As the capital of Bavaria, Munich is one of Germany’s most sought-after tourist destinations. The happy host of Oktoberfest, during the two-week festival, the charming old town swells with thousands of people, but any time of the year is an ideal time to experience their classic European lifestyle, the spirited beer scene, and medieval architecture. Essentially a subset of Germany, Bavarian culture is rich with tradition from their own style of dress (dirndls and lederhosen are not just for tourists!) to their own language and food.
Regularly voted one of the most livable cities in the world, Munich is a bustling example of being “cosmopolitan yet traditional, relaxed yet dynamic,” making it a choose your own adventure destination for travelers. Beyond the sights and sounds of the city, the area is surrounded by the Alps and cut by the River Isar so you can actually surf and ski in the same day. But, if you’d rather soak in the urban vibes, it’s totally acceptable to plop down at a biergarten and waste away the day (quite literally). If you do want to explore, the super-efficient public transportation system makes it easy to get around car-free, brew in hand just as the locals do. Here’s how to make the most of a quick trip to Munich:
99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall
The drinking culture in Germany is very lax. You can actually walk down the street with a beer and it’s not uncommon to see people imbibing on the subway. In fact, you don’t have to wait very long to crack a coldie as Airbrau was the first airport brewery in the world (and also boasts the cheapest beer in Munich). You can tour the production facility right in the terminal (although we recommend visiting upon landing not takeoff so you don’t miss your flight). Wash it all down with traditional Bavarian cuisine like sausages (there are over 1,500 kinds), spätzle (the German version of mac and cheese), and pretzels bigger than your head.
For a true introduction into the “Beer Capital of the World,” The Thirsty Historian can take you to the oldest, unnamed residential building in Munich where you can tap your own barrel with a wooden mallet. Hang out as long as you like, but they will likely make fun of you if you don’t finish your personal keg within two hours (beer to the Germans is like water). They also offer longer tours to their other favorite watering holes and monastery breweries. With or without them, you also need to visit one of the iconic beer halls from Oktoberfest like Hofbräuhaus or Paulaner Bräuhaus that are hoppin’ (pun intended) year-round.
Explore Old Town Square
Marienplatz, or the Old Town Plaza, is the center of the action in Munich and a great place to get wanderfully lost for a while. The Glockenspiel is the heart of the square, which is an old cuckoo clock with twirling figurines that dance and swordfight at 11 a.m., 12 p.m., and 5 p.m. (seasonally). The 14th-century gothic architecture is a feast for the eyes with both the old and new Town Hall buildings, the Virgin Mary, and the fish statue iconic photo ops. Head down the twisting alleyways for great shopping, café culture, and Viktualienmarkt, the outdoor market full of produce, flowers, bakeshops, and trinkets.
Live the Princess
You can’t come to Bavaria and not pay a visit to Disney’s inspiration for the Magic Kingdom. About two hours from Munich, getting here is an excuse to drive the famed Autobahn, Germany’s crazy multi-lane highway which has no speed limit for cars. Perched atop a high hill, Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the top attractions in all of Europe. After a short hike or horse-drawn carriage ride to the top, you can tour the palatial estate designed for King Ludwig II, who unfortunately died prior to completion. For the best exterior shot, walk the perimeter until you reach Queen Mary’s Bridge (Marienbrücke in German).
Hit the Slopes
If the mountains are calling, you can take the train an hour and a half to the highest point in Germany, Zugspitze. Home to the world’s longest cable car, it’s a beautiful ride up to the summit. In the winter, the area is a top ski destination but also boasts extreme tobogganing and a secret igloo village where you can spend the night or pop into the ice bar for drinks and fondue. In the summer, it’s a great spot to escape to nature for hiking and climbing. Any time of the year, you can pop over the border to the Austrian side of the Alps without as much as a passport for epic panoramas of the peaks and check another country off your list.
Or the Surf
Munich may be landlocked, but that doesn’t stop locals from making the waterways their own personal playground. Eisbach has become a top surf spot with a gnarly artificial wave where surf city enthusiasts can practice on the inland river. It’s not meant for beginners and they don’t rent boards, but that doesn’t mean you can’t watch from the shore and take in the fun – beer in hand, of course. If nothing else, it’s a crazy photo op.
Plan Your Trip: Places to Stay in Munich
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