Munich is the third largest city in Germany, the capital city of the state of Bavaria, and is rated by many authorities as one of the most liveable cities anywhere in the world. It has a population of over 1.3 million people, and while still strongly tied to its historical Bavarian roots, it has become a lure to many people throughout the German-speaking world. Consequently you are as likely to hear many people here speaking with northern German accents, even though the city is in the southern heart of the country, and is closer to Austria and Switzerland than it is to major northern cities such as Berlin and Hamburg.
Transport links to Munich are among the best anywhere in the world. It has Germany’s second most significant international airport, and offers direct flights to destinations in almost every corner of the globe. Connections to and from the airport are also excellent. The regional railway connection, the S-Bahn, can transport you to the city centre in something like 40 minutes, and bring you to the city’s main railway station (Hauptbahnhof) in 45 minutes.
The rail service to and from Munich is also excellent, and German Railways (Deutsche Bahn) can offer you the chance to travel quickly and comfortably direct to the city on the excellent Inter City Express (ICE) service from virtually anywhere within the country, as well as to a number of neighbouring countries such as Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
Road transport to the city, whether by road or bus is provided on the excellent Autobahn system, though motorists are warned to avoid peak hour travel where possible as there is a tendency for traffic jams to occur.
As befits a city with its reputation and known attractions, Munich provides a choice of hotels that is almost second to none in the whole of Germany. That said if you arrive during one of the many trade fairs that are held here, or around Christmas, or most notably in the period of the Oktoberfest (the last two weeks in September and maybe the first two or three days of October), you will never believe that such a choice of rooms exists. The city is such an attraction to tourists and business alike, you are always advised to book in advance using a service like www.hotel.com or www.hrs.de. If you do arrive without making any advanced booking, the Tourist Information Offices (on the main railway station or at Marienplatz) may be able to help you, but you may find that the choice is rather limited.
At the Tourist Information Offices you can also pick up any maps that you might need, receive advice on Guided Tours, and information on all what the city has to offer. You would be well advised to enquire about the CityTourCard which allows complete use of all the facilities provided by the local transport authority, the MVV, and also offers a number of discounts to various interesting sights in the city. The price for a single person is 9.80 Euro for one day, and 29.50 Euro for three days. It may also be possible to obtain a Family Card – the staff at the tourist offices will be glad to give you all the necessary information upon this.
For those who wish to venture out and discover this amazing city on their own though, there is an embarrassment of choice as to where to start. The Marienplatz in the city centre is as good as choice as any. In the heart of the square is a column dedicated to the Holy Virgin, the patroness of Bavaria. On the north side of the square is the New Town Hall, originally built in the 19th century. If you arrive at 11 o’clock in the morning, or at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, there is a glockenspiel show depicting the wedding of the Duke of Bavaria to Princess Renata of Lorraine in 1568 and the local cooper’s dance. To the right of this, meanwhile, is the Old Town Hall, dating back to the 14th century. Just south of the square is the famous Victual Market, famed for its fresh country produce.
Wandering back west from the Marienplatz you come to the city cathedral, known locally as the Frauenkirche, while to the north of the Marienplatz is the Max-Joseph Platz. Next to this square is the Residenz, the former royal palace of the kings of Bavaria. If you have time (this takes a whole day), you can do the two tours necessary to see the many rooms in this superb building.
The city has three major gates, the Isartor, the Karlstor, and the Sendlinger Tor, all of which are worth seeing – the Isartor has stood since the 14th century, and is the only one of the actual gates which was part of the city’s original fortifications.
There are also a number of museums that you would be recommended to visit. The Alte Pinakothek and the Neue Pinakothek offer the art lover the chance to see a whole series of outstanding paintings, while the Deutsches Museum (built on an island in the centre of the river Isar), is dedicated to science and technology.
That Munich is a “beer city” is renowned the world over. Even visitors who cannot face the thought of the taste of beer should take a trip down to the square called Platzl in the heart of the city and check out the Hofbraühaus, which is one of the city’s architectural wonders. It was originally built in 1607, but the public at large was only granted permission to enter from 1828. The original building was badly damaged by bombing in the second world war, so the current structure has only stood as such since 1958.
Mention of the Hofbraühaus though brings us on nicely to the annual event known as the Oktoberfest, which was first planned to celebrate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese in 1810. Every year in an area known as the Wiesn, all the major Munich breweries, and a few lesser known competitors, set up tents and large numbers of tables and wooden benches. There to the tunes of oompah bands, much beer is to be consumed, along with a whole range of Bavarian cuisine. On the opening Saturday before the event, there is the parade of the beer trucks, drawn by wonderfully bedecked dray horses through the city centre – this is a sight to behold in its own right. On that afternoon, the local mayor performs the opening ceremony by tapping the first barrel to be opened. There is great demand to be present at this opening ceremony, and is usually open only to invitees.
Meanwhile, on the Wiesn itself for the period of the Oktoberfest, there is one of the world’s largest fairs, with all types of rides and entertainment for the whole family.
A word to the wise – the Oktoberfest gets very busy at weekends, and it is often advisable to choose attend midweek if you do not like crowds.
For the rest of the year, there is still plenty to enjoy by way of nightlife. Munich offers much by way of interests to lovers of the arts, and to those who enjoy more popular styles of music.
Restaurants and bars abound, and there is a very lively scene to be enjoyed along the Leopoldstrasse going up to the student and artists’ quarter in Schwabing.
For sports fans, spectator sport plays a big part in the lives of the people of Munich. This is the home of the most powerful club in German soccer, Bayern München, and souvenirs associated with the club are on sale throughout the city, as are also those of their much loved second division rivals, 1860. A visit to the Allianz Stadium is available, but please do not expect to get tickets for Bayern’s games – they can usually expect to be sold out.
Munich was also the home of the 1972 Olympics (still sadly remembered for the murder of a number of Israeli athletes). The Olympic Stadium can also be visited by those interested in seeing the site.
When visiting the city, you should, in winter at least, remember that the city is close to the Alps. Winters can be cold, even severe, and wrapping up well is advised to those unused to such temperatures. Summers can also be somewhat warmer than elsewhere in Germany, but please remember that this is a rather formal city, so dress casually but not provocatively.
Munich is an amazing city to visit, with some superb buildings, wonderful architecture, and a great sense of its own history. It is a “once seen never forgotten” sort of place, and you will leave with many memories of the time that you spent wandering around there.