Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe Free State of Bavaria is Germany’s largest region and offers the kind of experiences most people envisage when they think of German clichés. Want to see a happy farmer donning lederhosen, riding a tractor up rolling verdant hills, all the while drinking a 1ltr mass of beer and eating a sausage-filled pretzel? Then Bavaria is where you need to go! Exaggerated clichés aside (no-one could drink, eat AND drive a tractor at the same time!), Bavaria is the epitome German destination for those who want to savour the best of the Alps and its incredibly fertile basin, as well as the country’s interesting culture and tumultuous history.
Brief HistoryCulturally and historically, this southern Bavarian region has much more in common with neighbouring Austria and Switzerland than it has ever had with its neighbouring German regions. Up until 1866, when north and south united to fight the French, a common enemy, the two halves of Germany were overseen by different Empires, ruled by different Kings and developed quite distinct cultures and languages. Bavaria was in fact an independent Kingdom, for over a century, a rule which only ended in November 1918. The long-held legacy left behind, comprising awe-inspiring castles and palaces, represent the single-biggest magnet for tourism in the region nowadays. Blessed by a rich history and favourable nature, Bavaria is both a stunning and interesting place to explore.
If you want a truly rounded German experience, you also ought to include a visit to the northern Black Sea Coast, Berlin to the east or the Rhine Valley to the west, when planning your trip to Bavaria.
- Munich is founded by Henry the Lion in 1158
- The Oktoberfest, the world renowned Bavarian festival of beer, is locally referred to as the Wies’n; a term which refers to Theresienwiese, the field where the festivities are held.
- One of the most popular beer mix drinks in Bavaria is the radler, which is both a beer-and-lemonade spritz...and a cyclist!
- Inherently Catholic, Bavarians will usually greet each other with a hearty "Grüß Gott" (May God greet you), which tends to drive the northern Prussian Protestants up the wall.
- Bavaria is among Europe’s oldest states.
- King Ludwig II, the renowned ‘fairytale’ King who built all those opulent castles for which Bavaria is so renowned, was declared insane in 1886. Three days later he was found dead, floating face-down on Lake Starnberg. His death remains a mystery.
HighlightsBavaria is superbly varied in what it offers, so taking a road trip here is immensely rewarding. Whilst plying the route between majestic castle and medieval towns, you’ll admire the pristine landscapes and snow capped peaks which has made this region the most picture-perfect in the entire country.
For ease of itinerary planning, we include distances to Munich, as this will likely be your prime point of entry.
OktoberfestAs it turns out, Germans are not the only ones who love beer. Head to Munich at the end of September and you could partake in the world’s largest festival of its kind, with a multitude of delectable local food, an insane amount of beer and head-spinning rides and shows entertaining the masses for days on end.
Neuschwanstein CastleThe most ‘fairytale’ castle of them all is Neuschwanstein, the brainchild of mad King Ludwig II who had this gargantuan palace built atop a hill near the town of Füssen on the border with Austria. The Palace is featured on Disney’s logo and has been an inspiration for countless movies and children’s fables. Füssen is itself an incredibly beautiful historic town and was part of the ancient Via Claudia Augusta .
ZugspitzeGermany’s highest peak, Zugspitze, stands at just a foot shy of 3,000m and is one of Bavaria’s most popular mountaineering destinations. Head to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the town which played host to the 1936 Winter Olympic Games, and you could either hike ad infinitum in spring and summer, or enjoy skiing and snowboarding in winter. This is considered to be the country’s best skiing region.
Old Town RothemburgIf you thought Neuschwanstein looks like something out of a fairytale book, wait till you see this place. Rothenburg ob der Tauber boasts what is arguably one of the most picturesque medieval town centres in all of Germany, and found along the Romantic Route which plies the route through this region. Rebuilt after the devastation of WWII, this walled town is one of the prettiest in Europe and a walking guided tour is highly recommended, as the history is as fascinating as the sites are enchanting.
Bamberg AltstadtYet another resplendent old town, Bamberg lies on the shores of the Regnitz River and is part and parcel of the UNESCO list of heritage sites. Easily reached by train, this old town centre is immensely gorgeous, small and easy to navigate on foot. Just to remember to skip a visit on week-ends, which is when the town gets a tad too overcrowded.
KönigsseeThis sparkling lake on the southern fringes of Bavaria (near the town of Berchtesgaden) is at the heart of the Berchtesgaden National Park and is one of the most popular day-trip destination sin all of Bavaria. Flanked by vertiginous Alpine peaks and boasting nipple-freeze-worthy temps pretty much all year round, this is one of the most spectacular spots for nature lovers. Take a relaxing lake cruise, hike to nearby waterfalls and enjoy a snack and a drink at one of the many stalls near the parking lot.
Starnberg LakeStarnbergersee may not nearly be as impressive as Konigsee (not many lakes are) that’s granted, but its close proximity to Munich and its incredibly charming lakeside towns make this the most popular week-ender for city-siders. Head to the historic town of Tutzing and you’ll enjoy delectable food and drinks in one of the many lake-side beer gardens and visit the spot where Ludwig II was found dead (Berg). Active visitors may want to take on the 49kms circumnavigating walking/cycling path and, if visiting in summer, don;t forget to pack your swimmers. The water here is just superb!
Dachau Concentration CampNot to put a damper on your trip, but heading out here and ignoring a very important part of the country’s history may be a bit of a shame. Dachau was the very first camp of its kind operated by the Nazis and served mainly as a forced labour camp for Jews and any Germans and Austrians who were criminals or not sympathetic to the cause. Dachau Concentration Camp is open to the public and offers both English-language guided tours or audio-guides.
MunichMunich is the most visited destination in all of Bavaria and it’s certainly not difficult to understand why that would be. Brimming with amazing architecture, a gorgeous old town centre, museums galore, opulent palaces and castle and overflowing with superb beer gardens, it’s a wonder anyone would feel the desire to go anywhere else. The really great part about Munich? You can hop on a train or in your rental car and you can reach the farthest reaches of Bavaria in a single day. Make several day trips, or undertake one continuous loop. Whatever you do, make sure to include a few spare days to wander about Munich’s centre with no plans, maps or itineraries. This will be, perhaps, the very best day of all.
How to get thereMunich’s International Airport is one of the busiest aviation hubs in all of Europe and serviced by a great majority of the world’s airlines. Easy to reach by train or long-haul bus, this is an incredibly convenient base city for all your German explorations, both within Bavaria and further afield.
Once in Munich, you’d be wise to utilise the city’s extensive train system, something locals do in the great majority. A Bayern Ticket is a day pass which costs €23 per person (€25 for two people, and so on) and grants you rides on all trains and most buses within Bavaria, for a 24hr period. Considering the fact that a single, return ticket from Munich to Starnberg costs €20, this is a great deal if you wish to make more than one sightseeing spot in a day.
Food and AccomodationRenting a car and driving around this region is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most rewarding thing you could do. The best part of Bavaria is in its side streets, its un-mentioned towns, the myriad of middle-of-nowhere beer gardens and its awe-inspiring, forest lined roads. Getting lost here, is half the fun and something you’ll miss if travelling purely by train. All villages offer overnight accommodation, which come in the shape of charming gasthaus or local, authentic inns. These usually boast an amazing restaurant, pub and few hotel rooms. Sometimes, the best meals you’ll have is in some long-lost guesthouse.
Speaking of meals, here are some local specialties you should try whilst in Bavaria. If you’re looking for low-fat, health conscious meals, now would be a great time to change your mind.
Schweinbraten: The pork roast to end all pork roasts, the schweinbraten is succulent, saucy and usually served with sauerkraut. Traditionally basted in spices like sweet paprika, caraway seeds and mustard, this is pork at its most delicious at its best.
Schweinshaxe: Roasted pork knuckle is a true local favourite and often served in humongous portions. The white wine gravy cooks for hours and melts the onions, sage, rosemary and celery with which it is cooked. Add some sour cream at the end of cooking and voila! Melt-in-your mouth deliciousness.
Kässpatzen: This is the Bavarian take on the Italian gnocchi, except they’re smaller, made with flour and usually fried up with an abundance of tasty cheese. Choose it as a side serve to go with your meat, or enjoy on its own, in a soup.
Weißwurst: the sausage of choice for the ‘Bavarian Breakfast’, this white sausage is usually boiled and served with seeded mustard, a pretzel and a half-litre mug of beer, usually at 8am on a Sunday. Because this is Germany so why not?
Leberkäse: No-one really knows exactly what leberkäseis but, to be honest, no-one here really cares. It may be called liver-cheese but rest assured there is neither liver nor cheese in this processed meat concoction. Nevertheless it is a most delicious ‘ham like’ sandwich filler. You’ll find leberkäse grilled, stuffed in rolls and topped with spicy mustard in stalls and beer gardens all over Bavaria.
Semmel Knödel: Oversized dumplings are found all over Germany, Austria and Switzerland, yet each region of very one of those countries boasts a particular kind which is unique to the area. In Bavaria, locals love to stuff them with plums and apricots and serve them with hot, sweet custard. The more traditional savoury type are made with bread (semmel) and re plainly prepared with egg and parsley, so they can be served alongside stews and gravy-based meat dishes.
Kartoffelsalat: There’s boring ol’ potato salad, and then there’s Bavarian potato salad, a delectable concoction of taters, teamed up with onions, white vinegar, bacon bits and parsley.
Schnitzel: Whilst the traditional Wiener schnitzel is made with veal, the Bavarian version is more likely to be made with pork.
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Jun 19, 2015