5 Things to do in Munich other than Oktoberfest

In City Guides, Europe, Travel by Tom @ Abroad American7 Comments

So you’re headed to Munich. During Oktoberfest or not, beer drinking is certainly at or near the top of your list of things to do in Munich, While I approve of this, you should give your liver a break every once in a while and experience more that the city has to offer. Depending on your level of planning, you may or may not have other activities set up outside of 1) find beer, and 2) drink beer. That’s what I’m here for. Speaking from my experiences in the last three years, multiple days of this:

A different kind of struggle bus.

A different kind of struggle bus.

is exhausting and taxing on both body and mind. If you want to read more about Oktoberfest, check out my previous post about it. Otherwise, I highly suggest that you explore a bit of Munich and surrounding area during your visit here. Munich is a great city set in an absolutely beautiful and historic part of central Europe. With that in mind take a look at my list below!


Five Things to do in Munich other than Oktoberfest

1. A Walking Tour of the City Center

This may be more obvious for the more seasoned travelers out there, but maybe not for those of you who aren’t. Get rid of that idea in your head that you have to “see” everything. You don’t. It’s much more important to settle into your new surroundings and explore the city. While wandering is always a great option, I’ve had enough visitors who’ve explored Munich without me, so I made a map. The Google map below gives you a list of sights in Munich as well as a couple of nice walking routes. If you want, you could make a little bar crawl out of the various Biergartens on the map.

Guided Walking Tours

If you want something a bit more in-depth, organized walking tours may be what you’re looking for. Several companies organize daily walking tours in major cities throughout Europe. Usually, the tours run about three hours, hitting all the major sights around the city, so bring your walking shoes. The tours are “free”, though you are expected to leave a nice tip for your guide at the end. Hell, it’s 3 hours of work for them, and the guides are very knowledgeable and often pretty witty, too. I’ve done these walking tours in various cities across Europe, and I’ve almost always been happy with them.

So, if it sounds like something you’d enjoy, I could only recommend it. These free walking tours are a staple of the hostel community, so you’ll almost definitely be able to find information at the front desk if you’re staying at one. If you’d like a recommendation, I like one company in particular: SANDEMAN’s New Europe Tours (not an affiliate link). They’re my go-to tour company in a new city, and as I’ve said, I’ve almost always been pleased with the service. In addition to the traditional walking tours, there are also organized beer tours. These tours guide beer lovers around to the major establishments around the city, hitting each spot one Maß (or half-liter, if you want) at a time. You also learn a bit about the history of beer in Munich and the brewing process.


2. A Picnic in the English Gardens

Second on my list of things to do in Munich is essentially an extension of the first. You should be sure to visit the English Gardens at some point during any visit to Munich. If the weather is nice and you have the time, I’d definitely suggest spending some time there with a couple beers and some food.

Things to Do in Munich

On top: the Chinesischer Turm Biergarten.
On the bottom: the second, smaller surfer wave in the English Gardens!

Instead of the basket & blanket type of picnic, picnics here are focused around Biergartens. It’s Bavaria, so of course. I’ll spare you the story behind Biergartens for now. The end result of that story, however, is that bringing outside food into Biergartens is the norm. Think of them as a kind of public picnic spot with shade, benches, tables, and of course – beer. You can stay and have your picnic on the grounds as long as you buy the beer, or at least don’t bring your own. Of course, many will serve their own food too. It’s the typical Bavarian fare: roast chicken, pork knuckle, Käsespatzle, potato salad, etc. Eating such typical fare might deserve its own place on the list of things to do in Munich.

So, head to the main Biergarten in the English Gardens (Englischergarten), Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower). There’s plenty of tables and a full-service cafeteria with all the aforementioned food served alongside some delicious Hofbräu beer. This is one of my personal favorite things to do in Munich, and I’m in my second year living here. I take almost all my visitors here to see the gardens and experience the typical Bavarian Gemütlichkeit, because that word has no translation and needs to be experienced.


3. A Day Trip

Why should the list of things to do in Munich be bounded by the city limits? While the city of Munich has lots to offer to visitors and residents, the region surrounding the city has its own attractions, too. From nearby cities like Nuremberg and Salzburg to the natural attractions of the region like the Bavarian Alps and lakes Ammersee and Starnberger See. To make this easier, I’ll make a short list of places to visit in the region with mini-descriptions to help paint a clearer picture. The city of Munich has a web page dedicated to Day Trips from Munich, which I think is a great starting point. Below, I’ve highlighted some of my favorite places in the area to visit.

Natural Attractions

Things to do in Munich

The Alps on the southern end of Bavaria and into the Austrian region of Tirol.

The Bavarian Alps

Do these mountains really need a description? You could hike in the alpine wonderland of Allgäu and Austrian Tirol. Or in winter, shred some alpine powder skiing at Zugspitze or Garmisch-Paternkirchen. Both are reachable in at most a couple hours by regional train from Munich. If you have access to a car, both destinations are only about an hour out of the city.

Things to do in Munich

Starnberger See, or Lake Starnberg, in Bavaria. It’s a short S-Bahn ride southwest of Munich. Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fuenfseenland

Ammersee and Starnberger See

These two lakes are both on the S-Bahn (metropolitan rail system) network of Munich, so they’re quite accessible from the city in less than an hour. Both lakes are wonderful alpine-foothill retreats from the city. Starnberger See has a couple of lakeside towns offering beautiful parks, cafés, and Biergartens. Picturesque walking and cycling paths with breathtaking views of the lake and the Alps to the south circle around Starnberger See.

Ammersee also has the Andechs Monastery, and more importantly, brewery. The Benedictine monks at the monastery have been brewing beer at the site since at least 1455. There’s a nice short (5 km) hike from the Herrsching S-Bahn station up the hill to the monastery where you can reward yourself with some delicious beer.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the beautiful places in the region, but I would say they are all worth a visit.

Towns and Castles

Salzburg

Things to do in Munich

Hohensalzburg Fortress, with some sections dating all the way back to 1077, is the largest completely preserved castle in central Europe.

Just over an hour away from Munich, by train, is the Austrian city of Salzburg. Internationally known as the hometown of Mozart, the city rings with music and the arts year-round. A huge draw for tourists is the historic city center, with its well-preserved architecture ranging from the Romanesque style through the Renaissance and Baroque styles. The city is beautiful by itself, but the alpine setting creates such a beautiful backdrop that Salzburg is a must-visit when in the area.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Things to do in Munich

Neuschwanstein Castle is an absolute sight to behold. It sits nestled in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, just below the first range of mountains.

You know the Disney Castle, the one that appears at the beginning of every Disney movie with the arc of light above it? That castle was inspired by this one. Neuschwanstein is quite literally a dream come true. The dreams of King Ludwig II of Bavaria to be exact. Incidentally, Ludwig II is the grandson of Ludwig I, whose wedding reception in 1810 became the first Oktoberfest. The area is definitely worth a visit, though I’m not sure if a tour inside the castle is worth it, as it lasts quite literally just over 20 minutes. The inside of the castle was never completed due to the untimely and somewhat suspicious death of Ludwig II, halting any further progress and changing the ownership of the castle over to the Bavarian Ministry of Castles.

The castle area is definitely worth a visit, though I’m not sure if a tour inside the castle is worth it, as it lasts quite literally just over 20 minutes. The inside of the castle was never completed due to the untimely and somewhat suspicious death of Ludwig II, halting any further progress and changing the ownership of the castle over to the Bavarian Ministry of Castles.


4. Visiting a Museum

We return to the city proper for the fourth in our list of things to do in Munch. Munich has long been a center of culture for Bavaria, Germany, and Europe as a whole. As a result, today the city enjoys a wide range of museums from the Deutsches Museum for the science and technology buffs to the numerous art museums, especially the Pinakotheken. The museums offer special prices for students and on certain days. For example, my expired University of Illinois student ID got me very cheap entry to the Deutsches Museum last summer. Also, each of the Pinakotheken cost only 1€ for entry on Sundays. If you’re into museums, or just want to find some place to wander, the city’s many museums are great things to do in Munich.

Things to do in Munich

A Messerschmidt Me 262 (I think), a German World War II jet in the Deutsches Museum

Historic Locations

On the darker side of WW II, Dachau where the first “political prisoner” concentration camp was built, is reachable by the S-Bahn system. The camp is a monument today to the suffering of the victims of the Holocaust and will certainly leave you in a sad and somber mood. By visiting the cremation chambers and the camp in general, you can see eerie reminders of the inhumane atrocities that were committed by the Nazi regime. If you decide to visit Dachau, be ready for the Weltschmerz that comes after (pain from the condition of the world).

The city also offers a slightly different type of museum in Nymphenburg Palace. The palace was completed in its first form back in 1679 and was expanded and improved over the centuries. Here’s a full history of the palace, in English, if you want to have a look. The castle grounds are open to the public, of course, and they are nothing short of idyllic.  Even for locals, heading to the palace is a favorite among the things to do in Munich. When the palace was originally built, and for centuries after, the surroundings were open countryside for miles around. Nowadays, however, it’s surrounding by the suburbs of northwestern Munich and very accessible by public transport or bike.

Things to do in Munich

The Nymphenburg Palace in northwestern Munich, beautiful grounds and a museum all in one. Photo Credit: Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


5. Rent a Bike and Explore

I decided to bookend this list of things to do in Munich with another self-exploration style activity. Munich, along with a couple other major European cities, has put serious effort into making the city friendlier and more open to cyclists. Measures to improve and increase the share of bike trips have ranged from creating more and more dedicated cycling lanes to holding massive events promoting cycling in the city. As a result of all this work, Munich has an excellent network in place for its citizens to use their bike for all kinds of trips.

However, thanks to a couple of bike rental systems, the network of cycling in Munich is also accessible to visitors.  Options in English are available like the Deutsche Bahn Call a Bike system in the previous links, but if you can navigate the German, I really recommend MVG Rad.

Cycling as an activity

If you’re looking for cycling as an activity, more than a means of transportation, you’ll feel quite at home in Munich. Many people here cycle for relaxation in addition to simply getting from A to B.  I found a great English website which has maps and information about the various dedicated bike routes throughout the city and the area, Bikemap.net. For example, cycling down the Isar Radlweg is one of my favorite things to do in Munich. Below is an example of the types of routes and maps you can find on the site. The amount of information on their site about the nice and scenic routes in the city is totally woth a visit.

They also offer a premium version of their app for offline bike routing from point A to point B, but there are other options out there, for free, which offer the same service. For cycling around Munich, as well as navigating myself around in foreign countries without mobile data, I use maps.ME. I used their app to drive around Iceland, to walk around Ljubljana, and to find my way in Ghent.


I hope my short list was able to give you a little inspiration for things to do in Munich. It really is a great place to visit or to live, and I wanted to showcase that here. Oktoberfest is one thing, and it’s certainly a huge part of the culture here. However, the city has so much more to offer. If you have any questions about what I’ve written above, or if you have any suggestions of your own, please comment below!

Comments

  1. I love that this list is so varied! I’m hoping to get to Bavaria in 2017 to see the Schloss Neuschwanstein *of course* but would love to give Munich a second try in the mean time. I only saw the train station area last time and didn’t get what the big fuss was about — then everyone told me that’s the only ugly part of the whole city 😀 Thanks for sharing your expertise! Especially the bike paths and walking tours are things only a local can do just right 🙂

    1. Yea, I totally had the same first impression on my first time in Munich, too. The area just south and a little bit east of the Hbf is a little seedy. Crappy casinos and what not. Your friends were right, that’s the only ugly part of town! There’s so many areas of Munich, so I couldn’t represent it in one photo, but this does a pretty good job!

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d512f433bd7a28d2f56155f890a885a78d1305c2d40e9d58648ce700ec6cd040.jpg

  2. So awesome. Darcee & I are literally going to Germany in less than a month and Munich, Salzburg, and Neuschwanstein Castle are all things we want to see and do. Definitely want to take a city tour and walk around. Obviously Oktoberfest is going to be fun but I too want to see the rest. Being from New Orleans, the home of Mardi Gras, I 100% understand that there is more to see. I think we may add the Brewery…I mean Monastary & Dachau to the list since they are so close to Munich. Were you able to get to all the other places outside of town by train?

    1. Author

      Glad I was helpful!! And yes – everything I mentioned here is very easily accessed by train. Ammersee (really the town of Herrsching on Ammersee) where the Andechs monastery is the end of an S-Bahn (think like a suburban train) line the S8. Dachau is on another S-Bahn line. Salzburg and the hiking to the south in Allgäu and the town of Fussen which is very close to Neuschwanstein are all accessible by train (Neuschwanstein might be easier by bus, not sure). Google Maps is your friend here too! haha. If you have any more questions about visiting Munich please ask again! I love answering these questions and it gives me great ideas for posts 🙂 thanks for reaching out!

  3. Would definitely love to go to Oktoberfest someday, but I’d also love to explore Munich beyond it. It sounds like there’s a lot to do and see there! (and nearby)! Hope I make it over there soon.

    1. Author

      Munich does really have a lot to do itself, but I think its the region around the city that makes it so great. Getting into what the locals around here like to do is a great idea too – we all seem to have it figured out 🙂

  4. Another rad option is a more authentic version of Oktoberfest, Munich holds another one that is identical but a lot smaller and more local in April /May called Fruhlingfest! Definitely worth checking out!

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