Munich is the capital of Bavaria, the most southern province of Germany. Bavaria has lots of tradition which often get mistakenly associated with the whole country. Nevertheless the ridiculously large beer steins and the weird clothes locals wear – especially during the once a year occurring Beer Fest – can only be found in Munich, Bavaria. The city close to the Southern Alps has far more to offer than the Oktoberfest. However, you will notice that Bavarians place great emphasis on beer and food!
Getting around Munich
Transportation Honesty Policy
Like Berlin and Vienna, Munich runs on the transportation honesty policy. What do I mean by this? Think about New York’s subway system where you buy a ticket and there’s a gate preventing you from entering without using said ticket. London’s Tube system requires the ticket when exiting the station. In Munich, there is no security measure preventing you from catching the train. There are places to buy your ticket, and there’s a little box for you to “stamp” your ticket, but there’s no turnstile or gate preventing you from catching the train!
Airport to the city
Munich has one of the nicest airports in the world. I love transferring through here. It’s clean, it’s modern, there’s an open stadium like entrance. There’s even a beer garden. From the airport, the S-Bahn takes you straight into the city. The trains are located in Terminal 1 and there are clear signs everywhere for them. It’s about 45 minutes into the city center via the S1 or the S8 trains.
The U-Bahn (underground metro) is similar to the system in Berlin. The city is far smaller than Berlin so the train system is easy to pick up. The fare is 2.70 € for a single ride. For the most part, I found Munich to be a very walkable city. I only really used the metro to visit the BMW factory and the hirschgarten.
What to eat in Munich
I think German food is vastly underrated. It’s certainly not the healthiest or most exotic cuisine, but it’s home-cooked, hearty, European soul food. Perhaps it was the short amount of time I spent in Germany and Austria (9 days) and the fact I was traveling, which made consuming large quantitesi of beer and meat justifiable. For those 9 days, I was in heaven. Munich is the spot to try traditional German cuisine, and by that I mean Bavarian cuisine. Sausages (wurst) of all types, giant pretzels, haxe, leiberkase, knodel, spatzle etc. are easy to find in this city.
Okay, now you can seek lunch and the day’s first beer! Dine like a local at Viktualienmarkt, Munich’s central market. There are plenty of food stands to buy traditional Bavarian street fare like German sausages and pretzels. Grab a cold one and cozy up to some new friends at one of the shared tables. I thoguth the food was pretty damn good here and ended up eating a few times. For breakfast, I came here for the weisswurst (white sausage) and pretzel, a true Bavarian breakfast. For lunch I would have haxe sandwiches. All washed down with top quality German beers as you’d expect. Filling. Cheap. Delicious.
The world famous German beer hall is a great stop for lunch or dinner in Munich. Yes this place might be the biggest tourist gathering in all of Germany, and you’ll be hard pressed to find any Munich residents at this place but so what? The experience alone is worth the visit. As soon as you walk in, you feel like you’re where you should be to experience proper Bavarian culture. It’s best to come here with a big group, and thankfully I had met a group of Aussies in Salzburg a few days before that were keen to have dinner here.
This place might be a bit intimidating for solo travelers (particularly should you be sitting next to a loud British group celebrating their stag weekend in Munich) but as soon as the beer, and large ones at that (1L only), get flowing, everyone’s here to have a good time and dance to the live Bavarian music.
Plus most people here are tourists that are seeking the same experience as you are so whatever that might be, everyone’s a little friendlier and happier at this place. Oh, did I mention that the beer helps?
What to do in Munich
Munich is an easy city to navigate. It’s on the smaller side as far as European capitals go and most of the main sights can easily be done on foot. The U-Bahn, or underground train, can be used for the longer journeys.
Munich (at least for me) is probably best known to outsiders for its Oktoberfest festival in the end of September. It’s the largest folk festival of its kind in the world and something like 7 million liters of beer were consumed last year which is just insane. It’s insanely popular with tourists now as tickets must be purchased well in advance, and accommodations skyrocket during those two weeks. I had a good conversation with some local Bavarians I met at a bar about Oktoberfest. It’s well attended by locals as well; all girls own dirndls and guys lederhosens as a part of the culture and there are specific tents that are meant for tourists and meant for locals. They told me that while they like to drink, dance, and get drunk at Oktoberfest, they don’t take it to the extremes they see foreigners take it every year, which I can totally envision happening. The conversation got real funny when I showed them clips from the movie Beerfest, which of course they had never seen before. Nevertheless, they told me I had to come back for Oktoberfest and go with them to the German tents which might have to be done in the future!
The Frauenkirche is a large red-brick church that’s considered a symbol of the Bavarian State Capital. For church goers, the inside is pretty nice and there are some exquisite crypts containing tombs of the city’s former arch-bishops. The main reason to come here however, is the elevator ride to the top of the tower where awesome views of Munich can be had. The cost is 3 euros for the lift, making it well worth your while.
Probably the most recognizable attraction in Munich is the Marienplatz square with its famous Glockenspiel. The town hall is the epitome of Gothic architecture with gargoyles and statues all over it. Come here right before noon and there will be a show of dancing figurines on the building as well. I was here right after Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga and there was a huge celebration in the square. Thousands of Bayern fans and tourists alike were here to celebrate the victory.
Not sure why these are called the English Garden but this is one of the largest urban public parks in the world (larger than Central Park in NYC). On a nice day, this place is definitely worth a visit. It’s a long walk through this place but they do have some cool attractions within the park like the artificial stream where you can surf, and of course a beer garden at the Chinese Tower for those that need a break from all the walking. I was thirsty and went to a convenience stand near the beer garden and they wanted to charge me 3.50 euros for a small bottle of water. Out of principal, I just could not bring myself to spend that much on a bottle of water so I did what most people would do, and ended up getting a beer at the beergarden that was larger volume for the same price.
This place is also famous for its nudity. Yes, nudity. It’s famous for people sunbathing fully in nude. I cannot confirm or deny this claim as it wasn’t warm enough during my visit to warrant such a wardrobe. Nevertheless, for those looking to check being nude in public off the list, I would start by coming here.
The square’s Felderrnhalle was modeled after the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence and built to honor the Bavarian army. It became a Nazi shrine after the “Beer Hall Putsch”, when four Bavarian policemen and sixteen Nazis were killed in a coup attempt by Adolf Hitler and a mob of his early supporters that included Rudolf Hess. Hitler served nine months of his five year prison sentence for treason, during which he wrote Mein Kampf. The trial’s newspaper coverage gave Hitler national recognition, and after he gained power, a Nazi salute was required from all who passed by Felderrnhalle.
Another must-see attraction in Munich is the Munich Residenz. It was the former royal palace of the Bavarian kings, and is the largest of its kind in Germany. There’s some spectacular architecture and decorations to see in here, including the house jewels which include crows, swords, crystals, and diamonds.
Speaking of beergardens, there are an abundance of them in Munich. There are some truly massive beergardens in Munich like the Hirschgarten which seats up to 8000 people! I went on a beer tour organized through one of the hostels that visited a few. We started at the Augustiner brewery where we sat outdoors and all had 1L beers and some Bavarian food (haxe, pretzels, etc). From there, we went to a nice swanky bar/cocktail lounge that was once a popular meeting spot for the Nazis, and then to a few other beer halls whose names escape me as the night fizzled out afterwards.
BMW Museum and World
Anyone that’s a fan of BMWs or just German auto in general, you’re in luck as Munich is the headquarters of BMW. A visit to the BMW museum is a must as there’s 43000 square feet of nine decades of cars, motorcycles, engines, and more. After visiting the museum, be sure to cross the bridge to BMW World (welt), an even bigger space to see the latest in German innovation. This is the place to see the latest BMWs, Minis, Rolls Royce, and motorcycles, as well as some future concept cars.
Day trip to Salzburg (for those who have more than 2 days)
Even though I spent two nights in Salzburg, and will eventually write up a post about Salzburg, I think a day is all that’s needed especially for a solo traveler. Salzburg is an absolutely stunning Austrian city on the Germany-Austria border. The type of place fairy tales are made of. It’s where The Sound of Music was filmed and based in and more importantly, the birthplace of Mozart. Funny enough (and to no one’s surprise), most residents in Salzburg and Austria as a whole have never even seen the Sound of Music. It was funny, and a little sad, to see huge groups of older American tourists on these Sound of Music tours thinking they’re really immersing themselves in Austrian culture when the tour guide only knows about the movie because they’re getting paid to. And no, Edelweiss is not the Austrian national anthem!
From Munich, it is an easy 7 €, 1.5 hour bus ride to Salzburg, or a more expensive train ride so a day trip is easily done. For those keen on doing a day tour, the Sound of Music tour is a pretty cool experience that will take you to the Austrian countryside and visit all the filming locations of the movie. The tours start around 10am so an early bus or train is necessary. The tour is only 4-5 hours so there’s plenty of time to walk around Salzburg afterwards and soak in all the sights like the Hohensalzburg Fortress at the top of the city, or eat some delicious, authentic Austrian food at Barenwirt.
One of the most popular day trips from Munich is to visit the beautiful Neuschwanstein castle. This is probably the most famous castle in Germany and by far the most visited. It is after all what certain Disney movies modeled their castles after.
Make sure to read my detailed post about Neuschwanstein if you’re planning to visit. You can either drive or take a train to this breathtaking village with the most stunning of castles.
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