When I think of fairytale towns, romantic castles, historical, charming streets and enchanting landscapes, Germany is what comes to my mind. It seems like many storybooks were written by authors inspired by the beauty of this country, and visiting the cute, hidden towns and villages here feels like you've travelled back in time. Maybe a little gnome will pop out of the hole in the ground as you walk the cobbled stone streets or you'll bump into a princess held hostage in the towers of one of those gorgeous castles! So if you're in Bavaria's capital and you're looking for some magic, here are 5 day trips from Munich that you must take.
Day trips from Munich
#1 Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles
For those of you who know me, I love castles! I spent 2 weeks in Ireland visiting some of the best-preserved castles from centuries ago and exploring the ruins which are today UNESCO World Heritage sites. My trip to Transylvania was also about stepping into a fascinating world where the medieval era came to life in some of the most stunning royal residences ever. However, no castle has piqued my attention as Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria.
Apparently, the castle was Disney's inspiration for Cinderella's castle and there's no doubt why it was chosen. The magnificent building is not only a masterpiece in its architecture but also the setting it stands tall in, is a treat for the eyes. With the backdrop of the snow-laden Bavarian Alps, the castle itself stands on an isolated cliff, fulfilling the purpose it was built for - a place for King Ludwig II to get away from people and spend some time by himself. However, it was never really completed from the inside due to the untimely accidental death of the king, after which the castle was opened to the public.
I visited it during the winter, which was great because the snow only added to the beauty of the place. However, getting inside the castle can only be done through a guided tour which is best reserved in advance lest the tickets could be sold out on site. Also, the castle itself is closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, which is when I visited the place and was thus, unlucky! The castle grounds are open, however, so one can walk around the area and get some gorgeous pictures.
The best views of Neuschwanstein Castle are from Queen Mary's Bridge (Marienbrücke) across the Pöllat gorge. However, if there's snow in the area, the bridge is likely to be closed due to safety reasons.
Built by the father of King Ludwig II, Hohenschwangau Castle is not too far from Neuschwanstein Castle and overlooks the Hohenschwangau village, which sits in the valley between the two castles. This is where King Ludwig II spent most of his childhood. Although not as impressive as the Neuschwanstein Castle, Hohenschwangau Castle is strikingly beautiful in its own right. The interiors of the castle are known to depict scenes from German folklore and medieval legends. However, if you're here on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, this castle is also closed for visitors.
How to get here:
These two Bavarian castles make for one of the best day trips from Munich. The recommended way to get here is to rent a car from Munich and drive for 1.5 hours to get here, through the stunning countryside. However, if you're using public transportation, take a train from Munich’s main station (Munchen Hauptbahnhof) directly to Fussen (2 hours journey) and then catch a bus from the Fussen train station (bus no. 73 or 78) to Neuschwanstein Castle. The ride lasts about 15 min and drops you off below the cliff from where you'll have to climb up for about 20 min to reach the castle.
Day trips from Munich
#2 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
This picturesque village is located on the Romantic Road in Germany and is one of the best-preserved walled medieval cities in the country. As all the restaurants and museums in Munich were shut on Christmas Day, I decided to venture out to this charming little old town to enjoy the holiday vibe. A visit to the village was a journey back in time, with cobbled stone streets, colourful medieval buildings, a laid-back atmosphere, and historical ramparts and towers that remained from the castle walls built back in the 13th century.
The village is about a 3-hour drive from Munich and isn't the only 'Rothernburg' in Germany so be sure that you put the name of the village Rothenburg ob der Tauber on your GPS lest you'll end up in the wrong place! Alternatively, since it is one of the most popular day trips from Munich, there are several trains from Munich's main station to get here and the old town is a short walk from Rothenburg ob der Tauber's the train station.
The best way to explore this fairytale village is on foot. You can enjoy a peaceful walk starting from the famous postcard perfect Plönlein Square, in the laneways surrounded by cute pastel houses, through the Marktplatz where you'll see several cafes, restaurants and even the traditional Advent Market during Christmas, towards the iconic St Jacob's Church, eventually arriving at the city walls and old castle gardens.
If you like museums, you could visit the quirky Christmas Museum, or the morbid Medieval Crime and Justice Museum. Allow yourself to get lost in the city streets, walk into a souvenir shop to buy unique and cheap ornaments, or try a schneeballen (a Rothenburg pastry speciality made of pastry dough balls rolled in sugar, cinnamon or dipped in chocolate).
Day trips from Munich
#3 Lake Starnberg
Although a visit to Lake Starnberg may not classify as one of the day trips from Munich by itself, as it is less than an hour away from the city, you can easily spend a few hours here depending on which location around the lake you decide to visit and during which month. During the summer, many water activities take place here. Lake Starnberg is the 2nd largest lake in Bavaria and the 5th largest in Germany.
In the summer, you will see a lot of people swimming in the lake or simply soaking up the sun with a picnic. You could also head to Hotel Am See's terrace restaurant overlooking the lake to enjoy some beer. There are many walking trails along the lake for those who love to immerse themselves in nature.
You could also visit the spot where King Ludwig II mysteriously drowned and died. Some stories say that he fell into the lake accidentally while others hint that he was murdered by those who wanted to dethrone him. There is a cross that acts as a memorial in the lake to mark his untimely and unexplained death. If you're on the West Bank of the lake, you're not too far from castle Sisi in Possenhofen, which was inhabited by Empress Elisabeth of Austria. You can stroll through the park here, take some lovely pictures of the royal family's summer home and wait to enjoy the gorgeous sunset at the lake.
The sunset at Lake Starnberg is absolutely mesmerising! For the perfect experience, grab a place at the Seerestaurant Lido, get yourself a beer (or hot wine in the winter) and walk to the pier on the lake. You can also get a view of Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany, on a clear day.
Click here to read what to do in Munich in a day.
Day trips from Munich
#4 Eagle's Nest and Salt Mines
At less than 2 hours away by road, Kehlsteinhaus or Eagle's Nest is one of the most popular day trips from Munich. A mountaintop lodge that served as Hitler's summer home, this extravagant chalet was presented to him on his 50th birthday. However, it is rumoured that Hitler suffered from vertigo and did not really spend much time at the chalet that was located at the edge of a mountain almost 6,000 feet above the ground.
There are two ways to get to the Eagle's nest that is today, a restaurant offering 360-degree views of the surrounding gorgeous mountains, the valley below and Lake Königssee. You can either hike down to it (takes about 3 hours) or sit on a special bus that takes you to the elevator shaft set deep in the mountain. In winter, Eagle's Nest might be closed if there has been too much snow so do check before you head there.
If Eagle's Nest is closed for visitation, you can still spend some time exploring the famous Berchtesgaden salt mine in the village below. The tour inside the salt mines is for adventure lovers - get ready to dress in overalls and sit in a miners train that will take you into the very depths of the mountains. You can also pass by Lake Konigsee, one of the most beautiful Alpine lakes in Germany.
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Day trips from Munich
Why not get out of Germany and make the most of the day trips from Munich by visiting one of the most charming cities of Austria - Salzburg. Whether you choose to take a train from Munich Main Train station or drive, Salzburg is about 1.5 hours away and is one of the prettiest European cities I've ever been to. With a fortress towering in the backdrop, an emerald green river running through the heart of the city, medieval architecture that is awe-inspiring and a vibe that is unmatched, Salzburg is undoubtedly one of the best day trips from Munich.
If you're here only for a day, I recommend you to visit Hohensalzburg Castle for stunning aerial views of the city, followed by Salzburg Cathedral, a masterpiece of architecture and Residenzplatz located in the centre of the Old Town.
Read in detail on my blog about What to do in Salzburg.
Why not extend your trip with this perfect 1 week itinerary for Austria?