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 Rathaus, Munich’s “new” town hall

 

The Feldhernhalle, rallying point of Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch

 

We watched these guys (and gals!) surfing the ice cold Eisbach river wave. Right in the middle of Munich!

 

 

The Eisbach river runs through the middle of the English Garden, a huge green space like New York’s Central Park.

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.

 

The Capitol building of the state of Bavaria.

 

Residenz Palace

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).

I could get used to living here as long as I had the right number of servants.

 

The antiquarium – where the ruler kept his collection of cool artifacts.

 

Palace fatigue setting in for the middle kid

 

 

 

Nymphenburg Palace

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.

 

Nymphenburg Palace

 

“Daddy can we please play in the creek?”
Of course! How often do you get to play in the water on palace grounds?

 

 

Neuschwanstein Castle

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.

 

Neuschwanstein Castle view from the Marienbrucke bridge

 

Stunningly beautiful scenery on the drive down to Neuschwanstein

 

Hohenschwangau Castle just down the hill from Neuschwanstein

 

 

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.

 

Gatehouse of Dachau

 

32 dormitory buildings lined up in orderly rows. Each building would eventually house over 1,000 people in spite of being designed for a much smaller number of occupants.

 

More pictures:

 

 

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.

Lounging in the living room

 

Where we ate wurst and drank bier

 

Kids bedroom. The airbnb owner provided us with an extra mattress to place on the floor so each kid had their own bed.

 

Cool perk of staying in an airbnb – checking out the next door high school’s bike rack. I think it holds about 494 more bikes than the bike rack at our neighborhood school in Raleigh.

 

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!

 

Doner kebab

 

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!

Victuals Market Biergarten

 

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.

 

Cooking at home – fish, roasted peppers, rice, and wurst with onions

 

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.

 

Deutsche Bahn Intercity Bus

 

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:

 

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37 comments

  • Do you ever stare at buildings of opulence and realize that art with that kind of intricacy and gilding will probably never happen again? It’s almost impossible to get that kind of financing without a monarchy. I’m glad that art is being preserved for people to see though :).

    We went to a camp outside of Berlin when we visited Germany. It was disturbing. I’m glad we can visit them though, so we’re reminded to never let it happen again. Edmund Burke predicted it centuries ago and we still did it.

  • I never get sick of visiting European castles and have seen many but not the ones you’ve posted here. Those look really nice, I’ll definitely be putting them on my list!

  • I definitely remember doing a puzzle of that same castle.

  • We do that same beer chilling trick up here in the Pacific Northwest 😉

    I can’t imagine how expensive it has to be to rent a palace for a wedding. I go into sticker shock hearing about the price of venues just in our area (hence why we got married at my parents’ house).

  • That surfing looks amazing, dangerous and an immense amount of fun. I would sit there and watch them all day (and wish to be young again).

    • Apparently people drown pretty often in the river near there while swimming. I don’t think the surfing has led to many deaths but there was a serious injury when someone jumped in this surf spot from the bridge. Guy is still paralyzed!

      I was pretty content to watch from the sidelines.

  • Steve in Colorado

    I hope your kids appreciate all the wonderful things they are getting to see at a young age.

  • I’m glad you had a great time in Munich. I would have loved to run into you and your family. My husband tried to surprise me with a trip to Neuschwanstein Castle for our anniversary last year. When we arrived they were sold out of tickets as well. He and our daughter were quite disappointed. I guess third time is the charm for it as we have already visited in 2005 but opted out. We have never even considered that the castle would sell out, as we have never encountered that at any other museum or point of interest. Can’t wait to read your next instalment on Prague. I have been there as a teenager, but somehow my husband thinks we would get mugged and does not wanna go there with us. I hope your next post can will make him reconsider.

    • We looked for Neuschwanstein tickets a week ahead of time but there was nothing available for almost 2 weeks. This was peak season in summer so I guess it was really busy. Oh well!

      I haven’t heard anything bad about Prague in terms of crime. It seems like a really nice city overall, just very busy in the middle of the tourist center of town. It’s worth a visit but might not be as impressive if you’re used to historic cities in Germany and elsewhere.

  • When I was living in Germany in 2004 I found Munich to be one of the more expensive German cities. Dachau was so powerful for me, especially walking through the gas chambers and watching the documentary movies in the museum.

    The city had a much different vibe when I visited again for Octoberfest.

  • “Palace fatigue” I love that phrase. You know you’re a traveller when…

    Munich was definitely pricey for us too, but worth it. Glad you go to visit so many amazing places in Germany!

  • Hi Justin, you found very interesting places in Munichs’ English garden 🙂 – I’m native Bavarian, living in area of Erding – close to MUC airport – and home of famous Erdinger Weißbier. English Garden is so beautiful – even in winter. The Eisbach surfing is very famous – they do this sport even during winter; and kids are sledging from Monopteros hill few steps away. During summer few decades ago, naked people were going by tram, jumped into Eisbach river and swam back to the English garden. Time is changing – now it is forbidden … 🙂

    Bavaria offers a lot of different places … as locals we are visiting as often as possible touristic places and the beautiful nature; but actually it is impossible to see everything in a lifetime. And there are also a lot of different opportunities to do sport.

    Castle Neuschwanstein is very very famous, especially for Asian visitors. It is nice to see for free, also the surrounding landscape. But you really missed nothing inside; Neuschwanstein was never finished – and King Ludwig never lived there … in Bavaria and Germany are hundreds of other castles with much more history.

    For history of Dachau they provide a good exhibition. It is a depressing place … and everybody should visit – to remember and never forget. Was it difficult for your kids? – maybe they are not so well-informed as we Germans are about our latest history, we deal very sensitive with this.

    Greetings from Bavaria.

    • I can’t believe they surf on that river in winter! It was very cold when we were there in middle of July! But I guess Eisbach literally means “Ice Brook” so at least you expect the cold.

      About Dachau – I heard that all German schoolchildren must visit a concentration camp at least once. Is that true? I couldn’t find anything reliable on google about it.

      • Hi Justin, indeed – I watched the surfers also in winter 🙂 they are or should be high professionals, it is dangerous … but a good way to make training for Hawaii or so. The wave exists the whole year, day and night … only closed for 1 day p.a. – to clean the Eisbach. Eisbach is not a natural “Brook” – it is artificial, built in 1789 as they established the English Garden and is a part of it. Originally water flows from Isar river to the Eisbach, it is taken from the river and goes back to the Isar behind Munich. Water is so cold because it comes directly from the Alps, it is wild river … no chance to get warm, even in summer – but it is a little warmer than Soca 🙂

        About Dachau – it was a political camp – it was built for terror and scaring off generally all people. Nobody should be safe – if one said something against the Regime, he was brought to Dachau. They also let go prisoners back at home (at the beginning half of them) – to tell about the terror. Grandfather was also prisoner in Dachau … a lot of the prisoners were murdered. There were also Jewish, Sinti and Roma (gypsies) in Dachau, but mostly they were brought to death camps like Auschwitz.

        In school pupils learn about WWII, Naziregime and concentration camps; they grow up to know about our history – they see pictures, watch films and visit exhibitions. Also old Jewish who survived death camps are coming to schools to discuss with childrens. Young people should be aware how it could start – but never ever it should come back, so we have to be and we are wary. But school classes must not visit concentration camps; it is up to teachers how they do the lessons.
        I am not sure whether my kids were in Dachau … as I was in school we visited a camp close to Berlin (also a political camp) – it was so frightening, I never forgot.

        And today we can travel allover the world … are free … and we can make friends and we do support freedom and democracy. A lot of Germans still feel guilty about the history … maybe a reason why we try to make the world a better place today 🙂

        Cheers. Maresa

  • Really interesting. “The Occasional Nomads” are planning a trip around the world and asking about car rentals. Maybe you can help them out.

  • We have been to Germany about seven times since my wife is from Germany. We like Munich as a big city to visit. We prefer Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Zell as a couple of favorite small towns. We took our kids to Spain and Portugal about six years ago and really enjoyed Lisbon and the Malaga area. We really enjoy the German beer and the food is much better than I expected there. We are planning to go back to Munich this summer for a few days between Vienna and Zurich. Any recommendations for trips around Vienna?

    Not sure if this is true but we were told by some Germans that about every year they have a Japanese tourist fall of the Marienbrucke bridge at Neuschwanstein Castle while taking photos.

    • Hi Glenn, welcome back to Munich in summer – good food and phantastic Biergarten are waiting on you.

      I do not really know Vienna – but I could recommend the region “Wachau” – or the “Neusiedlersee”, if you want to stay in Austria. Wachau is region Danube – between “Melk” and “Krems an der Donau”; and Neusiedlersee is a little bit like Hungary. Quite different places … but both are close to Vienna. And there grow very good grapes to produce phantastic wines.

      If you would like to find a place in Germany to visit than I could recommend “Passau” – very beautiful. It is where 3 rivers flows together …, situated directly on the border to Austria (and I have a lot of other tipps ..)

      I never heard about falling Japanese tourists 🙂 – but I really can imagine – it seems to be a MUST for Asians to visit this place … very crowded the whole year.

      • Maresa, Thanks so much for travel ideas. Erdinger is some of our favorite German beers. We will invite some of my wife’s brothers in NW Germany to visit us while we are in Munich for a few days. I am trying to convince my wife to work in Germany for a few years and we can travel around Europe via train and cheap flights.

        • Glenn, good idea to spend time in Munich. What do you think to visit Erdinger Weißbräu? The brewery and only place where they produce the Erdinger and ship it allover the world.
          Erding is a small city – and also home of the “Therme-Erding” – the world’s greatest Spa and Europe’s biggest water slide world – but attention! – this is not a frugal area 🙂
          And than you should drink the Weißbier on the original place – and I would like to invite you –
          Viele Grüße auch an Deine Frau.
          Maresa

          • Maresa, Erding sounds like a fun day trip from Munich. We will plan to meet up with you. It looks like around 40 minutes from Munich to Erding by bus or train. We have our flights books to Vienna and leaving out of Zurich but we haven’t planned much yet. We are staying with friends in Vienna and Zurich for around a week each and then some trips to Prauge and Munich. We arrive in Vienna that last week in June and most likely will be in Munich the first week of July. You can reach me at glenn dot zannotti at gmail.com. My wife’s name is Rita and she is from Alfhausen, Germany. We are also on WhatsApp.

            Tschuss,
            Glenn

    • There are a lot of Asian tourists. We saw some Asian tourists doing REALLY dangerous stupid stuff in Prague just to get the perfect selfie. A fall from where they were leaning would have likely killed them (many stories to the ground from a castle wall and they were sitting in the patio of a Starbucks – yes a selfie of the Prague castle from a starbucks is worth dying for…).

      We didn’t make it to Vienna so I can’t recommend anything specifically. Bratislava, Slovakia is a very short train ride away if you wanted to see it while there.

      • Justin, Bratislava looks very interesting and we will have to check that out. We are also looking at going to Budapest and Prague for a few days. Thanks for sharing the photos.

  • Why is it that whenever you stumble across naked people, it’s always old guys?! Never buff young guys.

    When you plan your trips are their particular websites or book series that you use? Or just Google? I know you’ve written about how you search for Airbnbs which gave me some good tips, but not how you plan your outings. (At least that I recall.)

    • Old dudes love getting sun all over?? No clue but I’ve noticed the same trend. 🙂

      We usually google. Google image search is good for inspiration too. I’m also a fan of “top 10/20/25 free things to do in Berlin/Munich/Prague/etc” types of searches. Usually get a ton of good hits including some interesting museums/parks/attractions that cost nothing (or ask for a small donation, or are free 1 day/wk or something). I’ll sometimes get travel guides from the library. Rough Guides and Lonely Planet seem to be the best for us – kind of a backpacker-ish independent traveler vibe. Some good walking tours in those books too.

      Though honestly when planning a 14 city tour across 8 countries, we’re mostly building out the skeleton of the trip (long distance trains, airbnbs, rental cars, flights, etc) and the big ticket bucket list items that are must sees (and sometimes must book way ahead of time!). Everything else we research on the fly once we arrive in a new city. I keep a big spreadsheet and add places to see, shop, and eat onto my list. Then once we arrive in a new city I’ll assemble a rough itinerary to see things on the same day that are geographically proximate. Then revise throughout the week based on weather, which day the free admissions are, how tired we are, if we want to see more of something or revisit, etc.

  • Loved Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland …. we did similar things … also the Rhine Falls, Freiburg, The Black Forest … several places, Strasbourg area, … we used the Eurorail pass, Viator for day trips and some buses etc …. Lake Annecy and Chamonix Mont Blanc area …stayed in 3-4 Star hotels … 4 was better …. realllly liked around Lake Zurich area, Lake Lucerne Area and Lake Geneva area and Gruyere etc Salzburg, and Vienna …. we stayed several weeks too for a week in each area like Munich … and used the areas for a base for exploring or day trips … I want to go back there especially to the Alps area …. maybe Interlaken or Lake Constance area like Bregenz and more of Austria …. very beautiful in the summer … love your photos 🙂

  • I’m enjoying your trip. Three years ago I did a 9-week stint in the UK and Europe and I LOVED it. I’m enjoying seeing where you’ve chosen to visit, because I’m definitely going back!

  • Nice pictures. We only passed through Germany once on a tour. I’d like to spend more time there, but there are too many places higher up on our priority list. Someday…
    The castles look great.

  • Nice! I have been to Germany multiple times and it’s easily one of my favorite countries to visit. I have been to Berlin (really cool, young, and eclectic), Munich, Mainz, Ruedesheim, Cologne, Neuschwanstein Castle, Fuessen, and Heidelberg. I enjoyed every town and city, but my favorites are Neuschwanstein and the Rhine River towns such as Rudenshiem. I went during the Christmas markets and it was magical! If you can go during the festivities, you’d love it!

  • So looking forward to the March 2018 Financial Update!

  • I have lived nearly twenty years in the area and have never visited Dachau or the Residenz. You are putting me to shame (but also giving me some ideas for weekend trips). Thanks!

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