Bavaria's Best: Oktoberfest (and beyond) in Munich
Oktoberfest is Munich's moment in the spotlight, says Patricia Danaher, but this German city is one to visit year-round.
Set the mood
Munich and Oktoberfest are synonymous in most people's minds, and Bavarians celebrate this 16-day beer bacchanalia with a passion. Lederhosen and dirndl dresses are everywhere, oompah bands play, and the festival draws massive crowds - both to the temporary tents and ornate beer halls and gardens that have been a fixture of the city for centuries.
Munich isn't just about October, however. Year-round, you'll find a cultural and artistic Mecca with a wealth of galleries, outdoor markets, castles and gardens. This cyclist and pedestrian-friendly city feels more Mediterranean than other parts of Germany, and there's a certain soccer team to see at the Allianz Arena too...
Hungry? Bavarian food is hearty and almost no part of any beast goes uncooked, so in addition to Oktoberfest's spread of spicy and sweet sausages, you'll see things like cow and sheep's lung and knuckle on most menus (not for me). It's worth trying the legendary Weisswort, a sweet chicken sausage served only at lunchtime, or a classic spicy Bavarian cheese dish like Obatzter.
When your palate needs something more refined, try Restaurant Kleinschmecker (restaurant-kleinschmecker.de), a delicious French/Japanese restaurant set just a stone's throw from the Viktualienmarkt. With mains from €23 to €39, it's not cheap, but lovely and highly recommended.
Munich's Viktualienmarkt is a 200-year-old delight crammed both with locals and a huge range of locally-produced foods. You'll find it very close to the lovely medieval Marienplatz, where you can lose yourself in Gothic churches, galleries and town halls. Another tip is the popular River Isar which bisects the city. It's an incongruous sight to see surfers on the river, where a semi-dam has been constructed at one of its bridges. The currents are surprisingly fast. It's a great people-watching spot.
Despite the abundance of art, food and culture, the shadow of the Third Reich is still felt and there are several interesting tours available. The Haus der Kunst (hausderkunst.de) should be seen. Originally built by Hitler as a so-called monument to the purity of German art, it is now a gallery of eclectic modern art. The sound of footsteps in the silent, long rooms is hauntingly redolent of its raison d'être.
Despite the atmosphere, Oktoberfest is not for the faint-hearted, and crime can be an issue among the huge crowds of revellers. But there are pleasures to be had in Munich all year, despite the somewhat grumpy Bavarian temperament!
Munich city and surrounds are dotted with wonderful castles. Schloss Neuschwanstein (nueschwanstein.de), a fairytale castle built for King Ludwig II, boasts stunning views, a considerable art collection and acres of gardens and parks.
Get me there
Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies from Dublin and Cork to Munich (regular trains link with the central station, taking about 40 minutes). Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies to Memmingen, about 110km from the city centre.
For more on Oktoberfest (Sept 19-Oct 4) see oktoberfest.de.
With 14 tents, throngs of visitors and over six million litres of beer, the festival can be a busy and pricey time to visit the city - so plan carefully. See muenchen.de for more info.