Home to a million-and-a-half people, Germany’s third largest city has far more to offer than just Oktoberfest. Whether you want to watch river surfers in the English Garden or admire ancient sculptures, there’s something for everyone in Bavaria’s capital. It goes without saying that you’ll pass through Marienplatz and admire the elaborate Rathaus cuckoo clock, but here are the other city highlights you can’t miss when visiting Munich.
The edge of the Englischer Garten opposite Bruderstrasse is home to one of Munich’s favorite and most unlikely pastimes — surfing! As water thunders out from beneath a small bridge, lines of surfers wait patiently on either side of the bank for their turn. Surfers need to jump off the bank straight onto their board, as well as making sharp turns to avoid the river walls — that’s why you’ll find Munich surf shops selling small boards with kevlar-protected edges. Even in Munich’s bitter winters you’ll find people tackling the waves — Eisbachwelle is strangely mesmerizing.
Right at the exit of the Odeonsplatz U-Bahn station you’ll find the prestigious Residenz. Though it started as a modest castle in 1385, subsequent rulers continued to make additions to the building turning it into a grand palace and gardens. Today it’s a vast complex of museums and exhibition spaces about Bavaria’s history, and also plays host to classical concerts and music competitions. Except a handful of public holidays, it’s open daily until 5PM or 6PM depending on the season. Leave your luggage at the hotel though — there are strict rules about bringing large bags into the Residenz.
Frauenkirche’s two iconic onion domes are the most distinctive part of the Munich skyline. Construction started in 1468, however it was badly damaged by airstrikes in World War II and has been gradually restored. Look around the small inner chapels, and you’ll also find the grave of Holy Roman Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian inside. You can climb the south tower for views across Munich, and on a clear day you can see right across to the Alps.
If you have more than a couple of days in the city, make like a Münchner and spend the afternoon relaxing by a lake. Just 36 minutes on the S-Bahn from Marienplatz will take you to Lake Starnberg — Germany’s fifth largest freshwater lake. Only 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the center, it feels like another world. Starnberg even gets a mention in T. S. Elliot’s poem The Waste Land. If you’re not inspired to pen a poem, stroll around the lakeside, stop for a beer and admire the view. In summer you can also rent boats, pedalos, or even take a dip.
One of the impressive neo-classical buildings of Königsplatz is the Glyptothek. This beautiful building claims to be the only museum in the world dedicated solely to ancient sculpture. Rather than hiding its exhibits away behind glass, you’re free to wander among them and get up close with the past. Far from being a stuffy traditional museum, it feels like an art gallery and prides itself on interesting modern twists — they currently have modern replicas of key statues carved from wood with a chainsaw. Your entry ticket will also get you into the State Collection of Antiquities in the Kunstareal opposite, and it’s just €1 on Sundays.
This 900-acre park stretches almost from the city center to the suburbs. Far more than just a green space, there are many hidden corners of the park to discover. To get a great view of the city, head to the Monopteros on the hill — it’s beautiful at sunset. Thirsty? There’s also a Japanese teahouse at the southern end of the park that’s been performing tea ceremonies since 1972. One of the two beer gardens is at the 25-meter-high Chinese tower, and the English Garden is also home to one of the city’s six designated “Urban Naked Zones.”
Nymphenburg Palace was built to celebrate the birth of a long-awaited heir to the throne. With its beautiful gardens and grand rooms, it soon became a favorite of Bavarian rulers, with several being born or dying here. Not as many rooms of the palace are open to tourists as you might expect; but once you’ve seen everything inside get some fresh air in the extensive formal gardens. There’s even a dedicated app that uses augmented reality to help you learn more about what you’re looking at.
You know beer’s important to a city when there’s a state government-run brewhouse. The famous Hofbräuhaus dates back to the 16th century and offers the quintessential German beer hall experience complete with live brass band. Oktoberfest rules apply: you won’t get served without a seat, so expect to charm your way onto the end of a table and share space. If possible avoid Friday and Saturday nights: it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Munich and can take over 45 minutes to find a table and get a beer.
Once you’re finished at Nymphenburg Palace, head next door to visit Munich’s Botanical Gardens. Home to thousands of plants, it covers over 50 acres. It’s also strangely good for a rainy day: the 4,500 square-meter (48,437 square-foot) greenhouse complex is home to everything from palm trees to terrapins. There’s also a restaurant in the center of the gardens, serving full meals, alcoholic drinks and excellent ice cream. Open almost every day until early evening, it’s a bargain at only €4.50 a ticket for adults.
Museum Brandhorst only opened its doors in 2009, but has already become an established part of the Munich art museum trail. Rather than packing the hyper-modern building full of exhibits, the museum has wide open galleries and vast white walls. Its permanent exhibitions include works by modern art icons such as Damien Hirst, Joseph Beuys, and Andy Warhol, including his well-known “Marilyn” portrait. Make the most of €1 entry on Sundays, and avoid Mondays when the Brandhorst is closed.