What images conjure up in your mind when you think of Munich? Let me guess – you think of the world-famous Oktoberfest, the traditional lederhosen and dirndls, beer steins, sausages and pretzels. Okay, yes you are right, but of course, there is so much more. Munich, or in German München, is the largest and the capital city of Bavaria and the third largest city in Germany (after Berlin and Hamburg). As such, it is a modern and cosmopolitan city chock full of contemporary art museums, boutique hotels and shopping, as well as, Michelin star and fine dining restaurants. All within the beautiful backdrop of the Alps and the Isar river winding through the city. As a holidaymaker, this city makes for a great destination you need to add to your travel list. So, let me share some of my Munich favourites with you.
My Favourite Munich Square: Marienplatz
This is the central square and heart of the city since it was founded in 1158. It was then, a place where farmers and artisans gathered looking to sell their crops and produce making it the primary commercial hub. Today, it turns into a large Christmas market for 3 weeks of the year. When you enter the square, you will be surrounded by historical buildings, like the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) which covers 9,159 square meters (3.5 square miles) and has over 400 rooms. It features the famous Glockenspiel, a cuckoo clock where 43 bells ring out followed by a carousel of more than 30 dancing figures at 11am, noon, 5 and 9pm. It is also where you will find the Raskeller (Town Hall cellar) restaurant and Mariensäule (Mary’s Column) signifying Munich’s gratitude to the Swedes for not destroying the city in the Thirty Years War.
My Favourite Munich Beer Hall: Hofbräuhaus
Despite it being an extremely touristy thing to do, you can’t go to Munich without visiting the famous Hofbräuhaus which dates back to the 16th century. It offers the quintessential German beer hall experience complete with live brass band. You can’t help yourself, to join in during the chorus of “eins, zwei, g’suffa” (one, two, down the hatch). The Hofbräuhaus has more than 100 active groups of regulars. The oldest regulars’ table has already been held for 70 years, as well as, keeping their kegs under lock and key. When you enter the hall, you seat yourself. It might take a few circles around the hall before you find a spot at one of the long tables along with others. Prost!
My Favourite Munich View: St. Peter’s Church
Before the founding of Munich as a city in 1158, there had been a mostly-wooden church that stood for only 150 years before a fire completely destroyed its structure. The reconstruction of the church was over 40 years and was completed in 1368. In the early 17th century, the 91-meter (299 ft) spire was added. Climb the 306 steps to the 56 meter (183.7 ft) high platform to take in the best view of Munich, and on a clear day, you may be able to see all the way to the Alps.
My Favourite Munich Shopping: Kaufingerstrasse
This is a shopping area that stretches for several blocks between Marienplatz and Karlsplatz, and is exclusively designated for pedestrian traffic (or fussgangerzone). It also happens to be the oldest street in Munich. There is a great mix of independent boutiques, chain stores and large-scale department stores to explore. Wander down some side alleyways for some interesting specialty shops too.
My Favourite Munich Market: Viktualienmarkt
When the farmers market outgrew its original location at Marienplatz in the early 19th century, Vikualienmarkt was created and offers more than 140 booths of seasonal produce, fish, meat, flowers and more. It’s a great place to go for lunch with lots of take-away choices and is open Monday to Saturday.
My Favourite Munich Garden: Hofgarten
The Hofgarten was formerly the court garden of the Residenz, a palace complex built between 1570 and 1620 and has remained relatively unchanged since the 17th century. At the center of the park, you will find a pavilion, Diana Temple. The intricate octagon-shaped pavilion, which features eight entrance archways, is pretty spectacular, especially if you are lucky enough to catch a spontaneous classical concert like we did. Trust me, it is a wonderful place for a stroll and happens to be along the way to many other attractions like the Englischer Garten.
My Favourite Munich Park: Englischer Garten
The beautiful English Garden park was created in the 18th century and is one of the world’s biggest city parks, yes bigger than Central Park in NYC. It is full of massive trees, endless paths, lush grass and a few small lakes making this a a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Here you will find cyclists, runners, walkers, sunbathers and picnickers all coming to escape the busyness of the city. Unique to this park is Munich’s oldest beer garden (Chinesischer Turm), a small Greek temple (Monopteros) offering views of the sprawling park, a duck pond where you will be amazed by the variety and number of ducks, the Eisback river where you will find surfing due to the strong currents; and lawn mowing sheep – that’s right, whose job is to keep the grass sheared.
My Favourite Munich Beer Garden: Chinesischer Turm
Traditional beer gardens (or biergarten) originated in Munich and date back to the 19th century. It is an outdoor area in which beer and food are enjoyed at long shared tables under a canopy of trees. Traditionalists will tell you there is a distinction between a wirtsgarten (where food is sold and served) and a biergarten (where patrons bring their own food). There are many beer gardens spread across the city, but my favourite was set in the Englischer Garten. The 25 meter (82 feet) high 18th century Chinese Tower was built as a viewing platform, but today, it is where you will find the brass band play. This is the second largest beer garden, with capacity of 7,000 seats. The long wooden tables are arranged around the tower and under massive chestnut trees.
My Favourite Munich Day Trip: Dachau Concentration Camp
This concentration camp found just outside the city, was one of the firsts built and served as a model for all the other camps to follow. Visitors follow the ‘path of the prisoner’ walking the same way prisoners would have after their arrival in the camp. The haunting entrance marked with the words Arbeit Macht Frei (work will set you free) appeared at every concentration camp’s entrance point. Once inside you can visit the original barracks, courtyards, and crematorium. It is a moving experience, one that is indescribable, but necessary to learn and reflect on that part of our history.
A Local's Favourite: Alter Südfriedhof
I asked a local, her Instagram handle is My_Europe_Traveldiary (please check her feed out), what her favourite place was in Munich and she told me it is old south cemetery. This historic cemetery dates back to the 16th century and although it reached its final capacity in 1944, it is where you will find almost all prominent citizens in those preceding centuries. Today, it is where locals like My_Europe_Traveldiary come for a walk, a run, or sit quietly and take in the peaceful surroundings. To hear her describe it, makes me want to return myself to explore this local’s favourite spot.
Those are my Munich favourites, now what are yours? Munich is a wonderfully diverse city with lots of history and key attractions making it a great destination or home base to explore nearby Austria or southern Germany.
A very special thank you to My_Europe_Traveldiary, a local from Munich, for graciously sharing some of her photos (see photo credits) and adding her own favourite thing to do in her hometown.