Despite my long held fascination with Germany since I was a teenager studying the language and history at school, I’d never harboured any great desire to travel south to the Bavarian part of the country. I was drawn in by the big lights and big city vibe of Berlin and Frankfurt, and hadn’t ever considered Munich to be a city to prioritise on my travels.
And Munich is synonymous with Oktoberfest and beer drinking culture which didn’t really appeal to me (despite my new-found appreciate for beer).
But I was drawn to Munich over the past few months due to seeing many pictures of Neuschwanstein Castle – that famous, fairytale castle at the foot of the alps that inspired Walt Disney and a generation of King Ludwig II fans. As I did my research on how I might get to see it for myself, it seemed that the most logical place to base ourselves was Munich.
And so the research into Munich began, and the more I read and planned, the more I started to see that actually, there was a lot more to this fascinating city than beer drinking. With a gorgeous and well preserved old town, museums for days and just the type of traditionally cooked, heart warming food I adore, I started to realise that Munich might just be the city for me.
And it was. A long weekend in Munich was the perfect Spring trip for me, and I think it might be for you too. Quirky, beautiful and down to earth, here’s how to get the best from your Munich city break (with some help along the way from the marvellous team at Marco Polo Travel Guides).
Getting around during a long weekend in Munich
Munich is a well connected and very easy city to get to, no matter where you start from. We actually travelled via British Airways this time as we couldn’t find our usual budget airlines – it is actually a more expensive city to travel to as opposed to Berlin. Don’t let that put you off – Munich remains good value once you are there! Whilst small, Munich’s airport is in easy reach of the main city on the S-Bahn, taking just 45 minutes to Munich’s central station. From there, you can travel onwards to the other parts of the city, as well as a number of other stations in Germany (and beyond – you can easily reach destinations in Austria from there too if that is your thing).
Once in Munich, like most major German cities you can use a very well connected metro system known as the S Bahn (runs both underground and overground to destinations further afield) and the U Bahn (an underground network in the city centre). It’s easy and cheap to use, costing just 6.70 euros per day for travel around the inner network. This also includes bus and tram travel too, (and depending on the ticket out to the Airport), but we tended to stick to the S and U Bahn services for most of our trip.
Like many metro systems in Europe, you’ll need to validate your ticket before jumping on a train if you get a single ticket and there are not any barriers to remind you. Look for the machines by escalators or entrances and insert your ticket where it will stamp it with the time and date. They do have ticket inspectors on the train and you can be fined if you haven’t done this!
Munich is actually very walkable as a city, and we did spend a lot of time on foot exploring but with the train services being so reliable and so cheap we often took the metro from our hotel into the city centre of an evening to save our feet for the next day!
As I mentioned before, you can also get to other locations within Germany from the central train station in Munich, and we made use of that to travel to Nuremberg for the day. It is definitely better to book your train in advance (we did this via Trainline) to save time a little money, but the ticket offices there are really helpful if you decide to make a spontaneous trip!
Where to stay on a long weekend in Munich
Munich has a raft of incredible accommodation options, and we were spoilt for choice for hotels of every budget and type. We actually found there to be quite a lot of quirky and boutique style options to stay in, and as we were staying for longer than our usual short city break, we decided to try two different hotels to mix up our stay! Both of our hotels were around the central station, and we found that to be a great place to make a base because we were doing a couple of day trips outside of Munich.
25Hours Hotel The Royal Bavarian
We first stayed at the 25Hours Hotel The Royal Bavarian (we were guests of the 25Hours Hotel Group) located right next to the station. It used to play host to a postal service and the royal telegraph and there are plenty of off-the-wall features both inside the rooms and the common areas to keep your interest. We were lucky enough to stay in one of their chamber rooms which were a little bigger and featured windows on two sides ensuring we got plenty of light into the room and space for all our stuff.
The bathroom featured gorgeous copper plated taps and a rainfall shower against a backdrop of super sleek black tiles, and we even had a small desk featuring an old fashioned typewriter with paper to write a letter home. Instagrammers, eat your heart out!
The hotel features an asian-fusion restaurant (where you also eat breakfast – which was delicious. I don’t think I’ll get over their homemade bircher muesli), cafe bar and the 1st floor Boilerman Bar complete with more books than you can shake a stick at and unusual taxidermy.
Location alone makes this hotel worthy of a stay, but it was truly a feast for the eyes and senses – I audibly gasped when we got in the lift, but I won’t spoil the surprise for you if you decide to stay!
For the majority of our time in Munich we stayed at the Cocoon Hauptbahnhof, just five minutes in the other direction from the station and one of three Cocoon hotels in Munich. Whilst just as unusual, this hotel had a totally different feel to the 25Hours Hotel and was a little more laid back and relaxed – in fact we found this hotel to be more catered towards families or younger travellers.
Design wise, this hotel was styled like a Bavarian ski lodge, with ski-style paraphernalia everywhere you looked. In our room (we booked a Large Double Room, known as the Relax Alm) we had distressed wood everywhere, enamel bathroom fittings and a huge picture of a cow above our bed. I felt like I was a character from the Heidi novels, and this was a very good thing.
Wifi was free everywhere, and breakfast was a help yourself affair with plenty of breads, muesli and cold meats and cheeses to go around. They also had a well stocked bar and lounge area with a mix of chairs, swing seats and yes, a cable car that you’d find on a ski resort!
I’d wholeheartedly recommend both of these hotels for your long weekend break in Munich, but you’ll find at least 538 hotels in Munich alone on Booking.com, so you’ll definitely find something that suits your travelling style and budget.There's more to Munich than beer - here's how to discover its cultural and architectural sweet spots on a gorgeous weekend break!Click To Tweet
Things to do on a long weekend in Munich
There is a huge amount to do in Munich itself, and add to the fact that the city makes a perfect base from which to explore smaller towns and cities and the Bavarian mountains you’ll never be at a loss for something to do. Despite the fact we were there for five days, which is longer than we usually spend in a city, there was so much more we could have done and I’m desperate to go back and do it all over again.
It’s said to be one of the only places where you’ll see people carrying both skis and surf boards, and added to the history of Munich itself, the laid back Bavarian culture which is some different to many of the other major cities in Germany and of course the beer this is one place that I can truly hand on heart say there is something for everyone.
Take a self-guided walking tour
Regular readers of my city guides and itineraries will know that I often book myself on a free walking tour on the first day of my trip. Well this time, because I was there for much longer I mixed it up a little and took us on a self guided walk using the new Marco Polo guide that they have released for Munich. I always use guide books when planning a trip and I have to stay that many of the recommendations in this city guide (including the food) are inspired by the research I did with this guide.
The guide itself includes four fantastic discovery tours (with an awesome touring app to go with them), and the “Munich at a Glance” tour was perfect for a history and architecture lover like me. We started at Munich’s most famous square (the Marienplatz), and from there found our way around several churches and cathedrals, the huge outdoor market, a few museums and the famous English Garden. Whilst they gave us an itinerary for the whole day, we ended up coming back to the guide time and time again for inspiration for all our Munich based days and for food and drink recommendations too.
I wasn’t sure whether I’d be too lazy to truly get the most of a self guided tour (I do really like being led around so I don’t have to think about where I’m going next), but it has really changed my mind about how I tour cities from now on. Munich has a lot of public free wifi spots, so the touring app was great to help get my bearings. If you are visiting Munich I’d definitely pick up a copy of this guide and give yourself a day to explore using the knowledge of the Marco Polo team! Many of the attractions listen below were visited during my self guided walking tour.
The Marienplatz is a great starting point for any trip to Munich, and is a great place from which to get your bearings. It’s located centrally in the Old Town and despite the fact that Munich has many architecturally interesting sites, I’d say it is most certainly its architectural heart. You’ll find many things of interest here before you move off and explore the rest of the Old Town, and it is definitely worth spending some time here (especially if you time it right)!
The Mariensäule (or St Mary’s Column) was erected in 1638 at the end of the Thirty Years War to signify Munich’s survival against the Swedes. It’s a great meeting place, and you’ll often find musicians and entertainers gathered here too. At 11am, noon (and 5pm during the lighter months) you can also gather here to listen to the world famous Glockenspiel. Be warned – it has a reputation for being one of the most disappointing tourist attractions alongside Copenhagen’s The Little Mermaid and Brussels’ Manneken Pis but I found it quaint and a little hilarious as to how rudimentary it was. Just go with low expectations and you’ll be tickled!
From there you can also see both the New Town Hall and the Old Town Hall. Now, don’t be confused. The Old Town Hall actually looks the newer of the two buildings (with the New Town Hall being the magnificent gothic structure housing the Glockenspiel), but it has undergone many renovations including one as recently as just after the Second World War. The New Town Hall was my favourite of the two, its 260-foot tower launching right into the heart of Munich’s skyline.
Buy all your goodies to take home at the Viktualienmarkt
You’ll know by now that I’m a sucker for an awesome market, and the Viktualienmarkt is one of the best outdoor markets I’ve ever visited on my travels. Established in 1807, it has it’s own beer garden and stalls selling high quality fruit and vegetables, flowers, herbs, meats and bread and is surrounded by eateries.
You’ll also find a maypole right in the centre, a core part of Bavarian culture, signifying what visitors to that area will find there – you’ll find maypoles dotted all over Munich, particularly in Beer Halls and Gardens!
We grabbed lunched at the outdoor beer garden too, and I can confirm that the market is the perfect spot for people watching!
Take a stroll around Munich’s magnificent churches.
If there is one thing that Munich does well aside from beer, it’s churches. There are plenty of them within striking distance of Munich’s Old Town centre, and they are all beautiful in their own unique way.
Probably the most stunning and important in Munich is the Frauenkirche, with it’s two unusual green domed towers soaring into the sky – in fact, these are the highest towers in Munich and they are protected so that they will always be the most distinct thing about Munich’s skyline, standing at 99 metres. It’s actually the Cathedral of Our Lady and designated seat of the archbishop and has many myths surrounding it – including the clear footprint you can see near the front door – said to belong to the devil!
Peterskirche is another church just off the main square of Marienplatz and is the oldest church in Munich. It’s where all those dreamy photos of the view over the city are taken, but you’ll need to climb 306 steps to get there! Sadly, the tower was closed for renovations when we visited, so this is something else I’ll definitely check out on my return!
Possibly one of the stand out churches in Munich is the Theatinerkirche which is located towards the Residenz – you won’t miss it as it is a gorgeous deep yellow colour and Italian in style. In fact the architecture was far more in keeping with the romance of churches we came across in Rome and Pisa.
Finally Michaelskirche is one not to be missed – although not quite as impressive from the inside as some of the other churches I’ve mentioned, step inside from the busy approach to the Marienplatz and you’ll find a truly beautiful church interior. It’s where King Ludwig II is buried, and if you visit on a Sunday you can hear Munich’s most famed church choir.
You’ll find The Munich Residence opposite the magnificent yellow church and on the edge of the Old Town, right in the heart of what I like to call the art district of Munich with lots of galleries. To do it justice, you’ll need at least a day, but we spent a rainy afternoon exploring some of the treasures inside. The former royal residence now plays home to many art collections spanning Baroque, Rococco and Neo Classical periods.
If you only have a few hours, you can decide which rooms to visit in advance. I recommend this as it really is the most complex museum buildings in all of Europe!
What I would definitely recommend, which is totally free, is the Hofgarten, just to the rear of the residence. It is a really tranquil garden, flanked by both the Residenz and the Bavarian State Chancellery (which in itself is a beautiful building to see). It’s Italian Renaissance in style, and you can often see dance classes or boules games being played there.
Cost: 7 euros per adult, free or just 1 Euro on some Sundays.
On the subject of gardens, you’ll find another huge (and surprising) garden in Munich which is beautiful in all weathers. I can testify to this because I visited in slightly miserable weather (and rain) and it really was both beautiful and still busy with locals on their morning walk.
The 1000 acre garden is actually one of the largest urban parks in the world and a real source of pride for locals. The Englischer Garten is named as such because of its more English style planting and style (which is very different to the Italian Hofgarten) and unlike many other gardens it has lots of delightful features to explore and keep your interest.
Probably most famously is the Eisbachwelle, a permanent standing wave which provides year round surfing which we witnessed on a cold day. Didn’t I tell you Munich was famous for seeing skis and surfboards being carried around?
Further on you’ll find a Japanese Tea House, and regular Japanese Tea Ceremonies are held here from April to October. My favourite detail was the Monopteros, a circular Greek temple from which you can get some classic views of the Munich skyline (and determine once and for all the the Frauenkirche really does stand the tallest of all the buildings in the city.).
Further still (and the furthest we walked) you’ll happen upon the Chinescher Turm (originating in 1790), a popular beer garden and resting spot which gets very busy in the summer.
There are so many museums and galleries in Munich, you’d need to stay for a month to do them all justice, which meant selecting where we were going to go was a tricky decision. In the end we fixed upon the Munich Stadtmuseum so that we could get a really good sense of the whole history of the city to go alongside our self guided walking tour.
Located close to the Marienplatz and Viktualienmarkt, Munich’s City Museum really takes you on a journey in time through the centuries of development, war, culture and politics to help you understand why Munich and its people exist the way they do today. Munich’s first official mention dates back as far as 1158, so there is plenty of ground to cover with key pieces of history and art displayed along the way.
The museum took a good couple of hours to explore and was accompanied by an excellent audio guide and book. If you are only going to visit one museum in Munich, I’d recommend you try this one as it’ll give you a good sense of how the Munich you are visiting now came to be.
Cost: 4 euros per adult, including an audio guide and book.
Drink in all the Beer Halls
Although I said I wanted to get under the skin of Munich’s culture aside from all the beer, there is no getting away from it – Munich really is the capital of all that is beer. Whilst I’m still not convinced I’d enjoy Munich during Oktoberfest, I had an excellent time working my way around some of Munich’s most famous beer halls and gardens too see what all the fuss was about it.
And I can tell you, there is a reason why so much fuss is made. Aside from getting to try lots of different Munich beers (and some in the huge stein glasses, which is almost a litre), it was great to experience the vibe in some of these historical and huge beer halls and get into it with locals and tourists alike.
I’ll be covering all the beer facts you need in a later post, but I’d really recommend a visit to the following places to get your Munich beer on:
- Hofbrauhaus – the biggest and most famous beer hall in Munich. It’s impossibly large!
- Augustiner-Keller – a landmark beer hall with a huge garden (seating up to 7,000!)
- Schneider Bräuhaus – home of wheat beer and a great place to pick up a traditional Bavarian breakfast
Translated to “The Field Marshals’ Hall”, this was intended to honour the Bavarian Army and was constructed in 1841. If you’ve been to Florence, you might recognise the style from the famous Loggia dei Lanzi in the Piazza della Signoria which houses some important statues.
Whilst it is great to look at, it’s actually more well known for its importance in World War II history – it was the scene for the end of Hitler’s putsch in 1923 and became somewhat of a cult site for Nazi supporters when they came to power in 1933.
The Michael Jackson Memorial
Never let it be said that Germans are not loyal when it comes to their musical icons – let’s face it, this is why David Hasselhoff still has a music career. And it is for this reason that a memorial to Michael Jackson exists outside of the Hotel Bayerischer Hof on the monument to Renaissance composer Orlando do Lasso.
Take a day trip to Nuremberg
If you’ve tired of all that Munich has to offer, or just want a change of scene there are plenty of places to visit on a day trip. Munich is well located and connected to many other German (and Austrian) towns and cities, and we decided upon Nuremberg for it’s history and it’s extremely well preserved medieval architecture.
It’s an easily walkable city, and you can walk a whole circuit taking in important sites such as the medieval castle, Frauenkirche, Lorenzkirche, the old town walls, Albrecht Dürer’s House and the world famous Toy Museum. Once you’ve tired of the medieval buildings and history you can make a stop for traditional Nuremberg sausage and beer in one of the many traditional restaurants dotted across the city.
If you are visiting Nuremberg, you’ll want to take in some modern world history too – and you can visit the Nazi Rally Grounds and the War Crimes Tribunal in which you can visit and excellent museum and see inside the actual courtroom where the Second World War Tribunals took place. It was a chilling, important place to visit and well worth the short day trip from Munich!
A fairytale visit to Neuschwanstein Castle
Last but not least is really the whole reason why we selected Munich for a city break in the first place. Visiting this castle has been at the top of my agenda for many many years, not just because it is probably the absolute prettiest castle I’ve ever seen, but also because it is said to be the inspiration behind Disney’s famous princess castle.
Set deep in the Bavarian forest, it is actually quite a distance from Munich, but don’t let that put you off. Whilst you can travel there by train, we decided to hop on to a day trip offered by Sandemans. We travelled on a luxurious coach (which was really great as it was a miserable day and it was a 2.5 hour journey) and got to hear lots more about the history behind Munich’s most mysterious castle and the life of King Ludwig II.
The castle blew me away – it really was as spectacular as all the pictures say it is, even in the rain and hail, and the short tour we did inside really brought the passions and madness of King Ludwig II to life. If you are planning a trip to Munich, do not miss this trip to the foot of the Bavarian Alps. It’ll take your breath away!
Cost: £40 per adult for a full day tour with Sandemans, and 13 Euros for entrance inside the castle which is optional.
The ones that got away
There were so many other places we could have visited in Munich, but even with five days we ran out of time – you’ll never be lost for something to do in the city and when I finally get to return, these will be the sights I’ll put on my itinerary:
- Nymphenburg Palace – the summer residence of the ruling families of Bavaria
- All of the art – Neue Pinothek, Alte Pinothek and the Haus Der Kunst
- Deutsches Museum – the largest science and technology museum in the world
- NS-Dokumentationszentrum -dedicated to the history of anti-semitism and racism
- The Botanical Gardens – one of the most beautiful in all of Europe
And these don’t even scratch the surface of what Munich has to offer!
Where to eat + drink during your Munich weekend
If you head to Munich, you’ll be greeted by the best there is to sample in Bavarian cuisine. Whether that’s weisswurst (white sausage), schweinsbraten (roast pork) or dumplings, you’ll never be lost for a traditional dish or two.
I’m putting together a bigger guide to food and drink in Munich so you can take your seat at the best garden (and sample the best sausages), but until then, here’s a quick guide to where I ate whilst there.
- Haxnbauer. An old Munich city restaurant, it serves the finest roast dishes you’ll have in Munich, including the very local and traditional pork knuckle, or Haxen slow spit roasted and served with potatoes and sauerkraut.
- Burger and Lobster Bank. If you’ve tired of traditional Bavarian dishes, you might want to head for something a little different. Serving exquisite lobster, juicy burgers and cocktails to die for this restaurant wasn’t cheap but its ambience and the perfectly cooked lobster more than made up for it.
- Cafe Am Glockenspiel. Touristy, but well placed for a magnificent view over the Marienplatz and famous Glockenspiel. Try and time your visit for when the Glockenspiel plays and you’ll be richly rewarded – just remember to ask for a seat over looking the clock!
- Ratskeller. Located deep in the cellar of the town hall we found a really lively bar and restaurant serving every traditional dish imaginable, and if you’ve tired of the beer they do good wine and cocktails too. I tried the pork schnitzel and it was delicious.
- Hofbrauhaus. Not just for drinking, this beer hall also does hearty plates of meaty food ready to soak up all those steins you’ll be putting away. The menu might seem expensive at first, but I didn’t see anyone manage to finish a full plate of food!
- Biergarten Viktualienmarkt. The perfect place for people watching, beer drinking and eating at lunchtime in amongst the hustle-bustle of the market. I had a really decent plate of currywurst and chips here and managed to sit outside even during a blowy March day.
- Weisses Brauhaus. Probably the best place to sample a traditional Bavarian Breakfast – white sausage, wheat beer and a salty pretzel with a gorgeous sweet honey mustard on the side. Don’t knock it until you have tried it – it set us up for a full day of exploring!
A note on Bavarian culture
Life in Munich is a beautiful mix of all that is traditional in Bavaria, mixed with a modern culture and young, thriving society. I found Munich to be slower paced than other big cities in Germany which was a welcome change, and allowed us to really give in to our wanderlust and do just that – wander.
There isn’t much of a late night scene, and drinking starts earlier (at breakfast!). We found many of the older locals in the traditional lederhosen dress (particularly on Easter Sunday when we went for our traditional breakfast), and we found the culture to be much more social than in Berlin. Shared tables, lots of chatting and putting the world to rights was the order of the day here, and we certainly have never felt more welcome than we did in the heart of Munich.
**This post was sponsored by the wonderful team at Marco Polo, but my new found love for Munich and Bavaria is 100% mine!
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