Munich may be famous for its Oktoberfest festivities, but there’s much more to Munich than Oktoberfest. As Germany’s second largest city, it’s home to expansive parks, cozy beer halls, and chic restaurants. Munich is situated an hour’s drive from the Alps, so it’s a perfect staging point for a ski weekend in the winter or hiking in the summer.
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Best Time to Visit Munich
Summer is warm, but not too hot in Munich, so it’s a perfect time to visit. You’ll be able to enjoy the beer gardens, watch open-air shows and eat out on terraces late into the evening while the sun sets.
Munich gets very crowded around Oktoberfest in late September to early October, as six million visitors flock to the city. Make reservations early if you plan on visiting during the festival.
Munich is also a great staging point for a ski holiday. In December, Munich is transformed into a Christmas wonderland with over 40 Christmas markets dotting the city with gluhwein and Feuerangenbowle on offer at marketplaces. Temperatures do get cold in the winter, so make sure to bring warm clothing and a sturdy set of shoes for walking in the snow.
Top Things to Do in Munich
You might think about traditional Bavarian costumes and beer halls when you think of Munich, but surfing?
Yet, right in the middle of the city, you’ll stumble across one of the best river surfing spots in Europe on the Eisbach, an icy-cold, man-made river that runs for 2 km through Munich city center. Vice Magazine called it the “Mecca of River Surfing“.
Surfers line up on the banks to surf on a standing wave about 1 meter high, while crowds gather on the bridge above to watch their moves.
You’re only recommended to join in the fun if you are an advanced surfer. On hot, summer days, people often jump into the fast-flowing Eisbach further downstream from the surfers to cool off. You’re quickly pulled by the current downstream several hundred meters where you can jump out again. While not officially permitted, it’s largely tolerated.
After watching the surfers, you can continue on into the Englischer Garten, a huge public park that stretches right from the heart of Munich out to the edges of the city, covering 910 acres in total. TripAdvisor puts it first on its list of the top things to do in Munich.
A little further inside of the English Gardens, you’ll find one of Munich’s largest beer gardens situated around the “Chinese Tower”, with 7,000 seats. Grab a liter-sized beer to go with a pretzel and listen to the Oompah band play!
Art and history lovers will be spoilt for choice in Munich. The Kunstareal area just north of the city center in Schwabing is where you’ll find many of museums. The Guardian writes that few cities can boast of “so much art of the highest quality in such a small area”.
You can see pieces from Picasso to Warhol at the Pinakothek der Moderne, a contemporary museum. Just beside it, you’ll find the Alte Pinakothek, filled with works by Titian, Rembrandt, and Rubens. Across the street, you can find art by Monet, Van Gogh, and Cezanne in the Neue Pinakothek. Finally, the Brandhorst Museum is a more recent museum with a collection including Warhol and Damien Hirst.
On Sundays, tickets to these museums cost only 1 euro each, so you can museum hop all Sunday in between grabbing brunch in the surrounding trendy Schwabing neighborhood.
Where to Stay in Munich
Munich is often described as having a village feeling in its city center. If you’re staying for a couple days, we’d recommend staying somewhere near Marienplatz in the city center.
Alternatively, the hip Schwabing area is full of restaurants, cafes and boutique shops as well as museums, while only a few metro stops from the city center. To help you decide where to stay, we have compiled a list of the best neighborhoods in Munich.
In the luxury range, the Bayerischer Hof is an iconic 5-star hotel in Munich and hosts many world dignitaries and international conferences situated right in the heart of the city center. The Telegraph put it on the top of its list of Munich luxury hotels with a room starting from about $400/night.
If you’re looking for a mid-range boutique hotel, the Bavaria Hotel heads this list of great small hotels. It’s well situated just beside the Theresienwiese, the grounds that host the Oktoberfest and other festivals such as the biannual Tollwood Festival. Prices start from $150/night.
Looking for sustainable, eco-friendly options? The Derag Living Hotel at Vikualienmarkt is a 4-star environmentally sustainable restaurant situated right in the center of Munich. Another option is the Schlossgut Oberambach, an eco hotel situated about 40 minutes outside of Munich on the Starnberg Lake. It’s a family run hotel located on a 120-acre farm with exclusively organic cuisine. It’s perfect if you’d prefer to stay in a more peaceful setting while taking day trips in to see Munich city center.
On a budget? While Munich is not a cheap destination, you’ll find reasonably priced hostels and budget hotels, particularly if you’re willing to stay a little further from the city center. For example, A&O hostels have several locations in Munich outside of the city center with dorm bed starting at about $10/night and private rooms from $25/night. Wombats Hostel is at the top in this list of top party hostels. It’s very conveniently located right at the main central train station, but from experience don’t count on getting a full night of sleep!
Find and book these hotels on our favourite accommodation search website: Booking.com
Another great alternative for accommodation in Munich is Airbnb, where private rooms start at $30 and offer a unique way to experience the city from a more local perspective.
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Where to Eat & Drink in Munich
Even if you’re not visiting Munich during Oktoberfest, no visit will be complete without sitting down in one of the many beer halls with a beer and Bavarian food, soaking the atmosphere. You’ll find the legendary Hofbräuhaus or the Ratskeller near Marienplatz in the city center. Expect long wait times during peak hours, however.
One tip is to avoid long waits and crowded benches in the city center and go the Augustiner Bräustuben near the central train station for excellent food and beers at much more reasonable prices. Inside, you’ll find mostly locals lining the long tables chatting in Bavarian dialect.
The “Viktualienmarkt“ is a gourmet food market that is held daily just beside Marienplatz in the city center. It’s perfect for wandering around, trying out local specialties. Mimi Sheraton once wrote in the New York Times that eating there was a meal worth taking a flight for. Try a Weißwurst!
Stuck inside on a rainy afternoon? Lost Weekend is a vegan cafe that combines a co-working space with a bookshop in the Schwabing area of Munich near the museum quarter.
A short walk away, you’ll find the vegan Gratitude Restaurant, listed as one of the best vegan restaurants on Foursquare. Louis Hotel also deserves a mention as offering the best vegan brunch in town right in the city center.
If you’d like a break from Bavarian cuisine, my personal favorite restaurant in Munich is the Bib Gourmand-listed M-Bellville (Permanently Closed) in Schwabing, which serves French bistro food and natural wine at excellent prices.
If you’re looking for bars, the Glochenbachviertel is full of trendy bars and nightclubs, as well as a strong gay scene. Munich is also famous for its high-end nightclubs such as P1 or Ksar, which are often frequented by local celebrities. Substanz is a nice bar if you’re looking for a more low-key location with regular live music and improv shows.
How Much Time Do you Need In Munich
Munich’s city center is small, so you can walk around it in a day if you’re pressed for time. Frommer’s one-day itinerary will give you a good flavor of Munich in short period of time.
Dashing around the city is hardly the best way to fully enjoy this alpine treasure. Three to four days will give you time to make day trips outside of Munich, such as visiting the famous inspiration for Disney castles, Neuschwanstein, or the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, as this three to four day itinerary suggests.
Like to get active on your holidays? Munich is surrounded by beautiful countryside and small villages. This active day itinerary is perfect for burning off the heavy Bavarian food.
Have you ever been to Munich? What tips and advice would you give to first-time visitors?
About the Author: Thomas Carney lived in Munich for three years. He writes about minimalist travel, packing lists and merino wool clothing over at MerinoWoolRocks.com