We took advantage of a long, holiday weekend to go somewhere that’s been on my bucket list for many, many years – Berchtesgaden National Park. This area of Germany is nothing short of incredible, and such beauty deserves to be seen first hand.
Well, if it’s so amazing, why did we wait so long to visit? For starters, it’s clear on the other side of the country, and there’s no easy way to get from A to B by car or by train. Also, because it’s almost a six hour drive one way to Berchtesgaden, we really should stay a minimum of two nights to make the trip worthwhile. On any given weekend, we usually don’t have that kind of time (or money) to spare.
But, I know I would’ve regretted it deeply had we moved on from Germany before exploring this gorgeous outdoor playground of sorts. So, I said a quick prayer and jumped into hotel research.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I discovered the Hölbinger Alm holiday apartments. You can read my full review on TripAdvisor (just look for the shoes!). Though the property ended up being a tad further from Berchtesgaden than I would’ve preferred, the two-bedroom apartment was an excellent value at only 60 euros/night.
With accommodation booked, I tackled another formidable task – whittling down my “must-see” list into a realistic, don’t-go-crazy-trying-to-see-everything-with-three-kids-in-three-days itinerary.
We chose only one attraction per day – The Eagle’s Nest, Lake Königssee, and the Almbachklamm gorge. I’ll cover Hitler’s lair today, and the other two natural beauties will star in their own subsequent posts.
The Kehlsteinhaus, as it’s known in German, was built on a sliver of rock high in the Obersalzberg mountain area. The purpose of the house was to entertain and impress visiting dignitaries, and it was presented to Hitler on the occasion of his 50th birthday. The building is now a not-for-profit restaurant (more history with an obviously negative bias here).
Today, the only way to access the Eagle’s Nest is via bus. The road leading up to the house is so steep and dangerous that only trained drivers are allowed to ferry passengers on it. You can read more about this engineering marvel and how the road is safely maintained here.Once the bus reaches the top of the mountain, it’s time to ride up that exquisite brass elevator you’ve likely seen in movies. Wait times for the lift can be ridiculous, but the only other option is a steep (though paved) trail.
If we would’ve known that we’d be making our way to the elevator inch by inch, I think we would’ve tried to make it up the trail. However, I still think it was worth it to ride in the brass box at least once just to say we’ve done it.
If you can handle heights, you’ll be rewarded with an absolutely stunning landscape from the terrace of the Eagle’s Nest. On a clear day (check the weather first!), you can easily get an eyeful of the Berchtesgaden area (including the Königssee) as well as Salzburg and its surroundings. No wonder this place was built to impress!
Unless you’re into serious hiking, the only thing to do on top of the world is drink – beer, coffee, views, etc. Prices at the cafe were high, but not insane. We brought our lunch, so I can’t comment on the quality of the food or friendliness of the staff. Visitors are served on the patio; eating inside the dining room is by reservation only.
A sign on the restaurant door admonishes visitors not to pop into the dining room because it disturbs the other guests. But, since we happened to be hanging out at the end of the day and the grounds were nearly deserted, we decided to, well, um, not follow directions.
I hate to break the news to you, but the interior is rather unimpressive. Snap a photo of the marble fireplace (a gift from Mussolini), and move on.
It’s possible to walk a little further up on the rocks behind to the Kehlsteinhaus for even more magnificent views. However, use extreme caution with children as some of the footing is quite slippery.
Both Doc Sci and I were quite surprised that almost every other person we encountered was American. English conversations swarmed around us, and it became clear that this is an attraction marketed to tourists from across the pond. The Germans that visited the Eagle’s Nest were there for the hiking, not the house or its history.
Speaking of history, I wish we would’ve had more time to visit the Obersalzberg Documentation Center which is chock full of interesting tidbits about the area’s infamous residents and offers patrons the possibility of exploring the secret bunkers. Ooooo…
But, realistically, I don’t think we could’ve had a successful go at the exhibits with our young boys. I hope to return when they’re older and actually care more about the story of the world than the adventures of Thomas the Train.
Between the view and the intrigue, the Eagle’s Nest was definitely a bucket list item that lived up to its hype. The irony that our visit occurred on German Unity Day was not lost on me. For history buffs, hikers, and everyone in between, I highly recommend the Kehlsteinhaus.A few practical tips for your visit:
- Getting to the Eagle’s Nest must be done in two parts. First, you must get to the Hintereck parking area at Obersalzberg either by car or by bus.
- If you arrive by car, keep in mind that parking can be difficult later in the day. Get in early or be prepared to walk a ways if lots are full. Keep your eyes peeled for the German name (Kehlsteinhaus) because you won’t see any signs for “The Eagle’s Nest” until you’re at the parking lot itself. Parking costs 3 euros/day.
- The second piece of the journey is taken on special buses that leave from the Hintereck station. Purchase tickets, and board the bus that corresponds with the number on your ticket. Unfortunately, you won’t know how full your bus is and you could be stuck going uphill, riding backwards (ugh).
- Admission to the house itself is technically free; however, you cannot reach it without a valid bus ticket (or a few hours of strenuous hiking).
- The recommended length of stay is 2 hours, but we opted for 2 1/2hrs. If you plan to eat a meal in the restaurant, I’d suggest a minimum of 3 hours.
- The house was nearly deserted at 4pm, so you could go later in the day, pop up for the view, and get back down on the last bus of the day (450pm) since the elevator lines would be nonexistent.
- No matter how long you stay, you’ll need to decide in advance because it’s highly recommended to make a reservation for your return bus time once you reach the top. Select a time, and get your ticket stamped before proceeding to the elevator.
- Bathrooms are located at the base of the elevator and in the house itself. I noticed changing tables in the Hintereck bus station restrooms.
- You could take a pram up on the bus, but there’s really no place to push it once you reach the top. Use a baby carrier instead.
- The souvenir shops are all super lame and overpriced. ‘Nuff said.