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Bavaria Travel Guide

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German Alps near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria ( wepix | iStockphoto.com)
German Alps near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria.

Introduction

Bavaria is one of Europe's oldest states, founded as a duchy in the 6th century. It maintained its independence until the unification of Germany in 1870. The Kingdom of Bavaria was only dissolved in 1918, along with the German Empire, and Bavaria became a federal state.

With an area of 70,548 km² (27,200 sq mi), it is the largest German state, representing almost 20% of Germany's land area. Bavaria is almost exactly the same size as Ireland and is larger than the ten smallest U.S. states. Bavaria is Germany's second most populous state (after North Rhine-Westphalia) with almost 12.5 million inhabitants, a population halfway between that of the Netherlands and Belgium. Bavaria's GDP per capita is 35% higher than the EU-27 average and is second only to Hesse among non-city states in Germany.

Bavaria has the highest number of beer breweries in Germany. Famous Bavarian beers include Augustiner Helles, Aventinus, Ayinger, Erdinger, Franziskaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu München, Löwenbräu, Oettinger (Germany's best selling beer brand), Paulaner, Schlenkerla, Schneider Weisse, Spaten, St. Erhard, and Weihenstephan (the world's oldest continuously operating brewery).

Famous people from Bavaria include (chronologically): the merchant and banker Jakob Fugger, the painter Albrecht Dürer, the blue jeans maker Levi Strauss, Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Sisi), the neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer, the playwright and theatre director Bertolt Brecht, the Nobel Prize physicist Werner Heisenberg, and the Nobel Peace Prize political scientist and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

History

The region of Bavaria has always been an important one in European history and prehistory. In the 6th millennium BCE, the Neolithic culture spread from Southeast Europe along the Danube River, reaching Bavaria in the form of the Linear Pottery Culture (=> see prehistoric migration maps). In the 3rd millennium BCE the Bronze Age was introduced from the forest-steppe of Northeast Europe through the Corded Ware Culture, probably bringing the first Indo-European speakers to Central Europe. Proto-Italo-Celtic people are thought to have arrived circa 2300 BCE with the advent of the Unetice Culture, roughly centered around Bavaria. The classical Celtic culture of Hallstatt also emerged from what is now Bavaria, and spread to most of Central Europe.

Southern Bavaria was annexed to the Roman Empire in 15 BCE by Tiberius and Drusus, who founded the city of Augsburg (Augusta Vindelicorum) as the capital of the new Roman province of Raetia. Regensburg, Passau, Straubing, Füssen and Garmisch-Partenkirchen were all established in Roman times.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Bavarians (Boiohaemum in Latin) moved into the region, probably from Bohemia (and ancient Celtic land of the Boii). Other tribes, such as the Alamanni, Lombards, Thuringians, Goths, Huns, Avars and Bohemian Slavs blended with the local Romanised population creating a unique melting pot. By 550, Bavaria had fallen under Frankish dominion, with Garibald I of the Agilolfings dynasty as first Duke of Bavaria. Bavaria had become part of a new empire, which would become Germany (=> see History of the Franks).

Attractions

Attractions are listed geographically, from west to east (left to right) and north to south (top to bottom).

West Bavaria (Romantic Road)

Aschaffenburg
Johannisburg Castle in Aschaffenburg (© Peter Saeckel - Fotolia.com)
very good Located at the confines of Hesse, Aschaffenburg possesses one compelling attraction, the imposing Schloss Johannisburg, standing proudly at the heart of the city. For 200 years it served as the second residence..Read more
Würzburg
Würzburg (© vom - Fotolia.com)
must-see Würzburg was the seat of a wealthy and powerful Prince-Bishopric until 1801. The episcopal Würzburg Residence is one of the grandest baroque palaces in Europe, a World Heritage Site, and a definite highlight of Germany...Read more



Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Siebers Gate near the intersection of Plönlein and Kobolzeller Steige, Rothenburg ob der Tauber ( XtravaganT - Fotolia.com)
must-see Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of Germany's best preserved historic towns and the main tourist destination on the Romantic Road. With colourful timber-framed houses, stone ramparts and jumbled cobbled streets...Read more
Dinkelsbühl
Dinkelsbühl (© Jörg Hackemann - Fotolia.com)
outstanding A former Free Imperial City, Dinkelsbühl is a pleasant and colourful historical town. Its charm lies in its intact city walls dotted with 16 towers and four gates. Fortified by Emperor Henry V in the early 12th century...Read more
Nördlingen
Nördlingen (© Vid Pogacnik - Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)
outstanding Nördlingen is the only town in Germany, along with Rothenburg and Dinkelsbühl, that has retained its complete city walls. The 90-metre tall clocktower of Saint George's Church offers arresting views of the circular...Read more
Augsburg
Augsburg (© Christoph Fiolka - Fotolia.com)
very good Germany's third oldest city, Augsburg was founded on the orders of Roman Emperor Augustus. Flourishing in the Renaissance, the city was home to wealthy merchant families like the Welser and Fugger, nicknamed the bankers...Read more
Steingaden
Wieskirche, Steingaden (© Eduard Shelesnjak - Fotolia.com)
very good Steingaden is the site of the 12th-century Steingaden Abbey and the Wies Church. The latter is a masterpiece of rococo art featuring a white an gold...Read more
Linderhof Palace
Linderhof Palace (© Kurt MISAR - iStockphoto.com)
must-see Linderhof is the smallest of the three palaces built by King Ludwig II and the only one which he lived to see completed. The lavish rococo interior is full of mythological scenes, while the formal French gardens are decorated...Read more
Neuschwanstein Castle
Neuschwanstein Castle (© Boris Stroujko - iStockphoto.com)
must-see Masterpiece of Ludwig II's romantic ideals, Neuschwanstein is Germany's most famous castle and has inspired Disneyland's Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty Castles. It was built between 1869 and 1892 as a homage to the...Read more
Hohenschwangau Castle
Hohenschwangau Castle (© BL - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Dating from the in the 1830's, Schloss Hohenschwangau was one of Germany's first castles of the Romantic movement. It was the childhood home of Ludwig II of Bavaria and was built by his father Maximilian II...Read more

Central Bavaria

Bamberg
Bamberg (© Edler von Rabenstein - Fotolia.com)
must-see Possibly Germany's most beautiful city, Bamberg is a splendid blend of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles, with the full package of timber-framed houses, stone fortifications and archiepiscopal palaces...Read more



Gößweinstein
Gößweinstein (photo by Schubbay - Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)
very good Gößweinstein is a small town famous for its Neo-Gothic castle. Other attractions include the Franconian Toy Museum, and steam locomotive rides on the Franconian Switzerland Steam Railway...Read more
Erlangen
Erlangen (© Akriesch - Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)
very good Erlangen is a pleasant little city that grew with the establishment of French Huguenot refugees in the 1680's. The lofty neoclassical Margravial Schloss is now occupied by the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg...Read more
Nuremberg
Nuremberg (© Mario Carbone - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Nuremberg is Bavaria's second largest city. It was the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire, the seat of the Imperial Diet, and residence of numerous Kings of Germany. It is also where the Imperial regalia...Read more
Altmühltal Nature Park
Altmühltal Nature Park (© Bergfee - Fotolia.com)
outstanding The Altmühl Valley is the fifth largest of Germany's 27 nature parks and covers an area of 2962 km². The park is characterized by gently undulating tablelands and steep valleys with precipitous limestone cliffs along the...Read more
Eichstätt
Eichstätt (© Otto Durst - Fotolia.com)
very good With a population of 13,500, it may come as a surprise that Eichstätt was once a prince-bishopric, as attested by the disproportionately grand architecture for its modest size. It is home to the only Catholic university...Read more
Ingolstadt
Ingolstadt (© kathrinpoehler - Fotolia.com)
very good Ingolstadt is an agreable traditional city, better known for being the home of car manufacturer Audi. It was also the setting for the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. The city boasts a few fine...Read more
Schleissheim Palace
Schleissheim Palace (© Zoe - iStockphoto.com)
must-see Located 14 km north of central Munich, Schleissheim Palace was the summer residence of the dukes and kings of Bavaria. The park comprises three palaces from different periods and an aviation museum. The Neues Schloss...Read more
Munich
Munich (© sborisov - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Capital of Bavaria, Munich is the third largest city in Germany. Badly damaged in WWII, the city has recovered well and its prosperity transpires in its chic boutiques and its rich cultural scene. The Oktoberfest...Read more
Bad Tölz
Bad Tölz (© Harald Biebel - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Bad Tölz is a beguiling spa town with frescoed façades and an Alpine atmosphere. A favourite playground for Munich residents both in summer and winter, the area offers good rafting down the Isar River, hiking and skiing...Read more
Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Zugspitze from Garmisch-Partenkirchen (© Kristin Speed - iStockphoto.com)
very good Garmisch-Partenkirchen is one of Germany's most famous ski resorts and hosted the 1936 Winter Olympics. The town lies at the foot of Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain at 2961 m (9714 ft)...Read more

East Bavaria

Coburg
Fortress of Coburg (© Thomas Otto - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Formerly part of Thuringia, Coburg was one of the capitals of the Duchies of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha from 1764 to 1918. The latter branch inherited through marriages the Kingdoms of Great Britain...Read more
Bayreuth
Bayreuth (© Edler von Rabenstein - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Everything in Bayreuth revolves around its famous annual festival founded by Richard Wagner in 1876 as a dedicated venue for his operas, an event still well alive today. The city had been a cultural capital since...Read more
Regensburg
Regensburg (© dario - Fotolia.com)
outstanding A Roman city with Celtic roots, Regensburg became Bavaria's first capital in the 11th century, and a prosperous medieval city. Mostly spared by Allied bombings in WWII, the very colourful historic centre now has...Read more
Walhalla memorial
Walhalla memorial (© Maximilian Krä - Fotolia.com)
very good 10 km east of Regensburg, the Walhalla is a hall of fame dedicated to the great and distinguished Germans in history, represented by 130 busts and 65 plaques. Inspired by the Parthenon in Athens, the temple was dreamed up...Read more
Herrenchiemsee Palace
Herrenchiemsee Palace (© Bergfee - Fotolia.com)
must-see Set on an island in the Chiemsee, Bavaria's largest lake, Herrenchiemsee is a complex of two palaces. The New Palace is the largest of King Ludwig II's palaces and is a close copy of Versailles, sometimes...Read more
Straubing
Straubing (© laguna35 - Fotolia.com)
very good Straubing is famous for its 10-day Gäubodenvolksfest, the second largest beer festival in Bavaria after the Oktoberfest. It is held in August and attracts over one million visitors. Apart from that, Straubing, seat of...Read more
Bavarian Forest National Park
Brown bear on a rock, Bavarian Forest National Park (© s-eyerkaufer - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Together with the neighbouring Bohemian Forest in the Czech Republic, the Bavarian Forest forms the largest contiguous woodland area in Central Europe. Founded in 1970, it was the...Read more
Passau
Passau (© Patrick G. - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Built at the confluence of the Danube with the Inn and Ilz, Passau is an alluring city of pastel painted façades. Once the seat of the largest diocese of the Holy Roman Empire, the Oberhaus Citadel of the Prince-Bishops...Read more
Berchtesgaden National Park
St. Bartholomew's Church facing the Königssee and Mt. Watzmann, Berchtesgaden National Park (© Richard Wöhrl - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Located in the southeasternmost corner of Bavaria, at the border of Austria, Berchtesgaden is the only German national park in the Alps. Covering 210 km², its elevation ranges from 600 m to 2713 m at Watzmann...Read more

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