Munich is the capital of Bavaria, the second largest state in Germany. Until 1918, Bavaria was an independent kingdom ruled by the House of Wittelsbach. These dukes and kings were very wealthy and it shows in their former residences and art collections. Locals remain proud of their regional heritage, so much so that signs at the Munich airport welcome you to Bavaria, not Germany. I leaned into this, spending much of my time at the city’s top museums and historical palaces. Here is my culture-packed itinerary for two days in Munich.
Day 1 – Explore Munich’s Old Town
The number one thing to do in Munich is to tour Residenz München. Now a museum, this former royal palace was home to Bavaria’s rulers for over 400 years. During the 18th and 19th centuries, when the Bavarian kingdom was at its peak, the palace was considered one of the finest in Europe. Much of the complex was damaged or destroyed by WWII bombing raids, and carefully restored after the war.
Walking around the palace today it’s difficult to tell which rooms have been redone. From the intricate inlaid wood floor designs and painted ceilings to the wall coverings and furnishings, no detail was overlooked. The banquet hall, ballroom, and royal reception rooms are especially impressive. Give yourself plenty of time to admire the splendor!
The distinctive twin spires of Munich Cathedral are among the most recognizable landmarks of the city. They reach a height of 98 meters, and are topped with petite copper domes. First consecrated in 1494, the cathedral suffered severe damage in WWII and wasn’t fully restored until the 1990s. Most of the original interior details and holy relics were lost. One notable surviving feature is the so-called “Devil’s Footstep.” Several legends swirl around this dark footprint embedded in a stone at the church’s entrance, all involving the devil stamping his foot in frustration for various reasons.
Take a lunch break at Hofbräuhaus, Munich’s most famous beer hall. First opened in 1589, Hofbräuhaus was the private brewer of Bavaria’s ruling class. The general public was allowed to enter starting in the early 1800s, and it quickly became a center of Munich’s social scene. Its popularity has never waned, with thousands of people visiting the Hofbräuhaus every day. I can only imagine how busy it gets during Oktoberfest! In addition to a selection of house-made beers – which are protected by Bavarian law – you can order from a menu of classic German pub food.
Another option for lunch is Munich’s Victuals Market. Locals have been shopping here since 1807. There are produce stands, butcher shops, cheese mongers, bakeries and cafes, flower sellers, and an outdoor beer garden.
Do not miss the stunning Asam Church while in Munich’s old town. This Baroque beauty, squeezed in between two apartment buildings, might not look like much from the outside. But the interior is absolutely dazzling! It was built in the 1700s by the Asam brothers and served as their private chapel. The brothers were skilled artists in high demand during their time, and their church reflects their many talents.
The heart of Munich is Marienplatz Square. It has been an important meeting place since the city was founded in 1158. Old and New Town Halls are located here along with Peterskirche, the oldest church in Munich. At the time of my winter visit, Marienplatz was home to the bustling Munich Christmas Market.
There are two options for a birds-eye view of Munich. You can climb 306 steps the top of St Peter’s Church spire. Or you can take a lift to an observation area of the New Town Hall. I opted for the latter. Try to make it up for sunset if you can. The light is magic!
If you happen to be in Marienplatz at 11am or noon, you’ll be treated to a performance of the Glockenspiel. This clock in the middle of the New Town Hall tower features 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures. There are jousting knights on horseback, court jesters, trumpeters, and several medieval tradesmen trying to dance away the plague.
Dinner at Wirtshaus in der Au
For dinner, head southeast across the river to Wirsthaus in der Au. This Bavarian restaurant has been serving up Munich’s best dumplings since 2002. (Though a tavern has existed on the same spot for over a century.) The famous dumplings were first introduced at Oktoberfest and were an instant hit. I recommend starting with the knödel trio. You’ll get three different variations of the dense bread dumpling: spinach with cherry tomato sauce, beet with apple sauce, and cheese with spinach sauce. I couldn’t decide if the beet or cheese version was my favorite.
Day 2 – Explore Munich’s Art District
Munich’s Kunstareal, or Art District, is home to dozens of museums and galleries, making it one of the most important cultural centers in Europe. The district was created by King Ludwig I, an avid collector who wanted his beloved Munich to be as important to the art world as Rome and Florence. Not quite sure he reached those levels, but it was a good effort.
The first public museum Ludwig opened in Munich was the Glyptothek. It houses Ludwig’s impressive collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures. Notable pieces include the Barberini Faun, drunkenly sprawled in all his naked glory, and figures from the Temple of Aphaia, permanently poised for a fight. The Glyptothek also has a large number of marble busts of everyone from Alexander the Great and Emperor Augustus to Homer and Plato and even Medusa. This museum also has an excellent café.
When Ludwig commissioned the Alte Pinakothek in 1826, it was the largest museum in the world. The art here spans the 14th-18th centuries and is heavy on the Old Masters. Rubens is especially well represented, with over 70 of his works in the permanent collection. My favorite masterpiece on display at the Alte Pinakothek is a portrait of Madame de Pompadour by François Boucher.
Munich’s Neue Pinakothek, dedicated to 19th century art, was closed for a major renovation at the time of my visit. However, around 90 works from the collection can be enjoyed in a special gallery of the Alte Pinakothek. This is where you’ll find all the Impressionists. (Picasso is around the corner in the Pinakothek der Moderne. Warhol is at the Brandhorst.)
Fans of Expressionism should check out Lenbachhaus. This museum highlights the works of the “Blue Rider Group,” which was active in Munich during the early 1900s. Members of the group included Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, August Macke, and Paul Klee, among others. Kandinsky’s partner donated over 1,000 of their works to Lenbachhaus, and a new wing was added to showcase them all. The museum’s original Italian-style villa was the home of Franz Seraph Lenbach, an in-demand portrait painter to Bavarian nobles.
If you’d rather not spend the whole day in museums, take the train out to Nymphenburg Palace instead. Located just seven kilometers from central Munich, this was the summer retreat of Bavaria’s royal family. Interestingly, the current head of the House of Wittelsbach, the former rulers, lives in the palace and retains an honorary title of duke.
20 rooms on the ground floor are open to the public, including the grand entrance hall and several bedrooms. In King Ludwig’s “Gallery of Beauties,” there are portraits of 36 women considered the most beautiful of the time. The loveliest of the bunch is Helene Sedlmayr, a humble shoemaker’s daughter. (She went on to marry the king’s personal valet.)
The surrounding park and gardens were modeled on Versailles, with fantastical fountains and ornate pavilions spread over 500 acres. An impressive carriage museum now occupies the former stables, along with displays of Nymphenburg porcelain (which is still produced at a factory on the palace grounds.)
Dinner at Servus Heidi
Take the train back to the city center and enjoy dinner at Servus Heidi. This charming restaurant serves up delicious modern Bavarian cuisine and is a local favorite. I started with a salted pretzel and a cup of Munich-style cheese dip, which was much lighter and fresher than I expected. For my main course I chose a pork schnitzel that was elevated with mustard and horseradish. The side salad of roasted potatoes and radishes was also super tasty.
Are you ready to spend two days in Munich?
PIN this itinerary for easy reference!
Wondering what to do with THREE days in Munich? Considering visiting the nearby town of Nuremberg!