The best day trips from Munich

From serene Alpine escapes and medieval villages to sobering WWII memorial sites, here are the top day trips from Munich
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Jeff Wilcox
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For Munich locals and loyalists, it’s what’s outside of town that captivates as much as the southern German metropolis itself. When you've finished visiting Munich's stunning attractions and things to do, take advantage of the city's prime location and venture on a day trip. With the Alps on the horizon, there are plenty of stunning mountain destinations and activities a short ride from the city—from hiking, skiing and traditional Bavarian architecture in Garmisch-Patenkirchen to the vertiginous mix of Nazi history and pristine landscape at Berchtesgaden. The shattering legacy of the Third Reich continues at the Memorial Site of Dachau, the first concentration camp in Germany where 41,500 prisoners lost their lives. The walled town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, meanwhile, is about as pristine a medieval city you can find, and an apt reminder of the long reach of German culture and history before the Nazis came to power.

Day trips from Munich

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

A little over two hours north of Munich between Stuttgart and Nuremberg, this walled town is arguably the most authentic throwback to medieval Europe you can find. Behind the 14th-century city walls, you’ll find a web of narrow passageways, half-timber houses, stately towers and impressive churches, as well as the imperial castle, built in 1142. With such immaculate preservation, Rothenburg has unsurprising hordes of tourists, particularly in summer. If you can, it’s well worth staying into the evening, when the shuttle buses have left, the church spires darken against the twilight, and you can hear your footsteps echo down the cobbled streets. 

EAT:

Cozy Franconian restaurant Glocke offers great traditional local cuisine with delicious wines from their own vineyard.

DRINK: 

Adjoining a gate tower, the half-timber Landwehr-Bräu am Turm serves up chilled beer and simple food in an idyllic spot just a few paces down from Plönlein.

DO:

The Medieval Crime Museum explores crime and punishment in the Middle Ages with a fascinating display of notorious crime cases, witch-hunts, and the often-gruesome devices used to extract confessions and inflict punishment.

STAY: 

For ultimate Rothenburg romance, book ahead at the Burg Hotel. Built into the city walls, it offers panoramic views across the Tauber valley, a beautiful cloister garden and 30 sumptuous, sunlit rooms, many with four-poster beds.

If you do just one thing... 

Head to Plönlein, a particularly photogenic intersection of two cobbled alleys, framed by the 13th-century gate towers, Siebers Tower and Kobolzeller Tower.

Berchtesgaden
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Wikiuser100

Berchtesgaden

The Alpine retreat of Berchtesgaden offers a dizzy mix of pristine natural beauty and dark Nazi history. The aptly-named Königsee is for many the crown jewel of Bavaria—a vast, emerald green lake nestled between sheer cliff faces, with the charming St. Bartholomä pilgrimage church on a peninsula halfway down its western shore. Higher up, the Eagle’s Nest is a formidable Nazi construction, completed in 1938 and formally gifted to Adolf Hitler for his 50th birthday. A staggering 1,834m high, with an access road cut into previously impassable mountain terrain, it was conceived as a fortified summit of Nazi power, both to conduct top-tier meetings and to impress important guests. 

EAT: 

It’s all about fresh flavors and flowers at the restaurant BioHotelKurz, located in a 500-year-old farmhouse just outside of Berchtesgaden. Proprietress Frau Kurz has won a crowd of loyalists with her delightful hospitality and delicious vegetarian dinners. Booking is a must.

DRINK: 

For an idyllic coffee and an Eis sit yourself down in the sun at Eiscafe La Fontana, right in the scenic center of Berchtesgaden. The ice cream menu includes some particularly kid-friendly creations.

DO:

Take a boat tour down the Königsee to the St Bartholomä church. The trumpeter on board may sound like a gimmick, but just wait until you hear the crystalline, seven-fold echo off the lake’s surrounding rock faces.

STAY: 

Ten minutes’ drive up from Berchtesgaden, Hotel zum Türken was built in 1911, seized by the Nazis in 1933, and occupied throughout the war by SS officers guarding Hitler’s private residence, the Berghof, built just yards away. Retrieved by the original owners after the war, it makes for a fascinating stay, so long as you can handle a lack of mod-cons and some serious ghosts from the past.

If you do only one thing... 

Take the short hike up through the forest to the Königsee “Malerwinkel”—a shady clearing among the pines with superlative views down on to the lake.

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Neuschwanstein Castle

Schloss Neuschwanstein

If you’ve seen Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Walt Disney’s Cinderella, you’ve already seen something of Neuschwanstein—iconic film set inspiration and the ultimate outlandish project of Bavaria’s “Mad King Ludwig.” Built in the late 19th century on a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangau, the castle was conceived by the notoriously profligate Bavarian King both as his own private retreat and as a vast architectural tribute to Richard Wagner, of whom he was an ardent fan. Ludwig paid meticulous, microscopic attention to all details of the Schloss’s extraordinary external and internal design, which includes a Singers’ Hall, a Throne Room, a Grotto and several rooms inspired by Wagner characters.

EAT: 

With its façade of sweet pastels and its splendid mountain backdrop, Hotel Hirsch is more than a little reminiscent of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Inside, you’ll find two dining options; a cosy "Bierstüberl" pub and a more elegant à la carte restaurant.

DRINK: 

In walking distance from the castle, Schlossbrauhaus Schwangau is a Bavarian micro-brewery which prides itself on quality ales and a friendly atmosphere.

STAY: 

With the serious footfall passing through Neuschwantein every day, many nearby hotels have given over charm and character to maximum turnover and tourist gimmicks. Hotel Villa Ludwig is an elegant exception, with 18 modern and stylish suites, all equipped with bathtubs, balconies and great views.

DO:

Get your classic Neuschwanstein photograph from the Marienbrücke, a historic bridge set over the nearby Pollät gorge, and rebuilt by Ludwig as the ideal viewing platform for his castle.

If you do just one thing... 

Take the castle tour; it costs EUR 13 and you won’t see the Schloss without it. Tours are conducted in both English and German, with parallel audio guides in 16 other languages.

Zugspitze

Garmisch-Partenkirchen

A 1.5-hour train ride from Munich, Garmisch-Partenkirchen lies just a few kilometers from the Austrian border. It was founded in 1936, when Hitler ordered the settlements of Garmisch and Partenkirchen to be conjoined into a town big enough to bid for the 1936 Winter Olympics. Today, it is one of Germany’s premier destinations for hiking, skiing and biking, as well as mountain spas. In addition to its particularly scenic location, the town features several traditional Bavarian houses, adorned with elaborate murals and abundant window boxes. 

EAT: 

Booking is a must at zum Wildschutz, a packed-out Garmisch institution which welcomes vegetarians but certainly specializes in traditional Bavarian oxen, boar, and deer dishes.

DRINK: 

Combining a high degree of Alpine kitsch with Caribbean-inspired mixology and music, Peaches is one of Garmisch’s oldest—and kookiest—cocktail bars.

DO: 

Take the cable car up the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak, promising a rousing dose of Alpine air as well as knockout mountain views, stretching some 250 kilometers on clear days.

STAY: 

You can’t get more of an idyllic setting than the Hotel Eibsee, set 20 minutes out of Garmisch on the eponymous lake’s shore. It’s a big, rather than boutique, hotel, and the rooms are somewhat dated, but the food, service, spa, and views are outstanding.

If you do just one thing... 

Take the lift up Alpspitze peak to the AlpspiX observation terrace. A major feat of design and engineering, it consists of two steel promontories reaching out a remarkable 13 meters from the mountain face in an “X” formation. Prepare to feel your stomach flip as you look out ahead to the Zugspitze and down a staggering 1,000-meter drop to the Höllental Valley.

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Dachau

Dachau

On March 22, 1933, a few weeks after Adolf Hitler had been appointed Chancellor, a concentration camp for political prisoners was set up in Dachau, 16 kilometers north-west of Munich. It was the first such camp in Germany and served as a model for all subsequent concentration camps under the Nazi regime. In the 12 years of its existence, over 200,000 people were imprisoned here, including Jews, communists, political dissidents, resistance fighters, writers, priests and members of the Bavarian royal family. 41,500 prisoners were murdered. The Memorial Site on the camp’s grounds was established in 1965 by survivors. It includes chapels representing the various faiths persecuted at Dachau and a permanent exhibition which draws on firsthand prisoner accounts. Dachau is reached via a short S-Bahn and bus connection from Munich.

 

EAT: 

While Dachau will forever be overshadowed by its concentration camp, the town had a long and important history before the Third Reich. The 16th-century Schloss Dachau is a former residence of the Bavarian royals, set in prettily landscaped gardens, with a restaurant and terrace bathed in welcome sunlight.

DRINK: 

With just 28 seats, Weinraum combines a cozy atmosphere with a refined palette. It offers a selection of excellent Italian and Austrian wines, as well as a great lunch menu.

DO: 

Take the guided tour, operating in English every day at 11am and 1pm, and adding considerable insight and perspective to the former camp, historical buildings and the permanent exhibition.

STAY: 

At Hotel Schwarzberghof, owners Claude and Nicole Drummer have gone out of their way to create a comforting place to spend the night. The individual and homely bedrooms are filled with soft fabrics, fresh flowers and traditional Bavarian touches.

If you do only one thing... 

Take a moment to look up at the camp’s memorial sculpture by Yugoslav sculptor Nandor Gild, a haunting composition of skeletal figures and barbed wire forms. Gild considered the Dachau memorial the most important work of his life; his own parents died at Auschwitz.

Still need to plan out your days in Munich?

Things to do

The best things to do in Munich

Now that you've mapped out your day trips, it's time to plan the rest of the itinerary. From eating traditional white sausage to river surfing to Art Nouveau bathing temples, here are some of the best things to do in Munich.

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