When you are looking for a refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city, look no further than the home of the highest mountain in Germany. The small town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen is nestled among the mountains near the German-Austrian border.
Before diving into the best activities in the town like hiking, swimming, or standing on the tallest peak in Germany *spoiler alert*, let’s start by discussing the logistics of getting there. As with many smaller mountain towns, you will pay for the pristine, scenic beauty with longer travel times. This includes the inevitability of transfers if you are using public transportation.
If you are traveling to Garmisch from abroad, it’s best to fly into Munich or Innsbruck and then rent a car. A car will make your life a lot easier getting to Garmisch and optimizing your time while you are there. But…you can definitely still have an amazing visit using only public transport, as I did 🙂
Again, starting from Munich or Innsbruck you will be able to take trains, busses, or some combination to get to Garmisch. Once you are in the area, there are several busses along with the zugspitze line that you can use to get around. The tricky thing is that these busses come relatively infrequently which means that good planning is a must!
Now that the logistics are out of the way, here are the top things to do during your summer trip in Garmisch Partenkirchen
Unsurprisingly, if you know me at all, hiking tops the list of the best things to do in Garmisch over the summer. Read here my love for hiking :). Whether you are an avid hiker, or a casual stroll hiker (yes, you may call it walking but out in nature I’ll call it hiking) there is something in this little mountain town for you.
I will start by saying that it is very important that you plan ahead before hitting the trails. Please heed this warning! In this area there are so many hiking options for various skill levels and various gear requirements. If you are unprepared, you may follow trail signs straight to a Via ferrata or a mountain climb that force you to turn back.
Here is a snapshot of AllTrails in the area where you can see the plethora of trails:
While being there for one week and working full time, I found time for 3 hikes when the weather was good. Sadly, I didn’t plan enough for the biggest hike I wanted to do (see planning is important). *Sigh* until next time. I’ll discuss the 3 hikes I did as well as the one I didn’t do to give you some flavor of what you can expect.
Lake Eibsee Loop – Done
This hike, at 4.3 miles in distance is suitable for all skill levels and is a real treat. Eibsee is a gorgeous, vibrant blue mountain lake resting peacefully at the base of the Zugspitze. The loop trail is very peaceful and it offers picturesque views of the lake from all angles. In my opinion, this is a short trail that just keeps giving as you circle it.
Höllental Gorge and Kruezhaus – Done
Rather than doing the long hike I was hoping to do, I shifted my focus to this ~10 mile hike to consume a beautiful Saturday (non-work day woooooh!). This hike has several alternatives so I will discuss it in various parts to help you decide what is right for you.
The first part of the hike takes you from Hammersbach to Höllentalanger Hut through the breathtaking Höllental gorge.
This hike is moderate but well worth it to see the electric blue glacial water rushing through the gorge. The gorge costs 6 euros to enter. Prepare to get wet as you hike through the gorge as water cascades down from above. Enjoy a nice meal and beautiful view at Höllentalanger Hut before deciding your next move.
From the lodge, you must choose how to continue. In my case, I opted to go up to Kreuzeck. Your other options are to return back to the gorge or continue onto several other trails. Be warned, this is one area where you may end up facing a rock climb or via ferrata if you continue down a wrong path. Be prepared, know your plan.
For the next section of my hike, I saw only 5 people over several miles. This section of the hike is certainly not for those with unsteady footing or a fear of heights! Make your way up from Höllentalanger Hut towards the next hut before continue upwards still along a long and rather narrow cliff hugging path.
There is a cable attached to the mountain if you’d like to hold on. Clipping in is not necessary though some may prefer it for peace of mind. During this section of my hike, there were thick clouds and mist but I can only imagine the sweeping valley view that I might have had on a clear day. I continued climbing up until I reached the peak of my hike at 1,750 meters.
I then traveled on a nice trail downwards until I reached Kreuzeck. From there, the trail became very steep and wide enough to be a service road (which maybe it was). This part was really not even enjoyable and really tore up my legs and knees for no reward. I’d recommend others to take the cable car down from Kreuzeck and give themselves a pat on the back for a hike well hiked.
Grainau to Eibsee – Done
In order to optimize my time, I elected to take an early hike starting before my work day. This hike conveniently started from right outside my AirBnb. The hike was quiet and mystical on an early foggy morning but all in all it was my least favorite of the 3 hikes. It began with a road walk before following a logging road for several miles.
I was very excited to finally make it to the lake (Eibsee again) at the end of my hike.
Zugspitze from Garmisch-Partenkirchen through the Reintal Valley – Next time
Last but not least, the hike that is left untouched. Hiking the tallest mountain in Germany is an achievable dream that I couldn’t work out this time. There are several routes up the Zugspitze with some requiring a lot of technical climbing experience and others require long and intimidating via ferratas.
The option I hope to one day do is the one hiking only route through the Reintal Valley. This route climbs a breathtaking (literally) 10,230 ft (3,118 meters) over the course of 12.9 miles (21 km). So why couldn’t I make it happen?
There are 2 primary options to make this hike achievable. Option 1 is to start very early in the morning to give yourself plenty of time to reach the summit in time to take the last cable car down to Eibsee. Option 2 involves pre-planning in advance and booking a stay at one of the Huttes (Reintalangerhütte or Knorrhütte) thus tackling the grueling hike over the course of 2 days.
Unfortunately for me, using public transport I could not make it to the starting point early in the morning. Once I realized this flaw in my plan, I looked for rooms and sadly there wasn’t availability. Until next time Zugspitze.
2. Swimming and Water Activities
To cool off on a warm day, allow Lake Eibsee to lure you in with her shimmering turquoise blue water. Nestled at the based of the Zugspitze, Lake Eibsee is a beautiful though more discreet to her mountain counterpart. At the lake, you can find equipment rentals to go kayaking or paddle boarding. Alternatively, you can simply opt to hop in at your leisure from anywhere around the lake to go for a cold swim!
Though cold, standing in that water surrounded by beautiful mountains will surely be a memory that stays with you for a very long time. Once you’ve breathed it all in, clammer out onto the shore where you can have a picnic, take a nap, or just enjoy more of the nice views.
Around the lake, you will be able to find a biergarten, an ice cream shop, and a general souvenir and goods shop. There is also a hotel right by the lake though the restaurants in it are reserved for guests only.
3. Go to the top of the zugspitze
During your visit in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, you must visit the top of the Zugspitze. Accessible by foot (mentioned above), cable car, or by train, you have plenty of options to make your way to the top.
The Cable Car
Choosing to reach the top by the cable car Zugspitze is the fastest way to the top. You must first arrive to Eibsee where you can find the entrance to one of the world’s most impressive Cable Car Systems. The cars are able to transport up to 580 people to the peak per hour up an elevation of 1,945 meters. The round trip tickets are a bit pricey at 63 Euros for a round trip but the views are priceless and the journey is exhilarating. You can checkout a video of the trip to the top here!
The Cogwheel Train
Another scenic option to reach the top is to hop aboard the Cogwheel train. The railway was built from 1928 to 1930 and definitely has “old train vibes”. In total it is 19.5 km long and makes stops in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Grainau, Eibsee, Riffelriss, and finally the Zugspitzplatt.
Generally your round trip ticket lets you choose either the train or the cable car. If you want to save a little money, reserve the early bird for 55 euros. You must take the train to the top with this ticket but can descend by any means.
Things to do at the top!
Awaiting you at the top of the Zugspitze is unbelievable views in all directions! To really maximize your visit, try to plan ahead and be on the top on a clear day. Here you can checkout the current weather status to inform your decision on whether to travel to the top on a given day.
In the Zugspitze station at the top of the mountain there is a cafe, a restaurant, and several museum exhibits about the building of the station and the incredible cable car. You are also able to take a second cable car down to the glacier from the top of the Zugspitze.
Finally, for those brave of heart, when you get to the top station, you can opt to do a quick climb to the actual top of the Zugspitze which is represented by a post with a gold cross. I had read that this was possible so I made sure to be the first person there after getting off the first cable car in the morning. Several minutes after I had climbed up to the top, it was extremely crowded with people, which I viewed as a much more stressful and dangerous situation. If you want to do it, try to be first!
4. Bask in the traditional german vibes
Picture a traditional German town. Now look at this picture:
Garmisch-Partenkirchen checks the boxes of what I, as a foreigner, think a German town should look like. The A Frame houses and beautiful bright flowers make the experience feel authentic. Additionally, walk around the city and you will see shops with beer steins and drindls (traditional German outfits). This is the cherry on top of the nature cake that you will experience in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
In addition to the aesthetics of the town, you can also help yourself to some traditional German food. There is no shortage of beer gardens or restaurants selling currywurst and schnitzel. And, contrary to what you might think based on their language, Germans are very warm and friendly people!
You can tell by now, I look very fondly on Garmisch-Partenkirchen and I’d highly recommend it for a summer trip. Between the views, the town, and the people, it is a dream destination. I can’t wait to go back again soon, perhaps in winter to experience a different spin on this town.