Munich is the third largest city in Germany and the largest in Germany’s Bavarian region, an area in southern Germany predominately known for scenic beauty, frescoed buildings, and lots of beer. But Munich is much more than just its annual Oktoberfest and the majestic Bavarian mountains and plains surrounding it. Even if you don’t have much time in Munich, it’s still possible to experience the culture, sights, and (of course) the beer.
Thinking of what Munich is like, If Berlin and Munich were sisters, Berlin would be the edgier and cooler sister (the rebel, so to speak). Munich, on the other hand, is the posher, more-well behaved one (but not afraid to let her hair down and have a good old time).
Munich is old, yet mindbogglingly clean; historic, yet progressive; charming, yet believable. You can see all of the top sights in only two days. Here are the ones you won’t want to miss:
Marienplatz is the heart, soul, and lifeblood of Munich. It has been the main square for the city of Munich for the past 850 years and it has the style, architecture and history to prove it.
Marienplatz is home to many of Munich’s most iconic buildings, skylines and sights, and it’s easy to spend a full day in this compact area enjoying the history and culture and scoping out the most tantalizingly fragrant food stalls.
New Town Hall is the symbol of Marienplatz. The medieval Old Town Hall was built in the 1400s and has a 180-foot tower that offers great views of the square. New Town Hall overshadows Old Town Hall in terms of impressive architecture as is encased in Gothic intricacies and is also home to the Glockenspiel.
Every day at 11 am, 12 pm, and 5 pm (the 5 pm performance doesn’t occur from November through February) the Glockenspiel performance of motorized figurines dance, joust, and twirl around the inside of the tower of New Town Hall for 12 minutes.
2. Schloss Nymphenburg
Schloss Nymphenburg palace, a 20 minute tram ride from the city center. Though it’s a bit of a trek to get to compared to other sights in the city, it’s worth it to see for its history and grandeur. Schloss Nymphenburg was the Baroque summer palace of Bavarian sovereigns and served as a retreat from the royal’s residence in the city. The Bavarian nobility would spend the summer in the country at Schloss Nymphenburg with their family. Make sure you don’t miss seeing the frescoed Festival Room and intriguing Gallery of Beauties.
3. Munich Residenz
Munich Residenz, the other home of the Bavarian royalty. Heading to Munich Residenz right after Schloss Nymphenburg will give you a great contrast of the two different styles of decorating between a summer and city palace home. Compared to the white and pastel coloring of Schloss Nymphenburg, the Munich Residenz is darker, bathed in crimsons, browns, and blacks. In addition to being the place of residence for royals from 1508 to 1918, the Munich Residenz also served as the seat of government for the Bavarian rulers. Today, many of the rooms are open to the public to view and the Munich Residenz is also home to one of Bavaria’s largest museum complexes, including a treasury, plus the old, opulent Cuvilliés Theatre. Be sure to see the elaborate Grotto Room, the massive Antiquarium Hall, and the portrait-filled Ancestral Gallery.
4. Munich’s Beer Gardens
The most famous beer garden is Hofbräuhaus, a 3-floor beer hall filled with plenty of beer, food, people, and music. It has been open since the early 1800s and serves up huge portions of German cuisine plus entertains with live German folk music. The outdoor area of Hofbräuhaus fills up fast, so be prepared to wait or opt for a seat indoors in the large dining hall.
If you for sure want to sit outside, head to the massive (and my personal favorite beer garden) Augustiner Keller. This beer garden can seat up to 5,000 people and is split into two sections: one that’s self-serve and the other that has table service, all of which consists of picnic-style tables located under leafy trees.
5. English Gardens
Englisher Garten or the English Gardens is Europe’s largest city park at 3.73 km (1.4 miles). This urban park offers so many things for kids of all ages. You can walk along the shores of Kleinhesseloher Lake. This is an artificial lake with three small islands that no one is allowed to go on. Row boats can be rented to explore the lake.
There are ducks and geese roaming around. Plenty of people feed them so be sure to save your picnic leftovers. There are also many places for playing sports, running around or just relaxing.
The English Gardens had four beer gardens throughout the area. While the adults are enjoying themselves, the kids can also have some fun. There are decent-size playgrounds nearby with plenty of equipment, a sandbox and even a carousel.
But, the highlight of the park for us is seeing the river surfers at the Eisbach. Who knew you could surf on a river? The Himmelreich bridge is one of the best spots to watch them.
Munich has several churches worth a visit and all for free. This city surprisingly had many remarkable churches that housed magnificent altars, ceilings, frescoes and sculptures. The most popular ones are Frauenkirche/Church of Our Lady, Peterskirche/St. Peter’s Church, Theatinerkirche/St. Kajetan Church and Asam Church/St. Johann Nepomuk.
St. Peter’s Church is the city’s oldest parish church. You can climb the 300 steps to the tower. It’s a minimal € 1.50 (kids 6 and under are free) to climb and your efforts are rewarded with a scenic panoramic view of the city.
The Church of Our Lady’s two onion dome towers have long been a part of Munich’s city landscape. They are visible from many areas of the city. This large Gothic building is worth entering for its beauty and to see the fabled devil’s footprint that’s sure to entertain the kids.
Legend has it that the builder struck a deal with the devil to construct the church. The devil only agreed if the church was windowless. Once it was completed, he led the devil to a spot where he couldn’t see a single window. The devil was enraged and stomped his foot leaving this footprint.
Even if you’ve seen many cathedrals and churches during your travels and feel you’re on cathedral overload, the small, elaborate Asamkirche is one church not to miss and is an excellent example of Baroque architecture. Another church to see during your one day in Munich is St. Peter’s Chapel (Peterskirche), the oldest church in Munich, which was built in 1180 in a Romanesque architecture style. Also located in St. Peter’s Chapel are the eerie skeletal remains of St. Mundita, a Christian martyr. The skeleton is housed in a clear box and adorned with jewels, gold, and some spooky fake eyes.
Viktualienmarkt is the oldest farmer’s market in Munich dating back to the early 1800s, conveniently located behind St. Peter’s Church. There are about 140 booths that house local food, produce, meats, breads, cheeses, flowers, unique merchandise and souvenirs in this outdoor market.
Feel free to sample as much as humanly possible, grabbing a sausage from this vendor, a pickle from that vendor, a pretzel from somewhere else and a fresh squeezed juice from yet another stall. This market is also called the “city’s stomach”.
8. Cuvilliés Theater
Built in 1755, this theater is built in the Rococo style, famous for its tiered layers and box seating. Aside from the stunning architecture, operas are still performed here till this day so be sure to grab yourself a ticket to get ‘the full experience’.
9. Hellabrunn Zoo
Sprawling across a vast 89 acres, this zoo regularly wins accolades as one of the best zoos in Europe. Founded in 1911 as the world’s first “Geo-zoo”. Animals live according to their geographic distribution in complex communities and you follow the icons to experience different habitats.
Zoos are an understandably a touchy subject for travelers but now, the better zoos do help build knowledge, respect and love for animals – even from a very young age and this can be quite a positive force in wildlife conservation. The zoo itself also takes part in conservation projects worldwide to protect animals, too.