A local’s list of the top tourist attractions, highlights, and things to do in Munich.
Are you planning a trip to Bavaria’s capital? And now you are wondering about the best things to do in Munich? What to see and what to skip?
Well, then I got you covered. I have been living in Munich for the past 20 years and I love exploring my hometown. So, in this guide, I am going to show you the absolute must-sees and top tourist attractions. But I also mixed in some insider tips along the way so you get a memorable experience beyond the beaten tourist tracks, so you can plan your perfect Munich itinerary (<- click to read mine)
Munich has a history of more than 800 years and is now the third-largest city in Germany. It’s also the most affluent region of my country, which sadly means you’ll face higher prices than in Berlin or Cologne. But let that not deter you – there are plenty of bargains to be had and I’m going to reveal some of them to you in this travel guide.
You will probably need around 3-4 days to see it all. There are some beautiful day trip options from Munich, so you could basically stay a week or more. But I also prepared a one day Munich itinerary, for those in a hurry. Anyways, let’s get started with my favorite Munich highlights, shall we?
Start your Munich tour at the heart of the city. The Marienplatz (Square of our Lady) with its imposing neo-gothic city hall (“Neues Rathaus“) is one of the best photography spots in the city. Every day at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. the gigantic carillon comes to life. The Munich Glockenspiel is the largest in Germany and you’ll find the square particularly crowded around these times (for a reason).
You’ll find many traditional restaurants and shops around the Marienplatz, but it’s not exactly the place where locals hang out or enjoy their dinner (but you might enjoy the Rathaus Keller right below the city hall for lunch). As it is also the start of the Munich pedestrian area, you should definitely consider walking all the way up to Stachus, as there are a couple of beautiful churches along the way and many shops to get a nice souvenir.
Note: You can actually climb the tower of the city hall for a small fee of 4.00 euros per person. You’ll get the best view, however, from the Alter Peter church tower (see below).
2. Munich Residence Palace
The Münchner Residenz has been the seat of the Bavarian kings, prince-electors, and dukes for almost 400 years. From the Renaissance to Neoclassicism, you’ll find nearly every style and epoche represented in one of the 130 staterooms you can visit on the extended tour. The magnificent Antiquarium and the Ancestor Gallery are probably the most popular parts.
I do have to warn you, however, that the Residence Palace is a true maze and you’ll need around 4 hours to see it all. Mind you, that is time well spent, as each and every flight of stairs brings you to another amazing apartment, festival hall, church or throne room. It’s easy to visit the fantastic Nibelung halls on the ground floor, but if you see the sign, definitely go downstairs and they will blow your mind! Check out my list of the 15 best castles near Munich for further inspiration.
Note: Definitely make sure to visit the outstanding Treasury on the ground floor where you can see the Bavarian crown jewels and other outstanding artwork made from gold, silver, and diamonds. It’s not covered by the standard ticket, but worth to pay the extra 5 Euros. Find more information here.
3. Church of Our Lady
The Frauenkirche is the symbol of Munich and you’ll basically find the cathedral on every postcard and brochure in my hometown. And you are lucky, 2020 is the first year the towers are free of scaffolding (after nearly 10 years of restoration work). It’s still not possible to climb them, though.
The cathedral is not only the biggest but also one of the oldest in town. It was consecrated in 1494 and remained virtually unchanged ever since – at least from outside. During World War II the church was hit by a bomb and much of the interiors got destroyed. But the bigger loss occurred 90 years older. Back then and all over Europe, it was popular to purify the baroque churches and bring them back to a “virgin” (neo-)gothic state. What you see inside now is largely a reconstruction from the 1980ies (using historic original parts).
4. Alte Pinakothek
Did you know? Munich is one of the top art metropoles on this planet. You’ll find almost 100 museums in and around Bavaria’s capital. Not all of them are world-renowned, but you definitely need to the Alte Pinakothek in Munich’s art quarter (Kunstareal; find a list of the best museums in Munich here). It is Munich’s oldest museum and home to an outstanding collection of German, Italian and Flemish old masters.
So, expect pictures by Albrecht Dürrer, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, and other master painters. They usually have a spectacular special exhibition on the ground floor worth checking out. So, definitely look it up on the official website before you visit. You’ll also find the New Pinakothek next door, but it will be closed until at least 2022 (which is the reason it does not appear on this list).
Note: The entrance fee is only 1 euro on Sundays. Also, don’t forget the Alte Pinakothek is closed on Mondays.
5. BMW World & museum
Munich is not only famous for its beer, fairy tale castles, and leather trousers. You’ll also find the BMW headquarters in the north of the city. Why is this important? Well, as a tourist you can’t visit the famous cylindrical BWM towers, but you can visit the BWM world and museum right next to it.
The BMW Welt is an architectural masterpiece and actually one of the few free things to do in Munich. It’s, more or less, one big car saloon where you can few all the current (and some past) models, futuristic innovations, and racing cars. If you are a car lover, you shouldn’t miss it. The adjacent museum is not free, but equally amazing as it takes you through the whole history of the Bayerische Motorenwerke.
Note: There is a 3-star Michelin restaurant on the third floor of the BMW Welt called Esszimmer. The Museum is closed on Mondays, while the showrooms are open all week, except on Sundays (closes at noon). Also, be aware that the Olympic Park is right next to it.
6. Nymphenburg Palace
Wondering about my personal favorite place to visit in Munich? It’s the Nymphenburg Palace. The summer residence of the Bavarian kings and prince-electors is just beautiful beyond words. You’ll find imposing staterooms and a gigantic hall with a beautiful ceiling fresco inside.
While beautiful, I love the park behind the palace even more. You’ll find a couple of smaller palaces scattered across the landscape and each of them is a true gem worth visiting. Pagodenburg, Amalienburg, and Badenburg (a bathing palace, can you believe it?) are what you need to see, but simply strolling around the English landscape park is a treat in and by itself.
There are three museums in the wings of Nymphenburg Palace that you might want to check out if you got some spare time. The carriage museum is probably the most impressive (sounds a bit dull, I know, but I promise you won’t regret it), but the Nymphenburg porcelain collection is just as beautiful. If you are traveling with kids, the Museum Mensch and Natur will be a special place.
Note: Don’t skip the adjacent Botanical Garden. Even in winter, the huge greenhouses will invite you to explore plants from all over the world.
7. Bavarian National Museum
Bavaria has a long and spectacular history. The Wittelsbacher family ruled my home country for as long as people can remember. And over the centuries they amassed quite some wealth which all become the property of the Bavarian State after World War I. If you want to delve into the fascinating history of Bavaria, then you absolutely have to visit the Bavarian National Museum.
It’s far from a boring history museum with dusty cabinets, but more an arts & design collection. Ivory, porcelain, furniture and other outstanding artworks from the past 1,000 years are on display in lovely & modern exhibition halls. It’s actually my favorite museum in Munich, as it is so diverse.
Tip: Visit on Sundays, as the entrance fee is only 1 euro (except for the special exhibitions) and take some extra time as the museum is huge and there’s quite a lot to see. And don’t skip the amazing nativity scene collection in the cellar.
8. English Garden
Looking for a beautiful escape in the middle of the city? Then head straight to the Englische Garten right behind the Munich Residence Palace. This is the place where most locals will hang out in summer (so expect it to be quite crowded on weekends). For most, it’s a popular park to go for a walk, jogging, or playing sports.
Right in the middle of it, you’ll find the Chinese Tower (Chinesische Turm). The wooden pagoda is the center of a beautiful and lively beer garden where you can enjoy a traditional stein of beer and some authentic local food. On weekends, there is even live music (typically a bavarian brass band). As an alternative, you could also walk even further to the artificial lake Kleinhesselohe where you’ll find another beer garden. Here, you could even rent a pedal boat for a little romantic outing on the water. You can also book a ride in a horse-drawn carriage if you want to add a little romantic time to your visit in Munich
Note: The Englische Garten several kilometers long. No need to explore it all, but don’t limit yourself to the tiny Hofgarten right behind the palace. At least try to see the Monopteros temple, which is a particularly scenic viewpoint.
9. Pinakothek der Moderne
I already mentioned the Alte Pinakothek, but there is actually a fantastic museum for lovers of modern art as well. I personally love the building of the Pinakothek der Moderne, as it offers o many viewpoints and fantastic lines of sight. The collection is quite amazing as well. Gerhard Richter, Picasso, Salvador Dali, Joseph Beuys – there are notable artworks from all the famous artists of the 20th century on display.
In the basement, you will find a beautiful design collection. There’s not only Art Nouveau but also contemporary industrial design. So, you’ll find the first apple pc, game boys, and smartphones there, along with outstanding cars and modern furniture.
Tip: If you like contemporary art, then you should visit the Museum Brandhorst is right behind the museum.
For most of its history, Munich wasn’t a large city. It only started to really grow at the beginning of the 19th century. But as the city gained prominence, there came a need for further representation and the Königsplatz ist the best example of this burgeoning importance. Here, King Ludwig of Bavaria had a neoclassical ensemble built to house two ancient greek museums.
It all looks a bit like a mixture of an ancient Egyptian temple and the Acropolis, which probably was the intended effect. Famous architect Leo von Klenze is responsible for the eclectic mix. Fans of classical greek sculptures will love the Glypthotek Museum on the right side, while lovers of ancient Greek pottery, bronze, and jewelry should definitely visit the Antikensammlung on the left side.
Hofbräuhaus – no other place is as deeply connected with the Bavarian beer culture than the most popular restaurant among tourists. You’ll find it in the heart of the Munich old town, with an endless mass of souvenir shops nearby. The place dates to 1589 when a new brewery was built to supply the court, but the current building was only finished in 1897.
I do have to warn you, however, that it is a place for tourists and it always was. Locals really don’t go there, because even in the 19th century it was already extremely popular among visitors. So, popular, they had to move the actual brewery on the outskirts (to Maxweberplatz) to make room for more tables. But then again, if you want to see a big Bavarian beer hall with live music and authentic food, it’s probably one of the best places to visit in Munich. The beer is actually quite good as well. The place is huge, so try to go a bit further to the back (or on the second floor) to escape the crowds.
Note: Hofbräuhaus is by far the only beer hall in the city center. Augustinerbräu or Schneider Bräuhaus are viable alternatives that are actually a bit more authentic.
Munich became very popular among artists in the second half of the 19th century. So, popular, in fact, that a few artists were celebrated like pop stars. Franz von Lenbach was one of them. He was famous for his portraits among the aristocracy and heads of state, and made a fortune painting them. His oeuvre is basically a who-is-who of the late 19th century. He built himself a huge villa which is now home to a museum, and you can even tour his old apartment.
The majority of the museum is dedicated to the artist from the Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter). If you love Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, August Macke, Gabriele Münter, Paul Klee, Marianne von Werefkin, then you won’t find a better place to enjoy their works on this planet. They also acquired some important installations by Joseph Beuys, so it’s really worth visiting. Here’s the official website.
There are many wonderful restaurants in the inner city, but if you want to sample authentic bavarian food it really doesn’t get any better than the Viktualienmarkt. You’ll find the gourmet farmers market right behind the central square, and it’s full of booths selling cheese, sausages, vegetables, and fruits. And the far back, there are also a couple of smaller street food stalls and juice bars.
Most importantly, there is a beer garden in the middle of it all. So, why is this important? According to the Bavarian beer garden law, you are allowed to bring your own food to your table. You only need to buy the trinks (if you can’t handle a stein full of beer, get a Radler, which is beer mixed with lemonade). I recommend you to browse the market, buy yourself some snacks, and then sit down and eat them while enjoying a cold blond bavarian beer (it’s self-service, so you have to go to the counter).
Interesting to note: The beer garden serves a different kind of beer each day on a rotating basis. There is a sign above the counter which tells you which brewery is being served on that particular day)
14. Theatinerkirche & Odeonsplatz
There is a third major square in Munich you cannot miss: Odeonsplatz. Most tourist guides will tell you the story about how the Feldherrnhalle is the place where Adolf Hitler failed in his first putsch. While we should never forget the grizzly parts of our past, I urge you to focus on the beautiful Theatiner church instead. To me, it’s the most beautiful church in Munich.
Why? Well, while all the other churches got either purged of their baroque splendor or are Bavarian fantasy kitsch, this one is pure elegance. The impressive stucco works inside are definitely baroque, but as the interiors are all white, it’s a sort of timeless beauty hard to escape.
Insider tip: Every Sunday morning they celebrate a Latin high mass accompanied by a classic church concerto and choir. Find out more here.
15. Day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle
Munich is a beautiful city, but you should definitely consider doing at least one day trip. There are around 50 (I am not even joking!) beautiful UNESCO World Heritage sites, landmarks, and national parks close-by, but most tourists will probably want to see Neuschwanstein Castle. This is the castle that inspired Disney’s Sleeping beauty castle, and it is a true must-see.
It takes about 2 hours to get there by train, but you can also book a guided bus tour which I actually recommend. It is the only way you can ensure to get tickets to go inside, otherwise you have to try to book it via the official website at least 2 days in advance using a weird pdf form. Schloss Neuschwanstein is the last castle King Ludwig II built during his short lifetime, but certainly not the last. Linderhof palace or Herrenchiemsee are just as beautiful.
Note: Please be aware that the most beautiful viewpoint (i.e the Marienbrücke) might be closed in winter. There is another castle, Hohenschwangau Castle, right next to it, you could also visit!
16. Alter Peter
The Church of St. Peter is the oldest church in Munich and was probably founded around 1225 AD. You’ll find it about 50 meters away from Marienplatz. It’s a prime example of late bavarian baroque, and you’ll find a marvelous fresco on the ceiling and a beautiful high altar made, so it seems, from pure silver and gold.
The clock tower, called “old Pete” among locals, is one of the most spectacular things to see in Munich. The platform at the top is around 80 meters high and from here you can see the whole inner city. Whether it’s the neogothic city hall, the old city hall or the Church of our Lady – you can breathe it in from the lofty heights. And don’t be afraid – there is a cage around the platform, so even people suffering from vertigo will feel reasonably safe.
Note: There is no elevator and you have to climb all the way to the top. The tower in the city hall does have an elevator so it might be the better choice for physically impaired people.
17. Deutsche Museum
The Deutsche Museum (‘The German Museum’) is the most visited museum in Germany. You might picture cabinets full of dusty books and pictures, but it is in fact a technical museum. Astronomy, geology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, aviation – you’ll find a huge section for nearly every part of the technology that defines our modern life.
Most of the exhibitions are very interactive (with lots of buttons to press for kids), video installations, and even a planetarium at the very top. But it’s also one gigantic complex covering the biggest island on the river Isar in the city center. You probably need a full day to see it all. So, either bring a lot of time or focus on only two or three sections.
18. Friedensengel & Art Nouveau houses
Did you know that there are way over a hundred beautiful Art Nouveau houses in Munich? Most Munich travel guides don’t even mention this fascinating part of my hometown, yet it’s certainly nothing you should miss. The famous Friedensengel marks the beginning of this movement, but certainly not its end. You can easily go on a fantastic free walking tour through either Bogenhausen (start at Prinzregentenplatz) or in Schwabingen (Ainmillerstrasse) and explore the many Art Nouveau city villas and mansions there.
The Müller’sche Volksbad is a prime example of the Jugendstil and you can actually still go swimming inside. If you got the time, you should definitely tour the historic rooms inside the Villa Stuck (actually a fantastic contemporary art museum) if you are a big fan of this period. The Bavarian National Museum also has a section dedicated to Art Nouveau, and so does the Pinakothek der Moderne.
19. Cuvilliés Theatre
Munich has a very active theater culture. The Bavarian State Opera actually counts among the top 10 opera houses in the world, so you should definitely consider seeing a performance (no worries, there are English subtitles). If you are reasonably fluent in German, you could also check out one of the twenty-odd theatres in Munich. My favorite is the Residenztheater.
Even if opera or theater is not your thing, you should definitely make time to tour the fantastic Cuvilliés Theatre inside the Munich Residence Palace. It’s not part of the standard tour and you need an extra ticket for it. But again, it’s so worth it. The rococo style theather is one of the very few surviving historic court theaters from this period, and one of Munich’s hidden gems.
The last item on this list of places to see in Munich might just be the best: The tiny Asamkirche is barely 8 meters wide and 22 long. Walking past it in the pedestrian area, you might not even notice it as it is nestled in between two regular houses. The baroque masterpiece built by Cosmas Damian Asam and Qgid Quirin Asam, was originally meant as a private church. But after protests from the citizens, it was opened to the public.
The two brothers were famous for their frescos and stucco work, and they defined the Bavarian late baroque like no other artists. The Asamkirche counts among their most important and beautiful work. Every inch is covered with gold, silver, and (fake) marble.
If you are visiting Munich in the last weeks of September, you could attend the world-famous Oktoberfest. The biggest folk festival in the world started in October 1810, but the Bavarians soon moved it to September, as the weather is more favorable then. While there are certainly a lot of tourists, it’s particularly popular among locals. There are even special days for kids, so it really is a place for the whole family.
You should know, however, that is not the only festival in Munich. There are the winter and summer Tollwood and the Spring Festival (Frühlingsfest), and of course the famous Kocherlball. Why do I mention these? Hotel prices are insane during Oktoberfest – often three times the normal costs. Yes, it’s fun as hell, but you also have to pay for it.
Other things to do in Munich
I tried to limit this list to the highlights and top tourist attractions in Munich you simply have to see. But don’t believe for a second, that it’s all there is to see. In fact, I could easily add another 20 points of interest in Munich alone – and that does not account for all the beautiful day trips.
The Dachau Concentration camp instantly comes to mind (read my guide here) – quite the grizzly site, but one of such historic significance. There is also a Nazi Documentation Center museum in the middle of the city if that part of our darkest history interests you. You could even go on a Third Reich walking tour. Other wonderful museums you could visit are the Kunsthalle München, the Haus der Kunst, or the Egyptian Museum.
Then there are three other castles within the city limits: Alter Hof, Schleissheim Palace and Blutenburg you might want to check out. And of course, there are quite a lot of wonderful churches to check out. Fürstenfeld Abbey should be at the top of your list, but there are actually two stellar churches in the pedestrian area: St. Michael’s Church and the Bürgersaalkirche.
Munich also has a very lovely zoo, a safari park (Wildpark Poing), and a Sealife aquarium, if that is something you are interested in. Or you could watch a soccer match with FC Bayern München at the Allianz Arena. There are also quite a couple of walking tours available: Like Third Reich tour, or a medieval midnight tour.
What I’m saying is: Try to stay at least 3 days in Munich, so you got enough time to see the most important highlights. Do know, however, that München could easily occupy you for a month or more. Also, I heard some people being concerned about their safety. Munich is very safe. In fact, the safest city in Germany, so no need to worry.
Best time to visit Munich
The best time to visit Munich is probably September. Favorable weather and the Oktoberfest make it ideal for first-timers. Other than that, Munich will be beautiful all year round. There are beautiful Christmas markets in December, July and August are the best months to play your day trips, while January to March will often transform my hometown into a winter wonderland.
Summer, Oktoberfest, and December are usually the most crowded and most expensive times to visit, which is why I’d recommend you to come in June. You should know that Munich is also quite popular among German tourists, and you will want to arrive before the summer holidays start in July.
If you just want to visit the city itself, it basically does not matter when you visit. The weather only starts to be a relevant factor if you plan day trips to Regensburg, Salzburg, Bamberg, or Neuschwanstein Castle. As a rule of thumb, weekends are usually a lot busier (lots of local day tourists) than weekdays. Just try to avoid Mondays, as this is when most museums are closed.