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Munich Travel Information

Set against the majestic backdrop of the Alps, Bavaria’s colourful capital is a city for all seasons. At its heart lies the lively Marienplatz with the impressive Gothic New Town Hall dominating the skyline. Bustling streets lead to the famous Hofbrauhaus, whilst nearby lies the expanse of the English Garden with its beer gardens and bandstand. As evening falls, the convivial atmosphere of Munich continues in many bars, cafes and jazz clubs. Enriched by its ornate architecture, greenery, captivating hinterland and capacity for enjoyment, Munich is a delightfully inviting city and an excellent choice for a short break.

Munich, rivalled only by Berlin as Germany's most popular destination, is a city that enjoys contradicting itself. Don your Lederhosen, pack your Dirndl and head down to the capital of Bavaria, where cutesy folk traditions rub shoulders with BMWs, haute cuisine and high-minded sophisticates.

Munich has recently become Germany's second most popular destination after Berlin, due in part to its handy proximity to previously verboten destinations like Prague and Budapest. The city is a haven for high culture, with a staggering array of museums and a vibrant arts scene, and popular culture doesn't get much more plebian than the infamous Oktoberfest. Bavaria is souvenir-icon Germany at its most picture-postcard, and the fairy-tale Gothic, biergarten-filled city of Munich is no exception.

The heart of Munich is bisected by the Isar River, flowing northwards from its source 60km away in the Bavarian Alps. Most of the city's sights are clustered on the river's left bank. It's a 15-minute walk from the Hauptbahnhof to the Altstadt, the historic old centre - just head west through Karlsplatz (aka Stachus) and along the pedestrianised Kaufingerstrasse. It's difficult to get lost if you use the twin onion-domed towers of the Frauenkirche as a landmark. Marienplatz sits at the heart of the Altstadt, with the former royal palace to the north. Southwest of the Hauptbahnhof there's gentrified Westend and the Oktoberfest grounds at Theresienwiese. The university is north of Marienplatz at Schwabing, bordered by the English Garden, Europe's largest park. Schloss Nymphenburg is around 10km northwest of the centre, and Olympiapark is to the north. Somewhat seedy accommodation can be found around the Hauptbahnhof, and there are better options in Westend, also home to reasonably priced cafes and restaurants. There's a pub and restaurant quarter east of Marienplatz, and plenty of window-shopping along Maximilianstrasse.

Get out of those museums, take off your clothes and get some fresh air! Europe's largest city park (5km x 1.5km) is the place for nude sunbathing, as well as your everyday strolling, boating and imbibing Pilsner in a beer garden.

One of the beer gardens even has a Chinese Tower plonked in the middle of it, dating back to the park's construction in 1789. The park was donated to the populace by Munich's least popular ruler, Elector Karl Theodor, in an effort to avert any copycat French Revolutionary behaviour. An arm of the Isar River flows through the park, with surfing an added attraction on one of its chilly rapids ever since a GI from the occupying US forces waxed down a makeshift board and set off to find some waves in a landlocked state. The formerly bohemian suburb of Schwabing runs parallel to the English Garden. Head there for its graceful Jugendstil architecture and lively restaurant and bar scene along buzzy Leopoldstrasse.

Created under Ludwig I's auspices and anchored by the Doric-columned Propyläen gateway in the centre, this square is surrounded by Munich's major art museums. The square plays host to open-air cinema and the occasional rock concert. This windswept expanse was used as a paved parade ground for Hitler's Brown Shirts, but now the grass has returned and the Doric Propyläen gateway in the centre witnesses rock concerts rather than bombastic ceremonies. The square is dominated by two Greek-revivalist piles commissioned by Ludwig I to house yet more museums.

The Glyptothek borders the square to the north, packed full of Greek and Roman sculpture nabbed by Ludwig I during a jaunt to Italy. Hats off to the Barbarini Faun, a marvel of stunning male nudity rendered in marble. The State Antiquities Collection, on the square's southern border, is a jumble of badly lit ancient vases, jewellery, ornaments, sculptures and bits and pieces from Roman days - it's a bit like stumbling across a long-forgotten props room from Ben Hur. The mock-Etruscan villa adjacent to the Glyptothek is Lenbach House, former home of Bismarck portraitist Franz von Lenbach and now displaying a staggering array of 19th-century German paintings; the section upstairs devoted to the Blaue Reiter painters is perhaps more appealing, especially if you're a fan of Franz Marc or Kandinsky.

And for yet more museums, head further north for more Pinakotheks than you can shake a charcoal stick at: visit the Alte Pinakothek to see works by Botticelli, Dürer, van der Weyden and Rubens; to the Neue Pinakothek for Van Gogh, Manet and Goya; and to the Pinakothek der Moderne for applied arts, graphics and architecture.

This famous square is the heart and soul of the Altstadt (the old city centre). Its features include the glowing Mariensäule (Mary Column), erected in 1638 to celebrate the removal of Swedish forces; the neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus or city hall; and the flamboyant nonsecular St Peterskirche.

Visit Marienplatz on a warm sunny day and you'll find the world and its dog enjoying this open expanse of cafés. The spikes and turrets of the 19th-century neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus grace the square's northern border, while the forlorn bombed remains of the original town hall, the Altes Rathaus (1474), squat at its eastern end. The obvious photo opportunity is the Glockenspiel in the centre of the Neues Rathaus; the marvellous figures spring into action at 11am, 12pm, 5pm, 9pm. Take a lift to the top of the ridiculously spindly spire for more pictures.

The nearby Fishbrunnen harks back to medieval market days, when fish were kept alive in the fountain before being sold. Dip your purse in on Ash Wednesday and it will always be full - and if you believe that, you deserve to have a soggy wallet.

The square is graced by two churches. If the Föhn is blowing you can see the Alps in all their glory from the top of the Gothic St Peterskirche, and the rococo ceiling of the Heiliggeistkirche is just as gob-smacking. The other church you can see to the northwest is the city's trademark Frauenkirche - those oxidised copper onion domes are reproduced on everything from beersteins to tea towels. Ludwig the Bavarian is buried here. To the north there's Ludwig's Alter Hof, home of the Wittelsbachs before they moved to the Residenz; it received its severe neo-Gothic facelift during 19th-century renovations. Follow the raucous racket of cheers and oompah-music to the nearby Hofbräuhaus. Hitler's National Socialists first met here in 1920, and today the lovely old building is filled to the brim with beer-guzzling sightseers.

The palatial pile that housed the Wittelsbachs from 1385 to 1918 looms over the northern aspect of Max-Joseph-Platz. The complex today houses the Residence Museum, the Residence Treasury, the Old Residence Theatre and the Egyptian Art Museum. The Residenzmuseum's extraordinary number of rooms are jam-packed with Wittelsbach treasures. There's an antiquarium, rooms filled with Italian portraiture and Romantic depictions of Italian vistas (Italy was obviously all the go in the 18th century), the gold-splattered Ancestral Gallery of Bavarian rulers, halls devoted to battles once fought and rooms filled with porcelain from Berlin, Meissen and Nymphenburg. If diamonds are your best friend - along with rubies, emeralds and sapphires - you'll swoon over the treasury and Bavarian crown jewels. There's also an excellent display of antiquities on show at the Egyptian Art Museum, perched on the Residenz's northern corner on Odeonplatz. The Hofgarten is opposite, with a central Diana Temple and views of the pepper-pot towers of the Theatinerkirche St Kajetan, another favourite city landmark.

Schloss Nymphenburg
This picture-perfect Baroque palace was built from 1664 to 1758 as the royal family's summer residence. And what an over-the-top escapist fantasy it is. There's a two-storey dining hall decorated with fabulous frescoes, a room stuffed with Gobelin tapestries, a Heraldic Room, Chinese Lacquer Room and the Gallery of Beauties, lined with portraits of 38 local stunners who'd caught Ludwig I's eye (including a smouldering depiction of Lola Montez). The Royal Stables feature Ludwig II's unused wedding coach (the engagement faltered), and the Porcelain Museum is housed in the former Nymphenburg Porcelain factory. An English-style park surrounds the palace, highlighted by a central canal, various follies, a crystal and gilt-bedripped hunting lodge, Chinese teahouse, bathing house, witch's cottage, tropical greenhouses and a natural history museum.

The bustling Viktualienmarkt is one of Europe's great food markets, perfect for topping up your supplies or hunting for some edible souvenirs. In summer it's transformed into one of the finest and most expensive beer gardens around, while in winter there's warmth and schnapps in small pubs around the square.

Pending Berlin's full recovery from its long period of division, Munich is the German city which most has the air of a capital about it. Even though it has never ruled over a territory any larger than the present-day Land, the grandiose palaces from Bavaria's era as an independent kingdom give it the appearance of a metropolis of great importance. When this is added to a remarkable post-war economic record (courtesy of such hi-tech giants as the car manufacturer BMW, the aerospace company MBB and the electronics group Siemens), and to its hard-won status as the national trendsetter in fashion matters, it's easy to see why Munich acts as a magnet to outsiders. Students flock here to study; the rich and jet-set like to live here, as do writers, painters, musicians and film-makers, while foreign nationals now make up more than a fifth of the population. Munich's other, more familiar face is of a homely city of provincially minded locals whose zest for drinking, seen at an extreme during the annual Oktoberfest, is kept up all year round in cavernous beer halls and spacious gardens.

The city is something of a late developer in German terms. It was founded in 1158 by Henry the Lion, the powerful Saxon duke who for a short time also ruled Bavaria, as a monastic village (Mönchen means monks) and toll-collection point on the River Isar, a Danube tributary. In 1180, it was allocated to the Wittelsbachs, who ruled the province continuously until 1918 – the longest period achieved by any of the nation's dynasties. Munich was initially overshadowed by Landshut, though it became the capital of the upper part of the divided duchy in 1255. Only in 1503 did it become capital of a united Bavaria, and it remained of relatively modest size until the nineteenth century, when it was expanded into a planned city of broad boulevards and spacious squares in accordance with its new role, granted by Napoleon, as a royal capital. Hitler began an even more ambitious construction programme in accordance with Munich's special role as Hauptstadt der Bewegung "Capital city of the (Nazi) Movement"; thankfully, only a part of it was built, surviving to this day as a reminder of this inglorious chapter in the city's history.

Despite its cosmopolitanism, Munich is small enough to be digestible in one visit, and has the added bonus of a great setting, the snow-dusted mountains and Alpine lakes just an hour's drive away. The best time of year to come is from June to early October, when all the beer gardens, street cafés and bars are in full swing.