Berchtesgaden is a quaint, quiet pocket of southeastern Germany, and it’s one of our favorite places. With beautiful mountains, lakes, picturesque nearby towns, beer gardens, and what’s not to love?
A home base for the Nazi’s during World War II, Berchtesgaden balances the importance of keeping the memory of those atrocities alive while embracing the beauty and culture of the area.
If you are headed to Munich for Oktoberfest or Salzburg in Austria, adding a few days in Berchtesgaden to your itinerary is a must. Get out of the bustling cities and enjoy this peaceful mountain retreat with all the amenities of a big city.
Berchtesgaden is just a little over two hours from Munich and just 40 minutes from Salzburg. You can rent a car and drive, or hop on a train at Munich Central to Salzburg and then take a bus to Berchtesgaden.
If you’re starting in Salzburg, the Salzburg Card gives you free public transit including a bus ride into Germany. You can also take a train from Salzburg to Berchtesgaden.
You can see the main sites by public transport or through an organized tour. But to fully explore this area, you’ll want to have a car.
Nestled in the Alps, this five-mile-long lake is advertised as the cleanest in Germany. Since 1909, only electric boats, rowboats, and paddle boats have been allowed on the lake.
There is plenty of parking at the entrance to the lake for a small fee. Walk past the shops down to the lake to the ticket booth to purchase tickets for the electric wooden boats. They only go 12 miles per hour, so expect a leisurely and fairly long ride to get across the lake.
But there are plenty of options to stop. If you only want to go to the beer garden (because of course there’s a beer garden), buy a roundtrip ticket from Konigsee to St. Bartholomew’s for 15 euros (about $16 USD).
For 19 euro, you can take the boat round-trip from Konigsee to Salet, where you can take a short hike to another small lake called Obersee.
If you purchase the round trip to Salet, just hop off at St. Bartholomew’s. A former monastery turned restaurant, this is the perfect place to sit and enjoy a sunny afternoon. Grab a table outside in the beer garden and enjoy a filling lunch of pork knuckle or schnitzel and then hop back on a boat to Salet.
When you get off the boat at Salet, you’ll find a large walking trail. Follow it to Lake Obersee where you will see a boathouse. Keep following the trail up and around the lake, up and down some steep terrain with few railings. We promise: It’s worth the hike for this view.
Once you’ve made it to the other side, stop at the small restaurant for a break on the beach and a view before making the hike back. If the weather is warm, bring some swimming gear to take a dip in the clear blue water.
There’s also another opportunity to stop for more beer and snacks before you get back on the boat. You will never go thirsty in Germany.
Make sure to check the time table before you leave so you know when the last boat leaves each stop to make sure you have enough time to hike back.
Thrifty Tip: For a great view overlooking Konigsee, head towards the right (towards the Eagles Nest that you can see up in the Mountains) when you get off the boat. Go behind the large boathouses and you’ll see a restaurant up the hill. You’ll hike for about five minutes to get to it and then enjoy the view!
Lake Hintersee and Ramsau
Perched above Konigsee, Lake Hintersee is much smaller. It’s time to enjoy the peace and quiet.
Drive up to the lake and park at one of the many parking spots along its shores. Rent a small paddle boat and spend some time on the lake. Or take to the hiking trails scattered along the lake.
Afterward, stop and get a beer and some food at a restaurant facing the lake and enjoy the view.
Then head to the small town of Ramsau. This town is straight out of a postcard, built on the edge of a stream with mountains in the background. There isn’t much to do here besides a visit to the Church of St. Sabastian, but it’s worth it for the views alone.
The Eagle’s Nest
Berchtesgaden was one of the main headquarters for the Nazi party during WWII. Hitler and other top Nazi commanders like Herman Goering and Joseph Goebbels had homes here.
While their homes were destroyed by the Allies, the Eagle’s Nest remains intact. Built by hundreds of conscripted workers at the top of a mountain, this retreat was given to Hitler for his 50th birthday.
Today, along with the Documentation Center of Obersaalzburg, it serves as a tourist site and a reminder to never forget the war and Holocaust. You cannot drive up to the Eagles Nest yourself, so park at the Scharitzkehl parking area and purchase your ticket here to get on a bus.
You will take the bus up the hill to the entrance of the Eagle’s Nest. Its large wooden doors once had handles in the shape of a lion. The Allies took them as souvenirs – President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s family still has one.
Walk down the long tunnel carved into the side of the mountain that leads to a brass plated elevator, lifting you the last 400 feet to the top.
The Eagle’s Nest was mainly used for entertaining. Today, there is a restaurant as well as a museum with photos and the history of the site. Examine the black marble fireplace – you can still read the names of French and American soldiers scratched into the surface. These soldiers liberated the area.
On a clear day, the view is tough to beat. Head outside and walk up to the highest points to take in all the mountains surrounding the Eagle’s Nest, as well as Konigsee below.
Thrifty Tip: If going to the Eagles Nest is on top of your list, make sure to note the open dates. It usually closes around October, reopening in mid-May.
World War II Historical Tour
The best way to learn all about the history in the area is to do one of the many full or half-day tours offered by a handful of companies in the area. Most start around 50 euro per person and include your ticket to the Eagle’s Nest and Documentation Center.
Choose one that starts in Berchtesgaden. The tour will take you up the hill to the Obersalzburg Documentation Center and along the way will point out many historical sites, such as where the Berghof (Hitler’s home) was located.
The Documentation Center houses the most WWII documents in all of Germany. It was originally designed to teach German schoolchildren about the war in hopes of preventing a repeat. But it’s turned into a popular site tourists as well, so the center has recently been updated to allow for more visitors with added signs in English and audio guides in a wide variety of languages.
The main draw of the Center is the preserved bunkers. Towards the end of the war, the Nazis started building a complex underground system of bunkers. Meant to last hundreds of years, you can still walk down into a series of these tunnels.
End the tour with a guided visit to the Eagles Nest. It is a great place to visit on your own but having a guide with in-depth knowledge will add a lot to your experience.
The City of Berchtesgaden
After boat rides, hiking, and historical tours, take some time to wander around town. The city center has classic cobblestone walking streets with shops, restaurants, beer gardens, and upscale hotels with fun bars.
Thrifty Tip: Check out the Edelweiss Hotel, which began it’s life in the middle ages as a tavern and was renovated and expanded in 2010. Just outside of town is one of our favorite hotels, The Kempinski. Like Edelweiss, it’s a great place for a cocktail – plus it has an amazing view.
Between the stunning mountains and lakes, beer gardens galore, and tons to do nearby, Berchtesgaden has so much to offer every traveler – history buff or not.
If you’re heading for Munich or Salzburg, tack a few days on to visit this beautiful area. You’ll end up planning your trip back while you’re there.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.