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Germany's highest mountain, the , is also one of its most accessible. A cogwheel railroad and three different cable cars provide an effortless route to the top, where you can enjoy views of four countries before sitting down to a pleasant meal or quaffing a drink on a terrace overlooking a glacier.
You might even find yourself witnessing a press event for the latest model BMW, observing a TV commercial shoot, or waving at a bride and groom as they emerge from Germany's highest-altitude chapel.
Need to check your e-mail without mobile-phone roaming fees? Log onto the Internet at one of the Zugspitze's public terminals. Having a family reunion? Book a conference room with a projector for Uncle Phil's digital slide show.
Okay, the Zugspitze isn't Mount Everest, and Hillary wouldn't have needed Tenzing's help to reach the top. But don't let the restaurants, scientific observatories, or communications antennas fool you into thinking that you're in the Munich suburbs--even if the German Alpine Club hut does have a sign that reads "Münchner Haus."
The Zugspitze is very much a mountain, and its scenery is nothing short of spectacular. No visit to Garmisch-Partenkirchen is complete without an ascent to the highest point in Germany. As attractions go, the Zugspitze ranks a solid zehn on a scale of ten.
Getting up and down the Zugspitze
The fully-accessible Cable Car Zubspitze aerial tram departs from a station near the Eibsee (a lake at the foot of the Zugpitze) and rises 1950 meters or 6,397 feet to the mountain's summit ridge. It's a spectacular ride that includes the world's longest unsupported cablecar span (3,213 meters or 10,541 feet).
The Bayerische Zugspitzbahn, a meter-gauge rack railway, starts its journey alongside the DB railroad station in Garmisch. It travels along the valley to Grainau and on to Eibsee before ascending the Zugspitze under cogwheel power.
At the Zugspitzplatt or Zugspitze Glacier Plateau, 2600 meters up the 2964m mountain, you switch to the for a quick ascent to the summit ridge. Total travel time is 75 minutes from Garmisch, 60 minutes from Grainau, or 35 minutes from Eibsee.
For more information on Zugspitze transportation (including wheelchair access), visit Zugspitze.de.
The Tiroler Zugspitzbahn, an aerial cablecar with a capacity of 100 passengers, climbs 1,725 meters from Ehrwald, Tyrol to the Zugspitz summit ridge in just 10 minutes.
There aren't any hotels with private rooms on the slopes of the Zugspitze, but the village of Grainau has a good selection of hotels and guesthouses. (See Booking.com's Grainau hotel listings.)
Most visitors stay in nearby Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which is Germany's most popular mountain resort.
If you're willing to share a dormitory with hikers and mountaineers, try the Münchner Haus from early May through the beginning of October. This Hütte of the Deutsche Alpenverein was built in 1897 and is near the summit of the Zugspitze.
The Campingplatz Zugspitze in Untergrainau is a convenient place to stay if you're traveling with a tent or camper van.
The Sonnalpin (see photo) is the largest restaurant on the Zugspitze, with 350 seats at indoor tables and room for another 800 guests on the sun terrace. Its self-service restaurant dishes up generous portions of tasty food at reasonable prices. (We can recommend the Wienerschnitzel with pommes frites, and the berry crumb cake is delightful.)
The Sonnalpin is located at the edge of a glacier on the Zugspitzplatt or Zugspitze Plateau, where it adjoins the mountain station of the cogwheel railway.
Two cablecars lead to the summit ridge: The Seilbahn-Eibsee from Eibsee, in the valley; and the Gletscherbahn from the Zugspitzplatt station of the cogwheel railway.
When you reach the top, you'll find the Panorama 2962 restaurant, which opened in 2018. It offers a choice of "simple self-service" or table service, with a capacity of 450 diners indoors and 850 outside.
Finally, the German Alpine Club'sserves drinks and meals in a cozy 19th Century mountain hut on the summit ridge. In good weather, you can eat outdoors.
You can ski or snowboard from October until May on the Zugspitze, where the permanent ice of Germany's only glacier helps to keep snow frozen at both ends of the ski season.
The cogwheel-railway station at the Zugspitzplatt offers easy access to nine T-bars and a chair lift at elevations of more than 2600 meters. There's also a 140m halfpipe and a "Funpark" for snowboarders. Equipment is available for rent at Zugspitzplatt.
The Garmisch-Partenkirchen region has many other ski areas, with a total of about 40 lifts and more than 70 km of marked trails in five Skigebiete.
You can buy ski passes that are valid for lifts through the region (including the Zugspitze's cogwheel train and cablecars).
For more information, select a language at Zugspitze.de and go to the "Winter" pages via the navigation menu.
Don't plan on taking the cablecar to the Zugspitze's summit ridge and walking down--the upper slopes of the mountain are too steep for hiking.
The Bayerische Zugspitzbahn suggests two easy (and extremely short) hiking excursions atop the mountain:
A few hundred meters down on the glacier, next to the Sonn Alpin restaurant and the cogwheel train's station, you can walk across to the viewing platform at the Windlöche ("howling wind hole") in about 30 minutes.
The Bayerische Zugspitzbahn has other suggestions for hikers who are willing to spend six to eight hours walking downhill from the glacier area: one to the Olympic Stadium in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and another to the Austrian village of Ehrwald (where you can catch a train back to Germany).
For details, pick up a brochure at any Bayerische Zugspitze ticket office or e-mail:
Mountaineering is another option, although several of the other mountains around Garmisch-Partenkirchen are of greater interest to climbers.
The best climbing months are July through September, but the weather can be unpredictable--as you can tell from the photos of snow-covered scenery in this article, which were taken on September 28.
For more information, go to Zugspitze.de and choose the "Summer" pages.
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