16 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Munich
Munich, the capital of Bavaria and the third largest city in Germany, lies on the River Isar on the fringes of the Bavarian Alps. The focal point of Munich's historic inner city is the large open square, the Marienplatz, where you'll find the Old and New Town Halls. One of Germany's most popular cities to visit, Munich is also famous for its many fine churches, including Peterskirche, the oldest inner city church built during the Romanesque period; the Cathedral of our Lady (Frauenkirche), the city's most famous building; and Michaelskirche, the largest Renaissance church north of the Alps. Munich is also noted for its numerous parks, in particular the lovely English Garden (Englischer Garten), the world's largest urban public park. Given the numerous tourist attractions, museums, and galleries, expect to spend at least a few days exploring Munich's many treasures.
See also: Where to Stay in Munich
1 Editor's Pick Munich's Magnificent Residenz
For centuries the seat of the Dukes, Electors, and Kings of Bavaria, the Munich Residenz is undoubtedly one of Europe's most spectacular palaces. Laid out around seven large courts, the vast Residenz complex comprises three main sections: the Königsbau, fronting onto Max-Joseph-Platz; the Alte Residenz, facing Residenzstrasse; and the Festsaalbau (Banqueting Hall) overlooking the Hofgarten. The first section of this huge complex to be built was the magnificent Antiquarium, built in 1579 and now part of the excellent Residenz Museum. The Alte Residenz, a masterpiece of the late Renaissance and testimony to the growing power of Bavaria, followed soon after, and the final components - the Neoclassical Königsbau, the Festsaalbau, and the Court Church - were completed in 1848. Today, the Residenz is home to a number of monuments and museums, including the Residenz Museum, the Treasury, the Court Church of All Saints (Allerheiligen-Hofkirche), and Cuvilliés-Theater. Be sure to explore the palace grounds, too, with its many wonderful old courtyards - including the beautiful Court Garden - as well as numerous fountains, ponds, and gardens.
Address: Residenzstrasse 1, 80333 München
2 Frauenkirche: The Cathedral Church of Our Lady
Munich's huge Frauenkirche - the Cathedral Church of Our Lady - has been the main metropolitan church of the South Bavarian ecclesiastical provinces since the establishment of the archbishopric of Munich and Freising in 1821. Completed in 1488, this brick-built Late Gothic church owes its impact to its great size - 109 meters long by 40 meters wide - and its high walls, along with its sturdy twin 100-meter-tall towers with their characteristic Renaissance domes. One of the most famous of its interior features is the strange footprint found in the floor in its picturesque porch, said to have been left by the Devil after he came to inspect the church. So delighted was he that the windows seemed to have been forgotten, he stamped his foot, leaving the footprint that can still be seen today. A three-minute walk from the Frauenkirche, the long green space known as Promenadeplatz was once Munich's salt market. Today, it's embellished with statues of the Prince Elector Max Emanuel, the composers Christoph Willibald Gluck and Orlando di Lasso, and the Bavarian historian Lorenz von Westenrieder.
Address: Frauenplatz 12, 80331 München
Marienplatz has been Munich's central square since the city's foundation, and until 1807, was where markets were held, along with the occasional medieval jousting tournament. In addition to the massive New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus), it's here you'll find the majestic Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus) with its reconstructed tower. Other notable landmarks include the Virgin's Column (Mariensäule), erected in 1638, and the Fish Fountain (Fischbrunnen), a newer addition that includes bronze figures rescued from an earlier 19th-century fountain. Marienplatz is also a popular shopping destination and boasts a number of department stores, boutiques, and restaurants, and has for decades been the focus of much of the festive life of the Bavarian capital. Always crowded with tourists, it's also a great place for free entertainment, including buskers and mime artists. Celebrations reach a crescendo during the city's Fasching carnival when the Narren-Lindwurm (Dragon) dances over the square, while at Christmas, a huge festive market draws the crowds.
Address: Marienplatz, 80331 München
4 The New Town Hall
Completed in 1892, the impressive New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus) dominates Marienplatz, vying with the twin towers of the Frauenkirche - the Cathedral of our Lady - as Munich's best-known landmark. The main façade overlooking the Marienplatz is decorated with a profusion of figures and ornaments, including Bavarian dukes, electors, and kings, as well as fabulous creatures, saints, and well-known local characters. The world-famous carillon, the Rathaus-Glockenspiel, is the fourth largest in Europe. Every day at 11am, 12pm, and 5pm it plays old folk tunes, while its mechanical figures reenact historic events. Extensive views over the old city can be enjoyed from the middle gallery of the building's 85-meter tower (accessible by an elevator). An excellent Tourist Information Center is also here.
Address: Marienplatz 8, 80331 München
5 Asam Church
The beautiful Rococo Asam Church, dedicated to St. John of Nepomuk, was completed in 1746 by brothers Cosmas and Egid Asam and is richly decorated with stucco figures, frescoes, and oil paintings. While its exterior is impressive enough, particularly the large doorway flanked by massive columns and crowned by a figure of St. John kneeling in prayer, it's the interior that's most memorable. Highlights include a wrought-iron grille from 1776 that separates the stucco figures of the saints from the long nave with its galleries. On the projecting cornice under the ceiling is a magnificent fresco depicting the life of St. John. The most notable feature of the interior, though, is the high altar, enclosed by four twisted columns and on which sits a glass shrine containing a wax figure of the church's patron saint.
Address: Sendlinger Straße 32, 80331 München
6 The English Garden
Munich's English Garden (Englischer Garten) is not only the largest city park in Germany - it covers an area of 910 acres and boasts more than 100 bridges - it's also one of the most beautiful. Its naturally arranged groups of trees and plants offer ever-changing vistas, while its winding streams and artificial lake combine to create the impression of a mature natural landscape. Designed in 1785 as a military garden, the English Garden continues to attract locals and visitors alike, drawn here for its 36 kilometers of pathways and its 13 kilometers of bridlepaths. It's also a pleasant place to sunbathe and picnic. The park also boasts a nine-kilometer-long network of streams, some of which can even be surfed. It's also where you'll find some of Munich's top attractions, including the Bavarian National Museum with its fine collection of medieval German sculptures and tapestries, and the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection with its many displays of local prehistoric artifacts.
7 St. Peter's Church
Known affectionately as Old Peter, St. Peter's Church (Peterskirche) is Munich's oldest parish church and stands on Petersberg, a small hill originally settled by monks. Built in Gothic style in 1386, the church was altered with the addition of a Baroque choir with three apses in 1636, while the tower was given a lantern dome in place of its earlier Gothic spires. Interior highlights include the font by Hans Krumper, the red marble monuments by Erasmus Grasser, and the 15th-century Schrenk Altar with its sculptures of the Crucifixion and the Last Judgment. Also of note is the 20-meter-tall 18th-century high altar with its figures of the Four Fathers of the Church and St. Peter. The panel-paintings on the choir walls by Jan Polack are also worth seeing, as is the highly regarded Altar of the Virgin of Mercy (Mariahilf-Altar) from 1756. Finally, the 299-step tower - famous for its eight clock faces matched by eight bells - reaches a height of 91 meters and offers panoramic views as far as the Alps.
Address: Rindermarkt 1, 80331 München
8 Cuvilliés Theater
On the east side of the Residenz in Munich, the Cuvilliés Theater was built in 1755 and is the finest example of a Rococo theater with tiered boxes in Germany. The magnificent carved woodwork of the auditorium, with its four tiers of boxes, including one built especially for the Electors, was safely stored away during WWII, thus allowing its reconstruction in 1958. Architecturally stunning, the rare elegance and rich hues of its intimate Rococo interior makes it a truly unique setting for operas such as Mozart's Idomeneo, which premiered here in 1781, and which, along with many other Late Baroque period operas, is still performed on occasion.
Address: Residenzstraße 1, 80539 München
9 Burial Place of the Kings: St. Michael's Church
The largest Renaissance church north of the Alps, St. Michael was completed in 1597 and is notable for its nave with its high barrel-vaulted roof, the dominant feature being the triumphal arch at the entrance to the choir, the pattern of which is continued in the arches of the transepts, side chapels, and galleries. A striking feature is the tall three-story-high altar, along with the altarpiece, St. Michael fighting the Devil, from 1587. The four bronze reliefs dating from 1595 were intended for the tomb of Duke William V, while in the side chapels are many fine paintings and a precious reliquary of Saints Cosmas and Damian from around 1400. Another must-see is the Royal Crypt (Fürstengruft) underneath the choir, where 41 members of the House of Wittelsbach - among them Duke Wilhelm V, the church's patron; Elector Maximilian I; and King Ludwig II - are buried.
Address: Neuhauser Straße 6, 80333 München
10 National Theater Munich and the Bavarian State Opera
Widely regarded as one of the world's leading opera houses and home to the Bavarian State Opera, the National Theater (Nationaltheater München) was commissioned by King Maximilian I Joseph and built in Neoclassical style in 1818. Although destroyed during WWI, the structure was painstakingly rebuilt and reopened in 1963. Exterior highlights include the portico with its Corinthian columns, and its two triangular pediments reminiscent of a Greek temple. In the pediment of the portico itself are Apollo and the Muses, while in the pediment of the tall main structure is a colored glass mosaic depicting Pegasus. Inside, the delightful auditorium with its five tiers of seating is decorated in red, ivory, dove-blue, and gold. It was here that Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (1865), Die Meistersinger (1868), Rheingold (1869), and Die Walküre (1870) were performed, while today, it serves as home to the Munich Opera Festival, held here each summer.
Address: Max-Joseph-Platz 2, 80539 München
11 The Theatine Church of St. Cajetan
The Theatine Church of St. Cajetan (Theatinerkirche St. Kajetan), a catholic basilica built in the style of the Italian High Baroque, is one of Munich's finest churches and, together with the Frauenkirche and Peterskirche, is one of the city's most prominent landmarks. Completed in 1690, its most notable features include its massive 71-meter-high dome, its richly decorated interior, and its stunning façade with its twin towers. Exterior highlights include numerous marble statues of saints and the lantern with a lion weathervane atop the dome. The interior, dominated by the tall round-headed arches of the barrel vaulting and the dome over the crossing, is washed in white with rich stucco ornamentation. Other interior highlights include the high altar with its picture of The Virgin Enthroned with Angels from 1646 by Caspar de Crayer (a pupil of Rubens) and the Altar of the Virgin with a painting of the Holy Kinship from 1676. Finally, be sure to check out the Ducal Burial Vault where you'll see the tombs of members of the House of Wittelsbach.
Address: Salvatorplatz 2a, 80333 München
12 Hellabrunn Zoo
Spread across some 89 acres, Hellabrunn Zoo (Tierpark Hellabrunn) - ranked the fourth best zoo in Europe in 2013 - is one of the most popular attractions in Bavaria. Laid out in 1911, it was the first zoo in the world to have animals grouped according to where they came from. Today, more than 19,000 animals from 757 species are held in open enclosures meant to replicate the conditions of the wild, with animals that normally share habitats kept together wherever possible. Popular features include the Elephant House (now a listed building), the enormous 5,000 square meter free-flight aviary, the Polarium, and ape houses. In an area adjacent to the Isar River that's been designated a conservation area, the zoo has many delightful footpaths, playgrounds, and picnic spots.
Address: Tierparkstrasse 30, 81543 München
13 Nymphenburg Palace
Nymphenburg, a large white and gray Baroque palace with yellow ornamentation and red tiled roofs, was originally the summer residence of the Wittelsbach Electors in the 17th century. Extending more than 600 meters from wing to wing, this vast palace is surrounded on each side by the Nymphenburg Canal, which splits as it passes around the main buildings before reuniting again in a fountain-adorned pool in front of the principal façade.
Your first stop should be the Central Pavilion, a cube-shaped palace in the style of an Italian villa completed in 1674 and home to the lavishly decorated three-story Stone Hall (Steinerner Saal) and a number of private chambers with fine furnishings and artwork. Also of note is the Palace Chapel (Kapellenstock) with its wonderfully expressive ceiling painting illustrating the life of Mary Magdalene, and the Marstallmuseum in the former Court Stables with its beautiful state coaches. Be sure to visit the Amalienburg, a palatial hunting lodge known for its famous Hall of Mirrors. The magnificent 17th-century Nymphenburg Park is also well worth a visit. Highlights of this lovely walled garden include its many vases and marble statues of Greek gods, a large fountain, and a number of old hothouses, including the Palm House, home to Germany's first hot-water heating system. The maze with its Heckentheater (Hedge Theater) is another feature of the park not to be missed.
Address: Schloss Nymphenburg 1, 80638 München
14 Königsplatz and the Kunstareal District
One of Munich's busiest and most popular squares, Königsplatz was laid out in Neoclassical style in 1862 and is home to many of the city's top attractions. It's here you'll find the city's famous Kunstareal district, where many of the best and oldest of the city's museums are located. Highlights include the three Pinakothek art galleries: the Old Picture Gallery (Alte Pinakothek) with its fine collections of Dutch, Flemish, Italian, French, German, Spanish and Medieval Paintings; the New Picture Gallery (Neue Pinakothek) with its displays of art ranging from Rococo to Art Nouveau; and the State Gallery of Modern Art (Pinakothek der Moderne), which includes works by Picasso and Warhol. Other museums of note are the Glyptothek and the State Antiquities Collection (Staatliche Antikensammlung) with their large compilations of ancient sculptures and antiquities, while churches of note include the Baroque Theatine Church of St. Cajetan and the Ludwigskirche with its lovely façade flanked by tall twin towers.
Address: Königsplatz 1, 80333 München
15 The Bavaria Statue and the Hall of Fame
The colossal 18-meter-high statue of Bavaria, a female figure in the old German style, was modeled by the Munich artist Ludwig Schwanthaler and cast in bronze by Ferdinand von Miller in 1850. Designed to display the state's increased importance in Europe, Bavaria stands clad in a long garment and a bearskin, her raised left hand holding a garland of oak leaves, her right hand a sword, while at her side sits a lion, the heraldic animal of Bavaria. A flight of 126 steps leads up inside the statue to the head, from which there is an extensive view over the city. Weighing in excess of 792 kilograms, it holds the world record as the largest bronze figure ever cast. Behind the statue is the equally impressive Hall of Fame (Ruhmeshalle), housing numerous busts of famous Bavarians, including its kings and electors.
Address: Theresienhöhe 16, 80339 München
16 The Olympic Park
Home to the 1972 Summer Olympics, Munich's spectacular Olympic Park covers an area of some 2.7 million square meters on the Oberwiesenfeld, a former training ground for the Royal Bavarian army. Now a major recreational center, this huge facility hosts a variety of major concerts and events, including the Tollwood Festival, held twice per year (in summer and winter) and attracting upwards of one-and-a-half million visitors. A number of fun family activities have been introduced over the years, including a stadium roof climb, zip lining, and behind-the-scenes tours showcasing the facility's splendid architecture and design. Also of interest is the Olympic Tower, a 290-meter-high television tower built in 1968 that was renamed in honor of the Games. Of its two Körbe (pods), it's the Aussichtskorb you'll want to visit due to its fine revolving restaurant and viewing platforms offering breathtaking views over the city.
Address: Spiridon-Louis-Ring 21, 80809 Munich
Where to Stay in Munich for Sightseeing
All that remains of the medieval walls that once enclosed Munich's Altstadt (old town) are the impressive gates at Karlstor, Sendlinger Tor, and Isartor, but the broad, curving streets that replaced them still define the historic center. It's here that you'll find most tourist attractions, with Marienplatz at its center. Major museums lie just outside the compact center. These highly-rated hotels in Munich are all an easy walk from Marienplatz:
- Luxury Hotels: Locations simply don't get any better than Platzl Hotel, next to the Residenz palace and museums and a few steps from Marienplatz and shopping streets. Breakfast is included, and the beautifully furnished rooms have thoughtful amenities. In the heart of the old city overlooking Viktualienmarkt, near the daily food and flower market, Louis Hotel offers spacious, stylish rooms and a sauna/fitness area. A pool and sauna are added benefits at Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski Munchen, set amid high-end shops on the uber-fashionable Maximilianstrasse, a five-minute walk from Marienplatz.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Marc Munchen has spacious, well-designed rooms less than five minutes from the main rail station and less than 10 minutes from Marienplatz. Near the Isartor and 10 minutes from Marienplatz, Hotel Torbraeu has nicely furnished rooms in a historic building. Two blocks from the Residenz palace and museums and close to Marienplatz, Maximilian Munich is on a quiet street, with some rooms overlooking a garden courtyard.
- Budget Hotels: The hospitable Schiller 5 Hotel & Boardinghouse offers well-furnished rooms and free breakfast in a multi-ethnic neighborhood beside the main train station, just off Karlsplatz and the entrance to the old town. Breakfast is also included at Jedermann Hotel, a 15-minute walk from the old town but on a tram line to its center. Near Sendlinger Tor and the Rococo-style Asamkirche and a ten-minute walk from Marienplatz, Acanthushotel has small, comfortable rooms.
Recommended Day Trip Tours from Munich
- Salzburg: Just two hours by train from Munich is the beautiful city of Salzburg; birthplace of Mozart and the setting of the film The Sound of Music. If you have time to add this city to your itinerary, the Salzburg Small Group Day Tour from Munich is a hassle free, comfortable, and fun way to see Salzburg in a day. This tour includes a scenic rail journey, a walking tour of Salzburg, and free time to wander the historic streets on your own.
- Castle Tours: To see some of Germany's beautiful castles, there are a couple of options: The Royal Castles of Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Day Tour from Munich takes you on a full-day tour to the Bavarian Mountains to see the Neuschwanstein Castle, used as a model for Disney's Sleeping Beauty, and the Linderhof hunting lodge castle. The slightly shorter Neuschwanstein Castle Small Group Day Tour includes just one castle. Note that both of these tours exclude entrance fees to the castles.
- Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site: The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Small Group Tour from Munich is a five-hour trip with a professional guide to this memorial site, set on the grounds of the former concentration camp. The tour includes round-trip transportation and a guide.