Earth : Europe : Germany : Southern Germany : Bavaria : Upper Bavaria : Berchtesgaden
Berchtesgaden  is a small, picturesque and historic town (population 9,000) located in the southeast of the German state of Bavaria, within a small enclave surrounded on three sides by the Austrian border. The town lies some 30 km south of the Austrian city of Salzburg and some 180 km south-east of Munich.
The town is located in a valley at 500 to 1100 m altitude in the south-eastern part of the German Alps and is surrounded by high mountains called Untersberg in the North, Obersalzberg in the east and further south by the Watzmann. Berchtesgaden and neighbouring Bad Reichenhall are famous for their salt mines. The production of table salt guaranteed in the medieval ages a safe source of revenue and it still does today. Therefore, a visit to the salt mine of Berchtesgaden is definitely on the to do list.
In more recent history, the name of Berchtesgaden became well known to the general public for more unfortunate reasons: the Nazi dictator of Germany, Adolf Hitler, had his summer getaway on the peak in a complex of buildings known as the Berghof at Obersalzberg. A house was built for him at the peak of the mountain above Obersalzberg, but he only visited it a couple of times. It is known in German as the Kehlsteinhaus, and was dubbed “The Eagles Nest” by the occupying American forces after the war. All the buildings and bunkers of the Berghof were destroyed at the end of the World War II and nowadays a documentation centre can be found close to the place on the Obersalzberg. The Kehlsteinhaus is accessible via bus from Obersalzberg, and has now been converted to a restaurant.
Standard German is well understood in Bavaria; most local people, however, speak their local dialect between themselves. This being a tourist destination, English and French are often understood.
International travellers wishing to visit Bavaria and Berchtesgaden should have no problems to book a flight to Munich, home to a large international airport. Alternatively, if there is no direct flight to Munich with your airline, you could book a flight via Frankfurt and travel to Munich with the ICE high speed train. Alternatively you can fly to Salzburg in Austria and travel then to Berchtesgaden via train (70 minutes) or bus (~40 minutes), both direct connections. The distances are only 20 km from Salzburg and about 190 km from Munich Airport. Crossing the German-Austrian border is no problem due to the Schengen Treaty.
Driving from Munich on the A8 to Salzburg you find Berchtesgaden sign posted shortly before the Austrian border and it is another 20 km from there to Berchtesgaden. (If you travel in a hire car make sure that you pre-order winter equipment since most of the rental car companies in Germany provide you only with “summer wheels” which are most unsuitable in and around Berchtesgaden from October to April). Note also that in order to drive on a motorway in Austria it is necessary to purchase and display a 'vignette', or tax disk. These can be bought from roadside service stations.
From Salzburg, you can take the bus number 840 from Salzburg Hauptbahnhof station.
The bus system in Berchtesgaden is as good as in the rest of Bavaria: buses run twice or once an hour and you can reach the outmost places with them. Be sure to get a timetable (”Busfahrplan“).
Things to do
Despite being in a remote location, Berchtesgaden and nearby Königsee possess world class sport facilities. The bobsleigh run (Bobbahn) at Königssee is regular venue for world-cup races, but tourists also can run it down in guest-bobs. The ice arena (“Eishalle”) in Berchtesgaden is opened half the year and popular among locals and sportsmen from nearby Austria. There's a cheap combi-ticket for ice arena and “Watzmanntherme”. The Therme is just a few meters away and probably unmatched for being embedded in a spectacular scenic landscape, surrounded by mountains and snow caped peaks and features as giant action whirl pool, hydro massage facilities, salt water pools, 80m slide with light and sound effects www.watzmanntherme.de. (Note presently closed after a fire)
Around Berchtesgaden are several slopes for skiing such as Golf and Ski am Obersalzberg, Götschen, Rossfeld and Jenner. First one is fitted for beginners, the Jenner is for advanced skiers. There are also several runs for cross-country skiing and very advanced skiers might be interested in ski touring in the Berchtesgaden Alps. From late January on sunny weather is common but the risk of avalanches is rising.
If you stay in Berchtesgaden you will have significant reduction of most entrance fees via the “Kurtaxe”.
More details under Bavarian cuisine
You will find plenty of nice and original Bavarian restaurants as well as Greek, Chinese, Turkish and Italian restaurants. The pricing in most places is modest by German standards and international visitors will often view that as a bargain. Obviously being in Bavaria and in the middle of the alps you should try the local specialities such as Knödel, Schweinehaxe, wild deer (very seldom), Bratwurst, Leberkase, Weisswurst, Kartoffelsalat, Gulasch Bratkartoffeln, Kaiserschmarn, fish - and lots of more things.
Bavarians love their beer and one of the most beloved is the wheat beer (Weißbier). It is a cloudy, unfiltered beer commonly consumed earlier in the day with a Weißwurst and sweet mustard. In the cold wintertime it is nice to finish your dinner with a local “Schnaps” from the Enzian Brauerei Grassl. It makes you feel nice and warm after a long day out on slopes.
There is a good range of accommodation ranging from budget to moderately expensive. Many local people enjoy “bed and breakfast” for a very good price. You can spot those places by searching for the signs that read “Zimmer frei” or “Zimmer zu vermieten”, or use the web link from Berchtesgadener Land. In the last years holiday flats became very popular, you will find them via “Ferienwohnung”.