As far as locations to drink beer go, Munich rates pretty high on the bucket list. After my first night there, I woke up with a large bruise between my thumb and index finger – from lifting and swilling liters of beer at the Haufbrauhaus the evening before. (How do those beer maidens do it?) I also ended up on the lap of a man in lederhosen. On stage. In an Oompah band. But that’s another story.
If you’re headed to Oktoberfest, you’ve probably already sussed out the 15-plus beer tents that are part of this massive festival. But there’s so much more to Munich than beer. If you decide to take a short break from drinking, there’s plenty else to take in.
Munich is the capital city of the German state of Bavaria, and the country’s third largest city. Home to centuries-old buildings and cutting-edge architecture, it houses a fascinating array of art and culture. In the city center lies the Marienplatz, a great place for a stroll and some fabulous people-watching at one of the many cafes. Located in the Altstadt (Old Town), this square houses landmarks including the neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus (New Town hall). The building’s famous glockenspiel, a cuckoo clock of sorts, is built of chimes and life-size figures. Twice a day – at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. – the glockenspiel reenacts fanciful stories from the 16th century.
St. Peter’s Church has been standing since the 11th century, and after many renovations and additions, it tells the story of time itself. Climbing the tower’s 299 stairs is worth it for a stunning view of the city. If the workout leaves you hungry, check out the Viktualienmarkt (Farmers’ Market) next door to find some delicious, local eats.
Considered a seminal symbol of the city, the Cathedral Church of Our Lady is also located in Munich’s Old Town. Dating back to 1468, this Gothic masterpiece was heavily damaged by air strikes during World War II, but has since been rebuilt. Climb the south tower – topped by an onion dome – for fantastic views of the city and even, on a clear day, the Alps.
Not far from the Marienplatz, the Odeonsplatz is lined with ornate 19th century buildings like the Feldherrnhalle, which was built in the 1840s in honor of the Bavarian Army. To the west, the bright yellow Theatiner Church, was built in 1662; it’s all-white interior will amaze you. The Residenz Munich is an impressive and stately palace that was built for the monarchs of Bavaria; today it’s a museum open to visitors who can peruse its lavish interiors and royal artifacts. The adjoining Hofgarten (courtyard) is a peaceful place to sit and take in the views, or relax. Beyond it lies the entrance to the Englischer Garten, a huge urban park with miles of walking trails, as well as a lakeside beer garden (just in case you start craving a brew).
West of the Englischer Garten, the Nymphemburg Palace sits on a 500-acre estate. Originally the summer residence of Bavarian monarchs, highlights include intricately painted ceiling frescoes, rococo furnishings, and expansive baroque gardens.
But Munich’s alluring – and enduring – design isn’t limited to ancient history. Marvels of modern architecture abound. The Allianz Arena – the 75,000-seat home to the Bayern Munich soccer team – was built by renowned architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, with an inflatable plastic exterior that changes color. Other sporty design includes Olympiapark, site of the 1972 Olympic Games, which was remade into a beautifully landscaped sports facility with bicycle paths, concert venues, and restaurants.
With a such a broad and rich history, it’s no surprise Munich has its share of world-class museums featuring everything from medieval to modern art.
The futuristic BMW Museum, with its gleaming silver exterior, will delight car lovers with vintage and cutting-edge cars, as well as history of design. The Deutsches (German) Museum, is a 540,000 square foot homage to humankind’s technological achievements and understanding of science. At the Judisches (Jewish) Museum, visitors can engage in a rich and vast display of Jewish history, art, and culture that goes well beyond Germany’s borders. The Pinakothek der Moderne, meanwhile, is one of the world’s largest spaces dedicated to art, architecture, and design of the 20th and 21st centuries.