If Berlin is the rebellious son, then Munich is definitely the conservative cousin. More quaint than cool, and far more reserved than its northern counterpart, Munich, or München, is also the most expensive city in Germany. However, there’s a pervasive geniality that underscores this Bavarian city captivating the most unassuming of travellers soon enough through its reserved charm. Here are 10 things you need to do in Munich.
Marienplatz is Munich’s main city square located right in the heart of the city and a popular meeting point for locals and tourists alike. The square is dominated by the Neue Rathaus (New Town Hall), a building built in the neo-gothic style, and the famous Glockenspiel re-enacts stories from Munich’s history in the tower of the Neue Rathaus daily at 11 am (and at 12 pm and 5 pm in the summertime). The Victuals Market is a popular farmer’s and fresh food market that is also located close by to the Marienplatz. Its official opening hours are Monday to Saturday from 8 am to 8 pm.
2. Englischer Garten
The Englischer Garten is one of the largest urban parks in Europe and quite possibly one of the best parks to spend the day exploring. Nestled within the park grounds is a Japanese teahouse and Japanese gardens, a Chinese tower, beer gardens and eateries, a network of paths for joggers and cyclists, and plenty of grass for recreational games and the popular summertime pastime of sunbaking. Some go as far as nude sunbaking which is permitted in the Schönfeldwiese, between the Japanese Teahouse and the Monopteros, and is perhaps a nod to Munich’s underground rebellious streak (every conservative cousin has one).
One of the best parts of the Englischer Garten is the river surfing at the edge of the park. You’ll always find keen surfers in their wetsuits lining up to have their turn on the wave.
Maxvorstadt is an area of Munich that is known as the university district, and which is where the art galleries and museums are clustered. It’s filled with cute cafes, bars, restaurants and boutiques to cater to its youthful population and is a great area to wander around in without a pre-determined destination. Have dinner at Alter Simpl, a traditional Bavarian restaurant, which used to be a meeting hub for Munich’s artistic community. A guide to the rest of Munich’s city areas can be found here.
The Hofgarten is another charming park to walk around in, albeit on a much smaller scale than the Englischer Garten. The Hofgarten was originally a royal park which was opened to the public in 1780. The lawns are perfectly manicured and brightened by the rows of vibrant blooms that pop with colour. There is a beautiful pavilion in the centre of the park, which had a violinist playing contemporary pop songs when I was there!
5. Pinakothek der Moderne, Alte Pinakothek and Neue Pinakothek
The three Pinakotheken galleries – Pinakothek der Moderne, Alte Pinakothek and Neue Pinakothek – form the Kunstarea (art district) in Munich and each gallery has a different focus on art. The Pinakothek der Moderne is a modern and contemporary art museum, the Alte Pinakothek holds a comprehensive collection of European Masters, and the Neue Pinakothek houses work from the 18th and 19th centuries with an impressive collection of Impressionist works. Pick one to go to depending on your area of interest, or make a cultural day out of it and visit all three!
6. Museum Brandhorst
Munich has a great art scene evident by the scores of fantastic museums in this Bavarian city. The Brandhorst Museum is a modern art gallery with a large number of Andy Warhol and Cy Twombly works. The exterior of the building is an architectural marvel with its facade covered in colourful ceramic rods, which is an impressive sight when viewed up close.
You can’t travel to Munich and not frequent a beer hall, particularly one with as much history as the Hofbräuhaus in Munich. The historic Hofbräuhaus was the Bavarian royal family’s own brewery and it was famously used by the Nazi Party to hold functions and assemblies. Although today it has an air of kitsch about it, a stop at the Hofbräuhaus is not to be missed as a token München experience.
8. Haus der Kunst
The Haus der Kunst, located next to the Englischer Garten, has a whole lot of history and this is truly a case of ‘if only these walls could talk’. Originally called the Haus der Deutschen Kunst (House of German Art), the building was constructed by the Third Reich to showcase what was regarded by the Third Reich as Germany’s finest artwork and another form of Nazi propaganda. From the outside, the grey concrete building is austere and joyless, a style that was to define Nazi architecture. Today, the Haus der Kunst holds changing exhibitions, most of which would not have pleased the Third Reich, taking a building that was initially created for ill intention and turning it into a platform that celebrates freedom, diversity and shared narratives.
It’s a fact that Germans and sausages go hand in hand, and I am dreaming about chomping down on some currywurst as I write this. Weisswurst (white sausages) are traditional Bavarian sausages that are made from minced veal and back bacon held in a short white casing and usually seasoned with parsley, onions and lemon. They come served in a pot of water and, believe me, they are more delicious than they actually look. There are a couple of traditions involved in eating Weisswurst: they are normally eaten before lunchtime and without the skin – you can either suck the meat out, or, if you prefer to be more discreet, you can simply slice the skin off. I broke both of these rules while in Munich and didn’t get called out for it, so I’m not sure how strictly these rules are adhered to.
A list on things to do in Munich is not complete with mentioning Oktoberfest! Every year from mid-September, the masses arrive in Munich for the biggest beer festival in the world. Oktoberfest was originally a celebration of the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810. The celebrations were moved to September as October was deemed too cold. Today, locals and the public dress up in traditional German dress – lederhosen for the men and dirndl for the women –and essentially drink steins and eat pretzels in one of the many beer halls for 16 days. What’s not to love?
If you’re not a big fan of drinking, there are also amusement rides and carnival stalls to keep you entertained. Oktoberfest feels like one massive fairground and it’s hard not to get caught up in all of the excitement.