Berchtesgaden: Planning Your Trip

Town of Berchtesgaden and Mt Watzmann in Bavaria

Danita Delimont / Getty Images

In one of the farthest corners of Bavaria and just across the border from Austria sits the small alpine town of Berchtesgaden. The population of this enchanting German village is less than 8,000 people, and you'll feel like you've stepped into a scene from "The Sound of Music" as soon as you arrive (which, coincidentally, was filmed right in this very region). With a national park, ski resorts, scenic lakes, and countless hiking trails, it's hard not to fall in love with the crisp beauty all around the city.

Berchtesgaden also has historical significance and is perhaps best known for the "Eagle's Nest," a building that was infamously used by Hitler and other Nazi party members during World War II. While many tourists pass through the town to see the building and nothing more, savvy travelers are realizing that the luscious scenery and cozy Bavarian culture alone are worth adding Berchtesgaden to their itinerary.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: Berchtesgaden is a seasonal mountain town, so the best time to visit really depends on what you're looking for. Skiing is one of the most popular activities in the area so winter or early spring are ideal for alpine sport enthusiasts. But the area is also home to some of the most breathtaking hiking trails in Germany and many of them are only accessible once the snow melts, so don't feel like you're missing out if you go in summer or fall.
  • Language: The official language is German. You may find English spoken in businesses that cater to tourists, such as hotels and ski resorts, but it is a small town so you may want to brush up on some useful German phrases.
  • Currency: The currency in Germany is the euro. If you cross the nearby border into Austria, the currency is also the euro so you don't need to worry about converting money. Note that credit cards are not always accepted, so you should always carry some cash on you.
  • Getting Around: Renting a car is the easiest way to get around, but be careful if you're driving in snowy conditions. There's also a bus system throughout the town and the surrounding Berchtesgaden Land district, and guests who spend the night in a local hotel are given a free travel pass to use the bus system for free.
  • Travel Tip: The Jennerbahn Cable Car carries passengers to the top of the mountains in six- or 10-person gondolas. From here, take in the view of 100 different Alp peaks that surround you, or gaze down at Königssee Lake on one side and Salzburg on the other. The scenery is unbelievable, but it's not an activity for the faint of heart.

Things to Do

Nestled between the rich forests of Bavaria and the Alps, nature excursions reign supreme in Berchtesgaden. The town is centered in the heart of Berchtesgaden National Park, recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Besides epic views, the park features some of the best hiking in Germany. In the winter, you can hit the nearby slopes for skiing, snowboarding, or even bobsledding. Some of the standouts include Jenner Resort and Ski am Obersalzberg.

  • Berchtesgaden owes its wealth to the over 500-year-old salt mines which have been in continuous operation since 1517. Guided tours take guests on a train through the 6,000-square-meter underground complex and cover the history of its “white gold”. For the kid inside us all, ride down the giant wood slides inside the cavernous mines for a thrilling experience and ogle at the laser light shows that bounce off the walls. Dress warmly and wear sturdy shoes as the mine maintains a climate of 54 degrees Fahrenheit regardless of the season. If you need a little pampering after your visit, the salt mines also have a salt-themed spa to ease your aches and pains.
  • Königssee is a picturesque emerald lake with a reputation as Germany’s cleanest body of water, and only electric-powered boats are allowed in its peaceful waters. It is the deepest lake in the Alps with depths of up to 630 feet and fits the name "King’s Lake". The rock walls around the lake are so smooth that they create nearly perfect echos, and boat tours demonstrate by playing flügelhorns, a type of trumpet, to show off the acoustics. St. Bartholomew's Church on the lakeshore can only be reached by boat, and it's one of the most photogenic sites in all of Germany.
  • Most visitors come to Berchtesgaden to gawk at Kehlsteinhaus, better known in English as the Eagle's Nest, a Nazi-era building that was visited by Hitler a handful of times (although he preferred to stay away due to his fear of heights). The building today is open in the summer months as a restaurant and beer garden, and the panoramic views from the mountain summit are the best reason for wanting to visit. There isn't a lot of documented information at the Eagles Nest, so if you're seeking some historical context, the Obersalzberg Documentation Center at the base of the mountain is set up as a museum to educate visitors about the area's dark past.

What to Eat and Drink

Food around Berchtesgaden is similar to the cuisine around the rest of Bavaria, which focuses on hearty meat dishes with potatoes. Bavarian sausage is one of the most iconic dishes of the area, and you'll find sausage stands—or Würstlstand—selling all kinds of hot meats throughout the city. If you're vegetarian, don't fret. Käsespätzle is the German version of mac and cheese and it is sinfully delicious. The pretzels that are most associated with Munich are typical bar food throughout the region, often served with a cheesy dip known as obaztda.

Being in the land of Oktoberfest, you can expect to enjoy a lot of beer throughout your trip and you'll find biergartens throughout the town and the surrounding area. Right in the central square of Berchtesgaden is the Neuhaus Inn, a beer garden and lodging that's been open since 1576. But don't limit yourself to the city; some of the best beer gardens are located in the surrounding mountains, so you can sip on a pint while taking in the majesty of the Alps.

Where to Stay

The town itself is filled with homey inn-type lodgings that are perfect for a typical Bavarian experience, many of which turn their terraces into beer gardens in the afternoons. The town is already pretty rustic, but you can really escape by looking into hotels in the nearby mountains. The Hotel Berchtesgaden is one of the most luxurious options in Southern Germany and with some of the best views. Meanwhile, the historic Watzmannhaus Hotel offers lofty accommodations from atop Watsmann Mountain, making it one of the highest hotels in all of Europe.

If you're just stopping by Berchtesgaden, then the nearest big city is Salzburg, right across the border in Austria, which is about 30 minutes away by car.

Getting There

Most visitors to Berchtesgaden arrive first in Salzburg, Austria, or Munich. Salzburg is the closest city, as it's just 30 minutes by car or 45 minutes via frequent buses which go directly from one city center to the other.

Munich is a bit farther, but close enough that you could still visit on a long day trip. Trains from Munich Central Station take about two and a half hours to reach Berchtesgaden and require a change of train, so it's ideal to spend the night in Berchtesgaden or hang out for the day and then sleep in nearby Salzburg.

Money Saving Tips

  • When you spend the night in a Berchtesgaden hotel, the lodging provides guests with a day transit pass to use on the local bus lines for the duration of the stay. There are a couple of exceptions—for example, the bus to Eagle's Nest is not included—but it provides a free way to travel around the region.
  • The day transit pass can't get you all the way to Salzburg, but it can get you pretty close. Let the driver know that you have a transit pass and the trip to the Austrian border is all included; you'll just need to pay for the short duration from the border until Salzburg.
  • Bring extra euros with you to Berchtesgaden. Many places in Germany don't accept credit cards, so if you run out of cash you'll be stuck using one of the limited ATMs in town which likely comes with steep fees.
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