Why go now?
While the nearby Alps are still providing excellent skiing conditions, the Bavarian capital is moving into spring. The clocks go forward tomorrow, bringing bright evenings on café terraces and in beer gardens. And next month's Spring Festival (15 April-1 May) provides a gentler version of Oktoberfest.
Fly from Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Edinburgh or Manchester with easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com); from Heathrow with British Airways (0344 493 0787; ba.com); from Heathrow, Birmingham or Manchester with Lufthansa (0870 837 7747; lufthansa.com); or from Bristol on BMI Regional (0330 333 7998; bmiregional.com).
Franz Josef Strauss airport is 17 miles north-east of the centre. Trains on the S1 and S8 lines (00 49 89 4142 4344; mvv-muenchen.de) leave every 10 minutes or so. Both lines serve the key city-centre stops of Marienplatz (1), and the Hauptbahnhof (2) main station, taking different routes but similar times (about 45 minutes), for €10.80 one way. For better value buy a day pass: transport throughout Munich and surroundings for €12.80. Groups of two to five people can travel together for €23.20.
Get your bearings
The Isar river cuts from north-east to south-west through greater Munich. The Altstadt, the heart of the city, is just to the east, with Marienplatz (1) at its heart. St Mary's Column in the centre marks “point zero” for distance measurements in Bavaria. The dominant building here is the neo-gothic Neues Rathaus (new town hall), stretched across the northern side. It houses a tourist office (00 49 89 2339 6500; muenchen.de). Shortly before 11am and noon each day, crowds gather for a glockenspiel performance that features a Bavarian knight beating a French challenger in a jousting tournament. To the north-east, the vast Residenz (3) palace complex was home to the Wittelsbach dynasty who ruled Bavaria for five centuries. A second tourist office is in the arcade on the east side of the Hauptbahnhof (2), open 9am-8pm daily (Sundays 10am-6pm). Excellent two-hour walking tours start from both tourist offices at 10.30-10.45am daily, price €12.
The area around the Hauptbahnhof (2) is slightly down-at-heel, but offers more choice and lower prices than the Altstadt. An excellent budget option is the Creatif Hotel Elephant (4) (00 49 89 555 785; creatif-hotel-elephant.de), a block north from the station. This converted office block has colourful and informal public areas, and clean and simple rooms starting from €50 double excluding breakfast (use the excellent organic cafe adjacent.)
Frankfurt may have the book fair, but Munich has the Eurostars Book Hotel (5), a block south of the station at Schwanthalerstrasse 44 (00 49 89 599 9250; eurostarsbookhotel.com). It celebrates the written word, from Breakfast at Tiffany's in the breakfast room to literary extracts painted on bedroom ceilings. Doubles from€125, plus breakfast from €10pp; and €4pp per night for unlimited public transport (via the “MVV” package).
The Platzl Hotel (6) is an indulgent venue at a lively location: Sparkassenstrasse 10 (00 49 89 237 030; platzl.de), close to the main tourist arteries and the Hofbräuhaus – not necessarily a blessing, though sound insulation is good. Lowest advance booking of €170 includes breakfast.
Take a view
The best view of Munich (and, on a clear day, the Bavarian Alps) is from the tower of St Peter's Church, just south of Marienplatz (1); 10am-5pm at weekends (from 9am on weekdays), €2.
Window shopping Munich's finest store, Globetrotter (7), is on the south-east corner of Isartorplatz (00 49 89 444 555 70; globetrotter.de; 10am-8pm daily except Sunday): four floors of the best outdoor gear on the planet. Pick up a relief map of the Bavarian Alps, a hurricane lamp or high-quality walking poles (on special at €9.95 each).
Lunch on the run
The Viktualienmarkt (8) is a centuries-old eating area and produce market. Dozens of outdoor stalls compete to offer filling lunches (Saturday 10am-3pm, Monday to Friday 10am-6pm). It now faces competition from the adjacent glass-enclosed Eataly, an Italian deli and congregation of cafés.
Take a hike
From the Viktualienmarkt (8) and Eataly, head south-west to St-Jakobs-Platz, site of the striking New Synagogue (9) and the adjacent Jewish Museum (00 49 89 2339 6096; bit.ly/JewishM; 10am-6pm daily except Monday, €3). Before the Second World War, Munich had a thriving Jewish community of around 12,000; there are now around 10,000 living here once more.
Cross to Sendlinger Strasse; detour to the flourishing facades of the Asamkirche (10) and the adjacent residence. The Asamkirche has a ravishing Baroque interior that highlights Munich's historic connections with Italy.
Next visit the vast 16th-century Michaelskirche (11). Take the steps down to the crypt (€2), last resting place of the Bavarian monarchy, with pride of place given to the flamboyant King Ludwig; his elaborate tomb is tended daily.
Back on Neuhauserstrasse, go east but turn left when you encounter the brass statues of a boar and a giant fish outside the Hunting and Fishing Museum. Curve around to Weinstrasse, a shopping street. Head up to the Field Marshals' Hall (12) – a fair copy of the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence. Touch the noses of the four brass lions along the west wall of the Residenz (3) for good luck, and cut through on Pfisterstrasse to the Hofbräuhaus (13).
After 6pm, the Hofbräuhaus (13) serves its house beer in one-litre steins (€8.40); before that hour, you can ask for a puny half-litre of delicious strong beer while you marvel at the choreography of the waiting staff and the conviviality of the site – augmented by the resident Bavarian band. The venue is as popular with locals as it is with visitors, though some swear the beer at the competing Augustinerhof on the opposite corner is superior.
Dine with the locals
Step through the decorated door of the Nurnberger Bratwurst Glockl am Dom (14), in the shadow of the Frauenkirche (15), into the Middle Ages – with the ambience of a country tavern. No matter that the name and the cuisine (small, spicy and delicious sausages) celebrate the rival Bavarian metropolis; you will rub shoulders with thoroughbred Münchner folk.
Sunday morning: go to church
The domes of the Frauenkirche (15) define the highest permitted structure in the city; it is said that Allied bombing missions were instructed to leave them intact as a landmark for subsequent air raids. Its contents include a relief of the first German Pope, Benedict, and the cenotaph of Ludwig of Bavaria.
Out to brunch
The “Munich bread basket” is served 6-11am daily in the Roofgarden of the Bayerischer Hof (16) on Promenadeplatz 2-6 (00 49 89 21 200; bayerischerhof.de). For €26 you get a pretzel, Bavarian white sausages, meats, cheese and coffee.
Michael Jackson was a regular guest at the hotel; the statue outside of the composer Orlando di Lasso has been taken over as a shrine to the singer.
A walk in the park
The south end of the Englischer Garten is enlivened by surfers riding a fast-flowing stream at Surf Welle (17). Or take U-Bahn line 3 to Olympiazentrum, and walk to the Olympic Park, home to the Games in 1972. Take a tour of the stadium (€8) or climb to the summit of the artificial hill created with wartime spoil from the city centre. Adjacent is a shiny shrine to the car: BMW Welt (7.30am-midnight daily, from 9am on Sundays, free).
Take a ride
The Museum Bus, no 100, shuttles between Hauptbahnhof (2) and Ostbahnhof via many of the city's museums.
Munich's answer to Tate Modern is the Pinakothek der Moderne (18) (00 49 89 2380 5360; pinakothek.de; 10am-6pm daily except Monday; €1 on Sundays). The more traditional Alte Pinakothek (19) (same hours and Sunday admission) stars Dürer and Holbein.
Icing on the cake
At the airport, airbräu – a boisterous bierhof and microbrewery – provides a perfect farewell. The excellent house beer is perhaps the cheapest at any airport in western Europe, at just €2.75 for half a litre.
Additional research by Poppy Calder
- More about:
- Pinakothek der Moderne
- Franz Josef Strauss
- Englischer Garten