I spent over a month living in Munich two summers ago, while studying German at the Volkshochschule.
If I were to describe Munich as person, I’d describe him as well-to-do man in his late twenties, with an aristocratic background, but on the weekends he’d chill at a nondescript hipster cafe drinking authentic Italian coffee. Picture Jude Law, circa late 1990s.
Basically, it’s where the “old rich” Europe and the millennials collide. Which makes for a pretty damn remarkable city.
So here’s my list of the 11 non-touristy things you absolutely must do when in Munich.
1. Picnic at the Englischer Garten
Stroll around on foot, bring in a picnic blanket and a few bottles of beer. If it’s really sunny, put on a cute bikini or shorts and some serious sunscreen. Be prepared to spend hours on end here, just languidly tanning away in the midst of good company. Feast your eyes on the casual naked men displaying their vintage crown jewels in the sun. If you’re lucky, ladies might walk around unabashed without their tops on. Expect random musicians performing pro bono. It might be a hipster band from Berlin, or a folk band from North Africa. If you’re gutsy, jump into the Eisbach river that runs through the entire park. The current is strong and feel free to let yourself be carried away. Note: The water is colder than Hitler’s heart.
2. Brunch at Cafe Vorhoelzer
Climb up five stories if you so desire, otherwise press a button for the lift. A lovely rooftop bar cum cafe awaits. Order at the counter, tasty food that won’t break your budget. Situated above Munich’s second largest university, expect to hang with young university crowd. Don’t worry about rowdiness – Munich students are a far cry from American sorority types. Don’t expect to see a game of beer pong anywhere (in fact, Germans might be offended by the concept of beer pong. Beer comes in liters and should be swiftly downed. Do it like a man.) The crowd is mostly gracious, polite, and each one is more attractive than the next. Order a Radler on a sunny day.
3. Stroll and Shop at Türkenstrasse & Schellingstrasse
Wander about with your pockets full of cash here. Boutique shops and cool designer clothes await.
A personal favorite is a shop called Kauf Dich Glucklich (Literally translated: Buy yourself happiness.) Absorb the coolness of these streets. A beautiful marriage of new ‘trendy’ shops and ancient bookshops that are still charmingly called ‘Buchhandlungs’. Have a coffee someplace quick, or a good plate of pasta at Lo Studente. Rent a bike and cycle around, blend in and pretend to be a German university student.
4. Sit and Read a Book at the Hofgarten
Mazes and fountains, it’s a mini Versailles. Sit on one of the many benches and devour a cup of coffee or a book. Elderly couples might pass by, extremely well-dressed and walking their well-behaved hounds.
An abundance of trees makes it unbelievably peaceful. If you pay it a visit in the evening, make your way to the center of the garden. The small gazebo in the middle has a raving art and music scene. Expect a tango dance session, or a soulful violinist, or just your average cause-we-felt-like-dancing sessions. Note: You feel like taking photos of this place all the goddamn time.
5. Visit Museum Brandhorst
Most museums should be saved for a rainy day, except this one. Home to modern artists such as Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Damien Hirst, Joseph Beuys, Jean-Michel Basquiat and more. The building itself is an enviable piece of architecture – wide and white, this gallery doesn’t skimp on space. There’s even a cozy reading place on the top floor, with wide windows overlooking Munich. Step out of here feeling like you just made sweet love to modern art. I know I did.
6. Have a Drink at the Hausderkunst
A massive, austere looking building in the middle of city, the architecture and typography practically screams Third Reich Nazi. Haus Der Kunst literally means House of Art, and it was built during the Hitler regime to showcase German’s finest artists at the time. Now, it ironically serves the exact opposite purpose. Going against what it was built for, it now showcases the best of alternative and controversial artwork, such as pieces by Ai Wei Wei. Keep a lookout for the Nazi Swastika symbols etched all around the ceiling. Haus Der Kunst also houses Goldene Bar, a cool watering hole with pretty wicked ambience inside and outside. I bet the Nazis would never have expected their esteemed building to be populated with twenty-first century beer-drinking hipsters.
7. Chill at Gärtnerplatz
The city’s proud ‘gay quarter’ – that’s what the locals call it. Home to the famous Christopher’s Day Gay Parade, this area is chock-full of cool bars, cafes, hairdressers and whatnot. Sit in the grassy area by the central fountain and have a makeshift picnic. Everyone’s doing it. Have a beautiful brunch at Cotidiano (branch of the famous Le Pain Quotidien), but be prepared to queue. Light wooden chic interiors that looks like a carpenter’s dream and an easy-going vibe seals the deal. So easy-going that you might have a handsome labrador sleeping at your feet while you munch on your Frühstück.
8. Down a Litre of Beer at the Seehaus
Share a seat next to strangers and bond over beers, sausages, and Bretzels (pretzels the size of a newborn baby). Order a litre of Helles or don’t bother.
A charming biergarten at the end of Englischer Garten, right by the river. Down your beer while watching swans prance about in the water. German cuisine is not famous for being refined – but to hell with it – order the pork knuckle with a side of knodel (potato ball). Have a fatty carb party in your stomach. Enjoy the beauty of consuming a meal with cheerful drunk strangers by the water.
9. Get a Suntan at the Isar
The river that literally splits Munich in half is a popular stop for most locals. It is sometimes fondly referred to as Isar Beach, as plenty strip down to their bikinis and lie by the river when the sun is out. Wander around in peace, or join the the fun. If you’re (un) lucky, you might spot the famous ‘naked old man’ – an ancient man with leathery skin who tans nude with his dog. You won’t miss him – he looks like a Pixar character. Have a quick beer at the various beer gardens nearby, or a traditional Bavarian snack of Bretzels and Kartoffelsalat.
10. Feast at Theresa
Apart from their awesome interior design that’s sure to make any aesthetic-driven person fall in love, they also have pretty wicked food. Come for their daily lunch menu to spend less than 10 euros for a meaty meal. Observe the meticulous details in their design – from the tables and chairs to their spiffy designer lamps.
11. Dinner at Max Emmanuel Brauerei
Guidebooks might tell you to check out Hofbrauhaus, a beergarden in the middle of the city. But if you want to feel like a true blue Bavarian, then this is the place to be. Twinkling string lights draped from tree to tree, jovial locals greeting each other with a liter of beer, while waitresses in tight Dirndls run about with massive portions of pork knuckles. Seating is communal, so you’ll find yourself brushing elbows and thighs with your neighbor. But that’s all part of the fun. Come early, as this place gets uber packed when night falls.
I’ll do a list-only post of the best bars and restaurants in Munich soon. So stay tuned!