City Guide to Munich: The Best Things to Explore in Munich

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Do you want to experience Munich like a local? Here is the perfect Munich city guide, perfectly tailored for the best experience.

Why Should you Visit Munich?

You may know Munich because of the annual Oktoberfest (because who isn’t excited about celebrating beer). But this city is so much more than just one festival. As many like to call it, it is a city that is really just one giant village. The lack of skyscrapers and the friendliness of the people are what create this wonderful feeling. The city consistently ranks as one of the world’s most livable cities making for an enjoyable visit. This city guide to Munich will give you the best of it all. 

grounds for Oktoberfest are held in Theresienwiese, Munich, Germany

And the best part about visiting Munich is that most of the best sights are located within the medieval city gates making them easy to explore on foot or by bike. While you’re exploring the city make sure to make as many stops as possible at the beer gardens. There are hundreds, including the largest beer garden in Europe. Many of the beer gardens are family-friendly with playgrounds so that the whole family can enjoy themselves.

Besides being a green city that offers numerous cycling and walking paths, there are 100+ museums and galleries. And don’t forget to partake in one of Germany’s best traditions, afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake). It is no wonder that this is my favourite city, and when you’re done with this wonderful Munich city guide, I can almost guarantee that it will be your favourite too. 

The Most Recommended Munich Sightseeing Tours

Altbau (old buildings) in Munich, Germany
Gärtnerplatz in Munich

Even if you are like me and prefer exploring a city on your own and in your own time, it is always a recommendation of mine to try at least one city tour, just to make sure you don’t miss any must-sees. This also helps me acquaint myself with a new city and makes the rest of my exploring a little easier. Because let’s be honest, if you can make something hassle-free why not?

Here are some of my recommendations on city-guides in Munich:

Munich Highlights: 2-Hour Bike Tour: Munich is an incredibly bike-friendly city. You’ll see a lot of the main sights in Munich on this tour in a short amount of time. You’ll also be getting around the same way that Müncheners’s do. Locals love to cycle.

Third Reich & WWII Tour Walking Tour: I did this tour when I first moved to Munich.  You’ll explore Munich’s dark side and visit the sites of mass rallies and WWII sites and learn about Hitler’s rise to power. While this isn’t an uplifting tour, history buffs will find it fascinating.

Munich City Tour Card: While not a tour, the Munich City Tour Card gives you free public transportation and discounts (although often quite minimal) on tours, museums, attractions and eating out. The biggest advantage of the card, in my opinion, is the free public transportation.

Travel Tip: Get the most out of your card by having it delivered to you before your trip or purchase it at the airport. This will allow you to save on your airport transportation which is pricey. Make sure to do some research before purchasing one though as it may not be worth it for everyone. Take into consideration how many times you will be using public transportation and which attractions and museums you are most interested in visiting. 

Scary Munich: ghost walk through the old town I’m a huge fan of these types of tours in any city I visit. And yes I know that they’re often cheesy. This one is no exception. If Halloween is one of your favourite holidays, you’ll enjoy this tour.

Top 5 Things to See and Do in Munich

Munich Residenz is one of the most opulent palaces in Europe and should be included in every Munich city guide itinerary.
Munich Residenz is much more impressive inside than it is from the outside.
  1. Visit Nymphenburg Palace. In contrast to the Munich Residenz, this palace has an immediate wow factor with its extensive and opulent gardens. For something unique stop and take a boat ride on the canal! The inside is OK – not nearly as impressive as the interior of the Residenz in my opinion. It’s worth visiting the outside alone – just wear good walking shoes as there’s a lot to explore.
  2. Visit the Munich Residenz. While you won’t think much about the exterior, don’t be fooled. It may not look like much but it is one of Europe’s largest and most opulent palaces. On your self-guided tour, you’ll learn about  400 years of history and visit 130 rooms (at your own pace). 
  3. Climb the tower of St. Peter’s Church. You’ll climb – 299 steps for an incredible view over Marienplatz and beyond! Alternatively, you can take an elevator from the New Town Hall and get a similar view with far less effort.
  4. Admire the River Surfers. While surfing probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Munich, there’s a 1-meter high standing wave in the Eisbach River in the south end of the English Garden. Surfers are there year-round, regardless of the temperatures. You can see photos of surfing in Munich here. You can observe them from Prinzregentenstraße, just west of the National Museum and Haus der Kunst (House of Art).
  5. Eat and drink at 2 beer gardens or more. Beer gardens serve as an outdoor living room for locals in good weather. Each one has its own unique flair. By visiting at least two of them, you’ll be able to see and feel the differences despite the similarities. See suggestions below in the Where to Eat in Munich section.

Where to Stay in Munich

While many visitors choose to stay in the conveniently located City Centre, which is a good choice, I also recommend:

  • Haidhausen, known as the “French Quarter” of Munich
  • Schwabing, one of the trendiest if not the trendiest neighborhoods in the city
  • Neuhausen, where you’ll find Schloss Nymphenburg.

Each of these areas is perfectly located to reach the city center easily. You will find beautiful architecture here and Altbau (“old buildings” technically built before 1950, but generally accepted as being built between 1850 and 1920). In addition, you’ll find ample cozy cafes, restaurants, beer gardens, and local shops. You can either stay in a hotel or an Air BnB, which is my preference for stays of two nights or more.

Where to Stay in Munich’s City Centre

The city center is a great choice if you’re looking for a convenient location and want to explore the city on foot. These hotels are within walking distance of the Hauptbahnhof (main train station), Marienplatz and many other sights.

Bayerischer Hof – This five-star hotel is a hot spot for celebrities and heads of states when they visit Munich. It’s conveniently located close to the Bavarian State Opera and Marienplatz. It’s a great choice if you’re seeking luxury. The rooftop bar (open in summer) has some of the best views of Munich.

Rocco Forte The Charles Hotel – This elegant hotel overlooks the Old Botanical Garden providing an oasis even though you’re in the heart of the city, just steps away from the Hauptbahnhof. It’s also home to the longest indoor pool in Munich. It’s a great choice if you’re looking for a larger hotel room.

Anna Hotel – Munich’s first design hotel has beautiful aesthetics with attention to details like lamps and textiles carefully thought out. Located right at Stachus (Karlsplatz) you’re right in the heart of all the attention. If you’re interested in design and architecture, you’ll love staying here.

Where to Stay in Haidhausen

Located just east of the city center and still central, Haidhausen is one of the prettiest districts in Munich and is known as the “French Quarter.”  It’s a great choice if you want to mingle with locals yet still be close to the sights most of which are reachable on foot or a short train ride away. You’ll find plenty of locally owned cafes and restaurants.

Hotel München Palace – A family-run 5-star luxury hotel with a mix of contemporary and classical furnishings. It’s located steps away from the Isar River and the Museum Villa Stuck.

Living Hotel am Deutschen Museum by Derag – Located on a quiet street but just a 5-minute walk from Rosenheimerplatz and all its quaint shops, restaurants and cafes, this is a good choice if you’re looking for reasonably priced accommodation.

Where to Stay in Schwabing

Schwabing is one of Munich’s most bohemian district and is a magnet for locals with all its bars and restaurants and proximity to the English Garden. It’s a desirable and expensive place to live in. It’s a good choice if you want to be where locals hang out and don’t mind being a short train ride from some of the sights.

Frederics München City Schwabing – These self-catering apartments are perfect if you want a bit more space and want a fully-equipped kitchenette. They’re located in the heart of Schwabing close to Hohenzollernplatz where you can also catch a train.

Hotel Vitalis by Amedia – The highlight for this hotel is the spacious rooms. You’ll find lots of cafes and restaurants nearby and Hohenzollernplatz is just a few minute’s walk away.

Where to Stay in Neuhausen

The most famous site in Neuhausen is the baroque Nymphenburg Palace. It’s set in a sprawling park and there’s also a botanical garden. The area is known for its handsome late-19th-century buildings on tree-lined streets. You’ll find lots of restaurants and cafes. It’s also a short train ride from Olympic Park, where the 1972 Olympics were held and to the BMW Museum.

Leonardo Hotel Munich City Olympiapark – This luxurious 4-star property is located near the BMW Museum. It’s a bit north of the city center but you can easily reach it by bus or train.

Mercure München am Olympiapark -This is a 3-star superior hotel underwent a renovation in 2018. It features a historical facade with modern rooms on the inside. It’s just a 10-minute walk from Olympic Park.

New Orly – This boutique hotel is located in a quiet location but within walking distance to Rotkreuzplatz and just a quick train ride from all the sights.

Another great, and often cheaper option to finding a place to stay while in Munich AirBnB

If you’re new to AirBnB click on this link to get €25 in travel credit when you sign up.

What to Eat and Drink in Munich

Coffee and cake is a tradition in Germany
Coffee and cake is a tradition in Germany

The typical Bavarian “diet” is anything but a diet. Large portions of meat (with lots of pork), potatoes, and bread. It will likely some of the best bread you’ve ever tasted.  A local specialty is Weisswurst, a traditional Bavarian white sausage usually served with a pretzel and often with a beer. It used to be served at breakfast but can now be eaten anytime. I’m personally not a fan, but it’s worth trying at least once. You’ll also want to try Schweinsbraten, the most popular dish in Bavaria. It’s slices of pork slices covered in gravy and served with Knödel (dumplings). You’ll find it on the menu of every beer garden or traditional Bavarian restaurant.

For vegetarians, your best choice is Käse Spätzle, which I like to call German macaroni and cheese. You’ll also find it in other parts of Germany and Austria. Although it’s not distinctly Bavarian it frequently appears on Bavarian menus. No city guide to Munich is complete without good food. 

One of my favourite traditions in Germany is the afternoon tradition of Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake). Most Germans don’t do this every day but perhaps once a week. But hey you’re on vacation so feel free to indulge as often as you choose.

Where to Eat in Munich

The chinese Tower is a popular beer garden in Munich, Germany
The Chinese Tower is Munich’s second-largest beer garden.
Hofbräuhaus While not my personal favourite, almost every visitor wants to visit Munich’s best-known beer hall.  It was founded by the Duke of Bavaria in 1589 and is one of the oldest beer halls in the city. It gained notoriety in the U.S after World War II from American soldiers who were stationed in Munich and brought home beer mugs with the “HB” logo. It’s now the number one tourist attraction in Munich.

Hirschgarten This is the largest beer garden in both Munich and in Europe and can seat up to 8000 people. Despite its size, it still retains a cozy feeling. What I love best about this beer garden are your dining companions. They’re deer – a nod to the previous royal hunting grounds.

Chinese Tower Beer Garden Munich’s second-largest beer garden is located in the famed English Garden and situated around a large pagoda. It makes for an ideal place for Brotzeit (a small snack) while hanging out in the English Garden. Note: the site is only in German.

Cafe Luitpold Prepare to be blown away upon entrance. You’ll see a 10-meter long display of cakes, tortes, tarts and strudels, and pralines. While there is a regular menu as well, the desserts are the star of the show. This traditional cafe dates back to the 1800s but retains a modern upscale feel. Unlike other places in Munich, you order your dessert at the counter and it will be served at your table. Note: the site is only in German.

Cafe Katzentempel This is Germany’s first cat cafe. Be sure to keep your eye on your cappuccino, as your dining companions are rescued cats. A portion of all the profits goes towards animal causes. The cafe serves vegetarian and vegan food for breakfast and lunch as well as a selection of desserts. If you miss your cat while on vacation this is the place to be. I’m a regular. You can find out more about Cafe Katzentempel here.

A Guide to Best Neighbourhoods in Munich to Explore on Foot

Weinerplatz in Haidhausen Munich Germany

Wiener Platz in Haidhausen has a fresh daily market.

  • The Altstadt (Old Town). You’ll find many of Munich’s most famous sites from Marienplatz, Viktualien Market, to the Munich Residenz, the three remaining city gates and the Hofbrauhaus all in the Old Town.
  • Haidhausen. Also known as the “French Quarter” because of both its layout and because many of the streets are named after French cities. You’ll find lots of interesting cafes, restaurants, beer gardens, restaurants and Weiner Platz, a daily food market. You’ll also find the Müller’sche Volksbad – the oldest public indoor pool in Munich where little has changed in 100 years. It’s Munich’s most elegant swimming hall and one of the finest in all of Europe.
  • Schwabing. This is one of the trendiest if not the trendiest neighborhoods in the city. The streets are lined with cafes, restaurants and small shops. It’s adjacent to the English Garden so it’s easy to combine the two.
  • Neuhausen. In addition to cafes, restaurants, and shops you’ll also find Schloss Nymphenburg and Schloss Blutenburg – a much smaller castle that hosts a museum but not tours, with its lovely grounds for a walk or a bike ride.

A Guide to Munich’s Best Green Spaces

Isar River in Munich, Germany
The Isar River is a popular spot for runners and cyclists.

English Garden. Larger than Central Park in NYC, it’s over 12 km long from north to south. If you want to see the entire park you’ll need to rent a bike. Alternatively, you can just choose to visit a part of the park on foot and then relax at one of the four beer gardens in the park. My two favourites are the Chinese Tower and the Seehaus, which is located right on a lake. Both also have restaurants.

Isar River. This river flows through Munich from north to south. It’s a popular spot for cyclists, runners and for going for a walk. You’ll find different kiosks and beer gardens along the way where you can reward yourself for your efforts. You can also swim in the river in some places. Locals also love to bring their grills to selected locations along the river for a BBQ. There’s even a section for nude sunbathing. Note: please be respectful and don’t snicker or take pictures.

Schlosspark Nymphenburg (Castle Park).  You’ll find flowers, an ornamental pool and a forest in this classical English-style palace park. It’s a local favourite for going for a run, or simply soaking up the sun on a gorgeous day.

Olympia Park. This park was constructed for the 1972 Summer Olympics. You’ll find a swimming hall, arena for sports and concerts and the Olympic Tower which offers a fantastic view over Munich. What I love most about the park is the lookout hill. It’s made of rubble left over from WWII.

A Guide to Munich’s Cultural Hotspots

While Berlin gets all the credit for being a cultural hotspot, Munich also has a lot to offer travellers that love culture. The ultimate city guide to Munich must include at least include one art museum.

Check out the Das Kunstareal – The Art District. It’s home to many of Munich’s best museums and all within walking distance of each other. The most famous is the Alte Pinakothek. It opened in 1836 and contains masterpieces from the Middle Ages to the end of the Rococo period. It’s one of the oldest and most important galleries in the world.

The Neue Pinakothek is also a good choice and if you like modern art check out the Pinakothek der Moderne. If you’re planning to visit more than one of the Pinakotheks, you can purchase a one-day pass for €12 which gives you access to all three plus the Museum Brandhorst which features modern art. You’ll also find the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus – Municipal Galerie in the Lenbachhaus, Glyptothek, Staatliche Antikensammlung – State Antiquities Collection and the Staatliche Sammlung für Ägyptische Kunst – Egyptian Museum.

You’ll also find the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus – Municipal Galerie in the Lenbachhaus, Glyptothek, Staatliche Antikensammlung – State Antiquities Collection and the Staatliche Sammlung für Ägyptische Kunst – Egyptian Museum.

If you only have time to check out one then I’d recommend the Alte Pinakothek followed by the Neue Pinakothek.

Another famous museum in Munich is the Deutsches Museum. It’s a science and technology museum displaying 28,000 items from 50 different fields of science and technology. They also have some interactive exhibits making it a good choice if you’re travelling with children.

Finally, there’s the BMW Museum for car lovers. Housed in a distinctive futuristic silver bowl it makes an immediate impression. The exhibition takes you on a time-travelling journey through the technical feats of pioneering – from historic BMW cars right up to the future. If you’re not a car lover you can give this a miss but it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Munich.

Best Day Trips from Munich

neuschwanstein_castle_in_germany the cinderella castle
Photo: Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

No Munich city guide is complete without mentioning the day trips outside the city.

Neuschwanstein Castle Day Trip Many travellers will know Neuschwanstein as the Fairytale Castle, or the Disney Castle. It’s an easy day trip from Munich if you go on a tour. Otherwise, the logistics can be complicated to organize if you do it by yourself.

Dachau Concentration Camp Half-Day Tour In contrast to the lighthearted visit to the Fairytale Castle, this takes you to a very dark time in history. It’s worthwhile going but it will bring you chills. It’s definitely not suitable for children.

Day Tour to Berchtesgaden and Obersalzberg: Berchtesgaden is one of two national parks in Bavaria. It’s one of the most breathtaking places in the German Alps with its rugged peaks and lush green valleys where cows with bells spend their days soaking up the sun. The Königssee (lake) is my favourite lake in Germany. This is a region that I keep returning to.

Salzburg Day Trip While Salzburg is in Austria, it’s just over an hour by train from Munich. This gorgeous city is Mozart’s hometown and well known for scenes from the cult classic film, the Sound of Music.

This Munich city guide will hopefully take you to the best sites this wonderful city has to offer and more.