- Munich highlights: food, sights, things to do, getting around
Our summer travels included a week in Germany, divided into two stints: a large, historic city like Munich, and a smaller region of southern Germany where our host promised we would see “what the majority of Germans live like”.
We arrived in Munich by train. The main train station in Munich is within walking distance of the main tourist attractions in the city, so staying near the train station is not a bad way to go. We stayed at the Flemings Hotel, which was okay. Other hotels by the train station include Le Meridien (our choice next time, given our Marriott fidelity/status), and the Sofitel. Le Meridien is across the street from the train station, and the Sofitel is next door. There are a few coffee shops (our go-to in Austria, Back Werk, is also in Munich, so we went there for breakfast most days. Side note: the machine coffee’s coffee to milk ratio is not amazing. A bit too milky! But that’s just our opinion).
We knew that Munich is the capital of Bavaria, and as such, it holds an important part in German history, from the time Germany used to be independent kingdoms. So we visited the Residenz, more a compound of government buildings rather than just one, to learn more about that part of the history of Bavaria. As you walk by, one of the most striking things to see is how exhaustive the work of restoring a historical landmark can be. Large portions of the Residenz were destroyed during World War II and have taken decades to restore. So due to that aspect, some of the landmarks in Germany don’t have the same charm as other parts in Europe, as they are a mix of older and newer materials.
That being said, Munich retains that old Europe charm thanks to a combination of historic landmarks, green spaces, and a modern layout that makes the city rather easy to navigate.
Here are our favorites (thanks to our friend and colleague Claire, now a Munich local, for her recommendations!):
- Neues Rathaus at Marienplatz – There are two very important reasons why this building is worth a visit: 1) It’s a beautiful Gothic building, so, if like us, you enjoy Gothic architecture, go check it out, and 2) the Glockenspiel. It’s like a mixture between a cuckoo clock and a music box, in giant size. The statues in the clock reenact medieval scenes, which is very amusing. It chimes every day at noon and at 5pm. You can also go inside the building for free, it’s a government building so it’s open to the public.
And while yes, the area around Marienplatz is touristy, there are some good places to eat and drink that are adequately priced. So don’t discount it just because traditionally places around tourist landmarks are overpriced. Our favorite: Pausenhof am Dom – a small “snack bar” serving currywurst, schnitzel, burgers, and other small plates. All made to order, and absolutely delicious. Out of all the currywurst we had in Munich (and we had quite a bit), this was the best. You can see more about them in their Facebook page.
- Asam Church – this was a private church that was built as a crypt for two siblings. If you want to ever see a very extra example of Baroque architecture (and I realize how on the nose that statement is, as Baroque is extra by definition), go to this church. It is in dire need of restoration, but it still retains its original splendor. In this church, we also lived through one of the most magical moments of our trip, when without any announcement or expectation, someone started to play the organ (and I’m pretty sure it was Bach). It was magical. It was one of those moment you imagine will be what heaven will be like. We were there around 4:30pm, but, as there were no notices about this performance happening, our best suggestion is to poke your head in and hope for the best.
- English Garden – We believe that the “Garden” in the name is a bit misleading, as it’s more of a massive park and less of a garden. There are “garden-y” parts, but mostly, it’s a park that goes across a couple of different neighborhoods in Munich. There is a Hofbräuhaus inside the park grounds that may or may not be more crowded than the one in the city. But if it’s nice weather, it’s an ideal day drinking place and a lot cooler than the original haus. That being said, you should still go to the Hofbräuhaus in the city. It’s touristy, yes, but it’s too emblematic to pass.
Aside from that, the English Garden has wide walking paths, ample greenery, and…sheep. It’s hard to believe that this is in the middle of the city!
- Hofbräuhaus – Their own website says that it’s the “most famous tavern in the world”. It’s probably true. It’s been open for hundreds of years to be conservative, and it’s about as straightforward as it get: get beer and Bavarian food, people watch, see people in traditional Bavarian outfits, listen to traditional Bavarian music.
- Viktualienmarkt – this is both an area and a market selling all sorts of produce, wines, cheeses, etc. The area surrounding it has great eateries and bars, some of which have outdoor seating that sometimes spills onto the street. We had some great ramen at a Japanese food just off the street from the market itself.
There’s a lot that we didn’t do in Munich – including taking day trips by train to some of the nearby lakes, which is possible. The last thing we will mention that is important as far as an opportunity to learn and reflect while you are in Munich is visiting the Dachau Memorial in Dachau. You can take the train to get there. Admission is free. The walk to the memorial includes explanations of how the town was complicit in the whole thing (it’s impossible to not have known!) but it’s not a reason to hold it against the town now. Go patron their businesses and explore the town, it’s quite lovely. It was also really encouraging to see HEAPS of student groups there during the summer. We were not sure if they were from abroad, or students from Germany still in school, but it’s good to see that kids are getting educated on this. Thank you teachers!
* Out of respect for the victims, we are not including any pictures of the Memorial itself. We have some pictures of the commemorative sculptures on the outside, but that’s it. Walking the grounds and witnessing the sheer destruction and brutality that occurred there for so long and for no reason other than pure hatred is not something to glorify. But we do believe that history, and learning from it, matters, so if you’re in Munich, take the time to go.
Munich wasn’t the only part of Germany we visited, but Baden-Württenburg needs its own post. Stay tuned!