Munich wasn’t on our original list of places to visit, but its position between Salzburg and Bregenz fitted in with our plans to head to the opera in Bregenz on the last week of performances, in the lead up to meeting Garth and Ella for the Monte Rosa race. So we thought we’d enjoy a few days in Munich and see a city we had very few expectations of. And we were right – we did enjoy the few days in Munich, with a couple of side trips included.
Munich was a bit of a surprise, right from the at-station pick up by one half of our host couple, Gabriel. He was chatty and fun and gave us plenty of tips about how to get around and what was worth seeing, and even gave me a beer for lunch before he headed back to work! We made ourselves at home and went wandering to find dinner and get our bearings around the town.
Here are some of the fun things we found while in Munich.
- Schloss Nymphenburg. It’s a huge property that dates back to before Munich was really an established city, and was a playground for the rulers of the time. A trip around the inside is a step back into a time of opulence and excess, from the painted and gilt ceilings in every room and stunning portraiture, to the sheer scale of some of the quarters and houses. Attached to expansive and verdant gardens and ringed by buildings that have been repurposed to show more of the history, it’s an eloquent testimony to the artistic temperament of the local rulers and their families.
- The Munich Olympic Stadium. For a 44 year old district, the Munich Olympic Stadium was still pretty fun and lively to walk around. The Summer Festival that was being held while we were there definitely added some colour and life, but the manicured, sculpted grounds and bold architecture make it an interesting place to wander around regardless. The huge tower definitely makes its presence felt from all around the city.
- The English Garden. This long and cool green space stretches north-east of the city proper, riding the bank of the river and spreading out like a lush wedge. We walked through here on two separate days, stopping to watch locals surfing a crafted wave in the canals (which was oddly comfortable to watch) and to have a (giant) beer in the giant public beer garden at the Chinese Tower, complete with oom-pah band.
- Sure, an outdoor/adventure store isn’t the sort of place that you travel around the world to see, but this one was pretty bloody amazing. Four floors of gear, ranging from shoes in the basement (including a trial path made of different stone paths to test your new kicks on) to clothing, tents, survival gear, archery stuff (!), an indoor kayak-testing pool and plenty more. I needed some new trekking shoes and this was a worthwhile visit.
- Marienplatz and the Viktualmarket. Between them, the Marienplatz space with its giant, gothic structures and the very friendly local food and drink market at the Viktualmarket make for great places to see and get in amongst the people. Even in the blistering heat we found, it was a pleasant experience.
We took the train out to Neuschwanstein Castle, which is Germany’s most-visited castle and a pleasant ninety-minute train ride from Munich. We’d already been warned by Gabriel, our Airbnb host, that it was going to be thick on the ground with tourists, particularly since it was a long weekend in Munich. He was right about that, but it wasn’t quite as annoying as when we found ourselves in swarms in places like Prague and Vienna. We made it from the train to the bus, to the bottom of the long walkway to the castle proper.
We’d already decided that we didn’t need the interior tour of the castle, which was good, because on arriving at 11am, we found there wasn’t one available until 5pm that night, which didn’t suit our travel plans at all. We walked down to the lake to get a bit of space and find some bathrooms before the climb, and then made our way up the path.
The walk was pleasant and forest-girded, despite the smell of fresh horse dung and the scads of slower-moving tourists and horse-carts. We made it to the castle, and immediately walked past it to get the postcard shot from the Mary Bridge, which is about another ten minutes’ walk along. When we got there it was packed, and my delusions of having time to set up the tripod and get some creative shots were shattered by the combination of a very thick crowd and a very narrow, rickety space. I managed to get a couple of gems, but was uncomfortable and decided instead that we’d better walk back around to the main castle.
We did that, taking in the views from up on the hill, and then made our way back down the path for lunch by the lake. It was stunning by the water – a glimmering dish of crystal waters, reflecting the green trees, mountain peaks and the sharply blue sky. So we decided to catch a slightly later train back and hike around the lake, as we had walking gear with us. This turned out to be a great decision, as the trip around was about ninety minutes, and gave us sensational views of everything from cliffs, forest, the castle and the lake itself. It was certainly more fun than slogging up the hill to the castle had been!
We made it back in time for the bus, but decided instead to walk back to town as we had time, and made it onto the train and into our comfortable seats about ten minutes before the train left, which got us back to Munich in plenty of time for dinner.