The English garden in Munich.
Zoonar GmbH/Alamy 

The Best Things to Do in Munich, From River Surfing to Fine Art Museums

The Village of a Million People is a quiet haven of contentment—at least, outside of Oktoberfest—with plenty to experience year-round.

Munich, the German city with a population of 1.4 million, is not Berlin; nor does it want to be. The Bavarian capital is one that often feels more like a charming cluster of cobblestoned towns—in fact, its cozy sprawl has earned it the nickname “Millionendorf”, or, “The Village of a Million People.” Oktoberfest, the beer festival that runs from late September to early October and which draws masses of (largely lederhosen-clad, American, and college-aged) tourists—but locals too—is perhaps Munich's most (in)famous offering. As a boy Einstein himself, who grew up down the road, helped his father wire the first electricity to an Oktoberfest tent in the massive field it occurs—take this as your first indication that there's also innovation bubbling in the city year-round. In fact, it's well worth a visit they when drinking for sport is just one of many pastimes; a plethora of art galleries, fine dining, museums, bike routes, and verdant gardens await.

Munich has the best Bavarian cuisine just about anywhere (come in the spring for the seasonal white asparagus), a vast and verdant English Garden (it's larger than Central Park, and positively pastoral despite its urban setting) and a nightlife scene distinct from its northern neighbor. There's the aforementioned tech and industry bringing an artful edge to the city's outskirts in contract to the classical center. The many museums are unmatched—with one such entry, the Lenbachhaus, houses Maria Franck-Marc's aptly titled Tanzende Schafe, or Dancing Sheep. One of my favorites, done in gouache, chalk, watercolor, and pencil; sheep dance against a gray-green industrial background—mostly in pairs, balancing upright on each other's shoulders, their front legs crossing like matchsticks. It's this easy contentment and simple serenity, that I felt in Munich; dancing like those sheep from one beautiful sight to the next.

All listings featured on Condé Nast Traveler are independently selected by our editors. If you book something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The Eisbach wave is a manmade entry point to the park’s Eisbach River where surfers shred year-round.

Callum Parker

The best things to do in Munich: museums, history, and gardens

The aforementioned Kunstareal museum district is a great place to start. The northwest neighborhood houses eight major museums (and plenty of galleries), all of them excellent and easy to choose between if you have limited time and decided interests. The Big Three Pinakothek (meaning “picture gallery,” from the Latin “pinacotheca”) flank two blocks of Theresienstraße like great houses: Alte Pinakothek is the joint of this L-shape—Alte means “old,” and the applications are twofold; this is one of the oldest galleries in Germany, having opened in 1836 and housing art from the fourteenth to nineteenth centuries, and its walls largely showcase the works of the Old Masters. (One could kill hours staring into the depths of each Peter Paul Rubens hanging in the dedicated Rubens Hall.) Go straight to the Pinakothek der Moderne, and take in four mediums under one roof: art, graphics, architecture, and design (Die Neue Sammlung, or the Design Museum, is particularly excellent). There's also the Neue–which, unfortunately, is closed to the public through 2029 due to renovations. 

Once you’ve had your fill, stroll on over to the Lenbachhaus to see the dancing sheep: Franck-Marc’s work hangs alongside those of her husband, the prolific Franz Marc (his Blue Horse I is a strong second, in terms of animal portrayals within these walls). The Marcs’ compatriots—Kandinsky, Münter, Kawlensky, and more—can also be found here. Lastly, check out Museum Brandhorst—eye-catching for its stunning ceramic facade, and just as much so for its massive collection of Cy Twombly canvases. 

The inner courtyard of the temple-style sculpture museum Glyptothek holds the most worthwhile of the museum cafés—ivy covers the walls of the structure, and visitors can relax beneath umbrella-clad tables on what feels like sacred ground. In the summer, theatre troupes put up productions in the tranquil space. 

To acknowledge the area's important history, the Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism offers a thorough (and free) journey through Munich’s history as a major hub of Nazi Germany, with each floor taking on a different decade and detailing Munich's citizens various roles in what was once a fascist stronghold. In the center of town, admire the beauty of the Ohel Jakob synagogue before visiting the adjacent Jewish Museum Munich to learn about the city's Jewish community up to present day.

Outdoor escapes and cultural spots

Munich has plenty of outdoor activities in store. Find your way onto a bicycle–any hotel worth its salt here will have some to loan out—and head to the water. It's safer along the Isar River (Munich is known for its cycling collisions), where you can fly with great abandon from the technology museum sector—a small island where the highlight is the Deutsches Museum—to the art nouveau public swimming pool and spa Müller’sches Volksbad, and from there up north and back into the city to reach the mouth of the English Garden. There surges the Eisbach wave, a manmade entry point for the park’s Eisbach River where you’ll find surfers shredding year-round. If you can bear to rip your eyes from their feats after however long, wander deeper into the park and find Munich’s second largest biergarten Chinesicher Turm (so-called for its odd, towering Chinese pagoda), as well as the hilltop temple Monopteros, the loveliest spot in town on a sunny day. 

The coolest place to hang out in Munich is Werksviertel-Mitte, the meatpacking district. This is an active slaughter zone—expect a slight smell—that has as of late gained a reputation as being the coolest place to dine in the city. Before you eat, take in a show at the newly headquarters of the Münchner Volkstheater (the artistic director of which is famous for his work on the Oberammergau Passion Play at the turn of the past two decades) or wander around the Bahnwärter Thiel, a cultural center with great shopping and artisan studios and a vast indoor-outdoor nightclub open in the summer months with a vast amount of seating available throughout.  Graffiti is legal here, and you can kill an hour or two just watching the artists at work—over piles of empty spray-paint cans, gathered in towering mesh enclosures, they are sculptures in and of themselves.

Outdoors at Alte Utting, a ferry that's been transplanted to a disused railway bridge and transformed into one of the city's best bars.

Quirin Kilger

In addition to full bar service, Alte Utting has several food stands offering pizza and more.

Quirin Kilger

Where to eat in Munich

In Werksviertel-Mitte, dine on seafood at a sexy little red restaurant called Atlantik Fisch—the compact brick building abuts the slaughterhouse and transforms into a minor disco at the weekend. It sounds a bit brutal, but this is where, it seems, everything cool is happening. Right across the street, Wirtshaus im Schlachthof is a classic Bavarian beer hall famous for its live music and comedy shows. A 10-minute stroll will lead you from these spots to Alte Utting. Once a ferry boat beloved for cruising a nearby Bavarian lake in the summertime, the MSS Ulte was transplanted upon its retirement to a disused railway bridge by a pair of brothers and turned into one of Munich’s finest bars. Here, you’d do well to enjoy a Hugo in their wood-clad cabin to the tune of live music—there’s also a bevy of food stands serving up everything from pizza to Indian in the land-locked garden annex. 

Back in the center of the city, the best Bavarian fine dining in the Michelin Guide can be found at Pfistermühle—dine on salted cod and tenderest veal beneath the vaulted ceiling of this 16th-century mill, or sitting outside on the picturesque cobblestone street. Nearby, Zum Dürnbräu is a more casual option for classic Bavarian dishes (the succulent duck is not to be missed). Other major mainstays for fine dining include Little London grill for your good German steaks and Brenner Grill, a vast open grill that feels ripped from the ‘90s (positive!) for its vast dining room and see-and-be-seen professional air. 

I’d be remiss not to mention the Viktualienmarkt, a bustling daily food market just off Marienplatz with stalls upon stalls of local produce and food made from that produce and biergartens in which you are encouraged to eat that food alongside a nice cold beer. The highlight stall here is Caspar Plautz, which has a sweet origin story. The market is zoned into little neighborhoods, and each neighborhood honors within its bounds a no-compete agreement—there will be no stand that sells the same produce. In Caspar Plautz’s case, the only ware not already on sale was the humble potato. Not to be discouraged, the enterprising duo who sought to open a market stand of their very own took the potato and ran with it—here, you can buy seasonal potato-of-the-week dishes (past examples include the Papa Pataca, featuring mashed topinambur topped with creme fraiche, roasted shiitake, and capers, and a baked potato stuffed with feta cream, cucumber, and cilantro) so long as you’re willing to brave an ever-growing line of fans.

The living room of the Mandarin Oriental, Munich's one-bedroom Panoramic Suite, located on the hotel's six floor.

Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental

Where to stay

Munich’s hotel scene is diverse and accommodating of a variety of price points. In the realm of the four-star, Platzl Hotel would be the traditional choice. Warm wood interiors extend from the lobby paneling to the rooms’ built-in closets—it’s sleek and home-y at the same time, very comfortable but in a dynamite location. Spread across the city are the Cocoon hotels—Hauptbahnhof, Stachus, and Sendlinger Tor, the latter being between central Marienplatz and Werksviertel-Mitte in the young, student-forward neighborhood of the same name. These are extraordinarily clean and stylish options for the budget traveler—you’ll find young couples, solo travelers, businessmen, even families enjoying the fabulous hotel breakfast.

Of the usual luxury suspects, there are many to choose from. The Mandarin Oriental, Munich has the sexiest cocktail bar in town in the form of Orly, bright airy rooms, and a roof garden for summertime mahjong. The 300-room Hotel Bayerischer Hof is a proper, old-school Grande Dame, and The Charles Hotel, a Rocco Forte Hotel is a beloved contemporary white sculptural outpost on the edge of the Botanical Garden. Also, keep an eye out for the Rosewood Munich opening in town in late 2023.