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It isn’t even October yet but the year’s biggest beer festival is already underway! For today’s Destination of the Week, to celebrate Oktoberfest we are heading to its birthplace to learn not only the about origins of the world-famous beer-inspired celebration but also to the discover the many charms of Bavaria’s largest city. We’re going to Munich, Germany.
The motto of Germany’s third-largest city is, “München mag dich,” meaning “Munich loves you,” and you can’t get a warmer welcome than that. Located on the River Isar in the Bavarian Alps, Munich originated as a medieval town in 1158 founded by Benedictine monks (the name Munchen actually means “the monks’ place” in Old High German) and has grown into a financial and publishing hub over the centuries.
World War I was especially difficult for Munich’s residents as the Allied blockade led to major fuel and food shortages, and it was later bombed in French air raids. During that time, a young Adolf Hitler lived there and the city was the location of one of his first public rallies in February 1921 to a crowd of 6,000. Munich became a Nazi stronghold when the National Socialists took power in Germany in 1933 and was again heavily damaged by Allied bombing during World War II as the target of 71 air raids in six years. After the end of the war however, Munich was meticulously restored and much of its original street system and historical buildings have been reconstructed.
Of course, besides the history, one of the main reasons people visit the city is the world-famous Oktoberfest. The 2013 Oktoberfest officially runs from September 21 through October 6 and one of the best places to experience it is the Hofbräuhaus am Platzl. Locals have been hosting the 16-day celebration since 1810 to honor the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig.
Visitors now have 14 major tents to choose from, many with distinctive features such as Löwenbrä, which has a 4.5-meter-tall lion at the entrance, or the Armbrustschützen, where marksmen let arrows fly. There’s even a huge Gay Oktoberfest event on the first Sunday of the festival that attracted nearly 10,000 visitors last year.
Not any beer can be poured at Oktoberfest, though. To be served, a beer has to be brewed within the Munich city limits and have a minimum of 13.5% Stammwürze (approximately 6% alcohol by volume). Driving to the Oktoberfest venue is not recommended as parking is notoriously bad, but train lines 51 and 58 run to it if you are going straight from the airport. The U-Bahn and S-Bahn trains both run there from different areas of the city, as do the Metrobus and Streetcar. For full details on the most convenient public transport route, click here. To avoid the risk of drunk drivers during Oktoberfest the MVV subway lines run every 10 minutes until 2 am, and the S-Bahn train network (S1-S8) also offers weekend night service.
The Bier- und Oktoberfest Museum – meaning the Beer and Oktoberfest Museum – is located in one of Munich’s oldest houses that dates back to 1340 and is now home to a permanent exhibit about the city’s favorite beverage. Visitors can enjoy beer tastings, eat a hearty German lunch in the historical kitchen, or take a tour. Museum entrance is 5 EUR ($6.75) or 9 EUR ($12) with beer tasting.
If beer is not your cup of tea, so to speak, then there are plenty of other things to do in Munich. The Bayerische Staatsoper Opera House hosts spectacular operas, ballet, stage plays such as Romeo And Juliet, and classical concerts. Tickets can be expensive and rather hard to obtain, so be sure to plan ahead, and pack your best clothes as opera attire is expected. For the upcoming schedule, click here.
The Marienplatz has been the central square for the city since 1158 and is still the social hub of Munich. The central clock tower features a spectacular Glockenspiele with medieval knights jousting as the townspeople dance them to commemorate the tournaments held in the markets there in the middle ages. Nowadays, the knights are long gone, but visitors flood to the pedestrian area between Karlsplatz and Marienplatz, which is full of shops and restaurants. The Marienplatz S-Bahn and U-Bahn underground trains run service there.
The Frauenkirche – or Church Of Our Lady – is located off the Marianplatz, easy to get to and well worth a visit. Built in 1494 with domes added in 1524, the Gothic-style red brick building is famous for its two towers reaching up to 98.57 meters high. The cathedral can fit 20,000 worshipers and is still used for Catholic Mass. Other visitors come to see the colorful stained-glass windows and collection of artwork from the 14th to 18th century, or take a guided tour around the central church are held at noon and 6 pm Monday through Saturday and cost 3 EUR ($4), or an audio tour costs 2.50 EUR ($3.50).
A more recent addition, Olympiapark was built for the 1972 Olympic Games, which were most notorious for the Munich massacre when 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists and eventually murdered. Visitors can learn about that and the more uplifting victories and inspiring stories from the games, tours include roof climbs and the more adventurous can even bungee jump into the stadium with the Flying Fox. The venue now has ice skating, soccer matches and water sports, as well as hosting concerts and extravagant shows like Cirque du Soleil.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
Munich Airport (MUC) or Franz-Josef-Strauss International Airport is located nearly 18 miles northeast of the city center and is a hub for Lufthansa and Star Alliance partners. It is Germany’s second busiest airport after Frankfurt, handling nearly 40 millions passengers in 2012. The airport has two terminals. Terminal 1 is older and Terminal 2 was built in 2003 and is arranged around a central Plaza. It is easy to get between the two closely located terminals and there are extensive dining and shopping options throughout the airport, as well as WiFi that is free for 30 minutes.
Lufthansa flies direct to Munich from from Los Angeles, New York JKF and San Francisco, as well as major airports all over Europe including Rome, Prague and Milan; airberlin also has flights from Los Angeles and JFK, Delta flies from Atlanta, US Airways from Philadelphia and United from Chicago, Washington Dulles and Newark.
Other airlines that regularly fly to Munich from European hub cities include low-cost airline EasyJet, which offers regular service from London, Air France from Paris, Iberia from Madrid, British Airways also from London, or KLM from Amsterdam.
It is easy to get to the city from the airport by the S-Bahn train, which runs from the suburbs to the two main stations: Hauptbahnhof and Ostbahnhof. There are two local trains – S1 and S8 – that connect the airport to Munich, travel time is about 45 minutes. They run alternately at a 20 minute frequency, so there’s a train to Munich every 10 minutes. A Single Day Ticket costs 11 EUR ($14.80). Once in the city, the U-Bahn underground system runs throughout the main downtown area, and a day ticket also covers travel on that as well as on buses. Although you can rent a car at the airport, Munich has such an efficient MVV public transport system that is it not usually required.
Park Inn by Radisson Munich Frankfurter Ring Hotel: This 81-room hotel is located a bit outside the city center (8km or about 5 miles) in the trendy Schwabing District, known for its dining and nightlife. Guests can enjoy complimentary WiFi in all guest rooms, a free buffet breakfast and parking costs 14 EUR ($19) per day. The only restaurant available is the breakfast lounge, which is only open in the morning. Rates start at 143 EUR ($196) per night mid October. This is a Category 4 hotel requiring 38,000 Club Carlson points for a free night.
Hilton Munich City Hotel: This 480-room hotel is a great place to make your base if you want to explore the city center, as it’s just a 10-minute walk from all the central tourist attractions. It’s also easy to get to the Munich Franz Josef Strauss airport from here, which is about 30 minutes by train. Rooms are decorated in cool tones and include a desk, ergonomic chair, a flatscreen TV and complimentary WiFi, which is throughout the hotel. Parking isn’t cheap, however, at 22 EUR (almost $30) a day. There is also a fitness center and business center and they do accept pets for a 40 EUR ($54) extra charge. Caffe Chino serves light Italian fare for breakfast and lunch and the other restaurant, Lowenschanke, offers a more traditional Bavarian meal or a an ice cold glass of locally brewed weissbier. Room rates start at 199 EUR ($268) per night in mid October. This is a Category 8 and requires 50,000 HHonors points for an award night.
There is also the Hilton Munich Park hotel located a bit further away from the city center as an alternative Hilton option.
Holiday Inn Munich City Centre: This hotel has 582 guest rooms and is centrally located just 10 minutes’ walk from the Marienplatz central square and 45 minutes by S-Bahn from Munich Airport. WiFi is complimentary for Elite IHG Rewards Club members but costs 14.90 EUR ($20) for non-members. Rooms feature a flatscreen TV, work desk and lamp, coffee and tea maker and a stereo. There is an off-site fitness center for a fee of 15 EUR ($20), and an Art Nouveau public swimming pool with sauna and steam is close to the hotel. Dining options are the Grat3 Restaurant, which serves a breakfast buffet in the morning and modern Bavarian food for lunch and dinner, and Hoch³ The Bar for cocktails and beer. Room rates start at 120 EUR ($162) per night in mid October. This is a Category 6 hotel requiring 35,000 points for an award night.
There are a number of other IHG options in area, which are: Holiday Inn Munich, Holiday Inn Munich – South, Holiday Inn Munich-Unterhaching, Holiday Inn Express Munich Messe, Holiday Inn Express Munich Airport.
Munich Marriott Hotel: Located in Schwabing, the 334 rooms and 17 suites at this Marriott all have complimentary WiFi, and pets are also allowed for a fee of 10 EUR ($14) a day, while parking is 24 EUR ($32) per day. Rooms feature a flatscreen TV, Bang & Olufsen sound system, and modern mirrored bathrooms. The beautiful Himaphan spa offers treatments, as well as a sauna, fitness area and indoor pool. There are three restaurants to choose from: Cafe 93 Lounge for international flavors, Steakhouse Grill 93 for the obvious, steak, and the Champions Sports Bar for a more relaxed atmosphere. Room rates start at 119 EUR ($160) in mid October. This is a Category 6 hotel requiring 30, 000 points for an award night.
Le Meridian Munich Hotel: This hotel boasts one of the largest swimming pools in Munich. All 381 rooms are spacious and comfortable, with lots of natural light and complimentary WiFi. The hotel is located in the city center near the train station. The Emotion Spa is quite large, at 750 square meters, including a swimming pool. If running is your thing and you’d like to tour the city as you jog, the hotel has prepared three specific running routes they can share with you. There are three restaurants to dine at, Restaurant Le Potager, Longitude 11 (known for its special lighting effects), and Lounge 31. Room rates start at 251 EUR ($340) per night. This is a Category 5 hotel requiring 12,000 Starpoints for an award night.
Westin Grand Hotel Munich: This is another Starwood property that is located near the city center in the neighborhood of Bogenhausen. It has WiFi but it is only complimentary in the hotel lobby. The 627 rooms feature at 42-inch flatscreen TVs, marble bathrooms and rainshowers. The enormous Arabella Spa contains 3 different types of saunas, a pool and jacuzzi. Although the pool is indoor, they also have an outdoor sunbathing area. There is also a hair salon and a car rental office (Sixt) located within the hotel, as well as a business center and gym. This hotel also has pre-mapped-out running routes. Here you can find four restaurants: Restaurant Zen, Paulaner’s Wirtshaus for traditional Bavarian food, Ducktails Die Bar, and the Caffe Grapperia. Room rates start at 159 EUR ($215) per night in mid October. This is a Category 4 hotel requiring 10,000 Starpoints for an award night.
There are several Sheraton properties in Munich: The 4 Points by Sheraton Munich Central, The 4 Points by Sheraton Munich Olympiapark, Sheraton Munich West Park, The Sheraton Munich Arabellapark Hotel, and The Sheraton Munich Airport Hotel.
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Ink Plus, Ink Bold, Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
Mandarin Oriental Munich: Located directly in the city center, the Mandarin Oriental is a blend of “Oriental and German charm.” There are 73 grand hotel rooms here and during your stay, you also receive complimentary use of the Mercedes-Benz bicycles the hotel offers if you’d like to tour Munich by bike. However, reserve your bike beforehand, as this feature is very popular and often there are none left. Guest rooms are decorated to be tranquil, and feature artwork by artwork by Hong Kong artist Wong Kee Chee, WiFi, flatscreen TVs in the bedroom and bathroom, toiletries by Red Flower and heated floors. The hotel has an incredible rooftop pool with beautiful views of Munich, as well as spa services at the in-house Amour Fou Spa de Beauté. Next to the pool, you can dine at the China Moon Roof Terrace Asian restaurant, or head to one of the other 4 restaurants, Wooden Chalet (traditional Bavarian cuisine), Bistromo, Lobby Lounge and Mandarin Bar, or Restaurant Marks. Room rates start at 525 EUR ($708) per night in mid October.
Sofitel Munich Bayerpost: This is a 5-star hotel that has 396 guest rooms and 57 suites, located right in the city center. WiFi and parking are included at no extra charge, even pets stay free. Rooms feature a 32-inch flatscreen TV, a Nespresso coffee maker, an iPod docking station, and a marble bathroom with rainshower. The hotel also has an indoor heated pool and fitness room, and the SO Spa offers a variety of treatments. The Sofitel has two restaurants, the Delice la Brasserie and Schwarz & Weiz, and one bar called Isarbar. Room rates start at 225 EUR ($303) per night in mid October.
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts
Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here.
Fine Hotels & Resorts is a loyalty program for Amex Platinum cardholders who receive special benefits at participating hotels such as early check-in and late check-out, complimentary breakfast, room upgrades, and other perks.
Bayerischer Hof Hotel: Centrally located in the city center of Munich, this 350-room hotel dates back to 1841 and is a welcoming and unique place to stay, with 5 restaurants. It also has a variety of entertainment options including a jazz club, piano bar and even a 560-seat theater located directly inside the hotel. Rooms are available in six different styles ranging from Cosmopolitan R&B to Laura Ashley, and feature beautiful furnishings, marble bathrooms and large bathtubs. You can also relax at the Blue Spa and pool and tan on the sun terrace, weather permitting of course. Room rates for a single room start at 362 EUR ($487) per night in mid October and include breakfast and free cancellation.