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Exploring Munich’s Many Treasures
If you think of Germany as the land of Oktoberfest, Christmas markets, medieval churches, and Black Forest cake—and the Black Forest itself, for that matter—then Bavaria and its capital, Munich, should be at the top of your to-visit list. If, on the other hand, Germany evokes seamless efficiency, cities with beautifully maintained parks and reliable transit, and state-of-the-art automotive engineering, well, you should also prioritize Munich for your next trip. 

Though the population is 1.4 million, in its very walkable historic heart—much of it zoned for pedestrians—it feels surprisingly intimate. It is one of those rare cities that is large enough to feel cosmopolitan, but small enough that you’ll still be welcomed like a friend. 

Munich dates back to the 12th century, and history feels alive here, from the city hall to the majestic Frauenkirche whose towers dominate the skyline. Munich also caters to art lovers. The Wittelsbach family that ruled Bavaria for centuries amassed an extensive collection much of which is on display in their former palace, the Residenz Museum, and the Alte Pinakothek. And that’s just the beginning—the city counts more than 80 museums.  

Whether you travel to Munich for the old masters or for steins in centuries-old beer halls like the Hofbräuhaus, the best way to begin is on a flight with Lufthansa, the largest German airline, from one of their 19 U.S. gateways. As one of Lufthansa’s major hubs, there are direct flights from 10 U.S. airports. When you arrive to Munich’s airport, which was named Europe’s Best Airport by Skytrax this year, you will have already have had your first taste of the warm hospitality that you’ll learn to expect in the city.
  • Day 1
    Englischer Garten
    From the airport, it’s an easy 45-minute journey into the city center, with trains departing every 20 minutes. If you want to stay in a hotel fit for a king, head to the Bayerischer Hof, commissioned by King Ludwig I for a prominent site on the Promenadeplatz and opened in 1841. It’s a popular choice for celebrities, in part because with five restaurants, six bars and even its own theater, you never need leave the hotel. It is just as luxurious, however, if you are using it as a base to rather than hide from paparazzi.

    If your budget is more modest, or your tastes favor the contemporary, the Hotel Lux may be more your style. The hotel lacks some amenities—like room service—but its location can’t be beat, near lively Marienplatz and the Hofbräuhaus.

    One of Munich’s top attractions is the Englischer Garten, bigger even than New York’s Central Park. Its name refers to its informal landscape design, an aesthetic developed by Capability Brown that became fashionable in much of the world, including 18th-century Bavaria. (The garden was actually designed by an American, albeit it a loyalist who left the United States after the Revolution.) It includes a Japanese teahouse, a Chinese pagoda, a lake, and even surfing on artificial streams.

    Have dinner tonight at Käfer-Schänke, which serves haute versions of German dishes with both a €99 ($117) tasting menu and an a la carte one. After a renovation in 2013, the dining room became brighter and livelier, and the loyal clientele of both travelers and residents seem pleased with the upgrade.
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    Photo By David Holt
    Day 2
    Art and Beer
    The Pinakothek is one of the world’s great art museums—actually, it is three museums, all in the central Kunstareal neighborhood. The Alte Pinakothek is one of the oldest art galleries in the world with a focus on old masters, from Spain and Italy to Northern European works. Its particular strengths are its collection of works by Rubens, as well as those by German artists—Cranach, Dürer, and Holbein among them. If you’re in search of Impressionists, you’ll find them at the The Neue Pinakothek, along with Goya and Gainsborough, Sisley and Schiele. Finally, the Pinakothek der Moderne brings the story up to the present day. This museum, opened in 2002, houses modern and contemporary works divided into four categories: art, architecture, design, and works on paper.

    All three museums have cafés, but if you want to take a break and a stroll before you become overwhelmed, the Teresa Grill is open from noon to 3 pm and its specialty is steaks and other grilled meats, though fish dishes and salads are also on the menu.

    Tonight you’ll experience what Munich is perhaps best known for, its raucous beer halls. The Weisses Bräuhaus, or Schneider Bräuhaus, is a classic tavern that specializes in wheat beers—cloudy, golden, and slightly citrusy. You can enjoy yours with pretzels, sausages, and crispy pork skins, and while apple strudel might seem like an odd pairing, you should save some room for theirs.
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    Photo By josu.orbe
    Day 3
    Driven to Distraction
    Head north of central Munich today to visit two very different attractions. It takes roughly 20 minutes on the U-Bahn to reach the BMW Welt and Museum, or BMW World and Museum. This elaborate celebration of BMW’s history and its current line of cars and motorcycles opened in 2007. The BMW Welt section is free and offers a look at the latest designs as well as projects currently in development. The museum covers BMW’s 90-year history—it’s a good idea to reserve the €10 ($12) tickets in advance. Even if you don’t think exhibits on cars could hold your attention, we suspect you’ll find the BMW Welt and Museum surprisingly fascinating. The stunning architecture and the excellent rooftop restaurant are draws as well.

    Nearby, the Olympiapark was built for the 1972 Olympic Games. Check in advance to see if there are any concerts or performances during your visit—from musical acts to Cirque de Soleil and ice-skating competitions, the park has a crowded calendar. Even if there isn’t an event, guided tours will interest architects (armchair or professional ones) with the park’s remarkable tensile structure designed by Frei Otto and Gunther Behnisch to echo the peaks of the Bavarian Alps. The park’s tower offers views of all of Munich; take an elevator to 623-foot-high viewing platform.

    Have dinner tonight at No Mi Ya. Germans don’t eat sausage and pretzels every night, and you shouldn’t either. The restaurant’s sushi and skewers make it one of the city’s best Japanese options.
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    Photo By Polybert49
    Day 4
    Beyond the City Walls
    If you’ve traveled the whole way to Munich, it would be a shame not to see some more of Bavaria.

    The most famous site is Schloss Neuschwanstein, the famous fairytale castle completed in 1892 for the “Mad King” Ludwig II. It takes less than two hours to drive to the castle, but a little over three hours by train, so you may want to consider a rental car (Germany’s autobahns are famously well maintained). The dramatic castle is visited by more than a million people each year—reserve your tickets at least two days in advance. If you would rather leave the driving to someone else, many companies offer tours from Munich.

    Another popular daytrip is to the Walchensee. An hour south of Munich, the turquoise lake is surrounded by walking trails and sits in the middle of the Bavarian Alps. From the lake a cable car ascends to the summit of Herzogstand (elevation 5,679 feet) where the Berggasthaus Herzogstand serves Bavarian specialties and cakes—on sunny days on the terrace overlooking the lake.
  • Day 5
    Something Old, Something New
    Munich’s most imposing landmark is the Residenz, a vast palace with 10 courtyards constructed from the 14th to 19th centuries. The complex was the seat of the Wittelsbach family, the kings of Bavaria until the Revolution of 1918, at which point it became a museum. Today 130 rooms that reflect the wealth of the monarchs are open to the public. After you have finished touring, make sure to see the Hofgarten—the palace gardens just to the north of the Residenz.

    Head for lunch at the Schrannenhalle, a 19th-century food hall reborn in 2011 as a gourmet market with stalls selling liqueurs, teas, cheeses, and other local products—it’s a good place to pick up any last-minute souvenirs. The hall includes stalls from the Michelin-starred Tantris and, as of the end of 2015, the Munich branch of Eataly.

    In the afternoon, head to one of Munich’s newer attractions, the Foster & Partners addition to the Lenbachhaus Museum. Opened in 2013, the building’s exterior consists of a series of copper and aluminum tubes, leading to frequent comparisons to a jewel box. Inside you’ll find the world’s most important collection of works by the Blue Rider group of Expressionist artists, active at the beginning of the 20th century and including Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc.

    Along with the Residenz, the Hofbräuhaus arguably belongs on every Munich must-see list. The beer hall dates from the end of the 16th century, and while it is perhaps too popular with tourists for its own good, there are few places as atmospheric to sample some of Bavaria’s best brews.
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    Photo By La Citta Vita
    Day 6
    Depart
    You have only scratched the surface of Munich’s museums, so you may want to hit one more if your flight leaves later in the day. The Villa Stuck is a masterpiece of Jugendstil design, the Museum Brandhorst has an excellent collection of contemporary art, and the State Collection of Antiquities is filled with pieces excavated by German archaeologists in Greece and Italy. If you have had your fill of culture, the Fünf Höfe is an upscale mall—it was an early success of the now famous Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron—with 60 shops. Don’t feel like you need to hit every site before you go, however. Munich will await your return and Lufthansa will be ready to get you there.