Every year my closest University friends and I go on a weekend of civilised, highly intellectual site seeing (and wild drunken debauchery). More of the latter really. On previous weekenders, we’ve danced the night away in Madrid and trawled vintage flea markets in Copenhagen, but this year we went around in circles trying to find a city which everyone agreed on. Budapest? Someone had been there. Santorini? Someone planned on taking their boyfriend there. Dublin? Someone objected to the overpriced beer and possibility of rain. Eventually we settled on Munich.
A random choice for July. Most people head to Munich for Octoberfest when the whole city dons their lederhosen for a fortnight of organised binge-drinking. In July, the sensible option would have been to book ourselves into a sun soaked beach resort not head to a city with an almost identical climate to London. Thankfully, we hit the jackpot. A bit of rain on day 1 but apart from that, a glorious weekend of baking hot sunshine which meant one thing… a day at Englischer Garten, Europe’s largest inner city park. I mean, we have English Gardens back home but a few geraniums wilting in the year-round rain doesn’t really compare to Munich’s national treasure. We decided to rent bicycles and this really is the best way to see the city and its parks. You can do this at the numerous rental shops across the city, most require a deposit and a copy of your passport or credit card. For around 10 euros a day, you can explore the city like a local.
And you’ll need a set of wheels to get around all 910 acres of it! We started our day as most days started… at a biergarten. We headed straight for the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower), a short cycle from the city centre Marienplatz. It’s one of the three largest beer gardens in Munich, with delicious self-service Bavarian food (try the white sausage!) and live oompah music at the weekend. 6 pints and 6 plats of Barvarian white sausage with friend potatoes and curry sauce please! Done.
A biergarten, in case you were wondering, is nothing like an English beer garden. Which are either empty most of the year thanks to our terrible weather or when the sun does finally make an appearance – you can’t get a table, there’s a bunfight at the bar and the ice in your pint of Magnums has melted by the time you get yourself a seat. Well imagine a beer garden but run with inimitable German efficiency. And Bavarians know their beer. If you’re planing on a bar crawl, you’ll need to take a sabbatical – there are more than 180 beer gardens in and around Munich.
After lining our stomachs and wetting our whistle, we braved the park’s most famous attraction – wild swimming in the river! It’s a wonder we didn’t sink after all the Bavarian sausage we’d put away but somehow, we floated downstream (perhaps all the bubbles from the beer helped!).
Wild swimming in the Isar is probably one of the most invigorating outdoor activities there is. Apart from al fresco love-making and bungee jumping perhaps. It’s also pretty dangerous so officially, you’re not allowed to swim in the river but some rules are made for breaking. My advice would be to chat to locals about the safest spots to get in and out, get someone to watch your things while you take a dip and be very careful around the surfing rapids as it’s easy to get caught up in a tangle with surfer (‘I’m not complaining’ I hear you say!).
We jumped in and the current swept us quickly downstream towards the famous surfing spot where you’ll see a dozen or so people wielding boards and waiting patiently in turn. They bounce and jump on the surf for 30 seconds or so before making room for the next person. It’s a tricky game to work out when to swim through and when to hang on the to the side until the surfers have had their turn.
Our magical day in the English Garden was topped off with homemade ice cream and freshly baked pretzels at the Seehaus biergarten – arguably the most picturesque spot for a ‘bavaria’ in the city. Rent a boat or just dip your toes in the lake whilst you admire the views and tuck into a mango sorbet like we did!
It’s funny, as we sat their admiring the views, slurping our beers and soaking up the sun, we recounted how much we deliberated about coming to Munich at all. But I’m so very glad we did.