What to see and what to skip in Munich, Germany

Oktoberfest is right around the corner.

September 15, 2017, 1:17 PM
PHOTO: An undated aerial photo captures city landmarks of Munich.
An undated aerial photo captures city landmarks of Munich.
Achim Thomae/Getty Images

— -- With Oktoberfest around the corner, revelers around the world are eyeing Munich, Germany.

The beer-fueled feast that’s a centuries-old Bavarian tradition is one of the most revered festivals in the world, drawing close to eight million visitors. (Check out Travelzoo’s exclusive Facebook LIVE broadcast from Munich and Oktoberfest’s opening weekend – Sunday, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m. Munich time/1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT!)

But even after the steins have been emptied and the lederhosen put away, Munich’s appeal endures year-round. There is rich history here, cultural variety and an eclectic visitor experience.

Planning your first trip? Here are some of our favorite things to do in Munich.

Skip the Beer, Sip the Wine

Munich is, easily, a beer lover’s playground. Six breweries are based here; they date back hundreds of years and are the only breweries allowed to pour at Oktoberfest. It’s a lucrative gig: They serve up more than two million gallons of suds a year. But sometimes only a glass of pinot noir will do. If you’re looking to sip wine while in Munich, and especially if you’re hip to discovering the grapes varieties that thrive in Bavaria and throughout Germany, head to one of the city’s high-end wine bars. Weinhaus Neuner is known as the oldest wine pub in Munich and serves up quality German reds along with upscale Bavarian cuisine. Kork Weinbar is laser-focused on wines from throughout Germany, rotating its by-the-glass selections regularly and often hosting winemakers. Backerl is a great place to pair German wines with dessert. Other wine bars worth exploring include Geisel’s Vinothek and the French-themed Deja-Bu. Cheers!

Skip the City Center, Head to Augustiner

“Leave the brewery houses in the city centre and go to ‘Augustiner Bräustuben’,” suggests Joachim Pöschl, PR manager at Travelzoo’s Munich office. (Bräustuben translates loosely to “beer parlour.”) Among Munich’s historic breweries, the oldest, Augustiner, which dates back to 1328, may well reign supreme. Located about 15 minutes outside downtown Munich via public transport, it enjoys cult status by historic standards alone. It’s also a favorite destination for beer buffs on a budget. “You get delicious Bavarian food and tasty beer in a great atmosphere – and it’s a lot cheaper than in the city centre,” Pöschl says. The Maß (pronounced “mass” and equivalent to a liter of lager) “costs 5.50 euro here, compared to 7.50 to 8.50 euro in downtown breweries.” Augustiner gets busy though, so reserve a table.

Skip the Restaurant, Nosh at Viktualienmarkt

The history of Viktualienmarkt goes back more than 200 years, when it started as a bona fide farmers’ market. Today, this daily food market in the heart of Munich draws foodies with more than 140 stalls selling everything from baked goods and exotic fruits to meats and cheeses. “Situated in the middle of the square, just steps from the tall maypole, is a cozy beer garden — the perfect place for a little break from a tour of the city,” says Marco de Martino, a Travelzoo deal expert based in Berlin. “Once you pick a snack, find a spot along the old-fashioned wooden benches to eat it. Unlike most American bars, it is perfectly acceptable to bring outside food into a Munich beer garden. That is, as long as you buy your drinks there.”

Skip the Hotel Pool, Hang 10

“I don’t know if this fact is really well known in the U.S., but Munich is actually a surf hotspot!” says Pöschl. True, Munich is more than 300 miles away from the coast, but that hasn’t kept local surf fans from seeking the perfect set. There’s a portion of the Eisbach River that roars through Munich’s Englischer Garten park (the English Garden) that generates a dynamic wave effect. Locals have been hanging 10 here for decades, though the sport only became legal in 2010. Surfing here often sees lengthy wait lines, and it’s not without its dangers: Strong currents, rocks and unique conditions make it quite a bit different from ocean surfing, so exercise caution. But how unlikely – surfing in Munich! “A lot of foreigners must get really surprised when they see surfers carrying their surfboards in the tube, or on their bikes or just walking by – but that’s the reason!” adds Pöschl.

Skip Midweek, Visit Museums on SundayMunich’s museums charge full price most days of the week, but many of the best will drop their entrance fee to just 1 euro on Sundays. Among the cultural hotspots with the one-day discount: the Bayerische Nationalmuseum (the Bavarian National Museum), one of the largest decorative arts museums in Germany; the Alte Pinakothek, one of the oldest galleries in the world; and the Museum Fünf Kontinente (the Five Continents Museum), featuring non-European works of art. If you have kids in tow, check out the Museum Mensch und Natur, a German natural history museum located inside Nymphenburg Palace.

Skip the Museum, Go Royal“The former splendor of the Wittelsbach dynasty can still be seen throughout Munich,” says de Martino. “One of the greatest legacies of the ruling family includes their palaces.” The House of Wittelsbach was founded in the 11th century, with dukes and kings reigning ever since; today, the house head is Franz, duke of Bavaria. The family’s legendary palaces offer a wonderful peek at local history. “The Residenz palace underwent many expansions during its long history and today combines stylistic elements from the Baroque to the Renaissance periods,” continues de Martino. “For me, the highlight is not the palace itself, but rather its court garden, or Hofgarten. The star-shaped paths and geometrically pruned hedges and trees create a tremendous landscape. The park’s well-maintained benches offer you the perfect opportunity to take a moment and escape the city’s hustle and bustle.” Also check out Nymphenburg Palace in the west of the city, dubbed the “Bavarian Versailles,” with more than 400 acres of gardens.

Rev Your Engines“Everybody in the world knows BMW,” asserts Pöschl. Indeed, the luxury car brand is headquartered in Munich, and it offers a slew of unique visitor opportunities. BMW Welt (or BMW World) is where buyers come to take possession of their personalized vehicles. The rest of us can visit “to see nearly all the models from the present, from the past and also some future trends,” says Pöschl. “And it’s a free attraction!” Guided tours will cost you a bit, though, including the by-appointment Young People’s Tour, which allows teens to sit in a convertible, climb into a luxury sedan and get on a motorcycle. Nearby, visit the BMW Museum, with more than 100 of the brand’s top models on display. Or schedule a tour at the BMW Group Plant, just north of Munich, for a peek at how BMWs are actually produced; more than 950 cars and 3000 engines are built here every day.

Skip the Playground, Take the Kids to the ArenaEven non-soccer fans are drawn to Allianz Arena's unique design: Inflated plastic panels create the first stadium in the world with full-color changing exterior. Of all the guided tours here, the Kids Tour is a must for families. It explains the unique outside facade and takes kids into the press conference room, the teams’ changing rooms and through the players’ tunnel out onto the field. A special highlight is a 30-minute visit to the Kick Hall, where young guests can shoot at the goal wall. Kids pay 15 euros and parents can tag along for free.

Go to SchoolFor a unique, youthful dose of life in Munich, take the 10-minute walk from popular Odeonsplatz to Ludwig-Maximilian University. “This school has produced some great alumni, including Hans and Sophie Scholl, of whom Munich residents are justifiably proud,” says de Martino. “The Scholls organized the resistance against Nazism, and eventually their bravery cost them their lives. Copies of the fliers they wrote to convince young people to rebel against the dictatorship have been immortalized in the square in front of the university building.” After your visit, leave the campus through the main hall in the back, which leads to several buzzy streets. “You will find countless restaurants and bars on Amalienstraße, Türkenstraße and Schellingstraße,” adds de Martino.

Skip Downtown, Head to FlaucherYou’ll find another special break from the city center bustle at Flaucher, just south of Munich and along the banks of the Isar River. “It’s an area where many local enjoy their free time,” says Tatjana Zeitel, head of sales at Travelzoo’s Munich office. “A nice beer garden is close by. You can get there by bike or walking, and it appeals to families and people of all ages. You’ll find many Munich residents here after work, and people throw barbecues here in the summertime.”

Gabe Saglie is senior editor for Travelzoo, which features exclusive deals to and throughout Munich at www.travelzoo.com. Got your own favorite Munich experience? Let him know on Twitter or Instagram: @gabesaglie.

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