Berlin or Munich – which city in Germany is better?
Germany is an amazing country where you can easily spend a week or even a month. But sometimes time is short and now you are comparing Berlin vs Munich. Which city offers the better tourist attractions or nightlife? Where should you go and which city can you skip?
In this guide, I’m showing you exactly what the differences between the two cities are. And the are quite different and there is quite some competition going on between the two! As a local, I think I’m in a good position to help you decide between Berlin or Munich.
See, there quite a lot of things to do in Munich, but Berlin has no shortage of tourist attractions either. Most Germans would tell you that where Munich is posh and traditional, Berlin is young and vibrant. But let’s dive in a bit deeper?
Berlin vs Munich: The main differences
Munich is the most affluent region in Germany, while Berlin is a vibrant hot pot of many different cultures and expats. Munich is very clean, quite expensive, you can experience a lot of traditional cultures, and the bavarian food & beer is quite famous throughout the world. Berlin, on the other hand, experienced an inrush of young people and expats after the Unification of Germany in 1989 and the city has evolved into a liberal gathering place for artists, thinkers, and different cultures.
Both cities are quite amazing in their own right, and you should visit both – if you can. There are direct train connections almost every hour and it just takes 4 hours to get there (see more below). But if you can’t then it boils down to personal preferences.
Munich is the home of the world-famous Oktoberfest and is both the most affluent and safest major city in Germany. It is frequently listed among the most liveable cities in the world. There are just so many day trips you can take from Bavaria’s capital. The city is defined by its many castles and lots of traditional breweries and restaurants. On top of that, you’ll find more than 60 museums in Munich and because it’s not allowed to build skyscrapers here, it feels a lot more like a small-town than the third-largest city in Germany (Population of 1.4 million; Berlin has 3.7 million).
Berlin was founded in 1237 and is thus not a lot younger than Munich (which was founded in 1158). But Berlin was almost completely destroyed at the end of World War II and especially in former East German parts the view ruins that remained were torn down and replaced with the typical brutalist architecture of the communisms. So, don’t expect an old town or fairy-tale castles. Young people filled the vacuum with lots of exciting projects after the reunification. Modern art galleries, underground clubs, independent fashion labels, experimental restaurants and so on. It has a unique metropolitan flair you won’t find anywhere else in Germany.
I would visit Munich if…
- you love sight-seeing and generally are interested in exploring ancient churches and other world-renowned tourist-attractions
- you love beautiful palaces and fairy tale castles and would love to see Neuschwanstein Castle which inspired Disney for the Sleeping beauty castle
- you want to experience the traditional side of Germany. Not everyone runs around in Lederhosen in Munich, but there are lots of traditional restaurants, festivals, and beer gardens where you can still experience the real thing.
- you want it safe and without big surprises. In Munich’s gigantic pedestrian area (almost 3 kilometers) you will see almost no beggars, homeless people, etc. It’s very clean on top of that.
- you enjoy visiting museums. While Berlin does have the famous Museum Island it just cannot compare to Munich’s gigantic Museum quarter.
- you love cars. Munich is the headquarter of BMW and there is an outstanding car museum here.
I would visit Berlin if…
- if you want to experience the intoxicating atmosphere of a young metropolis. Berlin is less about ticking off a list of tourist attractions and more about enjoying the city-life
- you love to go out at night. The nightlife in Munich is rather static and traditional. In Berlin, there’s a new exciting club opening almost every weekend.
- you want to go shopping. There are many smaller boutiques and exciting independent designers in Berlin – not just the usual highstreet suspects you find in every major city all over Europe.
- you enjoy getting in contact with modern art and many different cultures. Berlin is a true melting pot. You could have breakfast at a luxury hotel, lunch at a Turkish restaurant, dine at a Mongolian and go out at an exciting LGBTQ party in the evening. On the downside, there are quite some rundown areas and poor districts in the city. The criminality is much higher than in Munich as well (but still somewhat low compared to other major cities in the world).
- you love street art (street art is virtually non-existing in Munich) and street food
- you are interested in politics and would love to learn more about the newer German history.
Munich vs Berlin nightlife
I have been going out in Munich for 20+ years. And I like it. We do have some nice clubs (like Blitz, HarryKlein, Bahnwärter Thiel), but I really have to say that it’s nothing compared with the nightlife in Berlin. The clubbing scene in Munich doesn’t change a lot. The P1 opened up in the 80ies and it’s still a thing in 2020. And if you go to a hip-hop party, that means Wu-Tang Clan and other 90ies classics. We do have some really nice bars in the Glockenbackviertel though! Basically it’S a whole quarter where you’ll find a bar/restaurant in every house.
The nightlife in Berlin is much more casual. The clubs are cooler, the music is better. The places open up, others close down – together with the constant influx of tourists/and ex-pats, it’s never getting boring. There’s a new exciting party every day of the week and the Berghain is often called the best club in the world. It has certainly one of the most interesting door policies.
That being said, Munich’s cultural landscape is a bit better. The Bayerische Staatsoper counts among the top 10 opera houses in the world (2018 it was even awarded the best in the world) and there are quite a lot of bigger and smaller theaters as well. While the Berliner Philharmoniker are one of the most famous orchestras in the world, most critics will agree that the rest of the classical offers in Berlin are not en par with Munich.
Munich is more a bar/restaurant city while Berlin has always been famous for its clubs (especially electronic music)
Berlin vs Munich living/expats
Ask ten Germans whether living in Berlin or Munich is better and you’ll get 10 different answers. These two cities are not only very different for tourists but also in terms of living quality.
Unemployment is much lower in Munich than in Berlin, so with a good qualification, it’s quite easy to find a job. At the same time, rents are much higher as well (the highest in Germany) and so are the prices restaurants and bars.
Berlin, on the other hand, has a lot of young expats and immigrants. People in Berlin are usually much more open towards strangers as well, which makes it an easier city to make friends and fit in.
That being said, both cities are quite huge and Munich has some rather infamous districts as well. Still, everything I said above about Munich vs Berlin naturally applies to living there as well.
Taking the train from Munich to Berlin
A lot of Americans are quite amazed when they find out about Europe’s fantastic railway system. Nobody in the US would ever think about taking the train from LA to New York. In Germany, it’s rather the other way round. There is a direct highspeed train leaving from Munich to Berlin (and vice versa) more or less every hour and it just takes 4 hours.
Just go to the official website of the German Railway, check the schedule and book it online. Just remember to reserve your seats, as these trains are very popular and often quite full.
That being said, taking the plane is a possibility as well. It takes 1h 20 minutes and plane tickets (especially if you pick easyJet) are sometimes even cheaper than the train (but usually about the same price). Be aware, however, that you will need roughly 1 hour from Munich central station to the airport, you have to be there around 1 hour before departure and it takes another 30 minutes to get to the city center.
So, it will take just as much time as the train. I personally prefer the railway because it’s a) better for the climate and b) more comfortable c) less stress (security checks, getting to the airport, etc). Depending on your departure time and itinerary, it could be better to take the plane, though. In the end, it really doesn’t matter a lot.
Berlin vs Munich – the final verdict
Munich is the better city for people who like to see Germany’s traditional side and like to explore magnificent tourist attractions and fairy-tale castles. Berlin, on the other hand, will be ideal for people who would like to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of a young city. People who love to go shopping, hanging out in bars or going to exciting night clubs will feel at home here.
Try to visit both, if you can. Your picture of Germany won’t be complete with just visiting one.
At the very end, you should know that thinking of Munich or Berlin in black-and-white terms might be a mistake. There are some wonderful underground clubs and street festivals in Bavaria’s capital, just like there you could go to the opera or a beer garden in Berlin. You just might have to look a bit harder.