Munich's city park, the 18th-century Englischer Garten, borders Schwabing on the east and extends almost to the Isar River. This is one of the largest and most beautiful city parks in Germany. It was the brainchild of Sir Benjamin Thompson, the English scientist who spent most of his life in the service of the Bavarian government. You can wander for hours along the walks and among the trees, flowers, and sunbathers. Nude sunbathing is permitted in certain areas of the park (some claim these areas are Munich's most popular tourist attraction). For a break, stop for tea on the plaza near the Chinese pagoda, or have a beer at the nearby beer garden. You might also take along a picnic put together at the elegant shop of Alois Dallmayr, or less expensive fare from Hertie, across from the Hauptbahnhof, from Kaufhof at Marienplatz, or from Munich's famous open-air market, the Viktualienmarkt.
Bordering Nymphenburg Park to the north is the Botanischer Garten. The garden is composed of 22 hectares (54 acres) of land, and has more than 15,000 varieties of flora. Each subdivision is devoted to a particular plant variety. The highlight is the Alpine garden, laid out according to geographic region and altitude. It's at its peak during the summer months. Another favored attraction is the heather garden; visitors to the garden during the late summer months are treated to an explosion of vibrant violets and purples. Other attractions include the rose garden, the fern gorge, and the series of hothouses that are home to numerous exotic tropical plants. To reach the Botanischer Garten, located on Menzingerstrasse 67 (tel. 089/17-86-13-10; www.botmuc.de), take tram 17. The garden is open November to January daily from 9am to 5pm; February and March daily from 10am to 5pm; April, September, and October daily from 8am to 5pm; and May to August daily from 9am to 7pm. The hothouses open a half-hour before the garden. Admission is 4€ for adults and 2€ for children.
In west Munich, between Schloss Nymphenburg and the main railway line, stands the Hirschgarten. Designated by Elector Karl Theodor as a deer park in 1791, this 27-hectare (67-acre) tract of land is home to one of Munich's most tranquil stretches of greenery. In the 19th century, Münchners would visit the meadow to view the protected game as they grazed. The head huntsman secured the right to sell beer, which prompted the Hirschgarten to soar in popularity. Eventually a beer garden was established, now the largest in the world, with a capacity for 8,000 thirsty patrons. To reach the park, you can take the S-Bahn to Laim, or you can catch bus no. 32 or 83 from Steubenplatz. Although no longer a wildlife preserve, the Hirschgarten still draws the citizens of Munich for picnics, barbecues, or afternoon chess games.
Hellabrunn Zoo stands in Tierpark Hellabrunn, about 6km (3 3/4 miles) south of the city center, at Tierparkstrasse 30 (tel. 089/62-50-80; www.zoo-munich.de; U-Bahn: Thalkirchen; bus: 52). It's one of the largest zoos in the world, with hundreds of animals roaming in a natural habitat. A walk through the attractive park is recommended even if you're not a zoo buff. There's a big children's zoo, as well as a large aviary. You can visit the zoo daily 8am to 6pm (in winter 9am-5pm); admission is 9€ for adults, 6€ for students and seniors, 4.50€ for children ages 4 to 14, and free for children 3 and under. To reach the park, you can take bus no. 52, leaving the Marienplatz, or U-Bahn U3 to Thalkirchen.