Zugspitze: The Highest Peak (and Beer Garden) in Germany
After our visit to Neuschwanstein Castle we had one more stop to make on our Southern Bavaria itinerary – the Zugspitze. The Zugspitze is Germany’s highest peak and is home to 3 glaciers, a ski resort, multiple restaurants, and Germany’s highest beer garden (also one of Conde Nast Traveler’s Coolest Beer Gardens Around The World). The border between Germany and Austria runs over its summit and on a clear day you can see over 400 peaks in Germany, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland.
As soon as we started planning our trip to Germany I knew that seeing the Alps from the Zugspitze was a must-do for me. At 51€/person for a round-trip ticket on the cable car, it would definitely be one of the pricier activities on our trip, but from what I had seen the views were totally worth it.
We had planned to go to the Zugspitze the day after visiting Neuschwanstein. We stayed at a B&B nearby and headed out early that morning to beat the crowds. I had been obsessively checking the weather and watching the Zugspitze’s panoramacams since the night before and although it looked like we may have to deal with a few clouds, the rain was going to stay away and the Zugspitze website showed a fairly high visibility. The drive was relatively clear and we were sure that any fog and clouds above would eventually burn off as the morning went on.
There are two ways to get up to the peak – either by Cogwheel train or by one of two different cable cars – one on the German side near Lake Eibsee, the Eibsee-Seilbahn, and one on the Austrian side, the Tiroler Zugspitzbahn. The cogwheel train only goes about halfway up the mountain and you have to switch to a cable car at that point. We went with the Eibsee-Seilbahn cable car because it seemed like the closest and easiest option for us.
Once we arrived at the Eibsee-seilbahn, we could see that there were clouds near the top of the mountain but the cameras still showed a few clear views and the forecast was partly cloudy skies the rest of the day. The following day we planned to drive to the Black Forest so although the weather wasn’t as perfect as I had hoped, we decided to buy our tickets up to the top, hoping that as the sun rose higher it would clear up the lingering clouds.
The ride up to nearly 10,000 feet above sea level was equal parts thrilling and terrifying. I parked myself in the corner of the car that faces down and towards the lake so I could snap as many photos as possible. Each time the car passed one of the pylons it felt like the car was hopping over and leaving my stomach behind, that same feeling you get right after the big drop on a roller coaster. Luckily I was able to push aside my fear and enjoy the breathtaking scene below.
As we continued to climb Mike and I both began to realize that we had definitely underestimated the amount of cloud cover that lay above. By the time we made it to the top, any openings in the clouds had completely closed up and visibility was a big, thick, white, zero. Talk about depressing. We made our way up to the observation deck to find that freezing rain and wild winds accompanied these nonexistent views.
At that point there wasn’t much we could do except make the most of our time on the Zugspitze and drink, eat, and drink some more – there was definitely no shortage of beer on that mountain! We headed inside to Gipfelalm to warm up with glühwein and and a hearty plateful of roasted pork, gravy, dumplings, and homemade red cabbage. Thank goodness for that delicious meal, it really was the saving grace of the day.
We stayed at Gipfelalm for a few hours, with all the clouds there weren’t many other visitors coming through. I was beyond disappointed that we ended up with such a crappy day so we decided that before we left for the Black Forest the following day, we would come back up to the Zugspitze ONLY if it was a perfect day.
We woke up the next morning and headed out even earlier than we had the day before. The weather forecast was very promising, but as we wound along the backroads to Lake Eibsee we were starting to question that weather forecast again…
By the time we made it to the Eibsee-Sielbahn the fog had almost completely lifted and the Zugspitze panoramacams were showing blue skies ahead. It was definitely a much better outlook than the day before so we decided to give it one more try. Back up we went in the cable car and once we reached the top we were so happy that we did. The views were absolutely stunning and the blue skies went on for miles and miles. This is easily one of the most breathtaking places I’ve ever been.
We made our way around the observation deck, crossing over into Austria and taking in the view from every angle possible. There were still some clouds hovering around the beer garden but shortly after we sat down everything cleared up and it was the picture-perfect day. Do I wish we could’ve seen these views for the price of only one round-trip cable car ticket? Duh. Do I regret the choice to come back up? Not for one second.
This morning was easily one of the highlights of the trip for me. I wish we would’ve had the time to just relax and take it all in for hours like we had the day before, but sometimes things don’t always go the way you’ve planned. We enjoyed a couple beers while soaking in as much of the beauty as we possibly could before it was time to head back down the mountain and be on our way.
The high visibility that day and the fact that it was a Saturday exponentially increased the number of visitors to the Zugspitze. By the time we were back at the cable car station at 11:30am the line of people waiting to buy tickets and go up was out the door…and it was a really long way to the door. Obviously going up to the Zugspitz is something I highly recommend, but only if you can be fairly certain that the views are there. If it’s something you really want to do, plan for a little flexibility in your trip – stay in Southern Bavaria for a couple of days and go up to the Zugspitze when the skies are clear. Just be sure to get there early to avoid the crowds (we probably arrived around 9am) and leave some time to kick back with a Löwenbräu and enjoy the views!