20 travel tips for first time Munich visitors
At the Eisbach wave on the Isar river, you’ll see people catching waves year-round—there are even other points where the river converges to create a surf wave, but the Eisbach is the most notable and attracts lot of onlookers. Admittedly, people are more warmly dressed for surfing here than in Hawaii!
The locals do love their BMWs and Mercedes, but you can absolutely get by without a car in Munich (and frankly, given the cost of gas and the annoyance of rush hour traffic, it’s a good idea). Public transit is comprehensive and excellent, most of central Munich is easily walkable and bike lanes (and rentals) are everywhere and widely used.
Munich has a lot of great shopping to offer, but be aware that all stores–including supermarkets and pharmacies–shut down on Sundays, so make sure to stock up on toiletries and groceries on Friday or Saturday. In case of emergency, there are several pharmacies open on a rotating basis on Sundays, and the airport and main train station have “emergency” supermarkets.
An affectionate nickname for Munich, Millionendorf implies that the city is a “village of a million”–it might technically be urban and large, but it has the feel of small town life. The only skyscrapers are at the very edges of the city, Saturday nights even in the downtown area can be quiet and subdued, and everyone knows all their local shopkeepers. It’s very gemutlich (cozy).
Even if you’re fluent in German, be prepared to be a little (okay, more than a little) confused by Bavarian dialect, which a lot of native Germans can’t even understand. Here are a few words to get you started: Pfiade (goodbye), Rozgloggn (a stuffy nose), Fraibialädschn (a person who’s a big taker but not a very generous giver).
A huge perk of Munich life is the city’s quick and convenient access to the mountains. Hop on a train and you’ll be at a trailhead in less than an hour. Trails are well marked, and most of them feature Almhutte where you can enjoy a beer or fresh dairy surrounded by mountain air, adorable cows and breathtaking scenery.
A museum visit is well worth your time in Munich, as the city is home to numerous world-class art galleries, science museums and even some obscure specialty offerings such as the Kartoffelmuseum (Potato Museum) and the Jagd-und-Fischerei Museum (the Hunting and Fishing Museum). On Sundays, a visit to many of the cities’ finest costs only one euro.
Germans have a reputation of being very direct, and Bavarians are generally no exception. If you walk into the bike lane by accident or commit some other faux pas, chances are someone will let you know! This honesty also has some great pay-off, though- if you leave your wallet at a restaurant, someone may well run after you to return it, or if you lose a mitten on the sidewalk, chances are you’ll find it hanging from a fence or tree where you left it.
Yes, Munich locals do really wear lederhosen and dirndls (as well as jankers, and other classic Bavarian costumes) on special occasions like weddings or going to church. You’re welcome to sport your own tracht if you like, just be prepared that a proper, well-made piece is costly. However, a really good set of tracht often lasts for generations!
This is not the city for a low carb diet; the bread in Munich is unbeatable. Salty pretzels, dark rye bread, yeast buns with raisins and sourdough are just some of the many forms of the almost infinite possibilities of fresh and delicious bread you can get in this city. Bakeries abound–you’ll never lack for options. Better yet, find out how to eat like a local in Munich (pretzels, included).
Want the ultimate local Munich drinking experience? Go hit up one of the city’s boazn; the closest Munich equivalents to dive bars, but–because it’s Munich–they’re mostly cozy spots with slot machines, the neighborhood drunks and effusive bartenders who can offer you not just a freshly tapped beer but also some life advice. While you're at it, check out our guide to the best bars in Munich.
While major supermarket chains and shopping outlets are likely to accept your credit card, most restaurants and stores in Munich will only accept cash or EC-cards (which are like debit cards). Make sure you have enough euros with you for everyday usage.
Munich has a wide array of city tours you can take to help you explore the city and understand its history and culture. Bike tours are particularly popular, as the city is so bike-friendly; though numerous walking tours cover topics as diverse as the local food scene, World War II, and former royalty. Breweries or the BMW manufacturing plant are also popular choices for tours. (Or if you prefer, hire a private guide and customize your own city adventure.)
Munich has something for every kind of music lover to enjoy, from opera (your opera ticket even includes a public transit ticket to get you there and back) AND jazz—try catching a jazz show in an unbuilt underground subway station—to arena-scale rock and pop concerts. Check out the university offerings as well; there are countless student-run orchestras, bands and choral groups that are often extremely talented.
Munich and its surroundings have several castles on offer that are worth a visit if you want to see how former Bavarian royalty lived. Schloss Nymphenburg, in particular, can be a day’s trip, as it also features beautiful gardens to stroll around in, a neighboring science museum, hungry carp in the river to feed and indoor botanical gardens if the weather is iffy.
Sometimes Munich comes off as a bit staid and conservative, but the city definitely has its funky side, which often manifests itself through street art—a particularly famous example being the Michael Jackson memorial in the central downtown area. Local graffiti and mural artists’ work can be found primarily in bike and pedestrian tunnels that run throughout Munich. You might have to search a bit harder for these pieces, but the hunt pays off!
If you come down with a cold in Munich, or you’re just looking for some fancy French body lotion, one of Munich’s many Apotheken (apothecaries) are here to help. The pharmacists at these Apotheken are highly trained in many common illnesses and can provide counseling as to what sorts of over-the-counter medications, including alternative remedies, might be of use. And you can also stock up on all sorts of European high-end skincare products at many Apotheken.
It’s true that most of the time, when you arrive at your destination, you want to get “there” as quickly as possible—which means getting out of the airport. But the Munich airport has quite a bit going on: It’s the only airport in the world with its own brewery, and there’s a giant observation area where you can watch the planes take off, play mini golf, let the kids run wild on a playground or check out an exhibit on airplanes. Also, it has one of the only supermarkets open in Munich on a Sunday!
Sure, the city is famous for Oktoberfest, but that’s hardly the only festival worth attending in Munich. The popular Tollwood festival occurs twice yearly (summer and winter) with international food, a circus and numerous musical acts. Opera, music, theater and comedy festivals are well attended and often sell out quickly. Just about every neighborhood also has a fun yearly street festival, usually with grilling, live music and kids’ activities.
Munich’s famous year-round outdoor produce market, the Viktualienmarkt, is a must-do for fresh and delicious food and a wonderful beer garden. Numerous farmers’ markets draw the locals in—check neighborhood listings for the one closest to you. And in the winter, don’t forget to explore the numerous Christkindlmarkts, Munich’s Christmas markets… perhaps a Gluhwein (mulled wine) or a Lebkuchen (gingerbread) is in order.