Visitors often perceive Munich as a city with just a few clichéd associations: namely beer, the Nazi era and Oktoberfest; and perhaps its proximity to the Alps and skiing. Munich has far more to offer, though you can certainly visit breweries, learn about World War II and attend festivals if you go during the correct time of year. To truly get into the spirit of this charming, low-key city that sports an abundance of natural beauty, cultural pursuits and delicious food and drink—and even sometimes a bit of funky atmosphere—here’s an itinerary that combines a little bit of everything in one unforgettable weekend.
48 hours in Munich
Get into Munich and get immediately into relaxation. This city is home to possibly the world’s only Jugendstil public swimming pool, Müllersches Volksbad, built in 1901—a unique Munich must-do. Swim a few laps while gawking at the jaw-dropping artistic details on the ceilings and walls, and then indulge in a sauna visit, featuring a Roman steam bath and a Finnish-style sauna with colored lights. If you want the indulgence to continue, book a reasonably priced on-site massage. There’s even an elegant cafe for a glass of prosecco afterwards.
It’s not every day you can catch a jazz show in an underground club that was formerly an unfinished subway station, so seize the opportunity. Unterfahrt features both local and international jazz stars in an intimate, homey space among both jazz devotees and first-timers. Have a whisky or a full meal before or during the show from the club’s restaurant and bar.
Give your day a sweet start by enjoying traditional Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) at the historic cult-classic Konditorei Kaffee Schneller in Munich’s university district. Try a slice of the Bavarian pastry Prinzregententorte, a sponge cake with chocolate buttercream and apricot jam, with a strong espresso; or perhaps a piece of Bienenstich, a classic German concoction with caramelized almonds and vanilla cream, accompanied by a large Milchkaffee, the local version of a latte macchiato. If the weather’s nice, sit outside in the cafe garden.
The beloved Viktualienmarkt in the center of town is the heart and soul of the culinary scene in Munich, with stands that sell fresh produce from local farms or imported exotic fruit that is near-impossible to find anywhere else in town. Both locals and tourists come to do their food shopping here, or grab a beer, coffee, freshly pressed juice, a falafel sandwich... your options are numerous at this lively outdoor market. Of course, because it’s Munich, there’s a beer garden, decorative Maypole and years and years of tradition—some of the stands are run by the 4th or 5th generations of market sellers.
Munich’s Englischer Garten (English Garden) is one of the biggest urban parks in the world and has countless relaxing meadows, spots by the Isar river to chill beside, and playgrounds for children. A visit to the Chinesischer Turm, or the Chinese tower, features a beer garden, restaurant and playground while horse-drawn carriages ride by (you can book a ride in one as well). If you’re here in winter, the Christmas market on-site is lovely; and in the summer, a Bavarian brass band plays tunes from the tower.
Originally built in the 12th century, still serving as the parish church for the Munich diocese and sporting two iconic copper-domed towers, the late Gothic-style Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) symbolizes many things: Bavaria’s Catholic heritage, the Munich city skyline and the city’s attempts to rebuild after World War II. The cathedral itself underwent painstaking reconstruction as much of it was destroyed during the war. Make sure to step into the “devil’s footstep” at the entrance, creating a view of the interior without windows.
If you’ve never been to a bar in a former shipping container, your trip to Munich will afford you that opportunity. Located near the Ostbahnhof (east train station), Bar of Bel Air sports a terrace with a view, cleverly-named dishes (try the Oktopussy octopus salad), and an assortment of intriguing cocktails. Maybe a Tijuana Toyboy with tequila, Chambord, pineapple and lime will suit your fancy as you stretch your legs, have a bite to eat and marvel at the fact that there you’re in Munich, enjoying a cocktail while surrounded by shipping containers.
It would be a shame to visit Bavaria without seeing a castle, and the Schloss Nymphenburg palace is a particularly worthwhile—it was the summer hangout of the Wittelsbach rulers; the famous Ludwig II (who commissioned Neuschwanstein, the castle that inspired Walt Disney) was born here. Visitors can tour the castle itself (guided tours are available in English) and stroll the beautiful gardens on the grounds, or sip some tea at the rather royal Palm Cafe. If you have kids in tow, the adjoining Museum Mensch und Natur is a small but excellent interactive science museum. On your way in our out, toss some crumbs to the hungry carp in the river and you might be trailed by one of the local swans.
Munich has a rich history of the visual arts, and boasts numerous art museums and galleries, such as the renowned Pinakotheken trio of museums. But for a truly local glance at both Munich’s historic and modern art scenes, visit the Lenbachhaus, where you can view famous pieces from the Blue Rider and New Objectivity artistic movements, as well as works by German and international artists such as Gerhard Richter, Ellsworth Kelly and Sigmar Polke. The “Ella” cafe at the museum is chic and features contemporary Italian food.
Munich’s Olympiapark from the 1972 Olympics has an endless array of activities to partake in. For particularly adventurous visitors, there’s a guided roof climb all the way to the top of the stadium, and even a zip-line from one building to another. A large ice-skating rink, swimming pool and a mini-golf course are open to visitors. The Sea Life aquarium attraction is also a hit, especially with little ones. Visitors can go up to the top of the Olympic Tower for a coffee in a revolving restaurant or just have a view of the city at the observation deck. If you’re interested in local characters, the church of Father Timofej is intriguing. A new memorial to the victims of the 1972 Olympics massacre is worth a moment of quiet reflection before you wrap up your whirlwind trip.