Munich is a city of art and culture, with innumerable monuments and more museums than any other German city. In quality, its collections surpass those of Berlin. The Wittelsbachs (the ruling family of Europe from approximately the 13th to early 20th c.) were great collectors—some say pillagers—and left behind a city full of treasures.
Go to Munich to have fun and to enjoy the relaxed lifestyle, friendly ambience, and wealth of activities, sightseeing, and cultural events. Munich is stocked with so many treasures that any visitor who plans to "do" the city in a day or two will not only miss out on many major sights, but also fail to grasp the city's spirit and absorb its special flavor.
Watching the Glockenspiel
The best show on Marienplatz takes place at 11am and 9pm daily (also at noon and 5pm during the holiday seasons) when the 43-bell Glockenspiel on the 280-foot central spire of the Neues Rathaus goes through its paces. Brightly painted mechanical figures reenact two famous events from Munich’s history: the knights’ tournament during the 1586 wedding feast of Wilhelm V and Renate of Lorraine, and, one level below, the Schäfflertanz (Coopers’ Dance), first performed in 1683 to express gratitude for the end of the plague.
Visiting the viktualienmarkt (Produce Market)
Located on the square of the same name, close to Marienplatz, the Viktualienmarkt has been serving Munich residents for nearly 200 years and is a wonderful place to stroll and sniff and take in the local scene. On a sunny Saturday it might seem like the entire poulation of Munich is here, not just enjoying the lively atmosphere but actually food shopping. In an area the size of a city block, you find butcher shops, cheese sellers, a coffee roaster, a juice bar, fish sellers, wine merchants, dozens of produce stalls, a whole section of bakeries stocked with dozens of different kinds of Bavarian breads and rolls, and a popular beer garden where on any given day you are likely to see locals in lederhosen and feather hats, proudly strutting their stuff. Most of the permanent stands open at 6am and stay open until 6pm on weekdays, or until 1pm on Saturday. You can buy food at the market stalls and eat it in the beer garden if you buy a beer, a soda, water, or other beverage at the beer-garden drink stand. You can easily find the market from Marienplatz; it’s bounded by Prälat-Zistl-Strasse on the west, Frauen Strasse to the south, Heiliggeiststrasse on the east, and Tal on the north.
Museumsviertel (Museum Quarter)
You could spend days exploring the four art museums that make up the Museum Quarter, also called the Kunstareal. All four are worth visiting, but the enormous Alte Pinakothek, with its world-class collection of Old Masters is a must-see. The smaller Neue Pinakothek, featuring gems from the 19th century, and the Pinakothek der Moderne and Museum Brandhorst, both in new buildings and dedicated to 20th-century art, round out this rather amazing collection of museums.
Museum Savings on Saturday & Sunday
On Saturday, you can enjoy the treasures in all three Pinakotheks (Alte, Neue, der Moderne), Museum Brandhorst, and Schack-Galerie for 1€. On Sunday, the Glyptothek, Antikensammlungen, and the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum reduce their prices to 1€.
Munich’s Other Festivals
Oktoberfest is Munich’s most famous festival. After that 16-day beer bash, there’s a lull until late November, when Marienplatz and other squares in the Altstadt gear up for the holidays with the giant Christkindlemarkt (Christmas Market). Hundreds of illuminated and decorated outdoor stands sell regional craft and food specialties and hot, spiced Glühwein. Before Lent, from January through February, the city goes into party mode again and celebrates Fasching (Carnival), a whirl of colorful parades, masked balls, and revelry. After another lull comes Starkbierzeit, another beer-themed festival, although this one is more of a local neighborhood affair that takes place at all the city’s beer gardens and brewery restaurants. The 1-liter servings of malty Starkbier (literally, “strong beer”) were originally intended to sustain the brew-brewing monks during their Lenten fast. And before you know it, all the beer gardens are open and it will soon be time for the next Oktoberfest.
Munich’s historic center is at the top of almost every first-time visitor’s itinerary, beginning with a stop at the wonderfully photo-op-worthy Marienplatz square—timed just right, of course, to watch the Glockenspiel put on its twice-daily show. Many other sights are packed into this compact area as well. The ramparts that once surrounded the medieval city were dismantled in the 19th century, but traces of them remain in the stout stone towers and arches of three Gothic city gates—Isartor, which dates from 1337, to the east of Marienplatz, the older Sendlingertor to the southwest, and the crenellated 16th-century Karlstor to the west at Karlsplatz. (Locals, by the way, always call Karlsplatz “Stachus,” after a popular pub that once stood here.)
The Residenz (Royal Palace Complex)
Before building castles in the countryside became à la mode, the Bavarian royal family, the Wittelsbachs, resided here, a short walk north of the Marienplatz. Underground portions remain from the original 1358 castle called the Neuveste, but most of what you see in this immense palace dates from the 16th century or later. The whole is a hodgepodge of styles: a Palladian facade facing the Hofgarten, Renaissance sections along Residenzstrasse, a Florentine front overlooking Max-Joseph-Platz. Its role as a royal dwelling expired with the kingdom itself in 1918, and the bombs of the subsequent World War took their toll. Yet, just like the Frauenkirche, the Münchners rebuilt the prized palace piece by piece, a fact that makes a visit here well worth it. A combined ticket gives you entry to all three parts of the complex, but there’s so much to see here, you’ll have to pick and choose. The Residenz Museum will take over two hours to visit if you let it; if you are strapped for time, the one must-see is the engrossing Schatzkammer. Then there’s the unique Cuvilliés Theater, which some may delight in while others shrug at. Also part of the complex are the Hofgarten formal gardens, the Bavarian State Theater, and the Nationaltheater.
At the southern end of Munich’s most famous public park, the sprawling Englischer Garten, stately Prinzregentenstrasse was the last-built of the “new” Munich’s four monumental boulevards. Today it is dominated by museums—principally the immense Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, but also the Haus der Kunst, a venue for rotating contemporary art exhibitions, and the delightful if quirky Schack-Gallerie.
Ludwig I (reigned 1825–48) set out to make Munich a second Athens, an endeavor best embodied in the classically inspired architecture of Königsplatz, 2 blocks south of the Museumsviertel. Here, flanking the templelike Propyläen monument, stand the Antikensammlungen and Glyptothek, housing the king's former collections of Greek and Roman artifacts. If antiquities don’t interest you, the Lenbachhaus with its outstanding collection of late-19th- and early-20th-century German art is definitely worth the trip.
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