Bavaria is iconic, friendly, flowing with great beer, and filled with incredible fairytale castles. A week in Bavaria will give you enough time to explore the dynamic city of Munich, then head south to one of Germany’s most picturesque regions for some castle hopping.
Munich City Guide
Munich is a beautiful city, filled with history and culture. Although Munich is quite a big city with a population close to 1.5 million, it still manages to retain a bit of a small town vibe. The city brims with festive beer halls, some of the country’s best shopping, and feels like the friendliest place in Germany. It’s got imperial palaces, crown jewels, modern art, and grand pedestrian boulevards. Munich is a true cultural powerhouse, with enough sights to easily fill a few days.
The heart of the city is Marienplatz (Mary’s Square), Munich’s main square, dominated by the Neo-Gothic New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus). It’s here that you’ll find the famous glockenspiel clock, which brings to life a wedding procession that took place here in 1568. If you’re around at 11:00am or noon (also 5pm May-Oct), you’ll get to see the figures on the clock animate 4 scenes: a wedding procession, a joust, the coopers’ dance, and a rooster crowing.
Nearby is the Viktualienmarkt, easily recognized by a large traditional blue and white checkered maypole and filled with stalls selling fresh produce, flowers, and food. Of course there’s also a beer garden where Munich’s breweries take turns serving up their brews. Nearby is the Schrannenhalle, a former grain exchange that is now a modern glass and iron building packed with gourmet foods and chocolates—the perfect place to stock up for a picnic.
3 Unique Churches in the City Center
If you’ve ever wanted to see a church overflowing with baroque splendor, Asam Church (Asamkirche) is it. Frescoes, sculptures, and fancy showpieces fill every square inch of the place. Although this narrow church is only 30 feet wide, it’s packed to the brim with more gold, silver, and artwork than you’d expect to find in a much larger church. This is because the church was formerly the private chapel of the Asam brothers, two architects who used the church as a showroom of sorts to woo clients, filled with all their best baroque designs.
Two more iconic churches are St. Peters and Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady). The oldest church in the city is St. Peter’s. This lovely church has beautiful ceiling frescoes and baroque stucco embellishments painted in pastel pinks and yellows, as well as intricate interior iron gates. Frauenkirche is plain inside, but iconic outside with its twin onion domes.
Right in the heart of town and located along a busy pedestrian shopping street near the main train station, trendy Anna Hotel has modern, comfortable rooms and a stylish combo lobby-bar-restaurant that is lit with rainbow lights. Breakfast here is filling and gourmet, with fresh baked muffins, pretzels, meats, cheeses, and all the trimmings.
Beer Halls & Oktoberfest
You can’t come to Munich without heading to one of the city’s famous beer halls. Although touristy, a classic stop is the world-famous 5,000-seat Hofbräuhaus, where you’ll find live oompah music, hearty German fare, and the famous Hofbräu—the beer of the royal court and one of Munich’s 7 great beers. Good beer halls abound all over the city, so drink up!
If you happen to be lucky enough to be in Munich during the 16-17 days of festivities during Oktoberfest, you’ll find the city transformed into a festive playground for beer lovers. Running from late September to the first weekend in October, Oktoberfest is the world’s largest fair—translation: the world’s biggest party. One of the most famous events in Germany, Oktoberfest started out as the marriage reception for King Ludwig I in 1810, and was so much fun it continued annually after that. A word of warning: it will definitely get crowded—about 7 million people attend on average—but Oktoberfest in Munich is just one of those things everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.
Munich Museum Guide
The Munich Residenz
Gaze upon jewels and priceless treasures in the former home of the Bavarian rulers: the Munich Residenz. Munich’s most opulent palace complex, the Residenz contains breathtaking rooms like the Shell Grotto courtyard (Grottenhof), with its walls covered in sculptures all made out of tiny Bavarian freshwater shells, to the Antiquarium with its arching frescoed ceiling and endless rows of ancient busts.
There are the Ornate Rooms (Reiche Zimmer), so named for their lavish splendor. This includes the Green Gallery (Grüne Galerie), with its endless gold-framed portraits, green walls, and hanging chandeliers. Be sure to check out the Cabinet of Miniatures (Miniaturenkabinett), outfitted in red japanning (the European version of Asian lacquerwork) and filled with mirrors and 129 miniature copies of famous paintings. Also stop by the Ancestral Gallery (Ahnengalerie) of the royal Wittelsbach family with its long hall of portraits filling fancy gold frames, the Porcelain Cabinet (Porzellankabinett), and for a dazzling rococo masterpiece, visit the restored Cuvilliés Theatre.
There are many more rooms than these, including throne rooms, ornate chapels, and stone rooms made of marble. One of the most beautiful is the Ornate Chapel (Reiche Kapelle), which was the spiritual center of the Residenz and the private chapel of Duke Maximilian I and his wife. It housed a collection of valuable Catholic relics, and is stunning with its inlaid marble work and blue and gold domed ceiling. Finally, in the Treasury (Schatzkammer) you’ll find a collection of jewels and royal treasures, like the crown of the kings of Bavaria, and perhaps the most impressive piece of all: the priceless Statuette of St George. Covered in rubies, diamonds, emeralds, opals, pearls, and gold, the piece was made to house a relic of St. George and was displayed on important feast days on the altar of the Ornate Chapel.
Our top pick for modern art in Munich is Museum Brandhorst. Housing a large collection of American art, this museum focuses in depth on individual artists. The most dominant artist in the museum is Cy Twombly. The entire upper floor is dedicated to his work, with room after room punctuated by his bright, bold brush strokes. The collection includes over 170 of his works, and his large scale abstract canvases are quite moving when viewed all together. There are also more than 100 pieces by Andy Warhol in the collection, as well as works by Bruce Nauman, Jeff Koons, Gerhard Richter and Damien Hirst. The museum is as modern architecturally as it is inside. On the outside beams of varying rainbow colors placed beside each other form what looks like giant adjoining rainbow-striped boxes of color.
More Munich Museums
Munich is filled with museums and if you have time beyond the two mentioned above, here are a few more worth checking out. The Bavarian State Painting Collections include the following museums:
The Alte Pinakothek (Old Art Gallery) displays a collection of 14th-19th century European masterpieces with paintings from the German and Italian Renaissances, plus baroque works by artists like Rubens and Dutch works by artists like Rembrandt.
Alternatively the Neue Pinakothek (New Art Gallery) showcases paintings from 1800-1920, stylistically ranging from romanticism and realism to impressionism and jugendstil (a German art nouveau movement of sorts) with works by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Goya, and Klimt.
Getting even more modern still is the Pinakothek der Moderne (reopening 09/14/2013) which covers art from the 20th century in four categories: painting, graphics, architecture, and design. You’ll find works by the likes of Dalí, Miró, Magritte, Ernst, and Picasso.
Finally, switching gears from art museums, the Deutsches Museum is a Munich classic, spanning 3 branches that showcase science and technology. While the main branch is downtown, the Museum of Transportation and the Flight Museum are outside the city center and mostly suited to enthusiasts. In the main branch you’ll find exhibits ranging from airplanes and spaceships to musical instruments, chemistry, astronomy, and nanotechnology.
Historic Sights Outside Town
Although there are plenty of things to entertain you in Munich, there are two big standout sights just outside the city that are well worth the trek out. Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial is definitely one of these. One of the most notorious Nazi concentration camps for political prisoners, the site is only about an hour from Munich. It was here that over 200,000 people from all over Europe were imprisoned and 41,500 were murdered. The memorial was established in 1965, and coming here provides a heartbreaking and educational glimpse into history.
If palaces are your thing, another top sight you’ll want to consider is Nymphenburg Palace, the Bavarian royal family’s summer palace 3 miles outside of the city center. However, if time is limited and you need to choose between palaces, the Munich Residenz is the more impressive of the two.
Check out part 2 of my guide to Bavaria, featuring the fairytale castles that inspired Walt Disney.