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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Into the Forest: Watching a Wild Deer Feeding in the German Alps

Every winter, officials in the German state of Bavaria organize feedings for wild deer — much to the delight of the animals and the spectators.

Sitting on the wooden benches of a rustic shelter, our group waited patiently. We shivered quietly and watched for signs of life in the frosted forest before us. It was twilight, and we had come to watch a feeding of wild deer in the Graswang Valley in the German state of Bavaria. These feeding sessions, called Wildtierfütterung in German, are a popular local tradition, and just one example of Germany’s penchant for respecting the environment

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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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Curvy Exhilaration: Riding the Alpine Coaster in Oberammergau, Germany

Oberammergau’s alpine coaster just might be the town’s most thrilling activity.

Zipping down the foothills of the German Alps in an alpine coaster, I screamed out of fear and fun. And Shawn quickly learned a new German word: Bremsen (brakes)!

Seeking an Alpine adrenaline rush in Oberammergau, a tiny town situated in Upper Bavaria, we’d come to the right place — the Kolbensattel Alpine Coaster, a summer luge course of sorts.

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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.

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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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A Bavarian Horse-Blessing Ceremony

As we sauntered closer to the steeple-skylined village of Unterammergau, Germany, horses trotted past us, their highly decorated manes and tails blowing in the late autumn breeze. Not to be outdone by the animals’ distinguished appearances, the horse owners also sported fine Bavarian attire: the men wore grey woolen jackets finished with deer-horn buttons, and dark green or brown Lederhosen, while the ladies sported Dirndls with colorful flowing skirts, and button-down sweaters to protect them from the chilly air. As someone who adored coiffing her My Little Pony figurines’ hair as a child, I was instantly in shutterbug heaven.

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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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