Modern humans have been living in Bavaria for more than 300,000 years. In fact, in 2019 scientists found a 11.6 million-year-old skeleton of a now-extinct genus of great ape 80 kilometers west of Munich. It was able to walk on two legs challenging the belief that bipedalism developed in Africa.
In more recent history, the Romans built powerful cities like Augusta Vindelicorum or Castra Regina, while during the Baroque time the Electorate of Bavaria produced world-renowned artists like Johann Baptist Zimmermann and the Asam Brothers. It is a unique cultural landscape and the UNESCO officially recognized it multiple times.
In this post, I am going to show you 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites near Munich you can easily visit by train. I know, many tourists will focus on visiting Neuschwanstein Castle. And that’s okay. The castle is beautiful after all, but I do want you to know that there are quite a couple of other places that are equally as fascinating!
Visit these fantastic Unesco sites around Munich
I doubt there is a single German travel guide without a picture of Bamberg’s beautiful half-timbered town hall in it. Sadly, a lot of the major cities in Bavaria fell victim to the bombs of World War II. Munich or Nuremberg are just two of the most devastating examples. The old of Bamberg, however, survived the war almost unscathed.
From the 12th century onwards, the city played an important role in Southern Germany and the pristine architecture of the medieval old town reflects it. As you stroll through the streets lined with half-timbered houses you cannot escape the feeling of walking through a fairy-tale.
Abutting one Bamberg’s seven hills, you’ll find the mighty cathedral of the prince bishops who ruled the city between 1245 and 1802. Right next to it, there is an imposing palace where they resided like kings and impressed diplomats with a stunning flight of staterooms. Of all the UNESCO World Heritage sites near Munich, Bamberg is by far the most popular (and crowded).
The Blautopf (“blue pot”) in Blaubeuren has been a tourist magnet for well over a hundred years. The intense teal fountain is the entrance for an underground cave system that stretches for uncounted miles through the Swabian Jura. Together with the enchanting medieval old town, it’s almost like a picture book.
The status of the city changed drastically in 2008 when archeologists unearthed the Venus of Hohle Fels in one of the caves the region is famous for. The tiny venus figurine made of mammoth ivory was dated to be more than 35,000 years old and is one of the earliest depictions of the human body ever.
In ensuing years, archeologists found many other artworks and musical instruments from the Aurigancien which made the UNESCO inscribe the “Caves and Ice Age Art in the Swabian Jura” as a World Heritage site in 2017. Today, you’ll find a fantastic museum in Blaubeuren where you can view these priceless artifacts.
There are many day trips from Munich, but Regensburg will easily come out at the top. It’s the home of a powerful Thurn und Taxis clan. They shaped (and owned) the German postal service like no other family and grew rich beyond comparison in the process. Today, you can visit the St. Emmeram Palace where the head of the family, duchess Gloria of Thurn and Taxis, still lives today.
Then there is the medieval old town of Regensburg (the actual world heritage site). A mighty bridge leads over the Danube and lay the foundation for the wealth of the trade city in the 12th century. Regensburg was also the seat of the Perpetual Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire until the 19th century.
Last, but certainly not least, you will find the neoclassic Walhalla memorial only a short ride on the public bus outside the city. It was built at the end of the 19th century to enshrine statues of the most important German politicians, artists, and composers. Apart from the historic significance, it’s also one of the best places to enjoy a view of the Danube valley.
Augsburg is the most recent addition to Bavaria’s panoply of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The ancient water management system of the city was recognized as a unique example of how humans made of the power of water in 2019.
At the beginning of the 15h century, Augsburg was one of the very first cities in Europe that had water towers to supply every household in the old town with the coveted wet – an unprecedented luxury back then. At the end of the 19th century, Augsburg was again the first city in the world to have an engine-powered waterworks.
The reason Augsburg could afford such a prominent display of wealth can be found in its long history. Starting from 15 BC, it was the capital of the Roman province Raetia. In 1276, it became a Free Imperial City and would remain so until 1806. The Fugger, which would advance to the richest family of the renaissance age, shaped the city as much as the silversmiths, which set the standard of quality in Europe for centuries.
You’ll find visible remains from all these periods. Like the oldest social housing complex in the world, the golden splendor of the Schaezlerpalais, or Augsburg cathedral with its stained glass windows from the 12th century. And here is the best part: It only takes 30 minutes to get from Munich to Augsburg by train!
Deep down in the very south of Bavaria, you can explore a region called Pfaffenwinkel. The name (which could be translated as “corner of the parsons”) derives from the fact that the people in this part of Bavaria are deeply religious. As a result, there is no place in Germany with a higher density of churches and monasteries. Together with the beautiful setting at the foot of the Bavarian Alps, fame was almost guaranteed.
The Church of the Wies (or Wieskirche in German) is perhaps the most prominent example of this devotion. Right in the middle of nowhere, almost literally in the middle of miles and miles of pasture, you can marvel at an outrageously lavish rococo church which was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.
The church and its adjacent Steingaden Abbey were designed by the brothers Johann Baptist and Dominikus Zimmerman. It’s a famous pilgrimage site and in the 18th century, the local abbot decided to build a new church to reflect the importance of the site. Things quickly got too expensive and the Abbey would never truly recuperate, but the resulting frescos inside the church are one of a kind. It’s like stepping through the gates of heaven itself!
It’s hard to make a cut here because there are many other amazing sites near Munich. But as a tourist, I’m sure you don’t have unlimited time. Most people just stay 3 days in Munich, which leaves enough time for one day trip. But maybe I was able to convince you to stay a bit longer in my beautiful hometown, eh?
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About the author: Norman has been living in Munich for more than 20 years and looks back on over 30 years of travel experience. When he is not reclining in the pool of a fantastic luxury hotel or exploring one of the most remote corners of this planet, you will find him writing about his hometown on his blog called The Munich Guide.
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