Garmisch-Partenkirchen lay alongside an ancient trade route) and artifacts, religious objects, carnival masks, and folk art, as well as antique furnishings.
There are some excellent examples of bauernmalerei, the traditional folk art painting on furniture and other household objects. The focus is very much on exhibitions related to the region's history, including a fascinating look at its 700-year-long stint as an independent state until 1802. Ask for a brochure in English.
Address: Ludwigstrasse 47, Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Where to Stay in Garmisch-Partenkirchen for Sightseeing
You'll find plenty of hotel choices in all price ranges in the compact center of town, where the train station (bahnhof) is located. A good local bus system connects to the base station for the train up Zugspitze and to other tourist attractions, such as Partnach Gorge and the bases of several mountain tramways. Here are some highly rated hotels in Garmisch-Partenkirchen:
- Beside the river and an easy walk from the center and from trails in the valley, the Bavarian-style Hotel Edelweiss has a pool, balconies with views of the Alps, and free breakfasts with cooked-to-order dishes.
- Staudacherhof Hotel has an outdoor pool and spa with a sauna, in a quiet neighborhood a few minutes' walk from the old center of Garmisch and the base of the Zugspitze.
- Obermuehle 4*S Boutique Resort has a wellness center and pool; free breakfast; complimentary battery-powered eBikes; and a free shuttle service to and from the bus station, ski lifts, and local attractions.
- In a beautiful Bavarian-style building in the center of town, with flower-bedecked balconies, Hotel Zugspitze has a pool, sauna, spa, free breakfast, and in-room machines with fresh-ground coffee.
- Near the train station and rich in old-world charm, the family-run Reindl's Partenkirchner Hof has a pool, sauna, free breakfast, and large rooms with views.
- Near restaurants and shops in the center of Garmisch, the chalet-style Hotel Almenrausch und Edelweiss has nicely decorated rooms with balconies and views, plus free breakfast.
- With Alpine views from its balconies, Hotel Rheinischer Hof provides guests with a free bus pass and is within walking distance of the center of town.
- In the traffic-free center, Atlas Posthotel has rooms in the main building and apartments in an annex.
- With sweeping views of Zugspitze and other mountains, Mercure Hotel Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a five-minute walk from the village center.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Garmisch-Partenkirchen
- Touring the Zugspitze: A seven-hour Private Day Tour of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the Zugspitze Mountain includes a cable car ride to the summit of Zugspitze with a guide to point out the peaks in the spectacular panorama. Once at the top, you'll cross over into Austria to take a cable car to the glacier. Back in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, you'll learn about Bavaria's history and culture as you explore the pretty village with your private guide.
- Touring Neuschwanstein Castle from Garmisch-Partenkirchen: A Full Day Private Tour of Neuschwanstein Castle begins with pickup right from your hotel and a drive through the Bavarian countryside to King Ludwig II of Bavaria's most famous and spectacular palace, where you'll walk right past the waiting line to tour the fairy-tale-like castle. Next, explore the pretty Bavarian village of Oberammergau, then visit Ettal Abbey before returning to your hotel.
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