THE ZUGSPITZE … Germany's Highest Mountain and an Easy Daytrip from Munich.
One of the classic daytrips in Bavaria is to the top of the Zugspitze. At nearly ten thousand feet, Germany's highest peak offers a fantastic panoramic view extending across four nations. At one time only mountain climbers could enjoy this spectacle, but today an ingenious network of cable cars and a rack railway make the ascent fast, easy, and safe.
There are several possible ways up the mountain. The route suggested here is the most common and could be done in reverse if desired. If you don't like cable cars, you can go both ways by rail instead.
Germany shares its peak with Austria, which has its own cable-car system as well as a café and restaurant at the top. This excursion can be combined in the same day with an abbreviated version of the Garmisch-Partenkirchen trip by getting off to a very early start, but only during the summer when the hours of sunlight are longer.
Trains from Munich's main station leave hourly for Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a ride of about 90 minutes. From the Garmisch station walk over to the adjacent Zugspitz Bahnhof and take one of the hourly train operated by the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn. Railpasses are not valid for this rack railway. If you came to Garmisch by train you can get a discount by showing your ticket.
By Car, leave Munich on the A-95 (E-6) Autobahn and drive 88 km (55 miles) south to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, parking there at the Zugspitz Bahnhof. Take the rack railway as above. It is also possible to drive to the Eibsee and pick up the trip from there.
The Daytrips Austria version has travel instructions from Innsbruck instead.
The ascent of the Zugspitze may be made all year round, but clear weather is necessary to enjoy the sights. Should the skies cloud over en route you might consider making the Garmisch-Partenkirchen or Oberammergau trip instead. Remember, however, the weather atop the Zugspitze is often clear when the valley is socked in. Ask at the Zugspitz Bahnhof if in doubt. You should bring a sweater or jacket, even in summer. The Tourist Information Office in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, T: (08821) 180-700, W: garmisch-partenkirchen.de, is at Richard-Strauss Platz in the center of Garmisch. For more specific information and conditions at the summit, contact the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn, T: (08821) 79-70, W: zugspitze.de.
FOOD AND DRINK:
Meals and drinks on the mountain are available at:
Sonn Alpin (at the Zugspitzplatt) A rustic self-service restaurant with a terrace and panoramic view. T: (08821) 92-12-90. €
Gipfelalm (at the summit of the Zugspitze) A central hut vaults over smaller huts, offering privacy with a terrific view — along with Bavarian dishes. €€
In addition, there is a restaurant on the Austrian side of the peak, several places around the Eibsee and, of course, excellent choices in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
Leave the Garmisch-Partenkirchen train station (1) and walk over to the Zugspitz Bahnhof (2), a separate station for the rack railway going up the mountain. Purchase a roundtrip ticket (Rundreise), which includes the rack railway, summit cable car, and the Eibsee cable car. If you came to Garmisch by train you can get a discount by showing your ticket. T: (08821) 79-70, W: zugspitze.de. Departures are hourly from 8:25-2:15, with some variations. The last return leaves at 4:30. Roundtrip €€€€€, reductions for children, youths, and families.
The train first travels along a relatively level route, then begins the climb to the Eibsee (3), a lovely lake near the foot of the mountain, reached in about 40 minutes. Those with cars can drive this far and board the train here. This is also the lower station of the Eibsee cable car, going all the way to the very top, on which you will probably be returning.
Shortly after this the train plunges into a long tunnel, winding its way like a corkscrew through the inside of the Zugspitze, and reaches the Zugspitzplatt (4) about 75 minutes after leaving Garmisch-Partenkirchen. At 2,846 meters (9,340 feet) above sea level, this is Germany's highest skiing area, where the fun starts in November and lasts through May. Walk out on the terrace for a *view from the heights, perhaps stopping at the rustic Sonn Alpin restaurant for a meal, snack, or drink.
Finally at the *Zugspitzgipfel (the very top) (5), stroll out onto the sunny terrace and survey the world nearly 2,962 meters (9,724 feet) below. It is possible to cross the border (6) to Austrian soil — or snow. Food, snacks, and drinks are available on both sides. Don't miss the free exhibition on the history of the Zugspitze and its various ascents, including the building of the rack railway in 1930. Until 2006 it was believed that the mountain was first conquered by one Josef Naus, but the German mountaineering Association recently found a map from 1770 showing that locals had climbed it long before that.
The return journey begins on the German side of the peak. From here take the large Eibsee cable car(Seilbahn) for the thrilling ten-minute descent directly to the Eibsee (3). Alternatively, you could return by way of the glacier cable car to the Zugspitzplatt (4) and then ride the train back, although this way is much slower.
From the Eibsee continue on by rack railway back to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where you board the regular train to Munich. These operate until mid-evening.
Text and map copyright © 2007 by Earl Steinbicker. Color photos and map colors added for web use.
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Also of Alpine interest:
Interested in photography? Check out my "Assisting Avedon" blog.
While there, why not visit Garmisch-Partenkirchen?
A slightly different version of this trip is featured in my new (2009) guidebook, Daytrips Germany, which covers the entire country. Check it out by clicking below. You might also check out Daytrips Austria: