Berlin might be Germany’s capital, but as far as Bavarians are concerned, there’s only one capital city, and that’s their own: Munich. And while the southern German metropolis is most famous for its annual Oktoberfest, there’s much more to Munich than the world’s largest beer festival – not least the upcoming Christmas markets.
Words: Ben McCormack
Lufthansa flies to Munich from London Heathrow up to eight times a day from £99 return. Flight time is 1.5 hours. LH.com
When to go
Oktoberfest makes October the obvious (if most expensive) time to visit Munich but the city is a year-round destination. December is particularly charming, when a Christmas market sets up shop in Marienplatz.
Where to stay
All cities need their grande dame hotel, and for the past 176 years the Bayerischer Hof has been the best address in Munich. Set on a leafy square with ultra-modern trams gliding silently past, the hotel first opened in 1841 when the Volkhardt family bought the property from King Ludwig I. It has remained in the family’s hands to this day and still has a decidedly regal air: one of the 60 suites is the largest in Europe and everyone from Kofi Annan to the Dalai Lama has stayed here. Its famous guests might not have managed to achieve world peace yet, but the supremely comfortable beds do make for a peaceful night’s sleep. Double rooms from £340. bayerischerhof.de
8am Take breakfast on the Bayerischer Hof’s sixth-floor terrace. You’ll have a bird’s-eye view of the Munich skyline (including the spectacular onion-domed Frauenkirche cathedral) as you tuck into Tyrolean bacon and Bavarian meat loaf.
Munich breakfast, £24. Promenadeplatz 2-6 D-80333 Munich; bayerischerhof.de
10am Munich might be Germany’s third biggest city and blessed with an efficient tram and U-bahn network, but its compact centre is easy to walk around. Get your bearings in Marienplatz (above), Munich’s central square. One side is taken up by the gargoyle-studded neo-gothic Neues Rathaus, or New Town Hall; on the other is the 15th-century Altes Rathaus, or Old Town Hall, restored after World War II and the site of the Joseph Goebbels speech in 1938 that launched the Kristallnacht pogroms.
12pm There’s more dark history at the Feldherrnhalle (above) on nearby Residenzstrasse, where Adolf Hitler attempted to bring down the Weimar Republic with the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923; Hitler spent his subsequent nine-month jail sentence writing Mein Kampf. The Monument to the Victims of National Socialism on neighbouring Brienner Strasse is a stark reminder of where that led, its eternal flame a moving commemoration of all those who died at the hands of the Nazis.
1pm For a beer hall with rather more enjoyable associations, head to one of Munich’s finest places to eat and drink for lunch. The most famous is the Hofbräuhaus, worth a look for its size alone and a favourite with British stag parties. For a more native experience, try the Augustiner am Dom, with tables in a courtyard alongside the Frauenkirche and dirndl-clad waitresses delivering glasses of the local Augustiner brewery’s refreshing weissbier alongside plates of sausages and soft, salty pretzels.
Mixed sausage plate with potato salad, £15. Frauenplatz 8, 80331 Munich; augustineramdom.de
3pm For a rather more uplifting trip into Munich’s history, head into the Residenz Museum (above), the former palace of the Wittelsbachs. The Bavarian royal family lived here from 1385 until 1918 in jaw-dropping splendour, each room decorated in stunning styles of Renaissance and rococo design – nearly all of it was painstakingly reconstructed after World War II. The only thing you will see in Munich that trumps the beauty of the Residenz Museum itself is the Bavarian crown jewels on display in the Residenz Treasury. Admission £10. Residenzstraße 1, 80333 Munich; residenz-muenchen.de
7pm Vast plates of pork knuckle are the speciality of Fraunhofer, where the wood-paneled walls are hung with animal trophies and an adjoining theatre makes it as popular a place to eat with locals as it is with tourists. If pork’s not your thing, there’s excellent duck, too, as well as white asparagus in spring. Fraunhoferstraße 9, 80469 Munich; fraunhoferwirtshaus.de
10pm Take a nightcap at the Bayerischer Hof before turning in for bed. Falk’s Bar is located in the hotel’s hall of mirrors, installed in 1839 and the only room at the Bayerischer Hof to survive the Second World War unscathed. Raise a glass to the survival of the stucco-ceilinged room with a classic cocktail.
Gin martini £13. Promenadeplatz 2-6 D-80333 Munich; bayerischerhof.de
9am Bavarians love the outdoors and the beautifully landscaped Englisher Garten (above) is one of Europe’s largest city parks. Watch wetsuit-clad surfers riding an artificial wave on the River Eisbach before ambling through 900 acres of lawns and woodland. At some point on your wandering you’ll find Seehaus, a lovely spot for coffee and cake (or sausages and scrambled eggs) next to the park’s Kleinhesseloher lake.
Kleinhesselohe 3, 80802 Munich; kuffler.de/en/seehaus
11am For proof that Munich can do ultra-modern just as well as oom-pah-pah olde worlde, take a trip to BMW Welt (above), or BMW World, just outside the city centre. This is the ultimate BMW showroom and even if you don’t want to immerse yourself in all things Beemer, it’s worth a visit for the architecture alone – best appreciated on a guided tour of the state-of-the-art plant. The neighbouring BMW Museum traces the car manufacturer’s history and evolution into one of the world’s most iconic brands.
Admission £9. Am Olympiapark 1, 80809 Munich; bmw-welt.com
1pm BMW Welt’s Bavarie restaurant combines a French brasserie with sustainably produced Bavarian ingredients. Local fish cooked whole and healthy salads are just the ticket for a light lunch, while the interior design is as clean-lined as you’d expect from BMW.
Am Olympiapark 1, 80809 Munich. bmw-welt.com
2pm The former Nazi concentration camp at Dachau is less than an hour’s easy journey north of Munich by train and bus. More than 200,000 people were imprisoned here, of whom 43,000 died before the camp was liberated by American troops in 1945. Two of the former barrack blocks have been reconstructed to give an idea of what life was like inside the camp. The centrepiece of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site is an exhibition in the former maintenance building describing the events leading up to the camp being built, and the horrors of life inside.
Admission free. Alte Römerstraße 75, D-85221 Dachau; kz-gedenkstaette-dachau.de
5pm From 27 November until 24 December, Munich’s traditional Christmas Market (above) sets up its stalls in Marienplatz. Advent music is performed at 5.30 every evening from the balcony of the town hall, while a huge light-covered Christmas tree towers over the stalls selling everything you could possibly need to get you into the Christmas spirit. muenchen.de
8pm The Bayerischer Hof’s five restaurants include the sophisticated cuisine of on offer at the two-Michelin-starred Atelier. But after two days of eating Munich’s staple diet of roast meat, you may prefer the light relief of the modern cooking served in the hotel’s Garden restaurant.
Pan-fried fillet of pike perch, £28. Promenadeplatz 2-6 D-80333 Munich; bayerischerhof.de
Lufthansa cabin crew tips for Munich
Doris Haferkorn, PU for Lufthansa
“The best place to see the Munich Glockenspiel, which plays daily on the Town Hall at 11am and 12pm. The perfect place to enjoy breakfast or lunch.” cafe-glockenspiel.de
Die Goldene Bar
“Located in the ‘House of Art’ right next to the English Garden, this is the perfect spot for a relaxing drink – the cocktails are great.” goldenebar.de
Steierer am Markt
“This serves Bavarian and international food right in the heart of Munich on the Viktualienmarkt, one of the nicest places in the city and very traditional.” steirer-am-markt.de
This article was published 7 November 2017