Whether visiting in winter or summer, there's always a wealth of things to do in, and just outside of, Munich. A scenic river running through the city, a mountainous backdrop, and lakes which can be reached with ease by public transport – there's no question that Munich city residents are somewhat spoilt. The first question when visiting Munich isn't really what to do but rather, how to fit as much as what you want to do in the time you are there. My Top 5 things to do in Munich should help to steer plans in the right direction:
1. ST. PETER'S CHURCH
Referred to lovingly as 'Old Peter' by locals, this church sits proudly just behind popular Marienplatz – and is the place to go for the best views of the city. A mere couple of euros will gain you entrance to its tower. The tower's 299 steps are certainly not for the faint-hearted (or claustrophobic, for that matter), but those who make it to the top are rewarded with panoramic views which even extend to the Alps on a clear day.
2. CAFFÈ PIEMONTE
If you're exhausted after your climb up and down 'Old Peter', then luckily one of Munich's best cafés is a short hobble across the cobbles. Caffè Piemonte was one of the first cafés I ever visited, and it's still a fast favourite. The first thing you'll notice upon walking in the door (aside from the fact of how busy it is) will be the display of delicious-looking cakes . And, let me state this now, these cakes pose a challenge to even the most gluttonous and sweet-toothed of travellers – Caffè Piemonte is extremely generous with its portion sizes, with no thin slithers of cake in sight. Coffee lovers will be pleased to know that the brews served here are good enough to sit amongst cups in Italy. Non-caffeine drinkers shouldn't despair though, the hot chocolates are just as good – and come in cups which are more akin to soup bowls in size. If visiting in summer make sure to grab a table out front and order one of the delicious iced coffees or iced chai lattes, which serve as the perfect antidote to any summer heat.
3. THERME ERDING
If in search of a little relaxation after some heavy sightseeing, then hop on the S bahn and travel a mere 50 mins outside of the city to Therme Erding. Europe's second biggest thermal baths, Therme Erding is definitely a place worth paying a visit – particularly if travelling solo because the activities there are just as enjoyable alone as they are in a group. Before starting to panic about the naked sauna situations which are so often the case in Germany, you should know that Therme Erding is split into 4 sections and only one of these requires that you be naked at all-times *phew*. Therme Erding is as much about fun as it is relaxation, so don't expect utter tranquility (far from it in the Galaxy dome, which has a large number of daredevil slides). I recommend splashing a little extra cash to get into the Vital-Oase section, which allows over 16-year olds only, making the general atmosphere here a lot calmer and conducive to relaxation if that's what you are looking for. This area also offers clothed tropical saunas and mineral baths (one of which you float in like the Dead Sea!). Just be advised though, that after a certain hour of day, usually 6pm, the Vital-Oase become a textile-free zone (i.e. everyone, everywhere is naked). So, if you're somewhat shy, that would be the time to make a swift spa exit.
4. ISAR RIVER
As soon as the first rays of Spring sun shine down on the city, Munich's entire population packs their up their beers and their bbqs and head down to the Isar River. Families, friends, lovers – everyone can be found lazing around and having fun along the riverside on a sunny day. Now that the Munich public transport network, MVV, offers bike rentals , I highly recommend getting yourself on two wheels and cycling some of the length of the river along its extensive and well-maintained bike paths. Make sure to go as far as the Floßlände, where you can watch some of Munich's surfers on another of the popular 'city waves'. There are beergardens and little sausage stands cleverly situated along the way, so any thirst from frantic pedalling can quickly be quenched by a welcome Radler (a mixture of lager beer and lemonade). Gasthof Hinterbrühl is one of my favourites, with its wide terrace and prime elevated position overlooking the Isar canal.
5. THE LAKES
Making the most of Munich's extensive number of nearby lakes is deserving of its own guide – each lake has its own individual character and plus points. However, to get your first taste of Munich's extended waters, here are my Top 3 lakes (which are all only around 45 mins - 1.5 hours from the city centre) :
Tegernsee – A lake with a beautiful and dramatic backdrop, right in the heart of the Bavarian Alps. Take the gondola to the top of the Wallberg mountain for a breathtaking view (or to go sledging, if visiting in winter!).
Ammersee – This lake boasts a nearby abbey – one which brews beer and makes fantastic schnapps. The hike from the lake to reach it is somewhat taxing, but certainly worth it (and if your legs are tired by this point, you can always opt out and take the bus there instead).
Starnberger See – By far one of Munich's most popular lakes, thanks to its perfect waters for swimming and ease of arrival by the S bhan, Starnberger see is always the first lake to see an of influx of people when the sun arrives. A short walk away from the bustling areas close to the station though, and the lake is your own.