Traveling to Munich with Kids: 9 Top Things to Do
Bavaria is a wonderland for kids, with storybook villages, colorfully painted houses, and Europe's number one fairy-tale castle. Bavaria's capital city of Munich is just as appealing, with performing clocks, fanciful Baroque decorations, glittering palaces, engaging hands-on museums, and plenty of places to get active. The U-Bahn public transport system is convenient and easy to use and runs right from Munich Airport to the center of the city. With its Baroque palaces and churches contrasting with the Olympic Park and BMW headquarters, Munich is a happy blend of old Europe and high tech, and its attractions show tourists, both adults and kids, these different faces of Bavaria.
1 Watch the Glockenspiel in Marienplatz
One of the largest animated clocks in Europe, the giant carillon in the tower of the Neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus breaks into song and dance two or three times daily. At 11am, 12pm, and 5pm (only from March through October), colorful life-sized figures dance around, compete in a jousting match, and otherwise cavort while the bells chime out folk tunes. The 32 mechanical characters are acting out scenes from Bavarian history in a show that lasts more than 10 minutes, ending with a cock sticking its head out a door at the very top and crowing three times (be sure to tell kids to watch for the rooster, as it's above the two layers of performers).
Marienplatz is a great place to go anytime, especially in good weather when it's lively with street performers. For the month of December, it is filled with one of the city's several Christmas markets, and during any of Munich's frequent seasonal festivals, parades and events are held here. You can take an elevator up the Rathaus tower for views over the city.
Address: Marienplatz, Munich
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Munich
2 Act Like Royalty at Nymphenburg Palace
From their first look at the long (more than half a kilometer from wing to wing) façade of Nymphenburg, kids will know this is a royal palace. They won't be disappointed when they climb the grand staircase into its royal apartments and see the gold curlicues and frescoes of flowers and nymphs covering the walls and ceilings. Spread among the gardens and outbuildings are smaller and equally lovely palaces and lodges, including a bath house and the Amalienburg, a hunting lodge with its own Hall of Mirrors. The Marstallmuseum in the Court Stables is filled with elaborate formal coaches and carriages.
Spend time in the park, where you'll find fountains, cascades, canals, lakes, statues, a walled garden, a palm house, a hedge maze, a theater, and a sumptuous bathing pavilion. The park is free, and you can buy separate tickets for the various buildings of a combination ticket.
Address: Schloss Nymphenburg 1, Munich
3 Meet the Monkeys at Hellabrunn Zoo
Tierpark Hellabrunn is one of Europe's finest zoos, begun more than 100 years ago, and was the first zoo in the world to show animals grouped by their place of origin. The 89 acres of land it covers gives the zoo space to replicate as closely as possible the native habitats, where its more than 1,900 animals roam in large open spaces. Polar animals have their own building with a controlled climate, and birds can fly in a giant aviary. The zoo has walking paths, playgrounds for children, camel rides in the summer, and places to picnic along the river. The whole atmosphere is more like a nature reserve than a zoo.
Address: Tierparkstraße 30, Munich
4 Get Hands-On at the Deutsches Museum
Germany's most popular museum is brilliantly designed to appeal to all ages and interests as it delves into everything from Arctic explorers to zeppelins. Hundreds of the exhibits in this sprawling facility on an island in the Isar River are designed for younger children, with plenty more for adults and teens. One section, Kids' Kingdom, is filled with hands-on activities that explore computers, light, music, ships, water, sound, astronomy, and more. Kids can "drive" a real fire truck, play a giant guitar, discover forces of physics and energy with giant building blocks, and learn about power with pulleys, treadmills, and levers. This section is designed for children ages three through eight. Every means of transportation is covered, with special attention to flight craft. In the warm weather months, you can tour a lifeboat on the grounds outside.
Address: Museumsinsel 1, Munich
5 See the Crown Jewels at the Residenz Treasury
The city palace of the Bavarian kings is one of the most beautiful palaces in all Europe and quite different from the lighter and airier country palace of Nymphenburg. Here is royal grandeur at its height, a huge complex spreading around seven courtyards. One entire section was built in 1579 to house the Antiquarium, which is now part of the Residenz Museum. Along with the grand banqueting hall and sumptuous royal rooms, kids will like the Treasury, filled with glittering gold and gems of the crowns and other royal regalia. The Hofgarten, royal gardens, are beautiful, especially in the summer. In December, one of the courtyards is filled with one of Munich's best Christmas markets.
Don't miss the Cuvilliés-Theater, which is like stepping inside a royal jewel box. Originally built in the mid-1700s, the beautiful opera house was destroyed in World War II. But defying Hitler's orders that nothing could be removed for protection from bombing (he believed Germany to be so powerful that bombers could never reach it), an official had its magnificent carved figures and paneling safely hidden. It has been returned to its place in the restored theater, which is one of the finest examples of Bavarian Rococo ornament.
Address: Residenzstrasse 1, Munich
6 Climb the Stadium Roof at Olympic Park
Built to house the 1972 Summer Olympics, Olympic Park spreads over more than two million square meters that have been transformed into a giant recreation complex. World-class concerts are held here, as well as annual events such as the summer Tollwood Festival of arts. Families will find plenty of entertainment here, including ziplines, behind the scenes tours of the architecture, and a chance to climb the stadium roof. The 290-meter Olympic Tower predates the 1972 Olympics, built four years earlier as a television tower. Its Aussichtskorb has a revolving restaurant and platforms where you can enjoy panoramic views of the city.
Address: Spiridon-Louis-Ring 21, Munich
7 Paddle a Boat in the English Garden
Germany's largest city park is bigger than New York's Central Park, and contains everything from 36 kilometers of woodland paths to formal gardens and a Chinese pagoda. For kids, it's a good place to run, let off steam, swing on and ride playground equipment, feed ducks, and ride in paddleboats around the Kleinhesseloher See. Older kids will be disappointed to learn that there's nowhere to rent surfboards, so they can only watch surfers in one of its streams. While kids romp, parents can enjoy the changing natural landscapes, gardens, views from the Greek-style temple, even take part in a traditional tea ceremony in the Japanese Tea House. When everyone needs a break from museums and palaces, bring a picnic and retreat to this countryside right in the city center.
8 Take Time for a Konditorei
You won't have any trouble finding a konditorei in Munich. These bakery cafés are everywhere, and your kids are sure to spot the rows of luscious cakes in their windows. Inside are tables where you can join a favorite local pastime of having a mid-morning or mid-afternoon "bit of something" with a cup of tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. The cakes and pastries are every bit as delicious as they look. No need to know their names or be able to pronounce them. You can just point to the one you want, and it will arrive at your table. Judge by the looks or ask for one of the standby choices: Linzertorte (nut crust with raspberry jam filling), Schwarzwälder kirschtorte (chocolate cake with cherries and whipped cream), Obsttorte (sweet pastry crust filled with glazed fruits), Sachertorte (dense dark chocolate cake with fondant icing), or a Berliner (jelly doughnut).
9 Learn How Cars are Built at the BMW Museum
The Junior Campus at BMW Welt is devoted to discovering "mobility and sustainability with all senses" and engages children as it encourages their curiosity and imagination. The interactive exhibits explain the life cycle of a car and encourage questions about fuel sources and automobile construction. Hands-on exhibits are so creative and so much fun that kids won't ever suspect they are educational as well. The main museum explores the history and design of the BMW. It will interest automobile enthusiasts, but is guaranteed to bore most young people and those adults without a passion for motor vehicles.
Address: Am Olympiapark 2, Munich