Bavaria, beer halls, BMW — all this and more in our Munich guide. Find out what to see, where to stay, when to go, how to get around, and what to eat and drink to have yourself the ultimate German experience
Home to just under one and a half million people, the Bavarian capital attracts tourists all year round. It’s known for its classical architecture, technology, industry, and of course, beer. Oktoberfest is one of the biggest events in the country and one of the main reasons people visit Munich. But if you’ve only got a couple of days to explore, what should you see and do? Well, I had exactly that, so here are my tips…
The historic center of Munich isn’t as big as you’d think for a city of its size, and can easily be done in a day. You’ll find yourself hustled towards Marienplatz by the crowds of people thronging Neuhauser/Kaufingerstraße, the popular shopping drag in the city. Dart off to the left and you’ll find yourself confronted with the twin towers of the beautiful Frauenkirche, placed at an odd angle in a quiet square featuring a curious fountain.
Walking north, you’ll find yourself at Odeonsplatz, home to the Italianate Feldherrnhalle and an occasional venue for outdoor classical or jazz concerts. From here, you can enter the Hofgarten, a sculpted garden with an outdoor cafe, and people playing boules on the outer paths or taking dance classes in the central pagoda. It’s very relaxing and very pretty.
Continuing north will take you into the Englischer Garten — the huge, semi-wild park that stretches for miles along the west bank of the Isar river. You might want to wait until your second day to explore it, or you can head a little way in and have a drink at the famous Biergarten am Chinesischen Turm. Whatever you do, don’t miss the surfers having fun at the Eisbachwelle, a year-round wave created by a bridge on the Eisbach river. Heading back to the center, consider walking along Maximilianstraße for conspicuous wealth-spotting. Supercars parked outside designer clothing stores are the order of the day here.
You might also consider visiting the statue of Bavaria at the huge, open Theresienwiese. It’s… sort of impressive — you can go up inside the statue if you turn up when it’s open, and if you like a view of a very big, very empty space. Otherwise, it’s to the pub before we start…
It’s time to get out of the very center of Munich and go north. What I’d really wanted to do was go and see some football (not Bayern’s robotic winning machine, but something more interesting). Alas, 1860 were sold out and Türkgücü and Unterhaching were playing away, so I had to content myself with visiting the old Olympic Park and what used to be Bayern’s stadium before their move to the Allianz Arena.
Built for the 1972 Munich Olympics, the park is a genuine feat of engineering. Constructed over four years, it was a massive leap in urban landscaping on a huge scale, part of Munich’s promise of “a green and sunny Olympic Games”. It certainly is green, and luckily, it was also sunny. It’s still a source of pride and joy to this day — when I was there, there was a half-marathon taking place, and families were strolling happily by the lake eating ice-creams. Climb the highest hill for wonderful views over the whole park and back to the city skyline in the distance.
The other major feature of this part of the city is the BMW Welt and Museum. BMW Welt is free and showcases the company today, as well as its other brands such as Mini and Rolls-Royce. The adjoining BMW Museum (€10 admission) takes you through the history of the company — not just cars, but motorcycles, aero engines, design, advertising and much more. There’s also a thoughtful, yet unflinching look at the role of forced labor in building vehicles for the Nazi war machine. The whole thing is well worth your time.
It’s also worth your while to explore some of the areas outside the city center. Start with Maxvorstadt and its grid of grand houses, university buildings, hipster bars and coffee shops. Schwabing was the artistic hub at the start of the 20th century and still has a boho spirit today. Glockenbachviertel is home to Munich’s LGBTQ+ scene, and Westend is an up-and-coming factory district, home to the Augustiner brewery, which is Munich’s oldest, founded in 1328.
What to eat and drink
All that doing stuff means you’ll need to recharge at some point. As with any major city, the selection runs the gamut from typical food of the region to Indian, Korean, Malaysian, or any other cuisine you can name. But why come to Bavaria and not eat and drink Bavarian?
In this part of the world, the name of the game is meat and carbs. Sausages come in all types, but commonly you’ll find weißwurst (a white sausage flavored with herbs and served with sweet mustard), the garlicky bierwurst, or the round, boiled Regensburger wurst. Add to these varieties of cheese to be served with beer; giant, salty pretzels; potato or meat salads, and dumplings in both sweet and savory varieties, and you’ll need to do some more walking to burn it all off.
Beer halls and gardens
We haven’t even really yet touched on what fuels the city. Beer is everywhere, served either in half- or one-liter glasses. You’ll usually find either lager or dark beer (Germany doesn’t have a wide variety of craft beers due to its strict adherence to the Reinheitsgebot, or beer purity law) from one of the big city breweries like Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Löwenbräu or Paulaner.
There’s also Hofbräu, brewed at the Hofbräuhaus, possibly the most touristy and almost comically Bavarian place you’ll ever go to. The vaulted hall hosts oompahing bands and staff carrying armfuls of beer, while the garden is a pretty, enclosed space with trees for shade. Just don’t expect quick service.
That’s one thing you’ll learn in fact: service comes and goes on the whim of the servers. Be nice or be ignored, and take any chance you get to order before your server moves on to someone else. That’s the case in the places that actually have table service; later on day 2, I met my friend Sven at the Augustiner-Keller beer garden out by the railway station, which employed a bar that simply pumped out endless beers for you to pick up and pay at a pay station.
Where to stay
Munich is an expensive place to stay, so brace yourself for that, however, it all depends on what you’re looking for. Somewhere homely, or simply a place to lay your head?
If you’re looking for a cheap hotel within walking distance of the center, the area south of the station is the place to be. While not the most salubrious of neighborhoods, it’s a good place for cheap food, breakfast coffee, and a couple of genuinely decent pubs like the well-priced, friendly Münchner Stubn.
Otherwise, try places previously mentioned like Maxvorstadt or Schwabing, or book slightly out of town like in Untersendling or Giesing for marginally lower prices and rely on the public transport network to get you into the city and back again.
How to get around
As noted, the historic center isn’t vast, is flat as a pancake, and is walkable with ease. However, to explore further (out to the Olympiapark, for example), you’ll need to use the U-Bahn.
MVV, Munich’s transport authority, is responsible for the metro, bus, tram and urban rail network in and around the city. The MVV-App is the way to buy tickets and passes; there are machines at Metro stations, but some are cash only, and many tram stops don’t have ticket machines at all. A single day ticket will set you back €8.80 and will allow you unlimited use of the U-Bahn, buses and trams. Be aware, however, that it is just that: a single day ticket, not a 24-hour ticket. If you buy it at 5 pm, it’s only valid for the rest of the day, not for the following 24-hour period.
When to go
The city revolves around two festivals: Frühlingsfest (which happened to be on during my visit at the end of April), and Oktoberfest (in — confusingly — the last two weeks of September). If you want to avoid the absolute worst of the crowds, don’t even think about coming during these periods.
May is a great time to go. The weather is pleasant but not scorching, and the beer gardens are open, but it’s not overwhelmed with tourists quite yet. The same goes for late August/early September, or you could ignore the weather altogether and visit during December for the numerous Christmas markets dotted throughout the city.
That’s how to spend 48 hours in Munich!
Two days is certainly enough to scratch the surface of this interesting and attractive city. It’s a good base to explore wider Bavaria, and has excellent transport links with other cities in the region, as well as flights from across Europe and beyond. Search and book your trip to Munich now on Kiwi.com!
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