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Both Munich and Istanbul are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is an abundance of travel guides for both cities, but few actually comparing them, and advising you which is the better for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased and independent views of Istanbul and Munich, hopefully making your choice that little easier.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City ratings -
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?)
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.
With one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, Istanbul is the bridge between two continents. As much of a cliché as that might sound, this really is a place where you can wander between spiked mosque minarets on one street and be gazing at a Byzantine cathedral the next; where shisha smoke mingles with the smells of falafel; the muezzin's call echoes between relics left by the ancient Romans.
Most travelers aim for the north-western portion of the town. That's separated from Asian Turkey by the Bosphorus Strait. Its districts include enthralling Sultanahmet – the home of the iconic Topkapi Palace and the legendary Hagia Sofia – and vibrant, youthful Galata. Those who prefer off-the-beaten-track adventures can go over to Asian Istanbul, for atmospheric areas laced with hookah plumes and bazaars.
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!
Don't think you can distil Istanbul into a few short days. Even with weeks to explore, this vast metropolis (it's one of the largest in the world, let alone Europe) will surely still hold secrets. That said, a fly-in jaunt for a weekend is always going to be fun. You'll just need to pick your side of town and focus on the sights you want to see the most. So, choose between the Old City streets and Asian Istanbul before arriving, and plan accordingly if time is limited.
For those with longer to spare, this great Turkish town is your oyster. You'll be able to cross the Bosphorus to explore districts of steamy hammams and mosques. You can have whole days in the Grand Bazaar and Ottoman palaces. You might even be able to head over to Agva (for beaches) and the islands of Marmara (for wild hikes in pine woods). Basically, having too much time is rarely an issue.
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.
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.
When things get hot in Istanbul, things get really hot. In fact, it's not uncommon for summertime temperatures to creep over 30 degrees. What's more, June to August is when the crowds come, packing out sights like the Grand Bazaar.
The upshot here is that spring and fall reign as the top times in the calendar to plan a visit. March, April, September and October tend to be cooler, less busy and less expensive.
Winter can bring snows. Photographers will adore the city when it's blanketed, as the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque look simply stunning under a sheen of the white stuff. However, the months from November to February can be bitterly cold, so off-season visitors will need to wrap up warm and forget having al fresco Turkish coffees on the street side.
There's no doubt that Istanbul is one of the more adventurous and unusual breaks for European travellers. Most folk come to Turkey on package holidays, with pre-booked hotels by the sea. But this destination forgoes all that in favour of enthralling Ottoman history and heady bazaars.
It's a place that will help you break out of the comfort zone and push your boundaries a little.
Those keen on seeing a city that's walkable and compact should certainly steer clear of Turkey's largest. At 15.5 million strong and covering two separate continents, this isn't a bitesize destination by any stretch.
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.
You can unearth some seriously jaw-dropping sights, taste some unforgettable food, and get a grounding in Turkish history with only 48 hours to spend in Istanbul.
Day 1: There's really nowhere else to begin but Sultanahmet. This is the Istanbul you will have seen on the postcards; the land of minarets and mighty mosque domes. The kingpin of it all is the colossal Hagia Sophia.
In its long life of more than 1,500 years it's been an Orthodox cathedral and a mosque. It's now a museum containing gorgeous mosaics and frescos, although the star of the show is still its dome, flaunting an amazing 30-metre diameter.
Sitting opposite just to the south is the majestic Blue Mosque. Built in the early 1600s, it's still in working order. And even more history awaits in the Topkapi Palace Museum, which is a few blocks northwards. That sprawling complex reigned as the home of the Ottoman sultans. It's now a UNESCO site and occupies a stunning perch above the Bosphorus.
Day 2: Big, modern Taksim Square starts day two with a sighting of what 21st-century Istanbul is all about. Be sure to take a glimpse of the honorific statue at its heart.
That's the Republic Monument, made to celebrate the foundation of the Turkish state in 1928. Nearby Istiklal Street has abundant choices on the food front, no matter if you're craving a gritty Turkish coffee or a regional breakfast spread of mezze cheeses, flatbreads, and olives.
It's also a busting artery of the city, with high-street shopping and a classic trolley car running its length. One thing you can't miss – literally! – here is Galata Tower. Built by the Genoese to protect their European strongholds from the east, it's a mind-blowing fortification that boasts sweeping panoramas from its top floors.
Your afternoon session should be dedicated to exploring the Bosphorus. There's really no better way to do that than on a boat. Some cruises even offer stops in Asian Istanbul and meals with the sunset to boot.
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.
The modern Istanbul New Airport is the main hub serving this big city. It handles the largest amount of air traffic in Turkey, so expect to find lots of connections in from Western Europe and beyond. Regular shuttle buses link the terminals with the downtown in around 50 minutes to one hour, but, be warned, travel times can vary greatly depending on traffic. The smaller Sabiha Gokcen International Airport hosts most of the services coming in from across the Middle East. It's over on the south side of the metropolis.
Istanbul's tourist areas suffer from the same scams as many other European cities. Fake guides, pickpockets and unregistered taxis are particularly common, so be sure to have your wits about you when sightseeing. Be wary when converting cash in the Old Town area too, because extortionate commission rates and even fake banknotes have been reported.
Choosing a hotel in Istanbul really depends on what you want. Sightseeing in Sultanahmet is what most people come for and there are loads of hotels to pick there, even if paying a premium is normal. Beyoglu is better if you're after chain hotels and boutique stays, and it's right on the more modern and happening part of town. Asian Istanbul will likely be cheaper, but also a ferry ride from the most famous attractions.
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.