The Historic Center
Time: 2 1/2 hours, not counting shopping or any visits inside places mentioned here.
Best Times: Daylight hours during clement weather.
Worst Times: Monday to Friday from 7:30 to 9am and 4:30 to 6pm, because of heavy traffic.
With a history spanning centuries of building and rebuilding, Munich is one of Europe's most architecturally interesting cities. Postwar developments have marred Munich's once-homogeneous look, but in rebuilding their city after the war, Münchners tried to respect tradition as much as possible. If you, like the ordinary visitor, have time for only one walking tour, make it the historic center, the point where the city began before it branched out in all directions.
First take either the U-Bahn or the S-Bahn to Marienplatz. After leaving the subway stop, the tour of the historic center begins to the immediate west, where you'll see a dignified cathedral with impressive brickwork.
This cathedral was begun in 1468 on the site of a much older church and was completed after 20 years. The majestically somber building is capped with twin towers. In spite of massive bombings, these towers escaped Allied bombardments during World War II. They now serve as landmarks on Munich's skyline and have also become a symbol of the city.
Walk southeast along any of the pedestrian alleyways radiating away from the rear of the church. In a couple of minutes, you're in the most famous medieval square of Munich.
In the center of this square, a golden statue of the Virgin Mary (the Mariensäule) rises above pavement that was first laid in the 1300s when the rest of the city's streets were a morass of mud and sewage. On the square's northern boundary sits the richly ornamented, neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus (New City Hall), built between 1867 and 1908 as a symbol of Munich's power. On its facade is the famous Glockenspiel, the mechanical clock that performs a miniature tournament several times a day. At the square's eastern border, beyond a stream of traffic, is the simpler and smaller Altes Rathaus (Old City Hall), which was rebuilt in its present form in 1470 after fire destroyed an even earlier version.
From the square, walk south along Rindermarkt, encircling the masonry bulk of:
This church's interior is a sun-flooded fantasy of baroque stucco and gilt. Completed in 1180, the church was built on the foundations of a Romanesque basilica erected around 1000. St. Peter's is the oldest parish church in Munich, and for many years, it was the only one. Explore the richly decorated interior, if you have time. If not, settle for a view of the impressive Gothic facade, which was constructed between 1379 and 1386 after a fire destroyed the church in 1327.
Walk around the outside of the church to the back, where you'll find the sprawling premises of one of the best-stocked food emporiums in Europe, the:
Known as "Munich's stomach," this is where you can snack, have a beer, pick up makings for a picnic, or just observe the ritual of European grocery shopping.
At the northern end, at the corner where streets Rosen Tal and Im Tal meet, rises the richly ornate baroque walls of the:
5. Heiliggeist (Holy Ghost) Church
This Gothic "Hall Church" originally belonged to the 14th-century Hospice of the Holy Ghost, a medieval order flourishing in the 1300s. It was built on foundations laid by another structure in the 12th century, and the church was completed in 1730. After other hospice buildings were demolished in 1885, three bays were added to the western facade of the church, giving it a neobaroque facade. World War II bombs brought much destruction, and only the original choir, buttresses, and north wall of the nave remain intact. The rest of the building is a reconstruction.
Cross the busy boulevard identified as Im Tal and walk north along Maderbraustrasse (within a block it changes to Orlandostrasse). Here, look for the entrance to the most famous beer hall in Europe, the state-owned:
For a description, For now, note its location for an eventual return.
Now, walk northwest along Pfisterstrasse. To your left are the walls of the:
7. Alter Hof
This palace was originally built in 1255, and once served as the palace of the Wittelsbachs, although it was later eclipsed by even grander palaces. Since 1816, it has housed the colorless offices of Munich's financial bureaucracies.
On the opposite (northern) edge of Pfisterstrasse rise the walls of the:
Built between 1563 and 1567, this building has, during its lifetime, housed, in turn, the imperial stables, the first museum north of the Alps, and (1809-1986) a branch of the government mint. Today, it's headquarters for Munich's Landmark Preservation office (Landesamt für Denkmalschutz). If it's open, the double tiers and massive stone columns of the building's Bavarian Renaissance courtyard are worth a visit.
Pfisterstrasse funnels into a broader street, Hofgraben. Walk west for 1 block, and then turn right (north) along Residenzstrasse. The first building on your right is the main post office (Hauptpost), and a few paces on is:
Designed as a focal point for the monumental Maximilianstrasse that radiates east, the plaza was built in the 19th century on the site of a Franciscan convent in honor of Bavaria's first king.
At the north edge of the plaza lie the vast exhibition space and labyrinthine corridors of one of Munich's finest museums, the:
Constructed in different stages and styles from 1500 to 1850, the Residenz was the official home of Bavarian rulers until 1918. Restored and rebuilt in its original form after World War II, the complicated site has seven semiconcealed courtyards, lavish apartments that have housed foreign visitors like Elizabeth II and Charles de Gaulle, and museums that include the Residenz Museum, the Treasure House of the Residenz, the richly gilded rococo Cuvilliés Theater (1753), and the Herkulessaal, a concert hall noted for its baroque decorations.
Walk from Max-Joseph-Platz north along Residenzstrasse. Make the first left and walk west on Viscardigasse. Within another block, turn right (north) along Theatinerstrasse. On your right you'll immediately notice an important Munich landmark, the:
This open-air loggia was designed by Friedrich von Gärtner and constructed between 1841 and 1844. Von Gärtner's model was the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence. King Ludwig I commissioned the construction of the loggia as a tribute to the Bavarian army. The bronze figures honoring Bavarian generals Tilly (1559-1632) and Wrede (1767-1838) are based on drawings by Ludwig Schwanthaler.
The two lions on the steps are the work of a sculptor, Ruemann, in 1906. Although Hitler's attempted putsch in Munich failed, along with the subsequent march to the Feldherrnhalle, the loggia later became a Nazi rallying point. Today, the Brown Shirts are replaced by street singers and musicians.
On the western (opposite) side of the same street (Theatinerstrasse) is the:
12. Theatinerkirche (Church of St. Kajetan)
Completed in 1690, this church's triple-domed, Italian-baroque facade was added about a century later by the Cuvilliés team of father and son. Its crypt contains the tombs of many of the Wittelsbachs.
Continue north, passing through Odeonsplatz, below which several subway lines converge. On the northeastern side of this square lie the flowers, fountains, and cafes of one of Munich's most pleasant small parks, the:
Originally laid out for members of the royal court in 1613, this garden was opened to the public in 1780. Here, as well as along the avenues radiating away from it, lie many opportunities for you to:
14. Take a Break
Do as the Münchners do and enjoy the panorama of Odeonsplatz and the nearby Hofgarten. One attractive choice is Café Luitpold, Brienner Strasse 11 (tel. 089/24-28-750). Rebuilt in a streamlined design after World War II, it has, in the past, welcomed such cafe-loving habitués as Ibsen, Johann Strauss the Younger, and Kandinsky.
Walk west along Brienner Strasse, through a neighborhood lined with impressive buildings. On your right, notice the heroic statue of Maximilian I, the Great Elector (1597-1651), rising from the center of:
One of the most famous squares of Munich, Wittelsbacher-Platz evokes, for some, a grand hall. It's enveloped by palaces, most of which were designed by Leo von Klenze, including the 1820 Palais Arco-Zinneberg on the square's western side. The 1825 Wittelsbacher-Palais rises on the north side of the square. Today, it is the head office of Siemens. The impressive neoclassical equestrian statue in the center is much photographed. Bertel Thorvaldsen, one of Denmark's leading sculptors, created this statue in 1830. Also in the center is Wittelsbacher-Brunnen, or Wittelsbach Fountain, the most celebrated in the city. It is another neoclassical work, created in the last decade of the late 1800s by Adolf von Hildebrand, the noted sculptor.
Continue on Brienner Strasse until you see Maximiliansplatz to your left. This leads into the verdant and stylish perimeter of:
This leafy square begins at Max-Joseph-Platz and runs to the east. Maximilian II wanted a platz and a street more loosely defined than the rigidly designed Ludwigstrasse. Maximiliansplatz and Maximilianstrasse were conceived and designed so that shops, hotels, gardens, restaurants, offices, and public buildings could coexist side by side. Thus, the "Maximilianic style" was created, which is a medley of various styles with many elements from past architectural movements, such as Gothic. Shop at your leisure or plan to return later.
For the moment, return to Brienner Strasse, turn left (west), and head toward the 26m (85-ft.) obelisk (erected in 1833) that soars above:
This was the city's first star-shaped open space. Based on his model for the Place de l'Etoile in Paris, Karl von Fisher mapped out this square from 1809 to 1812. Although it doesn't match the radiance of its inspiration, it is nonetheless an impressive landmark. But don't judge Von Fischer too harshly when you see the square today. His uniform neoclassical look has been regrettably altered in the postwar era by buildings no longer in harmony with his original design. In the center of the square, Leo von Klenze placed an obelisk commemorating the 30,000 (or more) Bavarian soldiers who were lost in the ill-fated Russian campaign of 1812.
To the northwest, Karolinenplatz is linked by Brienner Strasse to:
In the early 19th century, Crown Prince Ludwig (later Ludwig I) selected this formal neoclassical design from an architectural competition. Its perimeter is ringed with some of Germany's most impressive museum buildings, the Doric-inspired Propyläen monument (west side), the Antikensammlungen (south side), and the Ionic-fronted Glyptothek (north side).
At Königsplatz, you will be at one of the major subway stops of Munich, a 5-minute ride south to the Hauptbahnhof, where you can catch subways to most of the major sightseeing attractions of Munich, or even to attractions in Bavaria or in the suburbs of Munich.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.