I got to play tour guide over the school break. Grandma was here visiting for 2 weeks and we were all very excited. It can be hard balance between wanting to show her all the sights and everything Munich has to offer but also wanting to show her what our everyday life is like; basics like the school, the grocery store (it’s surprisingly different), and the neighbourhood. Luckily the kids went back to school a few days before she left so she did get a private tour of the school conducted by her favourite 4 year old. I also took her to my closest grocery store and she commented that stores used to be tiny like that when she was a kid so her mom would shop much like I do now. I was also able to get her much needed expert opinion on rearranging some furniture and finishing touches on the apartment. We also tried to pack in as much of Munich in as possible with a few excursions. Since she is the second visitor we have had and it looks like we will have some more over Oktoberfest it got me thinking about what I would recommend visitors do while they are here.
Here are my current suggestions of must do things if you are going to be in Munich. I say current because I know I haven’t even scratched the surface of Munich’s museum offerings and other cultural events.
A morning walk through Marienplatz and the Viktualienmarkt: The truth is the Glockenspiel at Marienplatz one of the biggest tourist sites in Munich but once you have seen it once that is enough. It is one of those things that you kind of have to do to check it off the list but I wasn’t dazzled by the experience. What we did was get off the Ubahn and Sendlinger Tor and then walked down Sendlingerstaße with it shops and of course the Starbucks (I was with grandma after all). We timed it so we arrived in Marienplatz in time to see the Glockenspiel and then made our way to the Viktualienmarkt. I really enjoy the Viktualienmarkt with the variety of meats, cheeses, and produce. Since it was the week before Easter it was also overflowing with flowers and a big variety of Easter decorations that the kids got a kick out of. After walking through the market we capped off our excursion with lunch at Eataly after picking up a few things to make for dinner. It is a nice way to get a sense of the city and we managed to stop at multiple bakeries to introduce grandma to the pastries and pretzels Munich has to offer.
Third Reich Walking Tour and Dachau Concentration Camp: Munich, and Germany, is so much more the WWII but it is also full of history from the lead up to the war, during the war, and then the recovery from war. As they say, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. This rings especially true given some of the political rhetoric in the US right now. I cannot say enough about how much I enjoyed the Third Reich Walking Tour. Since I had done it just a few months ago grandma and Patrick did it together this time and it ended up being a highlight of the trip. The tour itself is only €15 and meets in Marienplatz and you the spend 2 ½ hours walking with a guide around the city. As you go the guide explains what was happening in the city and the country as Hitler came to power. It’s amazing how many pivotal events happened right here in Munich. I found that there were details I had been walking pass for months that I had no idea had significance and after the tour I felt like I had such a better sense of where we are living. It also made what can feel like distant history seem much more recent and real. Growing up in the US a lot time WWII is something that happened somewhere else and without knowing a veteran it seems like it was so long ago. Walking the same streets, seeing foundations from buildings that were leveled, and understanding the decisions made during reconstruction to try and prevent these sights from becoming shrines of extremism made these issues current and all the more impactful.
Going to see the Dachau Concentration Camp would be a 2nd day, doing the tour in the city in the morning and then heading up to Dachau in the afternoon would be a long day. To say nothing of how emotional and heavy the experiences are. I’ve written about Dachau before so won’t repeat myself but I think it is important to see and while I will never fully understand the experience it makes it much less abstract.
The Residenz and Schloss Nymphenburg: The Residenz was the seat of government and the castle of the kings up until 1918. I toured it when my girlfriend Annie was visiting in November and it was a surprise. From the outside the building is fairly plain but inside it is opulent. You have the chance to see much of the art and collections from the royal family and the building itself was beautiful inside. Having lived in England for a couple of years we have been spoiled by the castles we were able to see. Everything from half demolished castles in the country side to functioning castles with monarchs still living in them like Windsor. This one was interesting in how different much of it was from the British castles I am used to seeing. Definitely a morning well spent.
The Schloss Nymphenburg was the country residence of the royal family, which is now within the city as Munich has grown. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The interior is much smaller than the Residenz is but you still get the frescos, tapestries, and preserved furniture of the time. What we enjoyed even more was the Marstallmuseum. A collection of actual carriages from the royal family used for all different occasions. The kids were in total awe as some of them were over the top ornate used for important events and others were used for sport. I had never seen a display of carriages and had no expectations going into the riding stables, I was in awe. The Schloss also has the Nymphenburg Park behind it, a large park that at the time were their gardens complete with manmade canal and lake. In the summer season you can take gondola rides and there is a nice café in the park so it’s a nice day out especially if the weather is nice.
There are so many other things to do here. We didn’t even make it to the Englischer Garten while grandma was here so it’s on the list for her visit in August. There are also tons of great museums, restaurants, and each of the excursions should be accompanied by a visit the closest bier garten to get the full German experience.
There are two things I would have probably either not done or done differently.
Hofbräuhaus: The large gift shop in the entrance should be a tip off on this one. When you do the walking tour it stops at the Hofbräuhaus because Hitler made some famous speeches from the bier hall on the top floor. When we first arrived in Munich we did go for dinner as we had heard it was a must do in the city. We ate in the restaurant upstairs and it was fine, not bad but fine, since then we have eaten at many other bier gartens and had meals that are so much better. When grandma was here she wanted to see it so we went one evening and ended up sitting on the ground floor that is more of a self-seating area. It was terrible. The food was bad and the service was bad. I would say if you are interested just walk through, see it as a sight, and then go somewhere like Augustiner Keller or the Lowenbrauhaus. We have been to Augustiner Keller a few times now and it has been great, I’m looking forward to trying Löwenbräu Keller next.
Neuschwanstein Castle: Neuschwanstein is one of the most popular castles in all of Europe because the exterior was built to resemble a fairy tale. It was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle. It is out in the country a bit but a nice drive. One Sunday Jamie, the kids, and I drove out to the castle. We were so used to being able to walk up and view a castle with minimal planning that we didn’t realize we needed to book tickets in advance to go inside. So with grandma here I planned ahead and 48 hours in advance we booked our tickets for a morning tour. If you do want to go make sure and book tickets as the days fill up and the line to buy tickets without a reservation has been down the block both times I have been there. We left early as you have to pick up your tickets at least an hour before your tour time (there are long lines to do this) and allow 30 minutes to reach the castle from the village. So we left the house early to allow for plenty of time. Road work must have just started as we were about 30 minutes away and the road was completely closed. We ended up missing our check in time, they were nice enough to book us in a later tour, but what was meant to be an hour and half ended up being almost three hours just to get up there. We then had a long wait for our actual tour to start as we were pushed back to an afternoon tour. We left the house around 8:30 that morning and it wasn’t until 2:30 that we actually did our tour. As we waited we walked around the exterior, it’s a 40 minute uphill walk to the castle from the village where you pick up your tickets so with the little ones with us we splurged for the horse and carriage ride up so it was fun. The castle exterior is beautiful and there is Hohenschwangau Castle just across the way so it is nice but it is also packed, they have tours running pretty much every 5 minutes and they are full. Finally, we were on our tour after such an ordeal to get there! The tour itself was only 25 minutes and covers just a few rooms within the huge castle. It was interesting, the décor is interesting, it was also built in 1886. The castle is built in an idealized version of a medieval castle so it is a bit odd. When you put things into context it is a very strange place. In 1886 in the US Coca-Cola was invented. At that same time this kind was building himself a fantasy version of a castle. So it is a sight for sure but if you are looking for a real medieval castle and history it is not really that. After our tour we started to make our way home not getting back until almost 5:00. It was a very long day and we really only had a 25 minute tour so I felt a bit disappointed. I honestly enjoyed it more when we were just on a Sunday drive, saw it from the exterior, and didn’t bother with the tour itself.
We also made it to Salzburg and Prague but more on those later…