A Week in Munich, Germany plus Neuschwanstein and Dachau
Continuing on our family journey through Europe, we spent a week in Munich, Germany. This was the tenth city of our nine week, fourteen city summer vacation across Europe.
Munich is the seat of government of the German state of Bavaria. The streets are lined with buildings hundreds of years old and so full of history both recent and modern. We spent several days exploring the downtown area of Munich, the Eisbach River and English Garden, the Residenz palace, and the Nymphenburg palace grounds.
Munich also served as a home base while we took two day trips outside Munich. On the first trip we drove to Neuschwanstein Castle a couple of hours south of Munich. The next day we visited the somber Dachau concentration camp on the northern outskirts of Munich where the Nazis killed tens of thousands of victims during World War II.
Here’s a summary of our trip in Europe so far. We started our journey in Lisbon, Portugal, then flew to Malaga in southern Spain before taking a bus to Granada, Spain. After Granada we visited Seville, Spain. From Seville, we flew to Milan on a super cheap two hour Ryanair flight. After a two hour train ride from Milan, we arrived in Venice. Then we took a four hour bus ride to Ljubljana where we spent a week exploring the city and the nearby caves before we headed an hour north to the edge of Slovenia to Podkoren to explore the Soča Valley and river and the Julian Alps. After Podkoren we visited Salzburg, Austria with a side trip to Hallstatt and the Dachstein ice caves. Leaving Salzburg, we drove two hours west to Munich, Germany where out story continues today.
Historic Center of Munich
The historic core of Munich is easy to explore on foot or by hopping on one of the trams criss-crossing the center of town.
The English Garden offered a “nice” surprise as we walked along the Eisbach river. We were watching some guys rig up a system to chill a case of beer in the river. As we turned away from the river, we noticed a field full of old naked guys getting a tan all over. ALL over, if you know what I’m saying. And that’s how we found the nudist section of the English Garden, which we quickly exited without too many questions from our kids.
In the very center of town is the Residenz Palace. An expansive palace built by the Wittelsbach family starting in the 14th century, it’s construction continued over the centuries as it grew to be the largest (and possibly the most opulent) city palace in Germany.
If you have to pick one palace to tour in Germany, I think the Munich Residenz is it. We spent several hours touring the palace. Eventually our kids bored of the vaulted ceilings, gold trim covering every intricately carved detail, and paintings by long-dead nobility adorning every wall.
For those traveling on a budget, the Residenz presents another facet of beauty – it’s shockingly low price tag of only USD$16 for a basic family admission ticket.
If museums, castles, and palaces are your thing, the state of Bavaria offers a two week pass for unlimited admissions to a few dozen sites for approximately USD$50 (we opted for a la carte admission tickets since we only visited a few of the sites).
This palace is on the western edge of Munich. I imagine it was a country palace 100-200 years ago though now it’s surrounded by the city proper. As it turns out, the palace itself was closed for the day. Someone rented the entire thing to throw a hell of a wedding. As a consolation prize, we got to explore the extensive palace grounds in spite of the main palace being off-limits.
Another “bucket list” item – the Neuschwanstein Castle. We were really into jigsaw puzzles before kids consumed all our waking moments and one of the more beautiful puzzles was of the Neuschwanstein Castle. Fast forward 15 years since assembling that puzzle and there we were staring out at one of the most famous castles of the world.
We messed up a little by waiting to book tickets to tour the inside of the castle until the last minute, at which point they were all sold out. The reviews said the inside of the castle wasn’t particularly impressive anyway, so I don’t feel like we missed out on much given the splendid views of the exterior. We toured more than a half dozen castles elsewhere on this trip.
Dachau Concentration Camp
The first concentration camp opened in Germany, Dachau is also one of the better preserved camps. From our research it was one of the “best” (if there is such a distinction for such a morbid kind of place) to visit from a perspective of historical significance. As an outsider to Germany, I find the history of the rise and fall of the Nazi regime to be a fascinating study in what can go wrong in a society (and it offers us lessons on how to avoid similar occurrences in our lifetimes).
There’s nothing quite as real as standing in the relatively compact Dachau camp and knowing about all the poor souls locked inside those gates. By the time the camp was liberated in 1945, at least 32,000 prisoners died (probably thousands more that are undocumented) and tens of thousands of prisoners were seriously ill.
So many WTF moments while in this camp wondering how people could ever do something so vile. And the cruelty at this camp represents less than one percent of the total number of victims of the Nazi regime.
Lodging for a week in Munich with Airbnb
Finding nice but reasonably priced housing in Munich was a little challenging. It’s a rather expensive city as far as Germany is concerned. Our compromise was choosing an apartment a few miles outside of the Munich city center in the adjacent suburb of Neubiberg. At $88 per night, it was about half the price of comparable city center apartments and probably a lot larger and cleaner.
Since we were planning on a couple of “do nothing” days to rest and relax plus the two day trips to Neuschwanstein and Dachau, we weren’t planning on spending more than 2-3 days exploring Munich proper. Though we were about 30 minutes by bus/train from the center of town, the distance wasn’t a problem.
If you want to enjoy the personal connection that comes with Airbnb rentals, click here to take $40 off your stay.
Food in Munich
German fast food is Turkish food. Fortunately we were staying three minutes from a good doner kebab restaurant. I picked up a full family meal of doner kebabs for less than USD$20. So much meaty deliciousness in there!
I think we had just finished a picnic lunch when we stumbled on this biergarten surrounded by food vendors. Otherwise we would have stopped for a bite!
Since we had a car at the beginning of our stay, I made a big grocery run to Aldi to stock up on good eats to cook during the week. Later during our stay I visited the small grocery store around the corner from us on a daily basis to replenish our supplies of beer and fresh baked goods.
Getting Around Munich and the German Countryside
We drove our rental car from Salzburg, Austria to Munich, Germany. It’s an easy two hour ride on the autobahn freeway. We paid about $30 per day for the rental car.
I returned the rental car the end of our second full day in Munich. We drove the car on day trips to Neuschwanstein Castle and Dachau concentration camp. The two hour trip to Neuschwanstein would have been 3-3.5 hours by train and at least USD$40 for the train/transit day pass valid all over Bavaria.
The 40 minute drive to Dachau would have been closer to 2 hours with a combo of bus and S-bahn trains. Driving was much faster and easier, especially with the kids. And it didn’t really cost much more than the transit passes would have.
After ditching the car, we used transit for the rest of the week and it proved convenient for touring the central city historic section of Munich where driving and parking is more challenging (and expensive!).
After Munich, we headed to Prague, Czech Republic aboard the Deutsche Bahn Intercity Bus (~USD$50 for the 4.5 hour trip for the whole family). By far the nicest bus we’ve ever ridden in. The wifi was incredibly fast at 60 mbit/second as well. Germans do transportation the right way.
Thoughts on Munich, Neuschwanstein Castle, and Dachau Concentration Camp
We enjoyed the week we spent in Munich. The downtown area is perfectly suited to tourists given the ease of walking and taking the transit (above ground or below). It has castles, palaces, churches, theaters, beer gardens, parks, and rivers. Something for everyone.
Just a few hours south of Munich are world class mountains in the Alps. Dotting the countryside are beautiful lakes and villages.
We considered spending a couple of nights in the village near Neuschwanstein Castle but opted to set up camp in Munich instead and drive the two hours down. This setup worked well for us since we didn’t have to unpack an extra time.
The longer stay in Munich meant we had a couple of days in the schedule to relax and enjoy some downtime after five weeks of life on the road.
Our visit to Dachau was certainly a worthwhile use of a day. It’s one thing to see a documentary on the atrocities committed at Dachau and at other concentration camps. It’s altogether different to experience the place in person.
For various reasons that extend beyond an interest in World War II history, I’ve wanted to visit Germany for a long time. Munich was our first stay in Germany and it didn’t disappoint.
Have you ever been to Germany? What’s your favorite place if so?
Check out the whole series (so far) of our nine week European family vacation:
- Summer Vacation for 5 in Europe: 9 Weeks, 8 Countries, 14 Cities, $10,000
- Surprising Finds in Lisbon, Portugal
- From the Alcazaba to Sea in Malaga, Spain
- Exploring La Alhambra and the Narrow Alleyways of Granada, Spain
- Enjoying The Alcazar and Jamon Iberico in Seville, Spain
- Castles, Skyscrapers, and Prosciutto in Milan, Italy
- The Meandering Canals and Bridges of Venice, Italy
- Exploring Caves and Castles in Ljubljana, Slovenia
- The Hidden Gems of the Julian Alps and Soča Valley in Slovenia
- Explore Austria: Salzburg, Hallstatt and the Dachstein Ice Cave
- A Week in Munich, Germany plus Neuschwanstein and Dachau
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