Don’t miss ancient Marienplatz in the heart of Munich, the splendour of Nymphenburg Palace and the fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle – our top three must-see Munich landmarks on your trip to this popular southern German city.
Marienplatz, Munich’s central square, has been a gathering place for nearly a 1,000 years. In medieval times, people flocked here for tournaments and markets. At Christmas, they still come for Christkindlmarkt, when Marienplatz becomes a magical place to buy unique traditional gifts or soak up festive atmosphere with sips of mulled wine.
Now millions descend on Marienplatz each year for sights such as the legendary Glockenspiel in the tower of the Gothic-looking (actually 19th century) Rathaus, or new city hall. This 100-year-old tourist attraction, and charming peculiarity of Munich is a life-sized automated theatre. At 11am each day, it chimes and enacts two 16th century dramas: a courtly marriage, complete with jousting, and a Maypole-like dance – said to have cheered a plague-wracked population. This only takes place once a day – don’t miss out!
Elsewhere on the square, topped by a golden statue of the Virgin Mary, the Marian Column commemorates an end to the Swedish occupation of the city in the 17th century.
Finally, the twin-towered Frauenkirche is a piece of medieval ecclesiastical magnificence that has come to symbolise Munich. Witness Catholic mass here, and climb the church’s south tower for a brilliant view of the city and the Alps.
Once the summer residence of Bavaria’s former ruling Wittelsbach clan, this stupendous Gothic pile known as the Nymphenburg Palace is still home to Franz, Duke of Bavaria and the current head of the house (who has an arguable claim to the British throne). You’re unlikely to run into him as you roam the open parts of the Nymphenburg Palace, including the gardens, where the so-called Grand Cascade is a veritable Niagara Falls of water features.
In the former stables you’ll find a collection of fabulous royal coaches to view. King Ludwig II was often seen careening around Munich in his golden rococo sleigh with its bare-breasted nymph figurehead during his reign.
Nymphenburg Palace or ‘Castle of the Nymphs’ is also home to King Ludwig I’s famed ‘Gallery of Beauties’. The all-powerful monarch asked his court painter to depict 36 comely ladies from across Munich society, including a shoemaker’s daughter and his mistress, and put their portraits on the wall at Nymphenburg Palace.
You expect castles to inspire legends but Neuschwanstein Castle was the other way around. Another plaything of 19th century King Ludwig II, this fairytale-like construction of pointed turrets atop a fir-clad Bavarian hill was inspired by German Romantic mythology and the operas of Richard Wagner.
Never completed in Ludwig’s lifetime, Neuschwanstein Castle has been open to the public since shortly after his death in 1886 and makes a fantastical day trip. An hour-and-a-half’s journey from Munich – kids in particular will adore this living fairytale, the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty attraction, and the template for pseudo-castles worldwide. Don’t miss the vivid operatic frescos in the Minstrels’ Gallery and, complete with its own spires, Ludwig’s enormous Gothic bed (although the obsessive monarch only ever spent 11 nights here).
Ready for a fairytale adventure in Munich? Start planning your trip.