Munich recalls certain iconic images such as Oktoberfest celebrations with overflowing beer steins and locals dressed in lederhosen. There remains this side to the city, Germany’s third largest after Berlin and Hamburg, but there’s a very sophisticated part as well with a high level of culture and cutting-edge technology (think BMW headquarters).
Munich has a very livable quality as the capital of the beautiful southern state of Bavaria and captures the German quality of gemütlichkeit or comfortableness better to me than any other city in the country. I have traveled to Munich several times, and even had the opportunity to spend a week with a host family getting to experience German life firsthand as part of a month-long exploration of Germany and Austria just after high school. It is my favorite German city, taking its style of living cues more from its southern European neighbors like Italy than its brasher, more business-centered northern brethren like Frankfurt, Hamburg, or Berlin.
There are grand outdoor spaces like the Marienplatz that are a great way to introduce yourself to the feel and look of the city, taking in the famous Glockenspiel performance and admiring the exuberant architecture. There are baroque and rococo churches and palaces that one normally doesn’t associate with Germany, but this is part of the exuberant style of Munich that is so lively and fun. The Frauenkirche is one of the most recognized sights in the city with its twin onion domes and should be combined with a visit atop the nearby St. Peters church observation deck for the best city views as you orient yourself to the city’s downtown core.
The staggering number of museums underscores the deep cultural roots that Munich, from its days when it was founded by local monks (the origin of the name München in German) on the salt trade route to Salzburg, to its long royal connection with the Wittelsbach dynasty. The many artistic treasures the ruling family collected and had produced can be seen in the vast collection of the Residenz Museum, their former palace complex.
King Ludwig I wanted his city to be a new Athens in its cultural magnificence and had the grand Greek temples built on Königsplatz that house the Glyptothek sculptural museum and the State Antique Collection of Greek and Roman antiquities. Another fabulous collection is the Deutches Museum which presents a staggering array of science and technology displays like a German version of the Smithsonian Institute. More recent architectural and design history can be found in the BMW World and Museum for automobile lovers and the creative buildings of the Olympic Park, where Munich hosted the 1972 Summer Olympics.
Residents and visitors alike enjoy Munich’s public spaces like the immense English Garden with its Chinese pagoda beer garden and the improbable sight of surfers tackling the waves in the Eisbach river. I particularly love the tranquility of the Hofgarten behind the Residenz museum.
Finally, let yourself play tourist and visit the Hofbräuhaus for its rousing atmosphere, endless steins of beer, communal tables and the traditional Bavarian music. Although COVID has shut down large gatherings in 2021 like Oktoberfest, this September festival would be a great add to any fall visit to Germany in the future.
Best Munich Sights and Experiences
Beautifully Ornate Squares
Orient yourself to the heart of Munich’s downtown by visiting the beautiful Marienplatz (Square of our Lady) in the city’s Old Town district. The square contains ornate buildings like the New Town Hall with its statues and turrets, and the historic Old Town Hall with its picturesque tower. The neo-gothic New Town Hall was built between 1867 and 1908.
You’ll also find monuments like the Mariensaule from 1638 with a golden statue of the Virgin Mary, built to commemorate the end of Swedish occupation at the conclusion of the 30 Years War.
The main attraction is the fanciful Glockenspiel added to the New Town Hall tower in 1908, which draws crowds to watch the mechanical clock’s figures perform at 11 am and noon daily, and an additional show at 5 pm from March to October. There are 32 figures that charmingly reenact several vignettes.
The marriage of Duke Wilhelm V and Renate of Lorraine in 1568 was commemorated by a jousting tournament. The royal pair stand back in their box while a pair of knights in horseback compete (the Bavarian knight knocks the Knight from Lorraine off his horse every time). Afterwards there is the dance of the barrel makers, which occurred after the end of the plague that lasted from 1515-1517. The colorfully garbed coopers danced in the streets to lure the frightened citizenry back into city life. There is one final short show at 9 pm when the night watchman figure blows his horn, and the angel blesses the Münchner Kindl or child.
The admission fee for the Town Hall tower is usually 6 euro, but the tower is currently closed due to Covid.
Learn more about the new Town Hall building on this 2-hour guided tour that gives you the history of this impressive structure and takes you inside. The cost is $22.64 per person.
The Gothic style Old Town Hall frames one end of Marienplatz and has an attractive tower. Built in the 15th century. It was replaced by the New Town Hall in 1874 once it became too small to accommodate the city’s administration functions. It now houses the Toy Museum.
This two-hour walking tour hits the highlights of the Old Town and provides a good overview of the main sights. The cost is $158.80 per group for up to 14 people.
King Ludwig of Bavaria wanted to make Munich a new Athens in terms of its cultural excellence, and the Konigsplatz is an architectural embodiment of these ambitions. Here you find two impressive museum buildings that house extensive collections of Ancient Greek and Roman art.
The neo-classical Glyptothek from 1830 is Munich’s oldest museum and houses Ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, with pieces like the Barberini Faun from the 2nd century BC and a gallery of busts of Roman emperors and statesmen. Across the square, the State Collection of Antiques displays smaller Greek and Roman antiquities such as vases, bronze work, pottery and jewelry. One entry ticket grants you access to both museums at a cost of 6 euros.
As if this wasn’t enough for fans of ancient art, a short distance away you’ll find the Egyptian Museum, devoted to Egyptian artwork and artifacts arranged in a series of themed halls. The admission cost is 7 €.
A third major square worth visiting is the Odeonsplatz. The open pavilion called the Feldherrnhalle with three large arches was built from 1841-44 and modeled after the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence. Here rest two large lions with statuary honoring Bavarian military leaders. The beautiful twin towered Theatinerkirche and one wing of the Residenz palace also grace the picturesque and historically important square.
The Feldherrnhalle is where Adolf Hitler failed in his first putsch, underscoring the fact that part of Munich’s history is the period of the Third Reich and Hitler. Though it’s a dark chapter many would choose to forget, the city does have many historical associations with the Nazis, including Odeonsplatz, and this 90-minute tour provides a historical guide to the places and history of this era. The cost of the tour is $204.17 per group for up to 10 people.
Impressive Royal Palaces
My favorite royal residence in Munich is the Baroque palace of Nymphenburg, in the northwest section of the city. This grand palace and its ornate garden setting was the summer residence of the Wittelsbach rulers in the 17th century. Swans grace the ornamental lake, and a peaceful tranquility surrounds the extensive parkland, making it a great escape from the urban bustle.
The palace was initially begun in 1662 to celebrate the birth of a male heir for Prince Ferdinand Maria, and Princess Henrietta Maia hired an Italian architect to design and build Nymphenburg. Highlights within the Palace include the lavishly decorated and frescoed Stone Hall and private chambers with antique furnishings and artwork, the Palace Chapel, and the Gallery of Beauties, a series of portraits of women that caught Ludwig I’s eye, including the infamous dancer Lola Montez.
There are a series of four additional museums within the palace covering such areas as natural history, porcelain and paintings, but for me the most noteworthy is the Marstallmuseum, which displays a collection of beautiful state coaches in the former Court Stables.
The Park is reminiscent of that of Versailles in its formal French style, with a series of beautiful smaller palaces gracing the grounds. The Amalienburg hunting lodge contains a fantastic hall of mirrors and is a rococo masterpiece. The Pagodenburg was built for tea parties and contains an Asian-influenced interior. The Badenburg was for swimming parties and contained Europe’s first post-Roman heated pool.
Just walking the grounds and exploring is a delight. Just allocate a good part of a day to enjoy all there is to see and do here!
Admission prices are on an a la carte basis, with the Nymphenburg Palace ticket costing 8 euros, the Marstallmuseum with Museum of Nymphenburg Porcelain 6 euros, and a combination ticket for the Park Palaces 5 additional euros.
The Munich Residenz was the city palace for the ruling Wittelsbach dynasty and its collections form the basis for the artwork, furniture and paintings you will see on display here in the over 100 staterooms open to the public. The magnificent Antiquarium and the Ancestor Gallery with its rich decoration and ancestral Wittelsbach portraits are visitor favorites. The gorgeous, 16th-century, 72-yard-long barrel arched Antiquarium was built for Duke Albrecht V’s collection of antiques.
Another top sight is the Treasury, where the Bavarian crown jewels are shown, along with other beautiful items made of precious metals and jewels. There are several halls and courtyards that host classical concerts, including the grand Hercules Room with its tapestries.
The Residence Museum regular admission ticket costs 9 euros, with the Treasury a separate 9-euro fee. There is no admission fee for the Court Garden.
Regardless of your taste for opera, make time to tour the fantastic Cuvilliés Theatre inside the Residence Palace.
Built in 1755, it is a magnificent example of a Rococo theater. The carved woodwork and the tiered boxes were put in storage during WWII and the theater was completely rebuilt in 1958. It is one of the few surviving court theaters from this era. The beautiful architecture makes for a stunning venue for viewing operatic performances. The admission fee to see the Cuvilliés Theatre is separate from the Residenz collections and costs 5 euros.
The best way to admire this marvelous architectural treasure is to see a performance. This 2-hour classical music concert takes place within the theater, and is performed by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. The cost of the ticket is $123.64 per person.
Admiring Munich’s Churches
Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche)
The twin towers and onion domes of the Frauenkirche are landmarks of the Munich skyline and a symbol of the city. No new construction is allowed to surpass the height of the church’s towers.
The church was completed in 1488 but the domes of the towers were not put in place until 1525. It is one of the biggest churches in the city, able to accommodate 20,000 people. The interior was destroyed by a bomb in WWII and subsequently rebuilt.
One interesting legend surrounds the odd black footprint near the entrance of the church. It is called the Devil’s Footstep and is supposed to be where the devil stamped his foot in delight when he thought the architect had forgotten to add windows in the church. Highlights include the monumental 1622 black marble Tomb of Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian with bronze figures, along with the carved figures of saints and apostles above the choir and some beautiful stained-glass windows. You can also ascend to the observation platform of the church’s south tower for great views over the city and on to the Bavarian Alps.
Church of St. Peter
The oldest church in Munich, the Church of St. Peter has roots going back to the 12th century. The church has gone through several renovations over the centuries, and the architectural styles have varied. The last renovation in the 18th century brought a Rococo style. Located just a short distance from Marienplatz, St. Peter’s ceiling frescoes and high altar are interior highlights. The church is affectionately known to locals as Old Pete. The tower has 8 clock faces, four in the main tower and four in the upper steeple area.
But the best reason to come is to ascend the clock tower to take in the best views of Old Town, from the Frauenkirche to the new Town Hall. This is the very best vantage point. There is a cage around the platform to help those who suffer from vertigo. Be aware that there is no elevator, so you’ll have to climb up about 300 steps to see the views! But the panorama can stretch all the way to the Alps on clear days. The Tower admission fee is 3 euro.
Probably the most ornately decorated church in Munich, the tiny Asamkirche is only 26 feet wide by 72 feet long, tucked between two houses. Bult in the mid 1700s, this baroque gem was originally meant to be a private church. But it was opened to the public after clamor from the citizenry to have access. It was created by two brothers, Cosmas Damian Asam (who painted the frescoes) and Egid Quirin Asam (architect and sculptor).
Officially dedicated to St John of Nepomuk, the church is simply referred to now as the Asam Church in honor of the two brothers who built this jewel. You’ll find gold and silver ornamentation all around, a fresco of the life of St. John, stucco work and oil paintings. On the high altar with its four twisting columns is a glass case with a wax figure of the patron saint.
Situated in Odeonsplatz is the eye-catching yellow, twin-towered Theatinerkirche (Theatine Church). Named for the Theatines, a group of Roman Catholic clergy, this showcases the city’s best Italian baroque style as it was an architect from Bologna who began the work. The church was commissioned by Princess Henriette Adelaide from Turin, in thanks for the birth of an heir to the throne in 1662.
Th façade of the church was not completed until 100 years later and is rococo in style. The beautiful, ornate all white interior is dazzling in its simplicity. Look up at the impressive dome 233 feet above and admire the fine stuccowork and the majestic high altar with its sculptures. A total of 49 members of the Wittelsbach dynasty are buried in the church’s crypt.
An Embarrassment of Museum Riches
The Alte Pinakothek is one of the oldest art galleries in the world, ordered bult in 1826 by King Ludwig I to showcase his classical art collection that spans the 14th to 18th centuries. This is one of the best collections of old masters you will find anywhere, with artists such as da Vinci, Botticelli, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Frans Hals as well as German masters such as Dürer
and Altdorfer. Art lovers will want to put this at the top of their sightseeing list when visiting Munich. The admission fee is 8.80 euro, but only 1 euro on Sundays.
Pinakothek der Moderne
Munich’s modern art museum is four museums in one. There’s a great collection of modern 20th century art that spans the major categories from Expressionism to Pop Art, and the Blue Rider group is well represented by artists like Kandinsky, Klee, and Marc. You’ll also find works by Miró, Picasso, Magritte, Andy Warhol, and Frances Bacon on display here.
There are museums focused on design, architecture, and graphic arts all under the roof of this impressive collection. The design museum includes art nouveau creations to industrial design artifacts like early computers and modern furniture. Admission is normally 12 euro but reduced to only 1 euro on Sundays.
The Deutsches Museum
The Deutsches Museum (‘The German Museum’) is one of the best science and technology museums in the world. Covering a wide variety of fields from astronomy to aviation, agriculture to geology, and on to the latest on global warming, there’s something to appeal to everyone here.
Built on an island in the river Isar in the center of the city, the museum houses such attractions as the Red Baron’s biplane from WWI, a mining tunnel to explore built under the museum complex, demonstrations of musical instruments and simulated lightening strikes, and a Navy submarine from 1906 among the thousands of artifacts. Be ready to spend the day or pick your favorite areas to spend your time more efficiently! There’s also a planetarium at the top of the museum. The admission fee is 14 euro.
More Museums with Additional Time
BMW World & Museum
Car lovers should make a point of heading to the northern part of the city to visit BMW World and the BMW museum. The headquarters for the Bavarian Motor Works (BMW) are housed in the iconic four cylindrical towers. The BMW World is a futuristic architectural showpiece that displays BMW models past, present and future.
The museum, whose shape has led to its being called the “salad bowl”, presents the BMW story in an engaging, multimedia fashion, and there’s a museum shop where you can purchase BMW branded merchandise. Whereas BMW World is free, there is a 10-euro admission fee for the museum.
Bavarian National Museum
If you want to delve into the fascinating history of Bavaria, then a visit to the Bavarian National Museum is a must. Founded by King Maximilian II in 1855, the Bavarian National Museum is another Munich institution with a staggering number of pieces, so pick areas of specific interest.
The high points are the Bollert Collection, a wealth of Gothic and Renaissance sculpture from religious buildings around Bavaria.The museum’s collections range from paintings to carvings, porcelain to furniture, folk art to Christmas crèches, and musical instruments to clocks. Admission normally is 7 euros but reduced to only 1 euro on Sundays.
Franz von Lenbach was a renowned portrait painter of the famous in the late 19th century, and his villa houses the Lenbachhaus Museum. The collection is especially strong in the paintings of Germany’s Blue Rider Group, avant-garde artists from the beginning of the 20th century, including Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and Paul Klee. The admission fee is 10 euro.
Munich City Museum
The Munich Stadtmuseum or City Museum presents interesting collections drawn from Munich’s history and culture. One of the most interesting things to see is the “Typically Munich” exhibit that spreads over several floors, showcasing the city’s royal past, brewing traditions, art and music excellence and its modern age high-tech industry at companies like BMW. Historical exhibits cover such topics as the 1972 Olympic Games and the era of National Socialism. The admission fee is 7 euro.
A trio of Eclectic Parks
The English Garden is the immense green lung for citizens and visitors to Munich. The garden was laid out in the English landscape style, leading to its being named the English Garden. Stretching out for over four miles from the rear of the Residenz Palace, there are many activities here that make a trip here worthwhile.
Start at the Chinese Tower beer garden, a great way to relax in the park while quaffing some of Munich’s excellent beer. For an unusual sight, check out the Eisbachwelle or Eisbach waves, where the Eisbach river emerges from underground and creates waves the locals use to test out their surfing skills. Though the park is largely flat, you can seek out the man-made hill atop which sits the Monopteros Temple, from where you can get sweeping views over the city. You can also rent a paddleboat to slowly circle around the Kleinhesselohe lake its three little islands (plus there’s another beer garden there).
Munich hosted the 1972 summer Olympics, and the Olympic Park Was the centerpiece of the sporting activities. The architecture still impresses from the net-like covering over the Olympic Stadium to the 950-foot-tall tower with observation deck. The views from the top provide a panoramic view over all of Munich. Inside the tower you will also find a rock music museum and a rotating restaurant at the top.
The facilities also include the Olympic Swimming Pool, Olympic Lake and Olympic Ice Sports Center. The Park can be easily combined with a visit to BMW World and Museum.
The Hofgarten is a lovely, landscaped garden adjacent to the Residenz Palace, and used to be the royal garden. You will find murals related to the history of the Wittelsbach dynasty on the arcades on two sides of the garden, and often will hear impromptu music from musicians who play in the round Diana temple in the middle. Or you might spot a game of boules in progress. The pathways, lawns, benches, and fountains provide a peaceful setting for those who take the time to seek it out.
Food and Drink
Munich has a world-famous beer culture exemplified by its many beer gardens, places like the Hofbräuhaus and the annual Oktoberfest celebration. Its hearty cuisine of favorites like wurst, potatoes, dumplings and schnitzel are great accompaniments to that foaming stein of beer. Food tours can be a great way of learning more about the best local places and sampling some of the local treats.
On this Bavarian beer and food tour, you will get to sample local beer and typical food at the Hofbräuhaus plus visit the Beer and Oktoberfest museum. This 3.5-hour tour costs $48.67 per person.
A great place to experience Munich’s food culture is in its open-air market, the Viktualienmarkt, close to Marienplatz, where it was actually located until it moved in 1807 when it became too large. The market is open from Monday to Saturday and features stalls full of fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, fish, bread, and other Bavarian foodstuffs.
There is a beer garden in the middle of the market. You can stock up on picnic provisions at the market and then sit down for a beer at the beer garden. According to Bavarian beer garden law, you can bring your own food to the table. You just have to buy the drinks!
Take a two-hour guided tour of the market complete with food tastings for $38.48 per person.
The celebration now known as Oktoberfest began as a commemoration of the fall 1810 marriage of Prince Ludwig the First to Princess Therese. A party was held at Munich’s gates in the so-named Therese’s Meadow or Theresienwiese. The next year the populace wanted to celebrate again, setting the precedent for an annual beer-drinking bash that lasts 16 days but has been moved back to the last two weeks of September to take advantage of better weather. Now it’s the largest public festival in the world, bringing in over 6 million visitors over its two-week run.
Unfortunately, due to COVID the festival was cancelled for 2021, but it remains a festive highlight for residents and locals alike and is highly recommended as part of any mid to late September travels to Munich.
Yes, it is full of tourists, but a visit to the Hofbräuhaus is such a traditional rite of passage for visitors to Munich that you may want to give it a try. The current Hofbräuhaus building was finished in 1897 and is in the center of the old town.
It is great fun with its waitresses bringing large steins of beer and wurst platters to the communal tables, and often a Bavarian brass band providing the musical accompaniment for round after round of toasts.
You can also get a behind-the-scenes look at the Hofbräuhaus and its long history during this 1.5 hour guided tour, including beer at the conclusion! The tour price is $30.56 per person.
Attending a Classical Musical Performance
In the land that gave us Bach and Beethoven, what better way to spend an evening than hearing classical music in the gorgeous settings of the halls of the Munich Residenz?
Examples of classical musical experiences are evening concerts in the Hercules Hall named for the wall tapestries from the 1500s depicting the legends of Hercules and originally the throne room of the Residenz palace. These two-hour concerts feature masterpieces by some of the best-known classical composers, and cost $81.31 per person.
Or enjoy a 2-hour chamber concert featuring members of Munich’s philharmonic orchestra, and held within Max-Joseph-Hall in the Munich Residenz. Ticket prices are $74.53 per person.
Munich is a fascinating city whose diversity makes it so rewarding as a travel destination. Here you can see the latest BMW models and explore nanotechnology at the Deutches Museum, then kick back with a foaming stein of beer at a local beer garden or stroll through the photogenic Marienplatz and watch the Glockenspiel go through its charming show.
The cultural appeal is evident from the staggering collection of world-class museums to the classical music concerts and opera on offer in beautiful settings such as the State Opera, Cuvilliés Theater, or ornate halls in the Residence Museum. Munich entices you with its gemütlichkeit and makes you want to extend your stay.