Think of Munich, and the first thing that springs to mind is probably beer or Oktoberfest. That, or its significance in the rise of Nazism. Or its proximity to the Alps (and concomitant superb skiing turf). However, the Bavarian capital has far more to offer beyond just the clichés – though you can visit beer gardens and breweries, learn about the Second World War and attend winter sports festivals pretty much year round. To truly get a sense of this charming, low-key city, with its natural beauty, world-beating cultural offerings and excellent bars and restaurants, here’s an itinerary that combines a little bit of everything in one unforgettable weekend.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Munich
How to do Munich in 48 hours
Start off slow. This city is home to possibly the world’s only Jugendstil public swimming pool, Müllersches Volksbad, built in 1901. Swim a few laps while gawking at the jaw-dropping details on the ceilings and walls, then try out the Roman steam bath and a Finnish-style sauna with tinted lights. If you want the indulgence to continue, book a reasonably priced on-site massage. Fancy a glass of prosecco afterwards? Hotfoot it to the elegant pool café.
It’s not every day you can catch a jazz show in an underground club that was formerly an unfinished subway station. Unterfahrt features local and international names playing to both devotees and newcomers in a homey, intimate space. Grab a whisky or even a full meal before or during the show from the club’s bar-restaurant.
Kick off with traditional Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) at the historic Konditorei Kaffee Schneller in Munich’s university district. Try a slice of Bavarian pastry Prinzregententorte, a sponge cake with chocolate buttercream and apricot jam, with a strong espresso; or perhaps some Bienenstich, a classic German concoction with caramelised almonds and vanilla cream, accompanied by a large Milchkaffee. If it’s nice out, perch in the café garden.
The lively, central Viktualienmarkt is the throbbing heart of Munich’s food scene, with stands that sell fresh produce from local farms or imported exotic fruit that’s near-impossible to find anywhere else. Both tourists and locals come to do their shopping here, or grab a beer or coffee to accompany their lunch. Inevitably, because this is Munich, there’s a beer garden, a decorative Maypole and tradition every which way you turn (some family-run stands have been here for generations).
Munich’s Englischer Garten (English Garden) is one of the world’s biggest parks and has countless relaxing meadows, playgrounds and laid-back riverside picnic spots. Near the Chinesischer Turm, or Chinese Tower, you’ll find a beer garden, restaurant and playground and notice horse-drawn carriages trundle by (we recommend booking a ride). If you’re here in winter, the Christmas market is lovely; and in summer, a Bavarian brass band plays tunes from the tower.
Originally built in the 12th century and still the parish church for the Munich diocese, the late Gothic Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) symbolises several things, namely Bavaria’s Catholic heritage, the Munich city skyline and the city’s attempts to rebuild after the Second World War. The cathedral itself underwent painstaking reconstruction after 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, you’re in luck. Near the Ostbahnhof station, Bar of Bel Air sports a terrace with a view, cleverly named dishes (try the Oktopussy octopus salad), and an assortment of appealing cocktails. Maybe a Tijuana Toyboy with tequila, Chambord, pineapple and lime will do the job as you stretch your legs, have a bite to eat and marvel at your surroundings.
It would be a shame to visit Bavaria without seeing a castle, and the Schloss Nymphenburg palace is particularly worthwhile – it was the summer hangout of the Wittelsbach rulers; 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), stroll the beautiful gardens or sip some tea at the rather royal Palm Café. If you have kids in tow, the adjoining Museum Mensch und Natur is a small but excellent interactive science museum. On your way 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 when it comes to the visual arts. Today it boasts nearly 100 art museums and galleries – including the renowned Pinakothek trio of museums. But for a truly local glance at Munich’s art scene through the ages, visit the Lenbachhaus, where you can catch famous pieces from the Blue Rider and New Objectivity schools, as well as works by German and international artists including Gerhard Richter, Ellsworth Kelly and Sigmar Polke. The museum’s café, Ella, does contemporary Italian food really well.
Munich’s Olympiapark, created for the 1972 Olympics, offers endless entertainment. For particularly adventurous visitors, there’s a guided ‘roof climb’ all the way to the top of the stadium and even a zip wire 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 is also a hit, especially with younger children. Visitors can go to the top of the Olympic Tower for a coffee in a revolving restaurant, or simply survey the city from the observation deck. If you’re interested in local characters, the church of Father Timofej is intriguing. A memorial to the victims of the 1972 Olympics massacre is worth a moment of quiet reflection before you wrap up your whirlwind trip.
Not enough culture for you?
There are few better places for museums than magisterial Munich. This historic city has some 80 to choose from, with priceless collections ranging from ancient history to contemporary art. So whether your passion is mummies and relics from ancient Egypt, royal palaces dripping with gilt and pomp, Nazi history or the humble beer, the Bavarian capital can deliver.