Welcome to the biggest city in Bavaria and the third biggest city in Germany! Munich is a beautiful city full of grand squares, old, majestic buildings with orange roofs and cobbled streets that lead you to something new to explore every time. This city always buzzes with life and culture, and the people of Munich are super friendly and down-to-earth, which is a welcome feat in a city this size. And Munich in winter is a fabulous cold-weather destination!
The Christmas markets spread all over the city are some of the best in the world. Yes, it can get very cold, but there’s always a warm and cozy beer hall around the corner with lots of Bavarian food and beer…and beer…and beer…and beer (*switch off echo*).
Here are 14 magical things to do in Munich in winter. Warning: these activities may involve beer!
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How cold does it get in Munich?
F*cking cold! I’m not kidding! It’s not like going to the North Pole, but somehow I never think of Germany as being that cold in winter. It always catches me by surprise and I end up buying warm layers that I could’ve just packed at home (Probably says more about myself than the weather.)
Average winter temperatures range between 27ºF and 39ºF. See, that’s not too cold, right? This is where I go wrong. Somehow it always feels colder in Germany! Must be the wind chill factor or the mountains or location or stuff like that (I would be such a good weather man!). It often snows in Munich in winter too. Come prepared!
How do I get around Munich in winter?
The Old Town of Munich is very walkable, but I don’t blame you if you want to use public transport to explore the rest. Remember, it’s very cold! Luckily public transport is clean, warm, everywhere and pretty much always on time.
There are four modes of public transport in the city of Munich:
- S-Bahn – Short for Strassenbahn, this is the network of local trains that travel between stations within the city. There are eight lines. The S1 and S8 take you from the airport into the city center.
- U-Bahn – Short for Untergrundbahn, or underground. There are eight underground lines that run between stations in and around the city. There are around 100 stations, so you can get to pretty much anywhere quickly.
- Buses – You can get buses to travel around the city and see something at the same time. There are night buses, for when the U-Bahn and S-Bahn are closed and you miraculously got stuck in a beer hall (beer tasting for scientific reasons, huh?).
- Trams – Similar to buses, the trams connect the routes between the U-Bahn and S-Bahn. There are night trams too.
Do I need to speak German?
Not necessarily. Most people in Munich speak English, so you would be fine. I always think it’s nice to learn a few German words though. Locals appreciate it! Here’s some useful vocabulary:
- Hallo – Hello
- Guten Morgen/Tag/Abend – Good morning/day/evening
- Bitte – Please
- Danke – Thanks
- Entschuldigung – Sorry
- Ja – Yes
- Nein – No
- Ich hätte gerne zehn Biere bitte! – I’d like 10 beers please!
Things to do in Munich in Winter
Now you’re prepared to travel to Bavaria, don’t forget to check out these 14 amazing things to do in Munich in winter.
Visit the Christmas markets
We all love a Christmas market, right? Well, so do the people of Munich! In December you’ll find more than 20 Christmas markets all over the city. The largest and most famous is the Christkindlmarkt on Marienplatz, one of Munich’s famous squares. The history of the Christkindlmarkt dates back to the 14th century, albeit under different names and locations. (Yeah, does that still count then? Either way, it’s very old!)
You can’t miss this Christmas market. An 80 ft Christmas tree towers above the numerous stalls with traditional wooden Christmas decorations, handmade German Christmas cards, mulled wine (this is where I came across white mulled wine for the first time, and the second time, and the third time…), decorated lebkuchen (gingerbread) in all sizes, and food. Oh, the food!
More about Bavarian food later, but you will find so many traditional Christmas foods that you can’t try all of them. The food is often filling, so come with an appetite. Ones you should definitely try at a Christmas market are:
- Stollen – German stollen are dense loaves of bread, with dried fruit and nuts. You can buy slices of them, sometimes covered with powdered sugar, or buy a whole loaf to take home. Some of them have almond paste in them, which is amazing!
- Schneeballen – This translates as snowballs. They’re ball-shaped pastries covered in sugar. You can find them with all sorts of toppings. Covered in chocolate, nuts or cinnamon, to name a few. (Just please, please don’t eat yellow snowballs!)
- Lebkuchen – These traditional gingerbread cookies, beautifully decorated by hand, are delicious! They’re not like the crunchy ones we know. Lebkuchen are thicker and have a chewiness that makes you come back for more!
Some of the best Christmas markets in Munich are:
- Christkindlmarkt – The biggest, oldest and most famous. It’s on Marienplatz from the end of November until Christmas.
- Kripperlmarkt – The “Crib Market” is a Christmas Market where you can buy anything to make your own nativity scene. Or buy a complete, handmade one! From the end of November until Christmas, in front of St. Peter’s church, a stone’s throw from Marienplatz.
- Sternenplatzl am Rindermarkt – The polar opposite of Christkindlmarkt in terms of size. This is a small market, but full of atmosphere. The 40 ft Schlemmerpyramide is the center of the market. It’s a spinning tower with figurines, that looks like it jumped straight out of a Christmas fairytale.
Ride the Christmas tram
Experience Christmas on the move! The Christkindlt Tram is a special Christmas tram that you can ride. It departs from Sendlinger Tor – which is a stunning old city gate – and takes you around the old town with its Christmas lights and decorations. If it snows, this ride is even better! It’s like riding through a huge wintery snow globe! (Without the water of course, because that would make this tram ride a cruel experience! No one is shaking you either. Don’t worry!)
The tram ride takes about half an hour and takes you back to Sendlinger Tor. Definitely an experience I can recommend. The atmosphere is great inside the tram, with music and Christmas lights. Oh, I forgot the best thing about it…you’re allowed to bring your mug of mulled wine on board!
This tram ride is extremely popular and it only costs a few Euros, so expect to queue for a bit. It leaves every 30 minutes and runs between the end of November and Christmas. Buy your ticket when you get on the tram.
Try some of the best winter-warming Bavarian foods
Every time I eat German food, and especially Bavarian food, I can’t help but think it’s just perfect for either really cold days, or to go with drinking vast amounts of beer (A traditional Bavarian breakfast is veal sausage with mustard and a beer, as a hangover cure. Need I say more?). Bavarian food is often meaty, full of carbs, or both. No matter which traditional food you tuck into in Munich in winter, it will fill you up and keep you warm. It’s the sort of food you need to lie down after! (Or maybe I’m just incredibly lazy). Either way, it’s very tasty and satisfying!
5 Bavarian foods you must try in Munich in winter:
- Münchner Weisswurst – This pale veal and pork sausage with delicious herbs is the pride of Munich. You know German Bratwurst, right? In my opinion, a weisswurst with a bit of sweet mustard is even better! You eat them from the grill, on a roll or on its own. Try a Bavarian breakfast – Weisswurst boiled in salty water, with a bit of mustard and a pretzel (and a beer, seriously!). I tried the best weisswurst at Gaststätte Großmarkthalle.
- Leberkäse – This translates to liver cheese (still feeling ok?). The funny thing is that there’s no cheese in this concoction. No liver either. (Yes, I was as puzzled as you are now.) Just try it! It’s basically a meatloaf made with different types of meat. It’s often served sliced on a semmelbrötchen (crusty roll) and absolutely delicious. Zum Franziskaner on Opernplatz has one of the best leberkäse I’ve tried!
- Spätzle – Munich’s version of mac and cheese! Spätzle are noodles made from egg, flour and salt. They don’t have to rest, like pasta, so they make them fresh and cook them. They are served with a strong cheese sauce, herbs and fried onion and are a popular staple in Munich in winter. Zum Brunnstein serves cheese spätzle with mushrooms and schnitzel like no other!
- Pretzel – You know the bow-shaped little crunchy snacks you get called pretzels? The traditional pretzels from Munich sh*t all over those dry salty things. Bavarian pretzels are huge, like the size of a plate. They’re encrusted with rock salt, crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. I’ll have one any day, and so do the people of Munich! You can find them anywhere, often freshly baked.
- Obazda – Oh-what-da? Obazda is a Bavarian cheese spread that goes incredibly well with pretzels. I used to like pretzels on their own, until I tried this! Obazda is made by mixing two-thirds of strong cheese – like camembert – with one-third of butter. It’s then spiced with hot paprika powder, salt and pepper…and beer (You’ve got to love German beer culture!). Eat the spread with pretzels and a beer on the side. You can order it in most Bavarian restaurants.
Have a beer or two at the Hofbräuhaus
You may have figured out by now that people in Munich like beer. Home of the world-famous Oktoberfest, this city has beer running through its veins. Popular local breweries are Paulaner, Augustiner, Löwenbrau and Hofbrau. Guess which one is served at the Hofbräuhaus? The Hofbräuhaus is a famous beer hall come restaurant like you will only find in Munich.
Big beer halls downstairs, smaller rooms upstairs, all with a wooden interior. It’s so warm and cozy in winter. The big halls almost feel like a medieval feast. Long tables, whole roasted chickens and pork knuckles, liter-glasses of beer. The first time I walked in here I saw an older lady lying on the floor who very clearly had way too much beer! Pretty wild!
If this is all a bit too wild for you, I would reserve a table in one of the smaller rooms upstairs, where it feels much more like being in a restaurant. If you want an Oktoberfest-like experience, put on your lederhosen or dirndl and go to the halls! You can also book a tour of the Hofbräuhaus, to dive deeper into the history of the beer hall and beer making, and enjoy a beer with it!
Have a Go at Curling on a Frozen Canal
A weighted stone, a target, utmost concentration, a perfectly measured glide, release…and people with brooms sweeping the ice in front of the stone. When it comes to sports, it doesn’t get more exciting than this, right? (Sarcasm mode OFF) Ok, curling might not be the most exciting thing in the world, but have you ever tried it? Didn’t think so! Life is all about new experiences, so give it a shot.
Curling in Munich in winter is actually really exciting! It’s all about the location. The Schlossgartenkanal, a large canal that runs around and comes off Nymphenburg Palace, is not very deep. This means it often freezes over in winter! Once it does, the news spreads quickly around Munich and people jump at the opportunity to play on the straight, 1/2 mile long ice rink.
The frozen canal is used for walking, ice skating and ice hockey too, but curling is most popular. Hire a curling stone, grab a hot mug of mulled wine and have a game on one of the 40 pop-up curling lanes!
Warm Up in a Spa
Munich in winter can be bitter cold, so chilling in a hot sauna is a great idea! The city offers some great facilities at an even better price. Pampering yourself in a spa and sauna is normally pretty expensive, but not in Munich. There are two big complexes in the city, called Nordbad (North Pool) and Südbad (South Pool, which are both run by the city council (and both named by the same creative genius). Both Nordbad and Südbad combine affordable public swimming pools with very good saunas and aromatherapy rooms.
The saunas and heated indoor and outdoor swimming pools -some with views of the city- are a clever way to feel warm and relaxed at the same time. All you need to pay for is $7.00 for a single entry that gives you access to all facilities. Please note that you are expected to be naked in saunas in Germany. Don’t worry, it will only feel strange for 5 minutes, then you’re used to it. (Just please, don’t jump into the swimming pool naked.)
The best saunas in Munich are:
- Nordbad – For over 80 years, Nordbad has been the place to go for a swim or sauna session for the local community of Munich. Swim outside while the snow falls on your hair (or head, if you don’t have hair).
- Südbad – The younger sister of Nordbad. Südbad doesn’t feel as grand as Nordbad, but it gives you a similar experience in a calmer and smaller package. I love the indoor pool’s glass wall, so it feels like you’re outside (but without a freezing cold head).
- Müller’sches Volksbad – This one’s special. I was amazed by the Art Nouveau building, which is over 100 years old. The Volksbad is a baroque experience, with two pools, a Finnish sauna, steam room and a Roman-Irish sweat bath (They might want to rename this one! So many questions!)
Get a birds-eye view of Munich in winter
If you could teleport straight into Munich and walk around the city, you wouldn’t have any idea about the beautiful surroundings of this city. You don’t really see the Alps when you’re in the city, but they are right there. To see them, you need to go up. Hello, Olympic Tower!
You can find this needle-like tower in Olympiapark. With 291 meters (954 ft), this is the tallest building in Munich. There’s a viewing platform at 181 meters (593 ft) and it takes you 4 months to climb up…No I’m joking, there’s an elevator and it takes you there in 30 seconds. That’s fast! (Way too fast for me, but I trust in German engineering).
I’ve been up here in summer and winter, but I think the winter view is best. Especially when the city is covered in snow, with the white countryside in the north, and the majestic mountains of the Alps in the south. It makes you feel all Christmassy and cozy (and cold, very cold!). There’s a revolving restaurant under the viewing platform. A! Revolving! Restaurant! It does a 360º turn in 50 minutes. Have I already mentioned that I love German engineering?
Climb up Peterskirche
If the Olympic Tower is a bit too high for you, or if you just feel like climbing 300 wonky wooden steps for the hell of it, go up St. Peter’s Church. It is a bit of a climb, but once you’re on the roof of the church, you’ll be treated to some spectacular city views.
Looking over the traditional orange roof tops, in winter you can see Marienplatz, with all the lights from the Christmas market. It’s even better when it snows, and the orange roofs have a white dusting on them. It gives you an idea of the layout of the city. You can also clearly see that this famous square is the center of Munich, where people have been gathering since the 12th century!
Climbing to the top of Peterskirche only costs a few Euros. You can only pay in cash, so keep a few coins in your pocket for this activity.
Have an ice bath in the river Isar
Have you ever walked past a river on an ice-cold winter’s day thinking: “I wonder what it feels like to jump in right now?” Then this activity is for you! It involves freezing cold water, you plunging in, and balls of steel. What it doesn’t involve, is a wetsuit to keep you warm. Always wanted to do this? (Yeah, me neither). Have an ice bath in the Isar!
The people who organize this activity in Munich in winter are called Munich Hot Springs, and I can’t think of anything more sarcastic in this world! This ice-bathing lot will guide you through your cold dip. It starts with some breathing exercises and they will give you advice on how to prepare. Then they’ll go in with you.
Munich Hot Springs is a community in Munich that meets every Sunday morning in winter at 11:00, for a refreshing ice-bath. You can find more info on their website, where you can find a phone number to join their WhatsApp group. This is only for experienced freeze-a-holics. If it’s your first time, they will organize a one-on-one with you and an instructor. All you need to do is send them an email to ask about prices and appointments.
People have been ice-bathing for centuries and it’s believed to strengthen your immune system, help you burn more calories and relieve stress. I personally think it just makes you feel f*cking cold, but each to their own. It must feel amazing when it’s done!
Go skiing on Zugspitze
Munich is a special city, as it’s located so close to the pre-Alps. This means you can stay in the biggest city in the south of Germany, and still go skiing for a day. So if you’re planning on staying a bit longer in Munich with some time spare to explore outside the city, I can really recommend going to Zugspitze.
Zugspitze is right on the German-Austrian border and is the nearest ski resort to Munich. You can be there in about two hours from the city, by train and cable car. There are actually three ski areas with their own network of ski lifts: Zugspitze, Garmisch-Classic and Wank (I wish I was joking!). Or Mount Wank if you want the longer version. The cable car up to Wank is called the Wankbahn. There’s also a Wank Restaurant (Ok, I’ll stop now).
Zugspitze has all the facilities you can expect from a big ski resort, so you can hire equipment and find restaurants and bars everywhere. The views of the surrounding mountains are breathtaking. I wish I could say skiing near Munich in winter is wank, but that would be both a lie and a bad joke.
Go for a winter walk in Englischer Garten
Englischer Garten (English Garden) is a big park right in the city. It’s bigger than Central Park in NYC! It has two well-known landmarks. The Monopteros is a 50 ft temple on a hill. The Chinesischer Turm, is a Chinese tower that looks like a tall pagoda. There is also a Japanese tea house! As you can imagine, the grassy areas around these monuments are perfect for picnics in summer.
Still, I prefer to visit this park in winter, when the grass and footpaths are covered in snow. The hill the Monopteros sits on, suddenly becomes a downhill sled track. Did you not pack a sled in your suitcase? (I thought you packed for Munich in winter! Poor effort!) I found a plastic bag will do the trick! There is a small but lovely Christmas market around the Chinese tower, which is lit up for the occasion.
Grab a mulled wine and go for a walk along the small lake in the park. Or across it, as it sometimes freezes over in winter. Watch people surf in the river that flows through the park, even in winter. There is a rapid in the river, where you can surf on the spot. A bit like one of those wave machines, but natural. Give it a try if you’re brave with this tour which includes a surfboard and bodysuit. (At least if you fall in, you can scrap the ice-bathing activity off your list!).
See Munich’s Glockenspiel Show
No matter what you’re doing in Munich in winter, make sure you’re on Marienplatz at 11:00 am or 12:00 pm to see the glockenspiel. This famous glockenspiel is in the clock tower of the Rathaus on Marienplatz. It’s a mechanical show with bells playing tunes and moving figurines. The Munich glockenspiel is more than 100 years old.
At 11:00 am and noon it starts playing four tunes and the figurines start moving. The tunes change every month. In December it plays Christmas tunes, like Oh Tannenbaum. It adds an extra sprinkle of Christmas to the Christkindlmarkt.
Visit Cinderella’s castle
Have you watched Cinderella? (Is there anyone who hasn’t?) Then you must know she lives in a castle that looks a bit like – well – Cinderella’s castle. Another castle that looks like Cinderella’s castle is Neuschwanstein (or New Swan Stone). Ok, let’s stop translating German names into English as it doesn’t make any sense!
Coincidence? Not really, as Walt Disney’s inspiration for Cinderella’s castle was Neuschwanstein! I visited this beautiful castle in winter, when the landscape was covered in snow, and it just looked absolutely spectacular! This castle was built on the ruins of Schwanstein by Ludwig II, king of Bavaria. He wanted to build a castle in this beautiful spot, in the romantic style of old German knights’ castles. It was finished in 1880.
Now, Neuschwanstein Castle is not exactly in Munich. You’ll find it in Schwangau, which is about two hours by train from Munich. I know that’s not around the corner, but when you’re in Munich in winter and you have time for a day excursion, I think you shouldn’t miss out on this one.
If you visit Munich in February, you’re in luck! Fasching is what the people of Munich call their carnival. There are small, often enclosed events throughout the year, but in February it all culminates into big street events.
There is a big open-air event called Narrisch in the city center, with music stages on Marienplatz and Karlsplatz-Stachus. See some dance and music groups perform here. On Shrove Tuesday another big event takes place: the dance of the market women. This is at the Viktualienmarkt food market (you can book a gourmet food tour here if that’s your thing). Normally the stalls sell fruit and vegetables, but for this occasion they sell beer, sparkling wine and mulled wine.
The parade of the Damische Ritter (Silly Knights) takes place on a Sunday in mid-February. This big carnival parade is a procession with floats, dressed-up people, dance, music and (this is Munich after all) lots of beer and Bavarian food! Oh Munich, what a fantastic city you are!
Where to Stay in Munich in Winter
Without a doubt, the best area to stay in Munich in winter is in Altstadt, the old town. It’s the best location, because you’re right in the heart of the city, and you can easily walk to the famous sights and squares of the city (it’s also a very short stumble from the beer hall to your hotel.). Staying in a prime location comes at a price, although Munich hotels are pretty affordable compared to most famous European cities. Still, it’s best to stay just outside of Altstadt, which could save you money, plus you’re still in the city centre.
Here are some recommendations for hotels near or in Altstadt in Munich:
- Motel One Sendlinger Tor – There are a few of these hotels in different locations in Munich. Normally I don’t recommend chains, but these hotels are not too expensive and actually look great inside, like a nice boutique hotel. The one in Sendlinger Tor is closest to the Old Town. Rooms start at around $120 a night.
- City Hotel Lux – If you want to be right in the city centre – and I mean a stone’s throw from Marienplatz and the Hofbräuhaus beer hall – this is perfect for you! It can get a bit noisy, but at least you’re right in the middle of it. The hotel is comfortable and the restaurant and bar have one of the coolest designs I’ve seen. Rooms start at around $110 a night.
- Hotel am Markt – Do you know those hotels that are not very memorable, but the rooms are clean and comfortable? Hotel am Markt at Viktualienmarkt is one of those (I mean this in a nice way). It’s a hotel that is perfect for a city trip, without trying too hard. Location is prime, too! Prices from $100 per room per night.
Author Bio: David Breeker is a travel writer with over 20 years experience in the tourism & leisure industry. He lived in Switzerland for 8 years, often hopping across the border to enjoy Munich’s Christmas markets and beer!
Which of these activities in Munich in winter do you want to do first? Let us know below!
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