48 Hours in Munich: Socially distant yet fun edition
I love Berlin but have always had a soft spot for Munich. I love the beautiful architecture, strolling through its grand and wide boulevards and of course enjoying its rich beer garden culture. With the advent of Covid, Munich proved to be an ideal choice for a social distancing-friendly short break thanks to its 5,680 acres of public parks and long established tradition of historical gardens – there’s lots of wide open green spaces within the city for being socially distant.
The other major plus of visiting Munich is that just beyond its city borders, there is so much natural beauty and history to discover, from medieval villages and alpine peaks to pristine lakes. You can be hiking a mountain by day and be completely immersed in nature and by night, enjoying a beer in a beach bar on a river in the heart of the city.
In this guide, I wanted to share my experience of visiting Munich and why I think the city is perfect for a safe but enjoyable social distancing-friendly short break in 2021.
At the time of our visit in September, Munich and Bavaria in general, were very strict with Covid regulations. Wearing mouth and nose protection was compulsory on public transport as well as in all shops, museums, galleries, exhibitions, etc. We were also required to wear a mask inside restaurants, beer gardens and cafés as long as we were not sitting at the table.
Important note: As of today ( 10th December 2020 ) with the recent rise in infections, Bavaria is now on complete lockdown. For the latest information and advice about travelling to Munich, check the Munich Tourism portal.
Where to stay: Jams Hotel
Combining good old fashioned hospitality, cosy spacious elegant rooms with a wonderful laid-back retro quality plus a strong focus on music, (as you’ve guessed from the name) – Jams Music Hotel is a great base to explore Munich. Each room comes with its own record player and at the lobby, you can select from a wide selection of classic rock records with everything from The Doors, Beatles to Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. There’s also the perk of a complimentary mini-bar with beers and soft drinks that gets restocked every day.
Situated in the trendy neighbourhood of Haidhausen behind the Gasteig concert hall and on the fringes of the Isar river and English Garden, Jams is the perfect base for a socially distant, relaxed break in Munich. There is a basement bar and restaurant with outdoor terrace where you can enjoy their excellent breakfast. You can enjoy everything from poached eggs on salmon to pancakes with fresh fruits of the forest. In the evenings, the bar with its extensive drinks menu and resident DJ, becomes a popular meeting point for locals and guests alike.
Sunset picnic on the Isar
“When I think of the Isar, I think of childhood and playing and the summer,”
Munich-born songwriter Konstantin Wecker.
Just a 10 minute walk from the Jams Hotel, a nice spot to catch sunset is by the Isar at the Zellstrasser Strand. There’s plenty of space here for everyone, even on a hot summer days so social distancing is not an issue. There’s the epic view of the Wehrsteg bridge in front of you where you can see the crystal clear waters of the river gushing past and also the dome of St Luke’s Church, Munich’s oldest Protestant church. Grab a local Tegernsee or Augustiner beer (€2) from the nearby Spati am Gasteig. If you’re hungry and want to have a picnic, on the same street you’ll find Pizzeco who sell pizza by the slice (gluten free), ranging from the classic Margherita (€2) to Potato pizza with truffle oil (€3).
Nightlife in the summer: Pop into the Kulturstrand
If you’re are visiting Munich in the summer, I would strongly recommend popping into the Kulturstrand, a culture beach in the middle of the river Isar. The Kulturstrand takes place this year around the Vater-Rhein-Brunnen and will be there till 30th September. On most nights, you can find all kind of artists performing here and with tons of real sand to dip your toes in (huge amounts are imported every year from the Caribbean to the Bavarian capital) and the amazing location, right on the Museumsinsel is really perfect.
Catch the Rocky Horror Picture Show at Museum Lichtspiele
If you are visiting Munich over the weekend, another cool option is to catch the famous cult film “Rocky Horror Picture Show”, which has been shown at the cinema, non-stop for the last 30 years, every Friday and Saturday at 23:00.
Situated between Max-Joseph-Brücke in the south and Ludwigsbrücke in the north, start the day with a stroll through the beautiful Maximiliansanlagen, a green shady 2 kilometre stretch of grass directly on the Isar, very popular with walkers, joggers and those looking for relaxation.
The highlight of the walk is the Angel of Peace, a 38 metre high glorious golden statue, embellishing a Greek temple. You can get a wonderful view of Munich from here and its perfect to visit, morning or in the evening.
Just a short walk from Maximiliansanlagen lies another place which is uniquely Munich, my favourite garden in the world, the Englischer Garten. The garden has the unique honour of being one of the largest urban parks of its kind in the world. It is a huge space, spreading from the centre of Munich, to its north-eastern fringes. As you’ve guessed from the name, it was designed in the form of an informal English garden, a style much popularised by the nobility from the middle of the eighteenth to the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Englisher Garden had all the characteristics- from gently rolling, manicured lawns, groves of tall trees and an artificial lake to a reconstruction of Greek temples, gently arching bridges and hints of a pastoral landscape, a feature popularised by the writers and painters of the time. The English Garden was THE place of escape into an idyllic world and fast forward to the current Covid era of travel, it continues to be a place of refuge for locals and tourists alike.
You have a wide choice of idyllic spots to spend your day, from the Monopteros, The Japanese Teahouse to the Chinese Tower, The Hirschau, The Kleinhesseloher Lake, Romford Hall, the Surfing Spot in the river and so much more.
One of my favourite spots to relax is at the foot of the Monopteros, a classical Greek style temple situated on a small hill. The temple has ten regal, Ionic columns with a copper coloured dome on top.
Lunch at the Chinescher Turm Biergarten
Another highlight of visiting the Englischer Garten for me has always been popping in for a Hofbrau beer (not my favourite beer in Munich but decent) at the Chinesischer Turm Biergarten.
Munich is famous for its beer gardens and we could not leave town without a beer at one of its most famous beer gardens. Built in 1789 along the model of the pagoda at Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew in London, the Chinesischer Turm is the second largest biergarten in Munich after the Hirschgarten. With over 7000 spaces, social distancing and finding your own table to sup your beer is not an issue. Even on a warm late summers day we could find ourselves a seat.
As with everywhere in Munich and Bavaria there were lots of precautions taken to ensure the safety of customers. No one was allowed to be seated in the biergarten until we had registered via the barcode at the entrance. Lots of disinfectant stations throughout the biergarten and also in the bathrooms. Food was self service and after standing in an orderly social distant queue I went for some classic German comfort food of sausages in a currywurst sauce plus some mashed potato and sauerkraut. We washed this down with a half pint of the Hofbrau beer.
Lunch for 2 with beers: €24
Just a short walk from the Angel of Peace at the mouth of the Englischer Garten lies another highlight of the garden and one of Munich’s most unusual and original sightseeing spots – the manmade wave called the Eisbachwelle. A stretch of the river had the laminar flow converted to turbulent flow in the 70’s to create an artificial wave for locals to surf on. The wave fascinates locals and visitors alike since then and draws in surfers from all over the city on a daily basis. Unmissable.
To get a feel of the city, I always love to explore and get under the skin of at least one neighbourhood during a 2-3 day shortbreak. For this trip, I decided to dedicate some time to explore the Glockenbachviertel. The nerve centre of Munich’s LGBTQ scene and popular with students and creatives alike, recent gentrification has seen this neighbourhood south east of Munich’s Old Town transform into a more upmarket affair, packed with pastel coloured symmetric houses, cool bars and cafes. Plus its proximity to the Isar River makes it an ideal place to spend a summer’s evening or night – on the town.
One cool feature in this area is the number of excellent boutiques and independent stores for shopping. If you’re looking for an unusual gift or a nice cup of coffee or glass of wine, here are some tips for you.
On the way to 7te Himmel we stumbled upon by chance, Club Do Vinho , a wonderful wine and delicatessen that specialises in Portuguese wines and food. For those of you who have followed the blog for awhile, may remember I lived in Portugal, island of Madeira for 4 years. A small piece of my heart lies in Portugal so whenever I see anything Portuguese, I always feel emotional. The place does not disappoint – run by the friendly and extremely knowledgeable Ana Maria, this shop is a like a little corner of Portugal in Munich where you can savour everything from delicious Pasteis de Nata to drinking a nice glass of Vinho Verde, Vin Madeira or Port wine.
Our next stop was 7te Himmel, another outlet in the heart of Glockenbachviertel run with great heart and soul for the past 40 years by the affable Solveig Zecher. In her seventh heaven you can find wonderful array of dreamy and a little kitsch treasures: clothing ranging from knitted sweaters to colourful jackets, occasional pieces of jewellery, belts and carefully selected postcards.
We finish our tour of the area with a visit to the Gotterspeise Chocolaterie and Cafe (Jahnstraße 30, 80469 Munich), a must visit for chocolate and food lovers .The shop is a treasure trove of carefully selected chocolate, wines, spirits and food from all parts of the world. I wanted to eat everything here and take it home. In the end we picked up a box of salted butter caramels from France and Spicy Pepper and Herb Taralli from Puglia. Then you have the adjacent cafe where you enjoy a hot chocolate or a coffee (roasted in-house) or homemade lemonade and take time to unwind on their wonderful outdoor terrace, watch the comings and going of people in Glockenbachviertel.
On every trip, you always find one square or corner of a neighbourhood where you really feel the pulse of the city and ‘meet the locals.’ Gartnerplatz , adjacent to Glockenbachviertel and separated from it by the Fraunhoferstrasse is that place where you are one with local life and really plug into the city’s vibrant energy.
Gartnerplatz has a unique circular layout, emanating like a wheel from the fountains and flower beds that mark its centre. At the heart of the trendy neighbourhood is the Gartnerplatz Square where you can find the famous Staatstheater am Gartnerplatz. Though the square is dominated by the theatre, on the other sides of the square you find buildings painted in red – a shade particularly known as Gartnerplatz red. The square is a popular meeting point for locals and with the many surrounding pubs, bars and restaurants, this is the ideal place to hang out in Munich. If the weather is nice, I would suggest grabbing a nice local beer from the Penny Supermarket on the square and sitting down in the grass, having a sip and for awhile, letting local life revolve around you and this wonderful circle of colour, people and history.
Finish the day at the Olympiapark and Blue Sky Coffee & Photo
We finish the day and the trip at another of Munich’s glorious urban parks. This one was built in honour of the 1972 Summer Olympics. Olympiapark is a broad area that consists of the sporting arenas, the Olympic Villages, the Shopping area and the Park area – consisting of Olympic Hill and Olympic Lake. The park is the venue for several annual events including sporting events and those related to the fine arts.
The perfect place to see the Park and also catch sunset is at the top of the tower at the Blue Sky Coffee & Photo where the charismatic owner Markus Pranger will make you the best cup of coffee in Munich. Enjoy the views accompanied to Markus’s excellent drum & bass /techno music. Later, go a floor up to enjoy the best panoramic view of the city from the tower.
Dinner: Kashmir Inn
After a long day, we didn’t want to venture too far from the Jams Hotel so we were quite happy to discover the excellent Kashmir Inn. Run by the very hospitable Mr Usman the restaurant offers a range of classic North Indian/Pakistani classic dishes ranging from Karahi Paneer, Halwa Puri to Murgh Tikka Masala.
Zugspitze/ Garmisch Partenkirchen
With boundless expanse of lakes, mountains vistas and picture postcard medieval villages at the doorstep, you’re really spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a day trip from Munich.
I recommend visiting an old favourite of mine – Garmisch Partenkirchen and combining it with a trip to Germany’s highest peak, Zugspitze.
Upon arrival at the small town of Grainau, situated at the foot of the Zugspitze, take the cablecar ride from Eibsee to the top in an awe-inspiringly steep, almost vertical ascent up the mountain. The aerial tramway, running from Eibsee Lake to the top of the Zugspitze, holds the record as the longest freespanning cablecar ride in the world.
To say that the views from the top of the Zugspitze were incredibly beautiful, would be an understatement. The all-encompassing panoramic views onto 400 peaks, spread over 4 different countries can be a humbling experience. The Zugspitze mightily stands at 2962m above sea level and the experience is one to be remembered.
Apart from taking in the dizzying views, there’s a lot to do on the mountaintop. You can visit Germany’s highest elevation church, and during the winter months go tobagonning or visit the igloo village that is sculpted anew each winter. Otherwise, like us, you can enjoy the hospitality of a mountaintop restaurant and enjoy a meal with a view.
Visit the Panorama restaurant, which provides stunning views of the Eibsee below and of over 4 countries, is a great place to sample some excellent Alpine cuisine that uses fresh regional produce from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy.
After a very satisfying meal we took the cogwheel train to Garmisch-Partenkirchen for a more gradual descent off the mountain top.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a Bavarian ski resort formed by conjoining the two towns of Garmisch and Partenkirchen. Originally, they were two separate towns with very different characters until they were forced to merge their identities prior to the 1936 Winter Olympics by Adolf Hitler. Partenkirchen is the town with the older architecture, cobbled streets and Bavarian feel whereas Garmisch has a more contemporary facade. Both towns are well-known on the map due to their proximity to the Zugspitze.
Partenkirchen, especially the main thoroughfare, Ludwigstrasse is a photographer’s delight. Everywhere you turn, quaint chalet style houses, the epitome of Bavarian architecture, greet your eyes. Gabled roofs with wide eaves, multicoloured houses with intricate murals, weatherboarded exteriors delightfully painted, ornate carvings and mouldings, window boxes bursting with cheerful flowers – Ludwigstrasse is pretty much picture-perfect.
Head to Wildcaffee Rosterei for coffee tasting. Their showroom is a kind of a mix between a cafe/roastery (the moment you walk in, kapow..bang, the smell of fragrant coffee beans being freshly roasted on site, hits you in the face) plus a kind of coffee tasting saloon where expert baristas like Robin Matthijsse let you sample a few of their coffees to help you understand better the different types of coffee they offer. Altogether, it is a well crafted coffee tasting experience that will stay with you for many years to come
Next head to Chocolaterie Amelie to try their famous signature chocolate with alpine herbs. The handmade chocolates made here are simply mouthwatering. Choose from truffles, pralines, chocolate bark, rum raisin chocolate bark, hazelnut filled chocolates and so much more.
End the day with dinner at the Hotel Garmischer Hof where everything is 100% organic and locally sourced. Choose from a nice variety of classic southern German/Austrian dishes like Kaiserschmarrn, Wiener Schnitzel or sausages braised in beer from the brewery served with mustard, coleslaw and bread. Wash this down with excellent beer from their onsite brewery.
To help plan your trip to Munich checkout my earlier guide on how to spend 2 days in Munich
plus local, Julia, shared her top 25 cheap eats in Munich.
My trip to Munich was possible, thanks to a collaboration with the German National Tourism Office. However, all the opinions and suggestions expressed here are entirely my own, with a little influence from my other half, Sabrina Wulf.
Huge thanks to Denise, Josefine, Helena and the rest of the team at GNTO for making this amazing trip and collaboration possible.