Explore Munich: the top things to do, where to stay and what to eat
With its industry, joie de vivre and love of tradition, the capital of Bavaria encapsulates “Deutschness” more than any other German city
Why go to Munich
So many of the images we associate with Germany – from great beer to high culture, Disney-like castles and even footballing success – are native to Munich.
The locals – try saying Münchners after a few pints – boast their city is the real capital of Germany, with some justification. Bavaria has historically been a sovereign state with a strong regional culture and even today it’s carved an independence that’s special even within federal Germany.
Key neighbourhoods in Munich
The walls of the medieval town have given way to a ring road but three of the original gates are still standing. Karlstor in the west has been integrated architecturally in the Karlsplatz square, while Isartor in the east leads to the river. Between them stretches a pedestrianised thoroughfare with arguably the best shopping in Germany.
The oldest gate, the 14th-century Sendlinger Tor in the south, marks the end of the ‘Party Banana’ – a string of clubs and bars that bends its way back to Karlstor.
Maxvorstadt and Schwabing
The grid of streets in the diamond-shaped 19th-century northward expansion of Maxvorstadt houses the city’s university and an abundance of top museums, including the four state galleries. It’s the domain of students and gets boisterous during term-time.
Further north lies the old boho quarter that borders the English Garden. Come here for antiques, second-hand bookshops or the cocktail bars and trendy restaurants that crowd the main artery of Leopoldstraße.
The cobblestone alleys of this popular residential area, east of the Isar, sometimes look more like the Parisian Left Bank than the hub of Munich’s cultural life.
Its focal point is the Gasteig cultural centre on Rosenheimer Platz, built on the site of the demolished Bürgerbräukeller beer hall where a young Adolf Hitler attempted his failed Putsch in 1923.
South of the railway lines lies Westend, Munich’s old industrial district where immigrants flocked in the 1950s and 1960s. Low rents have attracted young professionals and the resulting multicultural community spirit exudes a cool Berlin-like vibe like nowhere else in the city.
Fashionable Glockenbach is particularly handsome in the summer when its bistros and cafés put out tables on the pavement. The neighbourhood has traditionally been the heart of the city’s large LGBT community with back-to-back bars and clubs along the Müllerstraße.
Top things to do in Munich
Spot the Frauenkirche from all over town
The twin domes of the Church of Our Lady, visible from all over the Old Town, provide the best-known city landmark and are a good marker to help you navigate your way. Don’t miss the ascent to the southern tower.
Head to the Marienplatz
Probably the first place a walk around Munich will take you, however aimless, is the Marienplatz, the beating heart of city. The outstanding neo-gothic New Town Hall dominates the square – come at 11am or noon to hear the much talked about Glockenspiel.
Explore a former royal palace
The Munich Residenz, the former royal palace and ancestral home of the Wittelsbach reigning family of Bavaria, cries palatial more than any other building in the region. Set aside some time to properly explore and take the longer tour on offer.
Learn a thing or two at the Deutsches Museum
Every German school class has been here at least once, making this the most-visited museum in the country. The Deutsches Museum is focused on science with high-tech touches like a virtual reality lab.
Spend an afternoon at the English Garden
No, this isn’t a garden but one of the world’s biggest urban parks. It comes complete with 22 miles (36km) of footpaths, an open-air theatre, several beer gardens, a Chinese pagoda, a Greek-style temple, a Japanese teahouse and a nudist sunbathing section.
Discover the Nymphenburg Palace
At the western fringes of town, you’ll find the former summer residence of the rulers of Bavaria. The Nymphenburg Palace is a baroque masterpieces and well worth the tram and bus journey to get there.
Throw yourself into Oktoberfest
For the full Munich experience, get involved in this great celebration of all things Bavarian. But, don’t be fooled by the name and book your flights for October – Oktoberfest actually runs from mid-September to the first weekend in October.
The original festival was held in October 1810 in honour of Crown Prince Ludwig's marriage to Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. It was such a hit that it’s been celebrated every year since (and moved to September for better weather), except during the two world wars. There’s no entrance fee to the Theresienwiese grounds but anything bigger than the tiniest daypack won’t be allowed in.
The best hotels in Munich
If you thought cheap lodgings couldn’t be cheery, boy, do the hostels in Munich have a surprise for you. Clean, safe and offering singles and doubles with en-suites, they’re almost indistinguishable from budget hotels and much more fun.
The more designer-minded should try the award-winning Ruby Lilly Hotel Munich in Maxvorstadt or the Schwabinger Wahrheit, within walking distance of the English Garden and comes with a sauna, a gym and an outdoor hot tub. If central location is the clincher, Anna Hotel at the start of Schützenstraße oozes style and warmth.
Ruby Lilly Hotel Munich/booking.com
If you want to splash out, experience the Bayerischer Hof, a mix of the modish and traditional architecture dating from 1841. Vying for the title of the most luxurious address in town is its historic competitor, Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski on Maximilianstraße. It boasts a VIP list that includes Liz Taylor, Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II.
Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski/booking.com
What to eat and drink in Munich
With six big breweries within city limits (Augustiner-Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr-Bräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, Spatenbräu and Staatliches Hofbräuhaus), beer consumption is conspicuous. But be more adventurous and try local plum schnapps, apple schnapps or Slius, a liqueur made from walnuts, plums, berries and quince from the Schleißheim Palace grounds.
Before you raise your eyebrows at the prospect of a sausage-based diet, tease your palate with Weißwurst, a white sausage that contains minced pork, veal and bacon served with a pretzel and sweet mustard.
To eat like a local, order Knödelsuppe, a soup with floating stuffed dumplings, followed by a veal dish. Veal has traditionally been the staple meat in Munich because the cramped conditions in the Old Town would not allow the rearing of larger animals. Snag a seat at the atmospheric Augustiner Keller, north of the railway station, or go for the full experience in the teeming Ratskeller.
The ultimate Munich itinerary
Get your bearings: The newly opened Hi-Sky, in the still-developing Werksviertel district, is the biggest giant wheel in Germany and the view over Munich is the best you can get. The wheel will remain at this location until 2021 when the construction of a new concert hall is due to begin.
Go surfing: OK, they don’t expect you to join in but you’re welcome to watch the surfers on the Eisbach stream at Prinzregentenstraße. The water’s turbulence translates to a permanent, surfable wave.
Experience a year-round Oktoberfest: Even if you’ve arrived mid-winter, learn all about the beer festival that’s synonymous with Munich in the Oktoberfest museum. Finish your tour with a refreshing beer and a filling snack in the museum’s own pub.
Release your inner petrolhead: BMW World, a museum and shop by the company’s headquarters, will entertain you for hours with its combination of vintage automobiles, motorcycles and cutting-edge showroom models.
Bike it with Mike: Get to know Munich with Mike’s Bike Tours that conveniently start at 9:30am, 11:30am and 4pm to fit your schedule.
Shop like royalty: Although Bavaria has long lost its royal family, several shops still glory in their ‘Royal Appointment’. Among them are Dallmayr delicatessen, Hofpfisterei bakery, Ludwig Beck department store and Ed Meier shoes.
Give beer a break: Nights in Munich don’t revolve just around the amber nectar so slip away and sip an imaginative cocktail. Head to the artistic haven of Bar Gabányi in the Westend or in the sophisticated surround of Ory Bar at the Mandarin Oriental (booking is recommended).
Brunch at the Tresznjewski: If you haven’t tried the Weißwurst yet, the Münchner Breakfast in this city institution includes no fewer than three sausages. Add the pancakes and you’ll be set up for the day.
Meander in the farmer’s market: This is your last chance to stock up on must-have wild honey, organic pestos and a smorgasbord of spreads. Make your culinary purchases at Viktualienmarkt, a huge deli and the oldest market in the city.
Watch a game of football: Bayern FC is a religion in Munich and the futuristic hulk of the Allianz Arena its cathedral. Games usually take place on Sundays but if there’s none, the Bayern museum sports a wide range of memorabilia for football fans.
Lead image: Sergey Novikov/Shutterstock
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