Munich is one of those big cities that despite their size feel friendly and cozy. It is located conveniently enough to serve as a base for exploring the beautiful Bavaria, and given that many international flights go there, it is relatively easy to make Munich part of one’s itinerary. But most of all it is the city itself that deserves a visit. Munich was meticulously rebuilt from the devastation of the War, and is full of historic buildings, museums, theaters, old churches, booming with lush storefronts, restaurants and beer halls.
Marienplatz, the main square of Munich, is arguably the best place to start the walking tour of the historic downtown. Two of the buildings that stand out on the square are the Old Town Hall and the New Town Hall. I bet you can tell which one is which:
… and you’ve probably guessed wrong. The Old one is that on the left. It dates back to the 14th century, but was almost completely restored after a lightning strike and WWII bombings.
The New Town Hall, shown above on the right, was build in late 19th – early 20th centuries. It’s facade and especially the clock tower are exquisitely decorated:
The clock tower of the New Town Hall features so called Rathaus-Glockenspiel – a mechanical mini-theater that delivers a performance 3 times a day, including noon, see picture above. This is a major tourist attraction and it never fails to gather big crowds.
The bell tower of St. Peter’s Church, or Peterskirche, located near the south-eastern corner of Marienplatz, is a good vista point for observing the square and its surroundings with a 360° view:
However I think that the best way to enjoy Marienplatz is from the ground level, either by joining the crowd during the day or by having it all to yourself early in the morning:
During the business hours one can enter the New Town Hall courtyard through its main gate and actually get inside the building and walk along its corridors – it is still a functioning city hall. Its basement hosts a large restaurant Ratskeller (literally meaning the Town Hall Cellar).
Frauenkirche (the Church of Our Lady) is a few minutes walk from Marienplatz. Take Kaufingerstraße, the street that starts at the square, then turn right at Liebfrauenstraße.
Frauenckirche is the main cathedral of Munich and is officially called Münchner Dom. It was build in the second half of 15th century. Its tall and massive brick towers with their oddly shaped domes made this church the main landmark and the symbol of Munich.
As one gets closer to Frauenkirche one realizes its enormous size. It is considered to be the largest brick church north of the Alps:
If you’re in a good shape you might want to climb the winding staircase of one of the Frauenkirche bell towers, for which you will be rewarded with 360° views of the city:
St. Michael Kirche and the tomb of King Ludwig II
Once you’re done with Frauenkirche you may want to stop by the Church of St. Michael next door, at the corner of Neuhauser Straße and Ettstraße. This church hosts the crypt with tombs of Bavarian royals, including King Ludwig II (a.k.a. Fairy Tale King, a.k.a. Mad King Ludwig) who became known for his eccentricity, his fairy tale castles and his sponsorship of Richard Wagner’s work.
Kaufingerstraße and Neuhauser Straße
Kaufingerstraße and Neuhauser Straße are the streets that form a pedestrian-only zone stretching to the east from Marienplatz. It is less than a mile long and features many boutiques, souvenir shops and other tourist traps, in the good sense of the term.
Max-Joseph-Platz, Odeonspaltz and Hofgarten
Max-Joseph-Platz is a square in about 10 minutes walk from Marienplatz. There is the statue of King Maximilian Joseph in the center. On the northern side we have one of the wings of Residenz, the royal palace complex. The dominating feature of the square is the Bavarian State Opera Theater. If you like opera then it’s quite worth visiting, just keep in mind that German staging of classical operas are rather modernistic these days, so be prepared to see medieval knights portrayed as modern police officers.
Walk a few hundred steps from the square up the Residenzstraße and you’ll find yourself at another large open space which is Odeonsplatz. On the west it is framed by the 17-th century Theatine Church:
On the south side of Odeonsplatz there is an a structure resembling a triumphal arc or some kind of a pavilion. It is Feldhernhalle, pictured below, a Bavarian Army monument, built in 19th century. It was also the site of Hitler’s 1923 Beer Hall putsch. These days it often serves as a stage for all kind of outdoor concerts – note the stage equipment and the rows of seats covering half the are of the square:
On the east side of Odeonsplatz there is the entrance into the Hofgarten park, which literally means Palace Garden. It is a classic pleasant European park where you’ll probably see more locals then tourists, playing bocce or enjoying a beer in the shade of the trees:
Residenz is the former palace of Bavarian royals of the Wittelsbach dynasty. It is a complex of buildings dating back to 16th through mid 19-th centuries. It was heavily damaged during World War II, and some of its exterior was restored in a simplified manner. The reliefs and texture on some walls are imitated by paint rather than made in stone, so parts of the building look like theater stage props. There is a museum in the Residenz that features royal art collections and decorated quarters. There are many courtyards in the palace that can be accessed through the open gates, so one can just walk in and look around. It looks like at least some parts of the complex are used as government offices.
Walking the streets
Munich’s historical center is a perfect place to walk around, watch buildings and people and sit down for occasional beer or coffee (see a section on dining bellow at the end of this post). A good place to start is the Platzl – a short pedestrian street only minutes away from Residenz and Opera House. Platzl hosts several souvenir stores, restaurants and beer halls, among which the famous Hofbräuhaus easily recognizable by its blue-and-white HB logo.
Some more views around the historic part of the downtown:
Walk a few blocks away from the city center and the surroundings become more modern, and in many places one can see the artifacts of the imperial neo-classic era, like these buildings at Königsplatz:
Pinakothek der Moderne (Museum of Modern Art)
Since we just ended up at Königsplatz, it’s a good opportunity to check out the Museum of Modern Art, or Pinakothek der Moderne. It has an excellent collection of modern paintings, featuring the works of many famous artists from the beginning of the 2oth century all the way to Andy Warhol and beyond. Take an audio-guide – it’s worth it. The building itself is spacious and full of light.
Munich has plenty of superb restaurants and beer halls and one can easily find a great dining experience there without my recommendations. Anyway here are some places that I find worth mentioning.
- Hofbräuhaus at Platzl, mentioned above – a large three-storey beer hall, with wooden tables and benches, old Bavarian decor, excellent Hofbräu beer and traditional food. Despite it being very popular among tourists (and offering menus in any language imaginable) there are always many locals there too, which probably attests to the quality of the place.
- Spatenhaus an der Oper – an excellent restaurant featuring German and European cuisine at Max-Joseph-Platz, right across the Opera House and next to the Residenz. Some say this is an unofficial Opera restaurant where the theatre patrons dine before or after the performance. During the daytime I recommend to take an outside table and enjoy your food with the view of the Opera and the Residenz, weather permitting.
- Rastskeller restaurant is another traditional restaurant located in the basement of the New Town Hall at Marienplatz. The interior is very authentic-looking with traditionally painted vaulted ceilings.
- Augustiner am Dom is located at Frauenplatz and its outdoor tables offer a view of Frauenkirche. The restaurant is owned by the famous local brewery Augustiner that traces its origins to the Augustinian monks. It features Bavarian food and, of course, the superb Augustiner beer.
- Pfistermühle at Platzl – a high-end restaurant at the Platzl Hotel featuring Franconian cuisine with an impressive local wine list and Ayinger beer supplied directly by the family-owned brewery.
- Landersdorfer & Innerhofer Restaurant at Hackenstraße – a noteworthy high-end restaurant. There is no menu – the chef is going to surprise you. They also have an excellent wine list.