Old Town Walking Tour, Munich

Old Town Walking Tour (Self Guided), Munich

The Old Town of Munich, sprawling on the west bank of the River Isar, is a treasure trove of architectural splendor and cultural heritage. Also known in German as Altstadt, this medieval area forms the historic core and cultural heart of the Bavarian capital. The entire Old Town is listed as a historical monument and is a living museum – “where the past harmonizes with the present in a grand composition.”

The Old Town is centered around Marienplatz (Mary's Square), which has been the city's main square since the 12th century. Among the surrounding buildings, the most prominent, perhaps, is the Neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) with its iconic Glockenspiel (carillon). The square is usually abuzz with crowds anxious to see the Glockenspiel's performance, which occurs several times a day, featuring life-size figurines reenacting scenes from Munich's history.

Just south of Marienplatz lies Viktualienmarkt (Farmer's Market), a bustling open-air food market with a beer garden. There you can find a delightful array of fresh produce, regional specialties, and international delicacies – a good place to explore and enjoy a variety of culinary delights.

The Frauenkirche, or the Cathedral of Our Blessed Lady, is another notable landmark in Old Town Munich. With its distinctive twin towers, this is one of the city's most recognizable symbols.

Old Town Munich is also home to numerous other churches like St Peter's Church (Peterskirche), the oldest church in the city, and a small Baroque-style gem – the Asam Church (Asamkirche) – renowned for its richly decorated interior.

Wandering amid the Altstadt's charming narrow alleys and grand squares is like taking a stroll through a tapestry of time, woven with threads of tradition, beauty, and Bavarian charm. To capture the allure of Munich's Old Town and the unique atmosphere it exudes, take this self-guided walk.
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Old Town Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Old Town Walking Tour
Guide Location: Germany » Munich (See other walking tours in Munich)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Marienplatz (Mary's Square)
  • Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall)
  • Spielzeugmuseum (Toy Museum)
  • Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall)
  • Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church)
  • Viktualienmarkt (Farmer's Market)
  • Munchner Stadtmuseum (City Museum of Munich)
  • Asam Church
  • Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady)
  • Kaufingerstrasse/Neuhauserstrasse
  • Karlsplatz
Marienplatz (Mary's Square)

1) Marienplatz (Mary's Square) (must see)

Mary's Square is the central square in the heart of Munich, and has been the city's main square since 12th century. Its origins can be traced back to 1158 when it was established by Henry the Lion, Duke of Bavaria, as a market place for the city. Known for its stunning architectural monuments and vibrant atmosphere, Mary's Square is both a historical site and a lively urban hub that reflects the spirit of Munich.

The square is named after the Marian column erected in its center in 1638 to celebrate the end of Swedish occupation during the Thirty Years' War. Atop the column is a golden statue of the Virgin Mary, which has become one of the defining symbols of the city.

Mary's Square is surrounded by significant architectural landmarks. On the east side, the New Town Hall stands as a striking example of neo-Gothic architecture. With its intricate facade and the iconic Glockenspiel, a beautiful carillon that chimes and reenacts two stories from the 16th century daily, the New Town Hall is a focal point of the square.

On the opposite side of the square, you'll find the Old Town Hall in a striking contrast of styles, showcasing late Gothic architecture. This building now hosts a toy museum, adding to the cultural richness of the area.

Mary's Square is not just a place for admiring historical architecture. It also hosts various markets and events throughout the year. The most notable of these is the Munich's traditional Christmas market, which transforms the square into a festive wonderland.

In addition to taking in history and admiring architecture, Mary's Square is also an excellent place for enjoying a pleasant stroll or a meal at one of the many nearby restaurants and cafes. Mary's Square offers a uniquely Bavarian experience that any visitor to the city should not miss.
Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall)

2) Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) (must see)

The New Town Hall in Munich was constructed during the 19th century when the city was experiencing significant growth and prosperity. The existing Old Town Hall was too small to accommodate the needs of the local government, necessitating the construction of a new hall.

The chosen location for the New Town Hall was nearby, but it required the demolition of twelve buildings to clear the space. The construction of the hall took place between 1867 and 1908 and was designed by a young architect named Georg Hauberrisser, who was only 24 years old at the time.

The building showcases a Gothic Revival architectural style and boasts an impressive 400 rooms, covering an area of more than 9,000 square meters. Positioned overlooking Marienplatz, it also features a small garden at the rear, known as the Marienhof. In the basement, there's the Ratskeller restaurant. The first-floor balcony often opens for visitors to watch events in Marienplatz. The 85-meter-tall main tower has elevators for access.

One of the main attractions of the New Town Hall is the mechanical Glockenspiel, a two-level carillon consisting of 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures, dating back to 1908. It performs a chiming and re-enacts two stories from the 16th century daily at 11am, 12pm, and 5pm during the summer months. The first story tells of Duke Wilhelm V marrying Renata of Lorraine, with a joust between life-sized knights on horseback, one representing Bavaria (white and blue) and the other Lothringen (red and white), with the Bavarian knight winning.

The second story, known as the Schäfflertanz (the coopers' dance), is set in 1517 during a plague outbreak in Munich. Legend has it that coopers, loyal to the duke, danced through the streets to inspire courage during tough times. This dance now represents resilience. It's performed in Munich every seven years during Fasching (German Carnival). Surprisingly, the official dance moves were defined in 1871, despite being described as an ancient tradition since 1700.

The entire Glockenspiel performance lasts between 12 and 15 minutes, depending on the selected tune for the day. As a concluding touch, a small golden rooster at the top of the Glockenspiel quietly chirps three times, marking the end of this captivating spectacle.
Spielzeugmuseum (Toy Museum)

3) Spielzeugmuseum (Toy Museum)

The Toy Museum of Munich, occupying the Old Town Hall tower, is unique in a sense that it showcases dolls and toys practically from all over the globe. In essence, this museum houses the collection of the Czech writer, cartoonist and film maker, Ivan Steiger, and his wife Eva who opened it to the public in 1983.

Mechanical toys are displayed here in such a manner that the visitors can see the intricate mechanism that went into their creation. A spiral stone staircase leads through the exhibition arranged in accordance to the dolls types, spread across four floors.

Among the exhibits here are the earliest teddy bears made by renowned doll maker, Margaret Steiff, and the pretty china doll creations of yet another well-known doll maker, Käthe Kruse. Most of the dolls are second-hand and were once precious belongings of a child at some point in the past. With the help of X rays, visitors can view of the inside of the dolls, too, to understand how this or that particular item was put together.

Part of the display is devoted to mechanical cars, trains and merry go rounds. A notable sample among these is the antique French laufpuppe, dating back to 1855. One can view the complex mechanism that enables it to move the arms and legs, and even talk. The Toy Museum also boasts an impressive collection of each and every outfit ever made to clothe Barbies, starting from day one of this iconic doll.
Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall)

4) Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall)

Before the construction of the Neues Rathaus in 1874, the Altes Rathaus, also known as the Old Town Hall, used to serve as the seat of the Munich Municipality. It's situated on the eastern side of Marienplatz and has a unique history. Unlike many other buildings that were demolished to make way for the Neues Rathaus, the Old Town Hall was left untouched.

The construction of the Old Town Hall took place between 1470 and 1480, and its design was created by Jörg von Halsbach, a renowned architect responsible for the Frauenkirche in Munich as well. Initially, the building exhibited Late Gothic architectural features, but it underwent several remodeling phases, ultimately adopting a Neo-Gothic style between 1861 and 1864. To accommodate traffic flow, two tunnels were constructed through the building from 1877 to 1934.

During World War II, the Rathaus endured significant damage from bombings, but extensive restoration work was carried out, aiming to restore its 15th-century design.

Today, the Old Town Hall serves as the location for city council offices, certain administrative departments, and even houses a Toy Museum (Spielzeugmuseum) situated in four rooms within its tower. Additionally, visitors can explore a souvenir and gift shop on the first floor, where they can find unique items such as replicas of The Morris Dancers, which are wooden sculptures created by Munich's Erasmus Grasser.

***Third Reich Walk***
This stately complex in the heart of Munich played a key role in the Nazi’s seizure of power. It is here that Joseph Goebbels gave his infamous speech that inspired Kristallnacht, or “the night of broken glass,” on November 9, 1938, a nationwide pogrom that led to the destruction of numerous Jewish businesses and arrest of thousands of Jewish citizens. Kristallnacht is generally considered to be the start of the “Ultimate Solution of the Jewish Question”, i.e. the Holocaust.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the finest historical buildings to see in Marienplatz. Just as the neighboring New Town Hall, it is open to climb upstairs to the top. Inside, the ground floor is just as gorgeous, exactly as one would expect a typical German building to look like.

In addition to the Toy Museum, the Altes Rathaus offers yet another bit of fun in the form of the Juliet Capulet Statue, located on the side of the building, a gift from the city of Verona to Munich in the 1970s.
Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church)

5) Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church) (must see)

The church known as Peterskirche, affectionately referred to as "Old Pete" by Munich residents, is a historic site believed to be central to the city's development. It traces back to the 12th century and stands on the grounds of a former 8th-century monastery and an even older church from before the Merovingian era.

The name "Munich" is derived from the monks who inhabited the original monastery, with "Munchen" echoing the German term for monk, "Monch." The location, once named "Petersberg" or Peter's Hill, saw its first Bavarian Romanesque church in 1180, which was destroyed by fire in 1327. The current structure of the church dates to 1368, with a steeple and Baroque choir installed in the 1600s. It underwent significant repairs after WWII to revive its pre-damage state.

Inside, Peterskirche houses a 15th-century sculpture by Erasmus Grasser and artwork by Johann Baptist Zimmerman. It's also home to the ornate remains of Saint Mundita, embellished with jewels. The church's steeple offers an observation deck, accessible by climbing 306 steps, which provides expansive views of Munich and the distant Alps on clear days. The visibility from the steeple is indicated by color-coded circles on the lower platform, with a white circle suggesting good conditions for viewing the Alps.

It's worth to pay a few euros to climb to the tower's top for a 360° view of Munich. The climb is not easy and definitely not for those with fear of heights – only for the adventurous lot!
If you come before noon, you can get a brilliant view of the Glockenspiel clock in action at Marienplatz without having to jostle with tourists down there.
The are two viewing binoculars allowing to soak up the atmosphere (colored rooftops, etc.).
Note: it might get windy and cold up there.
Viktualienmarkt (Farmer's Market)

6) Viktualienmarkt (Farmer's Market) (must see)

Farmer's Market is a bustling open-air marketplace in the heart of Munich. A beloved institution for both locals and tourists, this vibrant market offers a colorful array of fresh food, traditional Bavarian specialties, and artisanal products.

Established in 1807 by King Maximilian I, it began as a simple farmers' market in Mary's Square, the city's main square. As Munich grew, so too did the market, eventually requiring more space and relocating to its current location.

Spread across an area of 22,000 square meters, the market is home to more than 140 stalls and shops. Visitors can find a vast selection of items ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, meat, baked goods, and spices to exotic ingredients, gourmet foods, and homemade crafts. Traditional Bavarian delicacies, such as pretzels, sausages, and local cheeses, are also readily available, providing an authentic taste of regional cuisine.

Beyond its food offerings, Farmer's Market is also known for its beer garden, one of Munich's most popular. Amidst the market's hustle and bustle, the beer garden provides a delightful spot for people to unwind and enjoy local beers under the shade of chestnut trees.

Farmer's Market isn't just a marketplace; it's a vital part of Munich's cultural fabric. It hosts a variety of traditional events, including dance and music performances, seasonal festivals, and a colorful Mardi Gras celebration.
Munchner Stadtmuseum (City Museum of Munich)

7) Munchner Stadtmuseum (City Museum of Munich)

The Munich City Museum, known as the "Münchner Stadtmuseum," was established in 1888 by Ernst von Destouches. It is housed in a substantial complex spanning 2400 square meters, which includes the former municipal arsenal built in 1500 and the adjacent stables, reconstructed after World War II and originally from the late Gothic era. The museum covers Munich's history from Schwabing Bohème to the present, including the 1972 Olympics.

One of the permanent exhibitions, titled "Typically Munich!," showcases around 400 objects dedicated to the popular arts and traditions of the region, addressing questions like what characterizes Munich, when these characteristics emerged, and most importantly, why.

Within the Culture History section, among the numerous artworks, you'll encounter the renowned Gothic Morris dancers crafted by Erasmus Grasser for the festival hall of the Old Town Hall, as well as the original puttos from Mary's Column. A standout highlight here is a wooden model depicting Munich as it appeared in 1572.

The Fotomuseum, established in 1963, displays a collection of contemporary photographs exceeding 500,000 in number, contributed by various artists such as Katharina Gaenssler and Franz Wanner. The Music collection boasts an extensive array of over 2,000 musical instruments from Africa, America, Asia, and Europe.

Additionally, the museum houses a Puppet Theatre collection and one dedicated to National Socialism in Munich, recounting the city's history as the former capital of the Nazi Movement, known as the "Hauptstadt der Bewegung."

The on-site Museum of Film, with its extensive archive, hosts weekly screenings and is renowned for its restoration work on old movies, including works by Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, Georg Wilhelm Pabst, and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau.
Asam Church

8) Asam Church (must see)

The official designation of this edifice, commonly referred to as the Asam Church, is the Saint Johann Nepomuk Church. Despite its relatively modest size, this religious structure is renowned for boasting the most opulent interior decor among all the religious sites in Munich.

Constructed during the years 1733 to 1746 by the siblings Cosmas Damian and Egid Quirin Asam, from whom it derives its name, this church was consecrated in honor of Johann Nepomuk, a Bohemian monk esteemed as a martyr for refusing to disclose the confessions of the Queen and subsequently being drowned in the Danube on the orders of King Wenceslaus. Originally intended as a private place of worship for the Asam family, it eventually became accessible to the public.

The Asam Church stands as a superb specimen of late German Baroque architectural style. It accommodates a small family congregation with twelve rows of pews. The interiors are adorned with frescoes crafted by Cosmas Damian Asam, with a particularly lavish depiction of the drowning of Saint Nepomuk gracing the ceiling. The high altar features four intricately twisted columns and houses a glass shrine containing a wax figure of the saint. Additionally, an exquisite sculpture portraying God the Father leaning over the crucified Christ adorns the cornice. The present-day interior ornamentation is the result of meticulous restoration work carried out between 1975 and 1982.

Why You Should Visit:
Gaudy and Baroque in a very unique way you don't get to see very often. What it lacks in size, it surely makes up for in decoration: fresco, marble, stucco and acres of gilding compete for attention. Such heavy decoration may be not to everyone's taste, but is hard not to marvel at.

As with everything, try going early in the morning to avoid crowds blocking your photos (avoid mass times).
It's best to try to visit on a sunny day, so that the gold and other bling have more of a chance to shine.
Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady)

9) Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) (must see)

The Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) serves as the residence of the Archbishop of Munich and Freising. Its iconic twin towers are prominent features of the city and offer breathtaking panoramic views of Munich and the nearby Alps.

This church stands on the grounds where an earlier 12th-century Marian Chapel once stood. In 1468, Prince Sigismund of Bavaria commissioned the construction of a larger temple dedicated to the Virgin Mary, replacing the original chapel. The resulting structure, characterized by its modest yet elegant red brick Gothic design, was the work of architects Jörg von Halspach and Lukas Rottaler. It was completed and consecrated in 1494, and its distinctive twin towers with onion-shaped domes were added in 1525. During World War II, the Frauenkirche suffered significant damage due to bombings, resulting in the collapse of its roof and heavy destruction of the north tower. Following painstaking restoration efforts after the war, the Frauenkirche once again became a popular place of worship in the city.

The remarkable Gothic architecture of the Frauenkirche is marked by its simplicity and dignity, with minimal decorative elements. The nave and chancel are supported by two unadorned octagonal pillars, and the windows are cleverly concealed behind columns, giving the impression of a single window above the chancel. Among the valuable treasures that survived the bombings of WWII are the painting known as "The Protecting Cloak" by Jan Polack and the cenotaph of the Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV, created by Hans Krumpper.

As this is the city's mother church, no photos are encouraged in consideration of those who come to pray here regularly.
In the nave of the church, there's the Devil's Footprint or Teufelstritt. If you step in it, you're likely to be engulfed in flames that will hollow your skull and cause your head to shrink, a la Herman Dietrich in "Raiders of the Lost Ark".
Visiting the church is kostenlos (free), but be prepared to pay a small fee if you want to take the lift up the south tower, instead of hoofing it.

10) Kaufingerstrasse/Neuhauserstrasse (must see)

Adjacent to Marienplatz in Munich's western region lies one of the city's most ancient streets, known as Kaufingerstraße. Remarkably, it bears the distinction of being the oldest street name in Munich, likely named after Chunradius Choufringer, a prominent resident who owned an impressive residence in the vicinity. This historical street's earliest reference can be traced back to a document dated May 28, 1239.

Kaufingerstraße plays a pivotal role in the overarching west-east axis of Munich's Old Town. As it progresses, it seamlessly transitions into Neuhauser Straße, forming a vast thoroughfare. The latter holds the distinction of being Munich's premier pedestrian zone, a development that took shape in 1972. Remarkably, it stands as the highest-grossing shopping street in all of Germany.

The roots of Neuhauser Straße date back to at least 1293, as evidenced by the earliest documented mention. However, it underwent a name change from 1815 to 1828 when it was briefly known as Karlstraße before adopting the name Neuhausergasse. In 1972, the street underwent a transformation, shifting from a major traffic artery with tram rails to a pedestrian zone. This change was prompted by the anticipation of a substantial increase in traffic due to the 1972 Summer Olympic Games. The name "Neuhauser" is derived from the former village and the modern-day Neuhausen district, where the road leads out of the city.

The events of the Second World War inflicted significant damage upon the fabric of Kaufingerstraße. However, during the 1990s and subsequent years, the 1950s and 1960s structures were replaced with postmodern architectural designs.

Today, Kaufingerstraße and Neuhauser Straße boast a diverse array of shops and dining establishments. Leading international retailers like Zara, H&M, C&A, Mango, Karstadt, Kaufhof, and Zero have established a presence here, coexisting with numerous street vendors offering flowers, fruits, vegetables, roasted nuts, and souvenirs. The area's charm is further enriched by numerous outdoor cafes, providing a comfortable respite for shoppers to relax, enjoy a drink or a meal, people-watch, and admire the surrounding architectural splendor.

If you're in the city center but want to shop away from the mainstream stores, consider Sendlinger Straße as a good alternative.

11) Karlsplatz

Karlsplatz, located in close proximity to the 14th-century Karlstor gate, stands as the second-largest square in Munich, trailing only behind Marienplatz. It is widely recognized by the local community as "Stachus."

This square came into existence under the directive of Elector Karl Theodor in 1791. It is believed that the moniker "Stachus" can be traced back to a former pub named "Beim Stachus," which was owned by Mathias Eustachius Föderl and once stood at this location prior to the square's construction. Alternatively, some theories propose that the name may have evolved from the word "Stachel," referring to the arrows used by marksmen who practiced in this area.

As for the Karlstor, an imposing Gothic-style gate, it was once an integral part of a substantial fortification. The architectural design of the Rondell buildings flanking the gate is credited to the renowned architect Gabriel von Seidl.

The primary pedestrian shopping district of Munich spans between Karlplatz and Marienplatz. Among the contemporary attractions at Stachus is a modern fountain, constructed in the 1970s, providing seating for shoppers and visitors to relax during the summer months. In winter, this area around the fountain transforms into an ice skating rink. On the west side of the square, one can find Kaufhof, the very first department store established after World War II. Below ground, there is an extensive shopping center, and Stachus Square serves as a central hub for Munich's tramway system.

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