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Both Vienna and Munich are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased opinions of Munich and Vienna, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
The erstwhile epicentre of the great Habsburg empire, Vienna, is just as grand and glorious as you might expect. The Hofburg palace spreads is vast Baroque wings in the heart of the town, framing manicured gardens topped with equestrian statues.
Beer-mad and shrouded by the mountains, Munich is the boisterous capital of Bavaria. It's in the deep southern reaches of the country, where lederhosen are the threads of choice and white sausage is served at breakfast. Proudly unique, romantic, and steeped in art and culture, you won't find anywhere else like this in Germany.
Of course, it's the legendary Oktoberfest that puts Munich on the map. One of the world's biggest festivals, it draws millions to the city in late September (yes, Oktoberfest is confusingly held in September) to glug huge beers and eat endless wurst. Trips at any other time of the year are sure to be a little more refined. They can involve long walks under Baroque churches, picnics in the English Garden park, and even daytrips to the stunning Bavarian Alps.
Which city would I go to?
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city.
We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip!
Take a couple of days minimum to get a feel for the alternative vibes of Munich. You'll need at least a morning or two to check off the grand churches and plazas of the downtown. Afternoons are often lost to a haze of currywurst and spätzle. The evenings will disappear to clinking tankards and too much Bavarian beer.
If you're planning on joining the Oktoberfest party, then the normal amount of time to spend in the Munich event is two days. Some people will stick around longer but remember that accommodation can cost a bomb during festival dates and you'll need to book well in advance.
The closeness of the Alps and the wide variety of off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods in Munich mean that it's also possible to stay here for much longer than just a weekend or a couple of days. You could do weeks of hiking in the spring and summer months. Alternatively, you could do a full ski holiday in nearby Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany's biggest resort) during the winter.
Vienna is big and brimmingwith sights. History buffs and culture vultures will want at least three or four days to check off the bucket-list attractions. That's because the mainstay palaces and the most immersive museums each deserve at least half a day to themselves. You'll also need some time to wander the Old Town area and hop the famous Viennese cafés.
If you're eager to explore all of the facets of Vienna, then you'll certainly need much longer than just your average city break. Whole weeks can be spent enjoying the buzzy squares and the statue-filled parklands. What's more, there are day trips aplenty in the region, ranging from the pine forests of the Wienerwald to the rising foothills of the Salzburger Alps.
Vienna in the summer can't be beaten. When the sun shines, the city's parks and bars come alive. The best weather is usually between June and August, but beware that things can get hot and humid, with temperatures cranking up over 30 Celsius. The good news is that there are some strands and swimming spots along the Danube for cooling off. If you prefer things a little milder, May and September are usually also dry and warm.
On the flip side, Vienna in winter is a real wonderland. The Austrian capital hosts some of the most enchanting Christmas markets in Europe. You'll find those brewing up hot chocolates and mulled wine on Rathausplatz and in the grounds of the Schloss Schönbrunn. They get into full swing in December, when it's common to get dustings of snow and sub-zero temperatures – boots and woollies will be required.
Munich is one of those cities that has something going for it no matter the time of the year. Lots of people like the height of the summer, for the regular sun and temperatures that often spike above 30 degrees in the middle of the day. That's certainly perfect for wandering the town and enjoying the big lawns and paths of English Garden.
The autumn is best known for Oktoberfest. The shindig and the beer drinking begin in mid-September, lasting until the first couple of days in October. It's usually still warm for the party, but the days get shorter and jumpers will be needed as you get closer to November.
There's often snow in Munich from December onwards. This is the time of year to come if you have your sights set on the ski fields of the German Alps. The slopes of Garmisch-Partenkirchen typically open for business before Christmas, which is also when the enchanting markets start selling gingerbread and sausages on Munich's medieval squares.
Spring is also lovely. May is among the best months of all to travel. The summer crowds haven't arrived yet, the snows have melted, and thermometers can read a pleasant 20 degrees during the day.
Munich is unique in that it manages to fuse together the great outdoors, rich European culture, and an enticing foodie scene. That's all thanks to its place as the historic capital of Bavaria, which brings a long tradition of cooking, beer making, castle building – the list goes on.
The upshot? There are all sorts of travellers who are catered to, no matter if you come in search of pretzel eating or high-altitude trekking.
One thing you won't find in this city is the sea. The nearest saltwater is a hefty drive over the Alps in Italy or Croatia. So, don't come if you're pining to top up the tan and swim in the Med.
Packing in handsome palaces, Austrian beer houses, Alpine forests, cool cafés, art-filled galleries, and a buzzy nightlife, Vienna satisfies all sorts of travelers. You can easily fill whole trips in the museums alone. Days can be whiled away flitting between coffee shops. Nights can be spent in opera shows or glugging frothy beers in hipster bars.
Don't go thinking that Vienna is the great Austrian outdoors. This might be the country of the Alps, but the mountains are still at least an hour's train ride to the west. What's more, there's not a beach in sight. The best that landlocked Central Europe can offer in the way of sand and water is a few artificial swimming areas along the River Danube.
48hours in Vienna
So, you only have two days in the Austrian capital? Get ready for an itinerary that's packed to bursting with all sorts. From Neo-Classical Habsburg mansions to strolls on the Danube canals to mornings in buzzy market areas, there's something for a whole host of traveler types in these parts.
Day 1: Morning on the Heldenplatz. This manicured urban garden is one of the most iconic squares in Vienna. The huge equestrian statue of Archduke Charles of Austria is what will probably catch the eye but remember that the plaza was also the place where Hitler announced the annexation of Austria in 1938. Nearby, the Hofburg stands proud.
On a quick, two-day itinerary, it's probably best not to delve inside. The exhibits can easily take hours on end, though it's a must if you're a lover of 18th-century European history. Take your photos of the mighty Neo-Classical exterior and then move straight to the streets to the west. They herald the Innere Stadt (the Old Town) of Vienna. Cobbled lanes and little archways form a maze here that's lovely to get lost in. A lunch stop (read: strudel stop) at Café Central is a doozy. Gold-leafed ceilings and elegant royal portraits gild the interior, though the main draw is sitting where Freud and Trotsky once sat sipping their coffees.
Later on, head north around the ring roads to the Sigmund Freud Museum. It's a fine introduction to the life and works of the founder of psychoanalysis, with the original doctor's couch that his patients would sit on. Beeline straight to Prater when the evening closes in. You can get there on the underground, emerging into Vienna's famous inner-city theme part with its twirling Ferris wheel and fairground attractions.
The Prater amusement park with its traditional rides and the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel
Day 2: The early hours on the Naschmarkt offer some of the best people watching in the city. Fruit sellers call out prices while locals chow down on pretzels and white beer in the stalls. This vibrant bazaar is also the perfect place to grab any Viennese souvenirs and foodstuffs. A ubiquitous fix of palaces comes next. We'd recommend choosing one of the big two – the Belvedere Palace or the Schönbrunn. Both are stunning but the former is the easiest to get to. Both will also likely take a couple of hours, especially if you want to explore the sprawling grounds as well as the interior court rooms of the old Habsburg elite.
That will still leave some time in the afternoon to breeze over to the Danube Canal. Abuzz with boat bars and hole-in-the-wall eateries, it can help balance out the culture with a little hedonism. The district of Leopoldstadt is right behind, replete with hipster coffee joints and cocktail emporiums. An alternative way to cap off your weekend could be a jaunt to the hills of the Vienna Woods (the Wienerwald). They offer lookouts – and gorgeous sunsets – above the capital just behind the area of Hütteldorf.
48hours in Munich
Sample Munich's famous food, beer, and regal inner city on this two-day itinerary that's packed with amazing palaces and parks. If you're hanging around for longer, then you should also have time to make a beeline for the Alps or explore those off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods, but that will have to wait…
Day 1: Your travels begin on the grand Odeonsplatz. A prime example of the city's 19th-century rebuilding, it hosts some of the most magnificent sights in the region. There's the huge, 130-room Munich Residenz, the onetime home of the Bavarian kings and queens. There's the Theatine Church from the 1600s, sporting its dual Baroque towers.
You only have 48 hours, but the palaces can be visited if you have extra time. Instead, move on through the heart of the city on Briennerstraße to the vast plaza of Königsplatz. This is a photo op extraordinaire, with handsome Neo-Classical monuments like the strange Propyläen. The area around that is the artistic quarter (the Kunstareal), where there are endless museums and galleries to go into if you need to warm up or escape the rain.
Next is the beautiful Frauenkirche. This is a symbol of Munich as a whole; a great church topped by bulbous domes on the central Frauenplatz. It will take around 20 minutes to walk over there, but you'll enjoy moving into the Altstadt area as you go. You should plan to spend the evening within, hopping between sights like the iconic Hofbräuhaus (the best known beer hall in the city) and the ancient Peterskirche (the oldest church in Munich).
The Schloss Nymphenburg and its beautiful grounds
Day 2: No visit to the grand royal capital of Bavaria could possibly be complete without at least a glimpse of the Schloss Nymphenburg. It's hardly central, but private tours can whisk you there and back in a single morning, going through the manicured gardens, the court rooms, and the curious Marstallmuseum with its gold-leafed carriages from the 19th century.
When you return back to the middle of Munich head straight for the English Garden. This is one of Germany's favourite parks. You could start by strolling up the Eisbach to see the surfers riding the river wave. Then explore the pretty Hofgarten, where babbling fountains and bandstands once provided a retreat for Bavarian royals. Alternatively, go straight to the Chinese Tower Beer Garden, to glug traditional German hops brews and taste bratwurst and pretzels until sundown.
Munich International Airport is the second busiest hub in all of Germany. It's a major arrival point, with links coming in on premium and low-cost fliers from right around the globe. Getting to the city from the terminals is easy thanks to the direct S-Bahn line that runs straight to the train station. The trip costs just over €11 and takes around 40 minutes in total.
Munich is a safe, modern city. The locals are famed for their friendliness and welcoming attitude – a trait of Bavaria, they say. However, it's still important to be wary of scams and dangers, particularly during the Oktoberfest, when alcohol intake increases dramatically.
The best areas to stay in Munich are the Altstadt, the streets around English Garden, and the grand university and gallery area of Maxvorstadt. Cheaper hotels that are still within walking distance of the sights can be found south of the main train station around Bayerstraße.
Vienna is among the safest and most liveable cities in the world – at least if the stats are to be believed. Of course, you'll need to have your wits about you as if you were traveling anywhere. Pickpocketing, fake tour guides, and taxi scams do occur, though they aren't common as in other European capitals.
The best arrival point for those flying is Vienna International Airport. It's a well-equipped, modern port on the south-eastern side of the capital. Direct S-Bahn trains link the centre to the terminals, or you can hop on the premium Railjet from Vienna Hauptbahnhof. There's also a shuttle link provided by AirportLines Bus, costing €13 per person, return.
Picking hotels in Vienna can sometimes be a tricky business. First-time visitors can't go wrong if they aim to stay in the Old Town (the Innere Stadt), but rooms there can be pricy and sell out fast. Good alternatives include the hip and happening district of Leopoldstadt (great for dining with a youthful vibe) and any of the blocks that come off Naschmarkt.