(you must have while you are there)
I found myself in Munich almost by accident; an opportunity arose and I took it! Thankfully I had a wonderful guide who showed me the sights and introduced me to some unique experiences. Here are my top 10 favorites from the times I spent there. Now, off to your adventures!
1. Have a Pretzel
I had a friend who swore to me that the best pretzels were to be found in Munich (or in the state of Bavaria in general). I politely scoffed at this! How could these pretzels be any different from the ones I have enjoyed in the U.S.? After spending 12 hours on a bus from Berlin to Munich I can confirm that pretzels there are the best; add a bit of butter, cheese or jam and I will eat one every day!
If you find yourself in Munich, eating a pretzel should be the first thing you do. You won’t regret it. You can find these at any of the numerous bakeries that line these streets. After trying one, you will likely want a pretzel with every meal!
While I was in the U.S. my friend tried to explain this dish for me. He made it for dinner one evening and while the meal he made was delicious in pales in comparison to the freshly made käsespätzle I ate while in Munich. I could literally eat an entire pan of this cheesy goodness! My favorite place to eat this is at a Christmas Market on a slightly chilly day. Not only does it fill you up, but it warms you from the inside out.
Käsespätzle is a dish somewhat like mac & cheese, but so much better. It is comprised of spätzle* and topped with caramelized onions. If you are fortunate to be in Munich during the month of December you can find this dish at any Christmas Market. At any other time of year, you can find this dish at restaurants (like this one here!).
*spätzle is a type of freshly made noodle
3. Englischer Garten
I have only been in Munich during the winter. While this might not seem to be an ideal time to visit a garden there is still so much beauty in the leafless trees, winding paths and glorious sunsets. The bitter weather made the air crystal clear and refreshing. Despite the near 0° temperature I still saw plenty of birds, runners, families and street carts selling warm drinks! This is one of my favorite parks to get a little “nature” while I am in the city.
A green sanctuary in the middle of Munich. This garden is full of small rivers, ponds, fields and large patches of woods. In the summer this is a great place to hang with friends, take a walk/run or play some games. In one area there is a building called the Chinese Tower and during the Christmas season, you will find a large market here. Near to the Chinese Tower is a beer garden that is open in the warmer months.
4. River Surfers
I had heard of the river surfers but didn’t quite believe it until I saw a young woman, board tucked under her arm, biking through the chilly air of early December. Following her path, we found around ten people congregated on the shore of a river. One person at a time, clad in a wetsuit, would jump in with their surfboard, ride the wave, and then eventually be tumbled into the whitewater and float downstream. They would then hop out and join the back of the cue.
In a landlocked city, it is surprising to hear that there is a surf scene. At the south side of the Englischer Garten on the Eisbach River, there is a wave where flocks of people go surfing. This wave was originally a fluke of engineering and would only occur when the water was at certain levels but over time people have altered the bed of the river so the wave is more consistent. People surf here in every season, even winter! Be aware, surfing this wave is not like surfing in the ocean, and is not for beginners! Read more about the river surfers here! And video here (pardon the music).
5. Nymphenburg Palace
I remember this adventure more in feelings than in visuals. I was sick during my visit and the between the cold air and lack of sleep I was a bit out of it. Despite this, I felt like royalty strolling through the grounds of this palace. Like the Englischer Garten, this place transported me out of the city and despite the wintery weather, the bright sun brought locals and tourists alike.
While you can pay to visit inside the palace there is a lot to see outside. The gardens are expansive and have quite a history (check here). Today, the design of the garden is in the English style and is well “manicured” but not so completely as to obscure the beauty of nature taking its own course.
6. Café Kosmos
The first time I went to Cafe Kosmos it was a particularly chilly evening. Despite the frigid air it wasn’t snowing, unfortunately, but the inside of this bar provided warm relief. We sat down in the corner across from the stairs and didn’t move for the rest of the evening. It was here I had my first Jägerbomb and a €1.60 beer that actually tasted decent. I loved this place because it has an intimate feeling without being so small that I felt stuck in the corner I was sitting in.
This bar/café is located in the center of Munich and is not a very touristy place. It is cozy, overstuffed with furniture/decor and full to capacity in the evenings. Even with the crowd the energy of the bar is relaxed and casual and the bartenders are fast and attentive. There is also a spiral staircase that leads to more seating upstairs, including a nice view of Munich. Check out photos here!
I felt overwhelmed when I first walked in here. Honestly, this felt like a huge food hall from some bygone era mixed with modern amenities of a cafeteria. However, once I found a place to sit, had a pint of beer in my hand and a large plate of käsespätzle, I felt much better. This place is a great people watching opportunity and I enjoyed seeing the tourists take pictures with men wearing lederhosn and women in dirndls. There was even a brass band!
This is a tourist place, but to be fair, you will find a good number of locals here as well. You will find them relaxing in groups, having some beer and taking selfies with tourists. Also, if you are looking for some käsespätzle, here is a great place to find some.
8. Visit a Public Library
I am a big fan of public libraries and this was one of my favorite places when I visited Munich. I work as I travel and among the hardest challenges I face is having reliable internet connection and a quiet place to work. The library I found in Munich was good on both accounts and was in walking distance from where I was staying. It was also a great place to get a feeling of the day to day energy of this vibrant city.
As visitors, we often see a very limited amount of cities. Visiting public spaces geared towards locals can really humanize a place that is not familiar. There are many public libraries in Munich (check out “Stadtbibliothek“). These libraries have internet/access and computers which combats the unique “difficulty” in all Germany cities of no public wifi (though this seems to be slowly changing).
9. Visit a Christmas Market (seasonal)
The first Christmas Market I went to was in Krakow but it wasn’t until I visited the many markets in Germany that I fell in love. I had the pleasure of living in Munich for a couple of weeks. My flat was around the corner from a train station where a small but lively market was located. Almost every day I went here to get a Glühwein (mulled wine), käsespätzle, or just to people watch.
Throughout the entire month of December these Christmas Markets are set up around every corner. They are made up of collections of fairly-tale looking sheds filled with colorful trinkets and good smells. The large markets can be very touristy spaces but these small ones are less crowded and are a great place to mingle with locals who go there to get a drink after work or are taking their children out for some holiday fun.
10. Wander Aimlessly
…and then find your way “home” again (whether this is a hotel, friend, Airbnb, etc.) This is probably one of my favorite things to do in any city. One story comes to mind of a day I unintentionally wandered around Munich. I had tried to be organized, I researched cafés, locations, the trains to get there. When I arrived at the café I was aiming for, I found it was packed. I would have no place to sit, let alone read my book. I gave up and wandered for a half hour or so and was rewarded by finding a small, local coffee house to hide in (with, just guessing, much better coffee). Later on, when I search coffee houses in the area, it did not show up on the map. Now, unfortunately, I do not recall the name, but perhaps I will locate it again when I next find myself on the streets of Munich.
My suggestion to everyone on their journey is to approach it as a traveler, not a tourist. Don’t be that person whose primary intention is to rush from location to location snapping pictures as you fly through because you will likely miss an adventure in another part of the city. Do your research, don’t over plan and see where the wind takes you.
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