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WHY GO NOW?
For most of February, you can catch Munich's major Kandinsky retrospective, before it travels on to the Pompidou Centre in Paris and then the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The show is at Munich's Lenbachhaus (1) (00 49 89 233 320 00; lenbachhaus.de), an Italianate villa that also contains an excellent collection of work by Kandinsky's Munich contemporaries. Even if you're not an art buff, during the months before Easter, the Bavarian capital is invigoratingly crisp and blissfully uncrowded.
Munich's smart Franz Josef Strauss airport is 17 miles north-east of the city centre. Fly from Heathrow with British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com); from London City, Heathrow, Birmingham or Manchester with Lufthansa (0870 837 7747; lufthansa.com); or from Stansted or Edinburgh with easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com). Trains on the S1 and S8 lines (00 49 89 4142 4344; mvv-muenchen. de) leave the airport every 10 minutes and take about 45 minutes to reach the city centre. A single ticket costs €9.20, or you can buy a day pass – entitling you to free transport throughout Munich – for €10.
Alternatively, a City Tour Card (available from most ticket machines) buys you unlimited public transport and reduced admission to lots of tourist attractions. A three-day pass costs €29.50 for all zones or €18.80 for the inner zones. (Corresponding one-day passes cost €16 or €9.80.) A taxi into town costs about €50.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
More than a million people live in Munich, but you can see why the Germans call it the world's biggest village. The suburbs are sprawling but the historic Altstadt is compact and easy to get around on foot. Like many German cities, Munich was bombed during the Second World War, but its post-war planners opted for restoration over modernisation.
The two main tourist offices (00 49 89 2339 6500; muenchen.de) are at the Hauptbahnhof (central train station) (2) (open daily, 9.30am-6pm) and the Neues Rathaus (new town hall) (3) at Marienplatz 8 (Monday to Friday 10am-8pm, Saturday 10am-4pm). The latter is a neo-Gothic landmark. With ornate decor and quaint glockenspiel performances (11am and noon daily), it is an attraction in its own right.
If you feel like splashing out, Rocco Forte's Charles Hotel (4) at Sophienstrasse 28 (00 49 89 544 5550; roccofortecollection.com) is a five-star haven close to the Hauptbahnhof. The gym is well equipped, the spa is spacious, and the restaurant is superb. Doubles from €250.
For something cheaper, Hotel Advokat (5) at Baaderstrasse 1 (00 49 89 216 310; hotel-advokat.de) is a simple, stylish boutique hotel in a residential district near the river. No gym but the riverbank is ideal for jogging. Doubles with breakfast from €145.
The best budget option is the 4 You Hostel (6) on Hirtenstrasse (00 49 89 552 1660; the4you.de), just north of the main station, an "ecological guest house" where dorm beds are available for €13, without breakfast.
TAKE A VIEW
The best view of Munich (and, on a clear day, the Bavarian Alps) is from the 80m-high tower of the Neues Rathaus (3) (00 49 89 23 300; muenchen.de), but it is open only Monday to Friday, 10am-5pm (admission €2). If you're only here for the weekend, there are fine views from the Blue Spa Bar on the roof of the Bayerischer Hof (7) on Promenadeplatz 2-6 (00 49 89 21 200; bayerischerhof.de) for the €3.50 price of a cup of coffee.
Maximilianstrasse, Residenzstrasse and Theatinerstrasse are full of smart designer stores (Chanel, Dior, Gucci, etc), but you need not spend a euro-fortune to enjoy a shopping trip to Munich. Hunt for bargains in the chain stores on Neuhauserstrasse and its continuation, Kaufingerstrasse, where Kaufhof (8) is one of the best – and biggest.
LUNCH ON THE RUN
Sample all sorts of Bavarian delicacies at the Viktualienmarkt (9), Munich's economic – and atmospheric – outdoor food market. With more than 100 independent stalls, it's been a local institution for two centuries; Monday to Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 10am-3pm.
TAKE A RIDE
The Hop-On Hop-Off bus (00 49 700 2878 6877; sightseeing-munich.com) is a good way to get an initial overview of the city. As the name suggests, you can break your journey at plenty of places along the way. The Express Circle tour lasts about an hour. Buses run every 30 minutes daily, with the first departure from the stop outside the Karstadt department store (10) (adjacent to the Hauptbahnhof) at 10am and the last at 4pm. Tickets cost €13. The Grand Circle tour (€18) lasts about two and half hours, non-stop, and also takes in the baroque Schloss Nymphenburg and space-age Olympia Park. Buses run every hour, 10am-3pm daily.
TAKE A HIKE
... in the 18th-century Englischer Garten, one of Europe's largest urban parks, a sprawling slice of countryside in the centre of the city; its name refers to its rugged, undulating landscape – a dramatic contrast to the formal French garden style that's more common in Germany. Aim for the neoclassical Monopteros (11), a panoramic vantage point, and the 18th-century Chinesischer Turm (12) – this "Chinese Tower" makes a picturesque rendezvous.
After dark, most tourists flock to the Hofbräuhaus, but a more authentic place to knock back Bavarian lager is the Löwenbräukeller (13) (00 49 89 528 933; loewenbraeu keller.com) at Nymph-enburgerstrasse 2 (open daily, 10am-midnight).
Built in 1883, it comprises a warren of contrasting rooms, ranging from cavernous to intimate. It is big enough to accommodate 4,000 tipsy revellers, but you need not be a dedicated beer-drinker to enjoy coming here. this handsome bierkeller is beautifully decorated, inside and out, making the €3.30 for half a litre of crisp draught beer worth every cent.
DINING WITH THE LOCALS
The Gourmet Restaurant Hotel Königshof (14) at Schützenstrasse 11 (00 49 89 55 1360; geisel-privathotels. de) is a popular meeting place, for locals as well as overnight guests. Resident chef Martin Fauster is still only in his mid-thirties, but his restaurant has a Michelin star and 18 Gault Millau points. He's from Austria, and like the best Austrian chefs, his menu marries Teutonic and Italianate cuisine. His venison with ravioli and red cabbage is sublime. The four-course dégustation menu costs €90.
For a cheaper evening meal, try Spatenhaus (15) at Residenzstrasse 12 (00 49 89 290 7060; kuffler.de). This warm and welcoming restaurant, across the road from the opera house, serves local staples in an Alpine setting, but the cooking is a cut above most Bavarian pub grub. A plate of sausages and sauerkraut costs €11.60.
SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH
The domes of the Frauen-kirche (16) and the Theatinerkirche (17) dominate the skyline, but Munich's prettiest church is the Michaelskirche (18) at Neuhauserstrasse 6 (00 49 89 231 7060; jesuiten.org/st-michael). Many Germans call Munich "Italy's northernmost city", and this Renaissance masterpiece wouldn't look out of place in Rome. There's a sung mass at 9am on Sunday, with heavenly choir and organ music. The church is open Sunday 6.50am-10.15pm and 10am-7pm on other days (Thursday to 8.45pm). From 1773 to 1921 this flamboyant building was the chapel of the Bavarian Royal Family, many of whom (including Bavaria's favourite monarch, "Mad" King Ludwig) are buried in the crypt – which opens 9.30am-2.30pm at weekends, 9.30am-4.30pm on other days, admission €2.
OUT TO BRUNCH
Seek out the cosy little cellar bar beneath the Bayerischer Hof (7) on Promenadeplatz 2-6 (00 49 89 21 200; bayerischerhof.de). This is the location for the five-star hotel's weekly Jazz Brunch – a monumental feast of local and international fare, which you can enjoy along with some trad jazz at the same time. From 11am every Sunday, €38.50 per person.
For something more restrained, head for the city's most elegant café, Café Luitpold (19) at Briennerstrasse 11 (00 49 89 242 8750; cafe-luitpold.de). A cup of coffee and a slice of Luitpoldtorte (the house speciality – a chocolate coated tart, flavoured with marzipan and cognac) costs €6.30. Open Monday to Friday 9am-8pm, Saturday 8am-7pm, Sunday 11am-6pm.
The Pinakothek der Moderne (20) at Barer Strasse 40 (00 49 89 2380 5360; pinakothek.de) is Munich's answer to Tate Modern. It hosts all sorts of cutting-edge exhibitions, but the permanent collection is also well worth seeing, with some mesmeric paintings by German Expressionists such as Max Beckmann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and, poignantly, Franz Marc and August Macke, both of whom died on the Western Front during the First World War. It opens 10am-6pm daily except Monday (with late opening on Thursdays to 8pm); the normal admission to the permanent collection is €9.50, but on Sundays it is just €1.
The same bargain Sunday admission price (normally €4.50) applies to the permanent collection of the Alte Pinakothek (21) at Barer Strasse 27 (00 49 89 2380 5216; pinakothek.de) (10am-6pm daily except Tuesday, with opening to 8pm on Wednesdays). Here you can enjoy the works of German Old Masters such as Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein and Lucas Cranach (the elder and younger).
THE ICING ON THE CAKE
Munich's newest cultural landmark is its striking Jewish Museum (22) on St Jakobs Platz (00 49 89 2339 6096; juedisches-museum-muenchen.de), which was completed in 2007 by the Viennese architect Martin Kohlbauer, who also designed the new synagogue and Jewish Community Centre next door. It celebrates Jewish life in Germany, as well as commemorating the Holocaust. Before the Second World War, 11,500 Jewish people lived in Munich. Today, 9,500 Jews live here once again. Open 10am-6pm daily except Monday, admission €6.