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48 Hours In: Munich

Published 18/12/2007

With Christmas markets and glühwein galore, now is a great time to visit the Bavarian capital – and the football's pretty good too, says William Cook

Why go now?

Advent is an ideal time to visit the Bavarian capital. There are Christmas markets throughout the city, but there's a lot more to Munich than leb kuchen and glühwein. Until 6 January, there's a haunting Max Beckmann retrospective at the splendid Pinakothek der Moderne (1), which examines the German artist's wartime exile in Amsterdam. If you'd rather examine expensive cars, the glitzy new automotive extravaganza BMW Welt (2) (00 49 1802 118 822; ) has been open since October, in a sleek avant-garde building that's an attraction in its own right.

Touch down

Fly to Munich's smart Franz-Josef-Strauss airport from London City, Heathrow, Birmingham or Manchester with Lufthansa (0870 837 7747; ); from Heathrow with British Airways (0870 850 9850; ; from Stansted or Edinburgh with easyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easy ); or from Stansted with Air Berlin (0870 738 8880; ).

Get your bearings

The airport is 28km north-east of the city centre. Trains on lines S1 and S8 (00 49 89 4142 4344; www.mvv- ) leave the airport about every 10 minutes and reach the city centre around 45 minutes later; they take different routes but converge on the vast and beautiful railway station, the Hauptbahnhof (3). A single ticket costs €8.80 (£6.30). A taxi into town costs around €50 (£35). The City Tour Card (available from most ticket machines, including at the airport) buys you unlimited public transport plus discounts on lots of tourist attractions. A three-day pass costs €29.50 (£21) for all zones (including the airport). A one-day pass for just the inner zones is €9.80 (£7).

The Germans call Munich the world's biggest village, and although more than 1.3 million people live here, it's easy to find your way around. Many older buildings in the medieval Altstadt have been painstakingly restored, following heavy bombing of the city during the Second World War. Most of the main landmarks are within the ring road that hugs the route of the old city wall, but it's well worth venturing beyond the largely pedestrianised central zone.

To the north is the lively university quarter, and elegant arty enclave of Schwabing. To the east is the Isar River, the leafy banks of which are great for jogging along. There are two main tourist offices (both contactable on 00 49 89 2339 6500; ), one at the Hauptbahnhof (3) (open daily, 9.30am-6pm), the other at the neo-Gothic "new town hall", the Neues Rathaus (4) (open Monday to Friday 10am-8pm, Saturday 10am-4pm).

Check in

The Vier Jahreszeiten (5), at Maximilianstrasse 17 (00 49 89 2125 2700; ), is a grand old hotel on one of Munich's smartest boulevards. Built in 1858, this suave hideaway is part of the history of the city. Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich have both stayed here in the past. Doubles from €240 (£170) per night.

If your pockets aren't quite that deep, Hotel Advokat (6), at Baaderstrasse 1 (00 49 89 216 310; ), is a simple, stylish boutique hotel in a quiet residential district near the river. Doubles from €140 (£100).

Take a view

The best place to take in Munich's spectacular skyline is from the rooftop terrace of the Bayerischer Hof (7) on Promenadeplatz 2-6 (00 49 89 21 200; ). This busy hotel bar is a chic rendezvous for locals as well as guests. Throughout Christmas and the New Year, there's an outdoor Eisbar where you can enjoy a warming mug of glühwein (€5 or £3.50) or a bowl of pumpkin soup (€11 or £8). The bar is open noon-10.30pm at weekends, Monday to Friday 4pm-10.30pm.

Take ride

The Hop-On Hop-Off bus (00 49 89 54 90 75 60; ) is a good way to get an initial overview of the city. As the name suggests, you can break your journey at plenty of stops along the way. Buses leave every 20 minutes starting at 9am. The one-hour Express Circle tour (last bus 5.30pm) costs €13 (£9.30). The Grand Circle tour (last bus 3pm), which takes in the baroque palace of Schloss Nymphenburg and the space-age Olympia Park costs €18 (£12.80) and lasts two-and-a-half hours.

Window shopping

Munich's main shopping streets are Neuhauserstrasse and Kaufingerstrasse, but most of the shops on these pedestrian boulevards are just chain stores. At Advent, it's easy to do all your Christmas shopping out of doors. The Christkindlmarkt (00 49 89 23 33 01 11; www.christkindl ), in Marienplatz (8), the city's central square, is a super place to hunt for handmade decorations. Open Monday to Friday 10am-8.30pm, Saturday 9am-8.30pm, and Sunday 10am-7.30pm.

Tollwood (00 49 89 38 38 500; ), in Theresienwiese (9) (site of the annual Oktoberfest), is more grungy, with New Age knick-knacks as well as festive gifts, and all sorts of shows. For a wider range of food and drink, head for the Viktualenmarkt (10), Munich's outdoor food market, where you can buy many Bavarian specialities, and organic fruit and vegetables.

Lunch on the run

With a no-nonsense restaurant on the ground floor, and a homely bierkeller, Unionsbräu (11) at Einsteinstrasse 42 (00 49 89 47 76 77; ) is an ideal spot for a swift lunch. This micro-brewery has been here for 120 years, and has hardly changed since then. The menu is traditionally hearty: a plate of roast pork, cabbage and dumplings costs €9.50 (£7), for example. For pudding, a mousse with sour cherries costs €3 (£2).

Take a hike

One of Munich's biggest pleasures is its proximity to proper countryside, and remarkably, two of Bavaria's loveliest lakes are only a tube ride from the city centre. Catch the S5 to Herrsching, or the S6 to Starnberg for a walk along the banks of the Amersee or the Starnbergersee. Lake Starnberg is the bigger, at 20km long and 5km wide, but the most dramatic hike is from Herrsching, 180m uphill to Andechs (00 49 8152 3760; ), an idyllic monastery where Benedictine monks have brewed their own delicious (and potent) beer ever since the Middle Ages. Small wonder that this rococo church (and the nearby bierkeller) attracts around 200,000 thirsty pilgrims every year.

An aperitif

Tourists may flock to the Hofbräuhaus (12), Munich's most celebrated beer hall, but to enjoy a litre of Bavarian beer with the locals, head for the Löwenbräukeller (13) (00 49 89 52 89 33; ) at Nymphenburgerstrasse 2 (open daily, 10am-12am). A warren of atmospheric rooms, ranging from intimate salons to cavernous beer halls, this handsome bierkeller is exquisitely decorated, inside and out. Half a litre of crisp draught beer costs €3.30 (£2.30).

Dining with the locals

Spatenhaus (14), at Residenzstrasse 12 (00 49 89 29 07 060; ), serves up local dishes in a traditional setting, but the cuisine is a cut above the usual Bavarian cooking. In this warm and welcoming restaurant, a plate of sausages and sauerkraut and a bowl of fruit compôte, for example, will cost you €17.30 (£12.35).

Sunday morning: go to church

Locally, Munich is known as "Italy's most northern city", and the Michaelskirche (15) at Neuhauserstrasse 6 (00 49 89 23 17060; ) wouldn't look out of place in Rome. There's a sung Mass at 9am on Sundays, with a fine choir and organ music. The church is open Sunday 6.50am-10.15pm, Thursday 10am-8.45pm, and 10am-7pm on other days. The first Renaissance church to be built north of the Alps, from 1773 to 1921, this flamboyant building was the chapel of the Bavarian royal family, many of whom (including "Mad" King Ludwig II) are buried in the crypt. It opens 9.30am-2.30pm at weekends, 9.30am-4.30pm during the week, admission €2 (£1.40).

A walk in the park

The Englischer Garten is a rugged, sprawling slice of countryside in the centre of the city. In winter, the locals sledge down its slopes and walk or skate across its frozen lakes; in summer, it's popular with nude sunbathers. Whatever the weather, the neoclassical Monopteros (16) is a panoramic vantage point, and the Chinese Tower (17) a popular meeting place.

Out to brunch

Founded in 1825, Café Hag (18), at Residenzstrasse 25-26 (00 49 89 22 29 15; ), is a cosy, old-fashioned café and konditorei in the heart of the old town. A breakfast comprising tea or coffee, cold meats and cheese, bread and preserves and a boiled egg will cost you €9.80 (£7).

Cultural afternoon

Munich's Alte Pinakothek (19) and Neue Pinakothek (1) at 27 and 29 Barer Strasse (00 49 89 23 80 52 16/5195; ) are two of Germany's greatest galleries, with a vast range of old and early-modern masters. They are open 10am-6pm daily except Tuesday (Wednesdays to 8pm), admission €5.50 (£4). On Sundays, however, admission to each museum is just €1 (70p).

Munich's newest cultural landmark is its striking Jewish Museum (20) on St Jakobs Platz (00 49 89 23 39 60 96; ), which opened this year. Built by the Viennese architect Martin Kohlbauer, who also designed the new synagogue and Jewish Community Centre next door, it is smaller and less controversial in design than Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin, but it performs the same function: to celebrate Jewish life in Germany, as well as commemorating the Holocaust. Before the Second World War, 11,500 Jewish people lived in Munich. Today, 9,500 Jews live here once again. The museum opens 10am-6pm daily except Sunday, admission €6 (£4.30).

Write a postcard

Franz von Lenbach was one of Munich's greatest 19th-century artists, and the palatial villa where he lived and worked is now an art gallery. The Lenbachhaus (21) at Luisenstrasse (00 49 89 23 32 20 00; www.lenbach ) contains many of his moody portraits, but the main attraction is its rich collection of paintings by Der Blaue Reiter, that prodigious group of German artists who met and worked in Munich in the years before the First World War. There are some mesmeric canvases by Franz Marc and August Macke, both of whom died on the Western Front. You can buy one of their master works (in postcard form) for €1 (70p). Open 10am-6pm daily except Monday, admission €6 (£4.30).

Icing on the cake

If you're a football fan, a weekend in Munich isn't complete without a trip to the new Allianz Arena (22) at Werner Heisenberg Allee 25 (00 49 89 20 050; ), that futuristic stadium where Munich's Bundesliga teams, Bayern Munich (00 49 89 69 93 10; ) and TSV 1860 München (00 49 1805 601 860; ) play their home games. From the outside it's a surreal sight, like a Zeppelin floating on the horizon. It's even more hypnotic once inside: three tiers of seats, a brilliant atmosphere, and ticket prices that make the English Premier League look extortionate. At a Bayern game, you can see international stars such as Klose and Podolski for as little as €12 (£8.50). Tickets for TSV 1860 München are even cheaper (and easier to come by); tickets start at €10.50 (£7.50).

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