Walking Tour of Munich
What to do when you have very limited time in a city? We drove to Munich from Neuschwanstein so arrived mid-afternoon and had to catch a flight out the following day. Luckily, we had a local on our side who ensured we had the most Bavarian of experiences - yes, this included a lot of beer, hence the following day was a bit of a blur! So in aid of fellow time-constrained travellers, here is my walking tour of Munich!
Where to start
Mariensplatz is a great starting point for our tour as the square contains both the old and new town halls and has been the focal meeting point in the city since the Middle Ages. Both the Subway and the Underground have stations here so the square is easily accessible from anywhere in the city. The Old Town Hall Altes Rathaus actually looks newer than its successor, due to its many reconstructions over the years as a result of structural damage, extensions and changes in architectural mode - the latest of which only last century - but was originally constructed in the 14th century in the Gothic style. However, the plaza is dominated by The New Town Hall Neues Rathaus completed in the early 1900s and continuing the Gothic style of its predecessor but in a far more elaborate fashion - it reminded me of Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. A popular tourist attraction is the famous Rathaus-Glockenspiel which operates similar to a cuckoo clock in true Bavarian style three times a day with figures 'dancing' their way through two 16th century local legends, bringing in the hours of 11am, 12pm and 5pm. In the centre of the square is Mary's Column Mariensäule, built to thank the Virgin Mary for sparing the city from destruction at the hands of the Swedish during the Thirty Year's War in the mid-17th century.
From one square to another
Head away from Mariensplatz towards Odeonsplatz (if you are feeling really lazy you can take the Underground, but the walk is only around ten minutes). Stop on the way to admire the neo-Greco architecture of the Munich National Theatre Bayerisches Nationaltheater in Max-Joseph-Platz with its Corinthian columns and golden pediment. Destroyed twice by fire and bombing respectively, the version you see today was completed in the 1960s and is home to the Bavarian State Opera, Ballet and Orchestra. Continue on to Odeonsplatz itself and the military monument Feldherrnhalle commissioned by King Ludwig I in the mid-19th century to honour Bavaria's army, and has been added to over the years to memorialise later conflicts. It was also the site of Hitler's failed Beer Hall Putsch (coup) where he attempted to rally supporters years before WWII.
On the other side of Odeosnplatz lies the entrance to the Hofgarten, a beautiful formal court garden flanked by two important political buildings. The first is the Munich Residence Residenz Munchen, formally the Bavarian Royal Palace and now a museum. The other is the Bavarian State Chancellery Bayerische Staatskanzlei. This former Army Museum is now the head office for the Bavarian Government. Politics aside, the garden itself used to belong to the Residenz, but is now open for public enjoyment. Take a leisurely stroll among the fountains and neat flowerbeds to the Temple of Diana at its centre built in typical Renaissance style in the early 1600s to symbolize the wealth of Bavaria, and containing some beautiful mosaics. Continue on past the Chancellery building and into the English Garden Englischer Garten for the second park of the day.
This 900 acre park is way larger and much less formal than the Hofgarten, full of big open spaces for people to relax or play sports, multiple paths for walkers and cyclists as well as rivers and a lake. The Munich skyline of the Ludwigskirche and Frauenkirche cathedrals can also be seen above the tree line of the park, but inside the grounds are a few cultural surprises. A Japanese tea room lies near a nude sunbathing area Schönfeldwiese, which is flanked on the other side by a small Greek-style temple Monopteros. On the edge of the park near the Haus der Kunst art gallery lies a bridge under which surfers ride the wave on the Eisbach River. You can get a top view from the bridge or settle along either side of the river bank to watch these intrepid surfers taking on the rapids in the middle of a city - absurd but definitely a crowd pleasure. If you don't mind the cold, you too can let the rapids float you downstream further into the park; but leave the Eisbach Wave to the professionals! In the opposite direction in the middle of the English Garden, sits the Chinese Tower, a giant wooden pagoda overseeing a sizeable beer garden which can seat around 7000 hungry visitors. Food and beer stalls serve traditional Bavarian fare and abrass band entertains the masses on the weekends - a perfect way to feel like a local and grab an entrée before hitting the beer halls for the evening!
If there's one thing people know about German, it's the country's world renown for beer. That golden liquid worshipped by the masses can be honoured and enjoyed in many of Bavaria's oldest establishments across Munich city including Augustine-Keller, Ratskeller, Weisses Bräuhaus and Der Pschorr to name but a few. Don't expect variety though - each brewery usually focuses on its own produce so you may have to do the rounds of beer halls to sample different brands. We settled on the legendary Hofbräuhaus with its rowdy atmosphere, traditional Bavarian band, waitresses in full traditional dress and history to boot - the brand was first brewed in 1589! Good food and beer are commonplace in Munich, but what really made the night was the atmosphere. Locals mingled with tourists on long communal benches, drinking songs were belted out with full drunken accord, and while deafening, you couldn't help but smile at being in the midst of what has to be the most authentic of Bavarian experiences!
So that, my friends, is my walking tour of Munich. If you have more time there is so much more to explore but, if like me, you are on a tight schedule, I hope this guide can give you a real taste of the city and leave you hungry (or should I say thirsty?) for more!