What to do in Munich: The ultimate Munich city guide

by Jun 27, 2019Munich

Like most large cities (and Munich’s population is upwards of 1.4 million), you could spend a lifetime seeing neighborhoods, visiting museums, or touring parks and other attractions, not to mention just strolling around to enjoy the city sights and sounds. The city sprawls across 120 square miles as the third largest in Germany behind Berlin and Hamburg.

Do pick up several well-done guides from the Munich Tourist Office under its more recent “Simply Munich” campaign – Simply Munich for the city overview, Simply in the Museum for all about the museums, The Cool Guide with nice insider tips that take you out of tourist centers, and Slow Down in Munich, with a potpourri of insider stuff (ignore the “slow down” part, that’s a little forced). Or simply surf around the Tourist Office’s information – warning, when it comes to opening hours, go directly to the site itself. Sometimes the guides or even the Tourist Office information is outdated or does not specify seasonal changes.

Infopoint Tourist Center in Munich

Well-stocked, helpful tourist offices are located on the Marienplatz and in the main train station. Another hidden gem is the so-called Infopoint for museums and castles across Bavaria, which also stocks some city guides. At Alter Hof 1, not far from Marienplatz, it is off the beaten path and tends to be less hectic.

Marienplatz / Glockenspiel – Since most tourists head straight to city center, you may as well check off this total tourist draw – that nevertheless is pretty adorable. The “Glockenspiel” (or bells with dancing figurines) plays at the top of the tower in the New City Hall at 11 a.m. and 12 noon, with an added 5 p.m. show spring to fall. Now, don’t miss the neo-Gothic “New” City Hall either (1800s). In fact, just take a stroll and enjoy the sights. Shopping needed? Gander along the pedestrian zone on Kaufingerstrasse/Neuhauserstrasse. How about a side trip into the Toy Museum (“Spielzeugmuseum) in the Old City Hall Tower (link only in German)! We love toys and have found it adorably delightful! Great prices on family entrance tickets too. Don’t miss the popular Fish Fountain (Fischbrunnen) on the main square, where you will need to take your turn for a photo op.

Marienplatz Glockenspiel in Munich

HITT Tip: Need foods, chocolates, fruit, a beverage or other goodies? Forget the expensive tourist markets. Head to the basement of the Galleria Kaufhof department store right on Marienplatz or dip into the same store on Karlplatz (“Stachus”). Shop like a local.

Churches –  Cathedral of our Lady (Frauenkirche), Church of St. Peter (Alter Peter) – And what German city visit is complete without a church or two or more? Try the large Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Lady) not far from Marienplatz or perhaps the more intimate and oft-forgotten St. Peter’s Church (“Alter Peter”), where the tower can offer some nice city skyline views. Want more churches? Check out this Munich Tourist Office guide.

Church Alter Peter in Munich

Odeonsplatz / Hofgarten and area – The Odeon Square is a main square for the city, but aside from traffic and locals roaring in all directions, there are sights to see all around it, including the the Munich Residence and Treasury, the Theatine Church (“Theatinerkirche”), the Hofgarten (“Court Garden,” popular with locals and tourists), and grand “Feldherrnhalle” with its great lions guarding the stairs and offering a look straight up Ludwigsstrasse at the Triumphal Arch (Siegestor) about a mile away. Take some time to poke around this area.

Museum of Urban and Contemporary Art, a.k.a. MUCA – Tagged as Germany’s first museum for urban art, MUCA (opened in 2017) shares a building with a restaurant/café and an architectural gallery in an old electrical substation tucked in a corner not far from Marienplatz. If you are a fan of contemporary or urban art or street art, a short visit here is a must on the list. Remember, though, exhibits do rotate and sometimes halls are closed for special events there, so check the calendar in advance. As grand fans of street art, we found even the halls, entrance and bathrooms exciting even if the current exhibit was not related to street art.

MUCA Museum in Munich

Jewish Museum (Jüdisches Museum) – Opened in 2007, this museum sits next to a synagogue on a once barren and neglected plot of land right in city center. Two modern structures that are foreboding yet inviting. A small permanent exhibit is on the lower level, while the upper two levels house special changing exhibits. The museum also has a popular, airy café in the bright foyer with its large glass walls (spilling onto the terrace in nice weather), perfect for coffee or a light snack, and a thorough bookshop.

NS Documentation Center – Dubbed “a place of learning and remembrance,” this is a center that will leave you thinking pretty hard about what happened to bring Hitler’s National Socialist party to power, what happened during the Nazi regime, and how that relates to current world events. You will need at least two hours and likely three or more, depending on how much you want to read or watch at this center opened in 2015. Consider a guided tour too. About a half-mile west of Odeonsplatz, see above, so you can combine this with your visit there.

NS Documentation Center in Munich

White Rose museum and exhibit (“Weisse Rose Ausstellung”) / Sophie Scholl Memorial – Near the University area in Schwabing, you will find the off-the-beaten-path memorial exhibit in a basement room in the main university building (no signage outside). Do make time to get there for an hour – exhibits are also well done in English – if you have any passing interest in German history, world War II or Nazi resistance, which is what the White Rose (Weisse Rose) organization was. Before you head into the university building, however, look down at the paving stones just outside for a surprise bit of history – also in memory of the Weisse Rose student resistance. There, you find the memorial to Sophie Scholl and precise replicas of the Scholl sibling’s anti-Nazi flyers strewn about as if scattered papers (they are permanently attached to the ground).

English Garten / Surf wave – No visit to Munich is complete without some time spent in the “Englischer Garten” north of city center. Not going there would be like going to New York and not going to Central Park! This park serves as a green escape right in the heart of the city but also offers sights to see, restaurants, playgrounds, a lake with paddleboats to rent, and a Chinese Pagoda cum beer garden (indeed!). Are you a runner or walker? Then head to this garden for many miles of paths, paved and not, for your getaway. Even before dawn, there are plenty of folks out, either with headlamps or along some of the main paths that are lit. Once the weather is nicer, surfers turn out and stand in line to practice on this “standing wave,” which is worth a little time to watch.

Nymphenburg Palace – About a 30-minute public transport ride northwest of city center (get off at “Schloss Nymphenburg” stop, see trip planner here) then walk about 1K (half-mile+) down the canal toward the palace and its expansive gardens. Construction began on the sprawling palace in 1664; you can buy tickets to walk through parts of the rooms to gawk at golden walls and pictures, furniture and paintings. Or not. You can also enjoy the amazing 490-acre park with its sculptures, fountains, wildlife, and waterways for free (you’ll also find locals jogging and walking there).

Nymphenburg Palace is one of the top what to do in Munich places

BMW World – Into cars? Then the BMW World (“BMW Welt”) may be for you. Near Olympic Park, there are tours as well as exhibits, restaurants, shopping and events.

Olympic Park (Olympiapark) – If you are a fan of parks, athletics or just sports history, a look around the still rather spectacular Olympic Park is worth the trip (It is the same underground stop as the BMW World – Olympiazentrum on the U3 / U8 lines). From special events and concerts, to space for athletic endeavors like running or swimming, or sweeping greenspaces, the park is a grand place. One dark spot on the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich was the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes when Palestinian terrorist. The non-descript building where it happened still exists if you want to pay your respects (it is now quiet student housing). Look for Connolly Street 31; there is a memorial sign by the door. If you are in Munich in July, take a stroll through the very international Tollwood Summer Festival with a midway, food, drinking and concerts.

East-West Peace Church (Ost-West Friedenskirche) – The epitome of non-touristy and off-the-beaten-path, the Ost-West Friedenskirche is a small “village” hidden in a grove of trees in busy Olympic Park. You find several homemade buildings, gardens, a church and a small chapel. The entire enclave was built by Timofej Wassiljewitsch Prochorow who came to Munich in 1952 at age 58 seeking peace. He built the entire homestead by hand, using “junk.” He died in 2004, but the homestead is maintained by volunteers in the name of peace.

Father Timo Chapel in Munich

Marienklause Chapel – Getting to this tiny historic chapel not too far from the Hellabrun Zoo on the Isar River will be for those who want to walk along the river and enjoy some of the waterways. Still, if you are in the area, take a stroll there since this itty-bitty building and its memorial tucked into the woods is idyllic.

Memorial artwork for gays and lesbians persecuted by the Nazis – So new there is very little online about this memorial unveiled in summer 2017. Located on Dult Street (Dultstrasse) at Oberanger street (Oberangerstrasse) across from the square where the Jewish Museum is, this memorial is subtle – just a row of colored inlaid paving stones along the street. A raid at a former gay bar at that corner marked the start of Nazi persecution. By Ulla von Brandenburg.

Memorial to gays and lesbians persecuted by Nazis in Munich.

Where to eat in Munich

Hofbräuhaus – I suppose we must mention this sprawling tourist trap. Fun to walk through, maybe  have a beer, but go elsewhere for your dose of pig knuckles Like the Ratskeller mentioned below, not far away.

Ratskeller (City Hall cellar) – Although in town center, this is the real deal, around since the 1900s with a vast network of quaintly Germanic rooms. You will find Bavarian little old ladies and business people here too. And you can get all the Bavarian food you want, including the infamous pig knuckles (Schweinshaxe).

Ratskeller Restaurant in Munich

The Schwabing / University area is a good place to wander and “fall into” someplace, offering many fast casual, but also international and trendy places. The Münchner Freiheit U3/U6 underground stop is in the heart.

Viktualianmarkt is a vast and eclectic collection part farmers market, part food stalls, part beer garden, part restaurant, part take-away, part bakeries and you-name-it related to food. It is right off the main square in central Munich and offers anything you may want from green smoothies to Wiener schnitzel to goodies like honey, fruit, wine and cheese. A local meeting place too, especially when the sun shines.

Pizzeria Grano is veritable hole-in-the-wall smack in city center but nestled into a side street that isn’t easy to find. Make reservations (for what some call the best pizza in town), go at off times, or be prepared to be turned away. Maybe 30 or 40 seats if you squeeze.

Café Riding School (Café Reitschule) sits on the edge of the English Garden and is a delightful place for any meal or great cake. Casual, well priced, and yummy. Choose a table at the windows overlooking the covered riding rink or on the terrace overlooking the stables and outdoor rink in nice weather.

Schneller Pastry Shop (Konditorei Schneller) – You can’t go wrong with cakes and coffees at great prices from Schneller in Schwabing. Cakes baked daily and change frequently. If they are out, they are out. If they have what you want, point at it, then grab a seat and get yummed out.

Schneller Cafe in Munich

Where to stay in Munich

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Heads up! This information on What to do in Munich was accurate when we published it on HI Travel Tales, but, as we know, traveling is all about changes (and inflation, sadly). It is your sole responsibility to confirm prices, transportation schedules, hours of operation, safety and health considerations, and any other important details before your adventure.

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