Munich is Better than Berlin

Munich, Germany ClockAfter being less than thrilled with Berlin, I had low expectations for Munich. I only knew a few things about the city: Oktoberfest is there, Hitler had his beer hall putsch there, and it has a famous (and overrated) clock. Everyone has heard of Munich, but I really knew nothing about it. But I hadn’t been thrilled with Germany thus far and wondered if Munich would disappoint me too.

It didn’t. I loved Munich. Munich was what Berlin wasn’t—it was beautiful and had a city center, great parks, delicious food, and friendlier people. I spent four days in Munich, and I can see why so many people love the city when Oktoberfest isn’t there. I don’t doubt I would enjoy 100,000 drunk people in tents, but all that drinking would take away from the beauty Munich has to offer.

Munich was my time to decompress after many late nights in Berlin. A late booking put me in a hostel that also doubled as a hotel for large groups of prepubescent teens. Large groups of Scottish kids roamed around and were eventually followed by large groups of Spanish kids. I don’t really like kids, so it was a bit annoying trying to do work with kids screaming all around me.

Luckily, across the street was a beer hall. The hotel staff wrote down some Bavarian dishes for me to try, and I ventured across to see what a Bavarian beer hall actually looks like. Let me tell you—it’s nuts! Long tables of people squeezed together with big steins of beer and ridiculously heart-clogging food. Squeezing in between some people, I dug into a really good beer and some dishes that were sure to pack on the pounds. Their names escape me right now, but they were really delicious. I was pleasantly surprised by Bavarian food.

Munich has a lot of beauty in it, and roaming around the city was a nice change from the industrial Berlin. One day, on the way to the Bavarian History Museum, I unknowingly walked past the English Gardens (very beautiful). One of the best things about wandering around is that you never know what you’ll see. In the gardens, I stumbled across some surfers. Now, apparently these guys are quite well known, but I had no idea they existed. It was an amazing thing to see—a bunch of surfers riding the waves of a river as it barreled out from under a bridge. Snow had just fallen in the mountains, melting into the city and making this river quite the sight to see. My iPhone came in handy, and I was able to get this video:

I’m glad I saw them because the Bavarian Museum was a complete waste of time. Luckily, on Sunday, it’s only one euro to enter, so I don’t feel too cheated. There was no story or anything—just a bunch of old relics and artifacts. And while the suits of armor were slightly interesting, for me museums are about learning a place’s story and here there was none. I was out in 15 minutes. I much preferred the Residence. This is the old palace for Bavarian Princes where you also get to see the crown jewels. Not as lavish as Versailles, the palace is very German in that it’s austere, functional, and simple.

The most interesting part of my visit was the rock concert. Originally, I was going to Couchsurf, but it didn’t work out. However, the host and I did meet for a night out on the town. She, her friends, and I went to a big multi-artist concert on Saturday night. I had no idea what the bands were saying (I don’t speak German), but the vibe was great, and trying to speak broken English with the locals was pretty amusing. As was learning bad German words.

Munich was an interesting place to visit. It lacks the industrial, arty feel Berlin has, it’s a bit more cozy, the parks are prettier, and the Bavarian beer hall environment is a lot of fun. Moreover, the food, while hearty, is delicious. Munich is a big stop on the backpacker trail, but even if you’re not on that, take some time out to see Munich.

For more information, visit my page on backpacking Europe or my guide to Germany.

  1. Jan

    that’s only because you have not been to cologne :)
    i think the reason is because of your expectations. i had the same with sidney. did not like it at all. but i loved melbourne so much.

    • NomadicMatt

      I did very high expectations for the city after listening to people talk about it. That very well could be the problem.

  2. We spent a lot of time in both cities since they were easy weekend trips from where we were living and we had friends in both places. You are right – they are very different places and people from each city don’t have the best things to say about the other.

    It is true that Munich does have much more of the “old Europe” and beautiful building feel than Berlin, but we really like the funky, artistic, diverse and forward-looking feel of Berlin and would choose to live there over Munich if had the choice. Berlin is really spread out and lacks a city center, but what’s great is that each neighborhood has a unique feel – you can enter little Turkey in one area or go through artist studios housed in former communist blocks in another or stroll through beautiful tree-lined residential areas in another. Also, the diversity of food in Berlin is fantastic :)

  3. I went through the exact same cycle you did, going from Berlin to Munich in 2003. It’s incredibly dated now, but I had such a shitty time in Berlin that it launched my short but poignant “Don’t Go There” series. I still get hate mail over the Don’t Go to Berlin essay. I understand the city shaped up after the World Cup, but since I’ve never been back, I have no reason to change/update anything.

    • NomadicMatt

      Everyone said “Berlin is wonderful” but I think it is like London- a bit over hyped. Maybe I’ll give it another try someday.

  4. I love Munich! It has such an amazing vibe, and I love the college-type atmosphere. That being said, I really like Berlin, too. A totally different city, but I think it’s fascinating. (but, I love history). And, Jan…I agree about Cologne. That’s a cool German city.

  5. I’ll be in Munich in December for the Christmas Markets – I loved Berlin but wasn’t sure about Munich, but hope it lives up to your recommendation – will look out for those surfers

  6. Allison

    interesting read!
    respectfully, i don’t agree and after a few visits i think the difference between munich and berlin is most keenly felt below the superficial/appearances level.

    munich i’ve been to many times. it is nicer to look at as a pretty planned principality – coloured by its peculiar, italian-style political history – and the energetic vibe of a university town full of young healthy undergraduate bavarians. more research organisations, patents & collaberations occurs in bavaria than any other part of europe. there are many magnificent buildings which survived WWII, and the heart of the old town is quite breathtaking. the preponderance of beer halls and beer gardens is particularly bavarian: if you went to city in bavaria you’d find the same thing. lots of healthy people being very formal and devoting their time to exercising, studying and drinking. theyre not too keen on outsiders but if its what floats your boat then you’ll love all of bavaria: munich is just more concentrated. after doing a couple of courses there i’m just as happy to leave it them to it.

    my feeling when visiting berlin is that it was decimated by the war, and doesn’t have a concentrated heart of the city. so the buildings are less attractive and preserved, and there is no central old town – rather spread out in little communities for miles. what i found more appealing was the sense of massive rebuilding still going on and the obvious multiculturalism and pockets of restaurants devoted to a particular cultural group – like the turkish & russian parts of east berlin. the influx of immigrants from eastern europe and africa add a sense of excitement and being in a really foreign city. my favourite cab driver in berlin was an session musician from england who had come in the 70s and stayed forever. he said the drugs and party scenes and amazing underground music kept him captivated. there is also an electrifying fashion and art scene.
    the vibe is much more cutting edge, we couldn’t walk for a day without stumbling across a show or installation of some sort. may not be to everyone’s taste but couldn’t get enough of it and was upset to leave – it reminds me of shanghai or my hometown, melbourne.

  7. Munich is a fantastic city, but I also liked Berlin.

    Berlin is not as clean, modern or pretty as Munich but it is a very culturally vibrant city. A-train in Berlin is one of the best blues bars I have ever been to.

  8. I didn’t really care too much for Berlin when I was there. It’s a nice place to look at for sure, the architecture is interesting – if you like that sort of thing – but Berlin lacked a warmness that other smaller German cities seem to have.

  9. I love ya NM, but Berlin is a simply gift to the world of travel: a split city made into one that we still get to watch evolve before our travel eyes. And 20 year is just a blip. I always find myself enjoying places amidst change. Munich will be more or less Munich for another 100 years, Paris will be Paris, Phoenix will be Phoenix. But we’re still not sure what Berlin will be. That’s why I need to spend more time there now.

  10. Thanks for the insight! Am going to visit Munich next fall for a few days and am glad to have this straightforward info. on what to see/what to skip. :)

  11. Andy

    I agree about Berlin. I have lived here for over a year now and although you can not generalize about an entire city, I do find it to be an unfriendly city. I have met lots of great people but the needlessly rude people I have run into are without a doubt the rudest, too cool for school people I have ever come across. Get over yourself!

  12. ‘Everyone said “Berlin is wonderful” but I think it is like London- a bit over hyped. Maybe I’ll give it another try someday’

    Really surprised that you think that? Maybe somebody has been on the road a little to long :)

  13. Josh

    I live in Munich (but am American) and here is my opinion: I LOVE living here, but am glad Berlin is a short flight away. I can relate that to me previously living in Boston. New York is great, but again, only a one-hour flight away. New York and Berlin and arts and entertainment hubs of the world, so it’s nice to have them close, but live in a much more beautiful city.

  14. I’ve only been to Munich for a weekend of sightseeing and cuisine exploration and as an expat in Berlin, I have to say it immediately felt warmer (weather and people-wise :P). Still got an year to go here and while it’s a great city, Munich has got something going on that Berlin completely misses. Thanks for the insight.

  15. Jon

    I couldn’t decide between Berlin and Munich and this post helped to swing it for me a little so I visited Munich in November 2013 for 5 days. Obviously I can’t compare the two as I haven’t yet visited Berlin but what I can say for sure is that Munich is a very beautiful place. Not just the city but the surrounding countryside and places are gorgeous. The buildings are wonderful, the streets and parks are so clean and tidy and there is history everywhere. I was given to understand that Munich is a “live and let live” city and I saw evidence of that. I also found it quite surprising that you can walk into almost any building and just have a good old look around and nobody minds (obviously I don’t mean residential buildings)
    The transport system is fantastic and there is so much to see and do that you need more than one visit. I even got on a train into Austria for just over 20 Euros return (200 miles round trip) The food is superb and most people are very friendly and helpful.
    I absolutely love the place and I’m planning to go back next year.

  16. Gregor

    I’ve lived in Munich for two years, and I am glad for it. Berlin is worth a visit (several visits) but I couldn’t see myself living there. So much of Berlin seemed full of people who were there just to be cool for the sake of being cool. It really had a melting pot feel, which can be good, but if you are looking to experience German customs and culture, it is not the place. If, on the other hand, you want to experience hipster customs and culture, then Berlin is the place to be.

  17. Ryan

    Haha – this is familiar. I’m currently in Berlin, and so far not impressed. The museums are cool, but I’m not feeling the rest. Some of it might be the jet lag, but a lot of the food is just ugh – do not want.

    4 more days here, then I’m taking a train to Munich for a few days and a day trip to Fussen. I’m hoping Munich turns out better for me too.

  18. A good 2009-post. Really enjoyed it! But now we have 2015. Berlin has changed in the last couple of years. You really should give it a second chance.
    Berlin does not have the beauty of Munich, which is in Bavaria, Berlin was/is in Prussia – a different kingdom with a different approach to beauty and other things…
    Berlin is like Tokyo in Japan, the New-Berliners are coming from all over the country and the world, not a friendly, cold city. Next time you should meet a couple of Real-Berliners…

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