At 2962m high, the Zugspitze is Germany’s highest peak. And what a mountain it is; standing at the northern edges of the mighty Alps, home to three glaciers and with views of 400 mountain peaks in four countries, the Zugspitze is primal, raw and breathtakingly beautiful.
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We wanted to hike this challenging mountain but when we visited in mid-June, the snow line was still at 2000m and 6m deep to the summit. We had to admit defeat before we had even stepped foot on her slopes! Instead, we looked to the train, cable car and the efficient and innovative engineering of our host country to get us to the top of Germany and what an amazing journey it was!
Where to Say
The Eibsee Hotel is literally at the foot of the Zugspitze and next door to the cable car. With incredible views of the mountains and lake, this modern spa hotel is perfectly located for a visit to the Zugspitze.
Hiking the Zugspitze
When the snow recedes, there is a window in the summer months to hike to the summit. There are five main routes to the summit ranging from simple to difficult. It is possible to complete a Zugspitze hike in one day; all routes will take you between 8-10 hours to the summit. Some require technical climbing and associated equipment. The five main routes are described here. You need to be an experienced hiker and fit to attempt the summit. The last 1000m are steep and the Zugspitze in summer will still have some snow.
The Tourist Information Office in Garmisch-Partenkirchen is an excellent source of information about local conditions and hut openings as well as providing loads of information on things to do near Garmisch.
NOT Hiking the Zugspitze!
If you are unable to hike to the summit, there are many more ways to get to the top of Germany’s highest mountain which make for a perfect day trip. It is possible to go up and down by either train or cable car or a combination of both.
You can find information about rates and timetables here. Both train and cable cars run all through the year, a Zugspitze winter visit on a clear day is spectacular.
Talking of which, when is the best time to visit Zugspitze? Well, if you’re heading up by cable car or train then anytime is a good time! Obviously it will be a lot colder in winter and certainly less than freezing. Proper clothing, thermals, gloves and hats will be needed as well as boots or sturdy trekking shoes if you want to spend some time on the glacier and in the snow. In summer, it will be much warmer (still not flip-flops and shorts warm!) but less dramatic as most of the snow will be gone.
Consider taking a Zugspitze tour from Munich or a full day tour. You will have an informative guide and the journey up and down will be organised for you.
Take the Cogwheel Train
The quaint Zugspitze train sets off from Garmisch-Partenkirchen train station every hour and passes through Grainau before arriving at the station at Eibsee. We suggest you catch the train from Eibsee; it is easy to travel to if you’re on a road trip and cheap to park.
Get your cog railway tickets at the station and then take a slow but steady amble up the mountainside, passing row upon row of pine trees giving way to the occasional view of the cable cars dangling from impossible heights and looking minuscule against the might of the mountain. At 1640m, the train enters the Zugspitze tunnel and continues underground on the cog wheel route until you arrive, 70 minutes later, at the Zugspitzplatt at 2600m. This is not the summit but a flattish area which sits atop the Zugspitze glacier.
Take the Eibsee Cable Car
The Zugspitze cable cars are a slick operation, efficient, fast and pretty impressive. The cable car holds three world records; the highest aerial tramway tower at 127m, the biggest total height difference in one aerial tramway section of 1945m and the longest unsupported span of an aerial tramway section of 3213m.
If that doesn’t scare the bejesus out of you, then you will love the cable car journey. The cable car (unlike the train) arrives directly at the summit and cuts out the Zugspitzplatt. As you arrive or leave the summit the cable car is on an almost vertical drop and so close to the rock face you feel as though you could touch it. The car has a surprising turn of speed and the orange markers along the cable come towards you swiftly, giving you a sudden sense of just how rapidly the car is moving.
The views of the Eibsee are gorgeous from here, with multiple shades of blue and green impossible to capture on film. Look down through the glass platform in the cable car floor as you pass over the rocks and snow and don’t forget to look back, particularly if you are taking the cable car down; the view of the receding summit is pretty special.
From here you can continue up the Zugspitze mountain to the summit via the Gletscherbahn cable car, a five minute ride. Before you do that though, dig your boots in and step out onto the bright white snow sitting on top of the glacier; look down and see the blue of the ice piercing the snow around your boots. Walk out along the glacier and find a quiet spot to admire the fantastic views or find a deckchair (yes, really) and take in some rays. This is a great place for contemplation; it’s easy to find solitude (impossible at the summit), suck in the clean cold air and wonder what life is all about!
If you have ascended in the cable car, you can still enjoy the Zugspitzplatt by catching the Gletscherbahn cable car down at no extra cost.. It’s worth the effort as the platz is often quieter and you can play in the snow!
30 years ago there was just a hut at the highest point, serving sheeps’ brains and beer. You could stay overnight in very rudimentary accommodation. Now there is a first class restaurant and multiple viewing platforms.
We had a second breakfast of stewed apples and custard with fluffy pancakes and hot chocolate in the not quite so posh cafe, looking out over the magnificent Alps through the enormous surrounding windows.
The summit views are truly spectacular and panoramic; you can see across layer upon layer of the Alps to Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. The wind is vicious and bloody hell, it’s cold; the people wearing shorts must have regretted their clothing choices! Make sure you visit all the corners of the viewing area to get the most of each view; we found looking to the south-east across to Switzerland the most spectacular. You won’t find solitude up here; many people choose to go both up and down by cable car and so miss out on the quieter and much less developed Zugspitzplatt.
Finish off your day with a wander around the lake Eibsee, the gorgeous crystal clear blue and turquoise lake you can see from the cable car and summit. This beautiful lake is 975m above sea level and the route around it is 7.2km, around a 2-3 hour walk. In summer you can hire kayaks and stand up paddle boards…be warned, it’s freezing even on the warmest days!
Is Germany's Zugspitze Mountain Worth It?
We contemplated long and hard about spending this amount of money on a trip which originally was going to be free! We knew the weather would be right on the day we had been going to hike, and in the end, agreed it was something we could not miss. We are so glad we did spend the money, it was a truly memorable once-in-a-lifetime experience and the method of getting to the top was all part of it. We will hike it one day though!