Munich is quintessentially German and yet it is unique in comparison to any other city in the country. Munich’s 1.3 million citizens enjoy an unrivalled lifestyle that is a heady mix of modern sophistication, high art, culture and history.
Munich is the third largest city in Germany, but it is perhaps the country’s most pleasurable and fascinating place to visit. The first thing most visitors notice when arriving in Munich is just how architecturally elegant, clean and well-ordered the city is.
While many of the historical buildings suffered severe damage during the Second World War, most have been rebuilt and much of the city looks as it did 200 years ago. However, despite the ancient architecture, Munich is an economic powerhouse, famed for world-leading technology that’s typified by its most famous companies BMW and Seiko.
Munich is one of the safest and tidiest cities in the world, where crime is rare and litter is even rarer. At the heart of Munich lies the Marienplatz, the main square, where the golden statue of the Virgin Mary looks down from on top of the Mariensäule, the Marian Column. The Marienplatz is the perfect place to explore Munich’s varied architecture and landmarks. Dominating the square are two of the most grandiose buildings in the city: Glockenspiel, the city hall, and the Cathedral of Our Blessed Lady, Munich’s largest church. You can climb up the steps of the cathedral’s towers for a breathtaking view of the city and the surrounding Bavarian Alps.
Leading off from the Marienplatz is the shopping area of the Maximilianstrasse, which is filled with designer shops that rival any shopping area in London, Paris or New York, and where you’ll find the sophisticated and chic Münchner (men) or Münchnerin (women) sporting the latest laptops and mobile phones, and drinking coffee outside the city’s many cafes.
Away from the shopping district, you’ll find several historic churches, museums and other grand buildings, while the city is packed full of pubs, restaurants and hotels. If you wish to get away from the hustle and bustle, the English Garden to the north is the ideal place to relax. As you’d expect it is kept in pristine condition and contains plenty of beer gardens and even a creek where surfers ride a permanent wave created by a weir.
Germans drive German cars, and in Munich that means BMW, the city’s largest and most famous international company. Virtually every car parked along the streets of the city is built by the famous Munich marque, and nearly all of them are brand new, demonstrating the affluence of the local population. If you decide to drive to Munich (highly recommended as it gives you a chance to go on the famous speed-limit-free Autobahns) be prepared for strange looks if your car isn’t a BMW, and even stranger looks if it isn’t German.
This dedication to the city’s famous carmaker is celebrated at the BMW museum located inside the company’s headquarters, which is shaped like four giant pistons. The museum not only retells the fascinating history of the company, with hundreds of cars on display, but also offers a tour of the plant (and a cleverly-placed sales area). However, even if you can’t afford a BMW of your own, the museum is still worth a tour as it shows just how passionate and proud the Germans are of their engineering and their local industry.
Things to do
Munich has perhaps the most impressive selection of museums in the world. The main museum in the medieval square of St.Jakobs Platz is perhaps the country’s greatest art museum, containing works by Rubens, Raphael, Cezanne and Van Gogh. If history is your thing, the National Bavarian Museum has one of Europe’s largest collections of medieval artefacts, while the National Museum of Egyptian Art is the most impressive of its type outside of Cairo. If the BMW Museum didn’t sate your curiosity for the technical, the Deutsches Museum contains everything from the first ever car built in the world, to exhibitions on astronomy, mining, printing and photography.
For a more sombre but equally fascinating experience, the Dachau concentration camp is just 10 miles northwest of the city. Visitors are encouraged to walk in the footsteps of the prisoners and see exactly what they did. You’ll see the baths, the cramped and squalid barracks, the courtyards, and, most thought-provoking of all, the crematorium. It also has a large exhibition and memorials to those who died in the camp.
Staying and eating out
Munich has no shortage of places to eat, and while many restaurants and pubs serve traditional Bavarian fare, including an unlimited number of different wurst (sausages), dumplings and cabbage soups, it also has a large number of foreign restaurants. Eating out in Munich is a sheer pleasure as the locals take service very seriously. Waiters are highly professional and service is always efficient, polite and without delay. Tipping isn’t expected but is always welcomed, so if you have enjoyed your service, round up the bill and don’t feel like you have to give a huge amount.
Munich isn’t expensive to eat out, and a good meal for two shouldn’t cost more than 40-50 euros. For a quick snack, there are plenty of food sellers on the street where sausages can be bought for a couple of euros alongside more familiar fare such as pizza.
Munich also has an abundance of hotels, and there should be something in everybody’s price range. However, during the Oktoberfest, rooms can be double in price and need to be booked well in advance, requiring extra planning when buying euros ahead of time.
Nearly five million people descend on Munich each year for the annual Oktoberfest beer festival, which is the world’s largest fair. Despite the name, the Oktoberfest actually takes place in September, when huge beer tents are erected all over the city and the only drink on offer is beer, which is served by the litre.
Because of its popularity, booking is essential in order to get a place in one of the many bierkellers or tents. As the Oktoberfest is Munich’s busiest time of year, for the tourist wanting to sample the museums, arts and culture of the city, it is perhaps not the best time to visit. So, plan your trip to Munich for a quieter month, or just use Oktoberfest as an excuse to visit this delightful, buzzing city more than once.
Photo credits: Jürgen Eixelsberger (square), Mateusz Wójcicki (BMW Welt) and Nicole Kotschate (Oktoberfest)
For more tips, visit the official Munich tourism site.