Although it’s often referred to as a “village of one million people” (it actually has a population of 1,5 million) because of its hamlet-like character, when it comes to flavour, sights, fashion, technology and trendsetting, Munich can definitely hold its own against larger metros. This compact, vibrant city is best explored on foot or bicycle. I chose to walk to get a taste of its real flavour.
Once a thriving 19th-century market, Marienplatz in the city centre (named after St Mary’s Column), is now a tourist hub. Visitors could be seen enthusiastically photographing the Alte Rathaus (Old Town Hall), the carillon in the tower of the Neue Rathaus (New Town Hall) and St Peter’s, Munich’s oldest church. A climb to the top of St Peter’s tower is rewarded with a stunning view of the square, which dates back to 1158.
The list of wonderful sights and foodie treats is endless, so prepare for a sensory feast wherever you go.
While I found the quaint shops in the Viktualienmarkt enchanting, serious shoppers will be delighted by the selection of high-end chain stores at the Marienplatz quarter, where top footwear, fashion and tech labels can be found. The quarter – extending to Karlplatz and Odeonsplatz – is a pedestrian-only space where you can shop and walk freely. On the Maximilianstraße and Brienner Straße – two of the city’s four royal avenues – you’ll find the latest in eyewear, jewellery and designer trends.
A cultural treat
While Prussian leaders were focused on winning wars, the royal Bavarians worked hard to make Munich the cultural capital of Europe. With 46 museums, numerous galleries, three orchestras, one state opera and 47 theatres – renowned for hosting musicians such as Mozart, Strauss and Wagner – it’ll take more than a couple of days to get your fill of culture.
The most popular museums are the Glypokothek (ancient Greek and Roman sculptures), the Alte Pinakothek (European paintings from the 13th-18th centuries), the Neue Pinakothek (European art nouveau and classicist paintings) and the Pinakothek der Moderne and Museum Brandhorst, which exhibit modern art. Also worth seeing is the BMW Museum and the BMW Welt.
A foodie’s delight
A trip to this city is incomplete if you don’t try the beer, particularly Helles, which is locally produced. Hofbräuhaus is the famous touristy biergarten, but I tried Hofbräukeller beer garden instead, which is popular with the locals. At any Munich beer garden or restaurant, you can sample rich Bavarian cuisine: pork, beef, chicken, wiener schnitzel and duck, which are often accompanied by potatoes and knödel (dumplings).
However, Munich is a multi-cultural city and offers culinary experiences from around the world, with Greek, Italian and Indian food particularly popular. You’ll find traditional Turkish kebab stores selling shawarmas and falafels on almost every street corner and burger joints and cocktail bars with English menus are easy to find.
See the sights
The city’s tourist information office will give you more than enough information about what sights and activities to enjoy and when, but here’s what I discovered:
Marienplatz and the Viktualienmarkt are fascinating, but avoid them after the early morning hours, as they get very busy. I returned in the late afternoon when it was quieter and enjoyed the stroll. My walks took me to the trendy area of Schwabing – home to free-thinkers and leftists since the early 20th century. Its cafés and shops are a delight and you’ll find Jonathan Borofsky’s famous 17m-high Walking Man sculpture in this borough.
The English Garden is a beautiful feature of central Munich and is popular with the locals for lazy afternoon walks, picnics and river surfing. Take some sandwiches, drinks and a blanket and make a day of it. The local nudist colony is also found on these grounds.
Gartnerplatz is a hipster haven. The square has scenic gardens, but take the time to walk around the unique shopping precinct. At night, the streets are vibey and it’s a great spot to enjoy a delicious meal and ice-cold drink after a long day of shopping and sightseeing.
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