Germany is an incredibly easy place to travel with kids. How could the country that gave us Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and gummy bears not be? Bavaria is one the friendliest, most laid back parts of Germany, making it a doubly great place for family travel. Here are our favorite things to do in Munich, some on the well-worn tourist track and some a small detour from it.
What to See
The MarienPlatz is the city’s central pedestrian zone with stores, cafes, beer halls and churches. At 11:00 and noon (and 5:00 pm May to October) stop in front of the Rathaus to see the Glockenspiel. More than 30 figures act out a wedding complete with dancing coopers and a joust (the Bavarian knight always wins). My 3.5 year old was captivated.
Germany’s public pools complexes are huge. Admission is a few dollars, lockers are available and facilities are modern and clean. The outdoor Prinzregentenbad has a stone wading area with sprinklers and a playground for small children, slides and whirlpools for bigger kids and a lap pool. Bring lunch or buy it there and picnic on the large lawn. Naturbad Maria Einsiedel is a similar complex near the zoo. The bracing Isar River feeds one of its pools.
Try the Cosimawellenbad on bad-weather days. Kids come running when they periodically turn on a wave machine in the main pool. Pre-swimmers have a wading pool with a slide. Grown-ups have an indoor/outdoor heated pool with spa jets and whirlpools.
Englischer Garten, Europe’s largest city park, offers playgrounds, beer gardens, an antique carousel and rambling wilderness. Pass by the entrance on Prinzregenten Strasse, near the Haus der Kunst (art museum) to watch wetsuit-clad locals surfing in the aptly named Eisbach River.
Future engineering majors will love every inch of the Deutsches Museum, a science and technology museum. Take those under 8 downstairs to the Kinderreich (kids’ kingdom), where they can play a giant guitar from the inside, run on a large hamster wheel and clamber around a fire truck.
Driving in Germany is easy so get out and explore the Bavarian Alps. An hour south of Munich you can take cog train ride up Mount Wendelstein, which offers a romantic mountaintop chapel, an explorable, well-lit cave and a beer garden with the best views ever. Drive 20 minutes south to Oberaudorf for more active fun. Take a ski lift to the top of a smaller peak, then hike, pet farm animals, visit the playgrounds and beer gardens perched on the side of the hill and try navigating a rope course through the treetops. Kids as small as three can ride the Alpine slide (Sommerrodelbahn) back down. If they still have energy left pop them on the trampolines at the bottom.
Spend a night or two around Garmisch-Partenkirchen, home to the 1936 winter Olympics. Take a cog train to get to the top of the towering Zugspitze with kids who can handle serious hiking. Ride a gondola up one of the “lesser” peaks to picnic and ramble with little ones.
Walt Disney couldn’t conjure up a Bavarian town quainter than Mittenwald—20 minutes south—where frescoed half-timber buildings are dwarfed by the mountains behind them. Walt actually took inspiration from Schloss Neuschwanstein, the fairy tale castle “mad” King Ludwig built an hour west of Garmisch. You can only see the inside by guided tours that move briskly; they’re not exceptionally kid-friendly. But my preschooler was still impressed by all the fancy details, especially the murals depicting Wagnerian sagas on just about every wall.
Where to Stay
If your budget allows, try the posh Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski München, which offers roomy suites, an indoor pool and an ideal location. Modern, comfortable rooms with kitchens make the centrally located Maximilian Munich a somewhat more budget-friendly family option. The Novotel München City is across the river but easy walking distance from the city center. It offers soundproof rooms, an indoor pool and breakfast. Get around using the nearby S-bahn or rent the hotel’s bikes.
Where to Eat
At the outdoor Viktualien Market, you can buy ready-made sausages and sandwiches from prepared-food stalls or put an impromptu picnic together with cold cuts, seafood, cheese, bread and fruit from local purveyors. Reward kids who finish their lunch with neon-colored Turkish delight sold by the piece.
The Chinesischer Turm is Munich’s most famous beer garden. The cafeteria style café is budget friendly; kids will love the roast chicken and sausages. Made-to-order Palacinken (pancakes) are a sweet treat and the kids can watch while they’re made.
For indoor dining try the cozy Glöckl Am Dom, known for tiny bratwurst served with fresh horseradish, and Schneider Weisse, which serves up weisswurst with pretzels and weisse beer, a local specialty.
Germans love their sweets and take time out for coffee and cake most afternoons. There are plenty of places around the Marienplatz to indulge in the marzipan-laden and seasonal fruit-topped cakes Munchners favor. Try Café Rischart or Backerei Segl. With kids old enough to appreciate a pinkies-up afternoon tea head to DallMayr’s famous fancy food store and upstairs cafe.
Eileen Gunn, is the editor of the family travel website FamiliesGo! She’s already looking forward to her next family trip to Germany.