Garmisch–Partenkirchen, or GaPa as it’s known for short, is billed on its own website as “the most famous town of the Bavarian Alps.” To be fair, it does have a legitimate claim to this title as looking down on the town is Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze.
And it really is impressive, erupting from the greenery of the valleys into a prominent rocky peak at 2,962 metres tall. Perhaps even more symbolic of the town, however, is Alpspitze, a 2,628 metre-tall mountain situated slightly nearer to the town and famed for its perfect pyramidal peak.
Mountains and enjoying the great outdoors, of course, are going to be on the menu when it comes to things to do in Garmisch–Partenkirchen in the Bavarian Alps. But this place isn’t without its history.
Originally founded as a Roman town called Partanum on the trade route from Venice to Augsburg, the first mention of this settlement was in 15 AD, and it has survived until the present day even in the face of medieval plague outbreaks and witch hunts.
Officially there were two towns, Garmisch and Partenkirchen, until 1935 when they were conjoined in anticipation of the 1936 Winter Olympic Games, which were hosted by the newly merged town.
In fact, differences between the two towns are still discernible: Garmisch has a slightly more modern feel, compared to the cobblestones and frescoes of historic Partenkirchen.
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History and culture in Garmisch-Partenkirchen
In Garmisch–Partenkirchen, since its roots lie just over 2,000 years before the present day, there are a wealth of relics and mementoes from the past which illustrate the history of this otherwise quaint, unassuming town.
Just northwest of town are the ruins of Werdenfels Castle, built somewhere between 1180 and 1230.
Although its original purpose and owner are unknown, in 1294 it fell into the hands of the Prince-Bishopric of Freising – a principality of the Holy Roman Empire – after which it became the administrative centre for the newly created County of Werdenfels.
After governors of the territory stopped using the castle it gradually fell into disrepair (some of its stones were used for the building of Garmisch-Partenkirchen’s Neue Kirche – New Church), until the 1960s when restoration work began, albeit sporadically.
The castle has a dark side however.
During the 16th century the town, and in fact the region, suffered from epidemic outbreaks, including the bubonic plague. Diseases such as this, as well as crop failures, led sometimes to witch hunts, which culminated in the accused’s trial, imprisonment, and execution at Werdenfels Castle.
Now, however, the ruins of the castle sit serenely on a hillside crag, ready to be hiked to and explored. A four kilometre trail circles the ruins with boards (in German) providing information about the castle and its former inhabitants.
The area around Ludwigstrasse is the oldest in town, but the street itself is older. It follows the very same route of the ancient Roman road from Venice to Augsburg in Bavaria.
Lining the street are rows of tall, neat buildings with beautifully painted facades. This technique is known as Lüftlmalerai and is essentially the Bavarian counterpart to Italy’s “fresco” tradition – painting outdoors directly onto plaster – originating in nearby Oberammergau.
Walking along this street, with its humble opulence and mountain backdrop, is like pretending you’re living out a fairytale – it’s probably one of the most idyllic things to do in Garmisch–Partenkirchen.
Many of these beautiful buildings are now shops, bars and restaurants, which provide handy pit-stops as you amble your way down this historical dreamland of a road.
The Werdenfels Museum is also located on Ludwigstrasse, and is a great place to learn about the specific local history of the old county of Werdenfels, its origins and how it evolved over the years.
Old photographs, everyday items of the past and a whole lot of interesting information make this an enlightening way to spend an hour or so.
Close to Ludwigstrasse is the Richard Strauss Institute. Although born in Munich, the composer called Garmisch–Partenkirchen his adopted home, and had a villa built here in 1908. His 1915 piece “An Alpine Symphony” was inspired by the town.
Parish Church of St. Martin
This Catholic Parish Church of St. Martin is very beautiful and certainly worth a visit. Filled with a German baroque interior, it stands on the site of a church built originally around 800 AD. The current walls date from the 13th century, with extensions made in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Nearby is the Kurpark (spa gardens), a 35km² park where you’ll find not only more than a few spots to relax amidst tranquil nature but also sculpture relating to German children’s author Michael Ende, a native to the town and famous for the epic fantasy The Neverending Story, amongst others.
The nearby Kurhaus is dedicated to the work of Ende, and the combined park and culture-injection are other attractions to see when you visit Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
The Bavarian Alps of Zugspitze and Alpspitze
Being situated as it is in the Bavarian Alps, outdoorsy activities and nature are the things that draw visitors to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
With Germany’s highest mountain on its doorstep, another just 300 metres shorter next to it, and with hills on almost all sides, Garmisch-Partenkirchen is well placed for quality winter sports and spring and summer hiking.
The main event in terms of things to do in Garmisch-Partenkirchen revolves around the country’s highest mountain, Zugspitze. Partly straddling the border between Germany and Austria, this mountain overlooks the skiing hub part-way up its side, Zugspitzplatt.
With over 20 kilometres of slopes to ski across the glacier – shared between Wetterwandeck (2,698 metres), Schneefernerkopf (2,840 metres), and Zugspitze itself – this is Germany’s highest ski area.
What does that mean? It means a deep snow covering for six months of the year and a permanent blue sky filled with warm winter sun – even when the valley below is swathed in cloud.
Four mountain restaurants mean that breaks between the skiing, or snowboarding, or even tobogganing, aren’t just practical, they’re extremely aesthetically pleasing. Each one provides its own magnificent view of this particularly mountainous slice of the Bavarian Alps.
Bavarian Zugspitze Railway
Although it’s Germany’s highest mountain, reaching the top of the Zugspitze isn’t difficult – well, not if you hop aboard the Bavarian Zugspitze Railway.
Beginning in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, running for 19 kilometres and ascending 1,945 metres before reaching its destination atop Zugspitzplatt, this is one of the highest railways in Europe, as well as one of four rack railways remaining in Germany.
Whilst this is one way to get to the ski slopes on Zugspitze, it is also an attraction in itself – and if you’re interested in trains then this will be your ascent of choice, for sure.
Garmisch–Partenkirchen’s second mountain is the more climbable of the two, with several klettersteigs running up it. What’s a klettersteig?
Mostly known by its Italian name via ferrata (“iron road”), a klettersteig is a set of iron ladder rungs with a cable running down the side. Climbers connect themselves to the cable in order to stop them toppling down the side of the mountain in case of a misstep.
The shortest ascent starts at Osterfelderkopf (2,033 metres), which can be reached via the Alpspitzbahn cable car from Garmisch–Partenkirchen itself. From here it’s a two hour climb on the Alpspitz-Ferrata, a much-frequented, mostly protected route to the summit.
However if the thought of physically climbing up a mountain seems more like an ordeal than a pleasure – and let’s be honest, scaling a mountain can seem a scary prospect – then the relatively new addition of the AlpspiX is for you.
Opened in July 2010, this viewing platform consists of two steel footbridges, each 13 metres long, that cross over each other in the shape of an ‘X’.
One of the best things to do in Garmisch–Partenkirchen, the AlpspiX protrudes 25-metres off the side of the mountain, between the sky and the Höllental valley 1000 metres below, and offers up superb views of Zugspitze and a panorama of the surrounding mountains.
AlpspiX can be reached via the Alpspitzbahn cable car.
Although it’s probably most famous as a winter ski resort, Garmisch-Partenkirchen attracts visitors year round for the multitude of outdoor pursuits on offer.
The region boasts over 450 kilometres of cycling paths and more than 300 kilometres of hiking trails. That’s in addition to the 60 kilometres of downhill and 28 kilometres of cross country ski slopes!
Historic Bobsleigh Run
With bobsledders reaching speeds of up to 120 km/h on the former Olympic Bobsleigh run at Riessersee, it was considered as one of the most dangerous in Europe. Today, this protected monument, which hosted the 1936 Winter Olympics, is visited by sports fans and hikers.
Guided tours are available (Wednesdays 2pm to 4pm) and there is also an exhibition featuring 17 historic bobsleighs and equipment and historic footage of bobsleigh events.
Nowadays, the famous run is a protected monument. It has become a year-round attraction for hikers and sports fans and with sturdy footwear, it is easy to hike along the run.
Just 350 metres from the finish, you can visit the bob shed where 17 historic bobsleighs and further interesting exhibits are on display. Original footage brings back the atmosphere of bygone sports events.
Guided tours (€5) are also available.
Olympic Ski Jump
In 2007, a brand new Olympic Ski Jump was built with a 100-metre long start tower. This beautifully designed construction blends seamlessly into the snow-covered landscape and at night, when it is illuminated, becomes a light sculpture.
Guided tours give visitors the opportunity to stand atop the jump – 62-metres above the ground – and imagine themselves as Olympic ski jumpers.
Check with the Tourist Office for guided tour times.
Waterfalls, lakes and gorges
This part of Bavarian is well-known for its abundance of natural sites
Near to the ruins of Werdenfels Castle is a secluded waterfall; there’s also another, much larger waterfall to the east of town called Kuhfluchtwasserfälle.
South of town at the foot of another mountain (Kreuzeck, 1,651 metres) is Riessersee, a lake that is a perfect location for summer outdoor swimming and general chilling out, with its glorious mountain backdrop.
Just a 25-minute walk – or a quicker ride by horse and carriage – from the Olympic Skiing Stadium in Garmisch-Partenkirchen is the spectacular natural monument, Partnach Gorge.
Two paths meander through the gorge past waterfalls, rapids and pools giving visitors an up close and personal look at Bavaria’s natural wonders.
Partnach gorge is open daily year round, entry fee €5 per adult.
What to do near Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Just over 20 minutes’ drive north of town is Linderhof Palace, a stunning example of Bavarian monarch Prince Ludwig II’s famous palaces. Another of his palaces, Neuschwanstein Castle, and the pretty town of Fussen, on Germany’s Romantic Road, are around an hour away.
The village of Wamberg
Also worth a visit is the storybook village of Wamberg. At almost 1000 metres above sea level, this is one of Germany’s highest altitude villages with its own church.
For a village with only 27 inhabitants, the historic church is incredible as it features a number of beautiful paintings, statues and sculptures.
The idyllic village – which offers breathtaking panoramic views – can be reached in under an hour on foot from GaPa, or via the Eckbauer cable car.
Where is Garmisch-Partenkirchen?
The town is located on Germany’s oldest tourist route, the German Alpine Road, which stretches 450 kilometres from Lindau on Lake Constance to Berchtesgaden.
How to get to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is easily reached by car from Innsbruck in around 50 minutes, or from Munich in one hour.
Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) offers hourly services from to Garmisch-Partenkirchen from Munich. Travel time is around 1 hour 15 minutes.
Rail services from Innsbruck take longer (around 2.5 hours), with a change required in Mittenwald.
Flixbus operates multiple services per day between Innsbruck and Garmisch-Partenkirchen with a journey time of 1 hour 10 minutes. Multiple daily services also operate between GaPa and Munich, journey time 1 hour 15 minutes.
By organised tour
If you would prefer to visit the Bavarian Alps on an organised coach tour, why not join a full day tour to Zugspitze from Munich. Click here to check prices and details.
Where to stay in Garmisch-Partenkirchen
There’s a wide range of hotels and apartments in GaPa to choose from. Highly rated accommodations include:
Apartments in Garmisch-Partenkirchen
- Alpen Deluxe holiday apartment – click here to check prices
- Apartment Leonie – click here to check prices
Hotels in Garmisch-Partenkirchen
- Obermuhle 4*S Boutique Resort – click here to check prices
- Riessersee Hotel – click here to check prices
- H+ Hotel Alpina Garmisch-Partenkirchen – click here to check prices
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons to visit Garmisch-Partenkirchen. This lovely twin town in the Bavarian Alps offers something for the outdoor sportsman or woman as well as those who just want to admire the attractive town and its surroundings.
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