You might think ‘culture shock’ impossible in a country like Germany, but something that strikes you about Munich straight away is its distinct lack of metropolitan bustle. On a weekday night or Sunday, even the busiest downtown areas can feel nigh-on deserted. And good thing – the city’s all the more atmospheric for it.
Of course, Munich also offers all the standard pros of city life (superb restaurants, beautiful buildings, endless brilliant things to do), but extra perks here include a milder climate than in northern Germany, public transport that’s efficient and simple to navigate, and a younger generation that speaks pretty much perfect English. But don’t get too lazy and, if you can, try your best German (or indeed Bavarian) – this’ll be highly appreciated. Here are 20 other things you should know before you go.
Essential tips for every first-time Munich visitor
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons
1. You can surf here sans ocean
At the Eisbach on the Isar river, you’ll see people catching waves whatever the weather – there are 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.
2. Prepare for the ‘Millionendorf’ atmosphere
An affectionate nickname for Munich, Millionendorf implies that the city is a ‘village of a million’ – it might technically be huge and urban, but it sometimes feels much smaller and more rural. 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 their local shopkeeper. It’s all very gemutlich (cozy).
3. No Sunday shopping
Munich has a lot of great shops, but be aware that all stores – including supermarkets – are closed 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.
Photograph: Brian Talbot/Flickr
4. The Bavarian dialect can be tough
Even if you’re fluent in German, be prepared to be a little (okay, more than a little) confused by the 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).
5. Take a hike
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. Paths are well marked, and most of them feature Almhütte where you can enjoy a beer surrounded by mountain air, adorable cows and breathtaking scenery.
6. A car is unnecessary in Munich
Locals do love their BMWs and Mercedes, but you can totally get by without a car in Munich (and frankly, given the cost of petrol and prevalent rush-hour traffic, this is a good idea). Public transport is comprehensive and excellent, most of central Munich is walkable and bike lanes (and rentals) are everywhere and widely used.
7. We’re pretty direct
Germans have a reputation for being very direct, and Bavarians are 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 pay-offs, 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, you could find it hanging from a fence or tree near where you left it.
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons
8. Sometimes museum visits are just one euro
A museum tour is well worth your time in Munich, as the city is home to many world-class art galleries, science museums and even some obscure offerings including the Kartoffelmuseum (Potato Museum) and the Jagd- und Fischerei-Museum (the Hunting and Fishing Museum). On Sundays, a visit to many of the city’s finest costs only one euro.
Photograph: Meine Heimat/Flickr
9. You might actually see trachten (traditional German garments)
Yes, Munich locals do really wear lederhosen and dirndls (as well as janker, and other classic Bavarian clothing) on special occasions like weddings or going to church. You’re welcome to sport your own tracht if you like – just be aware that a proper, well-made piece is costly. That said, a really good set of trachten can last for generations.
Photograph: Ana Ulin/Flickr
10. All about that bread
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 excellent baked goods you can get in this city. Bakeries abound – so you’ll never lack options. Better yet, find out how to eat like a local in Munich (pretzels included).
Photograph: Courtesy Schumann's
11. We’re bananas for Boazn
Want the ultimate local drinking experience? Hit up one of the city’s boazn, Munich’s equivalent of dive bars. They’re mostly quite cosy, with slot machines, neighbourhood 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.
12. Carry cash
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 (like debit cards). Make sure you have enough euros with you for everyday use.
Photograph: Suvodeb Banerjee/Flickr
13. Try a group tour
Munich has a wide array of city tours you can take to help explore the city and understand its history and culture. Bike tours are particularly popular, as the city is so cycle-friendly, though also worthwhile are walking tours on topics as diverse as the local food scene, the Second World War and Bavaria’s former royalty. And if you’re that way inclined, why not try one of the brewery tours – or another around the BMW manufacturing plant?
Photograph: Courtesy Flickr
14. Don’t overlook the airport
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 one 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 or check out an exhibit on air travel. It also has one of the only supermarkets open in Munich on a Sunday.
Photograph: Roman Boed/Flickr
15. Music is everywhere
Munich has something for every kind of music lover, from opera (your ticket even includes public transport there and back) and jazz – try catching a show in an unfinished underground station – to huge rock and pop arena gigs. Check out the university offerings as well; there are countless talented student-run orchestras, bands and choral groups.
Photograph: Graeme Churchard/Flickr
16. Check out a castle
Munich and its surroundings have several castles that are worth a visit if you want to see how former Bavarian royalty lived. Schloss Nymphenburg, in particular, makes for a decent day trip, as it also features beautiful gardens, a neighbouring science museum, a river brimming with hungry carp, and indoor botanical gardens.
Photograph: Ferdinand Feys/Flickr
17. Keep an eye out for street art
Sometimes Munich comes off as a bit staid and conservative, but the city definitely has an edgy side – which often manifests itself through street art. Local graffiti artists’ work can be found primarily in bike and pedestrian tunnels that run throughout the city centre. You might have to search a little while, but the hunt pays off.
Photograph: Rudolph Buch/Wikimedia Commons
18. Treat yourself at an Apotheke
Whether you’ve come down with a cold in Munich or are just looking for some fancy French body lotion, the city’s many Apotheken are here to help. The pharmacists are familiar with most common ailments and can provide advice as to what sorts of over-the-counter medications might help. At many Apotheken, you can also stock up on all sorts of high-end European skincare products.
19. Don’t stop at Oktoberfest
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 live music. Opera, music, theatre and comedy festivals are well attended and often sell out quickly. Just about every neighbourhood also has its own annual street festival, usually with hot food, live music and kids’ activities.
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons
20. Peruse the outdoor markets
Munich’s famous year-round produce market, the Viktualienmarkt, is where to head for fresh food and brews in a gigantic beer garden. All around the city, other farmers’ markets draw the locals in – check neighbourhood listings to find out what’s closest to you. And in winter, don’t forget to explore the numerous Christkindlmarkts, Munich’s Christmas markets… perhaps a Glühwein (mulled wine) or a Lebkuchen (gingerbread) is in order.
Sure, Oktoberfest always pulls in the crowds – in fact, it’s become a full-blown annual fixture for many of Europe’s party-hungry youth. But despite the free-flowing booze, Munich has long been considered hip and edgy Berlin’s oh-so-uncool southern cousin. Make up your own mind...