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Munich: In Three Days

Start: U-Bahn to Marienplatz.

After breakfast, launch your day by heading for the center of town opening onto:

1. Marienplatz

This is the most historic and most scenic square of Altstadt (the old town). As you stand here, you'll be in the heart of Munich. Since many of the attractions are nearby, you'll cross this square -- perhaps -- several times. Try to come back at 11am to watch the greatest show in town, the 43-bell Glockenspiel (carillon) on the 8.5m (28-ft.) central spire of the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall). Brightly painted mechanical figures re-enact famous events in the city's history. This is the fourth largest carillon in Europe. You can climb the steps of the Town Hall (or else take an elevator) for one of the most panoramic views of Munich. This is good for orientation purposes. The Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall), with a plain Gothic tower, stands to the right of the New Town Hall.

Before you hit the major museums, take a stroll along or by some of the major attractions of the Altstadt, including:

2. Peterskirche

The oldest church in Munich stands at Rindermarkt. The church can be viewed immediately south of the Neues Rathaus. Its bell tower -- known locally as Alter Peter -- "Old Peter" -- towers over this 13th-century Gothic church. But since you've already seen a panoramic view, you may resist climbing its 306 steps for another vista.

In the rear of the church, you come to:

3. Viktualienmarkt

Our favorite place in Munich to get the makings of a picnic, this open-air market with dozens of stalls is called "the stomach of Munich." To the north of the square stands Heiliggesistkirche or the Church of the Holy Ghost, a late Gothic hall -- type church with much later baroque ornamentations. A local told us that the Viktualienmarkt is not just a place to come for cheese, wine, and sausages, but "one can unlock the heart of the Mɒnchner by visiting it," if you can understand what he meant.

Again, delaying your visit to the museums, cut north from the market, heading along Dienerstrasse until you come to Residenzstrasse. Cut east along:

4. Maximilianstrasse

Just so you don't get the idea that Munich is all "quaintery," walk along its most fashionable street, lined with boutiques and houses of fashion. It is the Fifth Avenue of Munich, its Champs-Elysȳes, but different from both of those streets. Certainly it is one of the great shopping streets of Europe. Maximilianstrasse also has some of the leading art galleries of Europe. We could spend a day just visiting them to see avant-garde German art, but time is rushing by -- and there's still much to see.

The great museum of Munich is the:

5. Alte Pinakothek

It really takes 4 hours to see this museum -- one of Europe's greatest art galleries -- in any depth, but you can do it in an hour and a half by concentrating only on its masterpieces. The collections were started by the ruling Wittelsbachs at the beginning of the 16th century, and they have grown over the centuries with frequent bequests. Albrecht Dɒrer is remarkably represented, as are the "Three Rs" -- Rembrandt, Rubens, and Raphael -- plus a host of other old European masters, including one of our favorites, Pieter Brueghel. Promise yourself a more detailed visit on your next trip to Munich.

Time for a lunch break.

After lunch, head for the:

6. Deutsches Museum

On an island in the Isar River, but still in the heart of Munich, this is the German Museum of Masterpieces of Science and Technology. When you see all these vehicles, locomotives, aircraft, and machinery, you'll wish that you'd pursued that career as an engineer. This museum takes up 5.3 hectares (13 acres) and is the largest of its kind in the world, with at least 16,000 artifacts on display. Instead of a day spent, you'll have to settle for a 2-hour preview to keep up with our schedule.

To cap the afternoon, head for the:

7. Englischer Garten

If it's summer, hopefully you won't be offended by a little nudity. Japanese tourists certainly aren't. You'll see them all over the park snapping pictures of Mɒnchners letting it all hang out. Nudity aside, the real reason to come here is to enjoy one of the largest and most beautiful parks in the country. With its lakes and pavilions, including a Chinese pagoda, this is an ideal place to take a respite from all that rushed sightseeing. There are also beer gardens here if you'd like to get an early start on the suds.

After you return to your hotel, set out for your wildest and most rollicking evening in Munich by heading for the fabled:

8. HofbrȨuhaus am Platzl

No beer garden in all the world is as well known as this sprawling, state-owned brewery, holding 4,500 beer drinkers. Oktoberfest is all-year-round here. How are you at downing a liter in a blue-glazed mug in 3 minutes? Mɒnchners do it all the time. The air is overheated, and the smell of sausages, stale tobacco, and beer permeates this massive building constructed at the end of the 19th century. The largest banquet hall you will likely ever see is on the second floor. In case you care, that monster Adolf Hitler used to hang out here. The pounding oompah band and the singing and shouting drinkers contribute to the retro Bavarian atmosphere.

Day 2

Start: U-Bahn Rotkreuzplatz.

9. Schloss Nymphenburg

Begun in 1664, the summer palace of the ruling dynasty, the Wittelsbachs, is one of the most beautiful palaces in Europe. The kings of Bavaria always came here for their fair-weather romps, as when Ludwig I chased the famous courtesan, Lola Montez, through the gardens. You can wander at leisure through the spectacular interiors of the palace, pausing in the Great Gallery of Beauties which displays the king's pick of the most beautiful women of yesteryear. If glass coronation coaches are your thing, visit the Marstallmuseum, followed by a leisurely walk through Nymphenburg's park. With your limited time, you can't explore all 200 hectares (494 acres). Allow about 20 minutes to visit Amalienburg, the rococo hunting lodge by Franȱois Cuvilliȳs. Princess Maria Amalia hunted game from the roof, as palace guards drove the poor animals through the yard while she shot them in the head.

After all this, it's time out for lunch.

After lunching at the restaurant of your choice, you can take the U-Bahn to Lethel for a visit to:

10. Bayerisches Nationalmuseum

This gigantic monster sprawls across three floors and covers the history of Bavarian culture, mainly from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. From Christmas nativity cribs to Renaissance jewelry, there is much here to amuse and delight. The medieval and Renaissance woodcarving, especially from Tilman Riemenschneider, is worth the trip here. Allow at least an hour to cover some of the highlights.

After a visit to this museum, take the U-Bahn to Odeonsplatz for a visit to:

11. Pinakothek der Moderne

On the most beautiful square in Munich, this complex is a virtual museum quarter. But for those rushed for time, as we are, one gallery, the Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst (Gallery of Modern Art), is the gem. In an avant-garde glass-and-concrete building, the museum is the largest in Germany -- and one of the biggest in Europe -- in its collections of modern art. You expect to meet Matisse and Picasso, but there are so many other masters, enough to dazzle the eye for a mile: Kandinsky, Kirchner (our favorite), Max Ernst, Giacometti, de Kooning, Francis Bacon, and even Andy Warhol. We'd compare this museum favorably to London's Tate Gallery or Paris's Pompidou.

After a rest at your hotel, you might consider an evening at:

12. Kulturzentrum Gasteig

On the bluffs of the Isar River, this is one of the greatest performance halls in Germany, with five different theaters, including the Philharmonic Hall. Chances are that at the time of your visit, a cultural presentation will be featured according to your liking. It's a great way to spend an evening. Of course, there are always the beer gardens if you're so inclined.

Day 3

Having sampled the charms of Munich in just 2 days, make your third and final day a little different by skipping out of town and heading south into Bavaria to see Mad Ludwig's two imposing castles. It doesn't take long to visit either Neuschwanstein or Hohenschwangau, but you'll need to allow plenty of time for reaching the castles of "The Fairy Tale King," plus long waits to gain entrance in summer. Neuschwanstein is the single most visited and popular attraction in all of Germany. Plan on a luncheon stopover in the little town of Hohenschwangau.

13. Neuschwanstein

If you have time for only one castle in all of Germany, make it Neuschwanstein, which you can see in the morning, saving Hohenschwangau for the afternoon. Neuschwanstein is like a fantasy castle created by Disney except it's real, complete with battlements, gables, lookouts, spiral stairways, towers, and gates, even courtyards. You're taken on a guided tour, lasting 35 minutes. Keep your eyes wide and your mouth agape. If you have time before lunch after your view of the castle, you can wander through the surrounding forests, enjoying the panoramas. Only those with stamina and lots of time can climb the mountain in 2 hours for the photo op of two lifetimes.

14. Hohenschwangau

To the sounds of a Wagner opera, loony King Ludwig II designed the fairytale kingdom of Neuschwanstein, his romantic masterpiece. But he actually grew up at Hohenschwangau down below. In a heavy Romanesque style, the castle dates from the 12th century, when it was the headquarters of the Kings of Schwangau. But Hohenschwangau in its present format was constructed between 1832 and 1836 by Ludwig's father, who transformed it into an elegant palace.

After visiting both castles, you'll still have time to make it back to Munich for the night.

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