The Best Cities to Visit in Bavaria: Munich and Nuremberg

bavaria map
James Martin

Bavaria forms the second-largest land (or state) within Germany, and nearly 13 million people live in this region. The capital is Munich, but Nuremberg is also a popular city in Bavaria with its own airport and attractions.

Fortunately, Bavaria is well connected by train, and some routes are even quicker by train than car, such as the trip from Munich to Nuremberg. Additionally, the bus network in Germany now has services for budget travelers, which makes getting around the region relatively simple and affordable.

Bavaria is a great place to explore. It's dense with things to do, from trekking to the famous castles to visiting the compelling city of Munich and the somber remains of Dachau. However, when it comes to deciding where to stay, the two best cities in Bavaria are Munich and Nuremberg.

Munich

When many people think of classic German style and culture, the city of Munich comes to mind. This quintessentially German town is home to numerous Old World traditions, customs, and fashions including lederhosen, weighty pork dishes, biergartens, and marvelous architecture. With plenty of places to eat, dance, explore, and stay, Munich is the ideal city for visitors of Bavaria.

Things to Do in Munich

  • English Garden: One of the biggest city parks in Europe, the English Garden is a great place for an afternoon picnic.
  • Oktoberfest: This annual event celebrates the rich history of beer in Germany. However, even if you're not in town for the festival, you can drink classic Germany beers from a huge one-liter maß in Munich's famous Bavarian beer halls.
  • Marien Square (Marienplatz): The New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus)'s decorated façade towers over this central square in the heart of Munich, where you can hear the famous Glockenspiel (clock) chime every day at 11 a.m., noon, and 5 p.m. from March through October.
  • Residence Palace of Munich: While this famous landmark was once the home of German royalty, it is now a public park and museum dedicated to the history of Germany's monarchy.
  • Eisbach Canal: The birthplace of the unusual sport of river surfing, this canal along the perimeter of the English Garden is a great place to watch local daredevils ride the waves.
Neuschwanstein
 Christopher Larson / TripSavvy

Day Trips From Munich

If you make Munich your base from which to see Bavaria and don't have a car or rail pass, you can take tours like those offered at Viator to see Neuschwanstein castle, the Eagle's Nest, or even get tickets to Oktoberfest.

  • Oberammergau is famous for its passion play, but for shoppers, it's the place to buy wood carvings. Winter sports are big here, as well as at nearby spa town Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
  • Fussen, the highest town in Bavaria, is the closest town with a railway station to the tourist must-see castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau. You can get a bus to the castles. Fussen is but three miles from the Austrian border and an interesting place to spend a night.
  • The Eagle's Nest was Hitler's personal hideaway and exactly what you'd expect of such a man.
  • Salzburg - The hills are alive, with the sound of music! Check out the city that inspired the famous musical.
  • Nuremberg is a beautiful city, notorious for its involvement with the rise of Nazism.
  • Regensburg - Explore a Medieval City.
  • Dachau Concentration Camp is Germany's most notorious WWII death camp.

Where to Go Next From Munich

  • North to Nuremberg - If you don't feel like doing a day trip to Nuremberg, visit it for a night before continuing your journey in Germany or the Czech Republic.
  • Northeast to Prague - Visit one of the cheapest cities in Europe, though this is actually easier from Nuremberg.
  • East to Salzburg and Vienna - Salzburg is an easy day trip from Munich, but you can also treat it as a stepping stone to Vienna.
  • Northwest to Frankfurt - Though there isn't much to see in Frankfurt, it's a popular transport hub so you might need to go. The Romantic Road is a great way to get there.
  • South to Venice - Cross Austria into Italy and head down to Venice, or further to Rome.

Nuremberg

Nuremberg is the second largest city in Bavaria, located 105 miles northwest of Munich—and should not be confused with the Nurbürgring, the world's most notorious race track. Two hours from Munich by car, but just one hour by high-speed train, Nuremberg sits somewhere between a "day trip from Munich" and a destination in its own right. There is a very attractive medieval walled old city and a very famous Christmas market (Christkindlesmarkt). It is a fine, compact city for walking and a good place to stay a few days.

Things to Do in Nuremberg

  • Nazi Party Rally Grounds: You can visit the grounds, and then go to the museum. The Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds is located in the north wing of the Congress Hall, a building planned by the National Socialists to hold 50,000 people but never completed.
  • Albrecht Dürer House: Exhibits devoted to Dürer's life and works. You'll see original etchings and woodcuts and copies of Dürer's paintings inside.
  • Kaiserburg (The Nuremberg Castle): - Looming over the Dürer House, from 1050 to 1571 it was the official residence of the German kings and emperors, including Frederick Barbarossa, King of Germany in 1152, crowned emperor in 1154.
  • Historic Art Shelter (Kunstbunker): - At the start of the second world war, prudent officials transformed some former beer cellars in the flanks of the castle hill into a secure and quite technological art shelter. German tours are at 3 pm and other languages are by appointment.

Day Trips From Nuremberg

Bayreuth is the capital of Upper Franconia. A typical Bavarian market town with the town hall smack in the middle, Bayreuth is perhaps best known as the residence of Richard Wagner, who moved to the city in 1872 and stayed until his death in 1883. Margrave's Opera house is considered to be one of the finest Baroque halls of Europe. The Bayreuth Festival is a yearly celebration of Wagner's works that take place in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. Tickets are difficult to procure. A tour may be your best way to see the festival.

Smaller Cities in Bavaria 

  • Wurzburg is a vibrant university town surrounded by vineyards with many architectural splendors.
  • Rothenburg ob der Tauber is everyone's favorite Romantic Road destination, and Germany's best-preserved walled town, according to Rick Steves. Medieval torture aficionados will enjoy the Medieval Crime and Punishment Museum.
  • Dinkelsbuhl is smack in the center of the Romantic Road. It's a good shopping town with lots of artists' studios, half-timbered houses, all wrapped in a medieval wall. In fact, you can patrol that wall, er, defensive perimeter, with the night watchman. 
  • Augsburg has a rich history dating back to the Roman empire. Dubbed both "The Renaissance City" and "Mozart City", it has been an important center of trade down through the ages. During the Renaissance, Augsburg was a main cultural center which is reflected in the fine Rococo architecture in the city.
  • Regensburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Bavarian Jazz Festival takes place here in summer, usually in July.
  • Passau is a university town in a beautiful setting at the junction of the Danube, Inn, and Ilz Rivers. In antiquity, Passau was an ancient Roman colony and became the largest diocese of the Holy Roman Empire. Later, it became known for its sword manufacturing. The organ in St. Stephens Cathedral has 17,774 pipes.
  • Altotting is famous for the Gnadenkapelle (Chapel of the Miraculous Image), of one of the most visited shrines in Germany. The heart of King Ludwig II of Neuschwanstein fame is here in an urn. You don't want to miss that.
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