Top five experiences
Confident and cutting-edge, traditional and twee, Bavaria’s capital takes all the state’s quirky variety and condenses it into one of Europe’s most intriguing destinations.
The “city of art and beer” wows with its collections of old masters, Gothic sculpture and pop art; but when the high-brow day ends, Munich retreats to the beer hall to savour a hop-infused culture like no other.
Social barriers evaporate, strangers become friends and everybody sings too loudly, drinks in excess and has way too much fun at the world’s biggest beer bash in Munich. The event lures a global mob of hedonists, but there’s a quieter, folksier side, with less raucous beer tents and traditions taking visitors back to its early 19th-century beginnings. So squeeze into your lederhosen or dirndl and get on down to the Theresienwiese – it’s an experience you won’t forget.
3. Beer halls and gardens
Munich and Bavaria are synonymous with the beer hall, a time-warped institution of tankards; tightly trussed, strong-armed waitresses; and resident oompah bands. The daddy of all beer halls is central Munich’s Hofbrauhaus, but there are plenty of equally characterful, and perhaps less touristy, spots throughout the south. If you prefer your watering holes al fresco, Munich celebrated 200 years of the beer garden in 2012, and this passion certainly has another two centuries to come.
4. Schloss Neuschwanstein
Bavaria’s best-known castle emerges from hilltop woodland above Fussen like a storybook vision. Commissioned by Ludwig II, 19th-century king of Bavaria, Neuschwanstein is top of the league when it comes to Germany’s tourist attractions. What would have been a private royal residence is a reflection of Ludwig II’s longing to retreat into his own fantasy world, a secluded realm in which the operas of Richard Wagner played a pivotal role.
No wonder Walt found inspiration here for his Disney World creations.
If you’re a fan of wander (hiking), boy are you in for a treat – the hiking in southern Germany is about as good as it gets. Whether you want to ramble among the mythical mountains of Berchtesgaden, splashed with jewel-coloured lakes; crest the country’s highest peak, 2962m Zugspitze; or trek the Alps, there is a trail with your name on it. Edging west brings you to the wonderful Black Forest.
Museum of the Bavarian Kings
As if two of Germany’s dreamiest castles, Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, weren’t enough, someone’s gone and opened a must-see museum a short stroll away.
Perched on the edge of the picturesque little Alpsee, this former lakeside hotel is full of Wittelsbach memorabilia and provides a bit more background on the castles you’ve probably just toured.
The biggest, brashest characters of pop art rule at the Brandhorst, an edgy addition to Munich’s Kunstareal (an entire quarter of the city centre given over to galleries). Warhol, Hirst, Wombly, Flavin – the name-dropping list is long.
One of Europe’s finest rococo theatres reopened recently after a facelift. Go on an auditorium tour or dip into the program of classical music concerts.