With a conservative reputation and enviable liveability rankings, Munich is a city of exciting contradictions. Bringing together plenty of green spaces, top-notch infrastructure, sophisticated retail and a cultural scene that has very much loosened its collar, the Bavarian capital is as alive as ever.
Packed for a three-day trip, you won’t fall short of things to see, do and eat in this historic city. Add an extra day to the itinerary and escape to one of the many stunning nearby lakes or even the Alps.
A walk through Altstadt
Start the day at Marienplatz, the main square of the Altstadt (Old Town) and meeting point for locals and tourists alike. Unlike many other German cities, Munich was rebuilt after the second world war to preserve its baroque charm and palatial buildings. Steps away from the main square you’ll find Viktualienmarkt, an expansive outside market where you can pick up everything from fresh produce, flowers, cheeses and Bavarian honey. Surrounded by butchers and bakeries, you’ll also find a lively beer garden at the market’s centre. Make a pit stop at Cafe Frischhut for a traditional Schmalznudel, a deep-fried, sugary pastry – just don’t call it a doughnut.
Walk down cobbled streets towards Odeonsplatz, passing landmarks such as the Frauenkirche, the luxury delicatessen Dallmayr, which dates back to the 17th century, and the Residenz, the former royal palace of the Wittelsbach monarchs. From here, make your way into the Englischer Garten, Munich’s central park. One of the things that makes Munich unique is the Eisbach Welle – a permanent wave on the garden’s Eisbach River that attracts surfers all year round, come sun or snow. Deeper into the English Garden, enjoy the Mediterranean atmosphere around the Chinese Tower beer garden.
For a pre-dinner aperitif, Grapes Wine Bar, with its suede, mustard-yellow seating, offers over 400 varieties of wine served by attentive Austrian sommeliers. And with delicious bites such as grilled octopus and salsiccia, or beef tartar with lime oil, you’ll be tempted to linger. To sample more Altstadt highlights, visit EMIKO Restaurant at the Louis Hotel. With the menu divided into Japanese “classics” and “new style”, you’ll find dishes like black cod with miso marinade next to grilled scallops with dashi potatoes. From May to September, the restaurant spills out onto the roof terrace, where you can glimpse the Frauenkirche towers, naturally, with a lemongrass-infused shochu drink in hand.
Museums and culinary delights in Maxvorstadt and Schwabing
Munich’s chic cultural hubs Maxvorstadt and Schwabing are not only home to two universities, but they also make up Munich’s bohemian quarters. And with 16 museums, 40 galleries and 7 art schools, there’s plenty to explore.
Start your day at Cafe Puck, a Munich institution serving generous all-day breakfast in a rustic, charming interior. From French toast with bottomless maple syrup to typical German breakfast plates with a breadbasket and homemade jam – it’s no surprise Puck attracts plenty of students. After breakfast, explore the neighbourhood, where you’ll find boutiques such as jewellery and pottery shop No.10, womenswear shop Kauf Dich Glücklich, and Munich fashion label A Kind of Guise next to university bookshops and antique stores.
To get your bearings in Munich’s gallery scene, there are a handful of must-sees to tick off the list. Some of the most notable – the Alte Pinakothek, Neue Pinakothek, Pinakothek der Moderne and Museum Brandhorst – all belong to the Bavarian State Painting Collections. From Renaissance and baroque works to 19th-century art nouveau and impressionism, and 21st-century architecture and design, there’s an overwhelming selection to explore. The most recently opened Museum Brandhorst showcases 20th-century heavyweights, including works by Picasso, Twombly, Tuttle and Warhol, which hide behind a stunning facade that’s clad in multihued ceramic tubes.
For a temporary break from Bavaria’s hearty foods, tuck into a slice of Hawaii at Aloha Poke, a casual eatery serving bowls of sustainably-sourced raw fish in colourful variations. Mix your own bowl or opt for one of the classics like the ‘Sweet Catch’, made with salmon, mango, edamame, cashews and your dressing of choice, like peanut-coriander or a tangy orange-honey-mustard sauce. A further spot loved by locals is Ballabeni for ice cream. The wait can sometimes be a little longer than you’d like, but the intense, velvety scoops will make up for it – the chocolate ginger and red fruits combo is highly recommended.
Combining art and after hours, Die Goldene Bar at Haus der Kunst is not only fantastic for soaking up some rays when the terrace opens up in the summer, but also for tasting some genuinely exciting drinks. Originally designed as a reception room for artists when it first opened in the 1930s, the glitzy walls – maps of different corners of the world painted onto gold leaf – are a nod to the origins of ingredients, but are also a symbol for a city that has stood the test of time. After the second world war, the murals were hidden beneath plywood and the red marble columns were coated in white paint as if to cover up Germany’s dark past. In 2003 though, the original walls were again exposed, restoring the bar to its former glory with an added veneer of Munich chic.
The Hutong Club ends the day on a high note. With black and red lacquered walls, this trendy, dimly-lit eatery serves delicious bites such as Mongolian lamb dumplings, tender ox cheek bao buns and crispy tuna tartare spring rolls. The acoustics aren’t great when the place fills up, but the flavours are just as loud. Expect a fun menu that’s great for sharing and snacking.
Isarvorstadt to Haidhausen
The best way to explore a new neighbourhood is with coffee. Man Versus Machine sits neatly in the stylish, bohemian Isarvorstadt area and is a place coffee connoisseurs flock to. With specialty grade Arabica coffee roasted on site, kick off your day with an excellent flat white and a buttery classic: the Franzbrötchen.
The heart of the Isarvorstadt area is undoubtedly the Gärtnerplatz. A lively square with southern-European flair, surrounded by boutiques and bars, it’s also home to the Gärtnerplatz theatre. The grassy areas around the fountain are a popular go-to spot for locals, who come here to enjoy their lunch or a beer in the sunshine.
Make your way to the Haidhausen neighbourhood, walking down Zeppelinstrasse along the Isar river towards the Museumsinsel (museum island). Here you’ll pass the Deutsches Museum, the world’s largest museum of science and technology, and the Müller’sches Volksbad, the city’s oldest public swimming pool with a Roman steam bath. A little further, Munich’s French quarter in the Haidhausen neighbourhood boasts a charming residential area with a vibrant bar scene. Visit its central open-air farmers’ market, the Wiener Markt at Wiener Platz, which resembles an idyllic village square. Here you’ll also find the entrance to a fantastic beer garden belonging to the Hofbräukeller brewery.
While there are plenty of high-end dining options in Munich, the not-long-ago opened MUN is one of the most promising. As elegant as this restaurant comes, owner Mun Kim wants diners to feel like they’re guests in his home. To get the most of Kim’s Japanese, Korean and Chinese culinary influences, opt for the tasting menu, with dishes like miso duck with kimchi aioli, barbecued short rib risotto and Korean honey pastry. If you’re wondering about after-dinner drinks, MUN has an intriguing selection of ‘umami’ cocktails and Japanese whiskies.
Alternatively, visit the Negroni Bar. Since 1998, this award-winning, classic American bar has been mixing 140 variations on the Italian aperitif. But don’t be put off if a bitter Negroni isn’t your thing: the bartenders are great at mixing up whatever libation you’re after.
Where to stay
A retro hotel with a penchant for the 1960s, Cocoon Stachus has a great location, putting you within walking distance of major attractions, and with direct trains to the airport. If you’re looking to stay in the Schwabing neighbourhood nearby the Englisher Garten, the Pullman Munich will have you feeling right at home with its neutrally-toned rooms accompanied by a spa, sauna and fitness area.
Millennial travellers will feel at home at Cortiina Hotel, a stylish feng shui-inspired retreat that oozes relaxed elegance. Just a few minutes’ walk from Viktualienmarkt and Marienplatz, Cortiina is also home to the aforementioned Grapes Wine Bar. Not far away is Louis Hotel, with 72 individually-designed rooms with French balconies to take in the buzz of the city.
At The Charles Hotel, plush rooms overlooking the Botanical Gardens are matched by a stylish bistro restaurant and an idyllic terrace, but if you’re seeking timeless elegance, the Mandarin Oriental will tick all the boxes.