Everything you need to know about Altötting, the Church of our Lady with its black Madonna and how to get there on a day trip from Munich.
Altötting is the true heart of Bavaria and it is beating an ancient beat. The small city barely 100 kilometers away from Munich (check out my guide) is imbued with our beliefs, our tradition and our way of life. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims pave their way to the central chapel with is black Madonna each year. Yet, it remains a peculiar fact virtually no international tourists ever make it to the remarkable city with a history of more than 3,000 years.
Allöting is home to some of the finest architecture in Germany, yet, above all, it is a place of spiritually. The celts are said to have had one of their Things here, and ever since people came to Allöting to ask the protection or the help of the gods above. Different gods, perhaps, but there is no denying some fundamental truth lies at the bottom of the ancient pilgrimage.
Looking for other perfect day trips from Munich? Check out my list of 20 suggestions!
The Chapel of Grace
The central part of Altötting is the so-called Gnadenkapelle (the Chapel of Grace). Despite its diminutive size, it is the oldest and most important shrine to Mary in Germany. The foundation is believed to date back to the 7th century, while a belfry, the nave, and the encircling porch were added at the end of the 15th century.
Almost all Bavarian kings have had their hearts enshrined in this chapel. But not only kings but also commoners brought an uncounted mass of votive offerings in the past thousand years to plead for help or to say thanks to the spirits above.
Central to it all is the Black Madonna. A small image of Mary dating back to the 13th century and encrusted with gold and gems (up until the 15h century she was glad in the remains of the wedding gowns of the Bavarian princesses, though). Many wonders are attributed to the Blessed Mother, and it’s the main reasons all those pilgrims come to Altötting.
Now, you may believe what you want, but upon entering the Chapel of Grace you are left speechless by the intensity of the atmosphere. Here, eons of religious devotions become palpable here. It’s a weird feeling hard to capture with words, but it’s almost as if nodes of power converge here to press upon your very being.
It is perhaps of little wonder that all the last three popes, Benedict XVI, Johannes Paul II, and Pius VI came to pray in the tiny altar-room and its worn benches. To honor the importance it was blessed with a Golden Rose – one of only handful churches and shrines to have received this highest of catholic awards since the 11th century.
You will often see pilgrims carrying heavy wooden crosses circling the Chapel of Grace – some of them even on their knees. It’s just one of the many rituals surrounding the ancient pilgrimage site. If you want to know more about it, do ask one the Capuchin friars who have been serving the chapel over the past centuries (there is a pilgrimage information booth in front of the chapel).
Around the chapel square of Alltötting
Around the Chapel of Grace, a magnificent square has been built over the centuries. Especially during the summer months, when there are a lot of festivities accompanying the pilgrimage, the wide open space with its trees and fountains is bustling with activity.
Dominating the scene is the medieval church of St. Philipp and Jakob. Truth be told, it’s actually the least interesting of all the churches in Alltötting except for the Death of Alltötting right behind the entrance door. It is said that every time the old mechanical clockwork skeleton swing someone dies.
Definitely make sure to visit the pilgrimage museum on the other side of the square, as the famous golden ross, one of the finest and most important works of medieval goldsmith’s art is kept (and a lot of other exceedingly fine pieces of religious art).
Lining the chapel square, you will find many shops selling devotional candles and jewelry and other items to commemorate your pilgrimage. Most of them are traditional German handicrafts, so I’m quite positive you will find a lovely souvenir here.
Basilika St. Anna Allötting
It really pays off to walk around the rest of the old town of Alltötting as well. It is a small city, true, but just a little bit off the marketplace, you will be able to visit the Basilika St. Anna – the largest church built in Germany in the 20th century.
Ranked as a basilica minor, more than 8,000 people fit into the neo-baroque building financed mostly by donations. It’s particularly famous for its magnificent organ dedicated to Mary.
Definitely, don’t forget to visit the adjacent capuchin cloister, where Saint Konrad of Parzahm is interred. The little spring at the entrance of the cloister church is said to have healing benefits (most souvenir shops sell empty water bottles for that very reason).
Panorama of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ
On the other side of the marketplace, right behind the pilgrimage center, hides a unique gem: The Panorama Kreuzigung Christi. It’s a monumental panorama picture and the only remaining authentic religious panorama in Europe.
With a height of 15 meters and a diameter of 30 meters the gigantic painting finished in 1902 tells the story of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in great and quite convincing detail. Through lights and an audio guide, it all pretty much comes to life, which is probably one of the reasons the United Nations and Germany put it on its list of cultural important properties.
Note: Unlike all the other highlights in Allötting you need to pay a small fee of 4,50 Euros to enter it.
How to get to Altötting from Munich
The best and fastest way to get to Altötting is by car. Especially if you are a group of more 3 or more people, it might actually be the cheapest version. Also, know that there are a couple of lovely sights in the direct vicinity of the town (like Burghausen).
Autobahn A94 basically gets you directly to Altötting from Munich (just get on the outer ring and exit on the A94 and then drive until close before the Austrian border and exit on the B299. Depending on the traffic, it will take around 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Note: Try to avoid the rush hour (8-9 am and 5 to 6 pm) as the traffic in Munich will be horrible.
Train from Munich to Burghausen
In case renting a car is not an option for you, you can also take the train from Munich to Burghausen. While you got a couple of different options, the far easiest way would be taking the train from Munich central station to Mühldorf in Oberbayern and then change to the local train to Burghausen (but exist in Altötting, obviously). Expect prices around 22€ per person. Check the official schedule here.
Hiking or Biking to Altötting
There are a couple of wonderful pilgrim trails leading to Altötting. If you got time and want to take a special spiritual journey, this might be an excellent idea. Most of the guided pilgrimages are in German but if that is no problem for you, you’ll find excellent information on the official website.
Is a day trip to Altötting feasible
Altötting is lovely but, all in all, not too big. So a day trip is entirely feasible and actually something I’d recommend. Even if you want to attend church services in the evening you could still be back in Munich around 10 pm. All in all, I’d say you will need about 6 hours (including lunch) to see everything there is Altötting.
If you like ancient Bavarian pilgrimage sites, you should definitely also consider visiting the Church of Wies. This UNESCO World Heritage site features outstanding rococo frescos. Read my guide to visiting Wieskirche here.
So, I hope you enjoyed my little guide to Altötting. Got any questions? Just leave a comment below. And don’t forget to pin this to your Pinterest board if you liked it!