Guide to Visiting Munich

Munich is one of those cities that is hard not to fall in love with.  Located in southeastern Germany near the Austrian border, Munich retains much of its medieval charm today.  As the capital of Bavaria, it’s a place where time seems to have stood still, yet the modern traveler will find it refreshing.  The people are warm and friendly, and with tons of things to see and do matched with an equal amount of opportunities to kick back with a frothy beverage, Munich is definitely a place you can raise your glass to.  Here’s what you need to know:

Getting There and Around
If you’re arriving in Munich by plane, the easiest way to get to the historic center from the airport is to take the S1 or S8 train.  These underground lines come ever 5-10 minutes and will zip you to the city in under an hour (it’s about 45 minutes to get to the Hauptbahnhof train station, for example).  Just follow the signs with the green and white “S” symbol and buy your tickets at the vending machines or counter.  You’ll have the choice between a single ticket (Einzelfahrkarte) good for 3 hours or a day ticket (Tageskarte) valid until 6 a.m. the following morning.  Since the airport is zone 4, you’ll need to specify Gesamtnetz for the entire network.  And if you’re traveling with at least one other person, the most cost-effective option is a Gruppen-Tageskarte (Group Day Ticket, formerly known as a Partner Day Ticket), which is valid for up to 5 adults (2 children count as 1 adult, which means even greater savings for families).  Be sure to validate your tickets too by inserting them into the blue machines before the first use.

München Hauptbahnhof train station

If you’re arriving by train, the Hauptbahnhof station is located right outside of the city walls and is a short walk to most hotels.  Overall, we found Munich to be very walkable so didn’t use public transportation other than to get from the airport to the city center.  If you do find yourself taking public transportation within Munich or to get to the sights that are a little further out, a rule of thumb is that S-Bahn train generally run east to west and U-Bahn trains run north to south throughout the city.

What to See and Do
Most of your sightseeing will be contained within Munich’s old medieval walls.  At the center is Marienplatz anchored by the neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall), which is famous for its Glockenspiel.  Twice daily at 11am and 12pm (and 5pm in May through October), tons of people pack the square to watch its whimsical show.  Nearby you’ll find the open air Viktualienmarkt (with stalls selling fresh produce under a festive maypole), and several noteworthy churches including the oldest in Munich St. Peter’s (with great views from the top of its spire), the Renaissance-style St. Michael’s, the twin-domed Frauenkirche and the over-the-top Baroque Asam’s Church.  To the north of Marienplatz is the Residenz (the former royal palace of the Wittelsbach family) and the elegant Hofgarten (perfect for strolling).  A little further out is the English Garden, Munich’s version of Central Park (although larger at 910 acres versus New York’s 843 acres) where you’ll find everything from a beer garden to biking, sunbathing and even a spot for surfing.

Munich sights: Glockenspiel (left), Viktualienmarkt (center), Frauenkirche (right)

There are a handful of museums throughout Munich including the Deutsches Museum (focusing on science and technology), as well as the city’s main art museums located in a cluster and neatly organized by time period – the Alte Pinakothek (14th-19th century), Neue Pinakothek (18th-19th century), Pinakothek der Moderne (19th-20th century) and the most recent Museum Brandhorst (modern art).  For shopping, the best streets are Kaufingerstrasse, Sendlinger Strasse and the exclusive Maximilianstrasse for designer brands.

Neuschwanstein Castle, image from Wikimedia Commons

I’m also a huge fan of daytrips, and there are plenty of options to journey outside of Munich’s city center including the Nymphenburg Palace (former summer residence of the Bavarian family with beautiful gardens), BMW-Welt (site of the brand’s headquarters, factory, showroom and museum), Dachau (memorial site of the former concentration camp), Neuschwanstein (a fairytale-like castle that inspired Walt Disney) and even further out to Salzburg in Austria (under 2 hours away by train).  

Salzburg, Austria

Where to Eat and Drink
Eating and drinking is a social experience in Munich.  The city’s beer culture is a huge part of its identity as you would expect, but where you choose to drink leaves you with many options.  If the weather is nice, there is no better way to spend an afternoon than at a beer garden in Munich.  Like a big public living room that invites you to pull up a chair, these outdoor spots are a carefree place to enjoy large overflowing mugs of beer, satisfying snacks and other merriment.  Some notable beer gardens include Hirschgarten (the largest in Munich, just north of the train station), Chinesischer Turm (located at the Chinese Tower in the English Gardens), a small one at the Viktualienmarkt and others that are attached to big restaurants and breweries like Augustiner.

A traditional Bavarian meal with Augustiner beer

For indoor options, beer halls offer traditional menus and communal, almost cafeteria-style seating at long wooden tables where you’ll eat and drink side-by-side with locals and tourists alike.  While there are too many restaurants and beer halls to name, some places to add to your list include the Hofbräuhaus (popular and touristy but a must-see), Augustiner Bräustuben (restaurant of the oldest brewery in Munich dating back to 1328), Hacker-Pschorr Bräuhaus (where beer is brewed in copper kettles) and Weisses Bräuhaus (specializing in wheat beer).  Wherever you go, pair your beverage with hearty Bavarian cuisine, from giant soft pretzels to dumplings, wurst and other meat dishes, and you’ll never go hungry in Munich.  Here are a few other recommendations for places I visited.

The world famous Hofbräuhaus beer hall

Where to Stay
When we were planning our trip, we found that the majority of hotels were clustered in the streets south of the train station.  While this area is also home to some casinos and slightly seedy clubs, the walk from the station to our hotel was only about 5 minutes and we never felt unsafe, even at night.  We stayed at the Hotel Andra, which is a 10 minute walk to the city center and has clean spacious rooms, 24 hour reception and a feast of a breakfast in the mornings.

Hotel Andra in Munich

Also Good to Know
One huge tip that I wish I’d known before our trip is that there’s a law in Munich that prohibits most businesses from opening on Sundays.  With all stores and many restaurants and markets closed that day, you should definitely plan ahead.  Also, if you’re planning to go to Munich during Oktoberfest, which is held at the Theresienwiese festival grounds at the end of September (and attracts more than 6 million people each year), you should make your reservations as early as possible since prices are inflated and hotels book up fast.  And finally, the holidays are a great time to visit when Munich goes all out with beautiful lights, decorations and Christmas marketswhere you’ll find authentic food, hot mulled wine, ornaments and nativities for sale and more.

Christkindlmarkt on Marienplatz

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