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Munich city guide: why it's the perfect Christmassy break

The Rosewood Munich is the perfect place to get snowed in (Davide Lovatti)
The Rosewood Munich is the perfect place to get snowed in (Davide Lovatti)

Is there anywhere more Christmassy than Munich? Not on my visit. A heavy snowfall extended two days into five, with the city shimmering and shining in the sunshine under its white cloak.

Christmas markets played out in most of Munich’s squares, scenting the air with Glühwein, and on the streets, shop windows enticed - from Dallmayr’s Christmas tree of sea shells, to the bakeries on street corners, with their gingerbread houses. Even the many art museums seem to put Christmas centre stage. At the Alte Pinakothek art museum, Gauguin’s Tahitian interpretation of the nativity is on display alongside more traditional versions by the Renaissance masters. An echo of which can be found in wood in Munich’s own long-standing traditional cribs which dot the city from now until Epiphany.

Do

Munich has something for everyone, even a surfing spot which has been drawing fans of the sport for over forty years. The river, the Eisbach, sits at the entrance to the large and lovely Englischer Garten park, its stone step generating a standing wave about half a metre tall. For those who prefer to keep themselves wrapped up, it is still fun to watch the surfers (with many an international star among them) ride the waves.

An even older attraction, which should not be missed is the Rathaus-Glockenspiel. This mechanical musical clock has been entertaining the crowds since 1908 when it was added during the completion of the New Town Hall. The carillon takes place daily at 11 am and 12 noon (and 5pm from March to October) and lasts about 15 minutes as the two halves with their 32 life-size figures and 43 bells re-enact two historical scenes from 16th century Munich. Keep yourself warm by sipping on a blueberry Glühwein at one of the biggest Christmas markets — which back to the 14th century - lies beneath it in beautiful Marienplatz, which should be your first stop in exploring Munich.

The Rathaus-Glockenspiel has been entertaining the crowds since 1908 (DPA/AFP via Getty Images)
The Rathaus-Glockenspiel has been entertaining the crowds since 1908 (DPA/AFP via Getty Images)

Museums

Even if you don't get snowed in, you won’t manage to visit all of the museums here. Pick carefully among the impressive choice. Art lovers should head to the Alte Pinakothek, a world class museum which has one of the largest collections of European masterpieces from the 14th to the 18th century, from Dürer to Rubens, Raphael to Rembrandt. As their sibling museum, the Neue Pinakothek is under renovation until 2029, some of its major 19th century artworks are also on display here, notably paintings by Van Gogh, Gaugin and Cezanne (pinakothek.de).

A later addition to the art scene is MUCA, the Museum of Urban and Contemporary Art. It is currently hosting a Damien Hirst exhibition which includes his famous platinum cast of a human skull inset with over 8,000 diamonds (muca-eu).

Shopping

Christmas shopping is made easy here. Head to Manufactum on Dienerstrasse, which has a vast range of wonderful Christmas decorations from glossy painted wooden birds to clever steel, star-shaped, candle bases. With an emphasis on sustainable, natural products they also have everything a keen cook might want for their kitchen including a wonderfully tactile spice mill. Just next door is Munich’s answer to Fortnum & Mason; Dallmayr can trace its origin’s back to the 1700s and today is Europe’s largest delicatessen. Famous for its coffee, it has 18 other specialist departments, from crayfish waiting to be bought in their Cherub fountain, to the more easily packed caviar, and of course the traditional Christmas-time stollen (dallmayr.com).

Food shopping can be continued at Viktualienmarket. A Farmer’s Market which has been going for centuries, it specialises in Bavarian goods and offers endless possibilities to grab a lunch or snack while shopping (viktualienmarkt-muenchen.de).

Christmas Markets

Snack on potato pancakes, wurst sausages, candied fruits, pretzels and more at the Christmas markets (Getty Images)
Snack on potato pancakes, wurst sausages, candied fruits, pretzels and more at the Christmas markets (Getty Images)

But then so too do the Christmas Markets with their typical potato pancakes, wurst sausages, candied fruits, pretzels and more. People come as much for the atmosphere as for the shopping. Here you can find Christmas tree decorations, knitted socks, wooden toys, jewellery, candlesticks and more but primarily these are places to meet up and share some festive cheer. The best one? Residenz, which takes place in the largest courtyard of Munich’s city palace, The Residenz, has puppet shows and handicraft workshops in amongst the stalls.

Eat & Drink

The ‘when in Rome’ view means dining on a breakfast of Munich Weisswurst: white sausages with sweet mustard, parsley and a pretzel. With nowhere better to do it than the new Rosewood Munich, whose pretzels alone are worth the visit. But stay for lunch too and try their traditional Alpine spinach dumplings or beef tartare.

Rosewood Munich's pretzels alone are worth the visit (Davide Lovatti)
Rosewood Munich's pretzels alone are worth the visit (Davide Lovatti)

Much talked about is the famous Hofbräuhaus, a typical Beer Hall which has been going strong since the 16th century, but if you want something more authentic, try the Spatenhaus an der Opera, just opposite the State Opera. Under delicately painted ceilings, dine on a perfectly crispy Wiener Schnitzel with a side of warm, moreish potatoes (kuffler.de).

For a fun night out with good food try to get a table at Schumann’s, the hottest ticket in town. Start with a cocktail – their mezcal margarita is sensational – and continue on to try their beef tartare with a local wine. You might even be served by the great Charles Schumann himself (schumanns.de).

Stay

Rosewood Munich's rooms are designed by Tara Bernerd (Davide Lovatti)
Rosewood Munich's rooms are designed by Tara Bernerd (Davide Lovatti)

.... And I did, due to what was allegedly the heaviest snowfall since 1938. My two nights became four then five. But the more I stayed at the new Rosewood which opened last month, the more I loved it. Housed in two landmark buildings, one of which was previously the State Bank of Bavaria, the other the palace of Neuhaus-Preysing, the rooms and suites are designed by Tara Bernerd, whose trademark elegant warmth is on full display. They are uncluttered yet luxurious with colourful locally-inspired art woven through and books lining the shelves. Bathrooms have deep tubs and generous showers. Floors are heated and towels are the thickest I have ever used.

Food at their Alpine-inspired brasserie, Cuvilliés, hits the spot. Try the spinach dumplings with pecorino and brown butter to see what I mean. And when you come in from the cold outside, head to the spa for a dip in the lovely heated pool. It is surrounded by oversized day beds in niches and books and has a cocooning atmosphere which permeates the whole hotel.

Doubles start at €800 including breakfast at the Rosewood Munich (rosewoodhotels.com).