Munich’s historic center is reminiscent of a medieval small town. But it is home to some of Germany’s most incredible structures. Foremost of them is the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall). This 300 feet long facade in Marienplatz features the entire Wittelsbach dynasty in Bavaria.
A Neo-Gothic masterpiece, the Neues Rathaus is particularly famous for another reason. Since 1908, the Glockenspiel in the tower balcony has been enthralling crowds gathered in Marienplatz. At 11am, 12pm and 5pm, figurines representing Munich’s history perform a 12-minute-long twirling spectacle.
In comparison to the imposing Neues Rathaus, the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) on the eastern edge of Marienplatz looks quite modest.
The Altes Rathaus was the seat of city council till 1847. Today, the building houses Munich’s historical toy museum and a Gothic ballroom.
The golden statue of Virgin Mary balancing on a crescent moon stands out in Munich’s Old Town. Mariensäule was installed in 1638 to commemorate Bavaria’s victory over the Swedish army during the Thirty Years’ War. Maria is regarded as Patrona Bavariae or Protector of Bavaria.
The Fischbrunnen at the Marienplatz is a “cobbler”, meaning that it once had access to groundwater reserves under Munich. The fish is symbolic of a time when Marienplatz served as Munich’s central market square. Fish vendors would hang their baskets full of (still alive) fish in the fountain water.
The most exquisite feature of the Fischbrunnen is its turquoise-colored basin. It is made from Nagelfluh, a conglomerate rock extracted from the northern Alps.
In the Middle Ages, a new city wall known as the Äußere Stadtmauer was built to protect Munich’s historic center. It consisted of four large towers and five smaller ones.
As the population of Munich expanded, the city wall became an obstruction rather than a defence fortification. Owing to this, the Elector of Bavaria Karl Theodor, had the wall torn down in 1791.
You can still see remnants of Munich’s city wall in the form of three gates. They are Isartor, Karlstor and Sendlinger Tor.
Originally a castle, the Munich Residence was transformed over centuries into a grand and breathtaking palace. It was the seat of power for the Bavarian kings, dukes and electors from the 16th to the early 20th century. Much of the building was destroyed during World War II, and was slowly reconstructed since 1945.
Today, the Munich Residence is one of the largest museum complexes in the world, home to an art collection that reflects the creative tastes and political ambitions of the Wittelsbach dynasty. Together with the Treasury and the Cuvilliés Theatre, the Munich Residence represents Munich’s most notable cultural institutions.
Standing prominently in Odeonsplatz, the Feldherrnhalle or Field Marshall’s Hall was designed in 1841 at the behest of King Ludwig I. It was built in honor of the Bavarian army and prominent generals who fought in the Franco-Prussian War. Its facade is modeled after the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, Italy.
Fun fact: In 1923, supporters of Hitler staged an illegal march starting from one of Munich’s largest beer halls Bürgerbräu Keller, and ending at Feldherrnhalle. Upon failing to heed orders to disperse, the marchers were fired upon by Bavarian police officers. Post this clash, Hitler was arrested and sent to prison for a short term. This incident is referred to as Beer Hall Putsch.
National Theatre of Munich
The National Theatre of Munich is home to the Bavarian State Opera, the Bavarian State Orchestra, and the Bavarian State Ballet. It also features the statue of Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria, Prince-Elector of Bavaria.
Fun fact: The National Theatre of Munich was built and burned down three times. During the second fire in 1823, residents of Munich rushed to the beer hall Hofbräuhaus and used huge barrels of beer to put out the fire. And it worked!
With its distinctive yellow facade, it’s hard to miss the Theatinerkirche. Located in the Odeonsplatz, the St. Cajetan Church of Theatinerkirche is one of the most outstanding examples of Italian Baroque architecture in Germany. It was constructed for the Italian Order of the Theatines of Munich to celebrate the birth of Prince Max Emanuel in 1662.
The Theatinerkirche is modeled after Sant’ Andrea della Valle in Rome. The ornamental Rococo style is the mastermind of François de Cuvilliés, who is credited with bringing this architectural style to Germany.
With magnificent features like its single-nave interior and barrel-vaulted ceiling, Michaelskirche had a pivotal role on Germany’s Baroque architecture. In fact, it is the largest Renaissance church north of the Alps, and one of Munich’s top attractions.
Michaelskirche was completed by Duke William V of Bavaria in 1597 after nearly fourteen years of construction. It was built during a historic period known as the Counter Reformation, a revival of Catholicism in response to the Protestant Reformation.
When the Jesuits were ostracized from most Catholic establishments across Europe, Michaelskirche came under the command of the Bavarian Royal Family.
The oldest parish church in Munich, the Peterskirche is known affectionately as the Alter Peter or “Old Peter”. The church is located on Petersbergl, significantly at a higher ground than the rest of Munich’s Old Town.
Peterskirche has been around since the 11th century, and has been rebuilt and modified several times. You can observe the structural changes such as the stunning ornate high altar and the beautiful frescoes decorating the ceiling.
Fun fact: The Peterskirche’s tower has two clock faces.
The green onion domes of this Gothic cathedral are one of the most striking structures against the Munich skyline. Two of the major highlights in the Frauenkirche are:
- From the highest point of the cathedral, visitors can have panoramic views of Munich and the Alps.
- The graves of the Wittelsbach dynasty as well as the Holy Roman Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian are found here.
Fun fact: You can find the devil’s footprint at the entrance of the church.
Created in 1789 by Sir Benjamin Thompson for Prince Charles Theodore, Elector of Bavaria, the Englischer Garten is one of the world’s largest urban public parks. It is even larger than New York’s Central Park.
Visitors to Munich are offered a number of activities such as cycling and jogging tracks, soccer fields, as well as Japanese tea ceremonies. But even simply taking a walk by the gentle flowing stream and lush greenery makes for a peaceful and rejuvenating exercise.
Hofbräuhaus am Platzl
When you think of German beer halls, the first images that come to mind are usually that of giant frothing beer mugs, and men and women dressed in traditional Bavarian Lederhosen and Dirndl.
Built in 1589 by Duke Wilhelm V of Bavaria, the Hofbräuhaus is Munich’s most famous beer hall. Back in the 16th century, the Hofbräuhaus was a royal brewery. In due course of time however, the selling price of beer was significantly reduced to cater to the military and working class.
The Hofbräuhaus suffered extensive damage during World War II. All the rooms were destroyed, except Schwemme, the historic beer hall. After years of restoration work, the Festival Hall was reopened in 1958.
Today, the Hofbräuhaus receives around 35,000 visitors every day. But the establishment sees its biggest crowds during the annual Oktoberfest, when more than 6 million people travel to Munich from all over the world.
Popular Day Trips from Munich
• Salzburg, Austria