Munich is one of the largest cities in Germany, and the de facto capital of the southern part of the country. It sits along the Isar River, near the foothills of the Alps. It also has one of the largest airports in Germany, making it a reasonably likely entry point for visitors to both Germany and to Europe as a whole.
While most people just associate Munich with Oktoberfest (which is actually in September), the city has a delightful old town, some great museums, beautiful parks, and is a perfect base to explore some of the surrounding area. This guide will touch on just a bit of what Munich has to offer. Remember to click on the links throughout to read more detailed articles on some of the cool aspects of the city. And if you enjoy this guide, click here to read our Ultimate Guides from all over the world!
A small caveat here. Munich was the last city I visited on a three month trip spent mainly in Germany. As such, the church, palace, and museum fatigue was real, so much more of my time was spent simply enjoying life in the city than doing the traditional touristy stuff. Whether that adds or subtracts from this guide will depend on you and what you’re looking for, but I felt it worth mentioning.
As mentioned, Munich has one of the largest airports in Germany (second behind Frankfurt – if you fly into Frankfurt, click here to read that guide). Getting from the airport into the center of the city requires a multi-zone metro ticket, which will run you €13.30, and will take about 45 minutes. More on the metro in the next section.
If you arrive in Munich by train, you will likely come into the hauptbahnhof, the central station. It is already close to the city center, and requires only a zone M (most of the main parts of the city) ticket for €3.50 to reach your hotel or other accommodation, assuming you stay close to the center.
As with most major cities in Germany, Munich’s metro system is made up of light rail (S-Bahn), subway (U-Bahn), tram, and bus lines. They are all part of a single system, and tickets can either be purchased at machines (which don’t like to take American credit cards) or via the MVV app. It is one of the most expensive metro systems I’ve experienced, as a single ride within the city center is €3.50. However, there are some deals to be found. Day passes for up to five adults can be purchased for under €20, as can weekly single rider passes. (Single rider day passes are roughly €8, making them not all that worthwhile.) As with other German cities, tickets are not scanned upon entry, but are checked randomly, with large fines for being caught without one.
While U-Bahn lines go randomly throughout the city, within the center the S-Bahn lines are all on a single track, meaning they will come every few minutes. That is handy. Otherwise, lines go every 10-20 minutes. Same for trams and buses.
Within the center, it is possible to walk, as the city, while large, is flat. Just make sure to watch out for bikes.
What to Do
For some people, going to Europe is all about visiting churches. Well, Munich has some awesome ones. The biggest is the Frauenkirche, but you can skip that one. If you see two churches, see the Asamkirche, easily the shiniest golden church I’ve seen, and the Theatinerkirche, with its beautiful stucco.
Munich was the capital of the Kingdom of Bavaria, and has palaces (like the Residenz) and monuments befitting that status. (Click here to read about the history of Bavaria.) If palaces are your thing, the Residenz has the crown jewels and such. If not, the Bavarian National Museum has a really great collection of the family’s decorative art in a cool building, but with a super confusing audio tour.
It is a must-do to walk though the old city. You can see some of the original city gates, and both the old and new town halls. Plus yay history! (Click here to read about Munich’s historic center.)
My favorite place in Munich is the English Garden. Larger than Central Park, it is beautiful, and also has that most famous of German treats, beer gardens. Spend a few hours wandering, then get a huge beer and pretzel. Life in Munich can be good. (Click here to read about the Bavarian good life.)
If you like cars, head to Munich’s Olympiapark – where the 1972 games were held – and check out the BMW headquarters and museum. Just eat somewhere other than their cafe, which was absolutely terrible.
If you want to use Munich as a base for some day trips, there are a few great options. Many do Neuschwanstein Castle, which I didn’t do due to price, crowds, etc… Rather, I went to Augsburg (click here to read about that) and to Landsburg am Lech, two lovely towns along the Lech River. I also took three days to travel to Liechtenstein, about 3.5 hours away by train, giving myself a full day in the tiny nation. (Click here to read about Liechtenstein.)
Munich also has a ton of art museums, but as mentioned above, I didn’t do any of them, so I can’t comment on those.
Where to Stay
Beyond making sure to stay within the main portion of the city (metro zone M), it almost doesn’t matter. You’ll want to be as close to the S-Bahn or U-Bahn as possible, of course, but even if it means making one change, it will be easy to get around. American brand hotels are all over, for those who desire such. Just note that Munich is an expensive city, and hotels are priced to match.
What to Eat
Munich is probably one of the only cities in the world where this section will begin with what to drink: beer. This is the city of beer. If you don’t like beer, order one anyway, or get a radler, a mix of beer and lemonade. It is cheaper than water when you go out.
Bavarian food is notoriously heavy. Sausages, schnitzel, dumplings, duck, pork… these are not light foods. They are, however, worth trying. Just note that the tourist traps around the famous Hofbrauhaus probably don’t do the best versions. Ask for more local recommendations.
If you come during Oktoberfest, or Christmas market season, or harvest market season, grab some roasted almonds. Seriously amazing, especially with gluhwein, a mulled spiced wine served steaming hot.
Other Useful Information
I’ve said this before with German cities, and it’s worth repeating. Watch out for bikes. Bike lanes in Munich can be on the street side of sidewalks, meaning crossing a street means crossing a bike lane. Look carefully, as cyclists do not really want to stop for you.
Munich, and all of Bavaria, is heavily Catholic. As such, there are some weird hours for things on Sundays. Make sure to check before going somewhere. (And nearly all grocery stores are closed.)
Munich is great. It is a pleasant place, a perfect city to take things slowly and just enjoy a good life. That isn’t to say it doesn’t have great things for tourists to see; but for me, those are secondary. Or they were on this trip. I hope this guide helped give you a good starting point to plan a Munich getaway!
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