Bavaria (German: Bayern) is Germany’s largest federal state (Bundesland), situated in the country’s southeast. It extends from the middle German hills down into the Alps. Bavarian folk culture has shaped many non-Germans’ views of Germany. Ironically, much of Bavaria has more in common culturally with its southern neighbors Austria and Switzerland than with the rest of Germany. Stereotypes about Bavaria include leather trousers (Lederhosen), sausages, and lots of beer – however, the state has much more to offer to the traveler.
Along with the Rheinland and Berlin, it is Germany’s most popular tourist destination, so expect long lines and high prices, especially in summer and ski resorts in winter.
Old Bavaria (Altbayern)
If you think of Bavaria (and by extension, if you think of Germany), this is it. Lederhosen? check. Oktoberfest? (around September) check. White and blue skies? check. (also the national colors) fairy-tale castles like Neuschwanstein? check.
FC Bayern, BMW, and Munich, the “world city with a heart”? check check and very much check. This part of Germany has long been a staple in the itineraries of international tourists to Germany, and it is very popular with Japanese and American organized tour groups to Germany who hardly leave Bavaria (not at all if you don’t count Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which is in Franconia).
You might think that Bavaria is “overgrazed” and has nothing to offer to all but the most casual visitors. Still, you’d be very much mistaken, as there is lots and lots of nature that allow you to “get away from it all” and Munich draws visitors year-round, not only for Oktoberfest. So whether you’re a first-time visitor with only limited time or come here every year, there is bound to be something new to discover for you.
This part looks and feels different from Bavaria “proper” (Altbaiern) and shares little history before the beginning of the 19th century when the many small and medium-sized (e.g. the margravedom of Ansbach-Bayreuth) territories, as well as several self-governing Reichsstädte (such as Nuremberg or Rothenburg ob der Tauber) and dioceses (e.g. Würzburg), were absorbed by Bavaria in the course of the Napoleonic wars.
While some areas of Franconia are just as Catholic as Bavaria, the rule cuius regio eius religio (who owns the territory decides the religion of its inhabitants) caused some fiercely Lutheran areas as well, which – together with linguistic differences and the peculiarities of pork-barrel spending – make for some lingering resentment against the “Bavarians” in Munich.
Franconia is culturally diverse and includes one of Europe’s best climbing areas outside the Alps with the Franconian Switzerland and exceptional wine and beer producing regions and cozy medieval towns such as Würzburg, Bamberg, or Forchheim.