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Winter in Munich: 12 Magical Things to Do in Munich in Winter

Visiting Munich in winter? Here is everything you need to know about winter in Munich, from amazing things to do, what to wear, where to eat, and more!

Snow-covered castles. Festive Christmas markets. Lively beer halls. Hearty Bavarian food. There is so much to love about visiting Munich in winter, and so much to do!

When I was figuring out what cities to visit on a winter European getaway, I immediately put Munich on my list along with Prague because of the close proximity to the fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle, and because it is home to some of the best Christmas markets in Europe. Aside from that, there were lots of things to do in winter in Munich, with plenty of beautiful museums and churches to escape the cold.

It definitely did not disappoint. Yes, it was cold AF (especially coming from California), but winter in Munich was absolutely magical and the city came alive with the festive spirit in the air. Besides, the cold was nothing that some German beer couldn’t cure – and there were plenty of beer halls and beer gardens around the city!

Wondering what to do in Munich in winter? Here is everything you need to know about winter in Munich!

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Weather and What to Pack for Winter in Munich

There’s no getting around it – winter in Munich is COLD. While winter weather in Munich is milder and warmer than in the northern parts of Germany, temperatures hover near freezing and rain and snow are common – I experienced both during my time in Munich.

Average temperatures for winter in Munich are as follows:

  • December: High 39°F (4° C) / Low 29° (-2° C)
  • January: High 38°F (3° C) / Low 27° (-3° C)
  • February: High 40°F (4° C) / Low 28° (-3° C)
  • As a born and bred California girl (who grew up in Los Angeles, moved to San Francisco, and then escaped the fog in Orange County), I was a bit apprehensive about the weather in winter in Munich. 

Because I’d never really traveled in the winter to anywhere that actually experiences winter weather (mostly because I was scared of it), I felt overwhelmed when I was starting to figure out what to pack for Munich in winter.

Yes, Munich in winter is cold, so obviously you will need warm winter clothing. However, apparently Germans like to turn up their heat very high, so I found myself to be very, VERY warm whenever I was inside a museum, restaurant, or cafe.

The key to dress for winter in Munich is to pack lots of layers – bonus points if you can get them on and off quickly.

Here are some suggested items to pack for Munich in winter:

  • Warm winter coat: I packed a waterproof winter jacket like this one, but if you want to be extra classy, a wool trench coat also works.
  • Warm, waterproof, and comfortable boots: I packed these boots as my only pair of shoes for a week of winter weather in Europe, and they were perfect, even as I was walking over 30,000 steps a day! They kept my feet warm, and dry even though I encountered rain and snow.
  • Sweaters: To add extra warmth on those chilly days/nights. I packed this and this. A sweater dress is super cute and keeps you warm as well!
  • Flannel button-down: Makes a perfect layering piece for winter in Munich.
  • Cardigans: Also a perfect layering piece for winter in Munich, especially because you can get them on and off easily.
  • Fleece-lined leggings: Perfect under your sweater dresses, or as an extra layer of warmth under your jeans.
  • Lightweight thermals: I packed a bunch of these ones.
  • Beanie: I also packed a knitted headband to switch it up a bit.
  • Warm Gloves: These also allow you to use your touchscreen smartphone without taking them off.
  • Wool Socks: These will keep your feet nice and toasty (and will wick moisture)!
  • Scarves: I packed a thick infinity scarf, as well as a blanket scarf (this one is my FAVE).
  • Power Adapter: If coming from outside of Europe.
  • Power Bank: To keep your devices charged as you explore Munich in the winter! I never travel without this one – one charge will give five full charges to your devices.
  • Reusable water bottle: I like traveling with this one because you can roll it up when you are done.

Arriving in Munich

Arriving via Air

Most visitors will fly into Munich International Airport (MUC), located about 40 kilometers (~25 miles) out of central Munich. From there, you have several options to get into the city:

Taxi

The fastest but most expensive option – it will take about 35 minutes to get into central Munich, and cost you about €70.

Lufthansa Express Bus

If your accommodations are near the Munich Hauptbahnhof (Central Station), then taking the Lufthansa Express bus may be your best option (and the cheapest). Buses depart every 15 minutes, making four stops at the airport and at Munich Schwabing, before arriving at the Hauptbahnhof station. 

The journey takes 45 minutes (may take longer in traffic) and costs €10.50 for a one-way ticket (or €17 return). If your final destination is not within walking distance of the Hauptbahnhof station, you will need to transfer onto the U-Bahn, tram, or bus, in which case this may not be the best option.

S-Bahn Train

This is not necessarily the cheapest option, but if you need to transfer onto a bus, tram, or U-bahn train, then this might be the better option for you. This is the option I used, and found it relatively easy and straightforward.

Take the S1 or S8 train – each line departs every 20 minutes, so basically there’s a train headed for the city every 10 minutes. The trip takes roughly 40 minutes.

A one-way ticket is €11.50; depending on what time of day you arrive and if you plan to use public transportation once you arrive in Munich, purchasing a Zone M-5 day pass (Airport-City-Day-Ticket ) for €13 may be a better option. If you are traveling in a group of two adults or more, the group all-day ticket will be the most cost-effective.

Make sure that you select “issue with validation” (at the bottom left) when purchasing your tickets! If you somehow forgot to validate your ticket (or want to be extra sure), you can also validate your ticket by stamping it at one of the blue boxes near the platform.

The S1 and S8 make stops in central Munich at the Marienplatz and Hauptbahnhof stations – from here, you can transfer onto a U-Bahn train, tram, or bus onto your final destination.

Arriving via Train

Munich is connected to many other cities in Germany and Europe via high-speed rail. Trains will drop you off at the central Hauptbahnhof station. From here, you can easily transfer onto a U-Bahn or S-Bahn train, tram, or bus, to your final destination.

If you need to store your luggage, there are luggage lockers available upstairs from the main platforms.

Arriving via Bus

Another option for traveling to and from Munich is via long-distance buses. Munich is served by several bus lines, including DB (Deutsche Bahn) Buses and Flixbus. This can be an economical way to travel around Germany and Central Europe – I ended up taking a Flixbus from Munich to Prague, and it only cost me $20 USD and was a fairly pleasant experience!

Most buses depart and arrive at the ZOB (Zentraler Omnibusbahnhof) Central Bus Station, 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) from the Hauptbahnhof train station. It is about a 15 minute walk to Hauptbahnhof, or you can ride the S-Bahn for one stop. From Haiptbahnhof, you can easily connect to your final destination via public transportation.

Getting Around in Munich in Winter

Many of Munich’s main attractions, especially within the historic center are easily explored on foot. Walking is always my favorite way to explore a new city, and Munich was no different – Munich is super walkable, and it really is the best way to see the city!

If you don’t want to walk (because let’s face it, winter in Munich is COLD), or are trying to reach points that are outside of the immediate center of the city, Munich has a very clean and efficient public transportation system.

At first glance, the public transportation system might look a bit confusing, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy, I promise! Plus, the trains actually run on time (unlike in San Francisco, where I spent 11 years at the mercy of the perpetual lateness of Muni) – I was highly impressed!

Munich’s public transportation network of the following:

  • U-Bahn trains – the city’s underground subway/metro system
  • S-Bahn trains – links Munich to the suburbs and to the airport
  • Trams
  • Buses

Fares are calculated by zones – travel within a single zone costs €3.30 If you are a tourist, chances are you will probably not leave the M-Zone, which covers the city center. The exception to this is traveling to the airport, which is in Zone 5. 

You can also opt to purchase a stripe ticket for €14, which include ten “stripes.” These tickets can be used by multiple people on multiple trips. The number of stripes used is calculated based on distance traveled, and the age of the person(s) using the ticket.

Honestly, I found the stripe tickets to be super confusing and couldn’t bother trying to figure it out, and ended up just purchasing an all-day ticket instead. For travel within a single zone, an all-day ticket costs €7.80. If traveling in a group, there is also a group ticket available for €14.80 – this covers up to five adults, and is an amazing deal!

You can see a table of fares here.

You can purchase transit tickets and passes at underground U-Bahn or S-Bahn stations, or from the ticket machines on board buses and trams. Do note that not all ticket machines take credit cards, so be sure to have some Euro coins on hand!

You can also purchase tickets via the MVV app, or day passes online. Be sure to carry your ID in case your tickets are checked!

IMPORTANT: Make sure your tickets are validated before boarding and train, tram, or bus! The fines are hefty, and I’ve heard that the ticket inspectors are NOT forgiving. You can do this by selecting “issue with validation” when purchasing tickets from a ticket machine, or stamp it at one of the blue validating machines at stations, and on board buses and trams. 

Other Things to Know Before Visiting Munich in Winter

Language

While German is the official language in Munich, almost everyone speaks English, especially in the main tourist areas. Nonetheless, I do suggest learning a few basic German phrases, as the effort is appreciated by the locals. Some helpful German phrases are below:

Hallo: Hello
Guten tag: Good day (this is a common greeting)
Auf Wiedersehen or Tschüs: Goodbye/bye
Bitte: Please
Danke (schön): Thank you (very much)
Ja: Yes
Nein: No

Currency and Money

Like much of Europe, Germany uses the Euro currency. While many shops and restaurants (especially those that tourists frequent) accept credit cards, having some cash on hand is a good idea. 

Cash is a necessity if you are in Munich during the Christmas season plan on visiting Christmas markets (which I highly recommend, because it is the best part about winter in Munich!). Smaller shops and restaurants may only accept cash as well.

It is best to get cash out of a bank ATM rather than a currency exchange booth, as the rates are much more favorable. I usually withdraw cash as soon as I arrive in a country – I got some at an ATM at the airport – but you can easily find ATMs and banks all around the city.

A tip of 5-10% is usually expected at most restaurants. Check your bill before you add a tip, as a service charge may have already been added (it would be marked as “bedienung”). At more casual restaurants and cafes, it is customary to round up to the nearest Euro or two.

Safety in Munich

Munich is one of the safest cities in all of Europe, and violently crime is extremely rare. I traveled to Munich as a solo female traveler, and felt very safe during my entire stay in the city.

That said, you should NEVER let your guard down and always exercise common sense and take basic precautions: don’t walk around alone late at night (especially outside of the main streets), don’t go anywhere with strangers, don’t get too intoxicated, and always watch your surroundings!

Pickpocketing does occur, although less so than in other major cities (i.e. Lisbon and Paris, to name a few). That said, it does sometimes occur, especially in busy and crowded areas (i.e. the Hauptbahnhof train station), so always keep a close watch on your belongings!

Leave your valuables behind in your hotel safe, and never, ever leave anything out unattended! Make sure that your bags are zipped, and don’t leave stuff in your back pocket. If you are sitting down at a restaurant or cafe, hold on to your bag, and don’t leave things, like your phone, out on the table.

I always like to keep my important belongings in a crossbody (I carried this one – one plus of visiting Munich in winter is that I could easily it under my giant winter coat) that stays on my person at all times, and I always keep an extra hand on it, especially if I’m walking through crowded areas or on public transportation. For extra security, carrying an anti-theft bag (like this crossbodytote, or backpack), or a money belt may be a good idea.

Electricity

As with the rest of Europe, Germany uses 230 V Type E power plugs. If you are coming from the United States, you will need to use a power adapter to use your electronics.

Where to Stay in Munich

Munich has a variety of accommodation options to suit every taste and budget. What neighborhood you should stay in will largely depend on your budget, and what your priorities are.

Here is a brief overview of the best neighborhoods in Munich to stay in:

  • Altstadt: The historical center of the city, and where many of Munich’s main attractions are located. This is the best and most convenient area to stay in; however, rates are the highest here. 
  • Maxvorstadt/Schwabing: Located just north of Altstadt, Maxvorstadt is Munich’s university district and museum quarter. You’ll find lots of galleries and cultural institutions, bookstores, indie boutiques, pubs, and trendy eateries. Also where the Englischer Garten is located.
  • Olympiapark: Located just north of Maxvorstadt. You’ll get the best bang for your buck here – you’ll find lots of affordable options here. Altstadt is easily accessible via public transit.
  • Glockenbachviertel/Ludwigsvorstadt-Isarvorstadt: Just south of Altstadt, and the trendiest part of Munich. You’ll find plenty of hip bars, trendy boutiques, and restaurants. This area also includes the Hauptbahnhof station, so transportation is also a breeze.

Generally speaking, the closer you are to Altstadt, the better – once you are in Altstadt, you can basically walk to all the major attractions. However, this is the most expensive – staying in one of the outer neighborhoods isn’t a huge deal, since you can easily access the main tourist areas by public transport.

I stayed at the Mercure Olympiapark – I’ve stayed at several Mercure properties over the years, and can always count on them for a comfortable stay. The rates are very affordable – I paid under $100 USD a night. It was also an easy 15-minute trip to Altstadt via tram.

Other recommended accommodation options are below:

Fun Things to Do in Munich in Winter

Visit the Christmas markets around town

One of the things I was looking forward to most about visiting Munich in winter was being able to visit all of the Christmas markets around the city, and they did not disappoint! Seeing all these festive markets pop all up all around the city really made visiting Munich in winter so much fun.

The great thing about the Christmas markets in Munich in winter is that many of them are held at some of the city’s top attractions, so you’ll get to sip on some gluhwein (quite possibly one of the best things about winter in Munich) and snack on some candied almonds while crossing things off your Munich itinerary.

If you’ve never been to a European Christmas market, then you are definitely in for a treat. I’ve visited so-called Christmas markets in the States, and never really saw why they were such a thing, but the Europeans go all out and it is a completely different experience! It’s definitely one of the best things about visiting Munich in the winter.

You’ll find plenty of food stalls serving traditional German specialties and sweets, and lots of handcrafted Bavarian handicrafts and holiday items – I found some handcrafted  Christmas ornaments that made perfect souvenirs!

Be sure to sip on some gluhwein (mulled wine), served in a super cute commemorative mug. Each market has its own unique mug, so have fun going around to all the different ones and collecting all the different ones – they make the perfect souvenirs! 

You’ll technically pay a deposit on top of what a cup of gluhwein costs (usually €3-4) – you can return them back to a vendor to get your deposit back, or just keep them as a souvenir (my luggage was full of these by the time it was time to fly back to California).

Other things you should try at Munich’s Christmas markets: 

  • Currywurst (German sausages slathered with a curry-flavored sauce. Get fries to soak it up!)
  • Gebrannte Mandeln (roasted almonds – these smell soooo good!)
  • Käsespätzle (sort of like German mac n cheese)
  • Gingerbread cookies (because they’re super Instagrammable). 

Munich is well-known to have some of the best Christmas markets in Europe, so visiting at least one (preferably multiple) of them is a must when visiting Munich in winter! There’s a market for everyone – you’ll find everything from your traditional European Christmas market, to more offbeat ones. 

Opening dates vary by market; most run from the end of November until the days leading up to Christmas, but a few run into January as well.

Here are the best Christmas markets you need to check out:

Marienplatz

This is Munich’s main market, and its largest, and is held right in the heart of. You’ll find hundreds of stalls set up in the Marienplatz Square, and spilling over into the streets surrounding it, and into the courtyard of the town hall. 

This one has the most magical setting – you can’t go wrong with the beautiful, large Christmas tree with the gothic facade in the background – but you’ll find the most crowds here. 

Be sure to find the gluhwein stall here with the super cute boot-shaped mugs – they’re sold from the vendors on the side streets around the square (I walked around until I saw people holding them, and then looked for the nearest gluhwein stall). 

Residenz

This one might have been my favorite – this one is nestled within the walls of the Residenz royal palace, which is not just a Christmas market but is straight up transformed into a Christmas village. I loved the cozy but festive vibe of this one, and did I mention that it is held in the courtyard of a royal palace? UM, YES PLEASE! 

Chinese Tower (Chinesischer Turm)

This one sits in the middle of the English Garden (English Garten), Munich’s largest city park, right in front of the Chinese Tower. 

It has sort of a woodsy and romantic vibe – you can even ride in a horse-drawn carriage for extra wintery romance! I loved this one because it was super peaceful here. Plus, the park is just gorgeous!

Viktualienmarkt

Munich’s open-air food market transforms into a festive Christmas market during the holidays. Foodies will absolutely love this market – you’ll find lots of gourmet treats here! If you want delicious local food items to take home as souvenirs, you’ll find plenty at Viktualienmarkt. They also had some amazing decorations, including a beautiful nativity scene by the beer garden.

Märchenbazar (The Fairytale Bazaar)

I stumbled upon this market because it was just down the street from my hotel, and really enjoyed it! The Märchenbazar is a smaller market, with a circus theme – tents, twinkly lights, colorful art. It’s got an artsy vibe, and you can shop for everything from leather goods, handmade jewelry, and wooden artwork. 

The Pink Market

This kitschy market is the city’s LGBTQ Christmas Market, and is super inclusive and fun! You’ll find pink everythinggg and glitter here, as well as drag queens, and plenty of cocktails. I ran out of time to make it down here, but I’ve heard that it is super fun!

The Medieval Market at Wittelsbacher Platz

This is another one that is supposed to be super fun, that I didn’t have time to make it to (guess I’ll just have to come back to Munich in winter again)! You’ll take a step back to the Middle Ages at this market, with vendors dressed in period costumes, gluhwein served in clay goblets, and even eat Medieval cuisine and shop for ancient handicrafts!  

The Tollwood Winter Festival

This one is the hipster/alternative market – think organic food, unique handmade goods, and art installations. It’s got a bit of a party vibe as well, which makes sense since it is held on the same grounds as the Oktoberfest festival.

Looking for even more markets? You’ll find more here and here! If you want to check out the best of the city’s Christmas markets, this tour takes you to the best ones!

Hang out in Marienplatz, the heart of the city

The beautiful Marienplatz square has been Munich’s central gathering place since the 12th century, and is quite possibly the city’s number one tourist attraction. 

You’ll find far fewer crowds at Marienplatz when visiting Munich in winter than visiting in the summer. Even if you do come to the Christmas market here (which I think is a must, if you visit during Christmas!), I still think it’s worth making a separate visit while the stalls are closed to truly appreciate the beauty of the Marienplatz, without the flurry of activity.

Admire the stunning Gothic architectural details of the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall). Be sure to also check out the beautiful courtyard as well. On the other side of the square stands the whimsical Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall), which houses a toy museum today.

In the center of the square you will find the Mariensäule column, atop which a golden statue of the Virgin Mary watches over the city of Munich and the state of Bavaria. The Mariensäule also symbolizes the center of the city, and is used as a starting point for signposts from other locations to the city.

Check out the view from the top of the Peterskirche church tower

For an epic view of Marienplatz and the Munich skyline, head up the tower of the Peterskirche (St. Peter’s Church) tower. 

You’ll have to climb roughly 300 wooden steps to get there (and it gets congested – the whole experience kind of reminded me of going up to the top of the Duomo in Florence) – but trust me, the view is absolutely worth it!

From the top, you’ll get a panoramic view of Munich’s beautiful city center laid out in front of you, and the climb will have been worth it. Take a moment to admire all the architectural details of the Neues Rathaus and Altes Rathaus, and gaze at all the lovely orange rooftops in the city.

The view is especially gorgeous when visiting Munich in winter – if you come around the holidays, you’ll see the twinkly Christmas lights…and if you’re lucky enough to be in town when it snows, then you’ll see those orange rooftops with a dusting of snow. Absolutely magical!

It costs €2 to go up to the top of the tower, and save a few Euro coins, because only cash is accepted.

Visit one of Munich’s beautiful churches

Munich is home to some of Germany’s most beautiful churches. Taking a peek into at least a few of these churches is the perfect activity when visiting Munich in winter – you’ll get to escape the cold, as well as experience the city’s history and architectural beauty.

Aside from Peterskirche, here are some of the churches you should check out when visiting Munich in winter:

  • Frauenkirche: The towering twin domes of the Frauenkirche dominate the Munich skyline and are one of the most distinctive icons in Munich. The best view of the domes is actually from Peterskirche, but it is still worth taking a peek inside one of the most iconic churches in Munich. The church dates back to 1488 and isn’t as ornate as some of the others in the city, but has a rather odd “Devil’s Footprint” that makes it worth a visit.
  • Asamkirche: This stunner is a shining example of Baroque architecture and is quite possibly the most opulent church in Munich. Built by two artist brothers in the 1700, the Asamkirche was originally meant to be a private church, but permission was only granted to build it after the brothers promised access for all. The impressive interior is covered in gold leaf, stained glass and carved cherubs, with richly painted ceilings.
  • Theatinerkirche: I was initially drawn to the pastel yellow facade of the Theatinerkirche, which sits near Odeonsplatz, right across from the Residenz palace. The Theatinerkirche dates back to the 1600s, and is one of the oldest churches in Munich. The interior is all white, with incredible details, with a huge Baroque dome. It also houses a crypt where many members of the Bavarian royal family were buried.

Sample all the gourmet goodies at Viktualienmarkt

Wandering through all the stalls of Viktualienmarkt, the city’s open-air food market, is a must when visiting Munich in winter! Foodies will obviously love this place, but even if you don’t consider yourself to be one, there’s still something for everyone to love.

Located in the heart of Munich’s old town, Viktualienmarkt started as a farmer’s market, but has grown into so much more over the years. 

You’ll find a plethora of fresh produce, delicious bites to snack on, colorful flowers, exotic spices, cheese, local German wine, and much more (it kinda reminded me of the Boqueria in Barcelona, in a way). You can also experience the best of what the market has to offer and learn more about its history and significance during a food tour with a local guide.

It’s even got a beer garden – and if your winter in Munich trip lands around the holidays, there’s also a Christmas market set up here, so you’ll find lots of gluhwein too!

It’s also the best place to shop for local goods to take home as souvenirs. I loved the beautiful decorations that were made out of dried cinnamon and cloves, and the wooden ornaments.

Also look for the authentic Bavarian Maibaum (maypole) in the middle of the market. Maibaums are a common sight in Bavaria, and date back to ancient times. They represent a village or borough and its trade. 

The figures that are on the Maibaum at Viktualienmarkt represent various aspects of life in Munich, including a horse and cart transporting barrels of beer, scenes from Oktoberfest, the flag of Munich, and the two patron saints of brewing, St. Boniface and St. Florian.

Pretend you’re a royal at the Munich Residenz

The stunning Munich Residenz was the home of Bavarian monarchs, and served as the seat of the government from 1508-1918. The massive complex includes multiple buildings and 10 courtyards, making it the largest city palace in all of Germany.

While the Residenz may not look like much just by looking at the outside, the inside is absolutely stunning. You can literally spend all day here, but even if you only have a few hours, it is well worth a visit (it is the perfect place to escape the cold when visiting Munich in winter!).

As you walk through the Residenz’s 150 rooms, each gets more opulent and extravagant, filled with gold-plated details, magnificent sculptures, stunning chandeliers, majestic paintings, tapestries, and more. 

The absolute highlight of the Residenz is the Antiquarium, a long hall with vaulted ceilings covered with incredible Renaissance-era frescos. The Antiquarium was built to store the extensive antique collection of the Wittelbach family, who lived in the palace for over 400 years. 

I had seen photos of the Antiquarium on Instagram, which convinced me that I had to visit the Residenz while visiting Munich in winter – and it absolutely did not disappoint. I stood in the room for a long time, absolutely in awe (and snapping lots of photos!).

Also of note at the Residenz is the Treasury, which houses a collection of jewels spanning over 1000 years, and is one of the most important in the world. You’ll find plenty of treasures, from the royal insignia, jewel-encrusted swords, Chinese porcelain, Turkish daggers, and Crown of Princess Blanche, which dates back to 1370 and is the oldest surviving royal crown known to have been in England.

If you visit in December, be sure to check out the Christmas market held in the main courtyard!

Stroll through the idyllic Hofgarten, the royal garden

Just behind the Residenz is the Hofgarten, a beautiful green space that is a favorite of both visitors and locals. The Hofgarten was built as part of the royal palace in the early 17th century by Elector Maximilian I. In 1780, the gardens were opened to the public by Elector Karl Theodor.

The Hofgarten is designed in the Italian Renaissance style, and features beautiful arcade-style passages, fountains, and more. Even though I visited Munich in winter and nothing was in bloom, the gardens were absolutely beautiful and well worth a stroll through.

At the center is the Dianatempel Pavilion, a stunning twelve-sided gazebo with eight entrance archways. The Dianatempel has been used as a filming site for several movies, including the Three Musketeers, and you’ll often find classical musicians playing inside of it (alas, there was not when I was there).

The other highlight of the Hofgarten is the Bavarian State Chancellery building (Bayerische Staatskanzlei), which stands on the east side of the garden. You cannot miss it – the impressive building has a striking stone dome and glass wings, and is the center of Bavaria’s power.

Watch the surfers at the Eisbachwelle

Wait, what, you say? Munich is nowhere near the ocean. Why would you find surfers in winter in Munich, of all places?

Well, yes, all of the above are true…but you will find surfers at the Eisbachwelle, at the entrance of the Englischer Garten park. And watching them is one of the most fascinating things to do when visiting Munich in winter!

The Eisbachwelle is part of a manmade river that flows through the park, and surfers have been riding the break for over 40 years.. A stone step at the outlet of the river creates consistent half-meter tall waves; the surfers have even hacked the waves by adding underwater ropes attached to planks, which create two taller, cleaner U-shaped waves.

I was always curious about the river surfers at Eisbachwelle (my boyfriend is a surfer after all), but I almost didn’t come to see them because I figured…what kind of crazy person would go surfing in the (very cold)?!

LOTS OF THEM, as it turns out. I spotted at least eight surfers here when I visited Eisbachwelle and was absolutely enthralled watching them, as was the crowd of people who were also gathered to watch the surfers. Seriously one of the coolest things to do in Munich in the winter!

Explore the sprawling Englischer Garten park

A sprawling green oasis in the middle of the city, the Englischer Garten (English Garden) stretches from the Munich city center to the northeastern city limits, along the River Isar. It is the largest city park in Munich, and one of the largest urban parks in the entire world.

The Englischer Garten is Munich’s version of New York City’s Central Park or London’s Hyde Park (although bigger!) – you’ll find a network of walking paths, a lake, multiple beer gardens, pavilions, and much more.

The Englischer Garten was commissioned in 1789 by Elector Karl Theodor, who wanted to create a green space for the general public to have an opportunity for leisure and relaxation (as it turns out though, he was not a very popular ruler). The park was originally named Theodors Park, but was changed to Englischer Garten because it was laid out in the style of a traditional English country park.

You’ll find plenty to keep you occupied inside the Englischer Garten, even when in winter in Munich. You can go cross country skiing, go sledding down one of the park’s hills, or even ice skating in the Kleinhesseloher See lake!

One of the park’s highlights is the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower), which actually is not very authentically Chinese, but is still one of Munich’s most recognizable landmarks. It is also where you will find Munich’s oldest and second largest beer garden, and if visiting in December, one of the city’s best Christmas markets.

Further south is the Japanese Garden, which was a gift by the city of Sapporo as a sign of peace and friendship on the occasion of the 1972 Summer Olympic Games, held in Munich. The gardens sit next to an idyllic duck pond, and is also home to an authentic Japanese tea house, which hosts traditional tea ceremonies twice a month.

Another highlight is the Monopteros, a small Greek temple built in 1838 by the famed architect Leo von Klenze. This is one of the most photographed structures in the Englischer Garten – it stands at the top of a small hill, and has a beautiful dome and columns. You’ll also get one of the best views of the Munich skyline from here!

Drink some beer at Hofbräuhaus

Because what better way to warm up than to down a beer (or, erm, a few)? You are visiting the home of Oktoberfest, after all – so obviously, one of the things you need to do in Munich in winter is to visit a beer hall.

Perhaps the most famous beer hall in Munich is Hofbräuhaus, which is also one of the oldest in the city. Hofbräuhaus was founded in 1589 by Wilhelm V, the Duke of Bavaria, whose portrait you can find on the beautiful painted ceiling here. It was originally the brewery for the old royal residence, which once used to stand around the corner. Over the years, Hofbräuhaus has welcomed some very famous patrons, including Mozart.

Yes, it is touristy AF but it’s so iconic that you just have to have a pint or two at Hofbräuhaus. It’s also a great place to escape the cold of winter in Munich!

It’s a super lively atmosphere, with lots of long wooden tables all over the place, which are all first-come, first-serve communal seating. It can get packed here, so you might have to scout the place for a bit before you find an open spot, but be patient and you’ll eventually snag one.

This was kind of awkward for me as a solo traveler –  it led to a somewhat embarrassing incident with some older German men because of the language barrier. But in general, everyone is super friendly and I eventually made friends with a group of Singapore Airlines flight attendants who invited me to sit at their table, and ended up having a fun evening!

Feast on some hearty Bavarian food

I don’t know about you, but my favorite thing about traveling by far is sampling all of the local cuisine. And so, at the top of my list of things to do in Munich in winter was to stuff myself silly with all the Bavarian food that I could find. And really, what better place to try traditional Bavarian food than in the capital of Bavaria? 

Traditional Bavarian food tends to be made up of hearty meats, and potatoes, smothered in some sort of rich gravy. Yes, it is rich and hearty, and can be a bit heavy at times (I was done with it after three straight days of this), but it is definitely the perfect comfort food to eat when spending winter in Munich!

Some of the traditional Bavarian specialties that you need to try when visiting Munich in winter:

  • Bratwurst (pork sausages) or Weisswurst (white sausages): After all, what is a trip to Germany without eating any sausages?
  • Sauerkraut: Finely shredded fermented cabbage, often served as a side dish. Another must-have in Germany.
  • Schweinshaxe: Roasted pork knuckle with crispy skin
  • Schweinebraten: Traditional Bavarian pork roast, served with a rich gravy
  • Weinerschnitzel: Thin pork (or chicken) cutlets that are breaded and fried.
  • Spaetzle: Sort of like a German mac n’ cheese.
  • Knodels: German potato dumplings. They often come as sides to Scweinbraten and Schweinshaxe and I was OBSESSED with them.

And here are a few of the restaurants I loved in Munich: 

  • Haxnbauer: This one is famous for its Scweinshaxe and it did not disappoint! The skin was super crispy, while the meat was fall-off-the-bone tender. I could’ve kept eating the accompanying Knodels, they were sooo good! The portions here are HUGE but they have half portions as well – this was more than plenty for me. (Sparkassenstraße 6, 80331 München)
  •  Augustiner Klosterwirt: One of the best and most authentic Bavarian food restaurants in Munich. The Scweinbraten here is AMAZING – melt-in-your-mouth tender, with some delicious gravy. Wash it all down with some Augustiner beer – Augustiner Klosterwirt stands where the first Augustiner beer was brewed over 700 years ago! (Augustinerstraße 1, 80331 München)
  • Andy’s Krablergarten: This popular restaurant is known for its delicious schnitzel – you’ll find several varieties of it here. The meat was tender, but the breaded coating was buttery and all kinds of delicious. It’s also super affordable – a GIANT plate of schnitzel and a beer only set me back €14!

Take a fairytale day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle

Quite possibly the biggest reason that I decided to visit Munich in winter was for the chance to see Neuschwanstein Castle, one of Germany’s most iconic castles. While Neuschwanstein is absolutely stunning at any time of year, it is especially breathtaking when surrounded by a snowy winter wonderland.

Imagine a snow-covered castle nestled on top of an idyllic mountain – it’s close as you can get to a scene straight out of a real-life fairytale. This is the castle that is said to have been the inspiration behind Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle, and one look at the scene in front of you and it’s easy to see why.

Located 110 kilometers  (~68 miles) outside of Munich and easily accessible by train, a day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle is a must if visiting Munich in winter. Simply board a train bound for Fussen from the central Hauptbahnhof station. Direct trains leave Munich every two hours, and the trip takes about two hours. You’ll see some stunning scenery of the Bavarian Alps along the way.

I recommend purchasing a Bayern ticket, which allows for unlimited travel on regional trains within the Bavaria region. The cost is €26 for the first passenger. Considering that a one-way ticket to Fussen usually costs €23, this is a great deal! If you are traveling to Neuschwanstein Castle as a group, it costs only €7 for each additional passenger (so it costs €33 for 2 people. €40 for 3 people, and so on), which makes the Bayern ticket an even sweeter deal! 

Once in Fussen, take the 73 bus (Steingaden / Garmisch-Partenkirchen) or 78 bus (Schwangau), which is impossible to miss because it stops right outside the station and everyone will make a beeline from the train. This will drop you off in Hohenschwangau, the village at the base of the hill leading up to Neuschwanstein Castle.

Otherwise, you can take a guided day tour, which includes round-trip transportation from Munich.

From Hohenshwangau, you can either hike up the hill (about 30-40 minutes), take a shuttle bus (going up costs €2.50, coming down is €1.50, and a round-trip ticket is €3), or a horse-drawn carriage (€7 to go uphill, and €3.50 to come downhill). 

If you wish to see the inside of the castle, be sure to purchase your tickets (or pick up pre-ordered tickets) at the ticket office before you go up the hill towards the castle. 

One benefit to visiting Munich in winter is that you’ll find less crowds at Neuschwanstein – tickets often sell out days in advance in the summer. Still, I found a pretty sizable line outside the ticket office, even in the winter, so to ensure that you get tickets for your desired time slot, I suggest you reserve tickets in advance.

Because it had snowed the night before my day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle, the shuttle was not in service. The lines for the horse-drawn carriages looked like it might take hours. So, I ended up walking up the hill – trust me, it wasn’t that bad. Besides, the winter wonderland scenery was absolutely breathtaking and it was cool to see the castle from all different angles as I made my way up.

Since I heard mixed reviews about the inside of Neuschwanstein Castle (many of its rooms were left unfinished), I opted not to do the tour. However, the main draw for me for visiting Munich in winter was just to see the castle in person and it absolutely did not disappoint – it looked straight out of a fairytale!

The only caveat to visiting in the winter was that, depending on weather conditions, the Marienbrucke (the main lookout bridge) may be closed because of ice and snow. Unfortunately it was closed on the day of my visit, and not going to lie, I was a bit disappointed. However, the tradeoff is that you get to see the castle nestled in the middle of a magical winter wonderland – it was absolutely incredible, and I absolutely think it was worth visiting even though I didn’t get some of the photo ops that I was wanting!

I’ve written more on how to plan a perfect day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle here

Have you been to Munich in winter? What are some of your favorite things about winter in Munich?

You might also like:
A Fairytale Munich to Neuschwanstein Castle Winter Day Trip
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