Location: Southern Germany, 4 hours south of Berlin, 4 hours west of Vienna, 4 hours east from the border of France.
Language: German, but English is also used a lot. Munich is a part of Bavaria, which has one of the few older dialects still existing in Germany, called Bavarian. Other languages spoken are Turkish, Croatian, Italian and Greek.
Population: 1.5 million.
Money: the Euro (€).
Transportation: Trains, trams, suburban trains (S-Bahn), metro (U-Bahn) and buses.
Religion: Catholics make up the largest number and many religious holidays are Catholic holidays, which aren’t celebrated in other parts of Germany. Protestants are the second largest group, then Muslim, with a small number being Jewish or Eastern Orthodox.
Birthday: October 3, 1990. You might read that and think, wait, Germany is older than 30 years old, but this is the day they celebrate as a reunification day, from when Germany was separated during the Communist days.
Safety: Munich is not only the safest city in Germany, but it’s also one of the safest cities in Europe. The only time you may want to watch your things a little more closely is during Oktoberfest, but I never had any problems during this time.
Fun Facts: Munich is the 12th largest city in Europe, and it was rated the most livable city in the world in 2018. Munich is a major international center for the scientific field, including research, engineering, and innovation. The name comes from an old German word meaning “by the monks,” referring to the monks who ran a monastery in the now city center. You’ll even see a monk on the Munich flag. Munich is further north than any US city, except in Alaska. There are over 60 beer gardens there.
History: First mention of Munich goes back to 1158. When the Reformation swept across Germany in the 16th century, Catholic Munich strongly resisted that influence and stayed true to their traditions. In 1806 it established a sovereign kingdom and became a major European center for architecture, culture, science and art. In the 1920’s, several political parties started springing up in Munich, including one that quickly became out of control, the Nazi’s. Due to this, Munich was bombed heavily during World War II, but is one of the few bombed German cities that restored its traditional landscape after the war. Munich (and Bavaria) is now the most wealthy part in Germany.
Arriving In Munich
From the airport to the city center: Munich International Airport (Flughafen München) is 20 miles (33km) outside of Munich, with two options to get to the city center, a Lufthansa bus or a S-Bahn train. You don’t need to fly with Lufthansa to ride on this bus though. It runs every 15 minutes, takes about 45 minutes to get to the main train station (Hauptbahnhof) and costs €10.50. Or you can take 1 of 2 S-Bahn’s, the S1 or the S8, which both take about 45 minutes to get to the Hauptbahnhof and cost €11.50. One thing to pay attention to, is if you’re staying in the west part of town or the east part of town. While both S-Bahn lines go to all of the main stops, the S1 will go to the western side of town, before arriving in the eastern part, and vice versa for the S8. TIP: A perk with taking the S-Bahn option is that you can pay €1.50 more (so €13 total) for the day ticket (“Zone M-5 Day Ticket”), and ride on any public transportation in Munich until 6am (06:00) the next day.
Getting Around: Munich’s city center is easy to walk around, with most things being in about a 20 minute walking radius. But if you’re staying a little outside of the city center, maybe near the East Station (Ostbahnhof) or by the beautiful Olympia Park, that will be more of a 30-40 minute walk to the city center. They just changed from a confusing system of buying tickets for public transportation in the inner area of Munich, to a 1-ticket system for the whole zone (called “Zone-M”), which makes getting anywhere within inner Munich much easier. It cost €3.30 for one trip on any bus, tram, S-Bahn or U-Bahn that expires 2 hours after buying it, and you cannot use that same ticket as a return ticket. Or you can buy the day-ticket for €7.80, that’s also valid on all public transportation within the Zone-M.
Things To Do In Munich
The Town Hall: Munich is known for being a very beautiful city, not only in Germany, but also in all of Europe. One of the things that makes it so appealing to locals and tourists alike is the new town hall building (neues Rathaus), which is located in the pedestrian-zone of Marienplatz. The neo-gothic style building was completed in 1874, but the government quickly outgrew it, so 20 years later, more was added, making it now 300 feet (100m) long on the front. Each day at 11am (11:00), 12pm (12:00) and 5pm (17:00, although this last time doesn’t run from November-February) is a show you can watch dating back to 1908, telling stories of Munich’s history. You can also book a 90-minute tour of the inside for €13, in either German or English.
English Garden: By far the best park in Munich, and one that will be full of people on a sunny day, is the Englischer Garten. A surprising fact is that it is the biggest park in Europe and is even bigger than London’s Hyde Park and New York City’s Central Park. There are numerous paths for joggers, dog walkers, cyclists and lazy-Sunday afternoon strollers that come to 48 miles (78km) long.
Hang Out In A Palace: Not always does a bigger city have a palace pretty close to the city center, but here is one you can visit, called Nymphenburg Palace. Surprisingly, the front of it is even bigger than the Palace in Versailles, with Nymphenburg’s front being 2,073 feet (632m) long. It used to be a summer house for former royalty, but now it ‘s open to the public for €8. Many people actually love the gardens though and will go there just to see those. Since the property is also quite spacious, you’ll typically see many joggers there as well. There is also a natural history museum, a botanical garden, an 18th century chapel and grotto, as well as a beautiful cafe, with a big outdoor terrace to sit and have a pastry.
Hirschgarten: Not too far from Nymphenburg Palace is the biggest beer garden in all of Germany, called Hirschgarten, dating back to 1791. With 8,000 seats available, they are a well-oiled machine there and call themselves “Munich’s summertime living room.” You are allowed to bring anything you want there, from food to even table cloths, but the only thing you have to buy there are drinks. There is a restaurant there as well though, if you’d like to try some local cuisine, such as pork knuckles, roasted chicken and freshly baked pretzels. Right next to the beer garden is where the park gets its name, with 30 deer (Hirsch is a (male) deer in German). The beer garden is open daily, weather permitting, from 11am (11:00) until midnight. A few years ago, the weather was especially warm on December 23, and half of Munich went to Hirschgarten to enjoy the sun and warmth.
Locals-Only Beer Garden: If you like the idea of a beer garden, but not being there with 8,000 other people, here’s a hidden gem, that even some locals don’t know about. Located in Westpark, right beside the Moll Lake, Cafe Gans am Wasser (which translates to “goose by the water”) is a small cafe/beer garden, with things like crepes or a hot tea to warm you up in winter, or an ice cream or a beer to cool you off during the summer. They also have events there throughout the year, including a small Christmas Market, with music, a fire pit and a few tents to walk through for local crafts.
Care For A Surf? When you look at Munich on a map, the last thing that would come to mind is surfing. But there is a man-made wave at the southern end of the English Garden’s river, called Eisbachwelle, where people can surf year round. The water is cold all year, so if you want to finally want to give surfing a try, make sure and wear a wetsuit. But it’s quite popular with locals, despite not being able to move around much, like on a regular wave.
Student Housing That Was A Part Of The Olympics: Another big and beautiful park is the Olympiapark, just north of the city center. For the 1972 summer olympics, a whole housing complex was built for the athletes. As some of you may remember, these Olympic Games turned a bit political, when a Palastinian terrorist group came in and took 11 Isreali team members as hostages and later killed them. But since then, the female housing has been turned into a place for students to live (the male housing was completely torn down and later rebuilt). On the outside of many of the apartments are colorful designs, artwork, popular sayings, Nelson Mandela’s face, Disney characters and more. It’s a fun place to walk around. And the Olympia Park itself is also a really nice place to watch shows, including movies in the park during the summer, there’s a month-long summer festival there and even fireworks for New Years Eve.
A Cultural Rainy Day Idea: As with any trip, it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan for bad weather. One nice thing to do is to go to the National Theater and watch a production there. They have plays, operas, ballets and concerts, with some tickets being quite expensive, and others being very reasonable, especially when booked early. They even have some shows that are geared towards children only. I went there to see the Nutcracker during the Christmas season, which goes through early January, and saw it for only €13. It’s a really beautiful building inside.
Here Kitty Kitty! More popular in Asia than in Europe and North America are cat cafes, but Munich has one you can visit, called Katzentempel München (Cat Temple Munich). The cats live there and have everything they could need including places to hide, platforms to sleep on, and can even go to the back, when they’re tired of people. As with most cats, they are aware of who the boss is (it isn’t you), so while you can pet them and they may love it and even jump into your lap for more attention, when they’re bored, they’ll simply walk away. In addition to the cats though, there’s a menu for their human counterparts. There’s coffee, cakes, smoothie bowls, soups, curries, and sandwiches, but all of it is vegan, with some stuff also being gluten-free. A nice part of it though, is that a portion of the money made from food and drinks goes to helping animal welfare. They’re open daily from 11am (11:00) until 8pm (20:00).