Munich is so impeccably connected with everywhere that travelers exploring Europe by train often end up passing through the city more than once. Munich’s Hauptbahnhof has direct day trains to tourist hot-spots across Europe, with the station’s departure boards featuring Paris and Prague, Berlin and Budapest, Venice and Vienna, Zagreb and Zürich.
So sooner or later, as you criss-cross the continent, you’ll end up in Munich.
Exploring the city on foot
It’s a great city for a quick overnight stop, and it’s easy to catch the flavor of the Bavarian capital–a rather stylish and self-confident place that defies the tired stereotype of Bavarians being chubby-cheeked beer drinkers in Lederhosen. The main station lies just west of the city center and is well placed for exploring the city on foot.
The last time we changed trains in Munich, we had a two-hour layover. So we left our bags in lockers and in a brisk 90-minute walk took in Marienplatz, the new and old town halls, the Residenz and a galaxy of other sights. Munich is eminently walkable and all the better for that. Munich deserves more of course, but it’s nice to be able to catch the flavor of a city within the compass of a short walk.
Where to stay
As in so many European cities, decent accommodation in the immediate vicinity of the Hauptbahnhof is not always easy to find. As we remarked in another post last fall, where we reported from Strasbourg, it always pays to explore a block or two beyond the dreary hotels that cluster cheek by jowl around Europe’s main railway stations. In Strasbourg it was the Hotel Monopole Métropole that provided the perfect antidote to those uninspiring station hotels, and traveling through Munich last month we found the Hotel Cristal that nicely fitted the bill.
Just one block south of the Hauptbahnhof on Schwanthalerstrasse, the Best Western Hotel Cristal has none of the fussiness that we have encountered elsewhere in Bavaria. Chrome and glass in the bar contrast with a claret and cream theme in the restaurant. Cast around on the regular online booking agencies and you’ll find rooms in the €65 to €80 bracket. Make sure at check-in that you are assigned one of the refurbished rooms at the back of the building where the bustle and noise of Schwanthalerstrasse won’t bother you.
A taste of Bavaria
The Cristal has one of the smartest foyers of any hotel we’ve seen, with free access to a stylish tech-cabin for a quick check of e-mail. The foyer is overlooked by a bold mezzanine floor that is all chic minimalism. Most rooms have that same “keep-it-simple” elegance. Simplicity underpins the hotel’s unusual minibar policy with a fixed charge of €4.90 that applies whether you have taken a single bottle of mineral water or cleared out the entire fridge.
The hotel’s new restaurant is called 1912 and chef Kai Dittrich turns out impressively presented dishes that bring a dash of Mediterranean flair to German regional cuisine. Schnitzel aplenty of course, complemented by duck, salmon and other staples. And, just in case you forget you are in Bavaria, the hotel always includes Weisswurst in its breakfast buffet.