If you’re traveling to Germany there’s a good chance at some point you’ll visit Bavaria, the state whose residents often talk like it’s a separate country and constantly remind you of their love for it. Bavaria is the largest of Germany’s 16 states, sits in the southeast of the country, and is home to some uniquely Bavarian culture. The Bavarian Alps, the beautiful capital city of Munich, the world famous Neuschwanstein castle, and of course Oktoberfest are just some of the things that make Bavaria great. Check out our favorite parts of Bavaria and some info on logistics and the basics of the area.
Neuschwanstein Castle, or Schloss Neuschwanstein, is one of the most popular sites in Germany with well over a million visitors per year. Construction on the castle began in 1869 after the king of Bavaria, Ludwig II, commissioned it to be built as his personal retreat, using his personal funds to build it. The castle, along with his other castles throughout Bavaria, drove the king into incredible debt. Neuschwanstein was never completed inside as Ludwig’s mysterious and untimely death halted the construction and it immediately opened to the paying public. Neuschwanstein’s fairy tale look served as the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, which you can easily see when comparing the two.
The castle is an hour and a half drive from Munich or a two and a half hour train ride followed by a brief bus ride to Hohenschwangau, the town at the base of the hill that the castle rests on. Once you arrive in the town you’ll see both Neuschwanstein and it’s less renowned sibling, Hohenschwangau Castle sitting on either side of you. You can buy tickets to tour the completed portion (five rooms or so) of Neuschwanstein at the very obvious ticket center in town for twelve euro per person (reserve online if it’s summer since they may sell out) or just start the 30 minute easy walk up to the castle where you can walk around and inside the courtyard for free.
Make sure to walk over to Marienbrucke bridge for a nice view of the castle and a path that leads to a hike up the opposing mountain. If it’s winter the bridge may be closed, however you may still be able to sneak past some fences and barriers to get a similar, if not better view. The tour of the inside of the castle can be slightly disappointing for those that expect a long tour due to the interior not being completed, so set your expectations accordingly.
If visiting a place where monks brew and sell beer out of a monastery sounds like a good time to you, or if you just like really good beer and a walk through the woods, then Kloster Andechs is the place for you. The monastery was built in 1423 and remodeled in 1712 to its current form. Kloster Andechs sits on top of a small hill surrounded by forest, so you can either drive, take a bus, or take the enjoyable hour long hike from Herrsching train station.
To get to the town of Herrsching from Munich you just catch the S Bahn (number 8) toward Herrsching from Munich Central Station, the town is the last stop on the line. You’ll see an information center and signs that can lead you to the path in the forest if you intend to walk, or catch a bus from the station that can take you there. Be careful if you walk back down the hill after a few beers as over a dozen people have died from slipping and falling in the one semi steep part of the path. Railings have been put up now and you’d have to be really drunk or it’d have to be pitch black out, so don’t worry too much about the great beer in the monastery ending your life.
As far as small, beautiful, historic towns go, Bamberg is among the best there are. UNESCO declared the town a world heritage site back in 1993, maybe because its been around since 902AD, maybe because it’s absolutely full of churches, a cathedral, and a castle, or maybe because of one of my favorite reasons, the Rauchbier – a smoked beer that is black with a strong taste of smoke and bacon. The town has been preserved to look how you’d imagine it looked centuries ago, making me feel like I was walking through a film set, in fact they shot some of the 2011 Three Musketeers there.
Bamberg is a three and a half hour bus ride from Munich for around eleven euro or a train ride from Munich Central Station for a bit more. The town is small and easy to walk around with plenty of hotels to choose from. Make sure to check out Schlenkerla, the brewery in town that makes the smoked beer that I enjoy so much.
If you haven’t noticed a theme here let me point it out, Germans love their beer. Not all of them drink it of course, but in Bavaria there’s a strong sense of pride in the beers they produce and for good reason. In the US if you drink beer with breakfast you’re considered an alcoholic (sorry any Americans who didn’t realize that until now), in Bavaria it’s a traditional type of meal they like to eat. Weisswurst breakfast is a great tasting white sausage which you peel the skin off of, a large pretzel, some sweet mustard, and a half liter of wheat beer.
The breakfast isn’t eaten daily of course, however some Bavarians eat it weekly or even more often, and some jobs even provide their employees with the breakfast from time to time. You can find it on many restaurants breakfast menus and in many Bavarian homes.
Oktoberfest (or “Wiesn” as locals call it) is the biggest festival of its kind in the world and does not actually start in October, but the middle of September and goes through the first week of October. It’s a celebration of the Bavarian culture, beer, music, traditional dresses like the dirndl and lederhosen, and typical Bavarian food. Mixed with these traditions are millions of foreigners from all over the world coming to Munich for Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest originates back to 1810 when prince Ludwig and princess Therese of Bavaria got married and their wedding was celebrated throughout the city.
The huge tents and outside beer gardens open in the morning and the celebration goes on until 11pm every day. Some people manage to stay all day long, and of course drink the whole time. This could really hurt your wallet, as one liter of beer costs between 11 and 12 euro. For the non-drinkers (and kids) there are also all kinds of attractions like roller coasters and haunted houses. It isn’t the best idea to try some of the crazy roller coasters after your third beer, even if it may seem like it at the moment. If you are in Munich around the time of the Oktoberfest, at least one visit is a must!
The capital of Bavaria, Munich, is it’s largest city with 1.5 million residents in the city and 5.8 million in the greater metropolitan area. While it’s a big city, it feels pretty small due to the lack of skyscrapers, high density of sights to see in a small area, and great public transportation. Walking is easy from the iconic city center to the Eisbach River, where you can hop in and surf on the man made wave that is always breaking, to the legendary Hofbrauhaus where beer has been served since 1589.
Olympia Park holds events from concerts to sports games, and is right next door to BMW World where you can take a free tour through the large showroom. If you want to sit inside of a $100,000 car you can do that, and check out virtually every model of vehicle currently being made.
The Bavarian Alps
If the city isn’t your thing or you just need a breathe of fresh air, the Alps aren’t far away. In the summer there are nice hikes through the mountains, with beer gardens along some of the paths if you get thirsty. Toboggans can be found for you to ride down if you’d rather not hike back if you pick the right place to hike.
When winter rolls around the mountains get covered in snow, so if you like to ski or snowboard you have plenty of options in Bavaria, or just over the border in Austria.
I’ve already touched on it a bit and probably sound like an alcoholic by now, but the beer in Bavaria is great! While I may not drink often normally, Bavarian beer is not to be missed. Lots of the beer is only sold regionally, giving tons of options to try, and drinking with any meal in moderation is generally socially acceptable. A beer over lunch during the work week is fine, or occasionally with the weisswurst breakfast I mentioned earlier.
Common sizes of beer to buy are half liters or liters, meaning the portions are generally larger than many other countries, and who can complain about that? The price for a half liter in a bar or beer house is usually around three to four euro, or a full liter is around six, which is generally cheaper than most of the US for the same size (there are over two pints in a liter). If you buy a half liter in a grocery store you can expect to pay between 80 cents and a euro for a very good beer.
Getting around in Bavaria with public transport is fairly easy and relatively cheap depending where you are. In and around Munich the public transportation is great and takes you to almost anywhere you want in the city or to places like Neuschwanstein Castle or to the Alps for hiking or skiing. The regular public transport in Munich is pretty expensive, with day passes at 12 Euro per person, but the tickets work for all types of transport (train, metro, bus, tram). If you want to go a little further outside or visit other places in Bavaria, there is a cheap train ticket, the “Bayern-Ticket”. It starts at 23 Euro per person and up to 5 people can use it for 5 Euro per additional person. Another cheap way to get around in Bavaria or from Bavaria to other parts of Germany is using a bus. Tickets from Munich to Berlin are usually around 22 Euro per person.
Bavaria is a great place with tons to do, if you’re a traveler and want to go or are already on your way, leave a comment with any questions you may have and we’ll help however we can!