Whilst backpackers and twenty-somethings flock to Munich for the city’s annual Oktoberfest, the Bavarian capital is more than just a beer-swiller’s paradise. Germany’s third largest city is a modern, sophisticated city with a history steeped in tradition and a legacy of Baroque architecture and priceless artworks.
During the last century, Munich suffered immensely as a result of both World Wars. Residents almost starved during WWI, whilst the second war brought severe bombing and more than 6000 civilians died. Like a true survivor, though, the city has emerged from the depths of despair to become a cosmopolitan hub that is at the forefront of industry.
Thankfully, today, the city, with a population of 1.3 million, is once again at peace and offers much for the visitor to enjoy. The old town is a great place to start, particularly Marienplatz with its neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus (new town hall) and the famous Glockenspiel (carillon). Make sure you visit at 11am or 12 noon to watch the colourful characters perform their dance high in the tower of the 19th century building.
Two important churches can be found nearby – Heilig Geist and Peterskirche – and Munich’s most famous church, Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) is just west of Marienplatz. Her two domed towers are a landmark of the city. Visitors can climb the towers for majestic views over the city, or admire the grandeur of this Gothic masterpiece. The nave dates back to the 15th century, and artworks from five centuries are displayed inside.
Marienplatz is also home to Munich’s famous Christmas Markets which are held every December. Shoppers can make their Christmas gift purchases whilst enjoying the traditional German Christmas fare of mulled wine, gingerbread and roasted chestnuts. Shopping in the snow is something most Aussies would not be familiar with and the atmosphere is one to savour.
More great views can be found from the Isartor, one of Munich’s preserved medieval buildings, and the only one of the three city gates to have retained most of its original aspect. Karlstor, at the edge of Karlsplatz, a popular meeting place for the locals, and Sendlingtor, are the cities other two gates. The three are joined by a ring road, inside which is the bustling city’s heart.
On a sunny day, grab some fresh food from the Viktualenmarkt for a picnic at the beautiful English Garden, Munich’s largest parkland. The 900 acre park has everything from manicured lawns, to ponds complete with swans, beers gardens and even nude sunbathers! On a warm day it’s not uncommon to see the locals, minus their clothes, catching a few rays in their lunch break!
Munich’s Deutsches Museum is one of the world’s largest science and technology museums with lots of interactive displays that appeal to both adults and children alike. With eight floors of displays covering an exhibition area of 538,000 square feet, it’s unlikely you’ll get to see everything, so grab a map when you enter and pick out displays of particular interest.
Like to include Munich as part of a multi-country European vacation? This sample two week Europe itinerary is a great one to consider.
The Deutsches Museum is not the only thing in Munich built on a grand scale. The royal palace, known as the Residenz, is one of Europe’s largest palaces and housed Bavaria’s rulers from 1385 to 1918. Now a museum, it boasts over 100 rooms filled with priceless artworks and treasures dating back to the 14th century.
These include jewels and crowns worn by the Bavarian royalty as well as household goods from many centuries ago. Decorated in Early Rococo style, it is equal to many of Europe’s most beautiful buildings.
Car enthusiasts will enjoy the BMW Museum, located next door to the car-maker’s headquarters, where they can check out BMWs from over the years. Sports fans may prefer to visit the Olympia Park complex, home of the infamous 1972 Munich Olympics. For a bird’s eye view, take the lift up the 290 metre Olympic Tower, or burn off a few calories by swimming a few laps in the Olympic Pool.
A bit further from the centre of town, but well worth the trip for football lovers, is Allianz Arena. This modern stadium was built in time for the 2006 FIFA World Cup and is home to Munich’s two premier teams, Bayern Munchen and TSV 1860 Munchen. Costing 280 million Euros, the stadium is an impressive site, particularly when lit up at night.
Special effects allow the outside stadium façade to change colour, depending on which team is playing at home. The stadium is also used as a venue for concerts and other sporting events.
Getting around won’t be a problem in Munich as the city has a very good public transport system. The U-bahn (underground train), S-bahn and buses, all provide excellent coverage of the city and suburbs with regular services.
All that sightseeing will probably leave you ready to re-fuel and when in Munich, you really should head to one of the many beer halls, like the Hofbrauhaus, for some typical Bavarian fare – beer and pretzels! Here you will be entertained by brass bands, served by waitresses in traditional Bavarian costumers, whilst you snack on pretzels and steins (half or one litre glasses) of beer.
Whilst the Hofbrauhaus is the most famous of Munich’s beer halls, it is full of tourists, so for an even more traditional experience, wander through the alleys of the old town and find yourself a local haunt.
Whether you prefer art and history or modernity, Munich offers something for every visitor. And if you happen to visit in late September or early October, why not join the thousands of others swilling beer at Oktoberfest?? After all, as they say ‘When in Rome (or in this case, Munich!!)…….’
Where to stay in Munich
Munich offers a huge range of accommodation to suit all budgets. I love the Holiday Inn Munich City Centre for its location and amenities. Read my review here.
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Read my other Germany destination articles here.