When it comes to European weekend escapes, Munich more often than not seems to fall off people’s radar. Perhaps it’s because (especially if you’re based in a place like Stockholm) travellers end up searching for more contrasting locations in terms of weather, culture and size. Or perhaps it’s down to Berlin being the natural choice when popping over to Deutschland, leaving Munich the starting point for some time on the slopes in the neighbouring alps – or, of course, Oktoberfest. It’s a shame, because after some Bavarian friends invited us, our perception of Germany’s third largest city has completely changed – leaving us longing for more.
Crowned as one of the world’s most liveable cities and consistently appreciated by magazines like Monocle, Munich is an economic boom town. Huge parks (Englischer Garten is lovely – you can even go surfing) and the Isar River (perfect for picnicking and swimming) makes it one of Germany’s most natural feeling cities. Throw in world-class hotels, sprawling green space and cosy beer gardens and you get that unique mix of boundless ambition and a surprisingly laid-back vibe that makes this place so great. It’s even been called Italy’s most northern city.
WHERE TO STAY?
Located near the grand old Nymphenburg Palace and Hirschgarten beer garden, the charming Hotel Laimer Hof offers quiet rooms off the main drag. Although the refurbished 1890 structure lacks some of the comforts of newer, flashier hotels, it’s hard to quibble with a welcome as warm as this.
For something chic and easy going, check out Louis Hotel, where tastefully understated interiors in timber and stone hide behind the hotel’s baroque facade. Head to Emiko on the roof terrace in summer months for sashimi and one of the best views in the city.
WHERE TO EAT?
Housed in a former bank – and (thankfully) not connected with the international chain – Burger and Lobster Bank is perhaps the city’s buzziest (and definitely swankiest) restaurant. Decorated with gleaming safety boxes and other stylish touches from its former tenant, it serves formidable filet steaks and blistered, frico-sprinkled pimientos de padrón cosying up to the sous-vide Canadian lobster.
Genuine Bavarian restaurants are increasingly hard to find, which is why Wirtshaus Hohenwart is both a throwback and a revelation. The 1896 building was gutted and refurbished to its rustic glory last year. Order fish from nearby Starnberger See lake or the regal veal schnitzel, cloaked in butter-fried breadcrumbs.
If there’s time, squeeze in brunch, lunch or dinner at lively Teresa Grill in Maxvorstadt, where waiters in plain white T-shirts serve dry-aged hunks of Bavarian beef. If not, at least wash down a quick cocktail.
For a simple breakfast, healthy smoothie or just some good coffee, check out dependable chain Bite & Delite – there’s one in Maxvorstadt and one downtown.
WHAT TO DO?
Hungry for some art? Munich has more than 80 museums for culture hounds, our favourite being Munich’s answer to Tate Modern, the Pinakothek der Moderne, with the more traditional Alte Pinakothek starring Dürer and Holbein.
Weihnachtsmärkte, or Christmas markets, are inescapable in every major German city. They can be crass, but many of Munich’s are of a different sort, with evergreen boughs, fairy lights and a genuine sense of holiday cheer. Stay away from the Christkindlmarkt on Marienplatz and head to Alpenwahn at Viktualienmarkt, where you can browse the wares while snacking on chilli-laced currywurst and drinking red or white mulled wine. In a courtyard just off of Odeonsplatz, Weihnachtsdorf in der Residenz is the city’s newest market, where live bands and choirs often perform and the scent of caramelised almonds perfumes the air.
Beer is definitely consumed in Munich even outside Oktoberfest. On sunny days, Müncheners pass the time in the city’s beer gardens, and when the weather turns foul, they carry on in the indoor restaurants and beer cellars they are usually attached to. Augustiner-Keller has been pouring ales from massive wooden barrels since 1812 and remains one of the most popular. For a less rowdy atmosphere, Park Café in the Old Botanical Garden has a shady courtyard and a restaurant serving gut-busting renditions of German dishes.
Oh, and rent a car. The roads here are smashing and there are some amazing lakes and mountains as little as 30 minutes away, our personal favourite being Tegernsee.