My fave Munich attractions and other things to do in Bavaria’s capital
I think I fell in love with Munich the moment I stepped off the plane. Filled with gorgeous architecture, oozing with history and an abundance of Bavarian beer, it automatically felt like home. It has easily become one of my favourite places thus far. I think it’s the combination of a laid-back lifestyle combined with numerous Munich attractions that made it feel like home.
Munich is famous for its Oktoberfest. While the festival is a legendary experience, this is a place worth visiting at any time of the year. There are many things to see in Munich, but if you’re looking for an additional fix, then make sure to check out the Bavarian Alps. Both Munich and Bavaria are, in my opinion, underrated locations for any history and culture lover. It’s actually not a surprise why I felt so at home here.
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A little bit about Munich, Bavaria’s capital
Munich (München in German), Bavaria’s capital, is Germany’s third-largest city, after Berlin and Hamburg. If you’re really curious, the name Munich derives from the medieval German word “Munichen” – meaning “home of the monks.” The same monks ran a monastery and brewed beer in what is now Munich’s Old Town for almost a century.
Bavaria, a state in southern Germany, has been home to the Celts, Romans and many different tribes over the centuries. In 1255, the Wittelsbachs became the monarchs of Bavaria and ruled here until 1918. Many of the Wittelsbachs left a mark on Munich and Bavaria, including Ludwig I. With a team of architects, Ludwig planned out and designed modern Munich, giving it its characteristic appearance.
Munich’s growth and development took off during the 19th century. It was one of Europe’s culturally important cities, known for its musical and theatre scene. Ludwig II, the man behind the Neuschwanstein Castle, championed the famous composer Richard Wagner, adding to Munich’s allure.
End of Wittelsbach rule and the Free State of Bavaria
The end of WWI marked the end of Wittelsbach’s rule. The new Free State of Bavaria attracted many extremists, eventually becoming home to the Nazi Party. It was in Munich that Hitler addressed the crowds and held his meetings. As much as it was the hotbed of the Nazi movement, there was a passive Bavarian resistance to the regime. Unfortunately, not enough to change history.
During WWII, Munich was heavily damaged by bombing raids. After the war, Munich’s people opted to rebuild the city based on the old building plans. Walking around today, you wouldn’t know the extent of the damage. The city is beautiful and strongly reflects Bavarian traditions. For me, it was such a treat to wander around and enjoy it all. Imagine living in a different world.
Beer in Bavaria
As the home of Oktoberfest, Munich is a place where you can fully embrace the beer culture. Beer, after all, was proclaimed as “liquid bread’ in the Bavarian constitution. Today, the strict rules of beer making follow the “Reinheitsgebot” – a Bavarian decree from 1516 that regulates beer-making ingredients. As there are over 4,000 Bavarian beer brands and about 40 types of beer, there is plenty to choose from for everyone.
Tourists and locals frequent the beer halls and gardens and eat giant pretzels with ubiquitous sausages and pork knuckles. You can even score your own stein locker at the local beer hall. I’m not sure what you need to do to have one, but the fact that you do is amazing.
I may or may not have visited the beer halls quite a bit while in Munich. After all, it’s an experience like no other. The beer halls are guaranteed a good time, from the traditional Bavarian oompah bands, and whip-cracking performers to giant pretzels and loads of sausages.
Beer halls and beer gardens (best Munich attractions for beer lovers)
- Augustinerkeller: This establishment has been tapping the Edelstoff beer in wooden barrels since 1812. Here you’ll find all the staples, including vaulted ceilings, wooden benches, chandeliers and old paintings. It’s also great for people watching.
- Biergarten Viktualienmarkt: A lovely beer garden in the centre of Munich. Great for people watching and checking out the nearby market stalls.
- Braunauer Hof: Classic Bavarian-style restaurant and beer garden. You can enjoy your beer and snack on traditional German fare inside or outside.
- Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower): Located in the English Gardens, you’ll find traditional Bavarian brews accompanied by Chinese food. Great spot to enjoy the sunshine and surrounding park.
- Hofbräuhaus: A must when it comes to Munich attractions. Established as the Royal Brewery of the Kingdom of Bavaria in 1589, Hofbräuhaus has been a staple of Munich’s history. Here you’ll find all the traditional elements of Bavaria.
- Löwenbräukeller: Not only does Löwenbräukeller host one of Oktoberfest’s most popular tents, but it also was the first beer hall with napkins and tablecloths. It must have been quite the talk back in 1883. Today, you can enjoy a local fare with your beer.
- Paulaner Bräuhaus: Started by two brothers in 1889, the beer here is brewed in shiny copper tanks, served with traditional and seasonal dishes.
My favourite Munich attractions
Let’s be honest. There are lots of things to do in Munich. It’s a cultural city with plenty of choices for someone like me who loves history, architecture and beer. Even if you’re not into the same things as I am, you’ll love how pretty and laid back Munich is.
As we had a limited time to see the city, we opted to do the sightseeing bus tour on our first day. Taking a bus tour is a fantastic way to see the place and get a rundown from the guide on where things are and what they are. On a clear, sunny day, you can sit on the upper level of the bus with the whole city at your fingertips.
Of course, there wasn’t enough time for it all, which is why I plan on going back. Here are some of my favourite Munich attractions. I think you’ll love it. Below that, you’ll find additional Munich attractions to explore.
The one thing I definitely didn’t expect to see in Munich was river surfing. At the entrance to the Englischer Garten, you will likely see several onlookers. That’s where surfers tackle the waves of river Eisbach. The river is man-made, and the wave is created by a stone step. It’s fascinating to watch people in wetsuits zipping from one side of the river to the other. It’s an activity recommended for those with surfing experience, so if you don’t have any, you’re better off enjoying the show from the sidelines.
The Englischer Garten (English Garden) was designed to emulate the style of the English landscapes of the day. What started off as a swampy terrain transformed into a massive public park that is bigger than Central Park in New York.
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The park attracts locals and visitors with its open spaces, tree groves and walkways. It’s a popular spot for sunbathers (sometimes in the nude) and all lovers of the outdoors. This makes it one of the Munich attractions that locals adore as well.
Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Dear Lady)
One of the largest Gothic buildings in southern Germany, the Frauenkirche’s iconic towers have been a symbol of Munich since 1525. It’s also one of the most popular Munich attractions for those who love churches. The church was completed in 1488, but it took another 37 years for the completion of the domes capping the towers. According to the law, no building can obscure the view of the church. That means the views of the city and the Alps from the tower are spectacular.
This is probably one of the most popular Munich attractions. Like probably every other person who comes here, I love the area around Marienplatz. The main square of the Old Town (Altstadt) is where the action is. Since the 12th century, Marienplatz has been the centre of Munich’s historical events. This is also home to the annual Christmas Market.
The Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) absolutely took my breath away. Although it was built between 1867 and 1909, it looks like something out of a Gothic novel. It looks one way when it’s sunny, transforms at night and takes your breath away when dusted with snow. I probably took a hundred pictures of this one place alone.
It’s hard to imagine that 24 houses were demolished to make space for this exquisite structure with six courtyards. The outside is decorated with sculptures from Bavarian history and legends. If that wasn’t enough, their massive clock chimes its 43 bells while little bronze figurines dance out scenes from a wedding, honouring Duke Wilhelm V and his bride.
For a glimpse of what a summer residence of the Bavarian monarchs looks like, head over to Nymphenburg. I must say, the Wittelsbachs had an eye for architecture. This Baroque palace is a stunner, and the surrounding grounds are like icing on a cake. It’s a definite must to add to your list of Munich attractions.
Prince Ferdinand Maria built the castle in 1664 as a gift to his wife for giving birth to a long-awaited heir. It must have been some wait. The heir, Max Emanuel, played a significant role in the future expansions of the palace, as did many other Wittelsbachs.
This is definitely a place where you can spend a better part of the day. As we were limited on time, I enjoyed strolling the grounds and admiring the exterior. Next time, I’m definitely going in.
Odeonsplatz, Siegestor and Feldherrnhalle
The Odeonsplatz was the brainchild of Ludwig I. He envisioned the square as a grand entrance into Munich, marking the city’s main thoroughfare, the Ludwigstraße. Flanked by Neo-Classical buildings, Ludwigstraße is a feast for the eyes in itself. Today, Ludwig sits atop his horse facing the street.
As you pass the monument, you’ll see the Feldherrnhalle, a loggia that seems like something straight out of Florence. Created as a focal point for Odeonsplatz, the loggia honours Bavarian heroes.
Walking along the Ludwigstraße, you’ll come across Siegestor – a triumphal arch with three grand arches. Commissioned by King Ludwig I, as was the day’s fashion, the arch was completed in 1850 and is modelled on the Arch of Constantine in Rome.
Peterskirche (St Peter’s Church)
A church has stood in this spot since the 11th century. The church you see today has undergone reconstructions and extensions over the centuries, leaving it a fusion of styles. Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo elements blend to create the church we see today. For great views of the city, you can climb the 299 steps, which isn’t as hard as I imagined it to be. The views are amazing and worth the climb.
Chances are that if you’re strolling around the Old Town, you’ll find your way to the Viktualienmarkt. As the oldest and most picturesque Munich market, this is a lively place. Do a little shopping, people watching and sit down to enjoy a beer with a snack.
Other Munich attractions worth checking out
The amount of all Munich attractions can fill more than a couple of days’ worth of a visit. Even if you don’t have long to spend here, there is enough to give you a taste of what the city has to offer. Here are just a few other Munich attractions that I planned on visiting and didn’t get around to. They are all worthy addition to every visitor’s list.
Designed in the Italian Renaissance style, the Alte Pinakothek was opened in 1836 by Ludwig I. It is one of the world’s most famous art galleries with an impressive collection of 14th-18th century masters. Many of the works came from the Wittelsbach family collection, started by Duke Wilhelm IV in the 1500s.
Asamkirche (Asam Church)
The Asam Church started as a private chapel for its builders, the brothers Asam. They build the church in the mid-18th century in the Baroque style. The church, officially named after St. Johann Nepomuk, integrates itself between rows of houses. Lavishly decorated inside, the outside has its own special feature. Those are two massive rocks at the base of the columns by the church’s entrance.
Bavarian National Museum
Although I wasn’t able to explore the Bavarian National Museum, I fell in love with the outside of it right from the start. The museum, founded by King Maximillian II in 1855, houses collections of art and cultural history. Created for the Wittelsbach collection, it now is one of Europe’s finest museums.
The BMW Museum is definitely a huge draw for car lovers. The futuristic-looking building houses the BMW history as well as car parts and models. If you’re into cars, especially BMWs, this should be on your list of Munich attractions.
Museum of science and technology. Here you’ll find over 30 exhibitions spread over 269,000 sq ft (25,000 m2 ) of space. Collections include over 100,000 objects from the fields of science and technology.
Dedicated to ancient sculptures, the Glyptothek is Munich’s oldest public museum. The museum is currently closed for renovations. Make sure to check online for reopening times.
Lenbachhouse is a former residence of the artist Franz von Lenbach. His widow sold the property to the city of Munich in 1929. Today, the museum houses many international contemporary art pieces.
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The museum is home to contemporary masters and paintings by German, French and English artists from 1780 to 1910. The original building from 1853 was destroyed during the war. The current gallery reopened in 1981.
Once the official residence of the Wittelsbach monarchs, the Residenz is a massive palace made up of 10 courtyards and 130 rooms. This opulently decorated complex dates back to the 14th century, with many additions over the centuries. This is easily one of the Munich attractions that you need more than a day to explore.
Final thoughts on Munich attractions
There are so many reasons to love Munich. From the low-key vibe, cultural attractions and outdoor spaces to architecture, history and culinary wares. There is so much to see and do in Munich for everyone. This is especially true for those that love culture and history. Munich’s past has dark moments, and they are important to explore.
My first trip there was definitely a teaser. I keep finding new things that I want to do in Munich on my next visit. Then there are the side trips to explore all the little Bavarian towns, castles and of course, the Alps.
I’m hoping to spend more time in Munich on my next visit. I know that I will be visiting many Munich attractions and that includes drinking beer. Lots of it.
Have you been to Munich? Let me know.