I didn’t have too many expectations before traveling to Germany. That’s not to say I didn’t think I’d like it, but it didn’t rank as high as other European countries on my travel list.
After a few days in Berlin and Munich though, I found myself asking why Germany wasn’t higher on my travel list. Munich, especially, is the perfect mix of historic, yet progressive. It’s a charming city, and easy to get around by bus, train or foot.
As Germany’s third largest city, Munich is known for its world famous Oktoberfest. And while Oktoberfest did bring me to Munich for the first time, I can’t wait to return to this beautiful city.
If you’ve only got a few days in Munich, you’ll have plenty of time to see all of the highlights that make this city such a special slice of Bavaria.
10 Things to Do in Munich
Spend a few hours at the Marienplatz
Marienplatz is the heart of this beautiful city. It’s been the main square of Munich for over 850 years. Home to many iconic buildings and sights, it’s easy to spend a few hours exploring the area.
One of the most recognizable buildings in the Marienplatz is the New Town Hall, an ornate, Gothic building. The tower is home to the Rathaus Glockenspiel, which puts on a show about Bavarian traditions twice daily. I didn’t time my visit to coincide with the show, but still had a great time checking out the town square.
Climb to the top of St. Peter’s Church
Like any European city, there’s no shortage of gorgeous churches to admire. St. Peter’s is a Roman Catholic Church done in Gothic style. It’s just as impressive on the inside as it is outside, and at the top.
In return for a few Euros and several hundred stairs, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of the city.
Tour the Residenz
The former royal palace of the House of Wittelsbach, the Residenz is incredible. Detail and design in each room are simply out of this world.
Grab Something to Eat at Viktualienmarkt
A food market in the center of town, Viktualienmarkt is located behind St. Peter’s Church. No matter you food preference or budget, there’s someone for everyone at Viktualienmarkt. Meats, cheese, vegetables, crafts and art- the food market is truly heaven.
Relax in the Englisher Garden
Living close to Central Park for so many years in New York has spoiled me, and now, whenever I travel, spending time in nature is a must. Most city parks don’t hold a candle to Central Park, but the Englisher Garden was magical.
If you choose to wander the park aimlessly just to see the greenery, you won’t be disappointed. But, the Japanese Teahouse and Kleinhesseloher Lake are worth seeing if you have the time.
Spend a Morning at Dachau
Dachau was a horrific place. It was one of the first concentration camps established by the Nazis, just weeks after Adolf Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor in 1933.
For 12 years, thousands of people were tortured, abused, stripped of their dignity and murdered. The prisoner’s entrance bore the motto, “Arbeit macht frei”, which translates to Work will make you free. This was a way of humiliating incoming prisoners, who knew there was no viable escape from the camp.
As unsetting and uncomfortable as it was, it was also a moving experience. As Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, “To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
I’m working on a separate post about Dachau, but it’s easy to get to from Munich (less than an hour by train and transfer bus).
Watch Surfers on The Eisbach
Have you ever seen a river you can surf in? I sure hadn’t!
It’s hard to explain, but watching the surfers catch wave after wave is mesmerizing. I stood on the bridge, and then sat on the hilltop next to the river for over an hour one afternoon. One of the surfers I talked with said he loves surfing in the city because, even though they’re surfing underneath a highway, it’s still a way for him to disconnect for an hour every day. Despite the traffic overhead, his only focus is on catching the next wave. Totally get (and love) that.
Get Outside the City & Visit Bavaria
Located in southeast Germany, Bavaria is the largest German state. Bavaria’s history stretches from the 6th century through the Holy Roman Empire, to beginning an independent kingdom, and finally a state of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Culture in Bavaria is pretty unique, as perhaps most evidently displayed at Oktoberfest. And, driving the Romance Road through Bavaria is unreal with views like this at every turn.
Cue hundreds of “Pull over, I need to take a picture!” moments.
If you’ve only got one day to explore the countryside and want to see as much as possible while learning about about Bavaria’s history, I can’t recommend a tour with Grayline to Neuschwanstein Castle enough.
Our guide was FANTASTIC, regaling us with stories of King Ludwig and Bavaria the whole way to the castle and back. I enjoyed being able to get on the bus from central Munich and not having to worry about any of the day’s logistics.
In addition to tour Neuschwanstein, you’ll also tour Linderhof, a 19th century royal palace Ludwig built, inspired by Versailles (think: intricate gold detailing, immaculate gardens).
In between castles, we stopped in the charming village of Oberammeragau. Although we only had ~45 minutes in this town, it was cool to see another part of Bavaria. The town of Oberammeraguau is known for wood working, and you’ll see that reflected in all of the town’s shops.
Heading into the afternoon, the tour makes its way to Neuschwanstein. Frequently spotted on Pinterest and in Instagram pictures, Neuschwanstein is one of the most well-known castles in the world. Many know it as the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Yet, others know it for its sight alone- a castle sitting atop a rocky ledge in the Bavarian Alps, it looks like something straight out of a fairytale.
Visit Olympic Park
In 1972, Munich hosted the Olympics, for which Olympiapark was created. The open-air space, home to a number of stadiums and fields, is massive, making it easy to spend several hours here, especially if you’re a sports fan.
Throw Back a Stein at Hofbräuhaus
After a long day of exploring, nothing beats hearty German food (looking at you, cheese spaetzle) and a stein. As the world’s most famous beer hall, Hofbräuhaus is as much about the atmosphere (live music, singing, cheersing, the famed painted ceiling), as it is the food and beer.
Extra Know Before You Go Info
- Identification: Passport
- Language: German, although many people speak at least key English phrases
- Currency: Euro. Currently (winter 2016), the exchange rate is set at 1 euro to $1.11 USD
- Money Exchange: Because the euro is a common global currency, most US banks will convert for free before you go. I’d recommend taking enough money in euros to cover small purchases and using a credit card with no international transaction fee to cover larger items
- If you do plan on using a credit or debit card while abroad, remember to alert your bank that you’ll be traveling internationally
- Getting There: Munich’s airport, Flughafen München, makes it easy to get to the city via train connection. And, if you’re arriving in the city by train, Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) is close to all downtown attractions
- Getting Around: Munich is one of Europe’s largest cities, but the main area is small and easy to navigate. If you’re staying downtown, you’ll be centrally located to attractions, and may not even need to take public transit. But if you do, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how connected the city is, and how efficient the buses and trains are.
- Important to note: Munich runs on the honor system. Once you buy a ticket, you’ll validate it and then won’t need to pull it out again unless an official asks to see it
- When to Visit: I’ve only been to Munich in late September, but thought the weather during our trip was perfect- warm days (60/70s) and crisp nights (50s). May through September are ideal for visiting if you want to walk around the city or spend time outside. Winter can become quite cold with temperatures hovering in the 20s/30s, although the Christmas markets in December are world renowned
- Where to Stay: I’m partial to Airbnb whenever I travel internationally. In Munich, we stayed in the closest, affordable Airbnb we could find in relation Oktoberfest. We were still a 15 minute subway ride away from the festival, but our neighborhood was residential and adorable. When I go back to the city, I’ll likely stay closer to one of the downtown areas
- Wifi Access: Wifi is easy to find in restaurants and cafes. As long as you plan activities ahead of time and have a general sense of where you’re headed, you should be fine to only use wifi as it’s available
- If you really need wifi for directions or other activities, I’d recommend adding it to your cell phone plan (Verizon offers connectivity for $10 a day) or renting a TEP wireless device
- Power Adapters: You’ll need an international adapter, this one is similar to the one I have. I also travel with a USB charger so I’m able to charge every device imaginable at the same time