When you think about The Alps region, what countries do you think of. Often Switzerland comes to mind first… Then probably Austria and France, maybe even Italy. But often the German Alps are an overthought. This was my second time visiting the German Alps – also commonly known as the Bavarian Alps, because of it’s location in the Bavaria state of Germany. The first time I visited was earlier in my travelling days where just about everything seemed magical. And while I am still often very guilty of romanticizing travel experiences and enjoying every small detail, I was a bit worried that my return to Germany just wouldn’t be quite as special as it was the first time. Luckily, I was wrong.
As a more seasoned traveller, my summer trip to Germany focused on travelling a bit deeper in the country. I knew I wanted to return to the Alps. The last time I was in Germany, I visited to two locations that are typically at the top of every tourist itinerary: Berchtesgaden and the Füssen area (which is home to Neuschwanstein Castle). This time, my mountain adventures took me to the area of Garmisch Partenkirchen. A popular winter skiing destination in Germany, this area is home to Germany’s highest peak, Zugspitze, as well as many beautiful lakes, trails, and scaling mountains. So there is plenty of things to do in Garmisch Partenkirchen in the summer.
While this guide will focus mainly on things to do in Garmisch Partenkirchen (also known as GaPa … which is much easier to pronounce), I’ll also share some tips about things you must do in some of my other favourite Bavarian Alps regions.
THINGS TO DO IN Garmisch Partenkirchen
The Garmisch Partenkirchen area is a stunning mountain regions along southern Germany, hugging the Austrian border. It is about an hour south of Munich by car.
While GaPa, as locals so affectionately call it, is a popular winter sports destination, it is also an amazing place to visit in the summer months to enjoy the hiking and biking trails, and breathtaking mountain views. Here I’ll break down some of my favourite things to do in Garmisch Partenkirchen.
zugspitze: the highest peak in germany
I’m going to start off with the biggest attraction in GaPa, Zugspitze, which is the highest point in the German Alps. This peak can (literally) not be missed while you’re exploring the GaPa region, as it cascades over the towns. It really is quite impressive.
Now, full disclosure, we opted not to go up to the summit of Zugspitze. After talking to a few locals, and reading some forums, we arrived at the decision that the large price tag was simply not worth it to us. In fact, many people said that Zugspitze is best seen from the ground or other surrounding mountain summits (I’ll dish the details on some of these spots in my next recommendations).
Is Zugspitze worth it? This is a difficult question to answer for someone who didn’t go up to the summit. However, I have heard the views are incredible and many people seemed thrilled with their visit. One thing you’ll want to consider is what the weather is like on the day you plan on visiting. I have heard of many people going up on a clear day, only to discover the top of the mountain is covered in clouds and they are unable to see anything. I would highly recommend checking out this link to see the current cloud coverage and weather conditions. This should help you make the right decision for you.
How much does Zugspitze cost? You’ll pay 59.50 EUR per person for an Adult to venture to the top (prices are reduced for children). You can check out the latest prices here.
Want to know the best Zugspitze alternative? I’ve got you covered…
take a cable car to the top of karwendelspitze in mittenwald
If you’re looking for a Zugspitze alternative, this is it. In fact, I would visit this mountaintop either way because it was truly fantastic. Karwendelspitze is the second-highest peak in Germany, and from the top you can get a panoramic view of the German and Austrian mountains below. At the top you’ll find hiking trails suitable for families and beginners with many lookout points and a restaurant to grab a beer or food.
Similar to my Zugspitze recommendations, this spot is best visited on a clear day. You can check out the live cam here to view current weather conditions. When we visited Karwendelspitze, it was the most perfectly clear day. And, ironically, you could see Zugspitze covered in clouds in the distance. When considering what to wear to Karwendelspitze, it is important to remember this is a mountaintop, and temperatures are much chillier than they are on group. In August, I needed to wear a sweater.
How to get to Karwendelspitze peak: To get up the peak, you’ll want to hop on the Karwendelbahn cable car. From there, it takes around ten minutes to get up to the summit.
How much does the Karwendelbahn cable car cost? It is significantly cheaper to visit Karwendelspitze vs. Zugspitze, with the price tag of 32.50 EUR per adult (check here for latest prices).
enjoy sunrise at lake eibsee
Lake Eibsee is a top attraction in the GaPa region and when you see it, you’ll understand why. This lake is the perfect hue of turquoise, with a stunning view of Zugspitze sitting atop the lake.
The best time to visit Lake Eibsee: While Lake Eibsee is beautiful at any time of the day, it can get quite busy in the afternoon with tourists. For that reason, I suggest getting up at sunrise like we did. We ran into a few early risers and photographers, but mostly had the area to ourselves. And the lighting over the lake was almost surreal.
Just take a look at these photos and dream of visiting Eibsee.
Where are the best Lake Eibsee photography spots? I wanted to know where to go to get the perfect shot at Eibsee and stumbled upon this blog post. Check it out for all the best photo spots, and other details about visiting Lake Eibsee.
Cost to visit Lake Eibsee: Free! But if you’re arriving by car, you’ll need to pay to park your car at Hotel Eibsee. The cost for early risers was slightly discounted to 2.50 EUR, but this can vary depending on the time of day you visit.
the best hiking in Garmisch Partenkirchen
Since we arrived in GaPa in the middle of an August heatwave, we weren’t feeling too ambitious to go on an overly complicated hike, so we were mainly focused on easy hikes. Many people choose to hike on the Zugspitze side of the mountain range, but because of mudslides a few days prior, we were recommended to opt for the mountain range opposite the highest peak.
Our hotel concierge recommended the St. Martinshütte hike and we were off. Along the route to this alpine rest stop you’ll come across beautiful nature, churches, and other stumble upons. If you’re feeling more ambitious than us (or perhaps if the weather is a bit cooler), continue up toward Eisenkanzel for a beautiful viewpoint. Just make sure you stop at the restaurant at St. Martinshütte for an ice cold beer (or water) on the way.
Another great location for beginner hikes is the trails behind the Olympic Ski Jump. To get there, head to the famed ski jump and follow the trails that lead behind.
explore gapa by bike
There are many mountain biking trails surrounding GaPa, and you can read about some of these trails here.
We opted for a bit of a more leisurely bike ride (however I use that term lighting because there were SO many steep hills) and rented e-bikes from our hotel. We had a blast riding the e-bikes through the mountainside trails. For a leisurely ride and beautiful views, explore the bike paths south of the town of GaPa, along the Olympic Trail. This historical path starts at the Olympic Ski Jump and heads west toward Grainau (you can see the views from this ride in the photo below). Here’s a map of the route.
Additionally, if you want to bike into the mountains instead of hiking, you can take your bikes to St. Martinshütte, which is the location I recommended for hiking,
visit partnach gorge
Partnach Gorge is another beautiful location located near GaPa, and is easily one of the most popular tourist hot spots of the region. We didn’t visit this spot because it was actually closed due to high water. In the days prior to our visit, the region was experiencing 30-40 mm of rain a day. Luckily we just missed it and were greeted with perfect weather.
Even still, I’ve heard this place is absolutely beautiful so I still wanted to include it on the list.
be blown away at geroldsee
Once of the most breathtaking spots we visited was Geroldsee, a lake located in the tiny town of Gerold, near GaPa. The lake is a popular swimming spot, but is also a dream location for photographers who are looking to capture that perfect “The Sound of Music”-inspired moment. It was easily one of my favourite things to do in Garmisch Partenkirchen.
How to get to Geroldsee: Head to the town of Gerold and park your car in town. From town, you’ll see signs to hiking paths and the lake. Follow these signs and you’ll be greeted by these insane views of Geroldsee with mountains cascading in the distance.
Tip: If you’re having trouble locating Geroldsee on a map, look up Wagenbrüchsee, which is another name or the lake.
relax at a garmisch partenkirchen spa
The region offers many alpine spas to relax and unwind with beautiful views of the mountains. We stayed at Hotel Staudacherhof, a spa hotel in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and it was the perfect place to unwind after a long day. Onsite the spa had indoor and outdoor pools, a hot tub, sauna, showers, and plenty of spots to lounge in the sun. You can also book onsite treatments, like massages and manicures.
trying to locate all these amazing things? i've got you covered.
here's a map of things to do in garmisch partenkirchen!
Looking to extend your trip?
Here's some Other towns in the Bavarian Alps to consider.
There are so many towns in the Bavarian Alps, it can be overwhelming to know which ones to visit. While I still have many spots in The German Alps to visit, here’s a couple of my other tops pics for first time visitors!
Füssen to see Neuschwanstein Castle
No trip to the German Alps is complete without visiting Neuschwanstein Castle. The famed castle is said to have been a huge inspiration for Walt Disney, and the parallels between this popular tourist spot and Cinderella’s Castle are uncanny. It is truly magical, and is only an hour away by car from GaPa, which makes it easy to visit both.
A few quick Neuschwanstein Castle tips:
- Arrive early, ideally as early as sunrise (or alternatively at sunset). This spot gets VERY busy with day trip visitors from Munich and is best experienced during these quiet hours,
- Make sure you take a tour! The stories of King Ludwig II were so interesting, and the interior is so special.
- Stay overnight in Füssen or Schwangau and enjoy the region. This area has so many more gems than just Neuschwanstein Castle to explore. Hohenschwangau Castle is another castle nearby, and although I didn’t do a tour, it was fun to explore the grounds. Schwansee and Alpsee are also really gorgeous lakes. And if you’re looking for a bit of a thrill in the mountains, the summertime luge tracks in Schwangau are really fun!
The Berchtesgaden region is stunning. I really wanted to visit this spot again, but we simple just did not have time. However, if you are looking to extend your trip in the Bavarian Alps, this spot is amazing. Here’s a few things to do in Berchtesgaden:
- Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest: This historical spot is a really interesting piece of history that I would highly recommend visiting (especially on a clear day).
- The Berchtesgaden Salt Mines: We visited this spot a few years ago, and quite honestly, I wasn’t blown away. It was interesting, but I could take it or leave. However I figured I would mention it since it is a popular spot for visitors.
- Königssee and Obersee: These lakes have become VERY Instagram famous in recent years, so it’s a popular spot for photographers. With that being said, they are gorgeous and I’ve heard the boat ride across Königssee is a great experience.
- Parish Church of St. Sebastian: This pretty white church sits in front of the most beautiful mountain backdrop and has a turquoise river alongside it. It’s no wonder people love to visit it!
ready to head to the bavarian alps?
Now that I have told you all my favourite things to go in Garmisch Partenkirchen and The Bavarian Alps, are you feeling eager to visit? This area is such a gem that I am surprised more people don’t visit. If you’re looking for a peaceful getaway in nature, this spot absolutely needs to be considered.
Heading to Munich? Check out my post on my favourite Munich hotel!