More commonly known by American travelers as Garmisch, Garmisch-Partenkirchen is comprised of two separate communities that were fused together in 1936 to accommodate the Winter Olympics. Since then, it's grown into a bustling, year-round resort and spa town. Today, with a population of 28,000, the area is the center of the Werdenfelser Land and large enough to offer every facility expected from a major Alpine resort. Garmisch is more urban, with a pedestrian zone, wide car-friendly streets, and hordes of tourists. The narrow streets and quaint architecture of smaller Partenkirchen look more charming and make it a slightly better choice if you're looking for a quiet, rural stay. In both parts of town pastel frescoes of biblical and bucolic scenes decorate facades.
Winter sports rank high on the agenda here. There are more than 60 km (37 miles) of downhill ski runs, 40 ski lifts and cable cars, and 180 km (112 miles) of Loipen (cross-country ski trails). One of the principal stops on the international winter-sports circuit, the area hosts a week of races every January. You can usually count on good skiing from December through April (and into May on the Zugspitze).