It’s hard to believe after all of our European travel, how little time we have spent in Germany – especially given my German descent! This past summer we set out to rectify that situation by spending some time in Bavaria. We based ourselves in Munich and took a few day trips from there. Beer obsessed Germany with teens may seem tricky, but we had a fantastic time and only one collective beer was consumed in a total of 10 days!
Note the drinking age for beer and wine in Germany is 16 (18 for spirits) so if your teenagers are of age, think about how you will want to address this beforehand.
Where to stay: We are big fans of places like AirBnB when we travel with teens. Everyone gets a little extra space to spread out and our mornings can accommodate both early risers and late sleepers without missing the hotel breakfast and/ or staff banging on the door. In Munich- for maximum convenience with kids – a stay near the Englischgarten (Munich’s version of Central Park) will be easiest. There are so many great things to do in that area and it will allow your teens a bit of independence if you are staying nearby. It may be hard to find a reasonably priced apartment near there so you will need to weigh convenience with price (as always). If you do end up staying in a non-central part of the city, public transportation is remarkably clean, safe and convenient.
Here are my recommendations for activities that will please both picky parents and picky teens on a trip to Munich.
Englischgarten – especially in summer, this is a place that deserves a fair amount of time and offers plenty of options for both grown ups and kids – its like a free one stop adventure park! Bigger than Central Park, the Englischgarten offers beer gardens, tea houses, lakes, paddleboats, lawn mowing sheep, river surfing, picnicking, sunbathing, and lazy river riding. Pack a bathing suit if the weather is warm as it is almost impossible to resist jumping in and floating down the river with the current. If you can score a waterproof bag for your belongings before you go, you can avoid the walk back upriver in a wet suit to the spot where you left your clothes. Pro tip: many Germans have no issue with hopping in the water or sunbathing naked – warn your teens so they don’t embarrass themselves. An afternoon well spent would be to stop at Viktualienmarkt or nearby Eataly for some delicious lunch food and then head over to the park for a picnic lunch and lots of fun people watching. Find a spot where you can put your feet in the river. Our other favorite teen activity in the park is the Eisbachwelle – a manmade surfing spot on the Eisbach river. We spent several lazy afternoons in this park and my teens returned to watch the river surfing several times! Pro tip: this is not an activity for the beginner surfer, as the current is dangerous and several people die here every year. But if you or your teen are regular surfers, give it a whirl!
Museums – If you have science focused teens, don’t miss the Deutsche Museum. It’s enormous so plan your day before you go so you can focus on what interests you. Museum gift shops are my favorite and this one does not disappoint. The Residenzmuseum will likely be a snooze for the teens (it was for me too!). Only go if you are committed to the study of Bavaria’s Wittelsbach rulers. A trio of art museums called the Pinakothek museums could provide an afternoon of joy for art focused teens. Pick the one you want to see – the Alte Pinakothek covers the earliest works (14-18th century), the Neue Pinakothek includes 18th & 19th century works and the Pinakothek der Moderne is one of the largest modern art museums in the world.
Attractions: When wandering around the city, be sure the following spots are on your list: The Glockenspiel (mechanical clock) in Munich’s storybook Marienplatz is the largest in Germany and tells the story of a joust between Bavaria (blue) and Lothingren (red). The bells toll at 11am, noon and 5pm (in summer). The show lasts 15 minutes and can get very crowded and sunny on a hot summer day. If you don’t want to stick around for the end, you can find it on youtube. Just outside of Marienplatz, St Peter’s Church has great views of the city and on a clear day, the Alps. Climbing the 300 steps to the top may produce a few grumbles but it is worth it for the Instagram shot. Bonus points for the first teen to find the creepy Jeweled Skeleton of Saint Mundita inside the church. A short walk away is a tiny little Baroque church worth seeking out. Built by the Asam brothers, the Asamkirche is unlike any other church your teen has already seen. It is a vision in eye candy, packed to the gills with lavish frescoes, gold leaf and outright opulence. Note how as you look up (closer to the heavens), the colors get brighter and brighter. If your teens are interested in cars, the BMW Welt and the BMW Museum would be a fun afternoon. Note: Since it is located very near to the Olympic Park, you can also add this visit to the below mentioned bike tour. Finally, don’t miss the Hoffbrauhaus about a 5 minute walk from Marienplatz. The most famous beer hall in Germany is a great place to have a meal or a beer and pretzel with teens. It’s fun, noisy and raucous, filled with live music and lively people. If you want a slightly quieter experience, head upstairs for a table.
Activities: If you have read my blog before, you know by now I am a big fan of bike rentals in European cities – especially for families. Munich might take the cake as the most bike friendly city in Europe! Just about every street has a dedicated bike lane away from car traffic making it super easy to get around. Do not miss an opportunity to see some of the further afield sights by renting bikes in one of the many bike rental places throughout the city. Find the one closest to your hotel and explore.
My recommended path covers about 15 miles (23km) of biking with a full days worth of stops in between. Starting at or around Marienplatz, head up to Olympiapark. The bike to the top of the hill is worth it to get a good sense of this park and most of the rest of the trip is flat so don’t worry about this early effort. Tool around for a bit here to explore the site of the 1972 Summer Olympics (nearby is the BMW Welt and BMW Museum mentioned earlier). Next stop – a few miles away – is Nymphenburg Palace – the summer home of the Wittelsbach family. You can park your bike right at the entrance. At a minimum, I recommend exploring the palace grounds and gardens in back. Maybe a cream puff or a cherry waffle in the Schlosscafe. You may have time to explore the palace if your teens are interested. Next stop is the worlds largest beer garden – Hirschgarten . We loved it because there is a deer park right next door and who doesn’t love feeding the baby deer after enjoying a good german sausage (and maybe a beer). After filling up on good German beer garden food, get back on your bikes and head to a favorite of the locals – Westpark – where you will fine a beautiful Japanese garden and a Thai temple. At this point you can head straight back into town or a little further east and bike back along the Isar River for prettier views. If you still have some energy left, use the bikes to explore whatever part of the Englischgarten you haven’t yet seen. It’s so much easier on bike!
Tours/ Excursions– Generally I try to mix in my own excursions with one or two tours so I can let someone else do the work for a bit. During our 10 day stint in Munich we did two excursions with Mikes Bike Tours and both were a hit with my teens. The first was The Classic bike tour and my traditional “first day in the city tour.” Its a great way to cover a lot of ground with teens so they can figure out where they want to return to during the rest of your trip. Generally I thought the tour was great and the guides were really engaging and informative. We saw many of the highlights in the city and even stopped for 45 min to experience our first beer garden with a local. If you are doing this tour in any season except for summer, I highly recommend it. Summer was crowded and, in my opinion, the company allowed too many people on the tour (22-25 people). The large group combined with the already crowded city, made it difficult at times. I think it would be a much more pleasant experience if we were capped at 15-18 people which would naturally happen during the off season.
The second tour we did with Mikes Bike Tours was to the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein. We were picked up by bus and driven to the castle that inspired Disney to create Cinderella’s castle in Disneyworld – Neuschwanstein Castle. After a lovely lunch at the base of the castle, we were fitted for bikes and got to ride for an hour on the country roads in the surrounding area. Everywhere you turned were majestic views of the castle on the hill and beautiful countryside. It’s hard not to imagine what life was like for Ludwig II while he lived there. We ended the day with a tour of the castle grounds and a bus ride back to the city. If you can spare a day during your visit to Munich, this full day excursion would be a hit for all ages. While the crowd for this tour was also big, it didn’t feel overwhelming because the group split up a bit once we arrived.
Much more somber but an equally worthwhile and educational excursion for teens would be the Dachau Concentration Camp. It is only 25 minutes from the city, can be reached by public transport and is open from 9-5pm everyday. This visit can be done on your own relatively easily, or if you want your teen to hear more of the story from locals, do it with a tour company. Either way, it can be done in a half day.
Traveling with teens? See our pointers on tackling these great cities with minimum eye rolling: Copenhagen, Nashville, Portland (OR), New York City, Paris, the Pacific Coast Highway, Siena, San Sebastian.