Munich City Guide

BAVARIA’S CAPITAL CITY: Much More than Oktoberfest!

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Munich (München in German) is the capital city of the German state of Bavaria. It lies only about 30 miles north of the Bavarian Alps and is home to about 1.4 million residents.


Three Munich landmarks: the Frauenkirche (left), the Olympic TV Tower (center, background), and the Rathaus (city hall, right). PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

Some Munich History
The earliest records mentioning Munich date back to 1158. Munich got its start and its name as a stop along the Salt Route (Salzstraße) at a toll bridge (where the Ludwig’s Bridge is today) that crossed the Isar River near the site of a Benedictine monastery. The city’s German name, München, is derived from the word Mönch (munich in Old High German), which means monk. A monk is also depicted on the city’s coat of arms. Munich was officially chartered as a city in 1175.

The Wittelsbach dynasty ruled over Munich and Bavaria from 1180 until 1918. Henry the Lion (Heinrich der Löwe) of the House of Welf (Guelph) had the bridge built. In 1180, his Wittelsbach successor, Otto I, became Duke of Bavaria. In 1806, after Napoleon abolished the Holy Roman Empire, Munich became the capital of the Kingdom of Bavaria, which remained a separate nation, only becoming part of Germany (Prussia) in 1871.


Munich (airport code: MUC) is a major European air hub, with many international and national flights. This makes it easy to reach the Bavarian capital by air from anywhere in the world.

The city is also very accessible by rail and auto. Nine rail lines and six autobahns converge on the greater Munich area.

Within the city, there is very good public transportation — with S-Bahn (commuter rail), U-Bahn (metro, underground), streetcar and bus lines connecting the city’s districts, the suburbs, and the airport.

Public Transport in Germany
Getting around locally via S-Bahn, U-Bahn, bus, and tram
Munich U-Bahn

One of Munich’s new Bavarian blue Class C U-Bahn trains. The Munich U-Bahn began operation in 1971, just in time for the 1972 Olympic Games. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

See our Hotels and B&Bs page for Munich hotels.


Munich is the cultural, economic and political capital of Bavaria. Best known for Oktoberfest (see “Theresienwiese” below), Munich is much more than that. Among its chief attractions are…

  • Marienplatz | Munich’s main square, right in the middle of the inner city, is surrounded by the imposing new town hall (Neues Rathaus), churches, shops, and other buildings.
  • Frauenkirche | Munich’s Church of our Lady stands within a short walking distance from the Marienplatz. With its distinctive twin green-domed towers it is an architectural icon of the city.
  • Peterskirche (Alter Peter) | St. Peter’s church stands on the Petersbergl, a small hill said to be the original site of the town of Munich. From the church tower you have a wonderful view of the Marienplatz and the city. You’ll have to climb a lot of stairs, but it’s worth it!
  • Karlsplatz (Stachus) | This square is more round than square. This popular meeting place is located between the main Munich train station (Hauptbahnhof) and the Marienplatz. Nicknamed the “Stachus,” this gateway to the pedestrian zone that leads to the Marienplatz is marked by a large fountain (see photo). It is also a major hub for the S- and U-Bahn.
  • die Isar | The Isar (EE-zar) river runs through Munich and provides swimming and other water sports in season. Also see the Eisbachwelle below.
  • Oktoberfest | Despite its name, Munich’s big beer fest begins in September. Besides the beer theme, Oktoberfest is more like a US state fair, complete with carnival rides. More…
  • Viktualienmarkt | This colorful, historical farmer’s market is just around the corner from the Marienplatz.
Munich's main railway station

Munich’s main railway station (Hauptbahnhof) is a hub for both local and long-distance transportation. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo


Olympiaturm + Olympiapark
Munich was the site of the 1972 Summer Olympics. The Olympic Park and the Olympic TV Tower can be reached by U-Bahn (U3), bus (173) and tram (20 or 21). Today the Olympic Stadium, swimming hall, lakes, and the park grounds are an integral part of life in Munich. The TV tower is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to midnight (last entry at 11:30 p.m.). At the top (182 m, 597 ft; antenna spire: 291 m, 955 ft) are a revolving restaurant and an observation deck. From April to October there are guided tours of the stadium and some park areas. Also in the immediate vicinity is the BMW complex with the BMW Museum and the BMW Welt (where owners can pick up their new BMW vehicle). Web: Olympiapark (English)

Residenz and Residenzmuseum
The Residenz, in the center of the city, is the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs of the House of Wittelsbach. (The summer palace was at Nymphenburg. See below.) Germany’s largest city palace contains ten courtyards and offers 130 rooms for display. The Munich Residence served as the seat of government and residence of the Bavarian dukes, electors and kings from 1508 to 1918. Included in this vast complex is the Residence Museum and Treasury, open to visitors daily. Allow plenty of time!

Schloss Nymphenburg
The baroque summer residence of the Wittelsbach royal house, Nymphenburg Palace was once outside of Munich. “Mad” King Ludwig II (Neuschwanstein Castle) was born there. Now the palace and its beautiful park are in the northwestern part of the city. If you can’t see both the interior and the park, the formal gardens in the back of the palace are well worth a visit, and admission to the gardens is free. (Tram line 17.)

Nymphenburg Palace

Construction on the formal gardens of Nymphenburg Palace began in 1664 and, along with the buildings, they were expanded over the next century to create the summer residence of the Wittelsbach dynasty. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Bavaria Filmstadt (“Bavaria Film City”)
When there were still two Germanys, Munich was West Germany’s Hollywood, while the Babelsberg studios near Berlin were still in East Germany. Still active today for both cinema and TV, the Bavaria Film studios are located in Geiselgasteig, 10km (6 miles) south of the city center. The classic German war film Das Boot (1981, “The Boat”) was filmed here. In 1925, during the silent era, Alfred Hitchcock directed his first film, The Pleasure Garden, in Geiselgasteig. Wolfgang Petersen, before becoming a famous Hollywood director (Air Force One), shot The NeverEnding Story (1984) and the sci-fi film Enemy Mine (1985) here. Today many German and international TV and feature film productions are produced at Bavaria Film. There are English guided tours (in season). The No. 25 tram to Grünwald stops right at the studio entrance. Web: Bavaria Filmstadt (English)


Munich’s airport is a major hub for many international and domestic airlines, second only to Frankfurt. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

The Hofbräuhaus
Munich’s famous Hofbräuhaus beer garden and restaurant is not the only one in the city, but it is the most famous. If you want to avoid the throngs of tourists there, head instead to one of Munich’s many other beer gardens. The old Mathäser Bierhalle used to be an option until it was torn down in 1998. It was replaced with a new cinema also called the Mathäser.

Der Englische Garten and the Eisbachwelle
Created in 1789, the “English Garden” is Munich’s “Central Park” (but larger than the New York park), a nice place to relax and take a break from sightseeing. Have a beer or some tea at the Chinese Pagoda (Chinesischer Turm). There’s also a Japanese teahouse and garden at the south end of the park. If you are more adventurous, or just want to watch the fun, go to the Eisbach stream at the very southern end of the park near the Haus der Kunst art museum on Prinzregentenstraße. Surfers in wet suits ride a large artificial wave (the Eisbachwelle) north of the bridge there – even in the spring and fall.

Eisbachwelle, Munich

The famous Eisbachwelle in the English Garden allows enthusiasts to surf far from any ocean. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Deutsches Museum
Munich’s vast German Museum offers a large exhibition of science and technology from all over the world. Besides the main museum on Museum Island, there are two more branches for cars and transport (Verkehrszentrum) and aircraft (Flugwerft Schleissheim).

BMW Museum and Plant Tour
Near the Olympiapark (U3 U-Bahn Olympiazentrum) and the Olympic Tower you’ll find three BMW attractions: the BMW Museum car collection (closed on Mondays), the BMW Welt exposition, and the BMW factory. They are located north of the Georg-Brauchle-Ring roadway, with the Olympic park and stadium on the south side. After a short walk south from the U-Bahn station on Lerchenauer Straße you will arrive at the museum located on the east side of the street (to your left), with the BMW Welt complex on the west side (to your right). A pedestrian bridge allows you to walk between the two places. During the work week, BMW (Bayrische Motorenwerke) also offers guided tours of the BMW factory (in groups of 30 in English or German; reservations required). Another bridge across the Georg-Brauchle-Ring makes it easy to walk south to the 1972 Olympic complex.

BMW headquarters and museum

Behind the BMW Museum saucer you’ll see the metal-clad cylinders of the BMW headquarters, completed in 1973. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

This large fairground, the site of Oktoberfest (which begins in September), is located southwest of the Hauptbahnhof (main train station). It is also the site of the large Bavaria statue.

Art Museums
Munich is home to several notable art museums: the Alte Pinakothek (classic art), the Neue Pinakothek (modern art), and the Neue Staatsgalerie (modern art). Web: Museums and Collections in Munich

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