The best attractions in Munich
Kick off the day at Munich’s most famous foodie market, excellent for people-watching as much as fine regional produce. Kick back with a drink at one of the numerous stands—no shame in a radler (beer and lemonade) if you need to take it easy—and set about sampling the array of fresh and local produce, with specialties including bread, speck and Schweinshax'n (ham hock), the love-it-or-hate-it Weißwurst, as well as locally foraged mushrooms. If you’re in town over late November or December, the Viktualienmarkt hosts an annual Christmas Market, Alpenwahn, complete with carols, home-made cards and gifts and lashings of glühwein (mulled wine).
An enormous and imposing sight nestled alongside the picturesque Englischer Garten, Haus der Kunst is one of Munich's many spectacular galleries where you'll encounter an eclectic display of innovative exhibitions. With a constantly changing programme, the interdisciplinary Haus der Kunst exists as a paradigm of the contemporary art scene. But this neoclassical building comes with an intriguing and troubled history too - it was built in 1937 to house Nazi-approved art. Of course, this is no longer the case, but as you wander around you'll find that the Haus der Kunst continuously acknowledges, contemplates and engages with its propaganda heritage. Once you're done schlepping around the impressive array of contemporary art, head over to the adjoining Goldene Bar to slurp on vibrant cocktails (try the Goldene Bartini - a mouthwatering mix of gin, lillet blanc and lemon) within some blindingly shiny and illustriously sleek decor.
Not yet ten years old, the Brandhorst Museum in the northeastern corner of Munich’s Kunstareal (art district) is impossible to miss. With its Technicolor striped exterior, this dazzling addition to Munich’s art scene displays around 200 modern works from the collection of Anette Brandhorst and her husband Udo Fritz-Hermann. Big hitters include Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Bruce Nauman, Andy Warhol and Cy Twombly. The polygonal room above the foyer was designed exclusively for Twombly’s Lepanto, a breath-taking, twelve-canvas sequence depicting a fiery 16th-century sea battle between the Ottoman Turks and so-called “Holy League” of European forces. For those fond of printed matter as much as pictures on the wall, the Brandhorst collection also boasts one of the most comprehensive holdings of Picasso-illustrated books.
Across the square from the Brandhorst Museum, Munich’s Pinakothek trio (the Alte Pinakothek, Neue Pinakothek, and Pinakothek der Moderne) span European art history from the Middle Ages to today in blockbuster style. Albrecht Dürer’s Self Portrait with Fur-Trimmed Robe (Alte Pinakothek), with its Christ-like gaze and textural richness, is the star of the show, but there are abundant other treasures, not least the Pinakothek der Moderne’s line-up from the Blauer Reiter, Munich’s home-grown Expressionist movement. A day pass to all three museums is just €12, but given the extent of each collection, you may prefer to pick just one and wander at leisure.
In an unprepossessing building by the Maximilansbrücke, the Kunstfoyer VKB keeps a much lower profile than the museums of the Kunstareale enclave, but is well worth checking out for film and photography fans in particular. With a focus on socially and politically relevant ideas as well as the interaction of still and moving pictures, previous Kunstfoyer shows have included Gordon Parks, Margaret Bourke-White, Sebastião Salgado and the fantastical set designs of Ken Adam (think iconic Bond and Kubrick). Across the river, you’ll get a good view onto the impressive Maximilaneum, one of Munich’s most prominent buildings, and likely the most palatial student residence in existence.
Compared to other German cities, Munich has taken a long time to confront its Nazi history, perhaps precisely because of its particular importance, and responsibility, in the ascent of Hitler’s genocidal regime. It was in Munich, the “Capital of the Movement,” that the rise of the National Socialist movement first began, that Hitler enacted his attempted putsch of 1923, and where he later found influential and prosperous patrons. It is here, too, that Goebbels called for a nationwide pogrom against the Jewish population. An intentionally stark and striking white building, the Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism sits on the former site of the Brown House, the party headquarters, and sets out to interrogate this close local association between Munich and the Nazi regime in unflinching detail.
Covering nearly four square kilometres, Munich’s rolling Englischer Garten is likely bigger and greener than anything you’ve seen in England, but takes its name—and its informal style—from the undulating gardens popularized in 18th and 19th century England by landscape architect Capability Brown. One of the largest green city spaces in the world, it is undoubtedly Munich’s most beloved outdoor habitat, populated by joggers, skaters, dog-walkers, frisbee players and kite-flyers throughout the year. Be sure to enter the park by the Haus der Kunst to catch the Eisbachwelle—the man-made “ice creek wave” that is one of Munich’s most incongruous, and enjoyable, sights. Here, in sun or snow, hundreds of wetsuit-clad surfers wait in line to ride a rapid standing wave created by submerged concrete. Once you’ve shuddered, cheered, or gasped at their kicks and feats, stroll down along the more serene Isar tributary, where flocks of picnickers and (typically nude) sunbathers luxuriate in summer, towards picturesque refreshment at the famed Seehaus or Chinesischer Turm beer gardens. The pièce de résistance? The romantic, Greek temple-like Monopteros (just south of the Chinesischer Turm) where you can enjoy spectacular sunset views.
It’s a short and scenic stroll down the Ludwigsstrasse to the Siegestor, a war-torn triumphal arch that tells much of Munich—and German—history. Commissioned by King Ludwig of Bavaria, the three-arched victory gate was completed in 1852 and originally dedicated to the glory of the Bavarian army in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, some two decades before German unification. From the north, the arch retains its regional pomp and pride, all classical columns and bas-relief carving, topped by the personified statue of Bavaria on a lion-drawn carriage. But on the other side, facing up toward the Odeonsplatz, the top of the arch is a startlingly empty expanse of stone. After heavy bomb damage during World War II, restoration efforts left this upper register intentionally blank, a bare-faced marker of destruction and guilt and a sharp qualifier to the glorifying military narrative of the arch’s original construction. Beneath the empty space are the words: “Dem Sieg geweiht, von Krieg zersört, zum Frieden mahnend,” “Dedicated to victory, destroyed by war, urging peace.”
Born in 2017, this pop-up venue is spread across 4800 square metres of a vast and lavish 19th-century building in the heart of the Altstadt. Thanks to an exciting programme of events, including live dj's, film screenings and karaoke, what was three floors of empty space is now a platform for Munich's rich and spirited nightlife. When you're done dancing, singing and soaking up the vibes in the rooftop bar, there's also a spa, coffee shop and barbers to explore before heading back to one of the stylish guestrooms to catch some well-earned z's. If you want to drop by, book online - but don't hang about. In an effort to illustrate it's transience, the Lovelace proclaims: “This is not a hotel, it’s a happening” - and just as all good things must come to an end, The Lovelace will close its doors for good in 2019.
Even for Munich locals (and loyalists), the outside town can be just as seductive as the ever popular city centre. To escape for an action-packed weekend of hiking, skiing and Alpine spa-ing, journey across to Kranzbach, an idyllic spot only an hour-and-a-half's drive from Munich. Situated at the foot of Germany’s highest peak, the Zugspitze, the area is densely surrounded by protected meadows and fragrant pine forests. The Wellness Hotel itself is a magnificent stone feat dating back to 1915, offset with an opulent, colourful interior courtesy of design-aficionado and founding editor of Elle Decoration, Isle Crawford. Whether you're looking to stretch out your sins at yoga, do a detox with the aid of Ayurveda treatments and personal training programs, or just soak up mountain views from within the fluffiest of robes, you'll find restorative bliss - and an effortless way to turn your city break into a break from the city.