Germany’s Highest Peak: Visiting the Zugspitze

Standing proudly at 2,962 m, the Zugspitze towers over both Germany and Austria.

A cross of some form or another has marked the summit since 1851

There are several options for getting to the top. You could make it to the summit by walking, but that would require both amazing fortitude and some serious gear in the fall. So we chose the most breathtaking (and breathtakingly expensive) mode of transportation: the modern cable car known as the Seilbahn Zugspitze:

Completed in 2017, this marvel of engineering holds all sorts of records, the most notable is of which is that it boasts the longest free-hanging cable car span (3,213 meters). The cable runs from one building by the Eibsee to a second building at the top of the mountain with only a single support tower in the middle holding up the whole operation. At 127 meters, this is the world’s tallest lattice steel aerial tramway tower (more fun facts: the tower was built using 9,500 screws, and it weighs 420 tons). The cable car itself easily holds dozens of people, and the views are stupendous.

The trip to the top takes a dazzling ten minutes — it feels the cable car basically goes straight up the mountainside .

If you don’t like hanging from great heights, the obvious alternative is to take the ages-old train up, up, up the mountain.

The upsides to the train are that you’re closer to the ground, it’s much cheaper, and you have more starting destination choices (you can hop on right in the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen rather than fighting the parking lots at the Eibsee). The downsides are that it’s significantly slower, you’re in a tunnel for most of ride, and you still have to take a much shorter, older gondola if you want to get all the way to the tippy top.

And you do want to get to the top!

You can see out over four countries here, from the snowy Alps of Italy and Switzerland (in the distance above) to the green valleys of Germany and Austria:

Visiting the Zugspitze is a year-round adventure. It’s long been known as a skiing mecca — you can see the slopes immediately below …

… but you don’t need to be outdoorsy to enjoy the summit. They’ve outfitted the top with a restaurant, a rooftop observation terrace, a museum. And even in the mountain chill, there are plenty of people out drinking beer and glühwein.

What else can you do at the summit? Well, you can walk through a tunnel from Germany to Austria (no need for a passport) …

… visit this strange mountain goat statue …

… and then go back to Germany again …

… you can play in the snow (yes, this is the world’s smallest and iciest snowman) …

… and in our case, you can watch a helicopter carry construction equipment up for building improvements:

But mostly, this is all about the views!

If you take the smaller gondola down to the ski area (which I would recommend whether you’re a skier or not), more great views await.

There are more snack and outdoor seating options at this level, and it’s a great place to set out for a walk if the weather (and snow or ice on the ground) allows. Or you can just kick back and take in the scenery before you head back down.

Side note: if you take the modern cable car up the mountain, don’t lose your ticket! You’ll need it for the return trip; it’s also good for the other transportation options off of the mountain.

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