You have two contrasting choices for an autumn break in Munich. Either embrace the thigh-slapping, singsong merriment of the Oktoberfest (which this year is until October 6). It’s not the tourist trap that you might fear — most visitors are locals or come from the wider Bavarian region.
If you don’t fancy that, wait until the tents have emptied and the air fares and hotel rates have returned to normal. Then enjoy what is often a long, golden autumn in one of Europe’s historic cultural capitals.
Much of the centre was flattened towards the end of the war, but the neo-Gothic showpiece — the Rathaus or town hall — still dominates the central Marienplatz and the city’s many treasures were reinstalled, largely intact, to its outstanding museums. Among the many highlights is the city’s fabulous art gallery, the Alte Pinakothek, which reopened last summer having been transformed by a four-year restoration programme.
The Louis Hotel, which opened a decade ago, has an unpromising entrance, but excellent, well-designed rooms and an ideal location. Much cheaper, the Cocoon Stachus is a slightly-wacky design hotel, on the city centre edge.
Central Munich is very compact and it takes only a few minutes to take in the key sights that are clustered around the Marienplatz. To stretch your legs a bit more, head instead for the Englisher Garten — the English Gardens — just to the north of the centre. The huge park — laid out in the 18th century, complete with lawns, follies, woodlands, lakes and fast-flowing streams — is one of Europe’s most beautiful.
The Alte Pinakothek (the old picture gallery) has a fabulous collection of Old Masters including some of the greatest works by Durer — such as his famous self-portrait — Van der Weyden, Raphael, Rubens and Rembrandt. The art is beautifully lit, and the galleries are rarely crowded. If you prefer something a bit edgier and more modern, the Lenbachhaus is an early 20th century villa with an extension by Norman Foster and an excellent collection of Blue Rider paintings including many by Kandinsky and Klee (lenbachhaus.de).
The Munich Opera House is among the world’s best — the city is passionate about its music, and tickets are significantly cheaper than in London, with decent seats from about €65 (Dh262.5). You’ll not only experience outstanding performances, but also get an insight into Munich society. October highlights include La Traviata, Tosca and Fidelio, plus a new production of Salome. If you prefer ballet, the Staatsballet is performing Anna Karenina and Coppelia.
The city centre is dominated with big international brands, but just south of the Viktualienmarkt around Reichenbachstrasse is a grid of streets little visited by tourists where you’ll find many of the city’s best independent shops and artisans. Just opposite the market is Kustermann department store, which has been selling stylish goods for the home since 1798.
It’s rare I recommend a vegetarian restaurant as my top pick, but Prinz Myshkin on Hackenstrasse, a five-minute walk south from Marienplatz, offers an outstandingly tasty menu with an unusual combination of both Indian and Italian dishes. Choose between Malai Kofta with coconut curry and Tagliatelle Tartufata, for example. Another unusual but highly-successful combination is the Japanese-Peruvian fusion offered by Matsuhisa at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s where, for example Chilean sea bass with jalapeno dressing is a delight.
Off the map
The star location of ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and the maddest and most spectacular of Mad King Ludwig’s mountaintop castles, Schloss Neuschwanstein is a 90-minute drive from Munich in the foothills of the Alps. Scaffolding is due to come off one of the wings in mid-October, after restoration.