München ist so wunderschön! Between the ancient castles and museums, lively performances and beer gardens, Christmas markets, and nature’s beauty, it’s impossible to grow weary of Munich’s charms. Not only is she lovely, but also a wonderfully livable city. So livable that I tend to forget to take photos when I am there…oops. München is a home. Always, she’s been a comfortably interesting, easy-to-acclimate-to city. To the point, actually, where Monocle named Munich the world’s most livable city in 2018. Along with Berlin and Hamburg, München often appears in top-ten lists of cities in which to live. Would I love to live there? Absolutely. But visiting will have to do, I supposed.
Meanwhile, since I’ve been feeling Deutschland homesick, here are….
7 Reasons Why You Must Visit Munich
Disclaimer: You’ll want to stay years, not days. Try to leave at least 10 days for the area. City-hopping throughout Europe is not the way to do this.
Slithering through the city with her crystalline emerald gray water rimmed with bursting green in the summer and knobbly branched arms reaching into the winter, the Isar is more than just gorgeous. Summertime it comes alive with people of all ages sunning themselves, jumping into the frigid alpine runoff and paddling semi-uselessly against the current, surfing, kayaking, rafting, and, as the sun begins her dip towards the horizon, grilling. The Edeka Supermarkt across the bridge from the zoo looks like the most popular location in town after work lets out on any given pleasant Friday; people need their Bratwürste, their beer, their charcoal. As adults plop their beverages into the frigid waters for refrigeration, children happily run freely, playing in the smaller pools and tumbling over pebbly banks. The river bubbles along.
Swimming in the Isar, especially in the Englischer Garten, is fantastic on the hottest of summer days. With temperatures that never truly reach comfortable, both Germans and tourists alike are happy to take a flying leap (ironically right next to the “swimming verboten, danger to life” sign) into the rushing stream. The water is fast, so quick that you can paddle and flail with all your might and not make much headway upstream. Another surfer wave approaches with a thick metal twine at finger-tip height to allow the swimmers to grasp tightly for a pause, dodging surfers and avoiding being run over. (Yes, river surfing is both extremely popular here, and entertaining to watch.) A few minutes later, the water shallows out, and it’s manageable to swim/wade to an ancient-looking iron ladder up onto the street. Half-naked tourists and locals used to stand, dripping, inside the streetcar that would carry us back to the entrance to the Englischer Garten. Instead of leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, we leave a trail of Isar drops.
For those who love enjoying both rivers and beer, without the freezing-cold plunge: the Isar Flossfahrt. A bunch of tree trunk logs strung together, a live band on back, beer flowing freely and singing/dancing folks of all ages–what’s not to love? The driver wears Lederhosen; dressing up for everyone else is optional but generally encouraged. It’s a lovely way to spend a spare, sunny day.
While the Isar is not the only stunning water in the Munich area (check out the Starnberger– und Ammersee), it does have a great deal to offer in all seasons for the wandering soul, not to mention some of the better running and bicycling trails!
2. Bicycling and Running.
And really, anything athletic/outdoorsy. (Ironically, the bulk of this is about hiking. no restraint, i tell you)
A paradise for those who love and thrive outside, the options in Munich and her surrounding areas are endless. Hiking? Check. Swimming, biking, running? Oooolala. You could do a triathlon-esque workout every day and never tire of the scenery. And let’s not forget surfing! Here are my favorites (as briefly as possible), how to get there, and where to overnight, if necessary.
Most famous for the Zugspitze, and thereafter probably the Alpspitze, Garmisch-Partenkirchen has an incredible range of stunning wanderings to offer, from easy to quite technically difficult. Getting there is so easy, it’s barely worth mentioning: every half hour there is a train from the Munich Central Station. Approximately 1:22 later, you are in the Alps! Stay in a youth hostel (despite the name, all ages are always welcome) a short bus ride into Garmisch for a picturesque, more forest feeling, or right downtown. If you would like to get very fancy and sleep at the foot of the Zugspitze, there is also the 4-star Eibsee Hotel! Now, for some wanderings:
Opposite the Zugspitze, this mountain is opportune for family hikes of all ages. There is a cable car option for ascension, as well as a 3 kilometer hike along the top of the Wank. Complete mountain restaurants, its ease of access and amenities make the Wank a bit over frequented on summer weekends; however, the cable car does not run all year round, and crowds do tend to disperse over the three summits. If you’re feeling just slightly sporty and desire an easy, half-day hike, definitely wander up from the Partenkirchen Trailhead. Although the Wank tops out at a mere 1780 meters, the panorama of the “big mountains” and the Karwendel are nothing short of wonderful. Before visiting, take a look at these detailed plans and these photos of the Wank!
Forever I will have memories of wandering into the Klamm in the middle of the hottest summertime and breathing the still-frigid, fresh air and cold water dripping on my head–the perfect respite from the heat. Accessible most times of year, the summer is the best time. 700m of actual gorge, accompanied by a trail tunneled and hacked into the sides of the 80 meter high limestone walls, feels like a refrigeration tube as you wander in awe along the beautifully clear, turquise-shaded blue rushing stream. While the Partnach Gorge is becoming more well known, it has, happily, yet to become overrun with tourists (but still, try to go on a weekday). Beginning as an easily-accessible trail, after the Partnachklamm, the trail continues all the way to the top of the Zugspitze! There are other options after the Klamm for more adventurous, strenuous hikes 🙂 More information, photos, and a map.
Okay, so I thought the Partnachklamm was gorgeous…..the Höllental (valley of hell, for us English speakers) path and gorge is even more spectacular, and less tourist-infested! It’s a perfect day-hike from Munich, and, superior to both the Partnachklamm and the Wank, this hike is a necessity! Not to mention the wonderful hut, the Höllentalangerhütte, a couple of hours into the hike for either a hefty lunch or beer refreshment 🙂 If you’re somewhat skilled and feeling ambitious, the hut is an exceptionally fantastic sleeping space to then continue to the top of the Zugspitze the next day, the highest point in Germany! Or, on the return hike to civilization, there is the option to take a path along the top of the valley through which you recently hiked. Again, I highly recommend!
Check out my lunch view from the hut!
Zugspitze and Alpspitze
Any entry about Garmisch-Partenkirchen or short trips from Munich would be remiss without these two beautiful and famous peaks. Both are easily accessible by cable car, but I of course recommend the long and winding hike! The reward is all the sweeter, and cheaper…check out the prices for the Alpspitze and Zugspitze cable cars, not to mention the rushing crowds in the summer months..although, I will say, the views are also probably incredible.) Also personal preference: the more time spent in nature, the better. The Alpspitze, with its more pointy, intense appearance, tops out at approximately 2628m and requires equipment appropriate for a via ferrata. Click here for a full list of useful supplies and for more Alpspitze hike details!
At either the Zugspitze or the Alpspitze, you have this stomach-dropping, immense feeling of standing at the top of the world! Via either the Höllental or the Reintal/Partnachklamm, the strenuous path up the Zugspitze is jaw dropping. Once at the summit, you also stand in between Germany and Austria, half your body in one country, half in the other at times. My sister and I skiied the Austrian face of the Zugspitze–this must be done at some point in your life!
Now, away from the entzückende Garmisch-Partenkirchen and to the lovely Starnberger lake, a 27-minute train ride from the München Hauptbahnhof. The Starnberger See is a stunning Ausgangspunkt for what could be a multi-day hike en route to the alpine foothills of Füssen, where the famous Neuschwanstein Schloss is located (hence, the König-Ludwig-Weg). Known as a Traumpfad, or dream path, the views and nature are quite exquisite and fantasy-filled. Due to the pristine infrastructure along the Pfad, the König-Ludwig-Weg rose to acclaim in Germany as the first multi-day hike that could be completed without a pack. The 122km hike can be completed comfortably in 6 days, making it a bit more manageable than the München–>Venedig Traumpfad! Scroll a bit to see a detailed itinerary and map. The end destination:
To be honest, there are dozens of day hikes that can be accessed within an hour, hour and a half’s drive from Munich. One of my recently discovered, new favorites is the Karwendel range. Read more about Munich –> Karwendel in my blog post here 🙂 or another detailed itinerary here.
Other hiking suggestions/information near Munich. (I love hiking the most.)
Of course, there are your city pools for lap swims, but who wants to swim indoors when the summer is so wonderful, complete with a mountain backdrop? As long as you have a bike or a Bayern-Karte, any of these options are wonderful, fresh, clean swim places. Disclaimer: Germans love to be in the nude. It’s not a sexual thing. You will see naked people enjoying the sun or bobbing around in the water. Anyhow, here is a list, because this is a post of many lists of many great things.
Munich river swimming: the Isar
Strategy is involved here. The river is bright and swift. Sometimes there are small dams. Swimmers and dams do not do well together. However, most of the deeper portions are near dams, so use your brain and paddle over to the riverbank in time. Also, I’d recommend walking at least 400m up the river from where you’d like to get out before leaping into it, if possible, to extend the trip! Swimming upstream will get you nowhere, unless you are Michael Phelps. FYI, I never know the names of these places, just how to get there, so here is a map! Every place can be accessed by bicycle, as a path runs along both sides of the Isar river most of the time.
By biking along the western side of the Isar, south of the zoo, one reaches two great swimming holes, the one farther from the city being slight ideal but also more wild/less crowded:
Turning left to cross the Isar over the bridge before the Wasserkraftwerk and then turning right leads to narrow, twisty, barely-maintained forest paths. Continue down to the bank leading away from the dam for a pebble beach, great nap area if you remembered your foam sleeping mat, and swimming! Approximately a 45-minute ride from the zoo. On the way back, do not cross back over the bridge–keep cruising up the middle of the Isar, with the river on both sides!
For a shorter ride, again ride south along the Isarwerkkanal on the western shore. From the zoo area, this will be an approximately half hour ride at a good clip, mainly over gravel. Between the Isarwerk 1 and the Isartal bridge, be sure to pop up one of the side trails, as this will drop you onto the Hinterbrühler See, more of a lake scene. On clear days, even the mountains can be observed in the background!
Somewhat north of downtown Munich exists of course the varied options within the Englischer Garten, as described at the beginning of this ever-growing post. While being in the midst of the crowded areas is fun in and of itself–very multi-kulti, many new friends to be made–to escape/swim where the locals are more apt to be found, cycle ever farther into the Garten. The Seehaus area is picturesque/will suck you into the pages of an old fairytale scene, but swimming is expressly forbidden here. Rather, make your way to the Eisbach area shown in the maps below. Between the bicycling bridge and the Tivoli-Kraftwerk, the perfect area for napping and reading in the sun exists. Want to take a flying leap into the water? Take a hike, upstream. I usually walk along the bike path on the western side, again, to the fourth bridge up from the Tivoli-Kraftwerk. Seriously, jump in. It’s chilly! And also the most refreshing swim in the world on those almost oppressive summer days.
Now for Munich lake swimming: infinity options, if you know where to look.
Since I have apparently no idea how to write a manageably-sized blog post, here is a great site of all other possible nearby swimming locations, and some photos of my favorites!
Similar to the famous Marienplatz (Munich) –> Markusplatz (Venice) route for hiking is the semi-popular, extraordinary view-filled trans-Alpine route from München or Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Riva del Garda in Italy. If you are more hard-core, this can be, shockingly, accomplished in one day. Too strenuous for a vacation, in my semi-athletic opinion. My sister and I rode 4 days at approximately 50-60 kilometers per day along much of the Via Claudia, then spent another 3 relaxing and reviving ourselves in Riva, but the route can, of course, be constructed to fit your own goals. One day, I will actually write a post about it. Not only is the scenery some of the best, but one has this immense feeling of: wow, I did this. The mountains did not defeat me! Here are a few, agonizingly chosen photos, along with our basic itinerary. We never took a bus or train and traversed a couple of mountain passes!
- Garmisch via the Ehrwald to Imst
- Imst via Nauders to Merano (note to future self–bike all the way to Nauders the first day)
- Merano to Trento (This was supposed to be to Molveno, but was a bit much for one day. Next time, biking with a fitter partner or adding an extra day.)
- Trento to Riva!
For something a bit tamer, here are some of the best routes in and around Munich! Having a bike in Munich is essential, whether you rent by the hour or rent for the entirety of your stay. When the weather is pleasant, particularly in the summer, there is no better way to get around! I highly advise against ever renting a car to explore the city; the time spent sitting in traffic could be far better spent riding along the well-maintained bike paths! In addition, the large lakes near the city can be accessed by bicycle, as well as the many beer gardens (<-click here for routes.).
München is a relatively young, energetic, fit city consisting of many who also love the outdoors, and one of my favorite places in the world to lace up some Altra running shoes and fly! Any given day, rain or shine, joggers are out and about, particularly in the Englischer Garten or along the Isar. One can decide to remain on the better maintained, gravel or packed dirt paths, or wind up the narrower routes up and down the hillsides. Within minutes, it’s the easiest thing in the world to forget you are in one of Germany’s largest and most popular cities. Here is a great Munich running post with maps, because I, in my infinite denial that technology does indeed help life, never use Map my Run. One day, I will get on board. One day. To be fair, I also never check maps before I run. I enjoy getting lost. If this is more your style, find the river and run! For more intense trail runs, check out this post.
Switching gears now from the sporty section: your eyes. Crystal gray, ozean blue, emerald green, or peanut butter brown, whatever the color, they will be happy either indoors or outdoors in and around Munich. Especially coming from the United States, where much is relatively quite new. Although Munich did not begin blooming into the popular metropolis we know today until the 1800s (Augsburg, actually, used to be much larger), it has been a “city” since 1175 and in recorded existence since 1158. Thus, the rich architecture, art, culture, and history here are, simply, incredible. Check out a timeline of München’s history, or read a wealth of information here. Everything in Munich seems to have an intriguing story behind it. Below are some of my favorite “old” sights with informational links! (More to come in the rainy days section.)
4. Rainy-day activities.
Castles, museums, restaurants, plays, cafes, naps, bars, nightlife…the possibilities are endless, and made infinitely more convenient by the subway system. But also, when in Germany, one should make like a good, upstanding German citizen and carry an umbrella along everywhere. Sunny with one cloud the size of a peanut in the sky? Pack that purse umbrella. In any case, here are some beautiful, warm, and dry cultural experiences in Munich!
And now, because I’ve decided this post has grown too large, stay tuned for part II! Rainy days, foods, German-ness & nearby cities, and Biergärten/Feste, coming in a month at this rate!