A Guide to Exploring Oberammergau, Germany

What to see and do in Oberammergau, a charming and historic Bavarian town.

The quaint town of Oberammergau, Germany is best known for three things: a world-famous Passion Play, a centuries-long tradition of woodcarving, and its elaborately painted buildings.

Oberammergau is situated in a scenic valley and is surrounded by the forested mountains of the Ammergau Alps, meaning that it’s also a paradise for nature-lovers.

It’s a community where time sometimes feels frozen, and where modern life meets the traditional. As a result, you’re likely to spot some residents dressed in colorful folk costumes when a local holiday rolls around. (Think Lederhosen, feather-adorned hats, and Dirndls.)

For more than seven years, my parents have called Oberammergau home. As a result, Shawn and I have spent many months getting to know Oberammergau, or “O’gau” as we call it. Along the way, we’ve soaked up some of the town’s history, done a bit of hiking, and gone on the hunt to find Oberammergau’s prettiest painted buildings.

Whether you’re coming to Oberammergau for the Passion Play, or simply to appreciate the ambience of this traditional Bavarian town, I’ve created this Oberammergau guide for you.

It highlights Oberammergau’s main attractions, as well as popular outdoor activities. It also includes general information that will help you with everything from finding a hotel to shopping for souvenirs. Finally, if you decide to base yourself in Oberammergau, I’ve also shared a few day-trip ideas for you to consider.

This is an in-depth post, but you can easily navigate it by using the Table of Contents.

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A Valley Ablaze: The König-Ludwig-Feuer in Oberammergau, Germany

Paying homage to Bavaria’s beloved King Ludwig II with bonfires, processions, and revelry.

For more than 125 years, residents in the tiny German town of Oberammergau have celebrated the eve of the birth of the fairy-tale Bavarian King Ludwig II with a dramatic and fiery bonfire display, called the König-Ludwig-Feuer.

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Slap Happy: Dancing the Schuhplattler in Bavaria

One of the joys of exploring Germany’s Bavaria region is witnessing the people’s penchant for preserving tradition. In the village of Oberammergau, where we’ve spent much time visiting my parents, it’s not uncommon to spot an older gentleman wearing a loden green, woolen hat, with feather, during a grocery-shopping trip. On holidays, ladies often don vibrant Dirndls (dresses with poofy sleeves and aprons finished off with a pretty bow). And, during festivals, dancers of all ages take to the stage to show off their dancing skills, looked on by revelers with mugs of beer, a lively brass band, and an occasional yodeler.

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Tails from a German Horse-Blessing Ceremony

Leonhardiritt Unterammergau Horse TailsDuring the last weekend of every October, the village of Unterammergau, Germany honors St. Leonhard, the patron saint of agricultural animals. The event begins with a horse procession through the village of 1,500 people, and culminates in an open-air church service, during which more than one hundred horses are blessed. (Unterammergau is the neighboring village to Oberammergau, where we’ve been spending the past summer and autumn. Together with O-gau, the village’s name is an essential ingredient in a well-known, and especially challenging German tongue twister about the two villages.)

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Mount Kofel Dressed in Snow – Oberammergau, Germany

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”  ― John Steinbeck

The experience of awakening to the first snowfall of winter is magical, especially when Mother Nature delivers as she did today in Oberammergau, Germany (nothing to shovel, but confectioners’ sugar-like dustings on the surrounding mountaintops). Here, Mount Kofel, which we successfully climbed  this past summer, shows off her winter apparel, while ephemeral, downy clouds drift overhead.

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Conquering the Kofel, Oberammergau’s Signature Mountain

Towering over the village of Oberammergau is the Kofel, a Matterhorn-shaped mountain with an elevation of 1,342 meters (4,400 feet). The name Kofel means ‘cone-shaped mountain’ in Celtic, and so hints at the tribes and peoples that once passed through this mountainous part of Germany.

The Bavarians we’ve met in this picturesque town are well-versed in the art of hiking, known as wandern, in German. As a result, they’re able to call off the names of these mountain peaks with the same sort of ease with which they ascend them. Coming from the Midwestern United States where hikes are typically through flat terrain, and well aware of my distaste for heights, I wasn’t sure I would have the fortitude to reach the Kofel’s summit.

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