Tucked away in the southeastern corner of Germany in the picturesque countryside of the Bavarian Alps, the historic town of Berchtesgaden and the neighbouring Berchtesgaden National Park marks a must-see location for anyone passing through this part of Europe.
Surrounded by beautiful mountains – including the Watzmann, Germany’s second-highest mountain – deep valleys, and sloping, verdant hillsides, and offering splendid sights like castles, churches, and quaint picturesque houses and buildings, this Bavarian town with a rich historical tapestry is well worth a visit.
Berchtesgaden offers a wide variety of activities to suit every traveller’s tastes from luxury spa trips to salt mine visits and lake cruises and even ice cave exploration for the outdoorsy-type.
I was fortunate to visit this beautiful town in the charming German countryside recently and I encourage you to add it to your European itinerary and visit Berchtesgaden, too.
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History of Berchtesgaden
The earliest evidence of the city of Berchtesgaden dates back to the early 1100s. Much of the city’s wealth that would develop in the centuries to come was due to its profitable salt mines, which opened in the mid 1500s.
The town changed ownership several times over the next few centuries – it was occupied by Austrian soldiers in the early 18th century before being annexed into Austria 100 years later.
During the Allied occupation over the course of the Second World War, Berchtesgaden became an important meeting place for high ranking Nazi officers. Some of the most significant decisions of the war were made by Hitler at Berchtesgaden.
The site of Hitler’s private retreat, the Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden, is open to the public as a restaurant and viewpoint (read on for more info on visiting Eagle’s Nest).
But enough of the history lesson, let’s now discover some of the best things to do in Berchtesgaden!
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Things to do in Berchtesgaden
The Eagle’s Nest (Kelhsteinhaus)
Berchtesgaden’s most well known attraction is undoubtedly the Eagle’s Nest, home to Hitler’s private quarters at the height of the Third Reich. It was the site of many of his political and military decisions made over the course of the war, although Hitler himself seldom visited the site.
A symbol of the wealth of the powerful during one of the most horrific periods in human history, the structure is perched atop the high mountain peak of Kehlstein (1834 metres), overlooking the beautiful scenery of Berchtesgaden below. It’s a real juxtaposition of evil and beauty.
To get to the Eagle’s Nest, visitors must catch a bus from the terminal and ticket station at Obersalzberg, a few kilometres from Berchtesgaden. Tickets are issued for a designated bus departure time and the trip to Eagle’s Nest, up an incredibly narrow and winding alpine road, takes around twenty minutes.
After disembarking from the bus, visitors should nominate their time of return at the ticket window, and then walk through a 124-metre long tunnel for the final ascent to the Eagle’s Nest.
The final leg of the trip is via a gold elevator – very James Bond-ish – built deep into the mountain rock, complete with shiny, polished brass lining and Venetian mirrors. The elevator itself makes for a daunting and sobering ride, a further 124 metres to the top of the mountain to the ‘summit of power’.
At the summit, there is a restaurant serving traditional Bavarian meals, and an outdoor walkway from where you can admire the stunning views of the surrounding Alps and Lake Konigs (Konigssee).
Among the many historical landmarks related to the Second World War, the Eagle’s Nest Berchtesgaden is a must-see for history buffs.
Tickets for the Eagle’s Nest cost €15.60 return per adult and €9.60 for children for both the bus and lift. Queues to purchase tickets can be long so arrive as early as possible. (I visited on a Wednesday in July and the wait time to purchase tickets was around 40 minutes.)
The Eagle’s Nest is open from mid-May to mid-October each year.
Tip: If you’d like to stay close to the Eagle’s Nest bus terminal, the Kempinski Hotel Berchtesgaden is a top choice. Located within walking distance of the ticket office, the 5-star hotel is set amongst the spectacular scenery of the Bavarian Alps. Click here to check prices.
It is also possible to enjoy a day trips to Berchtesgaden from either Salzburg or Munich. Some of the most popular day tours include:
- Eagle’s Nest and Berchtesgaden Tour from Salzburg – click here for full details and prices
- Eagle’s Nest Tour from Munich – click here for full details and prices
Due to its involvement in the Second World War, and being a primary retreat location for Nazi officers during the Third Reich, much of the sights in Berchtesgaden relate to its relationship to the war.
The museum, known as the Dokumentation Obersalzberg, details the role that Berchtesgaden played during its use as a mountain retreat for the SS.
As this area was used by Nazi leaders, most of the buildings in the resort area were fitted with bunkers and other protective architecture in case of raids or attack.
The museum has a fascinating bunker that is well worth seeing, complete with hidden rooms, trapdoors, and a maze of halls that showcase the extent to which the safety of Nazi leaders, in case of potential threats, was prioritized during the war.
Dokumentation Obersalzberg is located 500 metres from the Eagle’s Nest bus terminal.
- Daily from 1 April to 31 October, 9am to 5pm
- Daily except Mondays from 1 November to 31 March, 10am to 3pm – closed on 1 January and 1 November and on 24, 25 and 31 December
Entry fee: €3 per adult, children free
If you visit the Eagle’s Nest you’ll get a glimpse of Konigssee from above but to really appreciate the beauty and serenity of this sparkling lake you need to visit Schonau. This small town, just five kilometres from Berchtesgaden, is built on the shores of what must surely be one of Germany’s prettiest lakes.
Hemmed in by towering mountain walls, the fjord-like lake with its glassy alpine-fed water, stretches for eight kilometres. Apart from the tranquil views, the lake’s main attraction is St. Barthomola’s Pilgrimage Church.
Dating back to the 12th century, the church is famed for its red onion domes which make a striking contrast to the white walls and reflect beautifully in the mirror-like lake.
The only way to reach the church is by boat so you’ll need to hop aboard an electric motor boat for the 35-minute trip, or hire a row boat (which will take you significantly longer).
Unfortunately, I arrived at Konigssee just after 4pm the day I visited and tickets for all remaining ferries that day were already sold out. We did hire a row boat for an hour but only got about half-way to the church before we turned back.
If you want to cruise to the church (or beyond), I recommend you allow at least half a day for your visit.
As the boat passes the Echowand Cliff, the boatman plays a flugelhorn to lure out the famous ‘Konigssee Echo’, a tradition that was started with the first boat trips on the lake back in 1909.
Once at St. Bathomola’s church, you can enjoy a visit, stroll beside the lake or buy refreshments before returning on the ferry or continuing on to Salet at the end of the lake. From Salet, a 15-minute walk takes you to Obersee where you’ll find some of the clearest water you are ever likely to see.
If you’re keen to explore Obersee further, a hike of around 30 minutes takes you to Fischunkelalm Farm and Pasture where you can enjoy delicious organic milk and farm-made produce and watch the cows grazing in the pastures.
A further 30-minute walk leads to Röthbach Waterfall, Germany’s tallest waterfall.
There are more hiking options from the main Konigssee boat dock, too. The trail to Malerwinkel (Painter’s corner) is the only path that allows direct access to the lake. It also offers outstanding views of St. Bartholoma’s Church across the river (albeit 5 kilometres in the distance).
- Boats depart from Konigssee Seelande at least every 30* minutes from 8am to 4.45pm. Be sure to check the last departure from St. Bartholoma’s Church and Salet as this changes depending on the season you visit. (*every 15 minutes in high season)
- Journey time from Konigssee Seelande to St. Bartholoma’s Church is 35 minutes each way. (No toilets onboard.) Tickets cost €15.50 return per adult return and €7.80 return per child (6 to 17 years).
- Journey time from Konigssee Seelande to Salet via St. Bartholoma’s Church is 55 minutes each way. (No toilets onboard.) Tickets cost €19 return per adult return and €9.50 return per child (6 to 17 years). This route operates in summer only.
- Row boats can be hired from the boat sheds to the left of the ferry dock. Rental fees are €9 per hour for a 2-person boat. A refundable deposit of €50 is required. Row boat rental is available from 9am to 6pm (boat must be returned by 6pm).
Note: If you hire a row boat, one hour is not enough time to get close enough to St. Bartholoma’s Church for a good view and return to the boat shed.
It is also possible to visit Konigssee on an organised day trip from either Salzburg or Munich. Two of the most popular tours are:
- Berchtesgaden and Konigssee from Salzburg – click here for full details and prices
- Konigssee Full Day Tour from Munich – click here for full details and prices
As you walk to the lakeside harbour at Konigssee you’ll notice cable cars going up the mountain to your left. This is the Jennerbahn which whisks visitors up Mt Jenner from where you get spectacular views of Konigssee.
The cableway goes up to the summit of Mt Jenner (1874 metres) in three sections and you can get off at each station if you wish.
At the middle station there are great views across the lake and to Mt Watzmann, as well as a small, crystal clear lake called Bergsee which reflects the surrounding mountains.
The top station is popular with hikers as there are an abundance of excellent hiking trails. It’s also home to ski trails in winter. There’s a panorama restaurant and a viewing platform where you can take in the incredible scenery.
Daily from 9am to 6pm (slightly earlier closing time in Spring and Autumn/Fall).
Prices: €27.50 return for adults or €11 return for children.
Berchtesgaden Salt Mine
Much of Berchtesgaden’s wealth can be attributed to the opening and subsequent success of its salt mines. The Salt Mines in Berchtesgaden are the oldest in Bavaria, having been in operation since 1517, and are still in operation today.
The salt is extracted from a composite rock that is roughly 50% pure salt, and is retrieved using a technique known as wet mining.
The Salt Mine at Berchtesgaden offers a wide range of things to see, and tickets include a train ride into the mountainside, light shows, and even an underground lake (known as Mirror Lake, so-named for its eerie ceiling reflection of the water) complete with a boat ride.
For families traveling with children in tow, this interactive and highly informative attraction is a great way to spend a day.
- Daily from 1 April to 31 October, 9am to 5pm
- Daily from 2 November to 31 March, 11am to 3pm (except January 1 / Good Friday / Whit Monday / All Saints’ Day / December 24 / December 25 / December 31)
Entry fee: €17 per adult, €9.50 per child, €40 per family (2 adults and 1 child)
Haus der Berge
Standing at the entrance to town, in front of Mount Watzmann, is Haus der Berge, Berchtesgaden National Park’s education and information centre.
The main exhibition – called Vertical Wilderness – showcases the habitats of the National Park from the depths of Konigssee to the heights of the Alpine peaks with interactive displays along a panoramic indoor trail.
There are also temporary displays and a cinema which shows nature films.
Outside you can visit an historic alpine hut which was built in 1848 and transferred piece by piece to the Haus der Berge.
Opening hours – daily from 9am to 5pm. Entrance fees – adults €4, children €2.
Watzmann Thermal Spa
When it comes to pampering and wellness, Berchtesgaden’s Watzmann Therme bath house takes waterparks and water-based spa treatments to the next level.
Not only does this wet and wild attraction offer a fun and exciting water area with a kids’ pool, an adventure pool complete with an 80-metre long water slide, and a sports pool, it also boasts several other unique components that combine the best of family waterparks and wellness spas.
The sauna area offers five different saunas at varying heat levels, as well as one allowing its patrons unparalleled views of the surrounding mountains. The saunas also offer infusion programs and steam baths with different scents and body treatments to give you the ultimate relaxation experience.
The facility also offers a unique bathing experience in their brine pools, which are filled with natural salt from the surrounding region, providing lasting skin and respiratory benefits to go with the relaxing atmosphere.
The salt-light cabin (a room illuminated through salt rock panelling to give a warm dim glow, as well as heated surfaces), the salt fountain cabin (which spreads the salt mined from surrounding Berchtesgaden into the air as a respiratory detox), and the warmth grotto (a room heated to help soothe skin tissue, rheumatism, and other ailments) are all worth visiting for an unforgettable and beneficial spa experience that you won’t soon forget.
Known as ‘the family-friendly thermal bath’, a day, or even a few hours, spent at Watzmann Berchtesgaden is an outing the whole family will enjoy.
Opening hours: Daily from 10am to 10pm
Entry fee: Adult prices start from €12.30 for two hours. Daily tickets (€18.60) and family tickets are also available.
Other attractions close to Berchtesgaden
St. Sebastian Church, Ramsau
Perhaps one of the most-photographed sites in the whole Berchtesgaden region, the Church of St. Sebastian in Ramsau, just 10 kilometres from Berchtesgaden, is a drawcard for visitors from around the world.
Dating back to the early 16th century, the pretty Catholic church with its onion-domed spire is built beside the Ramsauer Ache (river) next to a wooden bridge with the Alps completing a stunning backdrop.
It’s no wonder that photographers and artists flock to Ramsau to record the beauty of St. Sebastian and its surrounds for posterity.
TIP: Ramsau can be reached by car or by public bus from Berchtesgaden, or you can visit it on an organised tour from Salzburg – click here for full details.
Berchtesgaden National Park
Just down the road from Ramsau, Berchtesgaden National Park’s other popular lakes can be visited. Hintersee is perfect for a relaxing ferry or row boat ride, whilst Taubensee’s water lilies offer a colourful floral display.
In winter, Hintersee freezes, making it the perfect destination for ice skating and curling. Skiing, hiking and sledding are all popular activities during the winter months, with Berchtesgaden National Park home to more than 60 kilometres of ski runs.
Hiking in Berchtesgaden is popular year round with Germany’s only Alpine National Park offering plenty of opportunities to enjoy the breathtaking scenery on one of the many mountain, forest or lakeside trails.
The German Alpine Road (Deutsche Alpenstrasse)
Stretching from Berchtesgaden in the south east of Germany to Lake Constance in the south west, the German Alpine Road is one of the oldest and most scenic routes in Europe.
If you have your own vehicle, take a drive on the B305 road to experience some of the best scenery in Germany, if not Europe. The section from Berchtesgaden to Weissbach is particularly scenic.
Where is Berchtesgaden?
How to get to Berchtesgaden
> Getting to Berchtesgaden by car
It’s an easy and quick drive from Salzburg to Berchtesgaden with the journey taking around 25 minutes.
From Munich to Berchtesgaden (take the A8 past Chiemsee), the drive should take you about 1 hour 50 minutes.
> Getting to Berchtesgaden by train and bus
Public transport services from both Salzburg and Munich are excellent.
You can catch a Salzburg to Berchtesgaden bus (departure is from the main railway station) for the 50-minute trip or take a train from Salzburg to Berchtesgaden – journey time 1 hour 5 minutes. Both options have multiple departures each day.
Travel time from Munich to Berchtesgaden by train is around 2 hours 35 minutes. Multiple services operate each day (some require a change of train at Freillasing).
Where to stay in Berchtesgaden
There is an excellent range of accommodation in Berchtesgaden to suit all budgets and I’ve mentioned some of the properties below that consistently receive good reviews.
Hotels in Berchtesgaden
- Kempinski Hotel Berchtesgaden: 5* hotel – click here to check current prices
- Hotel Edelweiss Berchtesgaden: 4* hotel – click here to check current prices
- Hotel Krone Berchtesgaden: 3* hotel – click here to check current prices
Other accommodation in Berchtesgaden
There are also good options for self-catering apartments, youth hostels in Berchtesgaden and camping. Berchtesgaden really does have accommodation to suit every budget and every style of traveller – click here to browse all the options.
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