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Munich with Kids: More than Beer and Pretzels

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Ninety minutes after our flight touched down in Munich from LAX, my husband was downing a liter of beer at a picturesque beer garden. Meanwhile my children stuffed hunks of giant pretzel in their mouths and I gazed at swans floating in a nearby lake. This scene sums up our glorious week in Munich: green, easy, relaxed. This mellow urban gem in Germany is full of world-class museums, sprawling parks and kid-friendly beer gardens. The German love of orderliness made it an easy place for us to get around with our three kids, ages 10, 8 and 6. Here's what to see and do in Munich with kids.

Munich beer garden with kids ~ Munich with kids

My 6-year-old daughter eating her giant pretzel at Seehaus Beer Garden

Munich's “Central Park”

For anyone visiting the city with kids, your first order of business should be finding a hotel within walking distance of the Englischer Garten. Enter my family's pick, Hotel Biederstein. From here you can easily explore the park's pathways babbling brooks, giant open fields and no less than three beer gardens. This enormous park is larger than both Hyde Park in London and Central Park in New York City. Our favorite beer garden in the park was the Seehaus Beer Garden, which has cafeteria-style service, a playground, and nearby paddle boat and bike rentals.

Munich's Enlishcer Garten ~ Munich with Kids

My three kids enjoying their favorite Munich pastime: exploring new play structures

The Seehaus is in the center of the Englischer Garten. This lovely garden makes a great place for a picnic, a breezy bike ride, or a makeshift soccer game. Small playgrounds dot the park. At the southern tip there is even a popular surf break created by an artificial wave in the Eisbach River. Surfers in wetsuits line the banks of the river waiting for their chance to slip and slide this perfect wave. Even my California kids were mesmerized for a good 45 minutes watching these daring Deutschers surfing the wave with their short boards.

Kids in Munich's Enlischer Garten ~ Munich with kids

A German surfer hanging ten in the Eisbach River

A Museum for All Ages

There are a multitude of amazing museums in Munich. There is one that families absolutely can’t miss: the Deutsches Museum. From dugout canoes and WWI U-boats to experimental airplanes, this gigantic assemblage of man’s technological advances is full of cool techie information. More importantly, it contains a warehouse full of interactive displays to keep kids captivated for hours. The entire basement floor has been turned over to kids ages 3 to 8. Called the Children’s Kingdom or Kinderreich,  there’s no chance for boredom here. This adventure zone includes water play, pulley swings, and a giant fire truck made out of LEGO bricks.

Exploring Munich by Foot

Find the center of Munich and you’ll discover a charming old town straight out of a storybook. The central plaza in this pedestrian zone is called the Marienplatz. This happens to be the best spot to view the Glockenspiel, a mechanized puppet show at the top of the New City Hall, the Neues Rathaus. The clock's tiny knights joust and miniature jesters twirl in a carillon performance that rings at 11 a.m., noon and 5 pm.

Munich Glockenspiel ~ Munich with kids

A view of the Glockenspiel at the Marienplatz with the Frauenkirche in the background

From here, pick a direction and follow the cobblestone streets to some of the city’s best shopping, sidewalk cafes and historical sites. You can't miss the Frauenkirche—a church with double onion domes that is the emblem of the city. You must visit Hofbrauhaus, the gigantic if touristy beer hall as well. An eccentric toy museum called the Spielzeugmuseum is full of vintage teddy bears and goofy amusements stuffed into a handful of rooms in the Old City Hall. And then there's the Viktualenmarkt, an open air farmer’s market with plenty of stalls to sample everything from unusual cuts of meat to local cheeses.

Munich's Olympic Park

Another kid-friendly must see while in Munich is the Olympiapark. Built for the 1972 Summer Games, it is now an activity complex complete with water sports and a zip line. The groovy Olympic Schwimhalle is where Mark Spitz won his medals. It is still open to the public for swimming. A giant tower called the Olympiaturm rises 290 meters over the park. It's worth a visit to see a stunning panoramic view of lower Bavaria all the way to the Alps, with landmarks labeled in white by the efficient tourist office.

BMW Welt for Car Lovers

For those with car obsessed kids, a short five-minute walk from the tower brings you to the dark glass and steel behemoth of BMW Welt. This is a combination museum, mega dealership, and corporate headquarters dedicated to all things BMW.

Neuschwanstein castle ~ Munich with kids

My daughter and son posing in front of the fantastical Neuschwanstein Castle

Day Trips from Munich

Just outside the center of the city, and easy to get to via subway or streetcar (the S-Bahn) are a few sights worth mentioning:

* Nymphenberg Palace is a baroque but serene castle backed by an expansive garden lined with pathways leading to surprisingly ornate outbuildings and a superb kid-friendly natural history museum.

* Dachau, a 20-minute streetcar ride outside of the city center, is the former concentration camp. It now houses a thorough museum that covers not just the horrors of daily life at the camp, but also the political situation that gave rise to Hitler’s Nazi party. You can book a half-day walking tour of this site to give context to the site for kids.

* Neuschwanstein Castle is the quintessential fairy tale castle. Built by Mad King Ludwig II and borrowed by Walt Disney as the inspiration for his Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, it’s an architectural wonder. It's full of one of a kind Wagnerian flourishes, located an hour and a half outside of Munich. Tickets can be a problem during high tourist seasons. Be sure to book ahead. Many tour companies offer it as a one-day excursion from central Munich, like this private tour that you can book via TripAdvisor.

Would you like to visit Munich with kids? Let us know in the comments!

Halle Shilling was a journalist for several newspapers in the Midwest before moving to the Golden State to teach writing and drive her three children to soccer practice. She and her family live in Solana Beach, California. All photos by Halle Shilling.

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Comments

  1. Munich looks like a beautiful city – and we have never made it out of the airport! I would love to visit Neuschwanstein Castle sometime. I’m sure my kids would love that as well but I’m certain they’d get a kick out of seeing a surfer in a river!

  2. Octoberfest is on right now in Munich. My husband and I were there 6 years ago and it was terrific. It lasts 16 days and attracts more than 6 million guests. Its important to book a room well in advance.

  3. Wow, who knew?! Thanks for this post…I guess I’ll put Munich on my list!

  4. Lisa – Agreed. I think I’m going to add Neuschwanstein Castle to my bucket list…right now!

  5. Phil – Munich IS pretty awesome. I’d love to go back with the kids someday!

  6. Here now and using your list!! Too bad there’s a foot of now on the ground 🙂

  7. Charlie says:

    My family and I lived in Germany for a short while and Munich was always the first city we took our guests to, if only for a day or two. Our favorite stops were always the Glockenspiel, Hofbrauhaus, and Neuschwanstein. While Dachau is not family friendly, it is an excellent experience for the older members of the group.

  8. great article – thank you!

  9. Leigh W. says:

    Dear Halle, my husband and I are considering going to Munich with our seven-year-old daughter. What did you think of the tour of Neuschwanstein Castle? I can’t imagine it being all that interesting for kids, but maybe I am wrong. Do you remember how long the tour lasted? Does it mainly involve listening to an adult drone on about history as you walk through dusty rooms and look at them from behind a velvet rope? I would love your thoughts on how child-friendly this attraction is for active children who do not want to listen to an hour-long history lesson–thank you!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Hi Leigh – This story was written by a guest blogger. Let me check with some fellow family travel bloggers to see if they can answer your questions!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      I’ve got so many tips for you from family travel bloggers, Leigh!

      Kirsten with Kids Are a Trip says: We did it a year and a half ago. Our kids were 13, 11, and 9 at the time. We did a day trip tour with Gray Line from Munich. They narrated everything but let us explore Neuschwanstein at our own pace. I would recommend doing a tour in your own without the guide. Kids don’t have the patience for boring tour guides…my kids still say the Gray Line tour was their favorite one, next to the Context Tour they did in Paris.

      Christa with New England Kids Guide says: I went with Mike’s Bike Tours. The actual tour of the inside is run by the government. You’re given a specific time for your tour, the tour is the exact same for everyone. You get to see a small handful of rooms and the guide will answer a limited amount of questions. There’s really no time to linger and take photos because another group of tourists will be quickly following behind. We went 2 years ago with our 2 year old and I was pretty disappointed. Oh, and no strollers are allowed so if you’re bringing a young one then one of you will likely end up carrying them up and down all those stairs!

      Mary Penafiel Solio with The World Is A Book says: We went 4 years ago when the kids were 10 and 8. We had a rental car and drove to the castle from Munich. You can’t visit the interior without the guided tour. It was a little over 30 min. It was very well run and you can’t take any photos. We had a great tour guide but it was a lot of information and felt rushed. My daughter loves castles so she was into it but my son wasn’t too interested. I would recommend driving there and exploring the area outside the castle too. (Go to her site for a story on the castle.)

      Amy Whitley with Pitstops for Kids says: We have done it. We all enjoyed it. I am of the camp that believes kids can certainly listen to an adult give a historical tour, even behind velvet ropes. No problem, and it was a good one, as noted above.

      Meagan Wristen with MommyTravels says: Someone guides you through the tour and you can not leave the tour. You must stay with the group. The tour is not that long. The rooms are phenomenal and you do learn a lot about some of them. (Go to her site for a story on the castle.)

      Hope that helps!

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