If you thought Munich was only for Oktoberfest, think again. Go during the summer months, and it makes a great city break for all the family - with maybe just the odd litre of lager along the way...
Munich: famous for its history and even more famous for its beer. Every year, in late September, party-goers from all parts of the globe descend on the old city, determined to drink it dry at the Oktoberfest. Every year they fail.
From May through till August, though, Munich is an ideal destination for a family city break. I visited in late July with my wife and our 10-year-old daughter. A sultry, sunny Friday evening found us in the Hirschgarten, Germany's biggest beer garden. I was happy, as I was entitled to be. I had claimed and washed out my litre-size beer mug, which was to be mine for the evening, and had it filled straight from the barrel with some of the world's finest lager. There must have been 4,000 people enjoying the delights of the Hirschgarten, but finding a table was easy. It has a capacity of 8,000. My wife relaxed with a slightly more ladylike-sized glass, while our daughter engrossed herself in the delights of the adjoining petting zoo, stroking roe deer through the fence. That's right, the Bambi kind. Altogether now: ah!
Like most 10-year-olds, ours is a notoriously fussy eater, but the Hirschgarten, like all Bavarian beer gardens, is guaranteed to please. Every kind of sausage you can imagine and many more you can't, schnitzel and perfectly fried chips with mayonnaise... what's not to like?
The Hirschgarten is close to the Nymphenburg Palace, a short hop from the city centre; take the S-Bahn to Laim or catch the 16 or 17 tram. Munich is perfect for strolling and using the excellent public transport. Fares are low, even more so for families than for single travellers.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Munich City Centre Hotel on Hochstrasse, just across the river from the Old Town and 35 minutes from the airport on the S-Bahn (line 8 to Rosenheimer Platz; the station is located directly beneath the hotel). Principally a business hotel during the week, it offers some spectacularly good deals at weekends, although the rates climb sharply if you decide to add on a Thursday or a Monday. Look for a family room. The buffet breakfast is optional and lavish, and could be a good idea if you feel the need to set yourself up for another hard day's quaffing. Where the Holiday Inn scores heavily with the family visitor is by being one of the few hotels near the city centre to boast a full-size indoor swimming pool. We had it to ourselves on a Saturday morning, which pleased our daughter no end, and allowed me to burn off a few excess calories.
The majority of Munich's tourist attractions can be found in the Old Town (Altstadt), adjacent to Marienplatz. From the Holiday Inn, it's a short walk across the Isar river bridge or two stops on the S-Bahn from Rosenheimer Platz. We climbed the steps to the top of the 85-metre-high Rathaus (town hall) for wonderful views of the city, and then descended to take photographs of the gothic exterior, complete with giant glockenspiel. We then explored the 16th-century cathedral, the St Peterskirche (parish church of the current Pope), before moving on to examine the bewildering array of foodstuffs on sale at the Viktualienmarkt.
So much activity left me wanting and deserving another beer. Should we return to the Hirschgarten, or should we adjourn to the nearby Hofbrauhaus, the most celebrated bierkeller in all of Munich? Or should we leave both for another time and stroll through the Englischer Garten to the beer garden at the Chinese Tower, to listen to the oompah band and drink some more alfresco lager? A tough choice to make - so we ended up doing all three. Munich's that sort of place. Give it a try: it's a perfect family break.
Getting there and getting around
Several airlines fly daily from the UK to Munich International Airport. The best deals are likely to be found on Aer Lingus and EasyJet.
We got around on the splendidly integrated public transport system, the S-Bahn, U-Bahn and trams. Taxis are plentiful but hardly necessary. Two S-Bahn lines serve the city centre from the airport: the S-1 approaches from the west, and the S-8, which is more direct, from the east. Trains depart every 10 minutes, to the second. Ticket machines are multilingual and very easy to understand. If you are travelling as a group, you should always buy a partner ticket. If you are visiting for the weekend and are unlikely to stray far from the central area, your best bet is to buy single partner tickets to and from the airport, and then buy a three-day partner ticket. This gives unlimited travel for up to five people for €21.