While there aren’t many bargains in Munich, there are a surprising number of one-of-a-kind activities and sights that are completely free.
Whether you’re a music lover, a car enthusiast or a fan of world-class soccer, gardens, history or architecture, we’ve compiled this list of extremely budget-friendly attractions for your itinerary. These are the best free things to do in Munich.
1. Escape the city’s bustle at Englischer Garten
Sure, most parks are free – though few are like Munich’s Englischer Garten (English Garden), which is bigger than both London’s Hyde Park and Central Park in New York. Find your way to Kleinhesseloher See (a lake) and stretch out on the manicured lawns for sunbathing or a picnic.
Other delightful features of this urban oasis include a Greek-style temple with grand views, and (naturally) several beer gardens. The most famous – and one of Munich’s largest – sprawls around the unmissable Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower), a five-tiered wooden pagoda.
Planning tip: Pay a visit to the Japanisches Teehaus at the right time, and you could enjoy an authentic Japanese tea ceremony. It only happens twice a month between April and October, and you can't prebook.
2. Drool over luxury cars at BMW Welt
If you worship at the altar of the automobile, you’ll want to make a beeline for this “cathedral of cars” near the Olympic Stadium. Sitting right next to the actual BMW plant, BMW Welt is essentially a vast showroom where you can admire the company’s entire current product offering, from sedans to Minis, racing cars to electric vehicles and even Rolls-Royces.
The futuristic building itself is a showstopper, all glass and steel twisted into a double cone and lidded by a roof reminiscent of a floating cloud. Admission to the showroom space is free, though there is a fee to visit the adjacent BMW Museum.
3. Admire the rococo riot of Asamkirche
Of Munich’s many churches, the diminutive Asamkirche is an easily bypassed rococo gem tucked between residential houses on a store- and cafe-lined street in the city center. Richly decorated, the church was the private chapel of the artist brothers Cosmas Damian and Egid Quirin Asam, who lived next door and adorned every inch of wall space themselves with paintings, cherubs, gold leaf and stucco flourishes. The result adds up to an extraordinary whole.
4. Watch the Eisbach surfers from the "shore"
Munich is famous for beer, sausages and...surfing. That’s no typo: at the southern tip of the Englischer Garten at Prinzregentenstrasse, you’ll see scores of people leaning over a bridge to cheer on wetsuit-clad daredevils as they hang 10 on a rolling wave in the fast-flowing Eisbach, a 2km (1.25 mile)-long creek running through the giant park. Rocks, strong currents and the constricted space make surfing here a rather dangerous endeavor – one which, in fact, only became legal in 2010. Visitors are advised to stay on dry land.
Planning tip: Though it may be tempting on hot, sunny days, resist the urge to take a dip in the river. The current is deceptively strong, and it's not safe.
5. Hear – or at least eavesdrop on – live music Olympiapark
A trip out to the Olympiapark, site of the 1972 Summer Olympic Games, is always a lovely excursion, especially so in the warmer months when you can time a spin around the grounds with a free concert. Throughout August and for one weekend in June (Pentecost), the Theatron Festival brings live bands to the amphitheater next to the Olympic Lake, with everything from hip-hop to gospel, pop and punk on the lineup.
Better yet, bring a blanket and a beverage and join the throngs of locals to eavesdrop on the stars from atop the Olympiaberg. The 564m (1850ft) hill just happens to be within earshot of the roofless Olympic Stadium, where acts as big as Beyoncé, Linkin Park and Katy Perry are known to take the stage.
6. Bask in the music and ambiance of Hofbräuhaus
A pilgrimage to Hofbräuhaus, the world’s most famous beer hall, is a must for every visitor to Munich. Even if you don’t feel like downing giant mugs of amber liquid, no one is going to stop you from wandering beneath painted vaulted ceilings in the warren of halls or stopping to listen to the in-house oompah band do its thing.
A dark piece of history to consider as you wander through the merriment: the huge, flag-festooned banquet hall upstairs is where the National Socialist Party held its first large gathering in 1920.
Planning tip: If you fancy taking a little bit of Munich home with you, the Hofbräuhaus has its own gift shop on the ground floor that stocks every beer-related curio you could imagine.
7. Watch champions practice at the FC Bayern München training facility
Tickets to see world-champion soccer players in a home game with their club, FC Bayern München, Germany’s most successful Bundesliga (premier league) team, are not only expensive but almost impossible to snag. Yet for no euros at all, you might still get a chance to see these ball magicians kick, dribble and pass during training sessions that are fully open to the public.
They're held regularly at the team’s headquarters on Säbener Strasse, about 6km (4 miles) south of the city center (a 10-minute walk from Mangfallplatz U-Bahn station). Check FC Bayern München’s website for the schedule before heading out.
8. Get the royal treatment at Nymphenburg Park
Add a touch of royal flair to your Munich sojourn by sweeping through the grand gardens surrounding Schloss Nymphenburg. The free grounds boast various water features, including a canal that turns into an ice-skating rink in freezing winters, as well as several palace outbuildings. Of these, the frilly Amalienburg is the most noteworthy; a small admission fee is charged if you want to see its opulent interior.
9. Savor the sounds of Kulturzentrum Gasteig
Hardly the prettiest building in Munich, the postmodern Gasteig cultural center is nevertheless blessed with superb acoustics, as you’ll discover during free lunchtime and early evening concerts starring the talented students of the Hochschule für Musik und Theater (Academy of Music and Theater). There’s usually at least one recital scheduled every day.
Note that as the campus undergoes a renovation scheduled to last years, all events – including free concerts – are taking place at an alternative site in the neighborhood of Sendling.