Bavaria, Germany: Exploring München & Nürnberg
Updated: Aug 23, 2022
This saying was on a wall we passed one day in Munich. It summed up our Bavarian adventure perfectly.
We love to travel to Europe over the Thanksgiving holiday. Not only is it a great time to visit places as they get ready for the holidays (so cities are always beautifully decorated), it is also five days when much of what's going on in the US shuts down so we don't have to worry about what we're missing. This Thanksgiving we decided to take a family trip to Germany and Austria. There would be six of us traveling and meeting up in Munich for a few days before heading to Salzburg. COVID was finally waning and we were all excited to explore these two gorgeous - and festive - cities. It was a bummer that Munich had decided to cancel its amazing Christmas market along the Marienplatz in the city center, but Salzburg was still planning to go on as scheduled.
As four of us converged on Munich from Boston and Washington, DC, things were ready to get started! But, upon landing, we discovered that our carefully planned trip already had a problem. Austria was going to shut down - as in the entire country was going to close due to the latest COVID variant - and a visit there would mean no restaurants or shops or local attractions would be open. We quickly touched base with the Atlanta contingent who were about to catch a flight and told them the situation. They were up for anything we decided for the second half of our travels. So, the research began. Train to Zurich? Drive to Prague? The world was our oyster, within reason. But after exploring the time we'd spend getting somewhere, and the time we had to actually enjoy our location, we picked a place a shorter train ride away. Nuremburg, Germany. Train schedules were checked and a hotel was booked. Disaster averted. Now it was time to enjoy Munich!
Munich, Bavaria’s capital, is beautiful. In addition to being famous for its annual Oktoberfest (which is actually in September) and the Hofbräuhaus, it is also filled with gorgeous landmarks and architecture. We set out along the Marienplatz in search of an authentic German lunch. We passed the Neues Rathaus (town hall), which is stunning and imposing in the daytime and sort of magical at night when it was lit up in blue. We were also lucky to be there to watch the Glockenspiel begin its show, which it does at 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. each day. We stood there mesmerized as it chimed and reenacted stories from the 16th century. For the next 15 minutes the top half of the Glockenspiel told the story of the marriage between Duke Wilhelm V (who, coincidentally, founded the Hofbräuhaus) and Renata of Lorraine, complete with knights on horseback and a joust. The bottom half, and second story, is the Schäfflertanz, or coopers' dance.
This represents how, according to myth, in 1517 there was a plague and the coopers danced in the streets and remained loyal to the duke, and has since come to symbolize perseverance and loyalty to authority in troubled times. You can watch the characters and listen to the music in the video.
The next day the Atlanta crew was due to arrive in the late afternoon, so we explored more of Munich, including a morning walk. We found ourselves walking over, and then along, the Eisbach (ice brook), which is a man-made river in the city and an arm of the Isar River. This was absolutely gorgeous and like an oasis in the middle of Munich. People actually surf along one section of the river when the weather is nice - pretty cool!
Then it was on to view some art (and have some amazing cheesecake) in the Alte Pinakothek, or Old Picture Gallery. This museum includes the royal collection and is housed in a beautiful and grand building from 1836. It's often considered a masterpiece of "architectural proportion." After viewing the galleries, we strolled back to our hotel, stopping for some hot chocolate with whipped cream and people watching as we sat at an outside cafe under some heat lamps. With the holiday decorations around us and the sky getting grayer, it felt very festive and perfectly German.
After our little stop, we passed the Munich Residenz, a spectacular former royal palace, and its surrounding complex. Not a bad place to call home, and the gardens were beautiful even in November! It feels like everywhere you turn in Munich there are gorgeous old buildings with stories to tell.
When the Atlanta contingent arrived, we were ready to begin some serious Bavarian imbibing, beginning with a beer tour. We met our tour guide on the street in Munich and he promptly handed everyone in our tour group a beer and taught us all how to properly toast in German: Próst!
Our guide also told us that it is very important to look the person you are toasting in the eyes - something we'd remember all night as we enjoyed many rounds of prósts. We all walked to the nearby U-Bahn (subway) station with beers in hand and headed to our next destination, the Bier and Oktoberfest museum. This is definitely a must-do in Munich, not only because of the history but because it is an actual pub as well, so there are lots of locals just enjoying themselves. We each ate a yummy Bavarian pretzel as we sampled different beers and then learned about Oktoberfest - a total surprise because we'd had no idea that what has become a beer-event actually started as a festival to celebrate the marriage of the crown prince of Bavaria to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildurghausen in 1810. It was basically one big wedding reception!
From there it was on to a Munich beer hall for food (and more beer) before we ended our night at the world's most famous beer hall - the Hofbräuhaus. We also enjoyed some local entertainment. Take a listen. It was a great night!
We were all up early the next day for a visit to the BMW museum. We had quite the experience on the U-Bahn due to some construction and, perhaps, a little trouble with the German language. The platform we were supposed to use was blocked off and what occurred after that was like something from a three stooges episode.
We were on and off trains, going in one direction and then another, until finally a kind German stranger helped us get headed in the right direction. By the time we got off the train and walked to BMW we were all about done for! The architecture for the BMW campus is amazing and it's pretty hard not to be excited as you walk toward this iconic location so our moods instantly lifted.
After a little bite to eat in the museum, we enjoyed learning about the history of BMW and seeing some really cool cars - we each picked out the one we'd like to take home with us.
All of us were much more relaxed after our visit when we walked out into a crowd that was headed to a football (soccer to us) game at the stadium right near by in Olympiapark. We decided to follow them to see what all the excitement was about. While we didn't end up going into the stadium with the fans to watch the game, we did discover how amazing the entire area is. Olympiapark was created when Munich hosted the 1972 Summer Olympics and it consists of a lake and park and a hill that overlooks all of the city, in addition to stadiums. It is amazing! Just what we needed, and even more so because there were food trucks where we ordered beers and Bailey's in hot chocolate. A total find that kept us warm as we wandered around the grounds. This was a totally unexpected, and appreciated, discovery for all of us.
We took the path to the top of Olympic Hill and enjoyed the view overlooking all of Munich - it was an incredible panoramic view and totally worth the climb up there.
As we stood on the hill it was crazy to think that it was built by piling up the ruins and debris of buildings that were destroyed in World War II. The hill has been the site for a World Cup snowboarding slalom and alpine ski races. But when we were there it just felt like a beautiful place to take in views of Munich and the traces of the Bavarian Alps in the distance. Then it was time to catch a train back into the city for some dinner - thankfully, this time our U-Bahn experience was much easier.
Being Sunday, there weren't very many restaurants open in the city. So, when we asked the concierge for recommendations for something not German (at that point we'd had our fill of meats and potatoes) and he suggested an Italian restaurant nearby, we jumped at it. Who doesn't love some good Italian?
And, since we'd enjoyed an authentic Italian meal our first night at a restaurant where everyone spoke Italian and the food was amazing, we were ready to eat well again. We got directions to the restaurant and started walking.
From the outside, which was covered in artsy hearts, Galleria Ristorante looked adorable. We were all hungry and ready to relax after a day on our feet. Bring on the food!! As we looked at the menus our server suggested that the chef could just make us a few of his favorite dishes and we figured, heck yea! How could we go wrong?
And we didn't. It was amazingly delicious and every plate of food was a piece of art. Probably about the fourth course we all started to look at one another... and that's when it struck us. This wasn't just a few of the "chef's favorites," it was turning into an eight course meal!
Granted, it was all soooo good, but we'd thought we were just signing up for some recommended items from the menu, not a gastronomic tasting that would last hours and undoubtedly cost a fortune.
And we weren't wrong. When the bill came, we couldn't do much but gasp and chalk it up to a lesson learned - when a server offers to bring out some of the chef's favorites, you might want to ask, what precisely he is talking about.
We were full, our wallets were a lot lighter, and we walked away with another story to add to our subway circus experience.
After enjoying some parting limoncellos we headed to a local pub for some last beers in Munich. Tomorrow morning we were going to depart for Nuremberg.
We'd heard wonderful things about Nuremberg, and, of course, we'd all heard of the Nuremberg trials where German officials were brought before an international tribunal in Nuremberg for crimes against humanity. It has a reputation as a beautiful city - it's the second largest in Bavaria - but we didn't know what to expect.
The train to Nuremberg was easy and uneventful. Just a few steps from the station we were in the pedestrian area and on our way to drop everything off at the hotel. On our walk along the stone streets we all instantly fell in love. Nuremberg is so charming! A river flows through the center with beautiful bridges connecting both sides, lots of little stores welcomed us to browse and the entire place was decorated for the holidays. We were instantly glad we'd picked this city for our impromptu side trip.
After lunch we started to explore and found our way up the hill toward the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg, an extended castle complex built by the Hohenstaufens. The castle dominates the historical city center and, together with the city walls, is considered one of Europe's most formidable medieval fortifications. We walked around this amazing place and discovered that, from up on the hill, we had an amazing view of the city below us.
The next day, half of our group went for a castle tour and the other half went to visit the Nazi rally marching grounds. This was a sobering experience that can't really be described. After reading about the history of the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party in the museum, a frank display of the atrocities including audio of people who survived, we walked to the marching grounds.
We did not take any photos, as it felt inappropriate given the history of what took place there - here is what it looked like in 1937.
A visit to Nuremberg would not be complete without seeing the place that spawned such a dark period in world history. There had been a debate about whether to preserve this site of mass Nazi party rallies or to demolish it, and it was ultimately decided that it should remain as a reminder and teaching opportunity about Germany and Nuremberg's past. Between 1933 and 1938, Hitler supporters would flock to this large complex (it stretches for more than four square miles across southeastern Nuremberg) in support of the Nazi party and its leader. We were able to walk to the very platform on the grandstand where Hitler once stood as he watched Nazi troops march in formation before him in the "Zeppelinfield." It was creepy and awfully silent but because the museum had described what occurred there in such vivid detail it wasn't hard to imagine what it had been like when it was filled with tens of thousands of German youth.
After our time there, we made our way back to the historic city center to meet the rest of our group at the castle complex, and then walked to a great little spot we discovered the day before - Hexenhäusle. This is just the coolest place! It's situated right within the castle walls beside the moat, and it was exactly what you picture a German cottage to be like - all brown wood planks and sloping brown roof. We parked ourselves outside at a table for a few afternoon cocktails in the cold under the shadow of the castle and decided we would absolutely return for dinner on our last night in Nuremberg - the inside was decorated in red ribbons and lights and a cozy fire was lit in the fireplace, so it would be the perfect way to spend a cold November night.
The rest of our time in Nuremberg we wandered the adorable streets, popped in and out of shops and immersed ourselves in German holiday culture.
There were lots of outdoor market stalls with local finds, from food to floral arrangements to ornaments, and plenty of spots to stop for cocktails under the twinkling holiday lights.
Nuremberg is like a town out of a fairy tale, with covered bridges, waterfalls, church spires and cobblestone streets. Our last night in the city we did make our way back to Hexenhäusle for one last classically German meal. We had our own little corner of the place to ourselves and played cards for a while before our dinner.
It was the perfect ending to our time in Nuremberg (we are choosing to ignore the electric scooter incident that occurred on the way back to our hotel, when two of our group decided to show the rest of us their skills riding double).
The next day it was back to Munich and goodbye to the Atlanta family, who were catching a flight to Paris for a few days in the city of lights. The rest of us would have one final night in Munich, and one more meal - one that did not include brown meat, chicken schnitzel or spaetzle. The four of us who remained enjoyed some afternoon downtime by our hotel pool (and one of us may have partaken in a naked sauna with a couple from Sweden, but we will never admit who) before heading to dinner.
We ate our final meal at one of our most favorite restaurants in Munich, Brenner Grill, which was as delicious as we remembered from a few years ago. This place is absolutely a restaurant to visit when in Munich - you will not be disappointed!
Of course, on our last night we also wanted to próst one last time with a few beers at Augustiner am Platzl.
We stayed until closing time and then said auf Wiedersehen and called it a night.
Our time in Bavaria had been a whirlwind, even if we didn't make it to Salzburg this time. It once again confirmed for us that sometimes it is the unexpected twists of traveling that make it special. We had a ton of laughs with family, discovered new places, enjoyed one another immensely, and created new memories that we will remember long after our final group próst.
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