Zugspitze Cable Car vs. Cogwheel Train – overcome your phobia!

View overlooking the Alps from the Zugspitze cable car

So you want to see the highest peak in Germany, but don’t know whether to use the Zugspitze cable car or the cogwheel train? I got you. Zugspitze is breathtaking, almost literally. It’s absolutely worth the trip, and something you must put on your bucket list immediately! You just have to decide how you’re going to get there and back. And the decision you make is basically going to boil down to managing your phobias. Don’t let anything I say in this article dissuade you from going to Zugspitze, though. Seriously, you’ll remember it for the rest of your life and it’s spectacular!

That said, if the thought of dangling from the world’s longest freespan cable car (2 miles) packed in like sardines with a few dozen other people doesn’t bother you, and you don’t mind almost half an hour in a dark stone tunnel that feels like a giant MRI tube, then great! Just scroll on down and look at the pretty pictures. Otherwise read on, and I’ll get you through this.

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VIEWS from the Zugspitze cable car

If it’s views you’re after, the cable car is definitely for you. Both ways. The very lovely and trying-to-be helpful events coordinator at our hotel recommended we take the cable car up to the top of Zugspitze, and the cogwheel train down “to get both experiences.” Let’s just say one experience makes you feel like an eagle soaring free on a swoosh of icy wind over the sparkling frosty mountaintops, and the other makes you feel like a coal miner tunneling to the dark dark center of the Earth. At least, that’s how I see it.

I’m fine with heights, and generally not too claustrophobic, but let’s just say after staring out the window at a wall of black stone six inches from my face for 24 minutes (but who’s counting) I realized I didn’t need “both experiences.” One was just fine. My husband fell asleep, bless his heart, but I just sat there listening to my heart beat in my ears and wondering what would happen if the cogwheel broke, and I had to pee. We went in January, and by the time the little train popped out of the tunnel from Hell into a pretty wintery forest, I was done with my day.

Oxygen Deprivation & Altitude Sickness

Part of my anxiety, I realized later, was due to the fact that we were at such a high elevation, and oxygen deprivation is a real thing. The air is thin up there. Be prepared to feel a little anxious or impatient, or like you need to sit down for a minute. Totally normal if you do, and if you know it’s coming it’s hardly a thing. Most people have no problem with this at all, but I was feeling it a little bit, so the MRI train ride down was not helpful at that point.

If you are a “both experiences” person and wanting to take both the train and the cable car, I’d suggest you take the train first, because it stops at a glacier (where you have to switch to a short cable car to the summit) and that will allow you to acclimate to the height a little first. The train and a short cable car work in synch to get you up and down the mountain.

Sadly, alcohol consumption can worsen altitude sickness, so it’s probably safer if you’re concerned, to forego the aperitif at the top of the world, and not do what I did!

Glacier Fun!

If you want to visit the glacier, have a beverage, play in the snow, and visit the cute little mountain chapel, then you have another decision to make. If you already took the cable car to the summit first, you can get to the glacier by taking a cable car down from the top, but to get all the way down to the bottom via that route, you’ll have to continue by taking the train.

The glacier is a really cool spot with many photo ops and spectacular views, so you probably won’t want to miss it. If you’re avoiding the train like the plague, you can just take the short cable car back up to the top when you’re done, and then take the other top-to-bottom cable car all the way to the bottom.

The Austrian Side

If you’re a cable car person, want to totally skip the train AND you’re not a fan of crowding, you can also take a cable car from Austria! The lines and crowds are usually smaller, and you can still take the short cable car down to the glacier from the summit once you are there. I can’t speak to more details because I came from the German side, but just know that option is there.

Summary – Pros and Cons of Zugspitze Cable Car vs. Cogwheel Train

View of a snowy field with the Zugspitze cable car ascending
The other cable car – waving is allowed!

Eibsee Zugspitze cable car (the long cable car from the parking lot by the lake at the bottom of the mountain):

Duration: 15 minutes

Pros: Fabulous views, quicker trip, better if you don’t like dark tunnels, one ticket will let you go up and down however you like so you can mix it up.

Cons: Might be a little challenging if you have a fear of heights, but then again Zugspitze itself is pretty up there!, cars are full of people during busy times; only goes as far as the parking lot at Eibsee whereas train has other options.

A rock wall through the window of the Zugspitze cogwheel train
The view for most of the way down the mountain from the cogwheel train.

Cogwheel Train/Glacier cable car combo (used one after the other to get up and down Zugspitze):

Duration: 35 minutes

Pros: Better if you don’t like heights; you can take the train for a much longer ride past the Eibsee parking lot to get nice views; also lets you use your ticket however you wish in combination with cable cars; it’s pretty cool if you are a “train person;” and you can say you got “both experiences.”

Cons: The never-ending tunnel, more than twice as long to the parking lot, no views to speak of if you’re getting off at the parking lot in Eibsee.

Austrian Zugspitze cable car (Don’t forget your passport!):

Duration: 10 minutes

Pros: Shorter lines, fewer people, quickest trip, cheapest

Cons: May be further to get there depending on where you are staying, ticket only works on the Austrian cable car up and down. We didn’t take this one, so I can’t speak from personal experience.

OFFICIAL WEBSITE & TICKET PURCHASES

For all the latest information on what’s open, what’s happening, and current prices, check the Zugspitze website.

Pick one!

So there you go. This is the post I wish someone else had written before I tried to figure the whole Zugspitze cable car vs. cogwheel train thing out on my own. Armed with the knowledge of all your options, you can now choose how you get there and back, but the most important thing is that you go!

And if you have flexibility in choosing a day, check the weather and get your ticket for a day that looks clear. But remember, even if it’s cloudy, you can still enjoy yourself and you may pop out on top of the clouds – you’ve got a lot of altitude to work with!

If you’ll be in Munich you can hire a van service to and from Zugspitze. There’s even an option that includes bobsledding on the glacier!