This past week I traveled through Bavaria with my best friend and her dog, an Australian shepherd named Snow. This itinerary is thus dog and budget friendly. I will include a complete breakdown of the costs for each activity, stay, parking fee, etc… Here is what you will find in this epic Bavarian road trip guide:
- Basic German Vocabulary
- Where is Bavaria?
- How to Get There?
- When to Go?
- What to Budget?
- Where to Shop?
- What to Bring?
- What to Do?
Traveling during a pandemic can be nerve wrecking and very unpredictable. The rules were constantly changing, and it was difficult to keep up. Just days before our departure, we got the green light and were finally able to enter Germany without having to quarantine or show a negative PCR test, thanks to our precious vaccination card. Every hostel and restaurant asked visitors to show proof of their coronavirus-free status. It is important to note that some regions of Germany and Austria may require FFP2 (N95) mask, so make sure to plan accordingly. Rules change quickly, so make sure to check the most up-to-date information before you travel.
This entire trip was a dream, and the weather was beyond perfect. We were treated like queens everywhere we went. Germans and Austrians were so friendly, and a vast majority of them spoke very good English. Below I included a list of basic German words that you may find helpful during your Bavarian road trip. We greeted every person we met, and I found my very basic knowledge and understanding of German to be useful.
Basic German Vocabulary
|Hello||Hallo, Guten tag, Servus|
|Thank you very much||Danke schön|
|You’re welcome||Bitte (schön)|
|Room available||Zimmer frei|
Where is Bavaria?
Bavaria (Bayern in German) is located in southeast Germany and borders Austria along the Bavarian Alps.
How to Get There?
There are international airports near Bavaria: Munich, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Nuremberg. I recommend begining this trip in Nurember, closest to Rothenburg, our first stop on this Bavarian road trip. Once you have arrived in Germany, I highly recommend renting a car to get around; public transport is extremely limited in the Bavarian Alps and doesn’t allow for much freedom to get around.
When to Go?
I personally love the mountains in the summer, so I would recommend visiting Bavaria during that season. However, July and August are the busiest months of the year for tourism in southeast Germany. The Bavarian Alps are also a paradise for ski lovers, and the winter season offers gorgeous scenery of snow-covered peaks and frozen lakes. Shoulder seasons (fall and spring) are perfect to avoid the crowds but can see unpredictable weather. For best weather, fewer crowds, and gorgeous photography opportunities, I recommend visiting in May, June, September, or October. We were there in June and had beautiful weather without the infamous summertime crowds.
What to Budget?
We were able to spend 6 days road tripping through the Bavarian Alps for around 350 euros per person. We brought food with us and stayed in hostels to keep costs down. Of course, there are always more luxurious options available, but traveling through Germany and Austria on a budget is perfectly feasible during the off season! Our biggest expenses were gas, parking fees, and bathroom fees. Peeing gets expensive in Germany. Count between 0.70 to 1 euro for each use of a public bathroom.
PRO TIPgas is much cheaper in austria and luxembourg, so make sure to fill up there instead of germany.
Where to Shop?
If you chose a budget-friendly itinerary, you may want to shop for groceries instead of eating out – though I highly recommend trying out local foods when traveling. Aldi is a great option for groceries while Müller (think German Target) will let you shop for everything from plug converters to electronics, clothes…
What to Bring?
I’m a huge believer in packing just a carry-on. For years I have been using my Vera Bradley travel bag. It has traveled with me on dozens of flights and always fits under the seat in front of me and flies on every airline without a problem. If you plan on hiking some (or all) of the trails included in this guide, you will also need a good pair of hiking boots. I recommend the Quechua brand; it offers good ankle support and soles that don’t slip on rocks or dirt. They served me well on the 70 km (45 miles) of trails we hiked in Bavaria. For good movement and breathability, I also recommend the Girlfriend Collective leggings. They are made of a strong, high-quality material that does not tear when hit by branches or scuffed against a rock. I personally love the high rise; they are flattering for every shape and help you maintain good posture. And to photograph the unbelievable views you’ll admire on this trip, make sure to bring along a nice camera with a (extra) wide lens. I use a Canon Rebel T7. It is perfect for beginners, budget friendly, lightweight, and comes with a wireless wifi feature that allows you to take pictures remotely or view pictures directly on your phone. All the pictures you see on this blog were taken either by this camera or my IPhone.
What to Do?
There are innumerable things to see and do in the Bavarian Alps. From charming medieval towns to romantic castles, emerald green lakes, and gorgeous mountain views, you will leave Bavaria with unfogettable memories. Make sure to pay close attention to the difficulty level for each hike mentioned in this guide as some can be extremely strenuous and should not be attempted by the casual hiker. I cannot vouch for the popularity of these hikes during the busy season but will share my personal experience.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Rothenburg Op Der Tauber is what dreams are made of. We arrived in Rothenburg on a Sunday evening and checked in at our hotel. I expected the crowds to be thinning as we entered the walled city, but it was already empty. We immediately noticed the ramparts as we walked through the gate and climbed up the stairs. Most of Rothenburg’s ramparts are still intact, centuries after they were built. If you notice gates within the city, you’ll understand that you are gazing upon relics of the old ramparts. We walked up around the town as the evening sun was setting on the terra cotta roofs; it was pure magic! I had read about Rothenburg before our visit, but I had no idea that walking the ramparts would be the highlight of our day in Rothenburg Op Der tauber.
Everywhere we looked, we saw timber-framed homes lining narrow streets of ancient homes, hotels, restaurants, and shops all adorned with colorful geraniums and swirly Germanic lettering. We were in awe of Rothenburg’s beauty and the immense chance we had to have it all to ourselves. If the typical European medieval town looks familiar, you may remember it from Walt Disney’s Pinocchio. If you are limited on time but want to enjoy the most beautiful sights in Rothenburg, I compiled a list of the top 5 most picturesque places in the medieval town.
We stayed at Gasthof zur Linde, a nice little hotel conveniently located just 100 meters from the gates of the old town. At 45 euros a night including breakfast, this was by far the best deal we found. The decor was a bit outdated, but the rooms were clean, comfortable, and the breakfast buffet was great. The staff was extremely firendly and helpful, and the city provides a free wifi connection almost everywhere in town. I would highly recommend this hotel if you are visiting Rothenburg on a budget or looking for dog-friendly accomodations. Staying near the city center also avoids useless parking fees since the hotel provides free parking.
Wondering when is the best time to visit Rothenburg? I would recommend May, June, September, or October during weekdays to avoid crowds or December to enjoy the magic of Christmas German Christmas-market style.
Everyone has seen pictures of Neuschwanstein Castle. Perhaps the most famous castle in the world, it was the inspiration for Cinderella’s castle at Disney World.
Neuschwanstein is located near the beautiful town of Füssen, Lake Alpsee, and the Hohenschwangau Castle. There is a large parking lot at the bottom of the hill leading to the castle. To reach the parking lot, follow the signs indicating Königsschlösser or enter Alpseestraße in your GPS. You can choose from parking lots P1-P4. The parking fee is 6 euros per day. The road to the castle is about 1.5km and accessible by foot (40 minutes), carriage, or shuttle bus. You can find more information on accessibility here. Tickets to visit the castle are only available on this site or at the Ticket Center in Hohenschwangau on the way to the castle. You do not need tickets to walk around the castle, only to visit the inside. However, you must bring a FFP2 mask with you as they are mandatory anywhere social distancing cannot be maintained.
Where to get the best views of the castle?
The most famous shot of Neuschwanstein is taken from the Marienbrücke (Mary’s Bridge). Note that the Marienbrücke is currently closed due to extensive renovation work that is likely to last for weeks or even months. The boardwalk to the bridge is closed off with a metal gate, and the surrounding area is restricted by a wooden fence and barbed wire.
In other times, simply follow the signs indicating Marienbrücke, a 15-minute walk from the foot of the castle. You may have also seen on Instagram that there is another popular viewpoint overlooking the castle from a terrace of roots on the edge of a cliff. This viewpoint is accessible from the Marienbrücke boardwalk. The trail to the viewpoint begins to the left of the boardwalk and leads up to the edge of the cliff. This trail is not official and dangerous; it requires sliding under the fence and up onto the edge of a very steep cliff. Hike at your own risk!
ACHTUNG – ATTENTIONthis hike is by far the most strenuous on this guide. it climbs straight up for 50 minutes in partial shade and with nowhere to stop. do not attempt this hike if you are not an experienced hiker or have a fear of height.
First and foremost, you must know that Austria requires all vehicles crossing its borders to purchase a 12.50 euro sticker allowing free travel within the country for 10 days.
I had done a bit of research before heading to Plansee in order to find detailed directions to the viewpoint (aussichtspunkt in German) at Plansee, but my search came out null. The only article I found detailing the best viewpoints at Plansee was in German. Thanks to my amazing friend, Katharina, I was able to get a translation and find the trail to the most gorgeous viewpoint at Plansee.
First, you must park at Seespitze Hotel near the boat houses, which also offer a great viewpoint as pictured above. Near the hotel parking lot, you will see a bridge. On the other side of the bridge, you will take the left trail at the fork. About 15 minutes into your walk around the lake, you’ll see a large erosion channel on your right. The trail to the overlook is a few meters behind it and will take you up into the woods. This trail is not an official trail and is very strenuous. As you will see when you step on the trail, it is extremely steep. You will be climbing straight uphill for about 50 minutes with no place to stop and rest. We were lucky the trail was empty because we had to stop at least every 5 minutes to catch our breath. The fact that we had already hiked 55 km/ 34 miles that week may account for some of the fatigue, but the trail was difficult nonetheless. Do NOT attempt this hike if you have a fear of heights. The last section of the trail to the first viewpoint and the entire section to the second viewpoint are very similar to Angel’s Landing in Utah. At the very end, the trail turns into a very narrow and rocky footpath with cliffs on both sides. Hikers must use a rope to safely get to the second viewpoint. If you are not able to climb to the top, you can begin the trail and about halfway up, you will find a gorgeous overlook framed by pine trees. This overlook is only visible when standing up on the trail, meaning you won’t be able to photograph yourself in front of the view like you would at the top. Bring good hiking shoes, sunscreen, and plenty of water as you will be partially in the sun on the trail, and there is no shade at the top.
Plansee is a lot less touristy than Eibsee or Konigsee. We were there on a Thursday morning and only saw a few other hikers on the way up. There is also a possibility to hike a 12.5 km (7.8 miles) loop around the lake. Simply follow Rundwanderweg Plansee after the bridge.
Where to stay near Plansee?
If you are searching for a cheap place to stay, check out Seespitz Camping. It is located right along lake Plansee near the boat houses and is the begining point for the hiking trail mentioned above. The camping offers a playground for children, table tennis, and a sauna on top of other amenities like a laundry room, showers, bathrooms, freezer, and refrigerator.
Looking for a more upscale option? Hotel Florelle is located lakeside in Breitenwang, about 5km north of Camping Seespitz and offers the luxury of a hotel stay right on the lake.
Partnachklamm (Partnach Gorge) is located in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, host of the 1936 Winter Olympics. The parking lot is located at the bottom of the cable cars and accessible for a 2.50 euro fee valid for 24 hours. You must hike a total of 7 km (4.3 miles) on steep and uneven moist ground to the gorge and back. I highly recommend a good pair of hiking boots for this hike. Once you arrive near the gorge, you will be able to purchase tickets for 6 euros per person. The walk along the gorge is one way only and will take you through narrow and dark tunnels in the rock where water drips, so make sure to protect your electronics throughout the visit.
The gorge can be as deep as 80 meters (260 ft) in places and will be sure to impress you with its freezing roaring waters and unbelievably rapid current as it does the more than 200,000 yearly visitors.
Located less than 10 minutes from the Partnach Gorge is the gorgeous lake of Geroldsee also known as Wagenbrüchsee. When driving on Bundestraße, turn at the Gerold sign and park your car along the road. Head straight past the fountain, and you will see a trail on your right that will take you to the lake. To your left, the hills will be sprinkled with log cabins and wildflowers. There is a small path in the meadow taking you up to the viewpoint on a butte. However, this path is not accessible during Hegezeit from April 1st until September 30th.
You can choose to continue on the loop and walk around the lake or head back the way you came in. The viewpoint is only 1km (0.6 mi) from the parking area.
Eibsee is a popular crystal-clear lake located in Grainau. It is difficult to say which Bavarian lake is my favorite, but Eibsee definitely was high up on the list. Created by a giant rock fall, it is considered one of the purest lakes in the Bavarian Alps. You can reach the lake either by car or by bus from Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The parking lot is accessible from 5am until 10pm. There is a fee of 6 euros for 4 hours or 8 euros for 6 hours.
We arrived on a Wednesday afternoon, and the banks of the lake were packed with sunbathing tourists. German families had flocked to the lake to enjoy a cooling afternoon from the warm June sun. We were starving, so we stopped at Eibsee Pavillon for a late lunch before begining our hike, hoping the crowds would slowly thin away as the afternoon progressed. We began walking clockwise around 3pm knowing the best views of Lake Eibsee were on the other side of the lake. We hiked the 7.2 km loop trail called Der Eibsee Rundweg quite leisurely in 2 hours. We began at Eibsee-Hotel and ended in the parking lot. If you have little time or can’t wait to see the views of the emerald blue islets with the Zugspitze towering in the background, begin hiking counterclockwise. This section of the trail features the greatest views at Eibsee, perfect for drone photography.
At the end of our hike, we walked down to the shore for a swim. The water was crystal clear, but the rocks covering the bottom of Lake Eibsee were covered in slimy algae. Choose from one of the designated beaches or bring water shoes for bettre grip. We chose to stay away from the lake’s beaches to avoid the crowds and swim in a more natural environment. There is nothing more freeing than dipping your head in a cold mountain lake; it is such an exhilarating feeling! I remember feeling this way for the first time at Lake Gerardmer in Alsace.
If hiking isn’t your thing, no worries! You can simply relax on the swim beach or play in the water. Eibsee is a dream for every water sport enthusiasts. Stand-up paddles, pedal boats, kayaks, and canoes are available for rent on the shore of Lake Eibsee. And for those looking for an adrenaline rush, consider paragliding over the lake for a unique experience and views you simply can’t get anywhere else.
After an unforgettable afternoon at Eibsee, we headed to Berchtesgaden National Park. We did a quick search for nearby hostels on the way and picked Ellmau, Austria. This unexpected stop turned out to be the best surprise of the trip. At just 30 euros per person per night, Alpking Hostel was the cutest, cleanest little hostel. The staff was extra friendly, and the whole place just felt like home. They even provided slippers to wear on the second and third floor. After dropping off our stuff in our room, we headed to Oachkatzl Bar and Lounge right across the street for dinner. The place originally looked really upscale, and we were afraid it would fall out of our budget, but the menu turned out to be not only affordable but also delicious. I was so excited to try local specialties, but the only menu avilable was in German, so the staff helped translate for us and gave us suggestions. I highly recommend the homemade iced tea with very refreshing hints of raspberry and citrus. For our meal, we chose the schnitzel with cranberry sauce and Käsespätzle, an Austrian mac & cheese. The food was exceptional and both meals were served with a delicious mixed salad and the best dill vinaigrette I’ve ever had.
Lake Hintersee is most famous for its adorable moss and pine-covered isles. Not as picturesque or popular as Eibsee or Königsee, it is still worth a visit. The famous viewpoint pictured above is just a short walk away from the road. There are a few hiking trails around the lake and in the neighboring “enchanted forest” of Zauberwald.
Ramsau Bei Berchtesgaden
Driving from Hintersee to Wimbachklamm, you’ll pass Parish Church of St. Sebastian in Ramsau Bei Berchtesgaden. Park your car on the side of the ride and walk to the other side of the bridge for the best angle on this typical Bavarian alpine church.
The Wimbach Gorge feature 200 meters of boardwalk right on the rushing waters of the Wimbach River. It was my very first time in a gorge, and I was so impressed with the beauty of the numerous waterfalls emptying into the roaring waters below. We were a little disappointed by how short the gorge actually was, but I am glad we took the time to visit anyway.
There is a 2,5 km (1.5 mi) loop to the gorge and back from the parking lot. The entrance of the gorge is not well indicated. Your GPS should take you to the parking lot (parkplatz) of Wimbachbrücke. There, you will leave your vehicle for a 5 euro parking fee, cross a bridge over the Wimbach and head straight. At the top of the hill, turn left, and you should begin to notice other visitors heading in the same direction and signs indicating the ticket booth. Yickets are 2,5 euros per peson.
Königsee and Obersee
Our day at Königsee might be my favorite of this road trip. After extensive research, I knew I had to dedicate an entire day to make the best of our time there. We got up early to be the first at the ticket booth at 7:30am when it opened. We were the first to purchase tickets and hoping for a tranquil voyage on the water but quickly realized the extent of Königsee’s popularity when our boat (the first of the day) filled up with 60+ people within minutes. In conclusion, I highly recommend getting there as early as possible to get on the first boat of the day. This is especially important if you would like to visit Obersee.
There are two boat routes on King’s Lake: Königsee to St. Bartholomä (18.50 euros round trip) or Königsee to Salet (23 euros round trip and only served in high season). Make sure to bring cash as many places in Germany are not equipped with card readers. If you want to visit Obersee – which I highly recommend, you must purchase a ticket to Salet. Though this may seem like a large expense, it is entirely worth it!
The boats of Lake Königsee are all electrically powered to preserve the purity of the drinkable water. All passengers may be required to wear a FFP2 or N95 mask. These specific masks are for sale on the boat for 2 euros a piece. If you are traveling with your dog, you must purchase a ticket (4 euros) and equip him or her with a muzzle while on board.
ACHTUNG – ATTENTIONdo not miss the last boat of the day as there are no accomodations on the other side of the lake and no way to hike around it either due to sheer walls. the late pickup fee is 250 euros!
If you intend on visiting Obersee, skip St. Bartholomä on your way to Salet. This way, you will be one of the first ones to hike Lake Obersee, and you will have it mostly to yourself. We took the return boat around 10am and passed many more hikers on their way to Fischunkelalm and the Röthbachfall.
After a 45-minute boat ride, you will arrive at Obersee, Königsee’s little sister. From the dock, a 10-15 minute walk will bring you face to face with a calm lake, and the gorgeous reflection of the nearby summits. Obersee reminded me a lot of Green Lake in the French Alps with its unbelievably turquoise waters.
Perhaps the most popular spot at Obersee, Fischunkelalm is a small wooden fishing cabin located on the opposite side of the lake. It can be reached after a 45 minute walk. We had tried so hard to beat the crowds and were growing increasingly worried when we saw the many hikers ahead of us but found no one when we arrived at the fishing dock.
On your way back to Königsee Seelände, you can stop at St. Bartholomä to admire its beautiful church of cyrillic influence or the impressive eiskapelle (ice chapel) at the foot of the Watzmann. However, do not stand under the ceiling of this ice chapel as it is fragile and could collapse at anytime.
PRO TIPsit on the left side of the boat on your way back to seelände for the best views of lake königsee.
Once we were back on land, we stopped at one of the many side shops for a much-needed bratwurst before begining our hike to Malerwinkel. Free bathrooms and water-filling stations are available behind the boathouses at the Malerwinkel trailhead. The viewpoint is less than 1km away from the Köningsee ticket booth and offers a beautiful panorama of King’s Lake though not as beautiful as Rabenwand. To reach the Rabenwand viewpoint, simply follow the signs and continue your ascension above Malerwinkel.
I cannot write a blog post on Königsee without adressing Königsbachwasserfall, a waterfall become Instagram famous for its jaw-dropping views of Lake Königsee. Cables now restrict the entrance of the trail as littering had become increasingly problematic. The trail leading to the pool is not an official trail; it is dangerous and not maintained. Many trees obstruct the dirt path that is also muddy and unstable. The pool at the end of the trail is beautiful, but visitors must exercise extreme caution when entering as the water (though drinkable) is barely above freezing even on the hottest summer days and its walls are lined with slippery algae. The pool is deep, but the current varies greatly depending on recent precipitations, and a fall from Königsbachwasserfall would undoubtedly be fatal!
Swing at Kempinski Hotel
Our last stop in the breathtaking National Park of Berchtesgaden was Kempinski Hotel. As many others, we had seen gorgeous pictures of the hotel’s swing and wanted to take a trip down memory lane and embrace our inner child. Staying at the hotel was not possible for our tight budget, but we had intended on stopping for dinner or coffee. Unfortunately, the hotel’s restaurant was closed, so we swung for a few minutes before heading back down to the parking lot, 500 meters below.
Hallstatt is a charming little lakeside village in Upper Austria coming straight out of a picture book. However it is important to keep in mind that as magical as Hallstatt may seem, it is not a museum but a place where people actually live. Many small shops and restaurants line the streets of Hallstat, but prices are unfortunately quite high considering the intense tourism.
When you reach Hallstatt, you will find two parking lots. Count at least 7 euros for 2 hours, 9 hours for 4 hours, or 9.50 euros for 6 hours.
The best views in Hallstatt
When taking a stroll through Hallstatt’s streets, don’t miss the gorgeous views at Markplatz and of Schloss Grub on the lakeshore. But we can’t talk about the best views in Hallstatt without mentioning THE viewpoint. Click here for the exact location of the postcard viewpoint in Hallstatt, best photographed in the morning. If you would rather enjoy Hallstatt on the water, there is a possibility to rent electrical boats, swan-shaped pedal boats, stand-up paddles, or rowboats
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