This is a guest post by Sonja Key, the travel blogger behind To Europe With Kids. She is mom to a daughter and son, and her family of four loves exploring Europe together. Sonja enjoys planning and researching their trips, and is enthusiastic about sharing tips, finds, and little-known destinations in Europe that appeal to families. This list of things to do is fantastic … thank you, Sonja!
The archetypical things you picture when you think of Germany — lederhosen, castles, the Alps, beer, Maypoles and folk festivals — are all found in the beautiful fairytale region of southern Bavaria, the largest and oldest federal-state in Germany. Historical buildings and stunning landscapes, plus friendly rural and city folk, make this a great family travel destination.
Let’s start with food, since many of us are challenged with adorable but picky little eaters. Bavarian culture practically revolves around eating and drinking, and their food is hearty, mild-tasting and appealing. Giant, soft, warm pretzels are sold in most delis and bakeries. Food stalls in every city offer bratwurst on a roll, and if a bratwurst is too foreign for your little one ask for a “wienerwurst” instead. It’s a fair substitute for a hot dog, and healthier than the ones we eat at home. And if all else fails, there’s always Nutella spread on toast.
In our travels to Bavaria, we have found a number of towns with particularly kid-friendly activities and sites, all of them with enough gorgeous scenery to please the grownups as well.
King Ludwig of Bavaria built three magnificent castles during his brief life, and all three are spectacular to visit. Neuschwanstein Castle, Ludwig’s gem, is a must-see for most visitors to Bavaria, but with very young children it can be challenging. There are long lines to buy tickets, to board transportation to the castle, and to begin the tour. The tour is about 45 minutes long. It’s a grand palace, with unobstructed views and Kodak moments galore, but worth considering whether the little ones will endure.
Depending on the ages of your children, you might choose to visit Linderhof Castle or Herrenchiemsee Castle instead. They are smaller and the guided tours are not as lengthy. Also, they both have expansive gardens with water fountains, and so might be more attractive to a family with toddlers or preschoolers.
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Linderhof Castle, near the charming town of Oberammergau, is a small, ornate palace with sprawling grounds, set in a forest. Tours of the interior are available in English. The palace gardens are decorated with cascading marble steps, fountains, Moorish pavilions, water basins, gazebos, sculptures and a temple. But the most surprising feature in the garden is the completely artificial and underground Venus Grotto that King Ludwig built, where he liked to be rowed around the underground lake in his golden swan boat. Visitors may enter the cavern and kids are always fascinated by this crazy king’s secret lair.
Herrenchiemsee Castle’s biggest attraction for children is that it’s located on an island in the middle of a lake, so getting there is half the fun. The castle is large and impressive, but Ludwig only managed to finish 20 rooms inside, which are available to tour. Like Linderhof, the palace grounds are exquisite.
The tourist resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen is remembered for being the site of past Winter Olympic games, so if your family likes to ski, Garmisch is the place. It is a delightful Bavarian village with painted chalets, surrounded by mountains. A super-fun summer activity for the whole family is a ride on the Rodelbahn, a fast, winding, wheeled sled ride down the mountain on a paved bobsled course. It’s reasonably priced and a good time for everyone.
From Garmisch-Partenkirchen you can also take a cogwheel train or cable car to the top of the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. The trip is worth it for the stunning views of Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Germany. A fabulous thing to do in Garmisch is to hike the Partnachklamm, a gorge carved deep between steep limestone walls by a raging river, but it is unsafe for children under 13 or 14. Mittenwald (described below) offers a more suitable hike with similar scenery.
Mittenwald, on the Austrian border, is often noted as one of the most charming villages in Germany. Picturesque, mostly traffic free, and historical, the town is beautifully decorated with elaborately frescoed paintings on the exteriors of churches, buildings and homes. A special adventure in Mittenwald, especially if your children are too young to hike the Partnachklamm, is the Geisterklamm, or Spirit Gorge.
The trails through this dramatic gorge are designed for children and guarded with chain-link fences, even across bridges. The ancient cliffs, swirling water and cascading waterfalls are spectacular. Depending on the ages and endurance of your children, you can choose the shorter walk that begins in Mittenwald, or a longer walk accessible from Leutasch, Austria.
Scenic little villages are everywhere in mountainous Bavaria. Don’t miss Grainau, a town awarded the “Kinderland” title for its availability of childcare and special menus for children in its “Kinderland” restaurants. Oberammergau, known for its once-a-decade production of the Passion Plays, is home to dozens of woodcarver shops. Your travels through Germany are not complete without a visit to this unforgettable region.
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