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October trip thru Munich/Bavaria/Salzburg/Innsbruck - Train or Car? Also itinerary suggestions?

My wife and I will be travelling with friends for a through Europe for the first half of October. We will start and end the trip together, but in the middle, we will split up. My wife and I are planning to visit the Munich/Salzburg/Innsbruck "triangle" for this section of the trip. We will be arriving in Munich in the morning of the 8th (Sat.) (via night train from Paris) and have to be in Menaggio by the evening of the 14th (Fri.). This gives us 6 nights and approximately 6.5 days to explore the area. Our plans are very fluid right now, but we're trying to nail down destinations so we can start figuring out hotels. Currently, here's what I'm thinking:

  • Spend 2 nights in Munich. Visit Dacchau, Hofbrau, Marienplatz, Nymphenberg, Residenz, & English Garden
  • Spend 1 night in Fussen. Visit Neushwanstein & Hohenschwangau
  • Spend 2 nights in Salzburg. Visit Sound of Music sites, Eagles Nest, Mirabell Palace, Cathedral
  • Spend 1 night in Innsbruck. Walk around town, visit Reifenstein
  • Travel to Menaggio via train with possible exploration in Milan

I'm open to suggestions on the itinerary. I am having trouble deciding on the order. I.e. - should we hop on a train to Salzburg as soon as we arrive in Munich and start in the east and move west? Or should we just visit Neushwanstein as a side trip from Munich and fold the Fussen night into one of the other stops? One other idea we had was to possibly steal a night from one of the cities and spend a night in Verona on our way to Milan. I do realize this itinerary is more action-packed than some of you like, but we're ok with that because when we get to Menaggio, we will have a few days to relax with the rest of our group in a villa on Lake Como.

Also, I'm trying to decide if it would be better to travel by car, or train, or both. My biggest question is which one is more convenient? I've never driven in Europe, so I'm hoping to hear from someone with experience on the matter. From what I've read it sounds like we should be ok driving in the Alps in early October (although nothing is guaranteed) as the snow chances usually pick up in November. But is it worthwhile? It sounds like most, if not all of our destinations are reachable with trains and buses. Since I would be the one doing all the driving, I like the idea of sitting back and relaxing on a train, but my biggest concern is that we will miss out on opportunities to stop along the way and take in the scenery. On the other hand, I don't even know if that's something we would want to do. Also, I know the fees can get pretty high for picking up and dropping off in different countries so if we do drive, I'll have to get creative on where we pick up and drop off the car.

Posted by
537 posts

Octoberfest ends Oct 3 , If you will be in Munich for any of that time, I would allow some time to enjoy the festivites, I am a non drinker and I had a ball. iMHO, I would do Neusshawanstein as a day trip from Munich and spare yourselves the time/stress of checking into and out of a hotel for one day.
I was underwhelmed with Innsbruck, found Salzburg more charming. Think you are squeezing in too much for even an action packed pace.

I would vote for trains, always my preference
We found the On OFF bus tours of Munich very helpful for a lovely overview of the city and to hop between sights, We also used the equivalent of the subway. Very easy and helpful.

Posted by
2723 posts

HI Chris,

Driving is easy as in the U.S. Snow will be no issue at all. Weve been to Munich, Salzburg, Innbruck, etc. in mid to late October a number of times and snow was the last thing on our minds.

Just wanted to say that Reifenstein Castle is just outside Sterzing, Italy, about 30 minutes from Innsbruck. We've been twice, but never got in to take the tour. You MUST have a minimum of 4 people present or the woman will not give the tour at all. The last time we went it was my wife and I and a German gentleman. My wife had a broken foot with a cast and the walk to the castle is winding and steep. I explained how hard it was for my wife to get up there and I offered to pay for the non existing 4th person and she said no, it must be four and slammed the huge door. Just an FYI.

IF Neuschwanstein isn't a "must" for you, Mad King Ludwig's Herrenchiemsee palace is half way between Munich and Salzburg.

Paul

Posted by
69 posts

Thanks Paul & Diane. Great feedback! I get carried away sometimes wanting to do too much so it's always good to get a reality check here in the forum. Sounds like the day trip from Munich is the way to go and skip the night in Fussen.

I think my wife has her heart set on Neushwanstein, but if we end up driving from Munich to Salzburg, it might be worth a stop to check out Herrenchiemsee. I hadn't read anything about it yet, but I'm going to do some more research. Paul, would you say it's worthwhile to see both?

That's very disappointing to hear about Reifenstein. I was actually looking forward to that stop so we could see an actual medieval castle, instead of just the grandiose Romantic recreations like Neushwanstein. Does anyone know of any other castles that would fit the bill? I only picked Reifenstein because Rick Steves said it was his favorite medieval castle.

Posted by
8859 posts

I think you are trying to do too much in a short period. Keep in mind that 2 nights = 1 full day, 3 nights = 2 full days, etc. Don't forget to factor in the time it takes to change locations. It will take longer than you think. You definitely don't want to drop a rental car off in a country other than where you rent it. Very expensive. For your desired locations you can use the train and buses easily.

If you must go to Neuschwanstein I agree that it would be better to do it as a day trip from Munich. Add that night to Munich. But I agree that King Ludwig's Herrenchiemsee palace is on the way to Salzburg and better located. It's on an island and is modeled after Versailles. When we were there in late September 2010 they were filming the Orlando Bloom version of The Three Muskateers there.

Posted by
45 posts

I recommend that you visit both Neuschwanstein and Linderhof, rather than Hohenschwangau if you are using a car for your travels. Linderhof is like a small scale Versailles and very beautiful. You can visit both in one day and then drive that evening on to Salzburg. Your schedule is very tight - I suggest that your eliminate Innsbruck since Salzburg will give you a good feel of Austria. Traveling with a car is very flexible, and efficient (i.e. you don't waste time go to and waiting in train stations) provided you use a GPS for directions and feel comfortable driving. We recently completed a three week tour in Germany, Austria, etc with a rented car and enjoyed the freedom and flexibility with a car and had no problems driving. But make sure you get a GPS.

Posted by
45 posts

One further note re Neuschwanstein and Linderhof - if you have a car, if you start early morning from Munich, and if you reserve your Neuschwanstein tickets several days in advance on line, you can do the visit in one day and drive that evening to Salzburg, thereby eliminating the need to stay overnight in Fussen. On our trip we did a similar one day trip, starting from Ulm in the morning and, after visiting Neuschwanstein and Linderhofn during the day, we drove on to Salzburg, arriving at around 8:30 pm. We also stopped for a short visit to the beautiful Abby in Etall and drove by several very scenic lakes in Austria on the road from Fussen to Linderhof. We would not have been able to make that beautiful one day trip if we had traveled by train.

Posted by
69 posts

Thanks everyone! From the suggestions so far, this is what we're thinking:

  • Arrive in Munich in the morning via night train from Paris
  • Spend 2 days/2 nights touring Munich
  • Pick up car in Munich, drive to Neushwanstein, then Linderhof or Herrenchiemsee, and end the day in Salzburg
  • Drop off car in Salzburg and absorb the penalty for crossing countries
  • Spend 3 nights/2 days touring Salzburg
  • Take the train from Salzburg to Verona with possible short stop in Innsbruck . It looks like we have to change trains there anyway so we might make it a longer layover and rent lockers and walk around a bit and grab some lunch. We also might skip the stop and just keep on trekking to Verona.
  • Walk around Verona in the evening - Spend the night in Verona
  • Leave Verona late morning/early afternoon head to Milan via train
  • Sightsee in central Milan before heading to Menaggio

I'm curious to hear if anyone has any suggested edits though. We thought about taking the train straight from Salzburg to Milan, but we didn't want to spend the entire day on the train and in train stations, so we thought maybe we could break it up a bit and enjoy the stops where we have to change trains anyway. Also, I think that renting the car will be nice for the Neushwanstein day since it'll give us the freedom to stop when/where we want. The penalty isn't too bad to return the car in Salzburg. The one thing I know is there is no way we're crossing the alps by car because the penalty skyrockets once you do, unless you drive back over to return the car.

I am interested to hear suggestions on how to get from Milan to Menaggio. We will be in Menaggio for a couple of days, then on the last day we'll have to check out and make the trek to Malpensa. Our flight is early in the morning so we're spending the last night at a hotel near the airport. The rest of our group will have a car, but it won't have room for us. We'd like to have the flexibility of having a car so we can make the trek south with them. At the same time, I hate to rent a car just to have it sit at the villa for a couple of days till we need it. Any suggestions?

Posted by
2723 posts

Hi Chris,

That day from Munich to Fuessen/Neuschwanstein to either Linderhof or Herrenchiemsee to Salzburg is really tough. You're looking at about 6 hours driving, non stop, with ideal traffic conditions. Then maybe 2 or 3 hours at Neuschwanstein and then needing similar time at Linderhof or Herrenchiemsee.
6 hours non stop driving.
4 to 5 hours touring 2 castles.
I figure you'll need time to eat and make a stop or two on the road.
You'll need to find the car drop off. Find your hotel. Have dinner.

Doesn't sound like a fun day out.

FYI: You don't need to "absorb the charges". Drop the car in Freilassing, Germany, basically a suburb of Salzburg.

Paul

Posted by
69 posts

I would love to drop the car in Freilassing, but so far none of the rental sites will let me select that option. I've tried Hertz, Europcar, and AutoEurope.

Posted by
2723 posts

Hey Chris,

If you're going to try that day with a car (I wouldn't, it's way too much), try calling or emailing Andy Bestor at www.gemut.com. We've used Andy at www.gemut.com for our last 4 car rentals in Germany and Austria.

Paul

Posted by
69 posts

Paul, thanks for the tip. I emailed www.gemut.com for a quote. Do you think it would it make it more manageable if we didn't make any stops other than the visit to Neushwanstein?

Using Google Earth (which I know is based upon ideal driving conditions) the drive doesn't look too bad. According to Google, the drive from Munich to Neushwanstein should take between 1.5 and 2 hours. The direct drive from Neushwanstein to Salzburg is just under 3 hours. If we were to take the slightly longer route through Ettal (passing by Linderhof) it looks like it would only add 20 min or so to the drive.

I was just thinking since we'd basically be passing by the other sites, we could stop if we felt like it. If we were short on time, tired, or just wanted to get to Salzburg we could keep on driving without stopping. Something along the lines of what hamiltonpa described above:

On our trip we did a similar one day trip, starting from Ulm in the morning and, after visiting Neuschwanstein and Linderhofn during the day, we drove on to Salzburg, arriving at around 8:30 pm. We also stopped for a short visit to the beautiful Abby in Etall and drove by several very scenic lakes in Austria on the road from Fussen to Linderhof.

Paul, thanks for the feedback. I really appreciate the insight!

Posted by
2723 posts

Hi Chris,

In our planning, we like to use www.viamichelin.com for drive routes and time estimates.

Just don't take the driving time estimates as written. They are ideal times and not real world times as you already know. We have been to all the places you are looking at and driven between them many times. I'd allow 6 hours driving not including any stops. Figure to tour Neuschwanstein will be minimum 2 hours, even if you reserve tickets ahead of time. Right there is 8 hours.

Arriving in Salzburg at 8:30pm in October doesn't seem like a sound plan. It gets dark earlier in October. Salzburg is tough to drive around in the daytime. A maze of narrow one way streets with plenty of quickly moving traffic. We've done it many times and it's never fun. Now we can get to the underground parking garage (we never stayed "in" Salzburg, but in the area) without much trouble.

I'm not sure what to say. If Neuschwanstein is a "must see", then do it or you'll probably regret not going. I wouldn't plan on much else unless by some luck all things go perfectly.

Paul

Posted by
4698 posts

We always rent from Sixt which is a well regarded German rental company. They have a location in Freilassing.

Posted by
351 posts

If the idea of sitting back and relaxing on a train is something that appeals to you, as you said, you could stay in Munich an extra night and do a day trip to Neuschwanstein, then take the train to Salzburg. Tours to the castles abound. Twice, I have done the one by Mike's Bike Tours which includes a bike ride around the lake, a hike, a possibility to try a Sommer Rodelbahn (not just for kids) or even paraglide if the weather is perfect (My son did this). I have also taken a standard bus tour that visited both Linderhof and Neuschwanstein and having been to Neuschwanstein 4 times now - with a different person each time - it was fun seeing Linderhof which is lovely. Both of these are all day tours that include a time to sit down and eat lunch in a restaurant.

A visit to Dachau will take some time on your other full day in Munich and make some of your other visits rushed, more than likely. Whether you can fit it all in probably depends on what time you arrive and depart on your travel days.

In Salzburg, likewise, if you want to do a Sound of Music tour (hokey but fun if someone is a fan) and an Eagle's Nest tour, those are both somewhat time consuming and will certainly fill your one full day there, if you can even fit them both in. It won't leave much time for walking around and seeing other things.

I have not been to Innsbruck, but my kids found it beautiful. Still if the "must sees" in Munich and Salzburg are higher priority, you could use that day in one of the other towns to make sure you have time to see them all.

Posted by
69 posts

Thanks everyone for the help. We discovered a few days ago that the night train no longer runs from Paris to Munich, which made us reevaluate our plans. After reading up on scenic train routes, we've come up with the following:

  • Fri - Train from Paris to Zurich late afternoon, arrive late evening, spend the night at a hotel near train station
  • Sat - Leave Zurich mid-morning, train to Salzburg through Alps/Innsbruck (this route came highly recommended for its scenery), arrive mid afternoon, spend night in Salzburg
  • Sun - Tour Salzburg (Sound of Music tour, walkabout/relax), spend night in Salzburg
  • Mon - Eagles Nest, spend night in Salzburg
  • Tues - Train (or drive) to Munich, tour Munich, spend night in Munich (depending on what we want to see in each city, we may leave Munich early in the day or later)
  • Wed - Day trip to see castle(s), Neushwanstein for sure and maybe Linderhof or Hohenschwangau, spend night in Munich
  • Thurs - Tour Munich, Night train to Milan
  • Fri - Arrive in Milan, see some sites in Milan in the morning before heading up to Menaggio in early afternoon

Although we were disappointed at first that the night train no longer ran from Paris to Munich, I think it helped us to stop and rethink everything. I think this new plan will help us to have time in Munich & Salzburg to relax, but also see the things we really want to see. I also like the idea of taking the night train to Milan as it makes that leg of the trip much easier. I originally didn't want to do it because we'd miss seeing the drive through the Alps, but I think the train route from Zurich to Salzburg will fill that need. This new plan involves a bit more time on the train than our old one, but we're approaching that as just another part of the experience, another site to see.

We may still end up driving for portions of the trip (Salzburg to Munich, or castle day trip from Munich).

Posted by
2723 posts

Hi Chris,

Just wondering, and maybe someone could help here with rail/bus options:
I know that Neuschwanstein/Hohenschwangau are just as far from Innsbruck as they are from Munich. Perhaps Rearrange the order, as you're passing Munich to go to Salzburg and then coming back.

Fri - Train from Paris to Zurich late afternoon, arrive late evening, spend the night at a hotel near train station
Sat - Leave Zurich mid-morning, train to Munich, spend night in Munich
Sun - Train to Salzburg (Sound of Music tour, walkabout/relax), spend night in Salzburg.
Mon - Eagles Nest, spend night in Salzburg.
Tues - Pick up a rental car and drive the 2:30 hours to Innsbruck, spend the night in Hall in Tirol, just outside Innsbruck.
We can highly recommend staying at the Gasthof Badl when in this area. We've stayed 18 nights here, so far.
Wed - Day trip to see castle(s), Neucshwanstein for sure and maybe Linderhof or Hohenschwangau, spend night in Hall in Tirol.
Thurs - Tour Innsbruck and surrounding area's.
Fri - Leave Innsbruck early am, arrive in Milan, see some sites in Milan in the morning before heading up to Menaggio in early afternoon.

On the trip from Salzburg to Innsbruck/Hall in Tirol, stop and visit Tratzberg Castle (it's on the way)
Add the Nordkettenbahn, Schloss Ambras to your Innsbruck stay.
You could also plan a route from Salzburg to Innsbruck to include stopping in Kufstein to visit the castle here.

www.badl.at
www.schloss-tratzberg.at/
www.schlossambras-innsbruck.at/en/explore/at-ambras-castle/the-history-of-ambras-castle/
www.nordkette.com/en
www.festung.kufstein.at/index.php/en/

Paul

Posted by
69 posts

Thanks Paul that's a great suggestion. We might incorporate that into our trip.