A Peek at Germany’s Ettal Monastery

Spying the elaborate dome of the Ettal Monastery for the first time, I was surprised to see such ornate architecture dramatically rising out of the countryside, juxtaposed with the area’s modest Bavarian homes. The monastery, located in the village of Ettal, is not far from the mountain village of Oberammergau, which is well-known for its Passion Play, held every ten years.

Founded in the 1300s, but completely rebuilt in the 1700s following a devastating fire, the complex features Baroque and Rococo architecture. Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian had it constructed so that it could house knights and monks. For many years, the monastery’s monks have brewed their own beer and made their own straw-colored liqueur using mountain herbs, and today it’s still possible to purchase both.

Our visit to Ettal was brief, as it coincided with errands in the nearby ski resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but it did offer just enough time to peek at the architecture, and stroll the grounds of the monastery. On a future trip, I’d love to visit the nearby dairy-making cooperative to sample the regional cheese and see how it’s made.

Ettal Abbey Oberbayern

Ettal Monastery Oberbayern
The basilica’s dome, is about 60 meters high (200 feet), making the structure tower over the village of Ettal.
Ettal Monastery Bavaria Germany

Kloster Ettal Oberbayern

Kloster Ettal Cherubs and Dome
Elaborately-painted frescoes on the dome of the church. On the right, four mischievous cherubs.
Ettal Monastery Interior
Eighteenth-century grafitti carved into the wooden church pews.
Kloster Ettal Monastery Germany
A cherub statue points to the sun-drenched dome.
Ettal Monastery Oberbayern Germany

Kloster Ettal Monastery Germany
The windows of the dome sparkle in the midday sunlight. On the right, a World War II memorial.
Ettal Monastery Cafe
Before continuing on with our errands in the city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, we stopped at a restaurant’s Biergarten to enjoy a cup of coffee.
Ettaler Brauerei Coaster Germany
In the land of freshly-brewed beer, and distilled liqueur, it’s probably a sin that we opted for Latte Macchiatos instead. :) In his left hand, Shawn holds the beer coaster bearing the image of the famous monastery across the street from the café.

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • There is no cost to enter the Ettal Monastery Church to take a peek, but be sure to check the opening hours before you go.
  • To make the trip independently via the German rail or by bus, consider getting the Bayern or Regio Ticket (website in German, but you can use Google Translate). These special tickets start at €20/25 for one passenger, and cost €6 for each additional passenger. You can use them to travel via bus and train throughout much of the region, making them a better deal if you want to make a few stops in a day. You can purchase tickets online, via a ticket machine, or in person.
  • Are you looking for a guesthouse or hotel in Oberammergau? Before my parents moved there, Shawn and I spent two nights at the Gästehaus Hildegard (affiliate link). We thought the beds were comfortable, the owners were helpful and kind, and the breakfast was tasty. The guest house is centrally located in the town too, and it’s not far from the Tiroler Gasse bus stop. The train station is also only about 1 km away.
  • If you need more trip-planning inspiration, this link contains an index of all my posts from Germany.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Though they are currently nomadic, they look forward to establishing a European home someday. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

40 thoughts on “A Peek at Germany’s Ettal Monastery

    1. Naomi, seeing that ‘ancient graffiti’ carved into the pews, I pondered – at what point does graffiti become part of the accepted history of an Old World place? This village is just minutes’ away from where my parents live in Germany, so I do hope to get back someday soon to try out the regional cheese in the nearby dairy cooperative.

      1. So interesting a question, Tricia, and one that I pondered when we visited Chimney Rock and saw all the graffiti left there by the Oregon Trail pioneers who had passed by in their prairie schooners and carved their names into the rock.

    1. Jeff, that’s precisely why I enjoyed living in Germany for a decade – there was such a plethora of spots of a historic or beautiful nature to explore, most within driving distance, or a short flight away from my former home in Heidelberg.

      I must confess that I’m a bit spoiled to have my parents living right near Garmisch now, and as a result, I don’t think I’ve given it the attention it deserves. I skied there as a child, and remember some visits when the streets were dressed in snow. Now, I love going there to admire the Lüftlmalerei-adorned buildings (similar to these in Oberammergau: https://triciaannemitchell.com/2013/10/20/oberammergau-germany-windows/). I’d also like to get back to Garmisch and spend an afternoon exploring Partnachklamm. Have you been to Garmisch?

      1. Part of the reason I ask, is there is a lodge there owned by the U.S. government that employees Americans. I have few friends working there and I’ve thought about applying. It looks like a spectacular area.

        When in Bavaria about 13 years ago, I met an elderly couple from Munich and they invited us to stay with them. It was probably the best 4 days of my travels. I could write 5000 words on that experience.

      2. Hi Jeff, you might be thinking of the Edelweiss lodge in Garmisch? I haven’t personally stayed there, but would agree that Garmisch’s landscape is stunning! I’ve particularly enjoyed the hiking opportunities that are available near my parents’ village in the Ammergau Valley.

        Your encounter with the hospitable Bavarians sounds like a long-form piece in the works? :) Such are the stories that make travel a gift.

    1. Robin, glad to hear that you enjoyed the introduction to Ettal. I think it’s quite remarkable that such a sophisticated structure is nestled among quaint Bavarian towns. I’m lucky to have my parents nearby so that we always have an excuse to visit Bavaria!

  1. I’d love to visit this! I’m currently studying in Germany right now (and getting in some travel myself), so this would be a perfect spot to visit one weekend. Thanks for sharing! -Claire, tallgirlbigworld.com

    1. Hi Claire, Germany has such a central location in Europe, making it a perfect launching point for exploring the continent. In what part of Germany are you studying? I lived in Heidelberg for 10 years, and weekend jaunts to France and beyond were regular occurrences. I was indeed a lucky lady! :)

      Thanks for dropping by.

  2. Oh, Kloster Ettal is such a beautiful place, the entire surrounding and the dome have some kind of spiritual appearance. Just driving up there is such a treat , on a sunny day of course. I have been at that dairy place, “Kaeserei” , years ago with my mom when she was still capable to leave the house and as you know my by 103 year old aunt lives in Garmisch/Burgrain, back than we went to visit her.

    1. You’re right that the monastery and grounds have a dramatic appearance about them, Cornelia. Shawn and I first saw Ettal through a very rainy windshield in 2011, before my parents had moved to O-gau. The downpour was so strong that we didn’t get a chance to visit the monastery or Schloss Linderhof during that trip; we’re lucky to have my parents living nearby now.

      What did you think of the Kaeserei? Did you get to see the cheese being produced, or do they just have a shop in which you can purchase it?

      1. Hi Tricia, I didn’t see how the cheese is produced, just the wonderful big wheels of cheese. But you know that was at least7 or 8 years ago, it might have changed by now. Another niece in Germany is getting married in September, yet this my busiest season of work, I might come over for just a short visit of one week or ten days. Don’t want to miss out on her happiest day.

      2. ‘Big wheels of cheese’ sounds like enough incentive for me to visit, Cornelia. :)

        Fingers crossed that you’ll make it over the Atlantic for your niece’s big day. Will the wedding be in Bavaria?

    1. Gerard, glad I could transport you to the Bavarian Alps – if only for a few moments. And, since I’m sure it’s not currently this sunny and green there now (we took these photographs during the summer months) you had a virtual visit at the the right time. :)

      Since you appreciate making your own wine, I bet you’d enjoy delving more into Ettal’s / the resident monks’ beer-brewing and liqueur-making history!

      1. Alas, Gerard, I didn’t have any beer since it has gluten via the barley. I have, however, tried the monks’ liqueur. It was a tad sweet, but we enjoyed using a bit on a fruit dessert at home.

        Shawn and I were in the midst of running errands on this particular visit, so he didn’t have any beer at the monastery either. Since I can’t personally vouch for it, here are the details (in German): http://www.klosterbrauerei-ettal.de/biere/

        Looks like they brew some light and dark varieties, as well as Bock beer. (Before going gluten-free in 2012, I did occasionally enjoy a beer in Germany, but more often Radler, which would probably make beer aficionados cringe! Radler is beer mixed with lemon soda, so quite often it appeals to lightweights like I was!) :)

    1. Until the monks brew a gluten-free version, I won’t have the pleasure of trying it :) but it’s definitely a favorite among the locals in this part of Bavaria.

      Regarding the knights, I haven’t been able to find that out, Bespoke Traveler, so it looks like I have some questions to ask of the locals when I’m next back in Oberammergau!

  3. What a lovely monastery, Tricia. You capture it well in pictures and descriptions. Even though you had one day, you managed to do a lot. The bus pass sounds like a good way to travel for day trips. 🍺

    1. Lynne, indeed, it was a fun day of combining must-dos with an excursion. Ettal is not far from my parents’ home, so I’d love to bike out someday. There is a nature preserve in this valley (one of the largest in Germany), so that makes for scenic surroundings and relaxing rides.

  4. It is amazing to run across buildings or architecture in rural areas, one of the great reasons I love travel outside of the big/popular destinations as these are the places that hold an interesting piece of history that tends to fascinate me the most. Great photos ~ and the 2nd shot is perfect…worth a beer or two!

    1. Randall, there’s a piece in the New York Times Travel section today about the art of wandering and being lost, and it echoes your comment here about getting some distance from the most popular destinations. We were admittedly a bit lost, on rainy backroads when we first saw this pretty monastery. It’s ironic that my parents would end up moving to the area shortly thereafter, so now we’re spoiled in that we can bike to these places. :)

      1. I’ll have to check out the article…and agree, sometimes the best thing about being lost is it actually allows us to find something special. You are lucky to be able to return many times now with good reasons :-)

      2. Thank you very much. NYT is blocked in China due to an article about one of the leaders’s family immense wealth, but can check it out here in HK.

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