This is one of many Mini Travel Guides in which expats and locals share their favorite things with us. And then we all rush out and buy plane tickets.
Hi! I’m Margo, a Virginian currently calling Germany home. Since moving here in 2013, my husband, schnoodle (that’d be a schnauzer + poodle) and I have been traveling around Europe nearly nonstop. There’s so much to see! One of our favorite destinations to explore is not far from our front door: Bavaria! Home of BMW (Bavarian Motor Works), Oktoberfest, and Bayern Munchen (the Yankees of European soccer clubs), the German state of Bavaria attracts visitors worldwide who come to enjoy it’s culture, food and stunning scenery.
The vibrant capital of Bavaria, Munich (or Munchen) is considered to be one of Europe’s most livable cities. In the city center, visitors find countless pedestrian zones engulfed in cross-timbered architecture, and littered with historic watering holes, like the Hofbrauhaus. Apart from touring the famous Residenz Palace, be sure to check out the surfers in the English Gardens and grab a beer from one of its many beer gardens.
Perched in the Alps in southern Bavaria, mad King Ludwig’s dramatic royal residence was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s castle. During the summer, around 6,000 visitors stop by daily, so be sure to make reservations to tour the castle in advance. Less stressful and just as enjoyable, skip the tour inside and stroll to Mary’s Bridge for stunning Instagram-worthy views.Salzburg (Austria)
Minutes from the border, Mozart’s city of Salzburg has the entire package – with the beautiful pastels of the old town and rich musical history, the city makes an ideal basecamp for Alpine hiking, and, of course, walking in the steps of the Van Trapps in the Sound of Music. Just a speedy two hour train from Munich, Salzburg is a delightful destination for getting an authentic and scenic flavor of Europe.
One of Germany’s most popular outdoor-oriented destinations, a storybook old town sits at the base of the mighty Alps. Winter is a hit for skiiers and summer brings endless hiking trails through to nearby lakes and rivers or up the mighty Zugspitze, Germany’s tallest peak. Host to the 1936 Olympic Games, the town of Garmisch maintains a tangible feeling of nostalgia and charm.
Germany’s best-preserved medieval walled town, Rothenburg is the closest thing to the North Pole during the wintertime, with its endless cross-timbers and dazzling light displays. During the summer the blooming flowers make for an idyllic reprieve from busy itineraries. Be sure to book an overnight stay to see and enjoy the village to it’s full potential without the mega tour groups!
Bar none the most famous festival in all of Europe, Oktoberfest, in Munich, is worthy of every bucket list. Tourists and locals crowd into giant beer tents on fairgrounds in the city center. While the oompah bands wail, 1 liter steins (called ‘Mass’) filled to the brim with the golden good stuff are served. Be careful, beer here is usually well above 6% ABV compared to Bud Light at 4% ABV.
With Bavaria pressing up against the Tyrolean Alps of Austria you can count on spectacular trails meandering all along Germany’s southern border. A favorite destination for outdoor lovers, Berchtesgaden National Park is a spectacular sight as the snowcapped Alps meet bright reflective lakes. No wonder it was named as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
For a quintessential European Christmas market experience, Bavaria is the place to be. While the endless pedestrian squares in Munich fill to the brim with vendors selling gluwein (hot mulled wine), crafts, and sausages, villages across Bavaria celebrate the season with weekend markets in cozy town squares. The markets in Rothenberg (mentioned above) are hugely popular, however, Bamberg and Regensburg are also well worth seeing.
This white sausage is eaten without it’s skin (ask a local for instructions on the skinning process!) and served with a generous heap of mustard and a classic German pretzel. You’ll find lots of wursts for sale, but in my opinion this one takes the cake!
The German equivalent to American mac and cheese, kase spatzle is a standard menu item throughout Bavaria and especially popular at festivals, like Oktoberfest. Hand-cut noodles (spatzel) are tossed with fresh cheese and sautéed onions for a quick savory meal.
The rumors are true, beer in Bavaria (and all over Germany for that matter) is truly cheaper than water. Dunkelweisen is dark and chocolaty while Hefeweizen is white and wheaty, much like Blue Moon. Pils is your classic choice and a Radler is a surprisingly delightful mix of pils and lemon soda (a great choice for Oktoberfest attendees looking for a less blurry experience).
Bavarians pride themselves on their traditional dress; for many, dirndls (for ladies) and lederhosen (for men) are indeed everyday apparel. If you’re joining in the fun of Oktoberfest, dress accordingly or you’ll stick out like a sore thumb! (Not to mention, it’s more fun that way!) If you’re touring the countryside don’t be surprised by the leather suspenders and checkered fabrics.
Disposable containers are not commonplace in Germany. With that, expect to pay a nominal pfand (1-2 euro) for glasses at festivals and outdoor venues. Don’t worry, when you’re ready to leave just return your glass for a full refund.
When cheers-ing your new German friends say “Prost” and be sure to make eye contact! Not making eye contact is considered rude.
Travel on the Cheap
Hotel rooms in Europe are not typically large enough to accommodate four adults, quickly ramping up lodging costs for travelers. Opt for low cost choices like Airbnb or FlipKey for short term apartment rentals, many require just a 2-night stay.
For the lowest rail rates, book rail tickets directly on the Deutsch Bahn website. Tickets go on sale 92 days in advance and are the cheapest at that point.
Thanks so much for sharing, Margo! I’m sure there are a few German or Austrian readers – what are your can’t-misses?
photos by Moyan Brenn // Keith // Joshuawoodhead // Dan Zelazo // Avarty Photos // Simon Pillow