Bavaria, Germany’s largest state, lies in the southeast corner of the country and is bordered by Austria and the Czech Republic. One of Germany’s most popular tourist destinations, Bavaria is filled with attractions and offers some of the country’s most beautiful scenery, including spectacular mountain peaks, rolling hills, and lovely lakes.
The Danube winds scenically through its center. Some of the most beautiful towns in Germany are in Bavaria, and the entire area is steeped in history.
Although Bavaria is one of the most traditional parts of Germany and is filled with romantic castles, grand imperial palaces, and endearing old-world customs, you’ll find a lot more variety among its attractions, including a lively contemporary art scene, cutting-edge architecture and design, and state-of-the-art interactive museums.
You could easily spend an entire vacation here. Find the best places to visit with our list of the top tourist attractions and things to do in Bavaria.
Perhaps “Mad” King Ludwig II was eccentric in his choice of a fairy-tale-inspired neo-Romanesque style for his castle, but his choice of setting was pure genius. The spires and towers rise from a rocky crag above a forest and lake, with a panorama of Bavarian Alps rising beyond.
Widely recognized as the inspiration for Walt Disney’s theme park castles, it is every bit as fantastical inside as it is when first viewed from below. The Throne Room, the Singers’ Hall, and other grandiose rooms are sumptuously decorated (some might say over-decorated) in themes drawn from heroic legends, opera, and romantic literature. The views of the Alps from the windows are simply breathtaking.
On a facing crag is another castle of the imperial Wittlebach family, Hohenschwangau. Not far away is the king’s hunting lodge, Linderhof, an equally fanciful architectural confection.
2. Marienplatz and Frauenkirche, Munich
Munich, the capital of Bavaria, is the third largest city in the country and home to many of Germany’s top tourist attractions. On the River Isar, along the fringes of the Bavarian Alps, it’s one of the best places from which to explore Bavaria. A good place to start is Marienplatz, the city’s large central square, one entire side of which is formed by the magnificent neo-Gothic facade of the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall).
The glockenspiel, a huge clock animated with moving figures, performs every morning at 11am and at 5pm March through October, always drawing a crowd. One end of the immense square is formed by the stair-stepped façade of the Old Town Hall, and behind the other end of the square rises the distinctive twin-domed towers of the Frauenkirche, the Cathedral of our Lady.
A few steps from Marienplatz are two more of the city’s most important churches: Peterskirche, built during the Romanesque period, and Michaelskirche, the largest Renaissance church north of the Alps. Marienplatz is the center for many of this always-busy city’s cultural activities, from regular concerts and festivals to its fabulous Christmas Market.
3. Zugspitze and the Bavarian Alps
Bavaria’s Zugspitze is part of the Wetterstein Alpine mountain range that spans the frontier between Austria and Germany. Surrounded by steep valleys, its 2,962-meter eastern summit is reached by cable car from Eibsee, or by the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn cog railway, a trip that begins in either Eibsee or in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The cog train takes you to the Zugspitzplatt, from which a short cable car ride reaches the summit.
The mountain, Germany’s tallest, is extremely popular among hikers and casual walkers alike, with numerous trails of all levels to choose from (those who want the views without the steep climb can ride up and walk down).
At the Zugspitz-Westgipfel Station is a panoramic restaurant at 2,950 meters. The nearby Schneefernerhaus on the northern edge of the Zugspitzplatt, is a popular place for skiers to visit in the winter. The highest skiing area in Germany, it comes alive as winter sports enthusiasts from across Europe arrive for the superb snow and après ski activities.
The Bavarian Alps extend south from Munich to the Austrian frontier and from beautiful Lake Constance in the west to the neighborhood of Salzburg in the east. Reaching heights of almost 3,000 meters, their beauty enhanced by deep glacier-carved valleys and high plateaus with numerous lakes, the Bavarian Alps offer plenty of things to do. Along with winter sports, there are summer excursions of all kinds: forest walks, waterfalls, easy climbs, and gondola rides to spectacular views.
In the countryside, deep in its valleys, lie some of the most beautiful towns in Bavaria. Especially picturesque are the towns of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Mittenwald, and Berchtesgaden, with their colorful painted houses and Baroque parish churches.
4. Nymphenburg and the Residenz – Munich’s Royal Palaces
The Munich Residenz, the seat of the dukes, electors, and kings of Bavaria for centuries, is one of Europe’s most spectacular palaces. In the summer, the royal family moved to their airy country palace of Nymphenburg, surrounded by magnificent gardens.
The vast in-town Residenz complex encloses seven large courtyards and has three main sections: the late Renaissance Alte Residenz; the Königsbau; and the Festsaalbau (Banqueting Hall), overlooking the Hofgarten. The magnificent 16th-century Antiquarium is now part of the Residenz Museum. Highlights to visit here include the Treasury, the Court Church of All Saints (Allerheiligen-Hofkirche), and Cuvilliés-Theater, along with the old courtyards and the beautiful Court Garden.
There’s a much different atmosphere at the later Baroque palace of Nymphenburg, which seems to float above its canal, gardens, and fountain-splashed pools. In the 17th-century Central Pavilion, built in the style of an Italian villa, you’ll find the lavishly decorated three-story Stone Hall (Steinerner Saal) and furnished private chambers.
In the outer buildings, you can visit the Palace Chapel and a collection of state coaches and carriages in the Marstallmuseum. For many, the highlights of Nymphenburg are its magnificent 17th-century gardens, with its formal bed, hedge maze, Palm House, and fountains, and the Amalienburg, a grand hunting lodge featuring a Hall of Mirrors.
5. Nürnberg Castle and Altstadt (Old Town)
Although badly damaged in World War II, Nürnberg’s historic Altstadt has been painstakingly restored to its prewar condition. Enclosed by more than four kilometers of walls that date from the 12th to the 16th century, the Old Town is dominated by Nuremberg Castle, a 351-meter-tall fortification that’s among the most important surviving medieval fortresses in Europe.
Home of German kings and emperors for more than 500 years, Nürnberger Burg contains several historic structures to visit: the 15th-century imperial stables, the Pentagonal Tower dating from 1040, the 11th-century Kaiserburg, a 13th-century chapel, the Well House, and the Sinwell Tower with panoramic views over the steep gabled rooftops of the Old Town. The Imperial Castle Museum displays medieval weapons and armor.
Just beneath the castle is the half-timbered Albrecht Dürer House, a museum dedicated to the artist and his work. Other highlights of the Old Town are the Hauptmarkt, site of Nuremberg’s famous Christmas Market (Nürnberg Christkindlesmarkt) and the 14th-century Gothic church of St. Lawrence (St. Lorenz, or Lorenzkirche), with its nine-meter rose window.
Those with an interest in World War II history can join the four-hour Nuremberg Old Town and Nazi Party Rally Grounds Walking Tour, with an experienced local guide, for an in-depth view of the city’s long history. You will tour sites from the days of the Holy Roman Empire, the Renaissance, and the Third Reich, with a visit to Nazi Party Rally Grounds.
6. Rothenburg and the Romantic Road
The three medieval walled towns of Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, Dinkelsbühl, and Nördlingen are highlights of a driving route that winds scenically through the rolling countryside of Bavaria and northern Baden-Württemberg. Rothenburg is one of the best-preserved medieval towns anywhere in Europe, its postcard-perfect streets lined by half-timbered houses, and its shops and cafes marked by intricately crafted wrought-iron signs.
Walls enclose the Old Town and seem to hold it from tumbling down into the Tauber River below. It’s December all year-round at the town’s most famous shop, Käthe Wohlfahrt’s Christmas Village, just off the Market Square.
Dinkelsbühl owes its prosperity to the wool trade of the 15th and 16th centuries, when the row of gabled houses on the Weinmarkt were constructed. Look especially for the ornate wooden trim on the Deutsches Haus and for the 16th-century patrician Hezelhof.