Mini Travel Guide: Bavaria + Northern Austria

Looking for a travel guide to Bavaria? Click through for an ex-pat's best Bavaria travel tips - what to do, where to go, and how to travel Bavaria cheaply, safely, and respectfully!

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.

Must do in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Must Go in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Munich

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.

Neuschwanstein Castle

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.

Garmisch

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.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

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!
Must do in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Must Do in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Party at Oktoberfest

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.
Our favorite spot is the Hacker-Pschorr tent for it’s fun, youthful vibe, and especially tasty brew.

Hike in the Alps

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.

Tour the Christmas Markets

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.

Must eat in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Must Eat in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Weisswurst

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!

Kase Spatzle

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.

Beer

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).

Cultural tips for travel in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Cultural Tips for travel in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Bavarian Attire

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.

Glass Pfand

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.

Prost!

When cheers-ing your new German friends say “Prost” and be sure to make eye contact! Not making eye contact is considered rude.

cheap travel in Bavaria and Northern Austria

Cheap travel tips for Bavaria and Northern Austria

Lodging

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.

Here’s a beautiful private room in Salzburg for $35 a night and here’s an entire apartment in Munich for $44. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking!

Rail Travel

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 or Bavaria travel tips?

3 Comments

Kelly

I lived in Garmisch for a year after college, working in the tourist industry – this is bringing back such good memories! I have a couple more tips:
–If you visit Bavaria in the summertime, make sure you spend an afternoon or evening in a beer garden enjoying the glorious weather and late sunsets. You can generally get food there, too.
–If you’re interested in a day hike in the Alps, many mountains have huts halfway up where you can get a meal and a beer or juice. There’s nothing quite like hiking an hour or two up a mountain and enjoying the view with some refreshments before you head back down.
–Rail passes: each state in Germany, including Bavaria, offers a special day pass train ticket (in Bavaria, it’s called the “Bayern pass,” using the German name for the state), if you’re planning on traveling solely within a single state. There are some restrictions on times of travel, but these passes are usually by far the best deal if your travel plans qualify. It’s an especially good deal if you’re traveling in a small group as you can add extra people to the pass for a nominal fee.
–As is often the case in Europe, many employees in the tourist industry speak excellent English, though it’s polite to first greet someone in German before asking if they speak English. Of potential linguistic interest: Bavaria has a dialect of German all its own, called Bayerisch, so if you know German, some words may differ (e.g. a pretzel is “brez’n” not “brez’l”). Also, it’s a historically religious region, so the general greeting is not “Guten Tag” (good day) but “gruss Gott” (God’s greeting), especially in smaller towns.

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