the perfectly preserved medieval city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber in northern Bavaria
Here's my guide to visiting the best destinations and sites in Bavaria in 10 days. Just the word Bavaria conjures dreamy visions of half-timbered houses clad in flowers and majestic castles piercing blue skies. I was incredibly excited for my trip through southern Germany. And, I have to say, my blissful cliched thoughts were realized.
Most Bavarian itineraries I've seen focus solely on southern Bavaria. Some even include Salzburg, which while incredibly lovely, is decidedly not in Bavaria.
the medieval town of Fussen at sunset
My 10 day Bavaria itinerary takes you to both southern and northern Bavaria. I recommend having 3 bases: Munich, Fussen, and Nuremberg. Munich and Fussen will cover the south and you'll experience a big city and small medieval town. Beautiful Nuremberg is the unofficial capital of northern Bavaria and a perfect base for day trips. It's now my favorite small city.
So how should you proceed? Read on for my perfect 10 day itinerary for Bavaria. If you're on the UNESCO trail, Bavaria is a great place to be. If you'd also like tips for traveling in Germany, check out my guide.
view of Munich from St. Peter's Tower
Day 1: Munich
Arrive in Munich and get settled. Then, head straight to the Marienplatz. This is Munich's main square, along with Max-Joseph Platz and Odeonsplatz. Here's where you'll find Munich's eye popping grand buildings, though many have been restored to their former glory.
If you want the best panoramic view, climb the tower of St. Peter's Church. You'll get an eyeful of the majestic Neues Rathaus, or City Hall. Be forewarned, the tower is a steep cramped experience and gets extremely claustrophobic at the top. You need to be physically fit.
If not, take the elevator in the Rathouse itself. To get a ticket, go into the Tourist Information Center in the Rathaus and ask for a ticket to see the Rathausturm (or the City Hall Tower). You access the elevator through the passageway that leads to the inner courtyard.
For lunch, head to Munich's Victualienmarkt, a thriving food market with stalls crammed with colorful produce, fresh bites to go, and a bustling beer garden. For dinner, if you want classic German food, try Bratwurstherzl restaurant.
If you don't fancy bratwurst or schnitzel, Munich has a plethora of Italian restaurants. I really liked Limoni, in a trendy neighborhood on Amalienstraße, and Guido al Duomo. You'll need reservations.
On day two, begin at the Munich Residence, Munich's #1 attraction. The Residenz was the luxe city palace and seat of government of the Wittelsbach dynasty, who ruled as kings of Bavaria until 1918. You can't purchase tickets online, but there won't be a huge queue unless its high season.
In the afternoon, you have a choice. Head out to the beautiful Nymphenburg Palace, 30 minutes outside the city center and another enticing Wittlesbach architectural wonder. The palace is divine. Swans glide, nymphs dance on Rococo ceilings, and thematic follies dot the lavish park.
Nymphenburg Palace just outside Munich
Albrecht Durer, Self Portrait at the age of 28, 1500 -- Durer could be the first inventor of the selfie
Alternatively, you can hit the museums. Munich has some absolutely world class museums. Its most touted museum is the Alto Pinakothek. There, you'll find a couple rare da Vinci paintings, Albrecht Durer's mysterious Self Portrait, and other old master treasures. I also liked the Pinakothek der Moderne for modern art.
If big cities aren't your jam, this is your chance to day trip to Salzburg, the idyllic Baroque city perched on the Salzach River. Salzburg is just a little over 90 minutes from Munich. And it's the stuff of fairytales, with graceful domes and spires and a commanding hilltop fortress.
beautiful view of Salzburg with Festung Hohensalzburg towering above
Day 3: Fussen & Neuschwanstein Castle
Get up early and drive to Fussen, which will be your base for two nights. Fussen is an enchanting medieval town nestled in the Bavarian mountains. It couldn't be more picturesque with its pastel houses and frescoed buildings.
From here, you can both enjoy the village and easily drive to some of Mad King Ludwig's castles. If you stay in Munich instead, you'll have very long and exhausting day trips.
Neuschwanstein Castle aka the Sleeping Beauty Castle
If you've done your research, you'll have online reservations for Hohenschwangau Castle and Neuschwanstein Castle. Then you won't have to wait in line at the ticket center in Schwangau to (hopefully) purchase a ticket.
With your reservation, you stay to the right and exchange your reservation for a ticket. It's a much shorter line than the one for people vying for last minute tickets, some of whom will be disappointed.
beautiful street in medieval Fussen
the ochre colored neo-Gothic Hohenschangau Castle
Not everyone sees Hohenschwangau Castle. You can opt only to see Neuschwanstein. But I thought it completely worthwhile to see both and bought a combo ticket. Hohenschwangau was where Mad King Ludwig grew up and became a poet-architect-opera lover. It's not as glamorous as Neuschwanstein, to be sure, but still very charming and of great historical interest.
Driving from Munich toward Schwangau/Fussen, I had a reservation for 12:55 pm at Hohenschwangau and 3:35 at Neuschwanstein. You are supposed to arrive 90 minutes early to collect your ticket. The Germans are punctual, so don't be late or you'll lose your spot and be barred from entry.
my husband and I in Schwangau getting ready to tour the castles
The tickets give you a time gap between the two castles because it's a 40+ minute hike up to Neuschwanstein. If you arrive at Neuschwanstein with time to spare, head to the Marienbrucke, or Mary's Bridge, for the postcard view of the castle.
The Museum of the Bavarian Kings is also in the town of Schwangau. There's not enough time to visit the museum between your designated castle time slots. But if you arrive in Schwangau early, you could spend a half hour (or more) there. That's what I did, and the museum provided a good primer on the history of the Wittelsbach dynasty.
After visiting the castles, you overnight in Fussen. If you want an intimate dining experience, pre-book at Michelin restaurant Gams & Gloria. If it's a cold chilly day and you want some comfort food, try Ristorante Pizzeria Michelangelo.
Day 4: Linderhof Palace & Ettal Abbey
The next day, you're off to another Mad King Ludwig castle. Linderhof Palace is decidedly fancier, inside, than Neuschwanstein. Ludwig sought to emulate Louis XIV's palace at Versailles. As a result, you'll feel encased in gold inside.
Don't forget to explore outside. The gardens and grounds are filled with architectural follies. Be sure to see at least the Venus Grotto and the Moorish Kiosk.
Ettal Abbey is right down the road. You can't miss the giant green dome emerge between the mountains. The baroque abbey was a seat of resistance during WWII. Priests were forced to remain there so he wouldn’t spread anti-Nazi rhetoric. And theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer – who would later be killed for his role in the resistance against Hitler – spent time at the Abbey.
Day 5: Visit Augsburg En Route To Nuremburg
Today, you'll drive from Fussen to your next base, Nuremberg, where you'll stay for the duration of your trip. For me, Nuremberg was the perfect base for northern Bavaria. It's a small city and entirely walkable. But it has a cosmopolitan vibe. And plenty of great restaurants to come home to after a day of sightseeing.
En route to Nuremberg, stop in Augsburg -- one of Germany's oldest and most underrated cities -- to break up your drive. There, you can check out the cathedral, the swanky town hall with its "golden hall," and the ivy covered neighborhood of Fuggerei. Augsburg Cathedral has Romanesque and Gothic elements and boasts paintings by Hans Holbein.
the quaint ivy covered neighborhood of Fuggerei in Augsburg
If you have time, and depending on when you want to arrive in Nuremberg, take in Augsburg's Schaezlerpalais. The palace's art collections includes Albrecht Dürer’s famous portrait of Jakob Fugger. The real stunner is the ballroom, a masterpiece of Rococo architecture.
As an alternative to Augsburg, you could pull into Erlanger, just 30 minutes outside Nuremberg. Erlanger is a serious foodie town with a craft beer tradition and medieval center. For a meal, I recommend Mein Lieber Schwan or Slaz and Pfeffer.
Nuremberg Germany, view from the Kaiserberg Castle
Day 6: Visit Nuremberg
Rest up and spend a leisurely day strolling in Nuremberg. Though there's so much to do you could easily spend 2-3 days there, being happily medievalized in the former imperial city.
Begin with a visit to Kaiserburg Castle, a former imperial castle dating from the 13th century. Be sure to go inside the castle museum to learn about the history of Nuremberg. Then stroll down Weissgerbergasse Street, or Tanner's Lane, the most quaint half-timbered street in Nuremberg.
Head to the lively Hauptmarkt Square. Find the magic ring at the Beautiful Fountain. Indulge in Nuremberg's specialty, "Drei im Weckla," a triple helping of bratwurst links. Visit St. Sebaldus and St. Lorenz churches.
indulging in some Drei im Weckla in Hauptmarket Square in Nuremberg
Kaiserberg Castle in Nuremberg
Then sample one of Nuremburg's museums. I loved the Albrecht Dürer House. Nuremberg's native son Düreris perhaps the greatest German painter in history. And his house is one of the few remaining medieval half timbers that survived WWII. You won't see any authentic Durer paintings there, but it's a unique snapshot of his life and his studio.
I can also recommend the Germany National Museum (for history and culture buffs) and the Neue Museum (for fans of contemporary art, with a large Gerhard Richter collection).
If you're a WWII buff, book a half day tour to see Third Reich sites. Larger than the Roman coliseum, Congress Hall was where the Nazis held party rallies. It houses the Documentation Center in its north wing, which shines a light on the insane megalomania of the Nazi party. You can also see Courtroom 600, where the Allies conducted the Nuremberg Trials (if court isn't in session).
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, view from the Rathaus which is a steep and perilous climb
Day 7: Day Trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Picture perfect Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the best preserved medieval city in Germany and possibly all of Europe. Some claim Rothenburg is too Disney-esque and exists only for tourists. (This is not the place to buy souvenirs.) That may be the case, but the UNESCO town still dazzles. I've never really seen anything quite like it.
picture perfect Rothenburg ob der Tauber
If you're driving like me, park right outside the town limits at the Stadtwerke. Then get lost in the medieval streets and admire the pastel facades. Hike up the Rathaus Tower for panoramic views or stroll the city walls. Take in the intriguing Medieval Crime Museum, which exhibits creative torture devices and shame masks.
If you want some lunch, I highly recommend the Cafe Einzigartig, away from the madding crowd on a quaint side street. If you can tear yourself away from the pastel houses, stop in the town of Ansbach on your way back to Nuremberg. Ansbach also has a pedestrianized medieval center.
the adorable Cafe Einzigartig in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Me in Rothenburg, about to climb the tower of the old town hall behind me. it's not for the faint of heart.
Day 8: Day Trip to Bamberg
Just 45 minutes from Nuremberg lies the beautiful UNESCO town of Bamberg. It's most known for its iconic frescoed town hall, perched on the River Regnitz. But it also boasts a doughty cathedral and yet another fancy palace for former German princes, the Neue Residence.
Bamberg's is famous for its beer culture. Its specialties are smoke beer and stuffed onion. I must admit that I skipped the stuffed onion and planted myself in a super cute cafe, Spitz Rein, and had a looooot of cake and espresso instead.
the exceedingly picturesque Old Town Hall of Bamberg
Veste Coburg, a great German castle in Coburg, 30 minutes north of Bamberg
The main activity in Bamberg is just strolling the pretty streets. If you want some exercise, hike up to Michaelsburg Abbey (closed for renovation) for the panoramic views. You should also stroll along Klein Venedig, Bamberg's Little Venice, and admire the picturesque canal houses.
If you're super ambitious, hop back in your car and keep driving another 30 minutes north to nearby Coburg. There, you'll find what may be Germany's greatest castle, Veste Coburg. It's authentically medieval and insanely full of a huge collection of armor, weapons, old master paintings, and fancy sleighs.
Marienburg Fortress across from the old town of Wurzburg
Day 9: Day Trip to Wurzburg
How many cute Bavarian towns are there in the world?
Turns out, quite a few. Wurzburg is yet another delightful UNESCO town in northern Bavaria. Aside from its adorable medieval streets, its main claim to fame is the famous Wurzburg Residence. This ornate palace was home to the Wurzburg bishop-kings, who aimed to build a Versailles-like palace.
While you're in Wurzburg, sip wine on the old main bridge (a local custom). Admire the Wurzburg Cathedral and the pretty chapel, Marienkapelle, in the old town. Then hike up to the Marienburg Fortress. It's a fairly steep hike up, but the views are worth the quad strain.
Mirror Cabinet at the Wurzburg Residence Palace
me in Wurzburg, about to hike to Fortress Marienburg
Day 10: Stop In Regensburg En Route Back To Munich
Sadly, your 10 days are almost up and it's time to journey back to Munich to catch your plane home. Or head somewhere else in Europe if you're still vacationing. En route to Munich, stop in Regensburg, another former imperial city and UNESCO town.
I adored medieval Regensburg, beautifully situated on the Danube River. It's not exactly a hidden gem, but it is compared to Rothenburg. Only 13% of Regensburg was destroyed in WWII. It felt more authentic too, with plenty of Germans milling about enjoying their city.
Regensburg is nicknamed the "northernmost Italy" and filled with pointy towers and cute beer gardens. It's a 1,000 years older than Munich, Bavaria's capital. Regensburg's crowning glory is its 13th century Gothic cathedral that can be seen from anywhere in the town.
pretty pastel houses on a medieval street in Regensburg
view of the towering 13th century Gothic cathedral in Regensburg
a rainbow of colorful houses in the Stadtamhof neighborhood
Stroll over the 12th century Stone Bridge for great views and to see the other half of Regensburg, the peaceful Stadtamhof neighborhood. Halfway across the bridge, a small beer garden, Alte Linde, juts out offering drinks with a view.
Regensburg is known for salt, sweet and spicy mustard, and chocolate. Buy mustard at Handlmaier's Laden and chocolate at the ritzy Cafe Prinzess. Eat a knacker, which consists of sausage, sweet mustard, and pickles on a bun. Or try a Streuseltaler pastry.
the stone bridge and old town of Regensburg, as seen from the banks of the Danube River
I hope you've enjoyed my 10 day itinerary and guide for Bavaria. If you're like me, you'll be swooning over these beautiful towns and sites and want to plan a return trip.
If you'd like to see all the best towns in Bavaria, pin it for later.