When you think about Germany and you are an American, you are probably just thinking about Bavaria. So many things in the American mind about Germany have come from Bavaria.
- Oompah Bands, Lederhosen and Oktoberfest? Yup.
- Castle that inspired Sleeping Beauty? Yup.
- Pretzels? Well, not just Bavaria, but definitely the south of Germany.
To put this in a bit of an American perspective, that is like people only thinking of Texas and stuff there when they think about the US as a whole. Both countries are much richer than that. Even still Bavaria is a place a lot of people come to to experience Germany. So here is a look at a few things to do around Bavaria.
Bavaria is the state of the German republic, but even it has regional differences. Bayern (Bavaria in German) is the southern half of the state while Franken is the northern part. Yes, there are differences. Well I have been told this from friends who are from there. And I believe them. Bavarians from either part are very partial to their specific favorite beer. Think of the fanaticism of sports teams as related to beer.
Munich, the tourist center
Munich is the center of the tourist road in Bavaria. If you have done a whirlwind tour of Europe and have hit Germany at all, it is most likely that you have seen Munich. This is fine as Munich is really pretty cool as a city. The city has a university and several parks in addition to the normal city part to wander around.
- Check out a beer hall or beer garden. I liked Augustiner, but Hofbrauhaus is definitely very famous as well.
- Eat a white sausage with a beer and a pretzel for breakfast.
- Oktoberfest is the most famous beerfest, but there are others. Coming up in March is Starkbierfest, Strong beer Festival.
- Check out the Deutsches Museum on an island in the river. Seriously, if you like science or natural history museums, this place is for you.
- The Dachau concentration camp is nearby for a bit of sobering history.
Neuschwannstein, the Sleeping Beauty Castle
Constructed by Mad King Ludwig II (sheesh, what a mouthful), Neuschwannstein is probably the most famous castle in Germany. We even saw postcards in Heidelberg for it 100s of kilometers away. The castle is indeed very picturesque and worth a visit despite the tourist throng that heads there every day.
- The easiest way is a tour bus, but you are then on their schedule. The town near the castle is called Fussen and is reachable by public transport from Munich.
- There are actually two castles near each other. A yellowish one is called Hohenschwanngau and actually Ludwig’s father’s castle. Ludwig though built his confection further up the hill.
- To get into the castle, you buy a ticket with a time on it. Make sure you go in with your time or you will miss your tour.
Nuremberg, center of Franken
Nuremburg is famous for a few things. The post World War II trials of the head-Nazis were held here. This was once considered one of the most typically “German” towns.
- It is very well known for its Christkindlsmarkt at Christmas.
- Lebkuchen are also from Nuremberg and known as Gingerbread cookies in English, although it tastes different to me.
- Every town in Germany has their own type of sausage, Nuremberger are small and slightly spicy. Think American style breakfast sausages and you get a few on a bun for a couple of Euros in the market for a nice lunch.
- For sights, there is a lot of good wandering to be done in Nuremberg including a castle which looks over the town.
Bamberg, city of Students and Beer
Bamberg is a university town about an hour by train from Nuremburg. It also has a very high concentration of breweries. The famous picture of Bamberg is of the city hall which is built on a small island in the middle of the river. There are several cathedrals to see as well as an old town to wander.
- The local specialty is called Rauchbeer (“Smoke Beer”), which I found pretty awful the one bottle I tried. Though a friend of mine who lived there a few years says it is an acquired taste.
- Speaking of drinking, Sandkerwa is the local drinking festival.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Medieval Cuteness
A few hour complex train journey from Nuremburg and Munich, is Rothenburg ob der Tauber. The city is part of the Romantic Road and indeed is very medieval-cute. The story I was told is that at the point when towns in Germany were modernizing, they had no money, so they didn’t. They had to make do with what was there and keep it up. Fast forward many years and you have a tourist draw. The town is walled and worth a good walk around. You can even scale the tower of city hall for a better view of things.
Other things in Bavaria
Bavaria is definitely a large place and has a lot to offer. Here is a selection of other places in the region.
Nordlingen, the walled City – Nordlingen is one of only a few cities in Germany with an intact city wall. I kind of want to see it, but have never.
Bavarian Hopsland – You know, hops which makes beer good.
Herrenchiemsee – More Mad Ludwig stuff with islands and castles.
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Is this all of what Bavaria has to offer? Of course not, but it is a list to get you started and should keep you busy for at least a while.
Even if you only have a few weeks in Germany, it is a great place to find a base and take daytrips out from that base city. The public transport is great and you can explore a region more deeply. Also check out my post on daytrips from Freiburg.