Lay of the Land
Divided roughly in half by the Isar River, most of Munich's action is on the western bank. The Altstadt, anchored by Marienplatz, is the nerve center of shopping and the city's bustle, with a good number of the city's best restaurants, hotels, and nightlife within easy reach. Northwards is the huge (1.6-square-mile) public Englischer Garten, bordered by the mixed Schwabing neighborhood, which extends west to upscale Nymphenburg, including its huge palace complex; the northern part of the city is dominated by the Olympic fairgrounds, a huge series of open spaces and athletic facilities.
WHEN TO GO
Munich is a highly weather-dependent city: Its elevation of roughly 1,500 feet makes it bitterly cold in winter (average high of 40°) and breezy and outdoorsy in the summer (average high of 72°). Warm weather is critical, for many of the city's charms, including its pervasive outdoor beer-drinking culture, only truly come alive in May or even June. Watch out, above all, for Oktoberfest (the last two weeks of September and first week of October), when the hotels are booked solid and the city invaded by hundreds of thousands of loud drunkards from around the world.
HOW TO GET THERE
Munich's airport is a busy international hub 25 miles out of town (49-89-975-00; www.munich-airport.de/EN). Taxis are expensive, given the distance, making the quick and efficient S-Bahn suburban train a better bet for getting into town. It takes about 45 minutes and leaves several times an hour ($13.50; www.mvv-muenchen.de/en/index.html). However, if you're within central or southern Europe already, the train may be a better option—Germany's Inter-City Express system is clean, fast, and comfortable, and drops you off in the Hauptbanhof, the city's main train station, right in the middle of town. Driving can be a nightmare: Germans tend to be both aggressive and rule-bound behind the wheel, and if you don't know the traffic laws intimately this can result in trouble.
Forget about renting a car. Not only is the driving difficult at best, parking is impossible. Instead, take advantage of the city's extensive train, tram, and bus network. The S-Bahn is the express and suburban train, crossing the city quite rapidly; the U-Bahn is the regular subway, radiating outward from the main train station (Hauptbanhof) and Marienplatz in the Altstadt. The tram can be an excellent short-distance method of crossing town. A daily pass is about $7 and individual rides $3. Buy your ticket on the platform—machines are plentiful—and don't forget to date-stamp it: The subway is on an honor system but undercover ticket takers regularly make their rounds, and if you are caught with an unstamped ticket a lengthy hassle, and fine of $55, will likely result. Finally, biking is an easy option—bicycle rental is widely available and the sidewalks all feature wide bicycle lanes (Radius Munich; 49-89-596-113; www.radiusmunich.com/tours/bike-rental). Just be sure to stay in the lane and obey all traffic signals—German drivers have a constitutional aversion to slowing down.View Germany Factsheet