WHAT TO DO
Munich is a city where traditional and modern sit side by side like few places on earth. It draws its largest crowds for the famous Oktoberfest, but year round the Bavarian capital buzzes along just fine without all of the Lederhosen and drunken revelry - or at least, much less of it. In addition to its extremely walkable historic center, Munich continues to attract travelers for its palatial parks, internationally lauded dining and emerging art scene. Set out and experience the spirit of Gemutlichkeit - the untranslatable intermingling of coziness, well being and good cheer that the locals thrive on.
Start your adventure in the historic hub of Munich at the Marienplatz (St Mary's Square). The heart and soul of the Altstadt (Old Town), it's a popular gathering spot and packs a lot of personality into a compact setting. Set in the middle of the square is the Mariensaule (St Mary's Column), built in 1638 to celebrate Bavaria's victory over Swedish forces during the Thirty Years' War. It's topped by a golden statue of the Virgin Mary balancing on a crescent moon. The Marienplatz has been the city's main square since 1158 and is the busiest spot in all of Munich. It is dominated by the Neues Rathaus (New City Hall) on the north side and the Altes Rathaus (Old City Hall) on the east side. During the Middle Ages, markets and tournaments were held in the square and the Glockenspiel (in the tower of the Neues Rathaus) was inspired by these tournaments. It has 43 bells and 32 figures that perform two historical events: the top half tells the story of a tournament held in 1568 to celebrate the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V to Renata of Lorraine, while the bottom half portrays the Schafflertanz (The Cooper's Dance). According to legend, 1517 was a year of plague in Munich. The Coopers or barrel makers are said to have danced through the streets to "bring fresh vitality to fearful dispositions." The Coopers remained loyal to the Duke and their dance came to symbolize perseverance and loyalty to authority through difficult times. By tradition, the dance is performed in Munich every seven years - the next one is in 2019. Note: the Glockenspiel show entertains the masses a few times every day and lasts about 15 minutes. At the very end of the show, a very small golden rooster at the top of the Glockenspiel chirps quietly three times, marking the end of the spectacle. If you happen to be in Munich in December, the Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) at the Marienplatz is the best in Germany.
Nearby at Frauenplatz 1 is the impressive Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Dear Lady). This landmark church was built between 1468 and 1488 and is Munich's spiritual heart. No other building in the city may stand taller than its onion domed twin towers which reach 325 feet to the sky. The south tower can be climbed, but has been under renovation for several years. The Frauenkirche sustained severe bomb damage in World War II - its reconstruction is a soaring passage of light. Be sure to view the epic cenotaph (empty tomb) of Ludwig the Bavarian, just past the entrance and the bronze plaques of Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor John Paul II affixed to nearby pillars. A short walk away, alongside the Odeonsplatz at Residenzstrasse 1 is the Feldherrnhalle. This historic building pays homage to the Bavarian army; check out the statues of General Johann Tilly, who kicked the Swedes out of Munich during the Thirty Years' War and Karl Philipp von Wrede, an ally turned foe of Napoleon. It was here on November 9, 1923 that police stopped the Beer Hall Putsch - Hitler's attempt to bring down the Weimar Republic (Germany's government after World War I). A fierce skirmish left 20 people dead, including 16 Nazis. Hitler was subsequently tried and sentenced to five years in jail, but he ended up serving a mere nine months in Landsberg am Lech prison, where he penned his hate filled manifesto - Mein Kampf (My Struggle). Next door is one of Munich's top attractions, the Residenzmuseum. Home to Bavaria's Wittelsbach rulers from 1508 until World War I, the Residenz houses amazing treasures. Approximately 90 rooms are open to the public, allow at least 2 hours to see everything. When wandering the Residenz (with a free audio guide), keep in mind that only a small portion of the building's roof remained intact at the end of World War II. Most of what you see today is postwar reconstruction. The tours begin at the Grottenhof (Grotto Court), home of the wonderful Perseusbrunnen (Perseus Fountain), with its namesake holding the dripping head of Medusa. Close by is the famous Antiquarium, a barrel vaulted hall covered in frescoes and built to house the Wittelsbachs' enormous antique collection. Further along the tour route, the neo Byzantine Hofkirche was built for Ludwig I in 1826. Upstairs are the Kurfurstenzimmer (Electors Rooms) and Reiche Zimmer (Rich Rooms), a 6 room extravaganza of exuberant rococo carried out by the top stucco and fresco artists of the day. More rococo magic awaits in the Ahnengallery (Ancestors Gallery), with 121 portraits of the rulers of Bavaria in chronological order. The exquisite Reichekapelle, with its blue and gilt ceiling, inlaid marble and 16th century organ is considered the finest rococo interiors in southern Germany.
To experience further grand living, make your way out to Schloss Nymphenburg. This commanding palace with its lavish gardens is located northwest of the city center. Begun in 1664 as a villa for Electress Adelaide of Savoy, it was extended over the next century to create the royal family's summer residence. Franz Duke of Bavaria, head of the once royal Wittelsbach family, still occupies an apartment here. The main palace building consists of a large villa and two wings of parquet floors and lavish rooms. Right at the beginning of the self guided tour comes the high point of the entire Schloss, the Schonheitengalerie - housed in the former apartments of Queen Caroline. Some 38 portraits of attractive females chosen by King Ludwig I peer prettily from the walls. Further along the tour comes the Queen's Bedroom which still contains the sleigh bed on which Ludwig II was born. Also in the main building is the Marstallmuseum, displaying royal coaches and riding gear. This includes Ludwig II's fairy tale like rococo sleigh, ingeniously fitted with oil lamps for his crazed nocturnal outings. Upstairs is the world's largest collection of porcelain made by the famous Nymphenburger Manufaktur. The sprawling palace grounds behind Schloss Nymphenburg is a favorite spot with locals and visitors for strolling or relaxing. It's laid out in grand English style and accented with water features, including a large lake which is popular for feeding swans and ice skating when it freezes over in winter. The park's Amalienburg is a small hunting lodge dripping with crystal and gilt decoration - do not miss the amazing Spiegelsaal (Hall of Mirrors). Munich's most popular park is the massive Englischer Garten (English Garden). It is among Europe's biggest city parks, stretching north from Prinzregentenstrasse for about 3 miles. It was commissioned by Elector Karl Theodor in 1789 and designed by Benjamin Thompson, an American born scientist working as an advisor to the Bavarian government. Paths meander around in dark stands of oak and maple before emerging into sunlit meadows of lush grass. Sooner or later you'll find your way to the Kleinhesseloher See, a lovely lake at the center of the park. There is an excellent beer garden situated on the shores of the lake - it's called Seehaus and it has an attached restaurant. Another highlight of the Englischer Garten is the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Pagoda), now at the heart of Munich's oldest beer garden, in service since 1791. Enjoy a beer and a pretzel around the wooden pagoda, showered by the strained sounds of possibly the world's drunkest Oompah band. Further south in the park, at the top of a hill, stands the heavily photographed Monopteros. This small Greek temple was built by Leo von Klenze in 1838 and provides wonderful views of the Munich skyline.
The capital of Bavaria has many outstanding museums and I would like to share some of my favorites. In the delightful district of Maxvorstadt is the Kunstareal, the museum quarter which is packed with southern Germany's finest art museums. These include the Alte Pinakothek, the Neue Pinakothek and the Pinakothek der Moderne. Located at Barer Strasse 27, the Alte Pinakothek is Munich's main repository of Old European Masters. It is filled with all the major players who decorated canvases between the 14th and 18th centuries. This neoclassical temple was masterminded by the aforementioned Leo von Klenze and its collection is world famous. The oldest works are altar paintings, among which the standouts are Michael Pacher's Four Church Fathers and Lucas Cranach the Elder's Crucifixion (from 1503), an emotional rendition of the suffering Jesus. In the upstairs Durersaal room hangs Albrecht Durer's famous Christlike Self Portrait (from 1500), showing the gaze of an artist brimming with self confidence. There's a fine bunch of works by Dutch masters, including The Land of Cockayne by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. At 20 feet in height, Peter Paul Rubens' epic The Great Last Judgement is so big that Klenze custom designed the hall for it. The Italians are represented by Botticelli, Rafael and many others, while the French collection includes paintings by Nicolas Poussin and Francois Boucher. Among the Spaniards are such heavy hitters as El Greco and Velazquez. The Neue Pinakothek can be found at Barer Strasse 29 and it holds a well respected collection of 19th and early 20th century paintings. All the famous names get wall space here, including French impressionists such as Monet, Cezanne and Degas. There are also works by Gauguin, including Breton Peasant Women (from 1894) and Manet, including Breakfast in the Studio (from 1869). Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers (from 1888) radiates cheer. The Pinakothek der Moderne is Germany's largest modern art museum. Located at Barer Strasse 40, it's housed in a spectacular building by Stephan Braunfels, whose four story interior centers on a vast eye like dome through which natural light filters throughout the pale white galleries. The State Gallery of Modern Art has some modern classics by Picasso, Klee, Dali, Warhol and Kandinsky. The New Collection focuses on applied design from the industrial revolution via art nouveau and bauhaus to today. Early Apple Macs stand alongside tape recorders and 1960s furniture. The Architecture Museum has drawings, blueprints, photographs and models by such top practitioners as baroque architect Balthasar Neumann, bauhaus maven Le Corbusier and 1920s expressionist Erich Mendelsohn. Maxvorstadt is also home to the impressive Museum Brandhorst, the hallowed Ludwig Maximilians Universitat and venerable Kunstakademie (Art Academy). Be sure to stroll through the Konigsplatz - the Nazis used this square for their mass parades. Peaceful and green today, it comes alive in summer during concerts and open air films.
There are 2 additional museums that should not be missed in Munich. The first is the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum (Bavarian National Museum), located at Prinzregentenstrasse 3. This palatial neoclassical institution has a collection that fills 40 rooms over three floors - allow at least a few hours to enjoy it. The first floor is packed with baroque and Renaissance sculptures, along with ecclesiastical treasures such as the 1000 year old St Kunigunde's chest fashioned in mammoth ivory and gold. The second floor includes the rococo and modern periods, represented by priceless collections of Nymphenburg porcelain, Tiffany glass, Augsburg silver and precious items used by the Bavarian royal family. The building's basement holds an evocatively displayed collection of Krippen (nativity scenes). Retold in paper, wood and resin, there are Christmas story scenes here from Bohemia, Moravia, Tyrol and Naples. Note: the museum is open from 10a-5p and is closed on Monday. The other museum that is worth a visit can be found at St Jakobs Platz 1. The Munchner Stadtmuseum (Munich City Museum) tells Munich's story in an imaginative and engaging way. Exhibits in each section represent something quintessential about the city, with an audio guide to tell the tale behind them. Set out in chronological order, the exhibition kicks off with the monks who founded the city and ends with the postwar boom decades. The Old Munich section contains The Morris Dancers, a series of statuettes - it's one of the most valuable works owned by the city. New Munich charts the Bavarian capital's 18th and 19th century transformation into a prestigious royal capital and the making of the modern city. The City of Munich section examines the late 19th and early 20th century, a period known for Jugendstil architecture, composer Richard Wagner and avant garde rumblings in Schwabing. The last section, Revue, deals with the aftermath of World War I and the rise of the Nazis. Note: the period about the Nazis is a separate exhibition called Nationalsozialismus in Munchen. The last section paints a portrait of modern day Munich with nostalgic TV footage from the last 40 years. After you've had your fill of museums, make your way over to the splendid Viktualienmarkt. Located just around the corner from the Marienplatz, this market is a feast of flavors and one of Europe's finest gourmet markets. It moved here in 1807 when it outgrew the Marienplatz, and many of the stalls have been run by generations of the same family. It has everything - fresh fruit and vegetables, piles of artisan cheeses, tubs of exotic olives, hams, jams and truffles. Grab some items and head for the market's very own beer garden. Nearby at Rindermarkt 1 is the magnificent St Peterskirche (Church of St Peter). It is the oldest church in Munich (from 1150) and its tower provides stunning views of the city. Inside, be sure to see the Gothic St Martin Altar, the baroque ceiling fresco by Johann Baptist Zimmermann and rococo sculptures by Ignaz Gunther.
When traveling, I always enjoy taking a city bus tour. In Munich, the Grayline Hop On Hop Off Tours get the job done. This well known tour bus company offers a choice of 3 tours - a 1 hour highlights, a 2.5 hour grand tour, as well as excursions to Neuschwanstein, Dachau and Salzburg. Note: all tours can be booked online and the main departure point is opposite the Hauptbahnhof, main train station. Other tour options include: if you like cars, don't miss a tour of BMW's state of the art plant and museum. The 2.5 hour tour (in English and German) takes in the entire production process and examines the development of the ultimate driving machine. Not far from BMW is Olympiapark (Olympic Park), the site of the 1972 Olympic Summer Games. If you fancy football (soccer), be sure to take a side trip to the northern suburb of Frottmaning to see the totally awesome Allianz Arena, home of FC Bayern Munchen - Germany's most successful club. I highly recommend attending a match (the season runs August - May), if unable take the 1 hour stadium tour then spend some time in the club's super modern museum. Last but certainly not least, one cannot discuss Munich without mentioning Oktoberfest. This legendary beer swilling party runs from late September to the first Sunday in October and is held on the Thereienwiese fairgrounds southwest of the city center. It is the world's biggest beer festival with more than 6 million people from around the globe attending every year. Oktoberfest began in 1810 when the Bavarian king threw a big public wedding reception. It was such a hit that they decided to do it again the next year and the year after that and so on. If you are in Munich (not during the 16-18 day festival), make it a priority to visit a few of the traditional Bavarian beer halls which I will talk about later on.
WHERE TO EAT
Munich has a number of great places to eat and drink. From casual cafes and beer gardens, to upscale dining spots and stylish cocktail bars - the Bavarian capital is sure to please. Begin at Schmalznudel, located at Pralat Zistl Strasse 8, next to Viktualienmarkt. This incredibly popular place serves traditional pastries, one of which, the Schmalznudel (an oily type of doughnut), gives the shop its name. All the baked goods here are crisp and fragrant, and are best eaten with a darn good cup of coffee. Another good spot is Cafe Luitpold, found at Briennerstrasse 11, close to Odeonsplatz. This modern coffeehouse is set in a grand 19th century building and specializes in yummy cakes and gourmet chocolates. It is open every day starting at 8a.
When lunch time arrives, head to Sir Tobi at Sternstrasse 16. This Bavarian bistro serves delicious, slowfood versions of southern German and Austrian dishes in an environment of white tablecloths and fresh flowers. The service is particularly good and they are open Monday - Friday from 1130a-3p. A cool spot is Dreigroschenkeller, located at Lilienstrasse 2. It's a labyrinthine brick cellar pub with rooms based upon Bertolt Brecht's Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) - ranging from a prison cell to a red satiny salon. There are several types of beer to choose from and an extensive menu of hearty Bavarian favorites. Another chill place is Tegernseer Tal, found at Tal 8, not far from Marienplatz. A blond wood interior illuminated by a huge skylight makes this joint a bright alternative to the city's dark paneled taverns. An added bonus, with Alpine Tegernseer beer on tap and an imaginative menu of regional food, this is generally a lighter, calmer more refined beer hall experience with a less raucous environment. Next door at Tal 7 is the popular Weisses Brauhaus. One of Munich's classic beer halls, this place is charged in the evenings with ale infused hilarity and Alpine whoops accompanying the rabble rousing Oompah band. The Weisswurst (veal sausage) here sets the standard for the rest to aspire to.
When the dinner bell rings, make your way to Fraunhofer at Fraunhoferstrasse 9. With its screechy parquet floors, stuccoed ceilings and wood paneling, this wonderful spot has lots of character and charm. The menu is a seasonally adapted checklist of southern German favorites and features at least a dozen vegetarian dishes. The tiny theater in the back stages great shows and was among the venues that pioneered a modern style of Volksmusik (folk music) back in the 1970s. Note: the restaurant is open every day and only accepts cash. Located at Herzogspitalstrasse 8 is the excellent Weinhaus Neuner. This Munich institution has been serving Bavarian - Austrian classics and a long wine list for well over 100 years. Be sure to get the Tafelspitz (boiled veal in broth served with a mix of minced apples and horseradish) and wash it down with a nice crisp Franconian Riesling. Note: reservations are advised. I also enjoyed Spezlwirtschaft Altstadt, located in a back alley at Ledererstrasse 3. The staff is cool, the vibe is chill and the schnitzel is tasty. For some upscale dining, do try Tantris at Johann Fichte Strasse 7. Designed in blood reds, truffle blacks and illuminated yellows, it is one of Germany's most famous restaurants. The food is sublime, the service is efficient and the wine cellar is most likely the best in Bavaria. Note: reservations are essential. Another excellent option for fine dining is the outstanding Atelier, located in the legendary Hotel Bayerischer Hof at Promenadeplatz 2.
It is now time to discuss some of my favorite Munich beer halls and gardens. I already mentioned a few earlier, including Seehaus and the Chinesischer Turm in the Englischer Garten, along with the beer garden at Viktualienmarkt. Even if you don't like beer, every visitor to Munich should make a pilgrimage to the mother ship of all beer halls, the Hofbrauhaus at Am Platzl 9. Within this major tourist attraction, you'll discover a range of spaces in which to get bombed: the chestnut shaded garden, the main hall next to the Oompah band and tables opposite the massive kitchen. One cool feature is that you can buy your beer with prepaid tokens, just like during Oktoberfest. The Hofbrauhaus prides itself on being open every day of the year, even Christmas day. The Augustiner Braustuben is a traditional beer hall located inside the Augustiner Brewery at Landsberger Strasse 19. The Bavarian fare is superb, especially the Schweinshaxe (pork knuckle). Due to the location, the atmosphere in the evenings is slightly more authentic than that of its city center cousins, with fewer tourists at the long communal tables. One of the other cousins is Augustiner Keller, located west of the Hauptbahnhof at Arnulfstrasse 52. This 5000 seat beer garden is tons of fun and an awesome place to kick back under the ancient chestnut trees. Hirschgarten can seat up to 8000 patrons, making it Bavaria's biggest beer garden. Located at Hirschgarten 1, it's in a lovely spot in a former royal hunting preserve and rubs up against a deer enclosure. Note: stop in after visiting Schloss Nymphenburg - it's just a short walk south of the palace. The final must visit is Hofbraukeller, found at Wiener Platz. One of the original beer halls, this wood paneled traditional tavern serves several different types of the finest Hofbrau, including a seasonal brew. Out back is one of the city's first beer gardens.
If you need a beer break, Munich has a number of solid cocktail bars. Start at Schumann's Bar, located at Odeonsplatz 6. Suave and stylish, it shakes up the town's nightlife with libational flights of fancy in an impressive range of concoctions. Note: the bar is open every day until 3a. Another good spot is Pacific Times, located at Baaderstrasse 28. It has a long and innovative cocktail list and a cool decor. It opens at 6p and is closed on Sunday. The Martini Club is located at Theresienstrasse 93 and is a sophisticated operation. They serve proper cocktails, including all the classics with real care and attention to detail. The bar tenders are knowledgeable and masters of their craft. While you may have to wait a little longer than usual for your drink, you’ll appreciate it when it arrives. My favorite drink spot in Munich is Zephyr Bar at Baaderstrasse 68. It has a chill vibe and the talent behind the bar whip up courageous potions with unusual ingredients such as homemade cucumber dill juice, sesame oil or banana parsley puree. Cocktail alchemy at its finest, and a top notch gin selection to boot. Note: Zephyr is open every day at 8p.
WHERE TO STAY
Munich has plenty of places to call home during your stay and there are 2 that I especially enjoyed. Both are in prime locations that provide exceptional service, modern amenities and comfort. The first is The Charles Hotel, located at Sophienstrasse 28. This elegant hotel overlooks the peaceful Old Botanical Garden and is close to the historic Konigsplatz. The spacious, contemporary rooms feature free WiFi, flat screen TVs and sitting areas, while upgrades add balconies and sofas. Other amenities include a spa, a fitness center and an indoor pool. There is a cocktail bar, a lounge that serves afternoon tea and a restaurant with outdoor seating.
A second option is Hotel Bayerischer Hof, located at Promenadeplatz 2. Opened in 1841, this luxury hotel is a short walk from the Marienplatz and the historic Hofbrauhaus. The super central location and pool come in addition to impeccably regimented staff. The individually decorated rooms feature complimentary WiFi, minibars and flat screen TVs. Added perks include marble floors, antiques, oil paintings and the previously mentioned Atelier restaurant, which was awarded 3 Michelin stars.
Munich is filled with history, culture, beer and great food. Until next visit, prost Munchen.