With spectacular architecture, leafy parks, and wide Italianate avenues, Munich is the perfect overture to all that is idiosyncratic about the mighty Kingdom of Bavaria.
Positioned on the bank of the Isar River, north of the Bavarian Alps, Munich was first founded by the Benedictine monks. Its name is derived from the Old German term Munichen, meaning “by the monk”. That’s why a monk can be seen on the city’s coat of arms.
Perfect overture to the Kingdom of Bavaria.
In the 12th century, Munich was handed to the House of Wittelsbach, which governed the city and the whole of Bavaria until the German Revolution in 1918. During this period, dukes, electors, and later, Bavarian kings spent a large fortune to refurbish their capital, making it one of Germany’s most sophisticated and refined cities.
Most of the royal heritage sites cluster around the Altstadt, Munich’s historic center, with the exception of the Nymphenburg Palace located in the city’s western part and the symbolic Neuschwanstein Castle, 120 kilometers southwest of Munich.
1. Munich Old Town
Enclosed by an old city wall, Munich’s walkable historic core look as though it has been there for centuries. Here, neo-Renaissance townhouses lined cobblestone streets, and Gothic-inspired steeples soared to the sky. But actually, this place is an extensive reconstruction of a medieval city that was bombed to dust during WWII. At the center of the Old Town is Marienplatz (St. Mary’s Square) – Munich’s beating heart and the city’s main square since the 12th century.
No matter the time of year, there is always something happening on this site, whether it is the Christmas market, cultural festivals, or major celebrations. Overlooking the square is the New City Hall. It is impressively adorned with gargoyles, statues, and an 83-meters clock tower. Each day, massive crowds congregate in front of the building to enjoy the spectacular carillon (housed in the clock tower), consisting of 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures. For many visitors, this place is an ideal starting point for sightseeing around the city.
2. Munich Residence
A stone’s throw away from the Marienplatz is the Munich Residence – the former royal palace of the Wittelsbach monarchs of Bavaria. Constructed in the 14th century and enlarged in the following centuries, the building is one of Germany’s largest and most magnificent palaces. It contains ten courtyards, 130 exquisitely decorated rooms, as well as numerous collections of arts and jewelry. There are the Baroque Ancestral Gallery, the Green Gallery, and the Cuvilliés Theatre in Rococo style, to name a few.
However, the Residence’s pièce de résistanceis the Antiquarium, a barrel vault covered in frescoes. It was built to house the enormous antique collection of Duke Albrecht V. With a length of over 60 meters, it is the largest and most lavish Rennaisance interior north of the Alps. In the following decades, the expansive hall was transformed into a venue for festivities and banquets by Albrecht V’s successors, Duke Wilhelm V, and his son Maximillian I.
3. Nymphenburg Palace
Around five kilometers northwest of the Altstadt, you will find yourself at the beautiful palace of Nymphenburg i.e. “Castle of the Nymph”. It was first designed as a villa for the long-awaited heir to the throne, Max Emanuel, son of the Bavarian Elector Ferdinand Maria. Over the next century, the Baroque palace became the summer residence of the Bavarian rulers. One of Germany’s most popular monarchs was also born here, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who is referred to as the Märchenkönig (The Fairytale King).
Yet the most impressive thing about Nymphenburg Palace is its expansive park. Measuring 229 hectares, Nymphenburg Palace Park combines both French and English-style gardens. Its central area is based on the Versailles Garden, featuring enormous fountains, canals, promenades, and magnificent flowerbeds. They are laid out in a strict symmetric order, just below the grand staircase. The rest of the park, however, follows English landscape design, with small streams, bridges, branched paths, as well as artificial lakes. There are also some smaller yet refined palaces in this area, such as the pink-hued Amalie burg which is famous for its remarkable mirror hall.
4. Neuschwanstein Castle
Rising from the thickly forested Alpine foothills, Neuschwanstein looks like a mirage. The castle was the vision of King Ludwig II who wanted to build a place of retreat. Inspired by the operatic works of Richard Wagner, the king envisaged the castle as a giant theatrical stage where he could escape into a dream world of Teutonic mythology and medieval grandeur.
Nevertheless, the castle, like many of King Ludwig’s grand schemes, was never finished as a result of overspending. Completed sections include the king’s bedrooms, the Hall of the Singers, and the Byzantine-style throne room with a magnificent mosaic floor. The king himself only stayed here for a few months until his mysterious death in 1886.
A giant stage in the Alpine foothilss
With more than 1.3 million people visiting annually, Neuschwanstein today is undoubtedly Germany’s best-known attraction and the most photographed castle in the country. It’s also said that the castle was the source of inspiration for Walt’s castle at Disney World.
Tips for visiting Neuschwanstein
- The most convenient and affordable way to travel to Schloss Neuschwanstein is using the Bayern Ticket. This ticket grants you unlimited usage of public buses and trains within Bavaria in one day. It costs 25€ and can add up to 4 people (6€ per extra passenger).
- The journey from Munich Hbf to Schloss Neuschwanstein takes approximately 3 hours, including a train trip from Munich to Füssen and a bus trip from Füssen to Hohenschwangau.
- IMPORTANT: Before going to the castle, you have to get your ticket to the office in Hohenschwangau. You still need to go there, even though you already had the online ticket.
- From Hohenschwangau, you can either hike to the castle or take the mini-van (around 3€ one way). The van will bring you to the famous Marienbrücke where you can enjoy a spectacular view of the castle and the forest beneath.
- There is a limited number of tickets issued per day. So it’s necessary to buy the ticket online in advance. The ticket is time-slotted, and thus you have to be at the castle on time.
- Please note that the “No Photograph” rule is strictly enforced inside the castle.