The delightful Bavarian town of Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps near the Austrian border is one of my favorite places to visit in Germany but there are some lovely places to visit in the surrounding countryside, too.
Oberammergau is a small town, just over an hours car drive from Munich, and can also be reached by train. It is world famous for its Passion Play, the biblical story re-enacted by the towns people since 1634, as an expression of thanks for being spared from the Plague. Every 10 years, the local people sign up for roles in the play; the men grow their hair and beards and the schoolchildren get excited, anticipating the nearly four months of performing.
If this is of interest, you have until 1 October this year or you can see it in 2030.
(Editor’s note: The Oberammergau Passion Play was long infamous for its antisemitism, but there have been major revisions since the 1990s, and even the American Jewish Committee praises Christian Stückl, the play’s director, for working with Jewish and Christian groups to change that.)
Things to do
A 15 minute-drive from Oberammergau lies SchloßLinderhof, the smallest palace built by the Bavarian king, Ludwig II. Inspired by Versailles, in France, the small palace shows huge extravagance inside and is surrounded by a beautiful, landscaped park.
The town is known for the frescoes on the houses ranging from biblical themes to fairytales and is also renowned for its woodcarving traditions. The Bavarian State Woodworking School is also based there, as are many stores selling beautiful woodcarvings.
At the Pilatushus you can see one of the most beautifully painted buildings and often watch local artists and artisans at work. The house has free admission.
The museum houses many wood carvings, Roman artifacts and several paintings from the “Blauer Reiter” artists which include Wassily Kandinsky, Gabriele Münter and Franz Marc. You can also learn about the Passion Play.
The highest points in the Oberammergau area are the Laber and the Kofel and both are within walking distance of the town.
Laber ~ At 1686 meters, the Laber is the higher mountain. For the lazier of us, there is a cable car to reach the top of the Laber, where you can enjoy a beer, coffee or apfelstrudel whilst enjoying the views. There are challenging points on this mountain that require a head for heights such as a via ferrata
to the summit.
There are also several hiking routes – one an easier option around the top after riding the cable car, another across the top to the next little town of Ettal, where, after you have visited the monastery and
purchased some of their delicious schnaps and gin, you can catch a bus back to Oberammergau.
There is also a trail back down the mountain to the town.
Kofel ~ The Kofel at 1342 meters can be a more challenging hike with cable-secured climbing sections that require a head for heights, but it provides amazing views of Oberammergau and the Ammer valley. If you follow the trail you will come down past the Kolbenalm, a restaurant that also offers rooms.
Riding the Alpine Coaster ~ Just 20 minutes walk from the town centre is the Alpine Coaster, the
worlds longest weatherproof toboggan run. After a ride up on the cable car you ride down the 2,600-meter long track at up to 40 kilometers per hour. Don’t be afraid, there are brakes if you wish to go slower.
Children under 3 and pregnant women are not allowed to ride the coaster.
The Erlebnisbad WellenBerg swimming pool is also a great family orientated place to visit. With a children’s paddling pool, a play area, a large slide, an indoor pool, a sports pool, sauna, hot water whirlpool and the refreshing mountain water pool (only for the bravest!) plus large, grassy lawns with shade giving trees this is a great family day out.
Oberammergau, although small, offers a great selection of stores. From hiking gear, wooden carvings, clothing, cuckoo clocks to the wonderful Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas stores and individual souvenir stores.
Eating & Drinking
Lots of great spots, but here are a couple of my favorites.
Generous portions of delicious sushi and Vietnamese food. This is a small, basic restaurant but has great service.
A hotel, a brewery and a restaurant. The food here is classic Bavarian fare done well. They even have a grill hut in the beer garden.
• Mundart ~ Bavarian food served in a contemporary way in a stylish, modern venue.
For more information on Oberammergau, see my earlier post.
… and beyond Oberammergau
Murnau am Staffelsee
Murnau is a small town a 30-minute drive from Oberammergau or a 40-minute direct train ride. Although the town isn’t as picturesque as Oberammergau, it has a few places of interest to visit and a friendly pedestrianized shopping area.
Things to do
Murnau Castle (Schloßmuseum) ~ Built in the mid 13th century, the castle was converted into a museum in the 1990’s. The museum houses archeological artifacts from its time as a castle, a section on the diversity of the moors, highlights local specialties such as “reverse glass painting” and feather flowers and has paintings by famous 20th century artists such as Kandinsky and Münter.
Münterhaus ~ Gabriele Münter, a German artist, had a home in Murnau which she shared with Wassily Kandinsky during the early 1900’s and then spent the last 30 years of her life there. In fact, much of Kandinsky’s art was hidden from the Nazis in her basement. The house is small and sparsely furnished but does have a stairwell and cabinet once decorated by Kandinsky. The information is in German but there is a brief introduction in
Staffelsee ~ At 7 square kilometers and only 40-meters deep, making the water pleasantly warm, the lake offers great opportunities to kayak, swim or take a boat trip. There are also trails around the lake to hike.
The swimming area on the lake at Uffing, Gemeindebad Uffing, is a super family friendly spot to swim, with umbrellas, paddleboards & sunbeds to hire, changing facilities, a takeout café, plenty of grass to spread your blanket and trees for shade.
Perfect for a lazy afternoon.
Eat & Drink
Gasthof Zum Stern ~ a down to earth Bavarian hotel with a beer garden and restaurant, serving delicious local dishes with local ingredients.
Just under 30-minutes drive from Oberammergau, Garmisch-Partenkirchen (GAP) is the seat of local
government and famous for its alpine skiing events and access to the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain at 2,962 meters. Garmish was also host to the 1936 Winter Olympics.
Things To Do
Shopping ~ Garmisch has a super pedestrianized shopping area offering a selection of stores from sports clothing and equipment stores, traditional clothing stores selling dirndls, boutiques, souvenir stores, antiques and well-known High Street chain stores.
Zugspitze Mountain ~ There are three cable cars and a “rack railway” to get you to the top of the mountain. If you want to take the very challenging climb, it can take one to two days with huts providing sleep areas on the mountain. Once at the top (the tickets for the cable cars are not cheap!) you will be able to see four countries and 250 kilometers on a clear day. There are also excellent dining opportunities to match the stunning views.
The second largest body of fresh water in Germany, Starnbergersee is about an hour’s drive from Oberammergau, 45 minutes from Munich and a 30-minute train ride from Murnau. It is a popular recreation area for the city of Munich and the place where King Ludwig II drowned and Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Sisi) had her childhood summer home.
Take a boat cruise on the lake … either relax on board for around four hours and enjoy the scenery as you travel around the lake or use the boat to “hop on hop off” at some of the interesting stops, such as the chapel commemorating King Ludwig, the island where Empress Sisi would visit King Ludwig or the Museum of Imagination, an art museum containing the expressionist art collection of Lothar-Günther Bucheim, author of “Das Boot”.
Oberammergau and the entire region have so much to offer and is so beautiful that – even if you just want to hike or look at the scenery – you will never be disappointed.
Photographer/writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a long-time expat, she lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past 10 years.
Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.
Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.
She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.
She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.