Did you know you can climb to the top of the highest mountain in Germany? Without a crampon in sight. Oh yes, it's true. Here's how to visit Zugspitze!
This post may include affiliate links, which means I earn a small commision (at no extra cost to you) if you click and buy through them. Thank you for supporting the free content on this site (and feeding my alarmingly obsessive Nutella addiction.)
We have made a habit of going up mountains with absolutely no planning. (If you missed it, last time we decided to go up Mont Blanc in France. On a whim. Without proper clothing. In order to pass on an elephant… (we have a weird life). You can read all about it by clicking below.)
This time, our trip didn't involve a random hitch-hiker and an elephant trinket. This time it was PLANNED! *Gasp* By which I mean we'd bought coats. And gloves.
Between Neuschwanstein Castle and here we'd had an amazing night camping under the stars on a dried out river bed in Austria, with no other soul around for miles- except for a load of wolves. We had a campfire and drone shots. It was magical. (More coming on that later)
We set off from Austria bright and early the next morning, heading for the highest mountain in Germany- Zugspitze!
Where on Earth is Zugspitze?
Zugspitze is the highest mountain in Germany, so obviously part of it is in Germany. But half of it is in Austria. And it's NOT the highest mountain in Austria. Oh no, not even close. The highest mountain in Austria is GrossGlockner, standing proudly at 3798m. Zugspitze, I'm sad to say, comes in at a measly 2962m and is only the 15th highest mountain in Austria. Those Austrians have some decent mountain game. And just to remind ourselves, Everest is 8,848m. Yes, I had to Google that fact. Did you know it??
Zugspitze is in the South-East of Germany and the closest town on the German side is Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which looked like a pretty town, but honestly, we didn't stop. It was first thing in the morning and we wanted to see the mountain.
How to climb Zugspitze
I use ‘climb' loosely of course. Ascend. We wanted to ascend the mountain with very little effort on our part.
One thing we noticed as we got closer to Zugspitze and more into the Alps, was the wind. Oh boy, it was WINDY. Given that I'm travelling with two people
slightly extremely terrified of heights, the mood in the van was getting more & more sombre. (Seriously, how I get away with dragging them up mountains as much as I do amazes me! This truly is a blog of love…)
There are 3 ways for sensible people to climb Zugspitze. The fourth way is to walk/climb, but that's a)- crazy and b)- not anything I'm even remotely qualified to talk about, so I won't. (I know, I know, that doesn't always stop me trying!)
The German cable car (Eibsee)
Funnily enough, this runs from the German side and is called Seilbahn Zugspitze or Cable car Zugspitze or Eibsee Cable Car. Yes, it get's confusing, but if you're driving from Garmisch-Partenkirchen it's well signposted and easily accessible for a car or motorhome.
Cog-railway at Zugspitze
This is a train (also called a rack-railway and one of four still working in Germany) which somehow magically climbs up a ridiculously steep mountain, It was opened in 1929 and the line is 19km long, which doesn't sound very long but it's ALL uphill. The line actually runs all the way to Garmisch, so you can start your journey there if you choose, but there is also a stop at the Eibsee cable car, which is useful if that's where you've parked.
The railway route is very pretty at the start, but does spend about half of its journey going THROUGH the mountain, so you are literally inside a tunnel for a good 20 minutes. It's not the most scenic route but if the cable car isn't running or you don't like them, it's a good alternative.
Austrian Cable Car
There is also a cable car which goes up to Zugspitze from Austria. This route is often much quieter than the German one, as Zugspitze just isn't that big a deal in Austria. It's also cheaper than the Eibsee one, (2 adults and one teen would have cost us 101.50€ instead of 123€) For more details, here's the link to the Austrian cable car main website.
NOTE– and something which confused me completely at first. The only way to get to the very top of Zugspitze is to get ANOTHER, totally separate, cable car called Gletscherbahn. You get off the Eibsee cable car or the cog railway, walk through the station area at the top and follow the signs to Summit (or Gletscherbahn). This separate cable car is included in your price if you got a return ticket and you can go up and back as many times as you like (it takes about 5 minutes). I don't know how this works on the Austria side sorry, but I believe it's a similar set-up.
Zugspitze- planning your visit
We planned to go up by Eibsee cable car and return on the cog railway, which is the way the website recommends. (Here's the link) Which is why my family were currently looking more and more unhappy as we approached the mountain and listened to the wind roaring around us. Cable cars and wind are a bad combination.
So you can imagine their relief when we pulled into the car park and saw that the Eibsee cable car was closed for maintenance. It went a little something like this:
I, on the other hand, was gutted. No cable car ride for me. Still, at least we could still get up Zugspitze on the cog railway and the entire day wasn't completely ruined.
Zugspitze has a ski area!
I don't know why this surprised me. I really don't. But you can actually ski on Zugspitze. And there was still PLENTY of snow in April. So most of the people joining us on the ride up were skiers, with skis, snowboards, gopros and everything. It makes perfect sense, because it's, well, a mountain. And that's what people do on mountains. Why would you go all that way up there just to look at the pretty view and then come back down again on a train? Duh. So, if you're, like, into skiing and stuff, bring your gear! I think you can even hire it at the top (please check this fact first before you turn up all expectantly like an excited puppy, only to be disappointed.)
When to visit Zugspitze
Like most things, when you visit Zugspitze depends on what you want to do. In winter, it will be COOOOOOLD up there. Heck, we were there in April and it was -4 degrees C at the top. And very windy. In December/ January I'd expect it to be way colder, but much better for skiing if that's your thang. Also, all the countryside will be covered in deep snow, which would be pretty- but driving there could be… let's go with challenging.
TIP: LOOK UP THE WINTER DRIVING RULES FOR GERMANY- It is a legal requirement to have winter tyres fitted during Winter in Germany. (Winter is 01 November- 15 April) and snow chains should be carried and used as appropriate. Here's a great reference guide if you need it.
If you visit in the summer, there will be less snow (I assume) but the weather is likely to be better and the views possibly even prettier. And you can climb to the actual summit if you want to- that option wasn't available to us so I don't know how it work's, but I've seen other bloggers sending their husbands and kids up there during Summer.
For us, April was a pretty good time. It was mostly clear, the views were great and it wasn't horrendously cold. It also wasn't crazy busy- although still pretty busy for a Friday!
What is it like up there?
Let's go with pictures for this bit. Lots of pretty pictures.
There are a couple of restaurants. The beautiful glass one is POSH. We stopped in for a coffee, but it was about 10.30am and we wanted breakfast- the only thing available was pretzels, unfortunately.
Inside the main building is a self-service buffet with a great selection and fairly reasonably priced for a ski restaurant at the top of a mountain. Again, no breakfast option was available, although by this point it was 11am and we were STARVING, so bratwurst & chips it was.
stuffed ourselves eaten enough, we took the second cable car (Gletscherbahn) up to the summit. There was supposed to be a restaurant and a museum here… all we saw was a lot of scaffolding! Admittedly, there was a gift shop, with exactly the same things in it that are in the bigger gift shop down at the main station. The building was very disappointing and the wind was making it shake, much to Jade's consternation. However, you have to come up here, because this is what it's all about.
This is the highest point in Germany. You have to get a shot with the golden post. But the wind was so strong it was impossible to speak, so we only stayed up there about 5 minutes tops. In total, including the 10 minutes in the Cable car, we were at the summit for about 25 minutes. Not a long time, but still worth going, especially as it didn't cost us any extra.
Taking Dogs to visit Zugspitze
You can take dogs up the mountain with you. Preferably your own dogs. They cost 5€ on the cog railway- not sure if they're allowed in the cable car or not. Just watch their poor paws on all that snow and ice. We saw the cutest dogs with little snow socks on. I thought I had a photo of this cuteness, but alas I don't. I searched for a GIF for you, but….ummm… instead I found this! 🙂
Whilst we're talking about safety, do NOT have an ice fight. This is where you kick snow (and ice) at each other and think you're hilarious. Until one of you gets ice in their eye **that would be me**. A chunk went into my eye, my eyes watered, my mascara ran, there were no tissues. I had to spend the rest of the day looking like a giant panda or wearing my sunglasses indoors like some minor celebrity- it was horrifying. And kinda painful. But mainly horrifying. I wish I was girly enough to have brought a makeup bag up a mountain, but alas- I'm not. Lesson learnt for next time I drag my family up to altitude.
There is also a mountain next to Zugspitze called Mount Wank (pronounced Vank in German. Stop sniggering.) Nope- I'm not kidding. Seriously, it's on Wikipedia here.
You can eat in the Wank-Haus, take the Wankbahn cable car from Garmisch, and Mount Wank has a beautiful panoramic view of Zugspitze. I believe it's only open between May- September.
I'm trying so hard to think of something ladylike & intelligent to say… but I'm struggling, so I think we'll leave Mount Wank there. Never thought I'd say that in a sentence…
Other ways to visit Zugspitze
You can go as part of an organised tour, which might be useful if you're staying elsewhere.
Where to stay when you visit Zugspitze
Zugspitze is easily accessible by road or train. Munich to Zugspitze is less than a two-hour drive and the trains run regularly, at least once an hour. (PLEASE check this for yourself before travelling, just in case something has changed.) Zugpitze is also accessible from Berlin, although that is around a 7hour drive. From Frankfurt, it will take you about 5 hours to drive there. If you're travelling from further afield, I'd definitely recommend staying the night.
There are several hotels at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and it's also possible to do Neuschwanstein Castle and Zugspitze in a day if you're driving (this might be tight by train). If you're doing both, my recommendation would be to stay in Fussen, which is beautiful & quaint.
What to wear when you visit Zugspitze
You all know by now that this is NOT a fashion blog. But I would highly suggest warm coat, hats, scarves & gloves as a bare minimum. And layers, in case it gets warmer. Who doesn't love layers? (Except perhaps this girl??)
Zugspitze- it is worth it?
Heck yes. It's a mountain, with incredible views. And bratwürst. What's not to love?? If you are anywhere near the area, I totally recommend adding this into your itinerary. (If you're not anywhere near the area, like Bali for example, add it to your itinerary anyway. Why not? 🙂 )
What's next for us?
Booooo- we have to start heading back to the UK now. We've strung it out as long as we could, we've even pushed back our Channel Tunnel journey by a day, which enabled us to visit Zugspitze in the first place. But now it's homeward bound- although there are still several cool places to explore along the way. (Like Frankenstein's castle- yay!) We've given ourselves 48 hours to get from Zugspitze back to Calais. I'm sure that will be long enough… right?
How about you? Would you visit Zugspitze? Have you already been? Let me know in the comments below.
And if you found this post useful why not share it on social media for others to enjoy, or pin it to your travel board for easy reference later.