Southern Germany, Munich and the Bavarian Alps

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Seven days in southern Germany, from Stuttgart to the Bavarian Alps

Experience the best of scenic southern Germany in this seven-day itinerary that blends historic cities with the recreational wonderland of the Bavarian Alps.

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Day 1: Stuttgart

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Start your tour in Stuttgart, the cultural center of southwestern Germany. Located in the Neckar Valley, Stuttgart has a rich industrial history yet remains verdant, with woods and vineyards reaching down into the city. Its two major art museums should be at the top of your list: Kunstmuseum Stuttgart houses an impressive array of 19th- and 20th-century works, including the most important Otto Dix collection in the world. In the Neue Staatsgalerie you’ll find a range of European paintings that span some 550 years, including the Blue Rider group. Autos are the art on display at the Mercedes-Benz Museum, where anyone with an interest in cars will enjoy the collection of vehicles made by the automotive company that produced its first vehicle in Stuttgart in 1902. A visit to Stuttgart is most enjoyable if you time your trip to coincide with one of the city’s three major festivals. At the Stuttgart Wine Festival in late August, wine lovers converge to sample regional specialties. The 16-day Stuttgart Beer Festival, the second largest in Germany after Munich’s Oktoberfest, begins in late September. In December, visitors can take in a lively Christmas Market.

Day 2-4: Munich

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From Stuttgart, drive to Munich, the vibrant hub of southern Germany, full of world-class museums, historic churches and palaces, beautiful parks, opera, symphony, and, of course, famous beer halls. Oktoberfest, which starts in September and draws some five million revelers, is Europe’s biggest brew bash. (If you’re thinking of visiting Munich during Oktoberfest, it’s imperative that you book your hotel well in advance.)

Get your bearings in the area surrounding Marienplatz. From on top of the Neues Rathaus (New City Hall), famous for its Glockenspiel, you can get a good view of the city center, including the nearby 15th-century Frauenkirche. Get your historic fix at the Residenz, a palace that was the seat of the Wittelsbach family, the rulers of Bavaria, from 1385 to 1918. Art lovers should head to Munich’s Museum Quarter, home to the Alte and Neue Pinakothek, as well as the Pinakothek der Moderne. The collections here are world-class. For a change of pace, stroll in the Englischer Garten, the oldest public park in the world. A beer garden occupies the plaza near the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower). From here, it’s a short stroll to the Schwabing district, home to Michelin-lauded Tantris restaurant.

For a change of pace, head to Olympiapark and pay a visit to BMW Welt (BMW World). Architecturally, the BMW showroom is a dramatic structure with a glass-enclosed spiral ramp that leads up to a sky bridge to the museum and factory buildings. Or, head out to Schloss Nymphenburg, five miles northwest of the city center. The Wittelsbachs’ summer residence, this is one of the most sophisticated palaces in Europe. The Porzellan-Manufaktur-Nymphenburg still produces the famous Nymphenburg porcelain here. Save time to explore the 500-acre park and the Amalienburg, a riot of Rococo excess. Back in town, dine on Bavarian specialties at Spatenhaus, a Munich beer restaurant with big windows overlooking the opera house. Munich has an international reputation when it comes to music, so you may want to attend a performance by the Munich Opera or Munich Philharmonic during your stay.

Day 5: Tegernsee

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After the cultural riches of Munich, it’s time to enjoy the scenic splendors of Bavaria. Drive 31 miles south of Munich to spend the day in Tegernsee, a spa and resort town on the shores of a lovely lake. In summer, the lake is great for swimming and fishing, or you can rent one of the pleasure boats that ply the waters. If you’re up for a healthy alpine hike, you can reach the summit of nearby Baumgartenschneid, a lower peak of the Bavarian Alps, in about two hours. For lunch or dinner, head over to the complex of buildings called Schloss Tegernsee, home to the excellent Herzoglich Bayerisches Brauhaus Tegernsee, one of Germany's oldest breweries.

Day 6-7: Bavarian Alps & Fairy-Tale Castles

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No trip to southern Germany would be complete without a visit to one of King Ludwig II’s “fairy-tale castles” and a trip up the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak. A short (under 50 miles) but scenic drive from Tegernsee brings you to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, twin towns at the foot of the Bavarian Alps. If there’s snow on the ground, head over to the famous Olympia-Skistadion with its two ski jumps and slalom course (the World Cup Ski Jump takes place here every January 1). For a spectacular view of the Bavarian and Tyrolean (Austrian) Alps, take a ride to the summit of the famed Zugspitze, Germany’s tallest mountain (9,720 feet). From Garnisch, the entire trip, via cog railroad and chairlift, takes about 40 minutes.

Plan to spend your final days in the region visiting the two Bavarian royal castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. It’s an easy drive to Schwangau, where both are located. Hohenschwangau is the more intimate of the two. It was a 600-year-old ruin when Crown Prince Maximilian II bought it in 1832. On the ruins, he built the Neo-Gothic castle you see today and used it as a summer holiday residence. The Hall of the Swan Knight, named for the wall paintings depicting the saga of Lohengrin, is one of the castle’s most attractive chambers. Nearby Neuschwanstein, Germany’s number one tourist attraction, was the fairy-tale concoction of Maximilian’s son, King Ludwig II (arrive early, or be prepared for long lines, especially in the summer). The study is decorated with painted scenes from the medieval legend of Tannhäuser, while in the bedroom, a mural depicting the legend of Tristan and Isolde. Tip: In September, concerts of Wagner’s music take place in the Singer’s Hall.

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