The Garmisch-Partenkirchen district is one of Germany’s most stunning corners. Here you will find ideas for destinations in the area with a focus on nature, culture and customs.
We have been visiting this district in Bavaria for years because it has so much to offer. In this guide, you will learn about the most well-known places and I will introduce you to true travel gems.
We visited all the places on numerous trips to the Garmisch region from 2018 to 2022. Yes, we also got to see Garmisch during the pandemic years.
They are all within an hour’s distance, if you travel by car. Note that some of these places take almost 3 hours to travel to with public transport. It is definitely easier to get around by car in the mountains!
That said, the local cogwheel train from Garmisch-Partenkirchen via Grainau to the Zugspitze is a special experience, that you should add to your itinerary if possible!
I recommend that you make Garmisch your base and plan to stay at least 4 to 5 days. Another option is to pick your favorite sights and to travel down from Munich the capital of Bavaria.
🏠 Villages and Towns of Garmisch
Located between the Ettal forest, the moorlands, to the border of the Isar river valley, lies the unique German Garmisch area.
Here you will find villages and towns, people with their customs, that resemble the ones across the border in Austria Tyrol. Nonetheless, you will soon learn that clocks tick differently in these parts of the world.
The major attraction in the area are the beautiful-painted mural wall details known as Lüftlmalerei. This art form brings religious and people’s day-to-day activity to live.
The center of all this is Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which was formerly two major towns that were located right next to each other. This was until Hitler decided to merge the two market towns for the winter Olympics that were held there in 1936.
Two town centers with uniquely painted house walls await you in the ski resort town Garmisch-Partenkirchen. You will find upscale stores such as Bogner and Swarovski in the Garmisch town center. The main highlight in the Partenkirchen town center is the historical Ludwigstraße road with the timeless Bavarian buildings.
Richard Strauss lived in Garmisch from 1908 to his death. Fans of the composer will appreciate a visit to the museum, which was the house he lived in.
Close to the Eibsee lake is Grainau, a tiny unconscious chilled village. We stopped at a free parking next to the Tourism office and went out to discover more painted house walls while eating a Plundergebäck (a sweet fresh cheese pastry).
Some of the best violin craftsmen in the world are home in Mittenwald. Oberammergau is also known for the summer Passion Play and the locals’ wood carving traditions.
Wallgau and Krün, two tiny villages near the Isar river, should be on your bucket list if you are looking for true old world charm and a quiet non-touristy places in the Bavarian Alps. Some houses are painted here with the alpine art form as well.
Located a bit further away to the north is the market town of Murnau am Staffelsee. Here you will find a different vibe compared to the other towns and villages in the area.
The most well known of all lakes in the Garmisch region is the Eibsee lake. It is said that it’s the most beautiful lake in Germany, but Berchtesgaden claims the same title for their king’s lake (Königssee). You are the judge!
One thing we know for sure is that this lake is one of the coldest lakes because it’s located almost 3200 feet (~1000 m) above sea level at the base of Germany’s highest mountain peak, the Zugspitze.
Stunning photos of the turquoise blue lake can be taken along the circular hiking trail around the lake. Another fun thing to do is to hire a boat out to enjoy the nature and the crystal clear waters.
The region is known for more lovely lakes and many are popular hangout places during the hotter summer months for locals and visitors alike.
These are not all that well known among international travelers, but German visitors come here frequently!
Tip: See means lake in German.
- Staffelsee – Located next to the Murnau markt town. A ferry can take you to the islands in the lake.
- Kochelsee – A scenic lake, especially if you are sitting in a hot outdoor or indoor pool or in the sauna of the Kristall Therme public spa.
- Walchensee – Drive over the mountain pass from Kochelsee to Walchensee to experience an unparalleled early morning view of the lake.
The Zugspitze with its 9,718 feet (ca. 2,962 m) above sea level is Germany’s highest peak. It’s located right next to the Austrian border to the Tyrol region.
You can travel up to the Zugspitze with the brand-new cable car system. It holds the record for the longest unsupported rope way cable span between the single support and the summit. It is a German engineering marvel!
The summit doesn’t disappoint with the “Top of Germany” view to the nearby mountain peaks and to peaks located in nearby Austria, Switzerland and even Italy.
You will want to pay the steep EUR 60 something per adult ticket for the experience to see one of the last glaciers in Germany.
Garmisch Classic is the adjoining winter sports ski resort and the most important one on the German side. You get to ski on the German and Austrian slopes in this interconnecting over the border ski area.
But alpine skiing is not the only winter sport that you get to enjoy in the area. Garmisch also offers touring, sledging, and country cross skiing options.
🧗♂️ Hikes and Gorges
People that come to the Zugspitze to hike aim for the famous Höllental Wetterstein. It’s a challenging and advanced hike that crosses the Höllentalklamm gorge and leads across the via ferrata to a breathtaking view on top of the mountains.
Families, and normal mortal guests like us, will prefer to uncover the Höllental gorge which is accessible from Hammersbach near Grainau. You can experience it from May to mid-October.
The popular gorge walk with tunnels can be combined with a small tour up the mountain to the Partnachalm inn. Another circular hiking trail takes you from the Partnach gorge to the green meadows of Wamberg and Graseck.
The Kuhfluchtwasserfälle waterfalls are located near Garmisch too. A relaxing forest walk takes you to a 3 breathtakingly steep waterfalls.
Note: An Alm is a mountain inn.
⛪️ Ettal Abbey
Ettal Abbey is an active Benedictine catholic monastery located on the way from Garmisch to Oberammergau in the sleepy village, Ettal.
The monastery complex has a large domed church decorated in baroque and rococo style.
It is said that one of the houses was reserved to the knights of the Teutonic order, which was a medieval German mercenary order established at the Crusades to Jerusalem about 800 years ago.
Today, visitors can explore the abbey and their offerings. They make cheese and distill some seriously quality spirit.
A walk around the gardens is set up so that visitors can learn about the plants used in traditional medicine and spirit making. It’s located right behind the abbey near the cheese shop.
🏰 Linderhof Palace
It is said that King Ludwig II of Bavaria was special in many ways. He built the fairy tale castle Neuschwanstein, the Herrenchiemsee palace on lake Chiemsee and the Linderhof palace in the Ammergau alps.
Commissioning beautiful buildings eventually got him financially into trouble, similar to Shah Jahan with his legendary Taj Mahal in India. Moreover, he might have been Homosexual, and he faced numerous problems at that time.
King Ludwig II, however, he left us with wonderful palaces and Linderhof is just another out of the box fabled palace worth discovering.
Located in the Ammergebirge nature reserve, next to the Ettal forest, among a delicate well manicured geometric garden area, sits the smaller Neo-Rococo style Schloss Linderhof.
A gilt fountain group located at the center of the large pool, spits out every so often an 80-foot (25 meters) high water stream.
The lavish interiors, with the mirror room, study room, dinner room, sleeping room can be visited as well. Also look out for the Venus cave and the Moroccan house on the premises.
Tip: Schloss means palace in German.
✨ More Day Trips
Garmisch is so well located (hence why I recommend it wholeheartedly as a base), that you can organize more day trips to well-known sights and places.
- Hohenschwangau with Neuschwanstein castle (aka fairytale Disney castle) and Füssen town.
- Reutte town with the suspension bridge Highline179, Ehrenberg castle ruins and fort Claudia ruins.
- Innsbruck the capital of the Tyrol region in Austria.
- Isar river valley toll road for a relaxing drive into nature. Make it a circuit with a stop at the Achensee lake, and Innsbruck or the medieval town of Hall in Tirol and come back via Seefeld to Garmisch in Germany.
- Bad Tölz, a charming authentic Bavarian town which hasn’t been frequented by Tourists yet.
What is Garmisch Partenkirchen known for?
It is known for the winter Olympic Games that were organized there in 1936. This was the first time that a sport even was reported live with zeppelins and radio technology. Two towns were then forcibly merged into one by Hitler for the Olympics in January 1935, a year before the games. Today, Garmisch is one of the four places that organizes the Vierschanzentournee (Four Hills Tournament), a world-class ski jumping competition event held on New Year’s Day at the former Olympic stadium. Garmisch is also known for the magnificent painted murals, similar to other villages in the area.
Is Garmisch in Austria or Germany?
Garmisch is located in Bavaria Germany. As much as the Austrians would like to call Garmisch their own, it’s part of Germany now.
How do you get around in Garmisch-Partenkrichen?
If you intend to move between the Garmisch and Partenkirchen town centers, then getting around by bus or taxi is your best option (if you don’t have a car). The walking distance between the two towns is about 20 to 30 minutes.
Why is Bavaria not part of Austria?
Bavaria was for a long time a kingdom of its own. Austria was running an empire before WWI reduced it to what it is today. The two were part of the Holy Roman Empire almost 1000 years ago. This is the shortest explanation because the topic is rather complex.
What is so special about Bavaria?
The free state of Bavaria is part of Germany, but the region is very different from the northern states. Swabia, located to the left of Bavaria on the maps, is perhaps the only other state that resembles Bavarian culture. People in Bavaria resemble Austrians in their language, culture, and food.