Bavaria, Germany travel guide and things to do: The 20 highlights

1 ENJOY THE RELAXED SIDE OF GERMANY

Bavaria sits at Europe's heart and is one of its richest and most diverse regions. Independent until 1918, and now Germany's largest state, it retains a strong sense of nationhood and many local traditions, including lederhosen and dirndls. Bavarians have a reputation for being jovial, and enjoy back-slapping beer festivals and the homely feeling summed up by the German word gemutlichkeit. See bavaria.by 

** 2 DRINK UP

Bavaria has about 650 breweries, and strict purity laws enforced since 1516 ensure its beer contains only water, malt, hops and yeast. Bavarians drink an average of 150 litres each annually, so you're never far from a beer garden – and the beer is twice as good and half the price of any in Australia. The ultimate beer celebration is Munich's Oktoberfest, one of the world's largest festivals. See muenchen.de 

** 3 DRIVE THE ROMANTIC ROAD

Western Bavaria has an abundance of imperial towns, castles, baroque churches and pretty villages in vineyards and rolling woodlands. The Romantic Road tourist route runs for some 300 kilometres between Wurzburg and Fussen, connecting its major towns that recall days of medieval glory with imposing trading mansions, alms houses and fortifications. Among the best are Nordlingen and Dinkelsbuhl. See romantischestrasse.de 

4 LOITER IN LANDSBERG

One of the delights of Bavaria is its unsung towns that offer a day of unexpected wandering pleasure away from mainstream tourist beats. One such place is Landsberg, named for its location on a ford across the Lech River, and benefiting from trade since Roman times. Fortified gates, gabled houses and churches tumble downhill to a central square where locals quaff beer. See landsberg.de 

5 SLEEP TIGHT IN HARBURG

As you drive along the Romantic Road you could do worse than overnight in this charming town fronting a gurgling river. Pleasant family-run hotels and restaurants offer no bells and whistles, just good German comfort and the feeling you're back in a more modest time. Above the town stands a whopping castle, one of Germany's oldest. See stadt-harburg-schwaben.de 

6 ROAM AROUND ROTHENBURG

Of all Bavaria's quaint medieval towns, Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber is the most perfectly presented. You'll battle tourist crowds, yet be seduced by this time capsule of fortifications, churches, geranium-hung houses and clock towers. Bakeries burst with cream cakes and local treat schneeballen, a sugar-coated doughnut. If you're a wine lover, follow the pretty Tauber Valley for a taste of interesting local varietals. See rothenburg.de 

7 ENJOY LOCAL LIFE IN AUGSBURG

Bavaria excels in mid-sized cities with a rich history, still-vibrant local life and interesting attractions. The 2000-year-old city of Augsburg is crammed with the remnants of a time when it was a wealthy trading town, yet still buzzes thanks to its modern industry and university. Don't miss the fascinating medieval Fuggerei, the world's oldest (and still operational) social-housing project. See augsburg-tourismus.de 

8 INDULGE YOUR INNER BLING IN WURZBURG

Wurzburg on the Main River amid Franconian vineyards is a low-key university town of pleasant parks, a statue-lined medieval bridge and hilltop fortress, but the chief reason to visit is its immense palace, considered one of the finest examples of baroque in Europe. It's effervescent with gold leaf, naked nymphs, gilded mirrors and ceiling frescoes, and will leave you astonished and dazed. See wuerzburg.de 

** 9 GET CULTURED IN MUNICH

Munich has outstanding museums. Alte Pinakothek houses European art of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, including works by Rubens, Rembrandt and Goya. Neue Pinakothek covers French and German impressionism and symbolism, with canvasses from Turner, Gauguin, Monet and Klimt. The palace treasury is crammed with swords, sceptres, goblets and bejewelled objects. Hit the hands-on Deutsches Museum for technology from minerals to musical instruments and glassmaking. See muenchen.de 

Advertisement

10 SET OFF TO MARKET

Running every day but Sunday, Munich's city-centre Viktualienmarkt dates from 1807 and is the city's most popular market. It's a great place to stock up for picnics, with 140 stalls selling cheese, smoked fish, sausages, Bavarian apples and boutique beers. Sit at beer-garden tables (though only those without tablecloths) to eat your purchases. The market hosts regular festivals and folklore events. See muenchen.de 

11 STEP INTO A FAIRY TALE

Neuschwanstein is the epitome of a fantasy castle, perched on a crag backed by snow-capped mountains and used by Walt Disney as his model for Snow White's castle. The interior is full of depictions of swans, one of the obsessions of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The ceiling of the fabulous Singer's Hall is decorated with angels and dragons, while the Byzantine-style Throne Room has a splendid star-studded ceiling. See neuschwanstein.de 

12 LIVE OUT A ROYAL FANTASY

Ludwig II's rococo transformation of a hunting lodge at Linderhof produced a 10-room mansion adorned with cherubs and gilt in bejewelled contrast to its rugged mountain setting. A trapdoor in the dining room allows a table, fully laden with food, to rise from the kitchens beneath. Formal French gardens outside give way to Italian terraces, then English landscapes that dissolves into forest. Follies include a Moorish pavilion and artificial cave. See schlosslinderhof.de 

13 DO YOURSELF A FAVOUR WITH FUSSEN

You'd imagine a highly attractive town at the intersection of scenic driving routes and close to Neuschwanstein castle would be tourist-swamped. Not so. Let the tour coaches trundle onwards while you stop off at this historic gem, whose agreeable tangle of medieval alleys culminates in baroque churches and a Gothic castle. The surrounding Allgau countryside, crisscrossed with walking and cycling paths, is gorgeous. See stadtfuessen.com 

14 FOLLOW THE ALPINE ROAD

Southern Bavaria boasts a magnificence of Alps, and a superbly scenic 465-kilometre drive takes in highlights which, apart from landscapes, include baroque abbeys, King Ludwig's castles and flower-decked, frescoed towns such as Bad Tolz, Mittenwald and Oberammergau. The route runs between cheerful, sunny Lake Constance in the east to dramatic Lake Konigssee in the rugged west, and could take a week to explore. See deutsche-alpenstrasse.de 

** 5 HIKE THE ALPS

The main town of the Bavarian Alps, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, found fame as the host of the 1936 Winter Olympics and is surrounded by mountains that you can ski in winter or walk in summer. There are 300 kilometres of well-marked hiking tracks, with chairlifts and chalet restaurants to encourage you on your way. Ride the rack railway up Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak (2962m), for glorious panoramas. See gapa.de 

** 16 GET WELL AT SCHLOSS ELMAU

Enjoy a few days off from the rigours of sightseeing in this magnificent Leading Hotels of the World retreat, splendidly isolated in a lush valley amid the mountains. It's one of Germany's best-known hotels (it hosted the G7 summit in 2015), lures world-class classical musicians for evening concerts, and has magnificent spa facilities that include swimming pools, a hammam, yoga pavilion and plunge into a mountain stream for the hardy. See lhw.com/schlosselmau 

17 TAKE TO THE LAKES

Southern Bavaria is scattered with lakes at the foothills of the Alps, many favoured by holidaying Bavarians but overlooked by overseas visitors. Lake Tegernsee is one of the prettiest, with kilometres of waterside promenades winding past smart villas and tidy towns. Hike into surrounding hills and alpine peaks unfold to the south. Lakeshore Seehotel Uberfahrt is a great place to stay, and has one of Germany's top restaurants. See tegernsee.com 

18 CHECK INTO BURG WERNBERG

This Rapunzel-like castle-turned-hotel is a great spot on the road between Nuremburg and Prague in tourist-light but history-dense eastern Bavaria. You'll find plenty of happy medieval stereotypes, such as a moat, turrets, towers and a drawbridge, but won't have to endure medieval discomforts. The fine Relais & Chateaux-branded Kastell restaurant provides sophisticated interpretations of regional cuisine with subtle Asian influences. See relaischateaux.com/burgwernberg 

19 FOLLOW THE DANUBE RIVER

The young Danube flows across Bavaria, becoming navigable at Donauworth, whose pleasant old town is just a precursor to two of Germany's loveliest old towns, mostly medieval Regensburg and lighter, more frivolous baroque-era Passau. The church spires and turrets of both are reflected in the river, and each has a magnificent cathedral. The two cities are classic stops on river-cruise journeys. See bavaria.by 

20 DISCOVER ANOTHER SIDE TO NUREMBURG

Nuremberg is associated with Nazi trials, but was founded in the 11th century and flourished as a trading centre. Its old town is surrounded by massive defensive walls, above which looms the great castle of German emperors. The city is dotted with historic churches, fountains and cobbled squares, and lively with shops and street markets. See tourismus.nuernberg.de

** Traveller's favourites

MORE

traveller.com.au/germany 

Brian Johnston was a guest of the German National Tourist Office, Relais & Chateaux, Leading Hotels of the World and The Romantic Road.

Comments