If you like your European cities with cobbled streets, gorgeous historical buildings and a huge focus on eating, drinking and just enjoying the good life, this German offering is a highly underrated tourist destination. For families it provides the best of both worlds with several fun places to play and explore for the kids and multiple venues to enjoy a large ale (or three) for the parents. Munich with kids is one of Germany's best family holiday destinations and a must, especially in the summertime.
Munich is a lively place to visit even if you do nothing more than wander and soak up the atmosphere. It is a quintessentially European combination of old world architecture and atmospheric charm combined with a modern, busy populous. Particularly when the weather is warm and the sun is out, people emerge in droves all over the city to just hang out. Every spare patch of grass is covered with barely-clothed bodies lazing about playing platonk, every beer hall is crowded with animated voices and the streets are filled with people walking, chatting and window shopping.
But unlike some of the other more popular tourist cities such as Paris or Rome, Munich is noticeably without the annoying visitor touts and hassles. Here you can spend as much time as you like observing the busiest attractions at your leisure without ever being molested by a pushy trinket seller or restraunteur. With kids roaming everywhere enjoying the classical music buskers and splashing in the fountains, this makes Munich an ideal family-friendly city to travel with your kids.
As a gorgeous architectural nod to a Germany history that was wiped out in Berlin post World War II, Munich is full of beautiful buildings, churches and historical sites. Simply head to Marienplatz to be right in the centre of things – and then get lost. First you’ll see the stunning New Town Hall – a Gothic marvel that also doubles as a good point of navigation whenever you are trying to find your way.
The areas around Gärtnerplatz and Odeonsplatz in particular have some magnificent buildings with striking classical silhouettes and statues overlooking the city.
Around Heiliggeistkirche is the Viktualienmarkt – a daily gourmet dream of stalls and shops selling smallgoods for taking home or consuming right on the spot.
All along Neuhauser Strasse you will find all the high street shops – including two large supermarkets if you need to buy supplies. Here you will also find street performers with some impressive classical music talent.
While in Munich proper, it is essential to visit the Deutsches Museum, an extremely impressive collection of exhibitions on science and technology that you will not be able to finish in just one day. Even if you only scratch the surface, there are huge ships, aircraft (including the first plane built by the Wright brothers), machines and vehicles that you can get up close, touch and climb into that the kids will love. (You can see straight into the cockpit of a plane and a real, used, space capsule.)
But the real icing on the cake is the Kids Kingdom in the basement – a dedicated space for 3 to 8 year olds with a fire engine, musical instrument section and multiple interactive displays that makes for a fun educational play session. (Keep this one in your back pocket if you need a rainy day activity.)
Munich is also home to the largest inner city gardens in Europe. The beautiful Englischer Garten is a favourite hangout for the locals and, if the weather shows any signs of being warm, every spare patch of grass is covered with people laying around as if at the beach. This is a fantastic place to take the children to run outside – centre it around a couple of hours at the beer gardens at Chinesischer Turm and this will be a highlight of your trip.
The beer gardens are a brilliant way to spend a sunny afternoon among roughly 2,000 other like-minded people. On a fine day it is packed with families eating huge plates of sausages, roasted pork loins and knuckles, swigging, swaying and dancing to the Oompah band (like this enthusiastic couple below).
The grounds are so large that there are also two children’s playgrounds including a charming old roundabout. With the huge beer steins, fairy floss and hundreds of other kids and families running about, this might be one of the best public parks you’ll ever visit.
For a quieter, more romantic day trip away from the heart of Munich, head to Nyphenburg Palace. There are large grounds with ponds where you can watch the ducks and a small museum inside that will give a taster of a German palace without being too overwhelming (or boring) for children.
If you have any sort of interest in cars, you should really do a BMW Plant tour to witness the famed German efficiency in action. Tours book out quickly so you must be organised (they will take reservations up to 6 months in advance). If you cannot get on to a plant tour, there is also the BMW Museum and BMW Welt tours for older kids (they are not advised for children under 10).
Food (And Beer)
Perhaps Munich’s biggest tourist drawcard is, of course, the annual Oktoberfest (12 September to 6 October 2013). Tents full of heavily lubricated beer lovers and big bosomed wenches carrying steins may not sound the place to bring children, but in fact Oktoberfest actually has a dedicated family tent. Augstiner-Festhalle dedicates Tuesdays as their special kid’s day.
If you aren’t lucky enough to be arriving in Munich right on Oktoberfest, there are plenty of other opportunities for a beer hall experience. One of the most famous is Hofbrauhaus and a visit here makes for a memorable meal. The indoor beer hall is heaving especially when the band is playing. Huge meals eaten at shared communal tables means you will get pretty close and friendly with the folk inside. It can get very crowded, rowdy and warm and you will need to be patient with the service. (Outdoors, if the weather is good, the atmosphere is a bit more chilled, but expect to be surrounded by tobacco smoke.) But despite these set backs, this is still a fun experience that will give everyone a bit of a giggle.
A less touristy option is to try Augustiner-Bräu Wagner KG where the service is a little more attentive and patient. Their menu is a bit more descriptive and accessible than that at Hofbrauhaus and they have particularly good activity packs for children including stickers, balloons and colouring in goodies.
If you are staying in central Munich, Le Meridien Munich is in an extremely good location and allows for easy access if you want to transfer via train to elsewhere on the continent. Because it is so central, it markets itself more as a business hotel than a family-focused one.
If you are finding the prices too high in Munich central, staying a little out of town but on a direct train line is an economical option. The Marriott Munich Hotel is an easy 6 stops into Marienplatz and a very safe, tree-lined area to wander round with a supermarket close by. The service may be surly but the rooms are modern, spacious and have an apartment-style feel (without the kitchen facilities). (Look for the ride-on BMW and Mini toddler cars in the lobby and the playroom next to the breakfast area.)
Be prepared for extremes of temperature and do your research before you pack. In the summer it can be very warm – over 30 degrees centigrade. Similarly, in the winter it can drop to freezing.
Navigation is quite simple and the subway and trams, for instance, easy to use. Check out the Frequent Traveller tickets that are extremely economical if you are using public transport a lot.
It is extremely worthwhile considering commuting via train around the country or to other parts of Europe. Not only is it far cheaper than flying, the system is just about the most organised in the world. If you are making a popular connection and your train is running late, they will hold the second train until all the passengers making the transit are safely onboard.
Munich is flat and theoretically quite stroller-friendly…if you have a sturdy stroller. This is Europe so the sidewalks are cobbled and uneven and lifts in public places (such as train stations) are often non-existent or not working, so be prepared for lots of bumps and heavy lifting.
Plan your toilet stops, (even when walking in the city) around museums, restaurants or hotels, especially with toilet-training toddlers. Using public toilets can be an expensive experience – especially at sometimes €1 per visit.
Shops generally do not open on Sundays so save those for museums or outdoor activities as you won’t get any retail joy.
If you are in planning a family holiday to Germany's capital, see the suitcases&strollers travel tips for Berlin with kids here.