Munich is the home of beauty. It’s just waiting to be discovered by locals and guests around every corner of the city, especially on a walk along its four magnificent boulevards: Maximilianstrasse, Prinzregentenstrasse, Brienner Strasse and Ludwigstrasse. And we shouldn’t forget “Leo” (Leopoldstrasse) either …
Maximilianstrasse is the most famous and decadent of Munich’s magnificent boulevards. Located in the old town, it stands alongside Prinzregentenstrasse, Ludwigstrasse and Brienner Strasse as one of the four most important avenues in Munich’s urban landscape.
Maximilianstrasse starts at the Residenz (city palace) and runs straight towards the river Isar. It’s given a sophisticated and artistic touch by the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten and the intimate theatre at the Münchner Kammerspiele. The government of Upper Bavaria, the Museum Fünf Kontinente across the road, and the Praterinsel lead the way to the crowning jewel of Maximilianstrasse – the magnificent and prominent Maximilianeum building in the district of Haidhausen, the seat of the Bavarian State Parliament.
The boulevard was built in the 19th century. King Maximilian II had the road constructed by his architect Georg Friedrich Bürklein in a unique Maximilian style. It combines elements of various eras like the neo-Gothic and Renaissance.
Almost all international luxury labels in the fashion and jewellery sector have stores with large shop windows here, including fashion houses like Armani, Louis Vuitton and Gucci, jewellers like Bulgari, and prestigious art galleries. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy a stroll, take in the flair of the street and marvel at the sophisticated items in the beautifully decorated shop windows. An average of almost 3,000 people pass by every hour. If you find the walk a bit too much, you can hop on the tram line 19 and enjoy a spontaneous city tour.
If you walk parallel to Maximilianstrasse towards the north, you’ll find Prinzregentenstrasse, a protected monument and must-see for art lovers. It was built at the behest of Prince Regent Luitpold towards the end of the 19th century. Unlike Ludwigstrasse and Maximilianstrasse, Prinzregentenstrasse was never conceived as an administrative centre; it was always supposed to be a glamorous, bourgeois street. That’s why it doesn’t begin with a symbolic building like the magnificent Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshal’s Hall) on Ludwigstrasse. Quite the opposite! Prinzregentenstrasse starts rather casually with a park and ends in equally unspectacular fashion with the A94 motorway.
It all starts at the Prinz Carl Palace in the district of Lehel between the English Garden and Hofgarten (Court Garden). Prinzregentenstrasse winds past the Eisbachwelle to the Friedensengel (Angel of Peace) and onwards towards the Prinzregententheater (theatre) and Prinzregentenplatz square. Huge buildings were also avoided. Gabriel von Seidl even designed the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum with several smaller buildings to create a piazza effect. During the Nazi period, Hitler built massive structures like the Haus der Kunst art gallery and demolished countless town houses, causing Prinzregentenstrasse to lose some of its nonchalance.
Many consulates and famous museums are located here. The Haus der Kunst is a world-leading centre with interchanging exhibitions on contemporary art. The Bayerisches Nationalmuseum is located just next door, reflecting 1,500 years of Bavarian history with collections and exhibits. It’s particularly worth seeing the nativity exhibits at Christmas time, as it’s one of the most artistically valuable and extensive collections of its kind in the world.
If you carry on walking towards the river Isar, you’ll reach the Schack Collection, a branch of the Pinakotheken art galleries with paintings from the 19th century. The home and studio of Franz von Stuck, the art nouveau Villa Stuck, is situated on the other side of the Isar in Bogenhausen, offering regular exhibitions on 20th-century, modern and contemporary art. Little tip: The MVG “museum” line 100 runs along Prinzregentenstrasse, making it the ideal route to discover museums and other attractions. The tram line 19 is also good for a sightseeing tour.
Brienner Strasse starts near Odeonsplatz and takes walkers past Wittelsbacher Platz, Karolinenplatz and Königsplatz in the west before ending at Stiglmaierplatz. It was once the Royal Way of the House of Wittelsbach, which the Bavarian regents would take to get to their residence at Nymphenburg Palace in their horse-drawn carriages. Nymphenburger Strasse now forms a direct extension of Brienner Strasse.
The street got its name from the Battle of Brienne under Napoleon in 1814. A northern suburb was built at the behest of King Max I Joseph between 1805 and 1820, and it was even named after him: Maxvorstadt. The former Royal Way was developed into a boulevard with impressive buildings by famous architects and city planners like Leo von Klenze, Friedrich Ludwig von Sckell and Carl von Fischer.
The palatial Luitpoldblock was built in 1812, and the world-famous Café Luitpold opened there in 1888 – it’s an architectural jewel and one of the largest coffee houses in Europe. Writers, artists and thinkers like Frank Wedekind, Stefan George and Erich Mühsam used to meet here in over 15 halls and public rooms, including the first ever billiard hall with 16 tables. Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee are said to have founded the Blauer Reiter artist group here in 1911.
The Second World War put an abrupt end to the glamorous life on Brienner Strasse. Parts of Café Luitpold were destroyed by bombs, and Munich locals and tourists no longer found this part of the city centre exciting after the war. The boulevard only managed to find its former spirit again when Café Luitpold was reopened in the 1960s – albeit in a much more modest form as a palm garden. Brands like Chanel and Cartier brought a touch of sophistication to the street for a while before the luxury boutiques moved to Maximilianstrasse.
But lots of new shops and galleries also moved here. The Luitpoldblock is even home to luxury brands like Missoni. If you’re looking for high quality, craftsmanship, unique gifts and sustainable products, you’ve come to the right place.
King Ludwig I’s tremendous love for Munich and Italy is reflected by Ludwigstrasse, a street named after him. Magnificent buildings can be found around every corner, imitating the style of the houses and gates of Florence and Rome. It was the first street designed completely in the round-arch style – and the first paved street in Munich.
But the magnificent Ludwigstrasse in Maxvorstadt district almost never came into existence. The City Council of Munich had decided to expand the city towards the north in 1808, but the project got bigger and more extravagant than planned when King Ludwig I, then the crown prince, took an interest in the matter. The king wanted to build a kilometre-long boulevard from Odeonsplatz square in the south to the modern-day Siegestor gate in the north. This was deemed much too long by the City Council, as Munich was not expected to undergo such strong growth over the next 100 years. The City Council only gave in and approved the plans when Ludwig I threatened to relocate his residence to Ingolstadt or Regensburg.
The king had a lot in mind. Ludwigstrasse was a way to highlight the pillars of his kingdom: Science and the Arts, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Royal Government. In 1816, he commissioned Leo von Klenze to design the entire street. Von Klenze assigned the task to Friedrich von Gärtner in 1827. Both architects created impressive buildings – those designed by von Klenze are mainly neo-renaissance buildings found to the south of the street, while von Gärtner’s structures feature neo-romantic elements in the northern section. Von Klenze and von Gärtner managed to create a magnificent overall work of art.
King Ludwig I brought these city architects to Munich in the first place. They were eternal rivals throughout their lives, especially when it came to beautifying and reinventing the city – a great stroke of luck for Munich! The ideas developed by von Klenze and von Gärtner continue to shape the cityscape to this day.
Friedrich von Gärtner constructed well-known buildings along Ludwigstrasse, such as the famous Feldherrnhalle, which was modelled on the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence. The Bavarian State Library (known by the locals as “Stabi”) houses ten million books, journals, prints, one of the most important manuscript collections in the world, and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, of which only around 180 are still in existence.
If you walk a few metres further, you’ll see the two towering steeples of the Ludwigskirche church with its colourful mosaic roof. The main building of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (Ludwig Maximilian University, LMU) is located by the fountains on Professor-Huber-Platz and Geschwister-Scholl-Platz. The elite university is the second-largest in Germany with over 50,000 students.
Where Ludwigstrasse ends, Leopoldstrasse begins – the transition at the Siegestor is so smooth that even Munich locals constantly get the two streets mixed up. Leopoldstrasse may no longer be seen as one of Munich’s architecturally magnificent boulevards, but it’s beautiful and legendary all the same. It was named after Prince Leopold of Bavaria in 1891 following the incorporation of Schwabing. Leopold was the son of the future Prince Regent Luitpold of Bavaria.
The avenue features tall trees and wide curbs. It runs for four kilometres through the districts of Maxvorstadt, Schwabing and Milbertshofen. The street is lined with cafés and restaurants, as well as the Akademie der Bildenden Künste (Academy of Fine Arts), the Leopoldpark and the pink “piggy building” that houses the Ludwig Maximilian University cafeteria, which is also a popular venue for book and art flea markets.
Lots of magnificent buildings can be found at the southern end of Leopoldstrasse, such as the villa of Lola Montez, one of Ludwig I’s mistresses, as well as a classical art nouveau palace that now houses the Bayerische Rückversicherung reinsurance company. You can’t help but notice the 17-metre large-scale sculpture The Walking Man, which was created by the US artist Jonathan Borofsky to symbolise dynamism and the will to start a new life.
If you walk further north, you’ll find the white and neon green steel structure of the artistically designed Münchner Freiheit station, which rests on top of 18 pillars. A weekly market is held here every Thursday, and one of the nicest Christmas markets can be found here in December with brightly lit, colourful balloons. A popular bar district can be found around Feilitzschstrasse to the east of Münchner Freiheit.
Leopoldstrasse is the venue of several big events every year like the Munich Marathon, the Corso Leopold (and Streetlife Festival) and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Whenever there’s something to celebrate at the end of a World Cup or European Championship, or whenever Bayern Munich wins the league, the whole city comes together on the “Leo”.