Munich, often associated with its annual Oktoberfest, has a lot more to offer than beer halls and lederhosen – it is home to some of Europe’s best art galleries, fine dining restaurants, beautiful baroque architecture and gorgeous leafy parks. It is Germany’s most prosperous city and repeatedly ranked into the top 10 of places for quality-of-life in the world (ranking by Mercer). Often overlooked as a travel destination this impressive European City should certainly be on your list of places to visit!
Munich summers are beautiful, especially when spent on one of Munich’s gorgeous rooftop terraces. The Blue Spa Bar & Lounge rooftop terrace at the Bayerischer Hof offers bird’s eye views of the historic Frauenkirche with its characteristic onion domes as does the China Moon Roof Terrace at the Mandarin Oriental which is the place to go to for delicious cocktails, fantastic views & nice chill out music. We had a great time up there, enjoying pre-dinner drinks before indulging in an excellent meal at Matsuhisa (read the full review here).
A stroll along Maximilianstrasse, Munich’s most exclusive shopping street, leads you past expensive designer shops that include the likes of Gucci, Chanel, Jimmy Choo as well as luxury German brands such as Hammerle – a German jeweler. It starts at Max-Joseph-Platz, also home to the Nationaltheatre (Bavarian State Opera) and leads all the way to the beautiful Maximilianeum, the seat of the Bavarian State Parliament.
Over the centuries the Residenz was the official home of Bavarian kings, dukes, and electors – originally a small moated castle – it was transformed by the Wittelsbach dynasty into a magnificent palace with opulent state rooms, spectacularly adorned halls, and courtyards. The Residenz Museum displays 130 rooms – the most impressive room to me was the Antiquarium (image above on the right), with its classical statues, frescoes and wall paintings beautifully displaying the former splendour of the Bavarian monarchy. The museum is huge with the option to take a smaller tour that includes the highlights of the Residenz, however, we happily opted for the longer tour, admiring the large art collection and elaborately decorated rooms.
Part of the Residenz is The Hofgarten (Court Garden), which is open to the public for free – it offers a tranquil retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Originally designed at the beginning of the 17th century in the style of Italian Renaissance gardens, it has been redesigned a number of times since then. The focal point of the Hofgarten is the Temple of Diana with its eight arches (image above to the right), it is frequently used for classical concerts.
The Koenigsplatz (Kings Square) is a beautiful classical square in Munich, built in neo-greek style and modeled after the Acropolis in Athens. It brings Mediterranean flair to the city of Munich. Many Open-Air events take place here during the summer which is the reason why I wasn’t able to take more pictures of this gorgeous square. The Koenigsplatz is home to three major sights, the National Collection of Antiques, Propyläen and the Glyptothek (image above) which is solely dedicated to ancient sculptures with a fantastic collection of Green and Roman marble statues.
Marienplatz, Munich’s main square, is the beating heart of the city with its historic buildings and the Mariensäule (Column of St. Mary). The Neue Rathaus (New Town Hall) dominates the square and its famous Glockenspiel is a magnet for tourists. Three times a day at 11, 12 and 17 o’Clock (March to October) the bells ring while 35 figurines, that are housed in the clock tower, perform a dance (Schäfferltanz). Munich’s main pedestrian shopping area runs between Marienplatz and Karlsplatz, also called Stachus by the locals.
Not far from Marienplatz is the bustling Viktualienmarkt, Munich’s main open-air marketplace with stalls selling wine, cheese, fruit, vegetables, and flowers. There is also a beer garden at the heart of Viktualienmarkt, which is shaded by old chestnut trees. It is the ideal place to sit back and watch the lively market scene around you while enjoying a cold beer and maybe some of the hearty Bavarian specialties.
As mentioned Munich is much more than lederhosen and beer halls, but of course, it is part of Munich’s culture as well, with most tourists heading to the famous Hofbräuhaus to encounter Bavarian’s beer culture. The Hofbrauhaus which was once the royal brewery has a rich history that stretches all the way back to 1589 and has seen many famous visitors over the centuries that include the likes of Mozart and J.F.Kennedy. The Hofbräuhaus has a lovely outdoor space as well as plenty of indoor seating where guests can listen to live Bavarian music, played by musicians wearing the traditional lederhosen. The food menu features authentic Bavarian dishes from Scheinshaxn to Bratwust.
The Englischer Garten is Munich’s largest and most famous park, designed by Sir Benjamin Thompson, it is one of Europe’s largest urban parks and with 900 acres even bigger than Central Park in New York and London’s Hyde Park. The English Garden is a fantastic place to spend a few hours with its many walking paths, bridges, streams, and Kleinhesseloher lake. It is very popular with runners, cyclists, swimmers, and sunbathers – and just to warn you, nude sunbathing is permitted in some parts of the park (like the area behind the Monopteros, image above left), so don’t be alarmed when you come across naked bodies that lie along flower beds and paths ;-).
The Englischer Garten is also home to a few Biergärten (beer gardens) like the one at the Chinesischer Turm – modeled on the pagoda at Kew Gardens in London. Visitors can consume their own food at tables without tablecloths in beer gardens, whereas the ones with table cloths are catered for by the restaurant and beer is served by the litre – if that is too much alcohol for you an alternative might be ‘Radler’ which is a mix of beer and lemonade.
At the south-eastern tip of the Englischer Garten is the Eisbachwelle (Eisbach wave) where keen surfers queue up to ride the ice cold wave, watched by interested spectators from the bridge above and I don’t know any other city where river surfing is a thing. It is so much fun to watch them and rather surreal to see surfers with their boards walk through a land-locked city like Munich!
Munich is also a wonderful place for art lovers with Munich’s three Pinakotheken being among the world’s finest art galleries. The Alte Pinakothek (Old Masters Gallery) holds one of the most significant collections of old European masters from Rubens to Dürer. The Neue Pinakothek was Europe’s first contemporary art museum and is home to an outstanding collection of late 18th to early 20th Century European Art (images above). The Pinakothek der Moderne is a modern art museum showcasing art, graphic art, architecture and design from the 20th and 21st centuries. (Entrance fees are reduced to 1 Euro on Sundays).
The Lenbachhaus, initially the home of 19th century Munich painter Franz von Lenbach, is most renowned for its collection of paintings by the Blaue Reiter, referring to a group of artists that included famous painters like Wassily Kandinsky, August Macke and Paul Klee. It has been extended and renovated numerous times, most recently by the British architect Foster and Partners.
Wandering through all those beautiful art galleries can leave you rather hungry – a lovely place to enjoy a light lunch is Ella at Lenbachhaus where we had a plate of Ravioli with scarmoza, strawberries, asparagus and pancetta chips as well as parrotfish filet with rosemary potatoes and sun tomatoes accompanied by a chilled glass of white wine.
Munich has an excellent selection of fine dining restaurants and if you are after a special meal look no further than Matsuhisa, owned by Nobu Matsuhisa, famous for his Nobu restaurants around the world, where you are served Peruvian/Japanese cuisine at the highest standard.
You might also like: Matsuhisa Munich at the Mandarin Oriental – Dining at its Finest
Located in Munich’s western suburbs but still very easy to reach by public transport is Schloss Nymphenburg. It was designed by Agostino Barelli to serve the Bavarian electors as their summer residence. The Steinerne Saal (Great Hall – image above on the right) inside the castle is absolutely beautiful with its large chandeliers and frescoes. Most impressive, however, is the large manicured garden that lies behind the castle which is free to enter.
The Charles Hotel, part of the exclusive Rocco Forte Hotel Collection, is a fantastic place to choose for your stay in Munich, nicely located next to the Old Botanical Garden it is a wonderful urban retreat from where to explore the attractions of Munich’s Old Town which are all withing walking distance from the hotel. The charming, friendly service and attention to detail at The Charles Hotel are outstanding – Full review coming soon!
Sophia’s Restaurant & Bar at the Charles Hotel is a beautiful light & airy restaurant with views of the Old Botanical Garden. Led by former Michelin-starred chef, Michael Hüsken, the focus is on fresh, regional produce. The concept of the restaurant and bar is ‘botanical bistronomy’, offering guests a comfortable and relaxed setting. The botanical theme is reflected in the menu, herb-based cocktails and interior design that include two large fig trees.
The surrounding areas of Munich are stunning as well with beautiful lakes in close vicinity – Ammersee (picture above) and Starnberger See can each be reached in about half an hour from Munich.
A popular day trip from Munich is a visit to the famous Schloss Neuschwanstein, built for the ‘mad’ King Ludwig II, it is believed to be the castle that inspired Walt Disney. It is beautiful during the summer and even more magical during winter (when this picture was taken) when the surroundings are covered in snow.
Hopefully, I was able to highlight Munich’s attractions beyond the famous Oktoberfest which draws so many people to Munich from around the world. I might be slightly biased being originally from Germany but I believe Germany is overlooked as a holiday destination. I will be back in Munich soon, planning to try many more restaurants and bars that I would like to add to this post, so watch out for more to come in the future!
Here a few more hints and tips:
- Day travel cards are the best way to get around Munich, you can even travel all the way to the Ammersee and Starnberger See (two very attractive nearby lakes).
- Not everything is translated into English so if you find yourself at the ticket machine at the airport looking for the main train station – it is called Hauptbahnhof (HBF).
- Have cash on you as many places, unfortunately, don’t accept credit cards (hopefully, this will change in the future).
- Don’t cross pedestrian lights when the red light shows – you could even get fined for that, rules are rules in Germany 😉 My British husband once witnessed with amusement an old man late at night with no traffic at all trying to cross a street, almost halfway through the light changed from green to red so he turned back around waiting patiently for the green light to come back on.
- Most shops are closed on Sundays so plan to do most of your shopping on the other days of the week.
- Museum entry fees are often reduced on Sundays – check their websites for details.