Munich is quintessential Germany. Where Berlin and Frankfurt may disappoint you with their modern style, Munich is the land of lederhosen, weighty pork dishes, traditional biergartens, and the biggest beer festival in the world. It doesn't hurt that this cosmopolitan city also has no shortage of architecture and culture—some museums are considered even better than those in Berlin! No trip to Munich is complete without visiting these 23 attractions and sights. Luckily, many of them are in the center of Munich's Old Town and you can easily walk from one landmark to the next.
Munich's Marienplatz (Marien Square) is the central square in the heart of Munich.
It's home to the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) with its highly decorated façade and the traditional Ratskeller (Town Hall cellar) restaurant. The Tourist Information Center is also nearby and makes a great pit stop for advice and brochures.
For most visitors, the Glockenspiel within the Rathaus tower captures most of the attention. From March through October, this famous clock chimes every day at 11 a.m., noon, and 5 p.m. When its 43 bells ring out, more than 30 figures make merry, fight, and dance! Finally, a golden bird chirps three times to end the show. If you miss these show times, you have one more chance at 9 p.m. to watch an angel and a night watchman appear.
If you're visiting the city at Christmas time, don't miss the largest Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) in the entire city.
For many people, Munich is synonymous with Oktoberfest. There is so much more to the city, but that doesn't mean you should skip the world's greatest beer fest.
A tradition since 1810, more than 6.3 million visitors pour into the city every fall. On opening day, the mayor of Munich taps the first keg in the Schottenhamel beer tent with the exclamation "O'zapft is!" (It is tapped!). For the next two weeks, more than 7.5 million liters of beer will be consumed.
No matter what time of year you visit, the best beer halls in Munich are still happily serving.
True Munich beer halls brew their own beer and present it in the atmosphere it was meant to be drunk, typically alongside platters of meat by tracht-clad (traditional clothing) servers with boisterous oompah music.
Even though it's touristy, don't miss the world-famous Hofbrauhaus. It's Bavarian hospitality at its best in a fabled environment.
Along with the Rathaus, the twin towers of the Frauenkirche define Munich's skyline. It is the city's largest church with room for 20,000 pious visitors and it dates back to the 15th century.
When you enter the church, you'll immediately see the Teufelstritt, a mysterious footprint called the "Devil's Footstep." Legend says this black mark was where the devil stamped his foot. It also miraculously survived World War II, despite severe damage to the rest of the cathedral.
For a more heavenly perspective, climb the steps of the cathedral’s towers for an unparalleled view of Munich's cityscape and the Bavarian Alps.
Munich's English Garden (Englischer Garten) is the largest park in the city and the designated hang-out on any sunny day.
Attractions within the park are numerous. You can rent a paddle boat, stroll along the wooded paths, or visit one of its traditional beer gardens. But if you really want to relax, you can let it all hang out on its grassy lawn—and yes, we mean go nude.
Moments from the civility of Marienplatz, the meadow of Schönfeldwiese welcomes everyone to from retirees to college students. Feel free to join in, but refrain from taking pictures.
Try Surfing at the Eisbach Canal
Even though it's hundreds of miles from the ocean, Munich's visitors walking the perimeter of the Englischer Garten come across the Eisbach canal and are surprised to find surfers there.
Munich is the birthplace of the unusual sport of river surfing. Intrepid surfers suit up throughout the year to take on the fierce waves erupting from the bridge and see how long they can hold on.
Munich's beer gardens are among the country's best. At most, long wooden picnic tables stretch out below century-old chestnut trees and waitresses loaded down with steins breeze between the tables. Munich is home to almost 200 beer gardens including the largest in the world, Hirschgarten, which seats a whopping 8,000 people.
Once the home of royalty, the Residence Palace of Munich is open to the public. It is free to walk the grounds, but curious visitors should really step inside.
Construction began in 1385 on what was to become the largest city palace in Germany. Today, the place is home to one of the best European museums of interior decoration, 10 courtyards, and 130 rooms of regal antiques, artwork, porcelain, and tapestries. Don't miss the Antiquarium (Hall of Antiquities), which dates back to 1568. It is the largest Renaissance hall north of the Alps and features an incredible ceiling of alternating gold and paintings.
Viktualienmarkt is Munich's daily outdoor farmers' market. Its 140 booths offer the best in seasonal specialties from spargel (that's asparagus, by the way) to strawberries.
The Viktualienmarkt began in the early 19th century and attracts Müncheners, tourists, and even local chefs. There is a butchers' hall, bakery, fish market, and flower area. If you can't wait to eat, some of Germany's best sausages, and bretzeln (pretzels) are cooked up fresh.
Above the market is the maibaum (maypole), decorated with figures from their various trades.
Munich's three Pinakothek museums cover the range of great art throughout the ages.
The Alte Pinakothek (Old Picture Gallery) is one of the oldest art galleries in the world. It holds more than 700 European masterpieces from the Middle Ages to the end of the Rococo period.
The Pinakothek der Moderne is the largest museum for modern art in Germany with photography and video from greats like Picasso and Warhol.
Visitors follow the "path of the prisoner," walking the same way prisoners were forced to travel after their arrival in the camp. The original prisoner baths, barracks, courtyards, and the crematorium are all available to visit in horrifying detail.
The Olympic Stadium in Munich was built for the 1972 Olympic Games and is still a wonder of technology.
The design of the acrylic glass roof is modeled on the Alps, and on a clear day you can actually see the mountains. Access is only available during the summer and through a guided tour. Panels describe the momentous moments of the Games, as well as life of the stadium afterwards.
The Deutsches Museum (German Museum) is one of the oldest and largest science and technology museums in the world. There are 17,000 artifacts taking visitors from early developments like the first automobile to the laboratory bench where the atom was first split.
Interactive exhibits entertain the children and enough trains, planes, and automobiles to keep everyone's imagination moving. Some exhibits are closed for renovations until 2020.
Jump in a Lake
Just a short ride on public transport from the city, Starnberger See drops you back into nature. There are views of the Alps—including the Zugspitze—as well as six castles, but most people can't stop looking at the stunning azure hue of the lake. If you're ready to get wet, Starnberger See is the ideal location for swimming, boating, or sunbathing.
Tierpark Hellabrunn is more of a nature preserve than a zoo, with almost 20,000 animals spread out over 89 acres. Since its inception in 1911 as the first geo-zoo, their focus has been providing a quality experience for the animals and visitors.
Tierpark Hellabrunn consistently ranks among the best zoos in Europe, thanks to thoughtful and beautiful exhibits like the historically listed Elephant House, crowd-pleasers like the petting zoo, picnic spots, and pony and camel rides for children during summer.
The summer residence of the Wittelsbach Electors, this large Baroque palace from the 17th century is known as Schloss Nymphenburg "Castle of the Nymphs" or simply Nymphenburg.
It has a massive span of 600 meters from wing to wing and is bordered on both sides by the Nymphenburg Canal. Water features abound, offering a cooling spray in summer and a natural ice-skating rink in winter. Multiple garden pavilions dot the grounds, with Amalienburg, the palace hunting lodge, famous for its Hall of Mirrors and European rococo design.
The Steinerner Saal (Stone Hall) in the Central Pavilion dates back to 1674. Styled like an Italian villa, its private chambers cover three floors of the central pavilion which are lavishly decorated. The Palace Chapel is elaborately illustrated with the life of Mary Magdalene.
If you are traveling with little movie buffs, take them to the Bavaria Filmstadt (Bavaria Film Studios), Munich’s answer to Hollywood.
This is Europe’s largest film making center with a storied history of great films. Beloved props include Falkor, the dragon from "The Neverending Story" (Die unendliche Geschichte in German). Drama-loving adults can step into Das Boot (The Boat).
For a bit of live action, there are regular stunt shows of fights, fires, and falls. Guided tours of the studio are available in English.
The Isar River's fast-running section known as the Eisbach shoots through the Englischer Garten and provides the rapid waters for surfing, but elsewhere it runs much more calmly.
The river has undergone a mass renovation in Munich and is now to go-to spot for lazy summer days. Rafting, swimming, fishing, picnicking, grilling, or simply sunbathing (with or without clothes) on its rocky shores are a mainstay of sunny days.
Located next to Munich's largest synagogue, the Jewish Museum is an eye-catcher. All glass and stone and fronted by a menorah, the museum is unusual in that it studies the immigration. It also covers the history of Munich’s Jewish community, festivals and rites of passage.
The nearby community center offers a school, auditorium and a kosher restaurant.
Admire the Historic Odeonsplatz
Ludwigstraße and Briennerstraße lead off from the square, and Odeonsplatz has traditionally been an important site for parades and events. The annual parade to Oktoberfest follows this route. And under the Nazi regime, a statue honoring fallen soldiers was here and required a salute by all those that passed by. The monument was demolished, but there is still a plaque in the pavement and on the wall of the Residenz.
Worship at St. Peter's Church
Peterskirche or St. Peter's Church is Munich's oldest parish church. Rebuilt after a fire and dedicated in 1368, it was established by monks.
It stands apart from the city on a hill appropriately named Petersberg. Inside, red marble monuments by Erasmus Grasser and golden statues grace the sides while paintings adorn the cieling. Climb the 299-steps up the tower with its eight clock faces and eight bells.
Feel the Speed at BMW Welt
Stuttgart may be "car city," but Müncheners also love their cars. BMW's stunning headquarters and factories (BMW Welt) are located next to Olympic Park. A modern twisting design of glass, the museum showcases nearly every model the company has ever made. Sports cars, racing models, and motorcycles all look as if they could speed away at any minute. If you want a BMW to come home with you, there's even a distribution center!
Few people staying in Munich for more than a few days can resist the allure of Germany's most famous castle, Neuschwanstein.
Just two hours from the city, this fairy-tale castle was the basis for the modern castles of Disney. Hidden away above Füssen and framed by the Alps, it receives more than six million visitors a year.