Visiting the Zugspitze: the Tallest Mountain in Germany
The Zugspitze is the highest peak in all of Germany and a top place to see in the Bavarian Alps. It’s located near Munich, making it a great day trip from there or Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
What the heck is a woman as terrified as I am doing going to the top of the Zugspitze, the tallest mountain in Germany? Ready more to find out.
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Zugspitze: The Highest Peak in the German Bavarian Alps
The Zugspitze towers over Germany at 9,700 feet (almost 3,000 meters). You can’t help but feel so high up at the top! From the peak, you can enjoy stunning views of the Bavarian Alps towering into the distance, as well as the gorgeous green valleys below.
The Zugspitze marks the border of Germany and Austria and at one time, you needed to show your passport to get to the peak between them. Now, you can ascend from both sides. Either way you go, you’ll see modern feats of engineering making the ascent with a cable car or a cog railroad.
At the top, there are two separate terraces marking each country, connected by a narrow walkway called Bavarian and Tirolian. You can’t go wrong on either side, and the views are stunning.
The peak is used for communication purposes by both the Germans and Austrians. The Austrians track data for the Innsbruck Airport air traffic control system. While it is the tallest peak in the area, I read that it was actually even a little taller.
World War II left its mark as the Germans blew off the top (of what is the Austrian side) to erect a tower to target Allied airplanes).
If you’d rather take a tour than navigate yourself, here’s a great Zugspitze tour option from Munich!
How to Get to the Zugspitze
There are two primary ways to get to the Zugspitze from Garmish-Partenkirchen: by gondola or cog railway. It’s highly recommended that you take the train from Garmish-Partenkirchen instead of driving due to traffic. It can take you twice as long to get there if you drive.
Zugspitze Gondola (Eibsee-Seibahn Cable Car)
The Zugspitzebahn (Zugspitze train station) is separate from the Bahnhof (train station) but right next to it. Get off at Eibsee (likely with the crowd), and head towards the mountain.
The train takes approximately 30 minutes to get from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Eibsee. It’s a short walk to the base of the mountain.
There are three ticket options to take the gondola to the Zugspitze summit. They do offer discounts for families and groups. With a ticket, you also get entrance to the museum (usually €4 or $ USD).
- Tiroler Zugspitzbahn ticket costs €51 (around $51 USD) for a round-trip ticket and €33 (around $33 USD) for a one-way ticket. It’s a 100-passenger gondola offering panoramic views. It climbs to the top in ten minutes.
- Rundreise ticket to see the glacier is €59,50 ($ USD).
- They also offer a combination ticket with the Ehrwalder Almbahn, another cable car that goes over near the glacier, for €61,50 ($ USD). The combination ticket may also be used for 1 or two days, whereas the Tiroler Zugspitzbahn ticket is for one day only.
My Experience on the Zugspitze Gondola
I will admit that the gondola pretty much terrified me. I’m very afraid of heights and had done other gondolas before. However, this one climbs fast and has particularly-steep drop-offs.
And, whenever it goes over the two towers it gives a hearty shake and drops which did nothing for my confidence. I lived to tell about it and, thankfully, didn’t eat lunch before I went.
For those not fearful of heights, I’m sure the views during the climb were amazing. For me, I was grateful for the huge Saudi Arabian family I rode with who spoke some English.
And the kids took turns entertaining me to provide a distraction. You make a lot of different connections when you travel solo, and this group was one of my favorite memories.
Zugspitzbahn Cog Railway
This Bayerische Zugspitzbahn cog railway is one of only a few operating in Germany. It takes you up to the plateau of the Zugspitze, around two-thirds of the way to the peak.
The train starts in Garmisch-Partenkirchen at the Zugspitzebahn. (It’s the same route, regardless if you take the cog railway or gondola up.) The train stops at several stations, including Alpspitz and Grainau. Then it continues to Eibsee and up the Zugspitze.
The cog railway stops at the Zugspitze Glacier Plateau, or Zugspitzplatt, not far from the peak. From there, you will need to take the Gletscherbahn aerial cable car to the summit. It takes a little over an hour to get there from Garmisch (or 35 minutes from Eibsee).
It costs €59,50 ($70 USD), including the train cost and visiting the peak.
Pro Tip: A round-trip ticket will cost the same, regardless of whether you take the train and the gondola, or the cog railway. You have the option to try both and see which you like better. If you do have a heart condition or are sensitive to high altitudes, you may be better to ascend by the cog railway train as it’s slower.
You also have the option to hike up and down or even just down, however, you must pay to hike as well. It costs €46 ($54 USD). And, if you want to bring your dog, you can for €5.
To get to the Zugspitze from Munich, you will take the Deutch Bahn train to Garmisch-Parternkirchen. Then, choose how you want to ascend the peak and follow those instructions for the gondola or the cog railway. The train cost starts at $21.50 USD.
Things to do on the Zugspitze
Many people visit the Zugspitze to go to the viewing platforms at the top of the peak on both the German and Austrian sides. There are two large viewing platforms with space to walk around, restaurants, a museum, and even a Biergarten! You can also see a large glacier at the top as well.
If you love skiing and have always wanted to ski in the Alps, this is your chance! the Zugspitze gets natural snow at least 6 months out of the year and you can ski to your heart’s content on the highest peak in Germany. An all-day ski pass costs €49,50 ($58 USD).
You can also hike if you’re up for the challenge. There are five hiking trails ranging in difficulty. Most of them take over 8 hours one-way and there is an alpine hut you can stay in to break up the trek. You have the option to hike up and down, or you can take the gondola one way.
Zugspitze Viewing Platform
There are two viewing platforms at the top of the Zugspitze: one on the German side and one on the Austrian. You can now get to both when you visit from either side though you do pass through the old passport control area on the way.
At the top, you will have plenty of company of people as well as some large black birds. They appear quite fearless and came right over close to me when I was at the railing looking down (down, down, down!) I’m guessing people feed them.
In clear weather, you can see over 400 peaks in four different countries. How’s that for a view?
On the German side, you can see the Zugspitzplatt Glacier near the top shrinking due to global warming. In the summer, the Germans spread a reflector over it to try to slow the melt and the metal ski lift towers are wrapped in reflective material as well.
There is also a wedding chapel, Hochzeitskapelle, near the peak, as well as an old weather tower made of metal and wood erected back in 1900. There is also a mountaineers’ hut built in the early 1900s that is actually cinched down with heavy cables as the winds can be quite bad.
A golden cross marks the highest point in Germany. The original summit cross was placed by a priest and his friends who hiked up to the summit in 1851. Apparently, what is there is a replacement as the original was badly damaged during World War II.
You can actually go out to the cross (no, thank you!) when the weather is good. I read that there are steps and handrails to help you along the way.
There is also a German restaurant on the platform as well as a large Biergarten, the highest in the country. Inside are many beautiful photos and paintings and you can see pictures of the priest and the gold cross.
When you ascend the Zugspitze, you get access to both the German and Austrian platforms. The Austrian station has the same gorgeous views as the German side.
It also has a nice small museum that shares the story of the Zugspitze from its first documented ascent in 1820. There are also a few interesting movies, including one on the making of the lift.
When you go to leave, make sure you are on the German side and not the Austrian side. I was thankful there was a diligent woman at the Austrian gondola!
I visited the Zugspitze on the day I arrived due to the weather when I was crazy jetlagged and hadn’t slept on the flight to Germany. Thankfully, she was paying more attention than I did when I attempted to descend there! Otherwise, it may have been a much longer trip back to my apartment!
Zugspitze Weather/When to Visit the Zugspitze
Temperatures are much colder on the summit than down below, so it’s something to consider when you visit. I went in September and was wearing thin long sleeves and jeans in Garmisch, but I brought a down jacket and gloves for the summit. I was still quite cold but it was tolerable, especially as you can go inside to warm up.
It can snow at any time of the year on the Zugspitze. Skiing with natural snow is generally from November to early May, so it is more consistent then. The area gets rain or snow a little over half of the days of the year, though not always for the entire day. April is the wettest month and October is the driest.
Temperatures hit a high of 43°F (6°C) in July and August. Lows at this time average around 33°F (.56). The coldest months are January and February, where highs average 17° to 20°F (around -8 to -9°C) and lows average 7° and 8°F (-13° and -14°C).
Where to Stay to Visit
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a great place to stay when you want to visit the Zugspitze. It’s known as a ski town due to its proximity to the Zugspitze and other popular ski areas.
They were formerly two separate towns, Garmisch and Partenkirchen. However, they were joined just before the 1936 Winter Olympic games. The town is often called “Garmisch” or “GP,” however, its true name is Garmisch Partenkirchen.
I stayed in an Airbnb apartment that was a five-minute walk to the train station. It was a small but nicely decorated and appointed studio apartment with mountain views.
The host, Mario, was wonderful! He was very responsive, gave me some great recommendations, and was actually in Garmisch when I was there and graciously offered to drive me to Munich for my next stop.
Driving on the Autobahn (even as a passenger) is a thrill! Definitely consider an apartment if you go.
You May Also Like Why You Should Visit Garmisch-Partenkirchen
As GP is a tourist town, there are a lot of hotels to choose from. Here is a couple that caught my eye.
Staudacherhof—If you’re looking for a cozy splurge oozing Bavarian charm, this is the place for you. It’s located near the center of Garmish, and the room decor is in Alpine style. There is a spa with an indoor and an outdoor pool, and a full buffet breakfast with local and international foods is included.
Hotel & Gasthof Fraundorfer—In a popular tourist area like Garmisch-Partenkirchen, it’s not easy finding affordable places. This one is reasonably-priced and perfectly located! It’s on Partenkirchen’s historic Ludwigstraße Street. (The “ß” is pronounced like a double-S.) The rooms are lovingly decorated in a Bavarian rustic style and the staff oozes with hospitality. They also offer typical Bavarian music and entertainment in the restaurant, along with their popular local specialties.
Hotel Königshof—If you’re looking for a place to stay that’s convenient to the slopes and the city, this is the hotel for you! It’s only a 2-minute walk from the train station and within walking distance of the cable car leading to the Zugspitze. They have mountain views, free Wi-Fi, and a great breakfast buffet. There’s also a fitness center, a sauna, and space for mountain bikes and skis.
Things to Do in Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Though one of the main draws to visiting GP is the Zugspitze, there are so many other things to do as well. It’s a great place for outdoor sports all year round.
Hike or ski the many Bavarian Alps peaks. Hike the stunning Parnatch Gorge or take in the incredible views from the many gondolas.
Stroll the beautiful streets of historic Partenkirchen or go shopping in some unique upscale stores. Garmisch-Partenkirchen offers all of this and more.
Visiting the Zugspitze is one of the highlights of a trip to the Bavarian Alps in Germany. Whether you go in the summer or in the winter, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most breathtaking views.
A visit to this area will stay with you well past your visit, leaving you wanting to return.
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