Forget basic travel. In Bavaria, you can time travel. The landlocked state in the southeast of Germany boasts numerous historic sites and homes, taking visitors back to how famous Germans once lived.
If you’re seeking somewhere with a wealth of history—and are keen to learn as you travel—there’s no better place to go than Bavaria. At sites like the UNESCO-approved Margravial Opera House, the stately Munich Residenz, and the fascinating Levi Strauss Museum, only time separates you from the legends who once roamed the halls, making for a particularly enriching experience.
Below, we’ve rounded up 10 of the top spots in Bavaria to step back in time, whether you want to explore King Ludwig II’s version of Versailles or draw creative inspiration from artist Albrecht Dürer’s Nuremberg home. Each one will feel like your very own time machine.
But first, how to get there…
Getting to Bavaria is easier than ever thanks to United, which offers more service to Munich than any other U.S. airline. The airline has also gotten rid of change fees for most international travel originating in the U.S. and allows you to fly standby on an earlier flight the same day for ultimate flexibility.
Once you book your flight, head to United’s Travel-Ready Center to confirm up-to-date travel restrictions and COVID-19 testing requirements. You can even schedule a test through the center and upload your results to the site, so you arrive at Munich Airport in Bavaria knowing you have everything covered. Thanks to the United CleanPlus℠ program—an industry-leading approach to cleanliness—you can also trust that the airline puts your health and safety first, helping you enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
On to the sites…
1. Munich Residenz
Just north of Munich’s central square lies what is now one of the largest museum complexes in Bavaria. From 1508 to 1918, however, the compound served as the seat of government and residence of the Wittelsbach family, who ruled Bavaria for more than 700 years. The Munich Residenz began as a castle in the northeastern corner of the city in 1385 and was transformed by rulers over the centuries into the imposing palace that exists today, with its buildings and gardens extending farther and farther into town as time went on.
Laid out around seven large courts, the complex comprises the Residenz Museum, the Treasury, the Court Church of All Saints, and the Cuvilliés Theater. In the Residenz Museum, you’ll find the handsomely decorated rooms of the king and the queen, complete with furniture, paintings, tapestries, and devotional items. The dazzling art collection spans all the way from the Renaissance through the Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassicist periods, affirming the sophisticated taste—and political aspirations—of the Wittelsbach dynasty, Bavaria’s royal family. When visiting, be sure to also save time to explore the stunning palace grounds, with their old courtyards, fountains, ponds, and gardens.
Set inside a walled enclave in the city of Augsburg, Fuggerei is the world’s oldest social housing complex still in use. Named for its founder, Jakob Fugger, who set it up in 1521 for the city’s poorer inhabitants, it eventually grew to include 67 houses, 142 apartments, a church, and an administrative building. Today, it continues to house Augsburg’s lower-income residents, who pay an annual rent of just one Rhenish guilder (less than a Euro). To live here, however, one must meet residence and income requirements, strictly adhere to the Catholic faith—and pray to the Fugger family three times a day. In addition to housing, the complex features three museums: a historical one about the Fuggerei’s origins and development, one about life there today, and one about the destruction of the Fuggerei during World War II.
What also makes Augsburg remarkable is its sustainable water-management system, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From its 15th- and 17th-century water towers and water-cooled butchers’ hall to hydroelectric power stations, the chance to see the architecture and other monuments of this pioneering technology sheds light on how it improved hygiene, fostered the exchange of ideas, and was the basis of the city’s growth and prosperity through the Renaissance, Industrial Revolution, and beyond. Stroll among the three bronze fountains for a sense of the pride residents have for their water resources or along the Lech quarter’s canals to simply enjoy the romantic waterways.
3. Herrenchiemsee New Palace
A popular trip from Munich, this lavish palace—located on Herreninsel island in Lake Chiemsee and only reachable by boat—is known as the Bavarian Versailles. King Ludwig II of Bavaria fervently admired King Louis XIV of France, who built Versailles, so when he acquired Herreninsel in 1873 as the spot for his royal palace, he set about creating his own “Temple of Fame.” Though building began in 1878, Herrenchiemsee was incomplete when Ludwig died in 1886 and some sections were later demolished. Thankfully, highlights like the State Staircase, the State Bedroom, and the Great Hall of Mirrors remain, as does the main axis of the large garden and its several famous fountains.
Today, guests can only visit the palace—including the King’s rooms in the Small Apartment—as part of a guided tour, which starts in the vestibule and ends with a visit to the King’s bathroom and robing chamber. For a bit more freedom, explore the King Ludwig II Museum, housed in 12 modernized rooms on the ground floor of the south wing. Opened in 1987, the museum documents the story of Ludwig’s life from birth to tragic early death through portraits, busts, photographs, and original state robes. You can also expect to learn about his role as the patron of composer Richard Wagner, and see everything from his stately furniture to elaborately handcrafted items that he commissioned as court art.
4. Neuschwanstein Castle
While Herrenchiemsee was where King Ludwig II lived publicly, Neuschwanstein Castle was for privacy and speaks to his imagination more than any of his other buildings. He designed it in the style of old German knights’ castles and dedicated it to composer Richard Wagner, decorating interiors with picture cycles inspired by Wagner’s operas. In the Throne Room, paintings reference how Ludwig considered his kingship a holy mission. On a rugged hill in southwest Bavaria, the castle has ironically become one of the most popular in Europe, in part because Walt Disney modelled Sleeping Beauty’s castle after it.
In addition to its beauty and large windowpanes—which were unusual when construction started in 1868—it features what was then highly modern technology, including central heating, running water on every floor, toilets with automatic flushes, an electric bell to summon servants, telephones, and an elevator for carrying meals. See it all on a guided tour (the only way to visit) which ends in the historic kitchen.
5. Margravial Opera House
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Margravial Opera House was commissioned by Margravine Wilhelmine in 1745 as a venue for the performances over which she and her husband, the Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, ceremonially presided. It was also intended to host her daughter’s future wedding festivities. Notably, she had it built in a public space rather than as part of her palace complex, foreshadowing the large theaters of the 19th century.
A masterpiece of Baroque theater architecture, the Margravial Opera House remains the only preserved example of its kind, where an audience of 500 can experience court opera culture and acoustics authentically. Modeled on the great opera houses of the time in Vienna and Dresden, it includes a highly decorated auditorium, complete with a wooden tiered loge structure and illusionistic painted canvas. It may have been built to enhance the image of Wilhelmine’s court, but it’s equally impressive today.
6. Levi Strauss Museum
Located in the Upper Franconian town of Buttenheim, this small, half-timbered house is where the inventor of jeans was born in 1829. Today, it serves as the site of the Levi Strauss Museum, opened in 2000, which offers fascinating insight into Strauss’s life, such as why he immigrated to America with his family in 1848 and followed the gold rush to San Francisco in 1853. Also on view here are permanent exhibitions dedicated to the struggles of Franconian country Jews in the 19th century (Strauss’ father was a Jewish peddler) and the jeans that made Strauss a global name. While Buttenheim has changed with the times and many of its original buildings—dating to the 17th century or earlier—have crumbled or been demolished, Strauss’ home still stands, making it worthy of a visit on its own.
7. Albrecht Dürer House
In the northwest part of Nuremberg’s Old Town stands this half-timbered house, where Germany’s most famous painter lived from 1509 until his death in 1528. At the time, Nuremberg was one of Europe’s leading city-states, renowned for its wealth, culture, and art, so it makes sense that Albrecht Dürer would’ve chosen to live out his final days here. His home, originally built around 1420, is one of the few surviving burgher houses from Nuremberg’s golden age—and the only existing 15th-century artist’s house in all Northern Europe. While the massive air raid on Nuremberg’s Old Town in 1945 didn’t entirely spare it—bombs landed nearby, blowing off part of the roof and knocking out the windows—the core was still standing when World War II ended, and the structure was repaired as early as 1949.
Today, the rooms in the Albrecht Dürer House still feel authentic thanks to installations of period furnishings. Guests can explore them on a tour led by an actress playing Dürer’s wife, Agnes, then visit the recreation of Dürer’s workshop, where demonstrations on printmaking techniques are regularly held. Additionally, the house features rotating exhibits of the many Dürer drawings and prints that make up Nuremberg’s Graphic Collection.
8. St. Jacob’s Church
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Known for its well-preserved medieval architecture and located on the Romantic Road, a route linking southern Germany’s picturesque towns, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is only one of three towns in the country that have intact city walls. You’ll see preserved gate houses and towers, along with half-timbered houses, cobblestones, and several historic churches. The most significant one, for good reason, is St. Jacob’s. A short stroll from the town’s main square, the cathedral was built in stages, between 1311 and 1484, in the High Gothic style, and is famous for its high altar, religious artworks, and pair of distinctive towers, both of which are nearly 200 feet tall.
Inside, visitors will find several paintings, including a depiction of pilgrims stopping here en route to Santiago de Compostela, Spain in the 15th century. The Altar of the Twelve Apostles is one of the most important of its kind in Germany, with an intricate altarpiece that depicts Christ on the cross surrounded by four angels. Equally impressive is the Holy Blood altarpiece in the west gallery, featuring early 16th-century wood carvings by Tilman Riemenschneider and a glass vial that purportedly contains a drop of Christ’s blood.
9. Old Town of Regensburg
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Old Town of Regensburg is considered the best-preserved medieval city in all of Germany. Its notable number of historic structures span more than two millennia and include ancient Roman, Romanesque, and Gothic buildings, all of which testify to the town’s past as a center of trade and influence. While Regensburg is now a vibrant university town, its 11th- through 13th-century architecture still dictates its character. Dark, narrow lanes lead to patrician towers and grand churches, while strong fortifications line the borders. When visiting, be sure to peek into the courtyards and private chapels of the many medieval houses, then tour the stately Palace of Princes Thurn and Taxis. Also worth seeing is St. Peter’s cathedral, the old town hall, and the 12th-century Stone Bridge—an architectural masterpiece from the Middle Ages and the city’s only bridge across the Danube for more than 800 years.
10. Chapel of Mercy
For more than 500 years, the town of Altötting in Upper Bavaria has served as one of Europe’s most important Catholic pilgrimage sites—all thanks to the Chapel of Mercy. Dating to 660 C.E., the octagonal chapel is home to the statue of Our Lady of Altötting, also known as the Black Madonna, carved around 1330 from either lime tree or coniferous wood. Ever since 1489—when a young boy miraculously recovered from drowning after his mother laid his body before the statue and prayed—the shrine has been a popular site for pilgrims, who come seeking miracles of their own. Take it all in, then explore the chapel walls and niches, where you’ll find small silver urns containing the hearts of various Bavarian kings and electoral princes. You’ll also want to check out the votive offerings given to the shrine over the centuries, which are displayed on a porch encircling the chapel.