What to Do in Berchtesgaden, Germany

More than just the infamous Eagle's Nest

Berchtesgaden is best known for Hitler's infamous "Eagle's Nest". But this site was barely visited by the Führer and there is much more to this tiny German town in the Alps.

Location of Berchtesgaden

Located in the Nationalpark Berchtesgadenerland, this is a sporting travelers' paradise. Though only 9,000 people call Berchtesgaden home year-round, but visitors flock to this southeast corner of Bavaria throughout the year.

It sits in a valley at 6,000 feet and is surrounded on three sides by Austria, as if gently tucked into the mountain landscape by the gods. There is Untersberg to the north, Obersalzberg to the east and Watzmann to the south. It's just 30 km south of Salzburg and 180 km southeast of the Bavarian capital of Munich.

Transportation to Berchtesgaden

By Plane

The closest airports are at Salzburg (20 km) and Munich (190 km).

By Train

Berchtesgaden has its own train station easily connected to Salzburg, Munich, Frankfurt, and the rest of Germany and Europe.

By Car

Driving from Munich: Take A8 towards Salzburg. Exit at Bad Reichenhall / Salzburg Süd and follow signs to Berchtesgaden before the Austrian border. (Make sure you have proper snow tires and equipment for travel between October and April).

What to Do in Berchtesgaden, Germany

01 of 11

Visit Hitler's Eagle's Nest

Hitler's Eagle's Nest
Tim Graham/Getty Images

Most visitors come to Berchtesgaden to gawk at Kehlsteinhaus, better known as the Eagle's Nest. This 1,834 meter (6,017 feet) perch provides panoramic views of the surrounding Alps, but most people want to see where Hitler stepped foot....no matter how briefly.

This outpost was a gift to Adolf Hitler on his 50th birthday in 1939. The construction was difficult because of its location and includes Germany's steepest road which is still closed much of the year. An elevator inside the mountain, powered by the same motor as a German submarine, climbs the 400-feet to the top. Lavish decor like a red marble fireplace from Mussolini made this remote site perfect for receiving official guests of the state. Too bad Hitler's fear of heights and claustrophobia prevented him from visiting more than a few times.

As the Allies stormed across Europe, Kehlsteinhaus was a major capture. It was narrowly saved from bombings and though it was looted of artifacts, it still looks much as it did during the Third Reich's rule. 

The Bavarian State took over management in 1960 and opened the Eagle's Nest to the public with proceeds donated to charity. There is little mention of its former owner on-site and visitors can enjoy the beer garden and restaurant without a thought of its WWII history.

Note that access to the Eagle's Nest depends on the weather so it is frequently closed from the mid-September to end of May. Check the website for current hours.

02 of 11

Delve into WWII History

Dokumentation Obersalzberg
© Institut für Zeitgeschichte / Foto: wunschkind medienproduktion KG

For people that want to hear all about the past, a guided tour takes visitors back in time. The Documentation Center at Obersalzberg doesn't shy away from the horrors of the Nazi party.

Visitors see the site of Hitler's actual home in Bavaria, Berghof. Located at the foot of the mountains, this mansion complex was surrounded by homes of his followers. He spent more time here than anywhere else, including his Berlin headquarters.

It was heavily bombed by the end of the war and set on fire by the SS after learning of Hitler's suicide. Allies looted the property and in 1952 the Bavarian government decided to finish it off by demolishing the structure.

What remains is the underground bunker system. These extensive tunnels deep within the mountain acted as tunnels, air raid shelter, headquarters for the party, and a safe room for top Nazi members.

To reach the Documentation Center at Obersalzberg, bus 838 departs hourly from Berchtesgaden train station. Admission € 3; Hours Apr-Oct 9:00 - 17:00 daily / Nov-Mar 10:00 - 15:00 Tue-Sun.

03 of 11

Find the Murals in Old Town

Berchtesgaden Murals
http://www.berchtesgadener-land.com

The town of Berchtesgaden was formed around the Collegiate Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, built in 1102. The town grew and by the 1500s there was a bustling marktplatz (market square) with a farmers' market held every Friday from 8:00 to noon. The tower of the Hirschenhaus (deer House) punctuates the Alp-backed skyline, but visitors should keep their eyes at street-level. 

The altstadt (old town) is beautifully adorned with intricate murals. Known as lüftlmalerei (Bavarian frescoes), Berchtesgaden has the oldest non-religious murals in the Bavarian Alps. The Hirschenhaus's 1610 Monkey Facade looks like a historical scene when standing back, but on closer review you see the townspeople have monkey faces. According to a local historian, this unusual work of art was done to spite the patrons who wouldn't pay.

Another Lüftlmalerei of note is the memorial to Bavarian soldiers from both World Wars near the Royal Palace.

04 of 11

Slide down a Salt Mine

Salth Cathedral at Salt Mine Berchtesgaden
Berchtesgaden salt mine / Südwestdeutsche Salzwerke AG

Berchtesgaden owes its wealth to the over 500-year-old salt mines. It has been in continuous operation since 1517 and is now open to visitors.

Guided tours take guests through the 6,000 square meter underground complex and covers the history of its “white gold”. Put on the coveralls and board a train to explore the mines filled with industrial equipment. Fr the kid inside us all, slide down the giant wood slides and find a mirror lake 150 meters below the surface. Periodic laser light shows electrify the caves for special events. Tours lasts an hour and tickets cost €16.50. Dress warmly with sturdy shoes as the mine maintains a climate of 12 degree summer or winter

If you need a little pampering after your visit, the salt mines also have a salt themed spa to ease your aches and pains..

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05 of 11

Explore a UNESCO Biosphere

Town of Berchtesgaden and Mt Watzmann in Bavaria
Danita Delimont/Getty Images

The town is centered in the heart of Berchtesgaden National Park, a  UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The park borders Austria and is centered on Königsee.

Besides epic views, the park features some of the best hiking in Germany. Start on the 1 mile trail from St Bartholomä Church at Königssee and make your way to Watzmann-Ostwand. The park's tourist office provides maps and advice on the best trails. 

06 of 11

Ferry across the Deepest Lake in the Alps

St. Bartholomew's Church with Watzmann, Koenigssee, Berchtesgadener, Upper Bavaria, Germany
Florian Werner/Getty Images

Königssee is a picturesque emerald lake with a reputation as Germany’s cleanest lake. Only electric powered boats are allowed to part its peaceful waters, occasionally broken by the musical trumpeting of the boat horns. It is the deepest lake in the Alps with depths up to 630 feet and fits the name "King’s Lake".

As you tour the lake, look for the Church of St. Bartholomä. Once used as a hunting lodge for Bavarian Kings, it is one of the most photographed sights in Germany. Get off the ferry and hike to the Ice Chapel, a glacier with natural cave. Or continue to Salet and hike 15 minutes to Obersee and impressive Röthbach Waterfall, the highest waterfall in Germany.

The lake is just 3 km from the town and a short bus ride gets you to the water. Return ferry tickets are €10.50 - 17.80 (depending on destination) for adults, €7.90 for children over 6 and family tickets are available.

07 of 11

Pretend You're an Olympic Bobsledder

BMW IBSF World Cup Koenigssee - Bobsled
Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Try saying Bobbahn. It's fun. Almost as fun as the bobsled run itself.

This venue is fit for champion racers and allows breathless fans to watch the best of the best. It is one of the first tracks of its kind and still one of the most technically demanding runs.

Once the pros step off, amateurs step on. Rennbob-Taxi allows you to pretend for a few precious seconds you are an Olympian. Sleds reach speeds of 80 miles per hour with an experienced pilot at the wheel. Rides are available on specific weekends throughout the winter (mid-October to end of February).

08 of 11

Ski the Alps

Skiing in the Black Forest
© TI Feldberg

Berchtesgaden is an ideal base for a ski vacation. The best peaks for downhill:

Cross-country skiing is also popular with routes around the Berchtesgaden Alps. The season usually opens by late January.

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09 of 11

Race down the Alps in the Sun

Sommerrodelbahn above Berchtesgaden
http://www.hochlenzer.de/rodelbahn.html

If you arrive in summer, you can still race down the mountains. The Sommerrodelbahn (summer sled) offers 2,000 feet of twists and turns above Berchtesgaden. Heart-racing views whiz by as you you travel at breakneck speeds down to the bottom.

Children are allowed with an adult passenger and are free up to age 6. The track is open from April til November (barring bad weather) and a single ride only costs €2.50.

10 of 11

Stay on the Tallest Mountain in Germany

Watzmann house, Bavaria
Franz Faltermaier

Rising up behind the town, Watzmann Mountain dominates the landscape. It reaches an impressive 8,900 feet, making it the 3rd tallest peak in Germany (below Hochwanner and Zugspitze). It is the tallest mountain completely located in Germany (the others share their footing with Austria). 

The historic Watzmannhaus Hotel offers lofty accommodations for up to 200 guests a night. It was built in 1888 and is one of the highest hotels in Europe at 6,332 feet (1,930 meter) above sea level. 

11 of 11

Ride in a Cable Car

Jennerbahn Cable Car
http://www.berchtesgadener-land.com

The Jennerbahn Cable Car gracefully carries two travelers at a time to the top of the mountains. From here you can look over 100 German and Austrian peaks, or gaze down at Königssee on one side and Salzburg on the other.

There are two stops along the Jennerbahn. The midway point at almost 4,000 feet is parallel to hang-gliders taking flight. At the top, Bergstation, enjoy your position  on top the world. Follow well-marked trails around the mountain. 

Currently, a new 6 and 10-person gondola is under construction.

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