Our too-short trip to Europe: First stop - Munich

Munich, or München in German, is the capital and most populous city of the Free State of Bavaria. With a population of 1.6 million people as of February 2024, it is the third-largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg.

Munich and the area around it are home to dozens of castles, many of which are within Munich proper. Neuschwanstein Castle, which is said to be the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella castle and Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland, is about 125 kilometres away. It is a popular site, but visiting it can take up most of one day.

Postcard depicting Neuschwanstein Castle

Munich is also home to more than 50 churches and cathedrals, 14 art museums ranging from ancient to modern art, the famous Hofbräuhaus, literally hundreds of other Bierstube and Weinstube (beer and wine establishments), the BMW Weld (World), BMW Factory and Museum, the Olympic Park built for the 1972 Summer Olympics, Englisher Garten which is the largest municipal park in the world – even larger than New York’s Central Park – a huge number of historical sites, and much, much more. You will NOT be able to see it all, so decide what’s most interesting to you.

Chances are you’ll arrive in Munich at either Munich Flughafen (Airport – MUC by designator) or the Munich Hauptbahnof (Central Train Station or Hbf). Many – though not all – of the signs in both locations are in both German and English, so getting around isn’t particularly difficult.

Whether you arrive at the airport or the Hbf, look for a machine selling MVV tickets, like the one pictured. Touch the MVV in the lower left to access local transportation, then the flag in the upper right to choose the language. The Union Jack will bring up instructions in English.

Ticket machine, also called an "automat"

If you arrived by air, buy a “daily ticket” that is good for all five zones (the airport is in Zone 5). If you have a traveling companion, buy a “group” ticket. These are good for a group of up to five adults and are priced so that even a “group” of two saves money over individual tickets. These tickets are good for the S-Bahn, the U-Bahn, trolleys and buses until 6 a.m. the day after they’re purchased.

If you arrive by rail at the Hbf, a ticket only for zone M (Munich) will likely be all you need unless you have plans to go rather far afield. This map shows the boundaries between the zones.

Map showing transit zones

Once you buy your ticket, be sure to validate it in one of the ticket validators before your first ride. Of course, you can also take a taxi but cab rides can get expensive so plan accordingly.


We arrived in Munich shortly before 7 a.m. local time, headed straight for our hotel, paid a €60 early check-in fee, then took a short nap before heading out.

Our first stop was The Munich Residenz, one of the castles located within the city proper. Located in central Munich, it’s the former royal palace of the Wittelsbach monarchs of Bavaria. It is the largest city palace in Germany and is open to visitors. Whether you’re interested in architecture, decorations, the former royal collections, history, or all of the above, it is a must-see.

Admiring the china

One of my wife’s interests is dishes. Here, she’s looking over a collection of blue and white porcelain from China which, in 17th century Europe, was considered to be the very embodiment of porcelain.

Visitors can join a formal tour or take a self-guided walk through the Residenz. Tickets are €10 for the Residence museum or the Treasury and €5 for the Cuvilliés Theatre. Combination tickets are also available if you want to see more than one of these sites. Tickets are not available on-line and must be purchased at the entrance using cash or a credit card.

A guided tour through the Residenz can take 2-1/2 hours but with a self-guided tour, you have the advantage of lingering as long as you like, or moving it along. We moved along and hit our limit at about the one-hour mark.

Admission includes the use of an audio guide which we found to be of little value. The narration essentially reads the placards that are posted at each stop – verbatim – rather than adding additional information or providing an abbreviated overview. We turned ours off after the first three stops and continued on our own.

Dianatempel at the center of the Hofgarten

Outside the Residenz is the Hofgarten, once the official garden of the royal residence. With the Dianatempel in the center, it is now a park adjacent to the south end of the Englisher Garten and open to the public. The Theatner Church is just across the plaza from the Residenz and worth popping into, either before or after your visit to the Residenz.

Theatnerkirche at Odeonsplatz

To get to the Residenz and the sites around it, take the U-Bahn to the Odeonsplatz station. You’ll alight immediately outside the Residenz.

Nearby, Marienplatz is the city’s central square. With its many landmark buildings, it is also a must-see. Many of the buildings that exist today are reconstructions of structures damaged or destroyed during World War II. Locals took great pains to rebuild in the old style and maintain the area’s charm, but that led to some curious contradictions. For example, the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) was heavily damaged in 1944 and what stands there today is actually a reconstruction. The Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) became the home of the city’s administration in 1874, so the "old" town hall is actually newer than the "new" town hall.

The Neues Rathaus is also home to the Glockenspiel, which plays four times a day all year, and five times a day during the summer season. Three tiers depict ancient conflicts, including one where two horse riders joust and one is roundly defeated.


Nearby is the Viktualienmarkt, an open-air marketplace with all manner of edible delights, from chocolate and baked goods to fresh meat, sausages, fruit and vegetables. There are also a number of bierstube in the area. These are each tied to one of the six major breweries, so a beer stand tied to Hofbräu may offer several different types of beer, but they’ll all be brewed by Hofbräu.

FYI, the other breweries are Spaten-Franziskaner, Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner and Löwenbräu.

With our energy rapidly dwindling, we sought refuge in a weinstube on the edge of the Viktualienmarkt, where we sipped on glasses of sparkling wine until our feet recovered enough to manage the journey back to the hotel for a light dinner before retiring.


Our first full day in Munich included a tour of the BMW Museum. The U-Bahn drops passengers directly in front of the BMW Welt and across the street from the BMW Museum, which we had chosen to tour. Tours of the museum, plant, Welt, classic car collection or all of those properties are available in English and German. Prices range from €13 to €18.

The museum tour was led by a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic BMW employee who educated us on the history of BMW, its many innovations, how it was conscripted to build military vehicles during World War II, its various ups and downs, and some of the most notable BMWs from throughout the company’s history.

Sidecar motorcycle used by Nazis in World War II

One such car was the BMW model 507 that Elvis Presley drove while he was in the military and stationed north of Frankfurt in what was then West Germany. Elvis was allowed to live off base and his quarters lacked a garage for his car, so he parked on the street. As our guide tells it, each morning his white car would be covered with red lip prints, left overnight by adoring fans, so Elvis would spend some time each morning before driving to Ray Barracks, cleaning off the lip prints. To combat this continuing annoyance, he would eventually have the car painted lipstick-red to discourage future shows of affection.

Elvis' BMW while in the Army in Germany

Another oddity in the museum was the so-called “bubble car,” an Italian-designed microcar named the Isetta, which was manufactured by a number of different companies. The single-cylinder car, which could seat two adults and perhaps a small child – and lacked seatbelts, air bags or other safety equipment -- was manufactured by BMW from 1955 to 1962. BMW Isettas are on display in the museum and in the Welt across the street.

BMW Isetta

One of the pleasant facets of many European museums is their cafes. After our tour, we grabbed a light lunch at the BMW Museum’s facility and enjoyed freshly made soup, and a plate of wurst with potatoes. Tasty, filling, and easy on the wallet.

Crossing to the Welt via an elevated walkway, we took in even more displays and viewed the mezzanine where BMW buyers can take delivery of their new car.

The BMW facilities are adjacent to Olympiapark München, which was built for the 1972 Summer Olympics. There are a few things to do and see there, including a Roof Climb tour of the iconic Olympic Stadium.

Olympic Tower

The area also includes the Olympic Village in the north part of Olympiapark. Following the Olympics, the section for male housing was turned into a residential area, while the female area was converted to student housing. Today, it’s said to be one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Munich.

Olympic Village was also the site of a horrific attack on Israeli Olympic athletes during the 1972 games. On September 5, 1972, eight Palestinian militants affiliated with Black September—a militant offshoot of the Palestinian group Fatah—scaled a fence surrounding the Olympic Village, forced their way into Apartment No. 1 at Connollystraβe 31, killed two Israeli athletes and took nine others hostage. Ultimately, all 11 were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer. Today, a memorial plaque in German and Hebrew commemorates the slain athletes.

Plaque commemorating Israeli athletes slain at the 1972 Summer Olympics

The Olympic Park is also home to the Olympic Tower, which provides a panoramic view of the area, including a view of the Swiss Alps to the south. However, the tower is scheduled to be closed on May 31, 2024 for a two-year safety renovation.


We had several hours before the two-hour Old Town Tour we’d booked through München Tourismus so we used the time to explore some of the city’s many churches. Two are within easy walking distance of Marienplatz. St. Peter and Frauenkirche are both in the Gothic style.

After a small snack to keep us going, we met up with our tour guide at the base of the Altes Rathaus. Our guide Lucia walked us past many of the sights we’d already seen but added a level of detail that made the tour worthwhile.

One of the points was the location of a plaque on the eastside of the Feldherrnhalle, a Bavarian army monument on the Odeonsplatz. During World War II and Hitler’s reign, citizens were compelled to give the Nazi salute when they walked by the plaque. In a show of passive resistance, many residents would pass the building on its western side … until the Nazis figured out what was going on and blocked that particular route so everyone would have to show their allegiance.

Feldherrnhalle Monument

The plaque is long gone. Our guide pointed out that today in Germany, as well as in Austria and Slovakia, it is illegal to give the Nazi salute or to use any Nazi phrases associated with the salute, such as “Sieg Heil” and others. She said that, if someone gets a bit drunk in a bierstube, suffers a lapse in judgment and gives that now-hated salute, they will be arrested and questioned, “And it won’t be pretty,” she said. The offense is punishable by up to three years in prison.

After the tour, we decided dinner was in order and walked over to the famous Hofbräuhaus München. That’s the legendary state-owned beer hall where folks sit at communal tables as servers in dirndls and lederhosen bring visitors liters of beer and plates of wurst.

One local told us the food isn’t exactly stellar at the Hofbräuhaus, as the quantity takes precedence over quality, so we opted for the more intimate atmosphere of a smaller restaurant just kitty-corner from the Hofbräuhaus: the Augustiner am Platzl.

A less-touristy Hofbräu-type restaurant

Tied to the Augustiner brewery, we each enjoyed a seasonal draft (only ½ litres; we’re not THAT German) before moving to our main courses. 

Roast pork with dumplings

My wife enjoyed roast pork with a crispy crust, dark beer sauce, potato dumplings and cabbage salad while I tucked into six small grilled sausages with sauerkraut, fresh horseradish and bread. The service was quick, the food hot and tasty, and we didn’t have to deal with the craziness that is the Hofbräuhaus.

Das bestest würste!

With that, it was back to the hotel to pack for the next leg of our journey: an early morning train ride to Vienna.

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Photos and Videos by Carl Dombek
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