Some cities grab your attention from the minute you arrive and have you begging for more, while others entice you gently, over a period of time. Munich belonged to the latter category for me – while I didn’t find myself shouting “I frigging love this place” from the rooftops within hours of arriving (it’s been known to happen), I did think on many occasions that it was the kind of city I see myself living in. I quickly started to define it as elegant – you see it in the well-dressed Bavarian men and women, walking around town wearing hats and expensive coats; the grandeur of the buildings at the Odeonplatz; the fairytale feel of the narrow streets surrounding the Marienplatz.
But, then again, I wasn’t there during Oktoberfest.
I didn’t have enough time to even scratch the surface of what the Bavarian capital has to offer (and trust me, there’s absolutely loads of things to do in Munich). This is the thing that pains me whenever I travel to big cities – no amount of time is ever enough to really get to the nitty-gritty of what the place is about. However, I’ve put together a list of some of the things you should try if you find yourself in the city – they serve as a good introduction and should have you hungering for more.
Munich, I definitely need to return to you!
Orientate yourself at the Marienplatz
The city’s popular gathering spot within the old town packs a lot of charm in a small area. The square dates back to the 12th century, and today the first structure you will notice is the imposing New Town Hall, which is built in a Gothic Revival style. I love Gothic architecture, so I went a little bit nuts here with the camera.
In the same square, you’ll also find the Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus), which was rebuilt following World War II and now houses Munich’s toy museum. During November and December, the Marienplatz is also home to the city’s biggest Christmas market.
From the Marienplatz, you can then quickly move onto many of the city’s other landmarks. But first you should…
…see the Rathaus-Glockenspiel chime at 11 am
Every day at 11 am, 12 pm and 5 pm you can see the Rathaus-Glockenspiel chime and re-enact two stories from the 16th century, much to the amusement of the tourists watching below. The top half of the mechanical clock tells the story of the marriage between the founder of the Hofbräuhaus, Duke Wilhelm V to Renata of Lorraine. A joust takes place in honour of the happy couple with life-sized knights representing Bavaria and Lothringen. Naturally, the Bavarian one always wins.
Admire Gothic architecture at the Heiliggeistkirche church
I kind of just wandered into this church while walking around Munich, and I was taken aback by how pretty it was. Those of you who have been reading the blog for a while will know that I’m always ridiculously moved by churches and temples, even though I would describe myself as spiritual rather than religious. The Heiliggeistkirche church (I dare you to try and pronounce that) definitely moved me with its Rococo frescoes, grand altarpiece and candles burning everywhere. Sadly, the interior was totally destroyed during World War II, so what you see now is the result of extensive restoration work.
It’s definitely worth a look to take the odd photo or two.
Take in the city’s grandeur at the Odeonsplatz
The one thing you’ll probably notice when you first encounter Munich’s Odeonsplatz is its Italian flair. This is thanks to the Baroque-style Theatine Church, and the Palais Leuchtenberg and Odeon, which are both modelled on the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. This is a lovely spot in which to wander and take in the architecture while also reflecting on the history that’s attached to the place – the square has been a site of parades for years, and used to host an annual Nazi march.
Thanks to the plush Café Tambosi, which is more than 200 years old and used to be popular among Munich’s high society, the square has an air of sophistication to it. Grab a coffee here if you have the time – it’s a place to see and be seen, and it’s a great spot for both people watching and taking in the square’s atmosphere. Warning – the staff are known to be rude and aloof. You really are just paying for the location.
When I first read that people surf in the park, I wondered if the person who’d written the article had been smoking something. I did a bit of research and found that, indeed, people surfing on a river in the English Garden is an actual thing. I had to see it for myself, and it was quite the sight to behold.
There I was, in sub-zero temperatures, watching men and women in rubber suits surf the waves of the Eisbach. The whole time I was there, the surfers had an audience, although they were completely oblivious to the lines of tourists taking photos and videos.
Definitely one of the quirky things I loved about Munich and it’s really worth a look!
Wander around the Englischer Garten
I thought I’d be at a distinct disadvantage by visiting the Englischer Garten during the winter – after all, parks are at their best during the spring, summer and autumn. Bare trees aside, I actually loved walking around the park – it’s what inspired my winter in Munich post. Although, admittedly, there wasn’t much to do, so I found a little cabin of a café and had a coffee.
In the summer, you can sit at Munich’s second largest beer garden, which is located by the Chinese Tower, and guzzle your pint while enjoying the beautiful backdrop and atmosphere. If you happen to be around during the third Sunday of July, you can also enjoy the Kocherlball – a carnival that involves a lot of drinking and dancing.
Oh, and then there’s Schönfeldwiese – an area by the lake where you can sunbathe in the nude. You have to love the Germans.
Visit the Japanese Tea House
If you’re in the Englischer Garten during the summer, you should check out the Japanese Tea House. Sadly, it was closed while I was there during the winter, which is a shame as I really wanted to go inside. My research tells me that you can take part in a traditional tea ceremony during the weekends.
Have a beer (and a massive pretzel) at one of Munich’s many beer halls
Beer and Bavaria go hand in hand, so it isn’t surprising that Munich is home to many fantastic beer halls, which form a major part of life in the city. I was short on time, so I only managed to visit the mega touristy (and famous) Hofbrauhaus Munchen. Thankfully I was there just before people started to arrive in their tour group truckloads, so I got to enjoy a more local experience. Yes, there was a brass band playing, yes there were women dressed in dirndls serving the beer, and yes, I ate a pretzel the size of my head – a thoroughly enjoyable, carb-loaded experience. Hiccup.
My sources tell me that those looking for a more local experience should check out the Augustiner Bierkeller instead.
Hello, Munich! First stop – Hofbrauhaus for a beer and a pretzel that's the size of my head. I'm already really loving this city! #munich #germany #christmas #markets #beer #hofbrauhaus #travel #wanderlust #instapassport #instatravel #happy #wanderlust #ontheroad #instagood #instalike #instago #picoftheday #bestoftheday #like4like #instadaily
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Trawl the Viktualienmarkt for food goodies
I make no secret of the fact that I absolutely love markets (especially ones with good food trucks!). Viktualienmarkt was a joy to look around, and it made me wish I could live in a city that has such a market in which I can do my weekly food shop (that’s how it goes in my head – one whiff of rain, however, and you’ll find me in the nearest supermarket instead).
Here you’ll find more than 140 shops and stalls offering everything from flowers to vegetables, fruit, spices, olives, meat, and fish. And, of course, this being Munich, you’ll also find a beer garden that’s very popular with the locals.
Get geeky at the Deutsches Museum
Munich is home to the world’s largest science and technology museum, the Deutsches Museum. There are a mind-boggling 28,000 items on display, including a giant ‘walk-in’ human cell, which brought my A’level biology exams screaming back to me. You’ll need more than half a day to do this place justice.
Munch on delicious Lebanese food at Ksara
While I was in Munich, I had major cravings for Lebanese food – a love for which I haven’t been able to shake off since living in Dubai. Luckily, my friend and I tracked down a great little place called Ksara, which is run by a Lebanese family, and the food was delicious!
This was the best Arabic food I’ve had since I left the UAE. We opted for the vegetarian meze, and everything was fresh and full of flavour. Definitely worth checking out if you’ve had enough of German stodge and are looking for some variety.
Try not to laugh at genital art at Museum Brandhorst
I’m still not quite sure what to make of Museum Brandhorst. While I cannot say I’m the most clued up person on modern art, I have thoroughly enjoyed visits to places like the Tate Modern in the past, so I was expecting to have a similar experience at Brandhorst. Unfortunately, I didn’t – I just didn’t get it. It was all too bizarre for me; a TV screen showing someone’s hoo-ha, pubic hairs and all? Not quite sure what’s artistic about that. Then there was the disturbing photo of Alice in Wonderland with her head stuck up someone’s vagina. Nope, I don’t get that, either.
There were, however, parts that I enjoyed, like the small collection of Andy Warhol’s pieces, and a gallery dedicated to feminism, so I don’t regret visiting. The building itself is also cool to look at, and there’s a nice café inside, too. Maybe you’re artier than me (and maybe you understand art of the genital variety) – in which case, by all means, check it out.
Catch a performance at the Bavarian State Opera
I didn’t manage to get around to doing this, but I would have loved to. The Bavarian State Opera in Munich is one of the most renowned opera institutions in the world and was founded in 1653 under Princess Henriette Adelaide of Savoy. There are more than 300 performances a year, and the opera building itself is also impressive and worth a look.
Check out the (unofficial) Michael Jackson memorial
I wouldn’t really describe Munich as a quirky city, but it certainly has its quirks, the Michael Jackson memorial being one of them. After MJ’s death in 2009, hardcore fans started the makeshift memorial at the base of Franco-Flemish Renaissance composer Orlande de Lassus’ statue. I wasn’t sure why it was started there until I read that fans picked the location as it’s opposite to the luxury hotel that MJ once stayed in.
Some locals say it is an eyesore and are trying to get it removed, while fans are trying desperately to get a statue of the King of Pop erected somewhere in the city – the authorities, however, are not interested. I wonder how this one will play out.
It’s random and bemusing – definitely worth a look if you’re in the area, especially seeing as it probably won’t be around forever.
Take a day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle
When in Munich, you should definitely factor in a day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle. It takes a couple of hours to get there, and it really is worth it even if it is a bit of a tourist trap. The castle was built by King Ludwig II as a retreat – yeah, a really understated one at that. Just look at the photos – it is incredible, and even the village that is located close to it is very picturesque:
This site gives good information on how to get there by train and how to purchase tickets for the castle.