It’s spring and many of us are pondering where to go on vacation this year. For some, it’s about hitting the global highway in search of new travel adventures in far-reaching locations. For others, it’s about revisiting old haunts that left them feeling emotionally connected and where heartfelt memories were created. I think I fit into both groups; I love to travel through new countries, but there are some places that keep calling me back. Munich, Germany is one of those places.
Munich is the capital and largest city of the German state of Bavaria, on the banks of River Isar north of the Bavarian Alps. It’s the home to centuries-old buildings, numerous museums, and world renown beer.
Munich was founded in 1158 by Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony and of Bavaria. In 1255 it was chosen as the residence of the Wittelsbach family, the dukes of Bavaria and later in 1506 became the capital of the dukedom. During World War II, Munich was heavily bombed and more than 50% of the entire city and up to 90% of the historic center were destroyed. Restorations were made from the photographs the Nazi’s took before Allied bombing devastated the city in April of 1945. From tragic and massive losses to new beginnings, Munich’s rebirth is nothing short of a miracle.
Today, Munich is a modern cosmopolitan metropolis with a historic small town warmth. Despite the 1.5 million inhabitants, Munich feels cozy and charming. Their current law states that no building can be taller than the church spires, and I think this is why tourists find Munich so appealing.
There’s plenty of sights to see in Munich, and surprisingly most of them are free to the public. Here are a few of my favorites things to do and places to visit while soaking in the Bavarian ambience.
Walking & Bike Tours
The best way to see any city is to get out on foot and explore. That’s one reason why Munich’s free walking tours are such a treat for visitors. The tours are held in English and a great introduction to this German city. These tours move past all the main tourist attractions in the Bavarian capital’s old town. Biking and walking tour companies train guides who end up leaving and freelancing on their own. They offer tours for free but ask for tips at the end of the gig.
If you’re looking for a cool way to see the best sights, book a Segway tour for around $75 US. Cruise along with an expert tour guide through Munich’s bustling parks, gardens, markets, neighborhoods, famous residences, and museums on a fun and educational Segway tour! Along the way, take pictures, stop at favorite sites, and hear fascinating facts and stories about this contemporary city with ancient roots.
The English Garden is a huge public park located in the middle of Munich. At 1.4 square miles, it’s one of the world largest municipal parks. It’s well known for its beer gardens, lakes, and lush landscapes. Within the garden is a Japanese garden and tea house that towers over a nearby beer garden.
Activities in the park are plentiful. You can observe the abundant wildlife in its natural habitat, rent a boat and float around the lake, enjoy a family picnic, stroll leisurely around the grounds, or take a horse-drawn carriage for a look around the serene greenspace. Don’t forget to check out the Monopteros, a small but lovely temple on top of the hill.
Marienplatz and Glockenspiel
Since 1158 Marienplatz has been Munich’s central town square. Bordered on the north side is the New City Hall (Neues Rathaus) and Munich’s Old City Hall (Altes Rathaus) on the east side. The Glockenspiel, which was built in 1908, is located in the tower of the new city hall. This attraction alone draws millions of tourists each year. Each day at 11 am, this huge clock provides a show that reenacts different moments from Bavarian history. Today the Marienplatz offers a nice mix of historic buildings and lots of modern shops and restaurants.
The first Oktoberfest began on October 12, 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the happy royal event. Today, the Oktoberfest is the largest festival in the world, with an international flavor characteristic of the 21st century. Each year around 6 million visitors from all around the world join fellow travelers and beer drinkers at the Oktoberfest.
Beer halls or tents open at 10 am, but lineups can start as early as 7 am. These festive tents are packed all day and night, so it may be tough to get a seat and a frosty frothy brew. You can enter these facilities free to listen to Bavarian music and get a feel for their culture. You might even catch a Bavarian parade if you’re there at the right time.
Expect to see lots of traditional Bavarian garb; dirndls and lederhosen. You can purchase an authentic garment for around 200 euros, but there are plenty of affordable options. You’ll find sales in shops, on the streets, and even the train station for around 18 euro.
Although entrance into the Oktoberfest is free, there are lots of food and gift kiosks that will set you back some cash. You can find massive pretzels, sauerkraut, sausage, and gingerbread. Don’t forget to hop on a few of the amusement rides too. You’ll find a dizzying assortment of over 200 carnival rides and side shows.
The Hofbräuhaus was originally built in 1589 by Bavarian Duke Maximilian I as an extension of the Staatliches Hofbräuhaus brewery. It’s recognized as one of Munich’s oldest breweries that cater to locals and tourists year around. Today it’s a place where you can bring the whole gang for a meal and some Bavarian entertainment. It’s a beer hall, restaurant and entertainment center that’s large enough to seat up to 1300 guests. If you visit the Hofbräuhaus during the Oktoberfest, it will be a challenge to find a seat or get service. If you can get in, it’s well worth the experience.
BMW Headquarters and Museum
It makes perfect sense for the BMW building to be shaped like a four-cylinder engine. This Munich landmark has served as world headquarters for the Bavarian automaker BMW for over 40 years. It was declared a protected historic building in 1999. The main tower consists of four vertical cylinders standing next to and across from each other. Each cylinder is divided horizontally in its center by a mold in the facade. Notably, these cylinders do not stand on the ground; they are suspended on a central support tower.
If you’re hoping to ogle some snazzy BMW cars, the BMW Museum is located right next to the tower while BMW Welt, which showcases the current cars of BMW and acts as a distribution center, opened on the opposite side of the road on 17 October 2007.
BMW Museum and BMW Welt
The museum shows BMW’s technical development throughout the company’s history. It contains engines and turbines, aircraft, motorcycles, and vehicles in a plethora of possible variations. In addition to actual models, there are futuristic-looking, even conceptual studies from the past 20 years. It costs 13 euros for admission, but it includes a group guided tour.
BMW Welt operations are coordinated with the other local BMW facilities, the BMW Museum and BMW Headquarters. It has a showroom with the current model lineup of BMW cars and motorcycles, and the other two BMW Group brands, Mini and Rolls-Royce. The BMW Welt Compact Tour for 7.50 euros, provides a glimpse behind the scenes, explaining the complex logistics of automobile delivery to customers from all over the world.
The Nymphenburg Palace west of Munich, is one of the largest royal palaces in Europe and is not to be missed on a sight-seeing tour through the Bavarian capital city. The oft-visited Baroque tourist attraction with it’s expansive landscaped garden and museum draws not only guests from around the world, but is also a beloved institution for Munich residents. In 1664, Prince Ferdinand Maria had the castle built as a present to his wife, who had borne him the long-awaited heir, Max Emanuel. Max Emanuel himself later played a significant role in expanding the palace layout.
This baroque palace was the summer residence of the Bavarian monarchs. Five generations of Wittelsbach rulers were involved in the construction of this stately ensemble, which houses several outstanding collections. With its lavishly decorated interior and the famous “Gallery of Beauties” commissioned by Ludwig I, the palace is one of Munich’s favorite attractions. Among the highlights are the former bedroom of King Ludwig II and the impressive banquet hall with fine ceiling frescoes by Johann Baptist Zimmermann. Open daily between 11 am and 6 pm visitors can drive for 15 Euro per person in a genuine Venetian gondola.
The Viktualienmarkt – meaning provision market, got its start in 1807. Over the years, the market has evolved from a farmers’ market to a popular market for fresh food and delicatessen. It’s renowned for its diversity and size ( 2 acres) and offers exotic ingredients that are not available anywhere else in the area. Featuring 140 stalls and shops offering flowers and plants, fruits and vegetables, eggs, butter, honey, fish, meat, sausages, herbs, spices, delicatessens, wine and tea are assembled on an area covering 22,000 square meters. It’s open daily; Monday to Friday 10am – 6pm Saturday 10am – 3pm. It’s closed Sunday’s and holidays. It’s a perfect place to spend a lazy day.
Munich is a diverse city that has a lot to offer tourists; you could spend a week there and still not see everything. Munich’s relaxed atmosphere, genuine and unpretentious character and preserved history deserve to be appreciated and explored by all. I love Munich.