Whether you simply want to relax for a few days or seek out action-packed winter sports, Bavaria something for everyone in winter!
Bavaria in southern Germany is a fabulous destination year-round, but it takes on a distinctive charm of its own in winter. From snow-capped mountains and alpine ski runs to blissful wellness spas, spending winter is Bavaria is bound to leaves you both impressed and delighted, so long as you don’t have a problem with warm jackets and cozy scarves.
So where should you go when visiting Bavaria in winter? After living here for a couple of years, I have compiled some of the best places to visit in Bavaria in winter.
– Things to know before visiting Bavaria in winter–
- Winter is rather cold in Bavaria. The region lies in the continental climate zone with distinct seasons that offer everything from summer sun and heat to winter cold and snow. The temperature is on average a few degrees above freezing (0 °C) during the day, and a few degrees below at night.So make sure you pack a warm jacket!
- Bavaria is a great skiing destination. With powder snow, fun on the slopes and après-ski delights – winter sport fans will definitely enjoy the Bavarian ski resorts. No need to worry about snow chains, icy roads or looking for a parking space, as these slopes are easy to reach if you are travelling by train. The skiing season is from early December to March.
- Stunning Christmas markets turn the magic up in German (and Bavarian) city squares during Advent. They usually start at the end of November and last until Christmas. No matter how cold it gets, there is always somewhere to enjoy a mulled wine. While Bavaria is cool throughout winter, it is truly magic during Advent!
- Munich is a great starting point for Bavaria. From there, you can decide whether to explore the countryside, take a trip to one of the castles or enjoy a day hike around one of Bavaria’s stunning alpine lakes. I have listed the best day trips from Munich here. You should definitely be able to find something you will love!
- Ski resorts fringe the Alpine border towards Austria and Switzerland. If you are not into skiing, there are plenty of other winter sports to try.
Best Places to Visit in Bavaria in Winter
Munich – The Capital
Zugspitze – At the Top of Germany
Partnach Gorge – The Natural Wonder
Neuschwanstein – The Sleeping Beauty Castle
The Allgäu – Sun, Snow & Fun on the Piste
Berchtesgaden – Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest
Königssee – Stunning Alpine Lake
Regensburg – Oldest Christmas Market
Chiemsee – Scenery & Wellness
Munich – The Capital
Munich is pretty at any time of the year, with its charming lanes and historical sights combined with the natural beauty of its peaceful parks. Munich is mostly known around the world thanks to Oktoberfest. But trust me, there is so much more to it than that!
If you visit Munich during Advent, you should definitely visit some of the Christmas markets. My favorite markets include the Medieval-style Christmas market at Odeonsplatz (featuring interesting handicrafts and historical decorations) and the magical Christmas village in the Residenz (known for its fairytale beauty). You should also check out the enormous Christmas tree at Marienplatz market, situated right in the center of town.
On a clear day, make sure to visit Olympia tower. At a height of 251 meters, its 190-meter observation platform provides some of the best views of Munich from above. With a bit of luck, you can see all the way to the Alps. The tower is situated in Olympic Park, which was constructed for the 1972 Summer Olympics. It only takes half an hour on public transportation to get there. The entrance fee is 9 EUR.
Another must-see is Marienplatz, the city’s main square with two city halls, each featuring ballrooms and a tower. If you visit at 11 a.m., 12 p.m., or 5 p.m., you can experience the spectacle of a 16th-century cuckoo clock with 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures going off. After that, you can climb the tower at St. Peters church or take a leisurely walk in the enormous Englisher garden.
I would recommend spending at least two or three days in Munich. You can explore the city on your own, following my tips for visiting Munich in winter and specific recommendations for the best things to do. If you prefer to explore the city with a guide, consider joining this recommended walking tour, which focuses on legends and mysteries.
Zugspitze –At the Top of Germany
At precisely 2,962 meters above sea level, the Zugspitze is the highest mountain in the country. It is home to three glaciers and Germany’s highest ski resort. Both skiers and non-skiers alike come here to enjoy the impressive 360° panorama that takes in over 400 mountain peaks in four countries.
In winter, the Zugspitze is a popular skiing and snowboarding destination, with several slopes on either side. Thanks to the glaciers, the pistes remain covered in snow for about 6 months of the year. Take a look at the trail map to find the perfect slope for you. There are 89 lifts and more than 200 kilometers of runs!
Other fun winter activities you can do in the area include sledding, cross country skiing, and weird things like Bavarian curling (trying googling Eisstockschießen). It’s also perfectly acceptable to just sit in the chalet with some Schnapps and admire the view.
About 100 kilometers from Munich, Zugspitze is doable as a day trip from Munich (packages including ski lift and train are available). It sits just south of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a small ski town that hosted the 1936 Winter Olympics. By the way, Garmisch-Partenkirchen is one of the best bases if you want to enjoy Bavaria in winter. You’ll never get bored there–the area features 110 km of cross-country ski runs, 118 km of downhill skiing, snow hikes past frozen lakes and through snow-covered forests, horse-sleigh tours, snowboarding, sledding, Nordic cruising, and ice skating!
Transportation from Munich: Zugspitze is situated about 100 kilometers from Munich. If you are traveling by car, consider combining the trip with other sights in the region, including the Partnach Gorge and Neuschwanstein Castle.
Recommended tour: If you would like to experience Zugspitze in a relaxed manner, you can join this day tour from Munich. The trip is by bus and includes a cable car ride, too.
Partnach Gorge – Bavaria’s Natural Wonder
With its many waterfalls, rapids, and tranquil water basins, the Partnach Gorge (Partnachklamm in German) offers some of the finest natural scenery in Bavaria in winter. It only takes one hour to drive from Munich to get there–what a perfect natural escape!
The gorge, which acts as a natural conduit for the Partnach River, runs 700 meters between limestone walls that reach 80 meters high. A series of galleries and tunnels have been carved out of the rock along one side, allowing visitors to walk along the rushing river and duck behind waterfalls.
Winter is the perfect time to visit. With a bit of luck, you’ll get to see the 80-meter waterfall frozen, a jagged curtain of icicles. Consider joining one of the evening hikes lit only by torches, it’s an exceptional experience.
The main route is not very long, but there are plenty of possibilities to prolong your trip as the Partnach Gorge is the starting point for many hiking routes. You can consider hiking to Mounts Eckbauer, Hausberg or Kreuzeck.
Transportation from Munich: Partnach Gorge is easily accessed from Garmisch –Partenkirchen. You can walk, drive, or take local bus 1 or 2 from central Garmisch or Partenkirchen to the Skistadion or Olympic Ski Stadium From the parking it is a 25-minute walk to the Partnach Gorge. Romantic horse-drawn carriages, which also start at the parking lot, are a more comfortable way to reach your goal.
Neuschwanstein – The Caldarella castle
Few places on Earth look more like a storybook illustration than Neuschwanstein Castle. With its towers, turrets, frescoes, and throne hall, Neuschwanstein looks like it was plucked straight from your favorite fairy tale. No wonder it has been featured in many movies and even inspired the design of Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle.
The story behind this over-the-top palace nestled in the Bavarian Alps is less idyllic. According to Wikipedia, King Ludwig II of Bavaria commissioned the cliffside castle in 1868, just two years after Austria and Bavaria were conquered by Prussia during the Austro-Prussian War (sometimes called the Seven Weeks’ War), effectively stripping Ludwig II of his powers. He quickly retreated into a private fantasy world, surrounding himself with opulent castles where he could live out his dreams of being a true, sovereign king.
Ludwig II never saw the final Neuschwanstein. He died in 1886, and the final towers weren’t completed until 1892. But within weeks of his sudden and mysterious death, the magnificent castle was opened to the public, where it quickly became one of the region’s most visited attractions.
When planning a visit to the castle, you should be aware that it is only possible to visit the interior of the castle on a guided tour. It lasts about 35 minutes and spaces are limited. One ticket costs 13 Euros for adults, and it is always connected to a certain time slot. You should book at least two days in advance. The link for booking is here.
As most tourists tend to visit the castle in summer, winter is the perfect season. With a little bit of luck, you could see the castle under a fresh blanket of snow. I wrote a post on visiting Neuschwanstein castle in winter here.
Transportation from Munich: The best way to get to Neuschwanstein Castle from Munich (about 120 km away) is by driving. By car, it takes just under 2 hours each way. By public transportation, unfortunately, there is no direct connection. Budget about about 3 hours one-way, including the train ride from Munich HBF to Füssen (2 hours), then a short bus ride from Füssen to the base of the castles (10 minutes) and finally an ascent to the castle which you can do by foot, horse carriage, or by shuttle bus depending on the weather.
Recommended tour: If you are looking to explore Neuschwanstein in one day and also experience a ride through the stunning Bavarian Alps, I recommend this tour. The trip is either by bus or by train and you will be on the go exploring Bavaria for 10 hours.
The Allgäu – Sun, Snow & Fun on the Piste
It would be a pity to visit Neuschwanstein castle without exploring the lovely Allgäu, the highlands known for their sheer magnificence. If you are heading to Bavaria in winter and looking for skiing, snowboarding or other winter fun, Allgäu is a great choice. FYI, the name is pronunced like Allgoy, rhyming with “boy”).
The alpine region of the Allgäu rises over 2,000 meters in altitude, spoiling travelers its with breathtaking vistas. Thanks to its dramatic landscape, royal castles, wellness centers, and awesome winter sport opportunities, Allgäu is one of the most popular destinations in Germany. It includes adorable villages like Oberstdorf and Oberstaufen (ober meaning “over”).
There are over 500 kilometers of slopes in Allgäu. Among the several ski resorts in the region, the most popular are Nebelhorn, Fellhorn, Oberjoch and Hörnerbahn. You can expect excellent piste quality.
If you don’t ski, then try hiking through fairy-tale forests covered in snow! Or how about a horse carriage ride?
Transportation from Munich: The region of Allgäu is about 2 hours drive from Munich (about 140 kilometers, depending on which part of it you visit).
Berchtesgaden – Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest
Berchtesgaden is famous for being one of the favorite summer spots of Hitler. The mountain-top base he built, called Eagle’s Nest, has been transformed into a restaurant with panoramic views of the area. It sits on a ridge atop the Kehlstein mountain, at 1,834 m above the town of Berchtesgaden.
If you are considering adding Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus in German) to your Bavaria itinerary, be aware that you will only be able to see it from the outside. Unfortunately, the interior is only open in summer (usually mid-May to mid-October). Additionally, the place was closed in 2020 for restoration and should open in May 2021.
If it’s a clear day you will be rewarded with amazing views. The trip can also be combined with a visit to Königssee.
The surrounding Berchtesgaden region is also a great place to go hiking and spot unique fauna and flora. Covering some 210 square kilometers, the area is home to chamois, ibex, red deer, roe deer, foxes, and various birds.
Transportation: Berchtesgaden is situated in southeastern Germany, 110 km southeast of Munich, near the border with Austria 30 km away. It takes just under two hours to drive there.
Königssee – Stunning Alpine Lake
Situated within the Berchtesgaden Alps just under two hours’ drive from Munich, stunning Königssee is Germany’s deepest lake. Many people claim that it is also Germany’s most beautiful (and cleanest!) alpine lake.
The setting is simply breathtaking: Königssee is surrounded by steep mountain slopes that rise up to 2,700 meters. The long, thin lake turns from its summer-time green to a shimmering, frozen ice rink in winter. It is definitely one of the best places to visit in Bavaria in winter.
Schönau am Königssee is a very romantic spot on the lak. After enjoying the lake, pay a visit to the famous St. Bartholomew’s Church, dating back to 1697 and featuring one of the best examples of stucco work in the country.
If you are into winter sports, you will love the 20 km of skating tracks for regular and speed skating. By the way, Schönau am Königssee is also home to the oldest permanent bobsled, luge and skeleton track in the world.
Transportation from Munich: Schönau am Königssee is situated in the Berchtesgaden Alps, 160 kilometers southeast from Munich. It takes just under two hours to drive there.
Nuremberg – Oldest Christmas Market
With a charming maze of historical lanes connected by impressive bridges over the river, a 1000-year-old castle, and a legendary Christmas market, Nuremberg is definitely one of the best places to visit in Bavaria in winter.
The Nuremberg Christkindelsmarkt is one of the oldest and most famous Christmas Markets in the world. I’ve visited it twice and I have to say that it’s really huge. While pretty much the whole city takes on a Christmas vibe, with several big markets, this one is the largest. The whole city center turns into one huge market, with more than 180 market stands. You’ll never be short of mulled wine!
Nuremberg is the second-largest city in Bavaria, as well as the unofficial capital of Franconia. This 950-year-old town features plenty of sights and history that you can get a taste of in one day or dive deeper into over a long weekend. It’s located two hours from Munich and you can easily get there by train.
Nuremberg Old Town is best explored on foot, with its gorgeous streets and half-timber houses. All you need are comfortable shoes, a backpack, a map, a camera, and to just get out there and see what you can find. Highlights include Frauentorturm, St. Lawrence Church, Hospital of Holy Spirit (Heiling-Geist Spital), The Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche), and Main Market Square.
Transportation from Munich: Nuremberg is very easy to reach; a direct train from Munich takes 90 minutes.
Chiemsee: Scenery & Wellness
Nicknamed the “Bavarian Sea”, Chiemsee is the largest Bavarian lake (excluding Lake Constance, which is bigger but only partly in Bavaria). The nickname is actually not too far from the truth: Chiemsee originated from the primeval Thetis Sea, and it even has tides similar to the sea.
Chiemsee is lovely at any time of the year. Winter is the perfect time to avoid the crowds and enjoy the lovely scenery. The total area of Chiemsee is 80 km² and the gorgeous Alps form the backdrop. The view of mountains mirroring in the sea sometimes comes back in my dreams, even though it has been quite some time since I visited the lake.
The most popular attractions are the island of Herrenchiemsee with its palaces, the monastery on Frauenchiemsee, and Julius Exter’s House in Feldwies. Herrenchiemsee New Palace was built for Kind Ludwig, but he never saw this masterpiece completed, since he died two years before it was finished.
Chiemsee is the perfect place to relax. You can spend a day at Prienavera Erlebnisbad or Chiemgau Thermen. There are many wellness hotels to choose from. When traveling in December, there are two Christmas markets to enjoy: one in Fraueninsel and the other in Prien am Chiemsee.
Transportation from Munich: Lake Chiemsee is 90 km southeast of Munich and can be reached by car via the Autobahn A8 from Munich to Salzburg (Bernau exit). Traveling by public transport, take a one-hour train to Prien a Chiemsee. Walk to the pier and wait for a boat that leaves at 30-minute intervals. After a 15-minutes trip, you will reach the New Palace.
What to do in Bavaria in Winter
Bavaria transforms into a winter wonderland with the first snowfall each year. No matter whether you can ski or not, there are many ways to enjoy Bavaria in winter. Snowboarding, skiing, cross-country skiing or tobogganing…all are the perfect ways to be active and enjoy stunning panoramas at the same time. Try at least one of them; it will be fun, I promise!
Skiing is definitely one of the most popular winter sports in Bavaria. There are more than 100 ski resorts, most of which are equipped with modern lifts and well-constructed pistes. You can expect snow from December to March.
The best ski resorts are found in the Bavarian Alps, from the Allgäu to the Berchtesgaden Region and in the middle mountain ranges from Franconia to the Bavarian Forest.
One of the most popular among skiers is Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen. If you want to take it easy (or if you travel with family), opt for smaller resorts. Family-friendly places include the Grünten in the Allgäu, the Mitterfirmiansreut ski centre in the Bavarian Forest and Franconia’s Bischofsgrün.
Popular Ski resorts:
- Allgäu/Bavarian Swabia: Skiing in Oberstdorf on the Fellhorn, Nebelhorn and Nesselwang mountains
- Franconia: Skiing in the Fichtel Mountains and the Franconian Forest
- Upper Bavaria: 1 ski pass – 4 ski resorts: Spitzingsee-Tegernsee, Sudelfeld, Brauneck-Wegscheid and Wallberg as well as the Garmisch-Classic ski resort
- Eastern Bavaria: Ski paradise on the Großen Arber and in Sankt Englmar
Excellent whole body training and intensive nature experience in winter: cross country skiing offers both at once. Bavaria’s countless trails promise the perfect cross-country skiing experience.
Cross-country skiing enthusiasts will especially enjoy the Alpenwelt Karwendel region. For a very well-prepared trail, try the one from Wallgau to Vorderriss – a 13,4-kilometre route with wonderful views of a wild river landscape, which is at times reminiscent of Canada.
In the Tölzer Land you can find fantastic cross-country skiing terrain with almost 200 kilometres of tracks. Cross-country skiing fans can hone their skills on easy or demanding trails, or test their mettle at a biathlon shooting range.
You might never have heard of tobogganing before…winter in Bavaria offers you the unique opportunity to slide down a snow-covered slope on a runnerless sled called a toboggan. Equipped with toboggan, gloves and winter shoes, there are no special skills needed for the adventure of gliding down snow hills past snow-covered forests.
Tobogganing is a popular sport in Bavaria. Kids love hurtling down the village slopes, and some of the long tobogganing runs offer several minutes of downhill fun.
At some places, you can use the ski lift to reach the top and then enjoy a gentle sledge ride or a thrilling descent. Often, you can rent the sleds on the spot. So easy! Plus, the mountain huts are open in the winter so you can warm up inside. Some of the runs are even illuminated in the evening.
Where to go:
- Gaisalpe near Oberstdorf: right in the heart of the snowy Allgäu mountains. The starting point is the Reichenbach car park, from where you can take a cable car up 1280 meters for an amazing tobogganing run.
- Wallberg in the Lake Tegernsee region: famous for Germany’s longest natural sled run. This track is 6.5 km long and 825 meters high, and promises 30 minutes of unbeatable thrill. Visitors reach the top of the run via a cable car before embarking on the adventure of gliding down through snow-covered forests. Sleds can be hired on the spot.
Snowshoeing is one of the best ways to get outside and enjoy the beauty of Bavaria in winter. A snowshoeing tour through the deep snow is a great opportunity to experience the snowy landscape away from the hiking trails and enjoy some pristine nature.
A trip that would be a real challenge in regular winter shoes is child’s play in snowshoes. Instead of sinking into the snow, you walk lightly through the winter landscape. A snowshoe tour is one of the most popular winter activities.
- Allgäu/Bavarian Swabia: Snowshoeing in the Allgäu Alps to Steinernen Tour and to Höllritzer Alpe
- Franconia: Snowshoe tours in the Fichtel Mountains and in the Franconian Forest
- Upper Bavaria: Snowshoeing in the Chiemgau Alps and the Berchtesgaden Region
- Eastern Bavaria: Snowshoe fun around the Dreisessel and the Waldmünchen holiday region plus the Furth im Wald-Hohenbogen area
Winter in Bavaria: Where to stay
Munich, the capital of Bavaria, is the perfect place to stay if you want to enjoy culture and explore the region on a day trips. There are many hotels and hostels around the city.
If you prefer a homey atmosphere, staying in an Airbnb could be a great choice. Here are some of the top picks:
What to pack for Bavaria in winter
Rain and snow are both common during the winter in Bavaria. It is great to have some layers since it can get pretty cold, Warm and waterproof clothing is essential.
Be sure to pack:
- Comfortable, warm, breathable shoes/boots
- Warm winter coat. Winter in Bavaria is really chilly!
- Warm scarf, hat and gloves
- Thick wool socks – Tall enough to keep the bottom of your legs warm.
- Layers: leggings, long-sleeved shirt, coat
- A good lip balm and lotion can be a true savior, as winters can dry up your skin rather quickly.
- A power bank, to revive your phone or camera when you are exploring the snow-clad winter forests.
- Make sure you pack your medicines, as not all stores are open during winter in Bavaria.
Last but not least, remember to bring a camera to capture the beautiful moments of your cold and chilly winter vacation in Bavaria!
I hope you enjoyed my article. If you have any questions about visiting Bavaria in winter, feel free to comment below!