Munich City Guide: Museums, Beer Gardens, and More Things to Do!

Munich (München in German) is the capital of Bavaria and a perfect point to start exploring Germany. You can stop by its famous breweries, visit world-class museums, and enjoy a bit of green space in this pedestrian-friendly city.

To me, Munich has two sides to its visitor experience. There’s a formal, reserved museum side and another relaxed, jovial beer garden side. One minute, you’re quietly admiring a religious sculpture in a church, and the next you’re a liter into partying at the Hofbräuhaus. Ideally, you want to see some of each side when you visit. I’ve grouped the main sights into these general categories. 

After the sights, I’ll explain how to get around the city and where to stay.

Things to Do: The Museum Side

Residenz and Nymphenburg Palaces

Munich is home to two royal palaces of the Bavarian monarchs, their main Munich Residence (Residenz München) and their summer palace, the Nymphenburg Palace.

The Munich Residence is the huge and opulent mothership of the Wittelsbach dynasty. It’s a sprawling place, filled with beautiful art and luxurious decor. The tour is a bit long, so don’t feel like you have to soak in every room. Some of the most iconic Rococo rooms come late in the tour. The audio guide is a must if you want to hear the stories behind these royal rooms.

The Residence is also home to the royal treasury (Schatzkammer), which houses the crown jewels and a collection of jaw-dropping riches. You’ll see golden crowns, statues encrusted in gems, and religious objects made with the finest craftsmanship. It’s a separate admission, but well worth it. In fact, I recommend seeing the treasury before diving into the palace tour. 

Another separate admission is the Cuvillies-Theater, a lavish Rococo theater designed by François de Cuvilliés. The original was destroyed during World War II, but it has been carefully recreated. The theater hosted opera premieres from Mozart and Weber, so it’s a worthwhile stop for fans of classical music.

The Nymphenburg Palace is the royal family’s nearby summer home. It’s a relatively short tram or S-Bahn ride from the city center, situated among beautifully landscaped gardens. The palace is similar in style to the Munich Residence but a lot smaller. Much of the building is now devoted to museums like the carriage museum and the royal collection of porcelain. If you’re more interested in seeing the palace gardens or the Residence sounds like too much, head out to this palace instead. Or, you know, do both.

Alte Pinakothek

My pick for a traditional museum is the Alte Pinakothek, an art museum devoted to paintings by the old European masters. On a single floor, you’ll see paintings starting in the medieval period and moving through the 18th century. (Paintings from the 19th century are in the Neue Pinakothek). It’s a collection with some incredible pieces, and not too big to manage in a couple hours. Ask for an audio guide at the ticket desk.

A few highlights to look for:

Nazi Documentation Center (NS Dokuzentrum)

We may think of Berlin as the center of Adolf Hitler’s regime, but the Nazi party rose to power in Munich. The Nazi Documentation Center tells this story, from the beginnings of the party, to the racist policies they brought to Germany, to the struggle of World War II and beyond. It’s a challenging experience but perhaps an important one, with lots of reading and historical photographs. The parallels to modern far-right movements will make you shudder. Admission is free. 

Other Museums

Munich has lots of museums. So many museums. Whether you’re interested in Egyptian art or the history of Bavaria, they have a museum for you. See more if you like, but don’t forget to slow down and have a beer too.

Historic Churches in the Altstadt 

Munich has been an important city since Roman times, and it comes with a collection of gorgeous churches from throughout the centuries. 

  • St. Peter’s Church (“Alter Peter”) – the oldest church in Munich, though not the oldest looking. Founded in the 1100s, the church was updated in the 1700s with the latest Baroque decor. Golden statues and an exuberant high altar brighten the space. You can climb the 300 steps to the top of the bell tower for a fantastic view.  
  • The Frauenkirche (Munich Cathedral) – iconic onion-domed towers lead into the huge gothic interior of Munich’s official cathedral.
  • St. Michael’s Church – a vast Renaissance church, and the final resting place of several Wittelsbach monarchs. The facade of the church has a family tree with bronze statues of the royals. Inside, the church has a huge barrel vault roof that grants elegance and impressive acoustics to the space.
  • Assam Church – the enterprising Assam brothers were Baroque church artists by trade. They built this private chapel on a small residential site and stuffed it with every artistic detail they could manage.

Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial

The site of the first Nazi concentration camp is located a short train ride from Munich. What started as a prison camp soon became a place of unimaginable horrors, where tens of thousands of people were tortured and executed at the hands of the Nazis. It’s a heavy, difficult place to visit. It’s a place that bears witness to the very darkest chapters of history and presents them with unflinching clarity. That said, it’s a powerful experience that you will never forget.

Admission is free. Tours in English and audio guides are available for only a few euros. 

Things to Do: The Beer Garden Side

Actual Beer Gardens

Moving on to Munich’s more laid-back side, a perfect place to start is one of the city’s famous beer gardens! What is a beer garden? Well, it’s an outdoor space with long, picnic-style tables and a few trees where you can drink beer and eat. It’s a social atmosphere, perfect for enjoying tasty brew by the liter or half liter. (Locals usually order a half, since the bigger beer gets warm before you finish it.)

In Munich, beer is an honored tradition. Breweries stick to the old styles of lager like Helles (light) and the malt-heavy sweeter Dunkel (dark). You’ll also find Weissbier AKA Weizenbier (wheat beer), which has a more yeasty and slightly fruity flavor. Why not try them all?

Recommended beer gardens:

  • Viktualienmarkt – the beer garden at the river Viktualienmarkt is centrally located and loved by locals and tourists alike. The beer served rotates between Munich’s six main breweries.
  • Chinesischer Turm – a Chinese-style pagoda marks the spot for a huge beer garden in the Englisher Garten (see below). Grab a beer and join the festive crowd among the trees of Munich’s largest city park.


Speaking of the Viktualienmarkt, you should go there for more than just the beer. It’s Munich’s central market and the epicenter of delicious food. Check out the top-notch food vendors, stop by the aforementioned beer garden, and consider the many restaurants nearby. Take a moment to admire Munich’s maypole, which features the six local breweries that serve beer at Oktoberfest. And don’t forget gelato! There’s a branch of Italy’s formidable Venchi just a block away.

Famous Breweries

Had enough beer yet? No? Check out one of Munich’s breweries/beer halls. The most famous is the Hofbräuhaus, where you’ll find the huge place packed with tourists and echoing with oom-pah music. It’s a festive and fun atmosphere, despite the Disney-esque commercialization.

Locals might prefer Augustiner, which doesn’t advertise or widely distribute its delicious brews. There are several locations in central Munich, including one on the Platzl by Hofbräuhaus, one on Kaufingerstrasse, and the big Augustiner-Keller near the main train station.

The other Oktoberfest breweries are Paulaner, Löwenbräu, Spaten, and Hacker-Pschorr. All offer similar styles of beer brewed to Munich’s exacting standards. You won’t go wrong with any of them.

Marienplatz and Neues Rathaus

Look, you’ll probably find Marienplatz on your own. It’s the city’s main square, bordered on one side by the iconic Neues Rathaus (New City Hall). The Neues Rathaus has an impressive neo-gothic facade with a glockenspiel, a clockwork sculpture that moves at 11 am, 12 pm, and 5 pm daily. You can also take an elevator to a viewing platform high in the bell tower. 

Englischer Garten

Munich’s largest park, and one of the largest city parks in Europe, the Englischer Garten is the perfect place to get some fresh air. You can ride a bike along the Isar River, or just stroll around a lake. Stop for a beer at one of the park’s beer gardens, like the huge one at the Chinesicher Turm. 


The royal garden is a great place to read a book or take some Instagram photos. It’s next to the Munich Residence palace, with lovely fountains and an elegant pavilion at the center.

Getting Around Munich


Munich’s city center is very walkable. From the Hauptbahnhof, the main train station, you can reach central Marienplatz in only 15 minutes. Within a half hour, you could walk to most of the major sights. There are major pedestrian-only streets that criss-cross the Altstadt. Look for Kaufingerstrasse and Sendlingerstrasse/Theatinerstrasse, all of which meet at Marienplatz.

Public Transportation 

Munich has great public transportation. The main systems are the U-Bahn, a local subway/underground train system, and the S-Bahn, a wider local train system. Just remember “U” stands for “underground.” The U-Bahn is generally more useful for getting around the city center, but the S-Bahn is helpful for reaching places farther away. But wait, there’s more! Munich also has trams AKA Strassenbahns, what we would call “streetcars” in America, and buses. Fortunately, all these systems are part of the MVV transit network and use the same tickets (more on that below).

If you’re flying into the Munich Airport, I’d recommend taking the S1 or S8 S-Bahn into the city. (€11,50, 45 minutes). Get off at the Hauptbahnhof station, where you can connect to other transportation as needed. There’s also a Lufthansa Express Bus, which is about the same time and money as the train.

If you’re coming by train, you’ll probably end up at the Hauptbahnhof, the main train station. The Hauptbahnhof is only about a 15 minute walk from Marienplatz in the center of town.

The simplest method of navigating public transportation is to punch in your destination on Google Maps and follow the step-by-step instructions for which trains to use. You can also use the MVV’s website or mobile app.

Buying Transportation Tickets

To buy a ticket, find one of the MVV machines or the red Deutsche Bahn machines; both sell local transportation tickets. Press the UK flag for English and type in your destination. The machine will offer you a ticket for the appropriate fare.

Ticket vending machine at Munich Airport by JIP, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Note that you can buy tickets with validation or without validation. The pre-validated ticket is good for a journey right away (within 3 hours), while the non-validated ticket is good only after you validate it at one of the little blue machines. Now, tomorrow, whenever you decide to validate the ticket. The pre-validated tickets don’t fit into the machine, so you can try it if you’re not sure which you bought.

If you’re using the transportation system a lot, you can save money by buying an all day ticket. These are good for as many rides as you want within the timeframe. There’s also a group all day ticket, which covers up to 5 people. It’s a great deal, as long as your traveling group is staying together. The cost depends on how many zones you’re traveling through. The base price for Zone M covers the central city. Add zones if you’re headed somewhere farther away.


Munich has a serious bike infrastructure too. Personally, I was more comfortable walking, but biking would be a good way to see places like the Englischer Garten. You can rent a bike from Radius Tours at the main train station. There are also app-based bike share systems, if you can figure them out.

Where to Stay in Munich

In a big city, choosing a hotel also means choosing a neighborhood. Here are some options to consider.

Altstadt – The Altstadt (old town) is the historic center of the city, where most of the main sights are. The architecture is beautiful, the restaurants are great, and the beer options are numerous. This ideal location for tourism comes at a price, of course: hotels here tend to be pricey.

Ludwigsvorstadt – This neighborhood near the Hauptbahnhof has many affordable hotels and easy access to transportation. You can walk to places in the Altstadt, too. It’s an international area, with restaurants from around the world. 

Maxvorstadt – Munich’s museum neighborhood and home to two universities, Maxvorstadt is another central option, particularly for arts and culture. It’s walking distance from many sights, and a bit more modern/trendy than the neighboring Altstadt.

Other Neighborhoods –  With Munich’s excellent public transportation, you can easily base yourself in another neighborhood. Stay near the Englischer Garten in Schwabing or across the river in Au-Haidhausen. If you’d like to see a less touristy side of Munich, don’t be afraid to explore.

Further Reading

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