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2018 marks a special year for the German federal state of Bavaria as the state celebrates not just one, but TWO anniversaries! The 200th anniversary of the enactment of the Bavarian Constitution which was created and imposed on the then-monarchy as well as the 100th year of the existence of the Free State of Bavaria! With two special anniversaries, I thought what better way to celebrate than to showcase some of the top destinations to visit in Bavaria!
Best Cities to Visit in Bavaria! PIN IT FOR LATER!!
Just a tad bit o’history!
The history of Bavaria stretches all the way back to the Paleolithic era with Roman settlements scattered throughout the state, with the Roman center of administration being right here in Regensburg. Over the following centuries, the region grew into a duchy before being included into the Holy Roman Empire followed by the formation of an independent kingdom with the Wittelbach dynasty ruling from 1180-1918 without interruption. Later in 1795 Napoleon invaded Bavaria where he was welcomed in Munich but eventually laid siege to Ingolstadt.
Fast forward to the beginning of the 19th century, a revolution took place and by May 26, 1818 the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bavaria was proclaimed by Maximilian I Joseph with both the parliamentary and constitutional monarchy lasting until November 1918 when it was declared a republic or “state”. Later becoming a constituent member of the German Empire by 1870 only to be completely dissolved by the Nazi Third Reich, followed by a post-war reconstruction period and becoming a new federal state as part of West Germany. Finally, once East and West Germany were reunited, Bavaria became one of the 16 states of the Federal Republic of Germany. Today, Bavaria is the largest state with 13 million people.
So, in celebration, I’m sharing with you the best of Bavaria!
Just a 30 minute drive away from Regensburg, is a small village practically unheard of, however Abensberg is quickly becoming a top tourist hot spot in Bavaria. Located in the town, a traditional brewery, Kuchlbauer Brewery, founded in 1300 made an adjustment to their historic Weissbier brewery in 2010 by adding the Hundertwasser Tower (Hundertwasserturm), a very futuristic-looking tower designed by the Austrian artist Friedrich Hundertwasser which simultaneously incorporates both mankind and nature beautifully. The brewery is a popular destination to visit in summer for its pleasant biergarten which wraps around the base of the tower, while in the winter, one of the most unique Christmas Markets replaces the biergarten. The village town center itself though is also worth a peak with its colorful array of houses and bunting strung throughout the town. (More on Abensberg here)
Not far from Munich is a town that is easily overlooked for more popular towns in Bavaria. Augsburg is the third largest town in Bavaria, as well as one of the oldest. As early as 15 BC, this was the site of a Roman camp. It grew to be one of the richest towns until the Thirty Years’ War ended their prosperity. It’s also one of many towns found along the Romantic Road that runs from Würzburg to Füssen. During the Second World War, Augsburg was heavily destroyed on February 24th & 25th, 1944 and almost everything has been meticulously reconstructed to its former glory. Of interest here, is the incredible City Hall which dominates the Rathausplatz and whose Golden Hall is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before! (More on Augsburg here)
With 1,000 years of history, excellent beer and a UNESCO World Heritage site title, Bamberg is a top destination to visit in Bavaria! But before all that, history was kind to the medieval town of Bamberg in terms that it escaped damage during the Thirty Years’ War and was spared the destruction of the Second World War unlike so many other cities in Germany. Therefore, it’s one of the best preserved cities in all of Bavaria with a stunning City Hall located in the middle of an island between the Regnitz River as well as having a ton of picture perfect half-timbered houses! There are many things to do in Bamberg and it’s also often named the “beer capital of Bavaria” and while here be sure to try the Rauchbier (Smoked Beer)! (More on Bamberg here)
Synonymous with Richard Wagner, Bayreuth is a city in Bavaria vastly underrated but which holds significant importance to classical music lovers. Bayreuth owes its charm and appeal to the daughter of Friedrich Wilheim I of Prussia, Wilhelmine, who was groomed to marry into the British royal family, but whose plans had been thwarted resulting in her marriage into a minor royal family. Lacking any worldly sophistication, she brought London to her by undertaking an extravagant building program resulting in some of the loveliest 18th century Baroque buildings in Bavaria. While the Baroque Residenzstadt is impressive, its the Opera House that is her lasting legacy and is today one of Europe’s most beautiful Baroque theaters which has just been extensively renovated. And finally, just a 5 minute drive away is the Hermitage (Bayreuth Eremitage), a lovely park and castle built so that Margrave George Wilhelm and his court could live a more simple life and of importance here is the crescent shaped Orangerie known as the Neues Schloss. (More on Bayreuth here)
Located at the southernmost point of Germany, near the Austrian border, Berchesgaden is home to the third largest mountain in the country, the Watzmann. The area has been of importance as far back at 1102 from the nearby salt mines. During the Napoleonic era, the area was ceded to Austria, as Salzburg was always interested in this region. Under the Wittelbachs rule, the region was transferred back to Bavaria at which time it became increasingly popular with the royal family. Prior to WWII, Hitler enjoyed this region so much he bought a house here, as well as many other top Nazi officials. After the war, the region became a US military zone until 1995 when it was finally handed back to Bavaria. Today, it’s once of the most breathtaking regions of Bavaria, including one of the most pristine lakes, Königssee! (More on Berchtesgaden here)
Chiemsee & Schloss Herrenchiemsee
With the stunning Alps in the backdrop, Chiemsee is one of the loveliest lakes in Bavaria and often referred to as the Bavarian Sea and is one of the top day trips from Munich. While the shimmering lake is expansive, it’s most popular attraction here is the third of “Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria’s castles, Herrenchiemsee Palace, which can only be reached via boat and located on the Herreninsel. King Ludwig II was quite fascinated by King Louis XIV of France aka the “Sun King” and built this palace as a replica of the Palace of Versailles in his honor, therefore, it’s often referred to as the “Bavarian Versailles”. Unfortunately, by the time of his death, the palace was still incomplete and sections of it were knocked down. (More on Chiemsee & Herrenchiemsee Palace here)
As one of three towns in Bavaria still completely encircled by Medieval walls, Dinkelsbühl, located in the Central Franconian region of Bavaria along Germany’s Romantic Road, is yet another medieval gem. Though it lacks all the pomp and charm of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, it is nonetheless a fairy tale book town with its perfectly preserved medieval fortifications, having escaped WWII without a scratch! If you’re looking for an alternative to Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s crowds, then a stroll around the rather quaint-sized town of Dinkelsbühl will be a pleasant surprise and a walk around the medieval walls is an absolute must! (More on Dinkelsbühl here)
Ettal & Schloss Linderhof
Nestled in a narrow gap of a mountainous region between Oberammergau and Oberau, the tiny village of Ettal is overwhelmingly dominated by the impressive Benedictine abbey, Ettal Abbey (Kloster Ettal) founded in 1330. The outside has an stunning Baroque appearance while the inside has magnificent frescoes and chandeliers. While here, pick up some of the abbey’s famed Ettaler Kloster Liqueur. Just a few minutes drive away is yet another opulent castle, Linderhof Palace, built by “Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria. It was the only of his three romantic palaces which he lived long enough to see completed and which he lived a rather hermit-like life in. (More on Ettal & Schloss Linderhof here)
Landsberg am Lech
Located along the Romantic Road, the handsome town of Landsberg am Lech is a lovely stopover if you’re heading down to the Alps. Located between Augsburg and Füssen, it’s has a simple but pleasant ambiance without the crowds. What easily draws visitors here is the beautiful Lechwehr cascading down the river, as well as a few other notable sights to see. The town dates back to 1160 when Henry the Lion built his castle here, but the towns is more renowned as being the town where Hitler was imprisoned following his attempted 1923 Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. It was here that he wrote his vile Mein Kampf. (More on Landsberg am Lech here)
Near the border of Bavaria in Lower Franconia along the River Main not far from Würzburg, is the picturesque half-timbered town of Miltenberg. Located along the German Timber-frame Road (Deutsches Fackwekstrasse), Miltenberg is “the Pearl of the Main” with over 150 historic timber-frame houses and a quaint population of just 9,000 people! Of importance here, is the Hotel zum Riesen (The Giant), Germany’s oldest inn, dating back to at least 1411 and has been in continuous use ever since! Now that’s impressive! Elvis Presley has even stayed here! (More on Miltenberg here)
Considered to be Germany’s “living picturebook” by Goethe, Mittenwald is a picturesque mountain resort near the border between Germany and Austria and a perfect day trip from Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak. The town is a vibrant color book with Lüftmalerei (frescoes) on the outer facades of many buildings in town, including the Parish Church of St. Peter and Paul. Nearby, is a magical enchanted forest, the Leutasch Spirit Gorge (Leutascher Geisterklamm), an easy hike for the whole family, making for the perfect day trip from Munich! During the winter, Mittenwald offers some of the best skiing options in the Bavarian Alps. (More on Mittenwald and Leutasch Spirit Gorge here)
Related: Tips for Hiking Partnachklamm
As the capital of Bavaria, it’s clearly the most populated city in the state! The name “Munich” derives from the world Munichen, meaning “by the monks” who established a monastery here which later evolved into the Old Town of Munich and was first mentioned in 1158. Once Bavaria was established as a sovereign kingdom in 1806, the house of Wittelbach made the Residenz their seat of power until they were forced to abdicate in 1918. It was here that Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch (coup) took place. During WWII, Munich was heavily bombed and 90% of its historic city center was destroyed, but has been beautifully restored. Today, the capital is a city hustling and bustling with museums, universities, theaters, biergartens and sooo much more! (More on Munich here)
Located in the Franconian region of Bavaria, Nuremberg (Nürnberg) is the second largest city in the state, dating back to at least 1050. The city is often referred to as the ‘unofficial capital’ of the Holy Roman Empire mostly because of the fact that Imperial Diets often met at the Kaiserburg (Nuremberg Castle). In the 14th century, it became one of the three most important cities in the Emprie as it was named as the city where newly elected kings of Germany must hold their first Imperial Diet. During the Nazi era, Nuremberg held importance significance to the party because of its links to the Holy Roman Empire and therefore huge Nazi rallies were held here. Of importance, the Nuremberg Trails were held here following the conclusion of WWII and high ranking Nazi officials were held accountable for their crimes. (More on Nuremberg here)
15 million years ago a meteorite slammed into the Alb plateau, creating a 25km wide crater known as the Ries Crater, where the town of Nördlingen unknowingly was built. It wasn’t until 1960 when two American scientists discovered that the town had in fact been built within the crater, therefore making it the best preserved crater in the world! Located just a short distance from Dinkelsbühl, the town can be easily combined in a day trip. But the crater isn’t the only reason to visit, but more for the fact that like Dinkelsbühl and Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Nördlingen is also perfectly encircled by a medieval wall. A lesser known medieval gem compared to the former two, Nördlingen is still a pleasantly enjoyable visit along Deutschland’s Romantischestrasse (Romantic Road). (More on Nördlingen here)
Along the Danube, at the confluence of three rivers, you can find the postcard perfect peninsula town of Passau, one of Germany’s most significant towns to have survived WWII unscathed. Flood-prone, the “City of Three Rivers” has withstood the power of natural more than once and has a lovely little cosmopolitan feel to it. The Romans built a fort here around 80 AD and increased in importance before becoming an independent prince-bishopric in 1217, a status the town held until the secularization of Bavaria at the beginning of the 19th century. Dominating the Passau Altstadt is St. Stephan’s Cathedral, home to the world’s largest cathedral organ. Overlooking the town along the north bank of the Danube is the Veste Oberhaus, one of Europe’s largest surviving medieval fortresses which clearly offers some pretty spectacular views over the peninsula town! On the opposite side of the river, it is believed that Hitler once lived here as a child and almost drowned in the river… (More on Passau here)
With ancient Roman ruins scattered throughout the city, Regensburg has always played an important role in Bavarian history. By the Middle Ages, the city became a a Free Imperial State and a vital trade location along the Danube and was even the capital of Bavaria from 530 to the 13th century. In April 1809, Regensburg was the site of the Battle of Ratisbon between Napoleon and the Austrians. During the Second World War, the city was home to a Messerschmidt airplane factory which was destroyed, however, one possible reason as to why Regensburg received minimal damage was due to the thick fog which often engulfs the town, therefore its beautiful Medieval appearance managed to survive! Today, the historic city of Regensburg is the fourth largest city in Bavaria and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006! Regensburg was also ranked among the top sites and travel attractions in Germany in 2014 and a cruise down the Danube to Walhalla or Weltenburg Abbey (Kloster Weltenburg) is a must! (More on Regensburg here)
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Easily the most beloved fairytale towns along the Romantic Road, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the absolute best towns to visit in Bavaria. Of the three towns in Bavaria still completely encircled by medieval walls, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is by far the loveliest. The town itself managed to preserve its quaint medieval charm after dwindling to insignificance after the Thirty Years’ War, halving the town population and suffering from the plague. History would not be kind to Germany’s most popular town which Nazi ideologists deeply considered to be the epitome of a quintessential “German Home Town”. During the Second World War the adorable town fell victim to a ridiculous amount of bombing that left the town almost unrecognizable. Immediately after the war, donations from around the world flooded in to rebuild it, brick by brick and today it’s impossible to imagine the destruction. (More on Rothenburg ob der Tauber here)
Just a short distance from Füssen is Schwangau, the town most famous for being the home of Germany’s most iconic castle, Schloss Neuschwanstein where the Romantic Road ends amid a setting of breathtaking Alpine beauty. Though the castle is by far Germany’s most beautiful castle and is the brainchild of “Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Schwangau is blessed by yet another lesser known castle often skipped over, Schloss Hohenschwangau. To top off a visit to the small Alpine town of Schwangau, then a visit to the Museum of Bavarian Kings in a former lakeside hotel is a must! (More on Schwangau here)
Backed by mountainous Alpine beauty, the lakeside village of Tegernsee is a favorite day trip from Munich for city dwellers as its easily linked by direct rail. While a visit to Tegernsee comes with an obligatory cable car ride or a bike ride around the lake in the summer, you can find one of Germany’s most beautiful Christmas Markets along the shores of the lake in the winter. The town itself, though never having played a significant role in history is a popular spa town in Bavaria. (More on Lake Tegernsee here)
Located in northern Bavaria, Würzburg was first settled by Celtics around the 4th or 5th century. The first diocese was founded in 742 before eventually creating a duchy and becoming the seat of several Imperials Diets, hence the Würzburg Residenz. In 1796, Napoleon’s army fought against the Austrian Hapsburgs at the Battle of Würzburg and later became a part of the Kingdom of Bavaria in 1814. In March 1945, 90% of the city was destroyed within 17 minutes from Allied bombings, but today the city has been beautifully restored to its former glory and vineyards surround the city as it considered to be a wine capital! (More on Würzburg here)
If you’re looking for some of the best places to ski in Germany, look no further than the country’s highest peak (2,963m) which is home to three glaciers and Germany’s highest biergarten! The Zugspitze massif, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen is one of the best places to visit in Bavaria in winter and in summer! During the winter, the Zugspitzplatt is a winter wonderland while the lush green scenery makes for one of the best hikes in Bavaria in summer. To enjoy a visit, take the cog wheel train to Lake Eibsee before enjoying one of the best cable car rides in Germany and enjoying spectacular views of the lake before being greeted to the Zugspitze Peak. (More on Zugspitze here)
Hopefully this list of Bavarian towns will help inspire a visit to Bavaria to both some of the most popular towns and underrated Bavarian towns. You can honestly never go wrong as there are so many wonderful places to visit in Bavaria! Bavarian destinations vary so widely from rolling hills and small towns on back roads to bustling city centers and mountainous day trips scattered with romantic castles and there is something for everyone!
If you’re looking for an itinerary with the best places to visit in Bavaria for a one week vacation to Germany, then consider this pre-made 10 day travel itinerary for Bavaria. I provide you with info on what to see, what to do and where to stay along your road trip through Bavaria!
Planning to come to the world’s greatest beer festival for a little debauchery? Is it your first time visiting Oktoberfest? Have no fear! I have you covered on everything from how to get there, where to go, what to where and other tidbits to help you survive Oktoberfest like a pro!
Planning a longer visit to Bavaria? Moving to Bavaria? Consider this list of 50+ destinations to visit within a 3 hour radius from Munich stretching between Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic! You’ll never have a dull weekend and will discover some of the best places to visit in Southern Germany, both fairytale destinations, vivacious cities and outdoor activities!
Everyone’s heard of the Romantic Road but can really only name Rothenburg ob der Tauber or Schloss Neuschwanstein. I’ve got you covered for many of the best destinations to visit on the Romantic Road which stretches from Würzburg to Füssen. I share with you which towns to see and which you can skip over.
Are you a hopeless romantic? Love castles and fairytales? Then look no further than at three of the most idyllic castles in Bavaria all built by “Mad” King Ludwig II. He had quite an imagination and a love affair with Richard Wagner’s operas. By the time of his mysterious death, only the Linderhof Palace was completed while Schloss Neuschwanstein and Schloss Herrnchiemsee remained partially unfinished.
If you’re interested in visiting Germany and are looking for more information, I highly recommend using the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide! Without these guides, I would be lost! This is my travel Bible!