7 Bucket List Things to Do in Munich

Now is the perfect time for turning your wanderlust into a plan to visit Munich in 2019.

Munich is the capital of Bavaria, Germany’s most traditional region. But this historic city isn’t all pretzels, beer, and dirndls—Munich is also a culture capital with a thriving gay scene and numerous can’t-miss attractions.

Here are 7 things you definitely want to do on a trip to Munich.

1. Kiss a boy wearing lederhosen at gay Oktoberfest

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From late September to early October, Germany’s most famous festival attracts more than six million people. The event dates back to the 1810 wedding ceremony of King Ludwig I and Princess Therese, which included a public celebration that went on for more than a week.

Today the gay side of Oktoberfest, known as Rosa Wiesn, is held in the Bräurosl beer tent the first Sunday of the festival, followed by the more casual RoslMontag party the next afternoon.

The city’s leather lovers are everywhere, and there’s also champagne parties, OktoBEARfest, and an informal closing soiree at the Schottenhamel tent. Of course, all of Munich’s gay clubs and bars turn it out during Oktoberfest, too.

With all the costumes, parades and music you might think you’re at Pride, though Munich’s Christopher Street Day celebration is actually held in mid-July.

2. Hit the sauna at Hotel Deutsche Eiche

Located in the Gärtnerplatz, the trendiest part of town and former hub of Munich’s queer scene, Deutsche Eiche (“German Oaks”) is one of the oldest gay hangouts in the city. It became popular with dancers from nearby clubs in the 1950s and, by the 1970s and ’80s, was a regular haunt for Freddie Mercury and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who lived across the street. (Fassbinder filmed scenes from Lola at the Deustche Eiche and his boyfriend, Armin Meier, worked there.)

In 1995, current owners Dietmar Holzapfe and Josef Sattler renovated the building and adding a three-story gay sauna in the back. Today, it’s an in-demand boutique hotel with 30 rooms and a gorgeous rooftop bar that attracts a mixed crowd. The four-floor bath house, meanwhile, offers saunas and whirlpools, a rooftop garden, lounge, and exclusive booths.

Other favorite LGBTQ spots include Cafe Nil (Hans-Sachs-Strasse 2), Prosecco (1 Theklastrasse), Kraftwerk Bistro (Thalkirchner Strasse 4), Moro (Müllerstrasse 30), and Edeheiss (Pestalozzi Strasse 6). Dating back to 1967, Ochsengarten (Müller Strasse 47) is a small saloon popular with leather and uniform kinksters but like a few other bars in town, it’s for men only.

3. Visit the palace of Bavaria’s gay king

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Ludwig II was just 18 in 1864 when he became king of Bavaria. Frustrated with the limitations of being a constitutional monarch, he spent most of his short reign constructing fairy-tale palaces—Herrenchiemsee, Linderhof, and Neuschwanstein Castles—that nearly bankrupted the country.

Ludwig never married (he canceled his engagement to his cousin) and his diaries made it clear the king struggled with gay desires: He had physical relationships with his groomsman, Richard Hornig, and Hungarian actor Josef Kainz, as well as any number of handsome young men. He also had an intimate, if not definitely physical connection with legendary composer Richard Wagner, who enjoyed his generous patronage. (Wagner’s operas were sometimes staged for the king alone.)

Fed up with the king’s extravagance and “perverse” sexuality, the Bavarian parliament had Ludwig declared mentally incompetent in 1886. Weeks after he was deposed, the 40-year-old “Mad King” was found drowned together with his doctor.

Neuschwanstein Castle opened to the public just weeks after his death. Located on a mountaintop about two hours outside Munichh, it attracts more than 1.7 million visitors each year. (The neo-Gothic masterpiece was the inspiration for the castle in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.) Its walls are decorated with frescoes depicting the legends used in Wagner’s operas, including Tannhäuser, Tristan und Isolde, and Lohengrin.

4. Hang ten in the English Garden

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Smack dab in the middle of the city is this sprawling green space larger than New York’s Central Park. The Chinese tower and Greek temple are popular attractions, and when the sun comes out the Schönfeldwiese (“Beautiful Meadow”) is a popular spot for both nude sunbathing and cruising.

A small stretch of the Isar River near the Haus der Kunst art museum forms a constant three-foot wave that hunky surfers queue up to ride. It’s a unique experience, though perhaps best enjoyed as a spectator rather than a participant.

5. Gulp down some sausage at the Viktualienmarkt

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The best farmer’s market in Munich has been located in the city’s Altstad, or old quarter, for more than 200 years. Six days a week hundreds of butchers, bakers and produce vendors sell mouthwatering fare like weisswurst (white sausage), semmelknödel (boiled dumplings), schweinshaxe (roasted pork knuckle), dampfnudel (sweet rolls) and brezen (traditional Bavarian pretzels).
Wash down your wurst at the nearby beer garden with a pint from one of Munich’s legendary breweries—like Augustiner, Hofbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten—who take turns providing beer for thirsty patrons under the shade of hundred-year-old chestnut trees.

6. Make time for the giant cuckoo clock in Marienplatz

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Marienplatz has been a busy commercial district since the 12th century and today is home to luxury stores, local merchants and a world-famous Christmas market. It’s also home to Munich’s town hall, the Neues Rathaus, and its elaborate Glockenspiel cuckoo clock.

Each day at 11am, noon, and 5pm, the clock chimes and 32 colorful life-size figurines come to life. The top half of the Glockenspiel recounts the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V to Renata of Lorraine, while the bottom half is devoted to a legend about barrel makers who danced through the streets of Munich.

Not far away is Munich’s monument to gays and lesbians murdered in the Holocaust: Created by German artist Ulla von Brandenburg, it’s a mosaic of colored concrete blocks leading to the location of a gay bar raided by the Nazis on October 20, 1934. A plaque nearby describes the raid as the beginning of “the systematic persecution of homosexuals by the police, the Gestapo and the judiciary.”

7. Ride a train that goes 180 MPH

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Germany’s high-speed ICE Sprinter connects all of the country’s major cities, making the trip from Munich to Berlin less than four hours. (it also has connections to Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Austria.) It’s a first class experience with free wifi, fine food and drinks, power outlets at every seat, and more legroom than a standard airplane. There’s a quiet car if you’re hoping to tune out, and first-class tickets include reserved seating, free newspapers, and catered meals brought to your seat.

Three Sprinters race between Munich to Berlin every day, so now a long weekend can include visits to both culture capitals.

For more on Munich visit Simply Munich.

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Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.