Whether you’re a music junkie, a fool for fuel or a fan of world-class soccer, gardens, history or architecture, you’ll have a fine time joining clued-in locals at these beloved gratis diversions.
Editors note: This article first appeared Lonely Planet : Top 10 free things to do in Munich
A trip out to the Olympiapark, site of the 1972 Summer Olympic Games, is always a lovely respite from the urban bustle, but especially so in the warmer months when you can time a spin around the grounds with a free concert. Throughout August, the Theatron Festival (theatron.de) brings live bands to the amphitheatre next to the Olympic Lake, playing everything from hip hop to gospel, pop to punk. Better yet, bring a blanket and a beverage and join the throngs of locals to eavesdrop on the stars from atop the Olympiaberg. The 564m-high hill just happens to be within earshot of the roofless Olympic Stadium where the likes of Beyoncé, Linkin Park and Katy Perry have hit the stage. Hop off the U-bahn at Olympiazentrum.
If you worship at the altar of the automobile, you’ll want to make a beeline for this ‘cathedral of cars’ near the Olympic Stadium. Sitting right next to the actual BMW plant, BMW Welt is essentially a vast showroom where you can admire the company’s entire current product palette from sedans to Minis, racing cars to electric vehicles and even Rolls Royce coaches. The futuristic building itself is a jaw-dropper, all glass and steel twisted into a double cone and lidded by a roof reminiscent of a floating cloud.
FC Bayern München training facility
Tickets to see world champion soccer players in a home game with their club, FC Bayern München, Germany’s winningest Bundesliga (premier league) team, are not only frightfully expensive, they’re also extremely hard to score. But don’t fret, you may still get a chance to see these ball magicians kick, dribble and pass during completely free public training sessions held several times weekly at the team’s headquarters on Säbener Strasse, about 6km south of the city centre (a 10-minute walk from Mangfallsplatz U-Bahn station). Check FC Bayern München’s website (fcbayern.de) for the schedule before heading out.
Ok, it’s not completely free, but for cash-strapped culture lovers, the long-standing ‘one euro Sunday’ admission policy at about a dozen of Munich’s finest museums is a gift. Among your options are: admiring Rembrandt, Monet and Warhol at the prestigious Pinakothek art galleries (Alte Pinakothek, Neue Pinakothek and Pinakothek der Moderne); studying finely chiselled Greek marble statues at the Glyptothek; or feasting your eyes on Renaissance sculpture at the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum. Most institutions also grant free entry to anyone under 18 at any time.
A pilgrimage to Hofbräuhaus, the world’s most famous beer hall, is a must for every Munich visitor. Even if you don’t feel like downing giant mugs of amber liquid, no one is going to stop you from wandering beneath painted vaulted ceilings around the warren of halls, marvelling at the drunken shenanigans or clapping to the oompah bands. The huge, flag-festooned banquet hall upstairs is where the National Socialist Party held its first large gathering on 24 February 1920. Alas, the free historical exhibit in the gallery above the stage does not address this milestone event.
Sure, most parks are free, but then few are like Munich’s Englischer Garten (English Garden), which is bigger than London’s Hyde Park and New York’s Central Park. Find your way to the little lake to take a boat for a spin or stake out some turf on the manicured lawns for sunbathing (au naturel, if you dare). Other enchanting escapes from the city hubbub are the Japanese teahouse, a Greek-style temple with grand views and, well yes, several beer gardens. The most famous – and one of Munich’s oldest – sprawls around the exotic Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower), a five-tiered wooden pagoda. Giselastrasse is a handy U-Bahn stop.
Munich is famous for beer, sausages and…river surfing. Yes, you read that right. Just go to the southern tip of the Englischer Garten at Prinzregentenstrasse and you’ll see scores of people leaning over a bridge to cheer on wetsuit-clad daredevils as they ‘hang 10’ on a rolling wave in the fast-flowing Eisbach, a 2km-long creek running through the giant park. Rocks, strong currents and the constricted space make surfing here a rather dangerous endeavour that, in fact, only became legal in 2010. Don’t even think about getting in the water unless you’re an experienced surfer. Bus 100 stops nearby.
Of Munich’s many churches, the diminutive Asamkirche is an easily bypassed rococo gem tucked between residential houses on a store- and cafe-lined street in the city centre. Richly decorated, it was the private chapel of the artist brothers Cosmas Damian and Egid Quirin Asam, who used to live next door. Both worked to adorn every inch of wall space with paintings, cherubs, gold leaf and stucco flourishes to create an ornate and awe-inspiring composition.
Add a touch of royal flair to your Munich sojourn by sweeping through the grand gardens backing Schloss Nymphenburg for free. One of the city’s most statuesque royal palaces, about 5km northwest of the city centre, it boasts various water features – including a canal that turns into an ice-skating rink in freezing winters – as well as several palace outbuildings. Of these, the frilly Amalienburg is the most noteworthy; a small admission is charged if you want to see its opulent interior. From the Hauptbahnhof (main train station), Nymphenburg is a straight shot on tram 17.
Hardly the prettiest building in Munich, the modern Gasteig is nevertheless blessed with superb acoustics, as you’ll discover during free lunchtime and early evening concerts starring the talented students of the Hochschule für Musik und Theater (Academy of Music and Theatre). There’s usually at least one recital scheduled every day. Take any S-Bahn to Rosenheimer Platz.