Located along the Austrian border, Mittenwald is the home to charming cobbled streets, mountain landscapes and the art of crafting classical instruments. Visitors may feel like they are on the set of “The Sound of Music,” walking its storybook lanes with houses straight out of the Brothers Grimm, all in view of the Alps.
Though the peaks aren’t quite as impressive as the Olympic-famous Garmisch-Partenkirchen, crowds (and prices) are much easier to handle and the feeling of Gemütlichkeit is palpable. This just might be the most beautiful town in the Bavarian Alps.
This idyllic mountain hideaway is just under two hours from Munich. Trains leave almost hourly and visitors may arrive by car by taking the A-95 toward Garmisch-Partenkirchen and continuing on the B-2 to Mittenwald.
1. Explore the Historic Mountain Altstadt
Goethe had a way with words and called this village, popular since the Middle Ages, “a picture book come alive.” What to do in Mittenwald need not be more complicated than just going for a stroll.
Once a wealthy town as a stopping point for goods going to Venice, the town was mostly frozen in time. Walk through the charming Altstadt (old town) where a babbling brook still runs through the center. On its main street, Obermarkt, beautifully painted façades known as Lüftlmalerei decorate the houses. Some date back 250 years, and these painted illusions add architectural elements to the otherwise plain buildings. They also tell the story of the town with scenes showing the profession of the house owner, festivals and religious vignettes.
In the main square is the iconic 14th century St. Peter und Paul Church. The original structure was built in 1315 with the current design from Josef Schmuzer dating from the mid-1700s. It serves almost 6,000 parishioners as well as the numerous tourists who step inside to admire the golden Baroque decor. Listen for the bells which ring throughout the town on the hour.
2. Conquer the Karwendel
Visitors to Mittenwald can’t miss the impressive Karwendel Alps. This is the most extensive mountain range of the Northern Limestone Alps, and Mittenwald is a great base from which to explore.
Hikers will rejoice in the mountain paths that lead up to the peaks, but for the rest of us, there is the Karwendelbahn (cable car). Taking just 10 minutes, it carries 25 people from 913 to 2,244 meters where they can find Germany’s highest nature information center. Bergwelt Karwendel offers an exhibit on the area with nature films and information on the local environment, as well as a comically oversized telescope with views reaching much further than the eye can see, like that of the Isartal river valley about 1,300 meters below.
An easy circular hour walk (even fit for children) leaves from the center and allows people to put one foot in Germany, one in Austria. Panoramic views stretch to the horizon on a good day, and this is the perfect place to watch the sunset.
3. Ski the Alps
In the summer, the top station of the Karwendelbahn is the perfect starting point for a hike. The visitor center offers information on leisurely walks as well as demanding multi-day hikes. There are more than 130 kilometers of trails! Little more is required than sturdy footwear, sun protection and a decent supply of water.
In winter, the summer trails become cross-country ski routes. Ski into Austria through an intricate network of trails that connect the area with Seefeld. This is one of Germany’s longest ski routes and offers challenges for the advanced ski or snowboarder.
4. Listen to the Music in the Village of a Thousand Violins
Mittenwald offers more than just oom-pah music. It is known as the “Village of a Thousand Violins” for its famed son, Matthias Klotz, who brought the art of making divine instruments back to Mittenwald. After studying under the masters in Italy, he returned to the village in 1684 and carried on the tradition by mentoring violin makers. He stared with his brothers, but soon half of the men in the village were at work crafting violins. The location was ideal for good-quality wood and Mittenwald became a cultural hot spot.
The Geigenbaumuseum Mittenwald (Violin Making Museum) was founded in 1930. The displays highlight the craft of violin making and its development as it ties into the village of Mittenwald. Here visitors will find samples of violins throughout the ages, and tempt their senses by hearing, seeing and even smelling the instruments. This is the perfect rainy day activity.
To celebrate the town’s cultural contribution, there is an annual violin building contest each June with concerts and lectures.
5. Watch the Cows Come Home
The alpine tradition of the cows’ coming home after a summer in the highlands is a highlight in many Bavarian towns, including Mittenwald. Known as Almabtrieb in this region, it is indeed a spectacle to watch hundreds of cows clang through the narrow village streets. (Just don’t try tipping them!)
Arrive early to catch the Kranzkuh, an elaborately decorated lead cow with a wreath of alpine flowers, cross, and a mirror. The following cows wear their bells to ward off evil spirits. Also included in the parade are traditional alpine horn blowers, Goaslschnalzer (whip dancers) and Schuhplattler (shoe slappers). The event usually takes place in mid-September, although it is subject to weather conditions.
6. Say “Prost” at Mittenwald Brewery
Food and beer are an essential part of visiting any German town, and Mittenwald is no exception. Take advantage of the many traditional restaurants in Mittenwald, but don’t miss the local Mittenwalder Brewery. They are proud of their distinction as Germany’s highest brewery with impressive views to prove it. Their 10 types of beer follow the traditional purity law known as Reinheitsgebot and the same family has run the brewery since 1860.
7. Take a Day Trip to Germany’s Most Famous Castle
Mittenwald is full of day trip potential with the quintessential fairy-tale castle of Neuschwanstein just over an hour away. More than a million people a year visit Germany’s most famous castle, making it one of the top 10 sights in Germany.
Watch for icy conditions that can delay trains and make roads extremely treacherous.
8. Swim in the Ferchensee Lake
This secluded alpine lake is about an hour’s hike outside of Mittenwald’s city center. No cars are allowed, so the only way to enjoy the peaceful scenery is either by visiting on foot or bike—motorized e-bikes are one popular way to arrive. Once you’re there, you can swim, walk around the lake, or dine at Gasthaus Ferchensee, a relaxed café serving local comfort food.