City Guide to Munich, Germany: Part 1 | Travel Tips & Tourist Information
If Munich, Germany is on your list of places to visit, then we have the tips and travel information you need! We spent three weeks exploring the city and living our daily lives in Bavaria’s capital, Munich. From public transportation, the Munich Airport (MUC), and basic German phrases, to Oktoberfest and budget sightseeing, we have you covered!
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Our arrival to Munich, Germany was bitter sweet. Almost a year after landing in Ireland our time abroad was nearing an end. Looking back we’re amazed at where our travels have taken us (three continents, 23 countries, 18 house sits, and 60 cities) and we’re incredibly grateful for the life-changing experiences we’ve had and the wonderful friends we’ve made.
We ended our first year abroad with a few weeks in Munich, Germany where we were fortunate enough to be offered a house sit. We spent our time caring for two adorable cats, exploring a new city, immersing ourselves in daily life, and getting everything in order before returning ‘home’ (for now home would be with family, but we’ve decided to continue traveling long-term, but more on that in a future article!).
Of course, we want to share with you the ins and outs of visiting Munich! So, read on for all the details we researched, learned (sometimes the hard way), and experienced.
Daily Life and Store Hours in Munich
If you’re from a big city in the US, then you’re probably used to everything being open seven days a week and 16-24 hours every day. However, while in Munich, Germany prepare yourself to mind a different schedule!
We found that just about everything is closed on Sundays (a traditional day of rest that’s taken very seriously in Munich), particularly grocery stores and other service shops. Although, restaurants and cafes in main areas were open with reduced hours. Moreover, on holidays everything tends to be closed, including many restaurants and mall type shops. We found this to be unique, since in the United States it seems that stores see holidays as a way to have huge sale events.
Here are a few tips that you may find helpful in adjusting to Munich’s pace:
Plan your shopping ahead of time. If you tend to forget things like when stores will be closed, set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself to shop ahead of time.
Keep in mind that Germany (and of course the rest of the world) celebrates different holidays than the US does, so check a German calendar for possible holidays occurring during your planned visit.
Sightseeing Schedule and Holidays
Sightseeing on a Holiday can be blissful, or disappointing.
We set off to sightsee on a Wednesday because our weather app promised a slightly warmer day with a bit of sunshine. It was indeed warmer but unfortunately, we didn’t have any sun peak through. More importantly, after 45 minutes of walking around a nearly deserted downtown, we started to wonder why everything was empty and closed. We soon realized after seeing a few signs posted on closed boutiques that it was a German holiday.
It was great in the sense that the city was missing the rush of people commuting and tourists seem to sleep in a bit later. However, it was frustrating that every museum we had on our itinerary was closed for the day. The lesson here is to check a local calendar ahead of time (wherever you may be) for holidays and to find out how it will affect your sightseeing experience.
Keep in mind that we weren’t on a two week vacation to Munich where we would have normally checked for local holidays and early venue closures. Instead, we had just spent that last year visiting 60 cites, across mostly Europe, and so we were simply caught off guard by the holiday!
Oktoberfest in Munich
Oktoberfest is celebrated all over the world, but it originated in Munich, Germany. So if you’re planning to visit Munich for the ultimate Oktoberfest experience there’s a few things to keep in mind:
Don’t be fooled by the name, Oktoberfest starts in September! Specifically, starting at noon on the second to last Saturday of September and concluding the first Sunday in October following Germany’s Reunification Day on October 5th.
Millions of people visit over the three weeks of Oktoberfest, so even though the big beer tents hold 7-10,000 people, they fill up fast; Often before noon! If you’re in a group of 8 or more you can probably make a reservation (they fill up fast though), or if you’re in a pair you’ll probably have luck squeezing into a tent’s unreserved area. To better your chances of scoring a spot consider joining the festivities on a weekday.
The drinking age in Munich is 18 years of age.
Don’t expect to order just any beer at Oktoberfest! To be served, beer must conform to the Reinheitsgebot:
A minimum of 13.5% Stammwürze (which is approximately 6% alcohol by volume)
It must be brewed within Munich city limits.
Expect to spend €8-10 on a litter of bear, €6 on a liter of water, and €6-7 on soda.
Festivities are held at Theresienwiese, also known as Festwiese by locals. When not in use for Oktoberfest the area is used as a public park. However, preparation and build out of the grounds usually begins in June!
The festivities are commenced by Munich’s mayor in the Schottenhamel Tent when he taps the first barrel of Bavarian beer and announces ‘It’s open!’ (‘O’zapft is!’).
If you make it to Oktoberfest opening weekend, don’t miss the Costume and Riflemen’s Parade! From performers and musicians to horses and farm animals, this parade will captivate your attention as it goes through the center of town.
Traveling with a child? Children under six year of age are allowed in tents until 8 pm.
Book your Munich Oktoberfest hotel as soon as possible! If you can’t get a room close to Oktoberfest (held at Theresienwiese), the next best option is to book a hotel near a train station.
Sightseeing in Munich on a Budget
Sightseeing in Munich, Germany doesn’t need to be expensive!
Free and Reduced Museums
On Sundays, many of Munich’s museums are free or only €1. Although they tend to attract more crowds on these days, it’s a great way to save money. Check official museum websites to be sure, but we found Pinakothek der Moderne, Alte Pinakothek, and Neue Pinakothe to be great art museums that are a bargain at only €1 (on Sundays).
Plus, find a comprehensive list of Munich museums with free or reduced entrance fees on Sundays on the Munich Museum Portal.
A Free Show
Marienplatz is the central square in downtown Munich and is the home of Glockenspiel, a clock that comes to life to tell the story of the two week party celebrating the marriage of Bavarian Duke Wilhem V in 1568.
Experience the marvelous 43 bells and 32 figures come to life for 15 minutes at 11 am and noon, or at an additional 5 pm show March through October.
Free Music and Concerts
First, the Gasteig is a cultural center in Munich that offers free concerts at a variety of locations (Kleiner Konzertsaal, Black Box, Carl-Orff-Saal, or the Philharmonie).
Second, many beer halls and gardens offer patrons a traditional German music experience with oompah bands. The beer isn’t free but the music is!
And of course, for even more traditional German music and festivities, don’t forget about Oktoberfest. Attend the festivities and enjoy all sorts of free entertainment!
English Garden (Englischer Garten) is a huge park in Munich that has everything from wonderful scenery and walking/jogging paths, to world famous surfing and nude sunbathing!
Olympiapark in Munich, Germany was home of the 1972 Olympic Games. Along with the original Olympic stadium and event/sport venues, visitors can go to the top of the Olympic Tower (unfortunately not free), picnic in the park, walk along the Olympic Walk of Stars and visit the Sea Life Munich Aquarium (also not free).
Museum for Car Enthusiasts
Most car enthusiasts will already know that Munich is home of BMW (Bavarian Motor Works). So while the BMW Museum will no doubt already be on the itinerary, BMW Welt is a free BMW gallery that’s a must see for everyone.
More Free Things to See and Do in Munich
This list of free and budget things to see and do doesn’t stop here. For street art, monuments, memorials, churches, and much more, check out our City Guide to Munich, Germany: Part 2 | Must See Attractions (Coming Soon!).
Public Transportation in Munich, Germany
Getting around is simple! Most of city center and tourist attractions can easily be seen on foot, so we highly recommend walking if you’re up for it.
Public transportation (managed by MVV) in Munich, like other large German cities, is easy to navigate, comprehensive in its range, and reasonably priced.
The system is a combination of S-Bahn (above ground trains), U-Bahn (underground trains), trams, and buses, that all work together to get you where you want to go. There are a variety of tickets, including single tickets and all day tickets, and they can be purchased at most stations and on-board trams and buses.
Local Currency – Cash or Credit Card
In addition to a great travel credit card (we use a priority chip and pin, not chip and signature, credit card from First Tech Financial), we highly recommend carrying cash.
Don’t be fooled by the modern, advanced city that Munich is. In many respects it is, but it still has several stores and services that continue to be cash based. So, while your credit card will be accepted in many places, you’ll probably come across a few that only accept cash or European debit/credit cards.
We found ourselves in front of a cashier with a basket of groceries at Penny (one of the major grocery chains in Munich) and were unable to pay because we didn’t have an accepted credit card or cash on us. We’d been to Penny stores outside of Munich and used our credit card successfully, but it wasn’t an option during our stay in Munich.
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Munich Airport (MUC)
Munich Airport (MUC) is located outside of the main city, so you have a few options when getting to and from the airport. If you’re not renting a car, our top choice is public transportation, as there’s a train that will get you into town in 30-40 minutes depending on your final stop.
Here are a few tips:
To and From MUC (Munich Airport) Tips
Tickets vary in cost depending on what zones you’re traveling through (there are four zones total, the first zone is city center and from there the rest radiate out like a bullseye).
Ticket machines at the airport make it easy for you to calculate your fare. You simply input your destination and the machine auto calculates the price.
We were approached at the airport by other friendly backpackers, offering to share their group ticket with us. This could be a great option to save a few bucks if you can find travel companions going in the same direction as you are.
Common German Phrases
While you can purchase Rossetta Stone to learn German, you’ll be relieved to know that most people, especially the younger crowd, speak English very well.
With that said, if you simply learn a few phrases in German you’ll find your stay that much more enjoyable and will find that the locals will appreciate your effort! We’re big fans of Duolingo or Rosetta Stone for learning or brushing up on a language. But if you’re looking for the 80/20 solution we think knowing a few key phrases will get you pretty far!
Spoken German Phrases/Words
I don’t speak German, In German: Ich spreche kein deutsch
Thank you, In German: Danke
You’re Welcome, In German: Bitte
Excuse me/Pardon me, In German: Entschuldigung
Please, In German: Bitte (Yes, it’s the same as your welcome)
No, In German: Nein
Yes, In German: Ja
Written German Phrases/Words
It’s also helpful to know a few words you’ll commonly see written.
‘München’ means Munich in English
‘Strasse’ means ‘Road’ in English
‘Einweg’ means ‘One Way’ in English
‘Platz’ means ‘Place’ or ‘Square’ in English
*Click the German translation to view it in Google Translate where you can click on the audio icon to hear how it’s pronounced.
We had a fantastic time in Munich! It was a great cap to our yearlong long-term travel adventure as digital nomads exploring (mostly) Europe. One thing we know for certain though, is that our travels have just begun…