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The Bavarian city of Munich is one of the country's favourite tourist destinations, offering a unique combination of modern flair and traditional charm, all mixed together with a heavy helping of Gemutlichkeit, the special German term for hearty, happy and healthy togetherness.
München, to give it its German name, is traditionally known for its breweries and beer halls, conjuring up images of jolly red-cheeked men in lederhosen downing steins of beer served by friendly waitresses done up in blonde pigtails. While there's plenty of this sort of fun to be had, there's much more for travellers to sample other than just excellent beer. The city has numerous great museums, art treasures, hi-tech industries and gems of Gothic and baroque architecture, and also serves as the gateway to the Bavarian Alps, drawing winter sports enthusiasts from near and far.
Founded in 1158 on the banks of the River Isar, the city acquired its name, which roughly translates to 'by the monks', because of the Benedectine monastery located in its current Old Town. It was the monks who started the beer brewing tradition for which the city is now world-famous, particularly since a certain annual beer festival began in 1810. Today about six million people visit Oktoberfest every year, consuming more than five and a half million litres of beer during its two-week run. All in all, Munich is a fun-loving and vibrant town of charm and celebration.
The Marienplatz is the heart of Munich and the site of its most important historic buildings. The square is dominated by the Gothic Revival Town Hall featuring its famous glockenspiel, both built in the 19th century. The glockenspiel delights visitors when its 43 bells chime daily at 11am, 12pm and 5pm, accompanied by moving figures displaying vignettes from Munich's history. The centre of the square features a statue of the Virgin Mary, while visitors can also explore a toy museum and the Frauenkirche, Munich's cathedral dating from the 15th century. The square is full of great shops and pleasant outdoor eating areas to relax and refuel.
Munich's massive Olympiapark was constructed for the 1972 Olympic Games but remains a marvel of modern engineering. Its main stadium is crowned with one of the largest roofs in the world, extending 720,000 square feet (66,890 sq metres) and made of tinted acrylic glass. It's designed to collect rainwater used to fill the adjacent Olympic lake. Visitors to the site can enjoy a spectacular view from the revolving restaurant and observation terrace topping the 950-foot (290m) high Olympic Tower. Near the tower is the BMW Museum, which displays the history of Germany's famous automobile manufacturer, while Olympiapark often hosts concerts, sports events and exhibitions.
Originally a summer home for Munich aristocracy, Schloss Nymphenburg lies five miles (8km) from the city centre. The palace has been expanded, altered and fitted with various eccentricities over the centuries since its construction in 1664. There's a collection of royal coaches on display, a porcelain museum and an arcaded gallery, featuring a collection of 36 provocative paintings ordered by King Ludwig I showing the most beautiful women of his day. The surrounding park has some surprises too, with some interesting pavilions hidden among the English-style gardens. There is information provided in the palace on its history but there are also audio guides available which greatly enrich the experience.
One of the oldest galleries on the planet, the Alte Pinakothek houses two of the most important collections in Europe. Roughly 700 paintings are on display, featuring the work of many Old Masters from the 14th to the 18th centuries. Highlights include works by Dutch and Flemish masters, as well as Italian giants such as Botticelli, Raphael and Titian. Famous masterpieces in the permanent collection include Rembrandt's Self-Portrait (1629), Raphael's The Canigiani Holy Family (1505), Guido Reni's The Assumption of the Virgin (1642) and François Boucher's Portrait of the Marquise de Pompadour (1756). There are actually three art museums in this beautiful neoclassical building and discounted rates are available to see all three in one day.
The Deutsches Museum sits on a small island in the Isar River and is the world's largest technology and science museum, perfect for families exploring Munich. There are some 28,000 artefacts on display, with exhibitions dedicated to themes such as energy, transport, natural sciences communications, music instruments and technology, as well as astronomy, chemistry, electricity, hydraulic engineering and astronautics. There is also a section dedicated to children aged three to eight called Kids Kingdom, featuring hundreds of fun, interactive activities such as a playable giant guitar, enormous building blocks and a fire department. The museum is designed to be accessible and entertaining, even for those who aren't necessarily interested in technology and science.
Munich's weather can be unpredictable. In general summers are fairly warm and very wet, characterised by sunny weather interspersed by dramatic thunderstorms. Winters are cold with light snowfalls. In summer (June to August) average temperatures range between 50°F (10°C) and 73°F (23°C), and in winter (December to February) average temperatures range between 25°F (-4°C) and 39°F (4°C). The Alps cause two unique aberrations in Munich weather. Southwesterly winds crossing the Alps can push up temperatures markedly even in winter, while northwesterly winds blowing from the mountains bring unseasonably low temperatures, rain and even snow on odd days. You can easily end up experiencing quite a variety of weather on a stay in Munich. The most popular time to visit is in September and October, for Oktoberfest, but summer is the peak tourism season. Munich is really a year-round holiday destination because so many of the city's attractions can be enjoyed regardless of the weather.
Visitors should be sure to bring their appetites along when visiting Munich. Eating and drinking are extremely popular activities in this city and travellers will be hard-pressed not to pack on a few pounds with a seemingly endless stream of culinary delights.
Munich is celebrated for its hearty Bavarian fare, with bustling Gaststatten (bistros) the best places to enjoy traditional Bavarian food. Of course, the famous beer halls are great fun and also frequented by locals in droves. Munich has 11 Michelin-starred restaurants, providing sophisticated and creative menus in the city for discerning foodies looking for something a little more high-brow than the grub served in beer halls.
Specialties include Leberkassemmel, a spicy meatloaf; Weisswurst, a veal sausage usually served for breakfast; and Knodels (dumplings). Eating out in Munich is generally quite pricey but that doesn't mean there aren't cheaper alternatives. Visitors also won't struggle to find restaurants in Munich that are open late at night, with some pubs and eateries only closing at 4am.
Promising places to sniff out great local food include the Schwabing district, which overflows with good dining establishments, and the Viktualienmarkt, a square adjoining Marienplatz which hosts a large food market.
For breathtaking views over Munich, the ideally situated and aptly-named Café Glockenspiel overlooks the famous Rathaus-Glockenspiel. With friendly and efficient staff and delicious wholesome fare, the café is one of the most frequented in Munich and is a popular meeting place for locals and tourists alike, whether it's sunny breakfast, coffee or after work drinks. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bookings recommended.
Hirschgarten is the largest open-air restaurant in Munich and serves as an ideal location for tourists to mingle with locals over a couple of pints. Start off with potato, marjoram and bacon soup followed by prime boiled beef with fresh horseradish and salted boiled potatoes, or the mouth-watering roast venison from the haunch with a mushroom and cream sauce, Swabian egg pasta and lingonberries. For something sweet, try caramelised pancake slices with raisins and applesauce. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner; 9am to midnight. The beer garden is open from 11am until midnight.
Serving some of Schwabing's finest haute cuisine, step inside to discover a world where fine décor is accentuated with world-class dishes and a comprehensive wine list. The menus can cover three to eight courses and are offered for lunch and dinner. Try the terrine of duck liver with braised figs and roasted duck breast, or the medallion of young venison saddle with red cabbage and semolina dumpling, and let your taste buds be thrilled by the chocolate soufflé with marinated port wine figs and vanilla-brittle ice cream. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Reservations essential.
Beer has been swilled at this world-renowned tavern site in the centre of Munich since it became a royal brewery in 1605. Equally famous is the Bavarian jollity and friendliness known as Gemuchtlikheid, complemented by robust rosy-cheeked young women clad in traditional dress serving litre-sized beer steins. The cheerful atmosphere that reigns constantly in the establishment's different halls is helped along by the foot-tapping strains of traditional Bavarian Oompah bands and drinking songs. Soak up the beer with a delicious salty pretzel or a German speciality from the menu, such as liver dumplings, potato soup or a variety of delicious sausages.
Gasthof Weichandhof is less of a tourist destination and more of a local favourite. Situated in an old farmhouse near the autobahn, the restaurant serves traditional Bavarian cuisine like pork knuckles, suckling pig and strudels. The atmosphere is always lively and there's a quaint vine-covered terrace open during summer months. Gasthof Weichandhof is open Sunday to Friday from 11am to midnight, and Saturday from 5pm to midnight. Reservations are recommended.
All roads lead to Theresienwiese around the beginning of October, a giant grass meadow about the size of 20 football fields hosting the Munich Oktoberfest. Huge tents erected by the various Bavarian breweries serve as massive beer halls, while the first keg is tapped in ceremonial style to open the celebration which draws hundreds of thousands of revellers from all around the world. Apart from the rollicking beer halls where traditional Bavarian bands belt out old favourites, there are carnival games and stalls selling German delicacies. Oktoberfest is one of the most popular and best-known festivals in the world, and flights and accommodation should be organised far in advance to avoid disappointment.
The Opera Festival is the most important event on Munich's music calendar, held every summer since 1876 in one of the world's most beautiful opera houses. Enthusiasts from around the world gather to listen to the renowned Bavarian State Opera, with a programme of about 70 different performances. Two free, open-air performances are also held outside the opera house in the square. The festival also celebrates theatre and ballet, as well as other kinds of musical performances and genres. The programme changes every year, and visitors should check out the official website for information on the programme and ticket cost.
From bustling traditional beer halls to vibrant dance clubs, the nightlife in Munich has it all, and the mix of foreigners and locals gives this city a welcoming cosmopolitan feel. Unlike Frankfurt and Berlin, Munich is more known for its bars and beer halls than its nightclubs.
Still, those in search of some serious parties won't struggle to find them in Munich. Sendlinger Tor, Karlsplatz and Odeonsplatz are where many of the city's favourite clubs are concentrated. Other popular nightlife districts in Munich include Schwabing, boasting numerous traditional Bavarian options and lots of live music; Maxvorstand, near the university and frequented by students; the Glockenbachviertel, adored by the most trendy denizens of the city and home to a number of gay and lesbian venues; and the dingy but cheap area around the Munich East Station.
Travellers should note that the friendly, welcoming attitude of the beer halls is not always matched by the more upmarket and fashionable clubs in Munich, where would-be partiers should dress appropriately and anticipate some selectivity from bouncers.
From trendy local and international designers to traditional Bavarian handicrafts, shopaholics enjoy plenty of variety in Munich. Typical Bavarian gifts include trachten (traditional clothing) such as Lederhosen, while the most popular souvenirs are still bierkrug (beer steins) and pewterware.
The two main shopping districts are Neuhauserstraße and Kaufingerstraße in Munich's historic city centre. Department and chain stores abound in these pedestrian-only shopping areas selling everything from clothing and accessories to electrical goods and sports equipment. Head to Maximilianstraße, Theatinerstraße or Leopoldstraße in Schwabing for independent shops and trendy boutiques selling all the latest local designer clothing. Second-hand stores are also found in Schwabing, with real gems hidden among their wares.
The modern Fünf Höfe shopping mall is a great place to find everything under one roof, while the Sunday flea market at Kunstpark Ost provides more alternative buys with second-hand goods, antiques and old bric-a-brac lining the stall fronts. For great food markets, the vibrant Viktualienmarkt behind Marienplatz sells everything from cheese and spices to poultry and game, with the senses coming alive to the fragrances of spices and aromas of delicious produce. The market is open Monday to Friday and features a beer garden where weary shoppers can take a load off, rest their legs and enjoy an ice-cold refreshment.
Most stores are open from Monday to Friday, from 9am to 8pm, and on Saturday until 4pm. Munich is a comparatively expensive city but a rewarding one for shoppers.
Munich's city centre is a pedestrian zone so many of its attractions are reached on foot, which is also the most pleasant way to explore its more fascinating and historical suburbs. The efficient and integrated public transport system is excellent for getting around. It consists of buses, trams, the U-bahn (subway) and the S-bahn (suburban train) that operate from about 5am to 1am, with hourly buses and trams servicing main routes throughout the night.
Tickets must be validated on entering stations or when boarding, are transferable between all forms of transport, and lasts for two hours after being stamped as long as one travels in the same direction. Fares are zone based and the system is well-organised and easy to understand.
There are various day passes available as well as the CityTourCard, which covers all transport within the city and includes discounts to the main attractions. Taxis are safe and convenient, but expensive, while ride-sharing apps are also in operation. Hiring a car is easy but it's often better to use public transport to avoid frustration and confusion. Bicycles are also available for hire at very little cost and are a lovely way to get around.
This charming Bavarian city is a popular tourist destination and a quaint combination of old world allure and modern flair. The city boasts numerous attractions, including some wonderful museums such as the BMW Museum, Deutsches Museum, Museum Brandhorst, the City Museum of Munich and the National Bavarian Museum, to name but a few.
Head to Marienplatz to see gaze upon historic buildings and marvel at the uniquely German architecture. Visit Olympia Park and eat lunch in the revolving restaurant in the tower across the street, enjoying gorgeous views over the city. Head to the Englischer Garten in Schwabing to relax and unwind in the picturesque gardens, visiting Munich's second biggest beer garden at Chinesischer Turm in the process. Those thirsty travellers coming in autumn can look forward to the world famous Oktoberfest. For the more adventurous, Munich is also the gateway to the Bavarian Alps and sport enthusiasts from all over the world flock to its slopes for the pristine runs and excellent powder.
Visitors planning on doing lots of sightseeing should consider purchasing the CityTourCard, entitling the bearer to free public transport in Munich and a discount on as many as 70 tourist attractions. Several versions of the card are available.
A popular excursion from Munich, Berchtesgaden is perhaps best known for the Eagle's Nest (Kehlsteinhaus), the mountaintop fortress commissioned as a 50th birthday present for Adolf Hitler. It's now an excellent Bavarian eatery, offering breathtaking mountain views. The town itself is a delightful alpine village of winding streets, medieval markets and 16-century architecture. There are a couple of woodcarving museums, with one housed in an old Augustinian monastery. Visitors are enticed to the nearby salt mines of 1517, where they ride on wagons, explore on foot or enjoy the salt lake ferry trip. Berchtesgarten also boasts a world-class ice-skating rink sought after by winter sports enthusiasts, along with plenty of skiing opportunities in the surrounding areas.
Dachau is the site of the first notorious Nazi death camp, where thousands were imprisoned, starved and killed between 1933 and 1945. The camp has now been turned into a museum, containing three memorial chapels. The main camp road still exists, lined with poplar trees. But only two of the original 32 barracks remain, having been rebuilt to illustrate the horrific conditions. The original kitchen, laundry and shower block now contains exhibits, photographs and documents depicting the persecution of Jews and other enemies of the Third Reich. The exhibitions are often personal and include the accounts and stories of prisoners. The memorial is a sobering, sombre experience and may not be suitable for young children.
One of the most beautiful lakes in the Bavarian Alps, Chiemsee boasts two islands and is lined with resorts. A popular weekend excursion in Germany, it can be reached by train from Munich in an hour, or by road via the A8 Autobahn. Visitors can take a steamer cruise around the lake from Prien on the west shore to explore the islands in the lake. The scenery is breathtaking and in summer there is great swimming and sailing to enjoy. Frauenchiemsee is the smaller island and the site of a quaint fishing village with some colourful traditional customs, and a Benedictine nunnery known for its liqueur. The larger island, Herrenchiemsee, bears one of King Ludwig's famous fairytale castles intended to replicate the Palace of Versailles. The centre of the palace still stands, complete with a splendid hall of mirrors and surrounded by gardens and woodland.
A popular route for holidays in Germany, the Romantic Road is a modern concept encapsulating the region's typically Bavarian atmosphere and culture. Guided by multilingual signposts, it's an ideal route for seeing fairytale castles and charming German villages, with the route so popular that the best sites tend to be overrun with tourists in peak summer months. It starts in Wurzburg, a town famous for its wineries and gourmet restaurants. Visitors should be sure to see the Residence Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From there, the road goes to Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Dinkelsbühl, two of the best-preserved medieval towns in Germany, and the 1,000-year-old Castle Hotel Colmberg. The 2,000-year-old town of Augsburg features beautiful buildings and traditional Bavarian eateries. Pfaffenwinkel and Neuschwanstein are key stops on the route, famous for their churches, castles and pretty rolling countryside.
Germany's top winter sports destination, Garmisch-Partenkirchen retains the charm of the older Partenkirchen. The pride of the city is the still-running Olympic Ice Stadium and the larger Olympic Ski Stadium. Picturesque and scenic, it's also popular in warmer seasons for hiking and mountain climbing.
There are more than 450 shops in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, including trendy boutiques, sports equipment outlets and craft stores while restaurants and bars found among charming German architecture gives an old-world atmosphere.
Apart from the majesty and beauty of some of Germany's highest mountain peaks, Garmisch-Partenkirchen is also very near to the Partnach Gorge, where the Partnach River surges through a narrow gap between high limestone cliffs, and The King's House, with its alpine botanical garden.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is not the best for novices, but intermediate and advanced skiers will find plenty to enjoy with both classic and glacial runs in the area. There are about four black pistes, 25 red pistes, 10 blue pistes and three green pistes, as well as a few ski runs above 2,500 metres, meaning snow is assured throughout the season.
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