Having never visited Germany before, I may have built up a rather stereotypical, exaggerated image of what I expected from Munich; I wanted to be charmed by fairy tale castles, free flowing beer, and a few lederhosen clad men thrown in for good measure. I was therefore somewhat surprised to see that Munich did not only surpass these cliché expectations, but gave me a real insight to rustic Bavarian culture- it literally slaps you in the face with tradition.
Munich would be the starting point of a European adventure shared with my boyfriend, with the aim to continue in typical backpacker fashion towards Berlin and Hamburg, before progressing to the northerly delights of Scandinavia. While we had agreed we wanted to use Airbnb for the majority of our travels for both financial and cultural purposes, we decided to ease our way into the chaos of our trip by booking a hotel. Only a bog standard Ibis, but it served its purpose.
After landing in Munich, it’s quite straight forward to take the train towards the city centre. The journey itself is actually rather pleasant; passing through quaint villages and endless fields of sunflowers, there’s ample opportunity to take a few snaps. When you reach the city itself, you can easily hail a cab to your accommodation, or else take a leisurely stroll if you’re watching the pennies. However, if you’re planning on staying in Ibis yourself, please be aware that there are actually two of these hotels located in the city centre, as we found out at our peril and led to an almighty strop on my behalf.
Once settled, we could finally begin our explorations. Rowdy and romantic, Munich offers sprawling beer houses, serving tankards of traditional German beer as well as the most delicious, potentially heart attack inducing food. The biggest and most popular of these beer houses include Hofbrauhaus and Augustiner-Keller, the latter being conveniently located fifteen minutes from our hotel. Frequented by tourists and visitors alike, these beer houses provide a full on, authentic Bavarian experience not only in the form of its refreshments, but also in its wonderfully warm atmosphere, as well as the frequent intervals of schlagermusik (a lot nicer than it sounds). I would however advise vegetarians that beer house menus are dominated by big, burly dishes of meat, but don’t despair; you can sample some excellent local cheeses. Also recommended are the potato dumplings, which are essentially balls of mash that are served with red cabbage and a small vat of gravy.
All the key sightseeing destinations are not only an architectural delight, but are also conveniently close together in the city centre; dominating the main square of Marienplatz is the overtly gothic Old City Hall, featuring the infamous Rathaus-Glockenspiel which re-enacts sixteenth-century Bavarian tales through its figurines. You can also take a trip up the eighty-five-metre-high tower of Neues Rathaus, which has a handy elevator if you’re not feeling the never ending climb up the stairs. The views are definitely worth the effort though; you can experience some beautiful panoramic views right over to the Alps in good weather. There’s also a handy traditional restaurant called Ratskeller in the vault of the building, that offers yet more sumptuous Bavarian fare.
You can also pop into the stunning Church of St Peter, the oldest church in the district. Featuring a hybrid of both Bavarian Romanesque and Baroque interiors, it’s a tranquil place to escape the hustle and bustle of the main square whilst basking in architectural mastery.
If you want to divert even further from the crowds of Marienplatz, take a walk or a bike ride over to Englischer Garten (English Garden in case you didn’t guess), one of the largest urban parks in the world. Located in the city centre and stretching to the north eastern city limits, there’s plenty of space to relax, play sport or even take a dip in the lakes and brooks. And of course, there’s an obligatory beer garden and restaurant in the centre of the Gardens. Highly recommended are the half roast chickens, but you may need to have a lie down after eating one.
For those looking to venture outside of the main city, take a train to Fussen from Munich central station. A wonderfully picturesque journey, the train takes you through the sprawling countryside of Bavaria, providing views of the expansive forests, lakes and few wild deer if you’re lucky. Once arriving in Fussen, you can explore the rustic charms of this small town, or else hop on the bus to the fairy tale castle of Neuschwanstein.
Created by the great King Ludwig II as a homage to the works of the composer Richard Wagner, Neuschwanstein proudly stands amidst a beautiful Bavarian backdrop that instantly brings to mind the majesty of its history. Also known as the ‘Swan King’, Ludwig was known to increasingly withdraw from his day to day duties, instead favouring to indulge in his passion for extravagant artistic and architectural projects. Neuschwanstein castle is the most famous of these projects, and unsurprisingly, the most popular. Opened to the public immediately after Ludwig’s death in 1886, the castle has received over 61 million visitors, with its busiest periods over the summer months. However, there’s no need to queue for a ticket if you’re only intending to explore the grounds, with free access to the bridge that will allow you to get your best photos. Just be prepared for the rather steep walk to the castle though, or else take a ride in one of the many horse drawn carriages snaking up and down the main path.
When you eventually make it to the top, it’s easy to see why this castle truly is the gem of Bavaria. Serving as the inspiration to the famous Disney Cinderella Castle, the aesthetical merit of the Neuschwanstein is truly outstanding. Follow the full route around the castle to find historical information on the Romanesque Revival structure, grab a bite to eat, or spend some euros in the fantastically tacky gift shops dotted around the castle.
Overall, Munich gives ample opportunity for indulgence, whether it be through its culinary or aesthetic outlets. It’s clear to see why Munich, whilst somewhat cliché, is so favourable not only to those who appreciate the past, but also anyone who enjoys a decent pint.