Since two separate Bavarian towns joined to become one shortly before the 1936 Winter Olympics, Garmisch-Partenkirchen has become one of Europe's top winter sports destinations. Located on the border of Germany and Austria, Garmisch-Partenkirchen is the quintessential Bavarian town. Yodelling, slap dancing, and Lederhosen are all featured in this German town to end all German towns. Garmisch (in the west) is trendy and urban, where Partenkirchen (in the east) retains old-school Bavarian charm. Despite the town's reputation for world-class skiing, it also features spectacular hiking in the summer months and a whole host of other things to do.
While Garmisch-Partenkirchen is full of lovely things in its own right, it is also a popular base to explore Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak. It is a favorite for skiers in the winter and hikers in the summer. Visitors can access its 2,962-meter (9,718 ft) summit by cogwheel train or cable car. The cogwheel train stops at Zugspitzplatt, a plateau with glaciers and caves, before continuing to the top on the Gletscherbahn aerial cable car. Note that it can be quite crowded in peak seasons. The journey takes 75 minutes from Garmisch.
If you'd like to opt for views, there are two impressive cable car options: one from lake Eibsee and one from Austria, the Tiroler Zugspitze. The journey from Eibsee takes just 10 minutes. Either way, the Zugspitze Ticket includes one mountain ascent and descent, allowing you to choose different methods of traversing the mountain to see every inch of this magnificent peak.
Once you reach the top, you can admire a 360-degree panorama of 400 mountain peaks in four countries (on a clear day). Recharge with a bite and beer at one of the mountain-top restaurants, give a little prayer at Germany’s highest church, or explore an igloo village. No matter the time of year, bring a warm jacket.
Yodel Through the Old Town
Old town Garmisch-Partenkirchen fulfills all your German fantasies. Picturesque half-timbered houses display murals typical of the area, particularly along Frühlingstrasse. Look for the Biedermeier frescoes on Gashof Husar and Polznkasparhaus, some of the oldest and most beautiful buildings in the town. Enjoy the Gemütlichkeit (cozy, friendly atmosphere) and embrace the need to yodel as you walk along the banks of the 114-kilometer River Loisach.
Leave the Alpine cityscape for some eye-popping nature that goes down, not up. Partnachklamm is a narrow, 700-meter long gorge with walls rising 80 meters. It was designated a natural monument in 1912. Waterfalls cascade around you, except in wintertime when they freeze in place like a scene from Game of Thrones, north of the wall.
Visitors can walk the path on their own, or take a guided hike. It is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. all year (with extended hours in summer and excluding a short period in spring when melting snow makes the route impassable) and costs 4 euro, as of 2018.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen has been a favorite of ski champions from the 1936 games to International Alpine Ski Championships. But that doesn't prevent ordinary folk from enjoying it, too.
Runs on Zugspitze are open from October through May. This includes more than 35 miles of downhill ski runs, 40 ski lifts, and over 100 miles of cross-country ski trails. If you are more of a spectator, visit during the week of races every January. And the winter fun isn't just for those on ski or snowboard: There are also two toboggan runs to delight every age group.
Hiking isn't limited to the easy walk along Partnachklamm. There are hikes of all levels with trails running from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to grandiose locales like a king's hunting lodge or ruins of a fortified castle or pristine mountaintop villages like Mittenwald. Make use of cable cars to lower the difficulty of the hikes and always come prepared with a map, appropriate attire, and shoes fit for hiking.
For those who are up to the challenge of alpine climbing, Wetterstein limestone cliffs are only 15 minutes away from the mountain terminal of the Alpspitzbahn lifts.
Visit the Werdenfelser Heimatmuseum, one of the most renowned cultural sites in all of Bavaria, for the story behind this region. Held within a merchant's house, it is full of impressive private collections. Started in 1895, the museum has a whole exhibition of unique local items, including peasant folk art by Alpine farmers, early archaeological findings, and a carnival mask room.
Michael-Ende Kurpark pays tribute to one of Germany's most famous 20th-century storytellers. Ende wrote the timeless classic of The Neverending Story, and Garmisch-Partenkirchen was his town. Located in the middle of town, this park is a restful respite from all the more challenging activities. Walk through the flowers, find your way through the maze, or relax in the shade of ancient trees. For a bit of entertainment, watch the calendar for live concerts. Step back inside to discover the Kurhaus, where there is a permanent display on Michael Ende, as well as changing exhibits.
Make a Pilgrimage to a Mountain Church
Being so high up in the mountains can feel like being in a holy place. These three churches will confirm that feeling. The New Parish Church, also known as St. Martin's, rises from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to touch the sky. Built in 1733, it has an intricate Baroque interior. Alte Pfarrkirche translates to "Old Parish Church," as it should with an origin in the 15th-century. Go inside and admire the Gothic wall paintings. Meanwhile, St. Anton, a pilgrimage church, offers the best of mountain landscapes outside and heavenly ceiling paintings inside. On the building itself, impressive pastel frescoes are featured. It dates back to 1704.
Practice Your Ski Jump
The Olympiaschanze, or Olympic ski jumping hill, is a landmark for Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It was built in 1923 and has undergone multiple renovations that keep it operational and inspirational. This spectacular setting is ideal to enjoy the winter landscape, standing above the snow-clad valley like Olympians before you. The site was used for the opening and closing Olympic ceremonies in 1936 and still runs a New Year's ski jump every year. Visitors can explore the site by guided tour every Saturday at 3 p.m. and on Wednesdays at 6 p.m.
Richard Strauss was one of the city's most famous residents. The 1908 Art Nouveau villa he called home is now a museum dedicated to his life as a conductor and composer, while the town's main square is named for Strauss. The honors bestowed on Strauss expand to the whole city during the annual Strauss Festival in June. For five days, music rings throughout the mountains.