On something of a whim, Johan and I decided to drive down to Berchtesgaden this past Sunday to visit the Kehlsteinhaus (better-known in English as the Berchtesgaden Eagle's Nest). The weather forecast alleged a clear and sunny 28° day, perfect for enjoying mountain views.
If you're not familiar, the Kehlsteinhaus was used by Adolf Hitler and selected Nazi Party leaders as a secluded place to relax and discuss confidential material. Nothing like sipping a cup of tea and gazing out over the Alps while chatting with the lads about matters of genocide, right?
The building is perched at the summit of Kehlstein Mountain (1,834 meters, or 6,017 feet) which rises just slightly south of Berchtesgaden, a scenic little town in lower Bavaria located about a stone's throw from Salzburg.
Google Maps calls for just under a three-and-a-half-hour drive between Nuremberg and Berchtesgaden. Perhaps an ambitious distance for day trip, yes, but certainly feasible. We left Nuremberg at 9:15 and arrived at the parking area right around 1:00, so Google wasn't too far off, less the occasional traffic delay and a stop for Austria's motorway vignette, or road toll. (This is a great time to note that yes, if you drive to Berchtesgaden, you'll probably pass through Austria to get there; and yes, you'll only be in Austria for about 10 minutes; and yes, you MUST purchase the vignette anyway! These are available at gas stations near the border and cost about €15. Failure to display this sticker on your windshield will result in a fine of €120 if you are caught, and officials do set up random vignette checks at Autobahn exits. The fine must be paid on the spot by either cash or credit card; this is not a "take this ticket and send us the money within X days" scenario. If you can't pay up, they'll tow your car. Buy the vignette.)
Access to the Kehlsteinhaus is only possible by bus. There's a parking and ticketing area near the Obersalzberg Documentation Center, along with a restaurant should you find yourself in need of refreshments before heading up. Parking is a very reasonable €3 for several hours, and a round-trip bus ticket to the Kehlsteinhaus is €16.10 per person. You do not need to book tickets in advance.
I know that packing a bunch of tourists on buses to go up and down a mountain sounds unpleasant, but take comfort in remembering how much Germans thrive on order. Alles in Ordnung, as they say. Despite throngs of people waiting to board the moment the bus door is opened, you will have a seat and the bus will depart on time. I can't promise the air conditioning will be turned on, but look out the windows at the glorious scenery on your way up the twisty mountain road, and the 20-minute journey will be over before you know it.
Twisty mountain road? On a bus?
Yep. The fleet of Oberbayernbussen are specially designed to handle the Khelstein road. They turn on a dime and their drivers are highly practiced at navigating the series of turns and narrow tunnels. Relax, you'll be fine.
The Kehlstein road is seven kilometers long and the incline can be as steep as 24%. You'll ascend 770 meters by the time the bus reaches the top. On the way up, an audio recording will play in both German and English to relay a few relevant facts.
So once you're off the bus, the first thing you'll need to do is stop by the service window to advise when you want to return. The recording on the bus recommends a two-hour visit, and we found this to be sufficient. Two hours will give you plenty of time to wander around, take a bunch of photos, and eat without feeling rushed. You'll want to budget more time if you intend to follow some of the hiking trails from the Kehlstein summit, but for a general visit you should be fine with two-ish hours. The clerk at the window will stamp your bus ticket with your preferred departure time, so don't lose it.
You'll then walk through a 124-meter long tunnel to reach the elevator, into which you will probably be packed liked a sardine for the additional 124-meter ascension into the Eagle's Nest. Spoiler alert: The house itself is not particularly impressive. Don't go in expecting displays of grandeur and a feeling as though you've stepped back in time. The building has been in use as a restaurant since 1952; it is not a museum. The former sun terrace serves as an information hall with photos and a timeline of the Kehlsteinhaus history, so do take your time there. It's rather remarkable to look out the windows and know that Hitler and Eva Braun used to admire the same views during their visits to the house.
[Johan and I actually began our visit with a lunch of Schweinebraten and Jägerschnitzel (and beer, natürlich), which were both delicious albeit unphotographed due to our lack of road snacks and subsequent hunger upon arrival.]
Next, you can venture up a path to take in the views unencumbered. The rocks underfoot are slick from decades of visitors hiking to and fro, so do be careful as you take in the glory.
As your departure time nears, be sure to leave yourself enough time to get back down to bus parking. You're technically supposed to be waiting 10 minutes prior, and there may be a line for the elevator. The restaurant closes at 5:00 PM and the last bus departs shortly before that. If you miss it, I suspect you're on your own. It is possible to hike down, but unless you're properly prepared to do so, it's probably not a great idea.
The husband and I were on the 4:00 PM return bus and by 4:25 we were enjoying a proper Apfelstrudel at the restaurant near the parking area as a pick-me-up before making the drive back to Nuremberg. We made it home right around 8:30 that evening and considered the day a success.
How do I get from Nuremberg to Berchtesgaden?
If you have a car, it's about three and a half hours, as I mentioned above. Use your preferred GPS to plan your route. I'll say again that this IS quite a bit of driving for one day. Visiting the Kehlsteinhaus is doable as a day trip from Nuremberg, but unless you're very pressed for time, I would recommend staying at least one night in the Berchtesgaden area.
If you wish to take a train, you'll have a couple of options:
- Take the ICE train. This is Germany's high-speed train and it'll have you to Berchtesgaden in four hours flat, and that's even factoring transfers in Munich and Freilassing. From the Berchtesgaden Hauptbahnhof, you can take a local bus to the parking area to access the Kehlsteinhaus.
- Use a Bayern-Ticket. Deutsche Bahn offers a few regional tickets that allow for unlimited travel within a day at a discounted rate. As the name implies, the Bayern-Ticket allows travel around Bavaria. The cost is €25 for the first person, and you can add up to five people on the same ticket for €5 extra. The caveat as that you cannot take any ICE trains, you must only ride the regional lines. These trains are slower and will make more stops, but depending on your budget and available time, the Bayern-Ticket can be an excellent option. Note: Bayern-Tickets are valid from 9:00 AM until 3:00 PM the next day. In order to go to Berchtesgaden and back to Nuremberg in one day, you would need to depart Nuremberg closer to 6:00 AM, so the Bayern-Ticket option is most feasible if you're staying overnight. Learn more about the Bayern-Ticket (in English).
You can also take a FlixBus from Nuremberg to Berchtesgaden, but this wouldn't be my first suggestion unless you're keen on spending five and a half hours on a bus.