48 Hours In: Munich

Beer halls and oompah bands will lure thousands to the Bavarian capital for Oktoberfest, but there's plenty to amuse visitors whatever time of year, says Anthony Lambert
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The Independent Travel

WHY GO NOW?

With dozens of museums and a deciduous forest for a park, the Bavarian capital is the perfect city for an autumn break. However, if you're only here for the beer, the Oktoberfest - the world's largest beer festival ( www.oktoberfest.de) - will be opened today at noon by the Lord Mayor of Munich. The excuse for 17 days of beer drinking

in marquees in the Theresienwiese or "Wies'n", beneath an immense statue of St Therese, patron saint of Bavaria, is a royal wedding back in 1810.

TOUCH DOWN

Lufthansa (0870 833 0340; www.lufthansa.co.uk) flies to Munich from Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester; British Airways (0870 850 9 850; www.ba.com) flies from Heathrow, Gatwick and Bristol; and easyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyJet.com) flies from Stansted. From the huge and baffling airport, the quickest way to reach the city centre is by S-Bahn line S8 to the main railway station, the Hauptbahnhof (1) for €8.80 (£6).

GET YOUR BEARINGS

The old town and the principal sites of Bavaria's capital lie between the Hauptbahnhof (1) and the River Isar. The principal street is Maximilianstrasse, linking Max-Joseph-Platz (2) with the imposing Maximilianeum (3), the seat of the Bavarian Parliament, on the other side of the river, across the Maximilian Bridge. The tourist hub is Marienplatz (4), on the north side of which is the New Town Hall and the main tourist information office, open 10am-8pm Monday to Friday and 10am-4pm on Saturday (00 49 89 233 96 500; www.muenchen-tourist.de). There is another office in the main station (1), open 9.30am-8pm Monday to Saturday, 10am-6pm on Sunday. The Munich Welcome Card offers free use of Munich's excellent public transport system and up to half-price admission at many tourist attractions; the one- or three-day cards cost from €6.50 (£4.50).

CHECK IN

The elegant Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski (5) at Maximilianstrasse 17 was the result of an architectural competition arranged by Maximilian II; he wanted the hotel to be the street's centrepiece (00 49 89 21 250; www.kempinski-vierjahreszeiten.de). Guests have free use of swish BMW pedal bikes, which gain more admiring looks than the ubiquitous cars. Notable past guests include Orson Welles and King Hussein of Jordan. Doubles from €385 (£275), including breakfast. Well located in the old town with a vaulted restaurant is Platzl Hotel (6) at Sparkassenstrasse 10 (00 49 89 23 70 30; www.platzl.de). Doubles from €161 (£115) including breakfast. Close to the town hall is Hotel Schliker (7) at Tal 8, which has been run by the same family for more than a century (00 49 892 42 88 70; www.hotel-schlicker.de). Doubles from €115 (£82) including breakfast. Note that these are the room rates for the Oktoberfest period, when prices traditionally soar.

TAKE A VIEW

Tucked away, almost apologetically, down an alleyway is the Frauenkirche (8), a vast 15th-century red-brick church whose 320ft twin towers soar over the city skyline. For €3 (£2) a lift takes you up the south tower between 10am-5pm.

TAKE A HIKE

The Stadtmuseum (9) on St-Jakobs-Platz provides an excellent introduction to the city's history; it opens Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm, admission €4 (£2.85). Then walk east along Rosental to Munich's busiest market, the Viktualienmarkt (10) where stalls of fruit, vegetables, cheese, bread and wine beguile the senses. Weave north past the city's oldest parish church, St Peter's (11), to Marienplatz (4) to watch the mechanical display at noon and 5pm by enamelled figures as part of the Glockenspiel on the clock of the neo-Gothic new town hall. Skirt the tower of the old town hall with its Toy Museum to look at the delightful courtyard of the Alter Hof (12), the old palace of the reigning Wittelsbach family before they moved a few hundred yards north in 1385 to the Residenz (13). This immense palace spans 400 years of architectural history and is best admired by sitting in the café on Max-Josephs-Platz. This now occupies the loggia of what could be the world's most elegant post office (14), resembling an Italian palace. To the right is the National Theatre (15) housing the Munich Opera, which was designed by a remarkable Walloon who rose from Court dwarf to Court architect - François de Cuvilliés designed many of Munich's finest 18th-century buildings. Its damaged state after the Second World War moved Richard Strauss to write the elegaic symphonic study Metamorphosen.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

With tables on Max-Joseph-Platz overlooking the Residenz and Theatre, Spatenhaus an der Oper (16) at Residenzstrasse 12 (00 49 89 290 70 60) offers such local fare as pork in dark beer sauce with red cabbage and dumplings for €12.90 (£9) and Bavarian cream with raspberry puree for €6.10 (£4.30).

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

The Alte Pinakothek (00 49 89 238 05 216; www.pinakothek.de) (17) houses one of the world's greatest art collections covering the 14th-18th centuries, including many Rubens. It also has Dürer's self-portrait and major works by Titian, Frans Hals, Altdorfer, Raphael and Tintoretto. It's open 10am-5pm daily except Monday; the €5 (£3.50) admission includes an audio guide. For technophiles, the six-floor Deutsches Museum (00 49 89 21791; www.deutches- museum.de) (18) on the Museuminsel is again one of the foremost museums of its kind, with the world's first electric locomotive, submarines, space probes, cars and planes. It opens 9am-5pm daily, admission €7.50 (£5).

WINDOW SHOPPING

When every other parked car is a Porsche, you know you're on Maximilianstrasse - so exclusive a street that chains are excluded. Art galleries are interspersed with haute couture and jewellery. For antiques, try the area around Lenbachplatz (19).

AN APERITIF

You have the German state to thank for the atmosphere and look of the neo-Renaissance Hofbrä uhaus (20) at Platzl 9 (00 49 89 29 01 360; www.hofbraeuhaus.de). Touristy, but an essential stop. Go before 7pm if you'd rather avoid the live music. You can also eat.

DINNER WITH THE LOCALS

Slightly out of the centre but well worth seeking out is the Nymphenburger Hof (21) at Nymphenburger Strasse 24 (00 49 89 123 38 30), where a five-course menu with choice of meat or fish main course costs €55 (£39). It's refined cooking: a typical menu may include crab in dill sauce, finely sliced tuna with pine kernels and pomegranate seeds, champagne sorbet, venison with cranberries with celery puree, and a raspberry mousse. In warmer weather, you can eat in the garden surrounded by trees, hanging baskets and potted plants.

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

Count the baroque cherubs at St Cajethan's/ Theatinerkirche (22) on Theatinerstrasse, who liberally embellish this off-white testament to the stuccoists' art. Beyond the vast dome spanning the crossing, the altar is flanked by barleytwist columns wreathed in garlands. The yellow decoration in the dome and the tiny painting in the dome of its lantern are the only splashes of colour around.

WRITE A POSTCARD

In good weather Cafe Arzmiller (00 49 89 294 273 089), just along the street at Theatinerstrasse 22, spreads its tables into a quiet, tree-shaded courtyard with a modern fountain, providing coffee-fuelled inspiration.

OUT TO BRUNCH

Its former patrons Ibsen and Kandinsky would not recognise much of the 1888-built Cafe Luitpold (23) at Briennerstrasse 11 (00 49 89 24 28 750), but its palm court remains an attractive place for an all-day breakfast. Try the chocolate croissants.

TAKE A RIDE

Bikes can be hired at the main station (1) or picked up from stands throughout the city; the electronic locks are released through a code obtained by a credit-card transaction (0700 05 22 55 22). Explore the Englischer Garten. This is Europe's largest city park; it runs along the west bank of the River Isar for nearly four miles through agreeably varied landscapes, much of them wooded. Created by Sir Benjamin Thompson in 1789, the southern part of the "English Garden" is punctuated by beer gardens that also serve food; the largest surrounds a late 18th-century pagoda from which an oompah band plays at weekends.

A WALK IN THE PARK

More tranquil pleasures are on offer until 9 October at the National Garden Festival (00 49 89 41 2005 41; www.buga2005.de) in a landscaped park of 30,000 trees. The Festival is a 12-minute ride from the city centre on subway lines U2/U7 to Messestadt West and is open from 9am-7.30pm, admission is €14 (£10) for adults, €3 (£2.15) for children.

ICING ON THE CAKE

Take tram 17 or bus 41 to the vast white confection of Nymphenburg Palace, the summer palace of the Bavarian Elector, set in formal gardens (00 49 89 17 90 80; www.schloesser.bayern.de). It's open 9am-6pm, 10am-4pm from October and admission costs €5 (£3.50). Some of the more unusual artefacts are paintings commissioned by Ludwig I to prove that commoner women were just as attractive as aristocratic ladies; it includes a portait of the dancer Lola Montes, who became so involved in court intrigue that Ludwig I was forced to abdicate as a result. Don't miss the jewel-like Amalienburg, a single-storey hunting lodge built for Princess Maria Amalia.

Unusually, its rococo decoration is gilded with silver rather than gold, and the decoration of the circular dining room with hunting motifs is exquisite.

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