If you ask someone what they most associate with Munich, nine times out of 10 the answer will be "Oktoberfest". It's not necessarily a bad thing, but tents, sausages and beer most definitely aren't the only reasons to visit Germany's southern capital. Instead, Oktoberfest is just another great example of what the city manages to do: weave traditional values with the commercial fabric of a large city better than almost anywhere else in the world. So while it may be true that Munich's three weeks in the spotlight begins with the ceremonial opening of the first keg every September, this city is a star all year.
A comfortable bed
As long as you're not visiting during Oktoberfest, Munich offers world-class hotels at good-value prices. The central Bayerischer Hof (www.bayerischerhof.de; 00 49 89 2120 0) is undoubtedly the city's Grand Dame, oozing mature sophistication from each of its 345 individually designed rooms (from €345 [Dh1,820] a night). It's worth a visit just to sip a juice in the fabulous rooftop cafe.
For a more trendy experience, the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski (www.kempinski.com/munich; 00 49 89 2125 2799) offers elegance and a fabulous location amid the fashion houses of Maximilianstrasse, a stone's throw from landmarks such as the Residenz and Nationaltheater. Double rooms start from €260 (Dh1,376).
A newer addition to the Munich hotel scene is The Louis (www.louis-hotel.com; 00 49 89 4111 9080), a boutique property overlooking the Viktualienmarkt. Nab a balcony room for one of the best morning coffee spots in the city. Rooms start from €195 (Dh1,032).
Meet the locals
Munich residents flock to the Viktualienmarkt outdoor market, crowding harried traders to sample mouth-watering speciality produce and catching up with friends over a locally sourced lunch in the hotchpotch of surrounding stuben (traditional restaurants). From there, the arty boutiques and see-and-be-seen street cafes of Reichenbachstrasse are an easy stroll away, culminating in Gärtnerplatz and the imposing Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz, the city's second opera house and a superb evening's entertainment.
Find your feet
Munich has a small centre that provides a different adventure for every direction out of Marienplatz, the starting point for most. Beginning underneath the spires of the Neues Rathaus, walk north to the medieval Altes Rathaus and through the backstreets up to Max-Joseph-Platz, where well-heeled shoppers mingle with the tourists snapping away at the Nationaltheater.
From here, the Residenz, the former palace of the Bavarian royal family, should be easy enough to follow round to the main entrance, its lions beckoning visitors through the rust-coloured archway. Some of Munich's best museums and concert halls are here (including the Residenz Museum, the Treasury and the rococo Cuvilliés Theater), but don't get too side-tracked - the colour and symmetry of Hofgarten park are not to be missed.
Book a table
The term "Bavarian cuisine" adequately describes everything from weisswurst, a traditional breakfast snack of white sausage served with sweet mustard, to Steckerlfisch (skewered fish) for dinner, which means there is something to suit every craving at any time of day.
For those organised enough to book ahead, the best place to sample it is under the watchful eye of local boy-turned-celebrity chef Alfons Schuhbeck, whose Michelin-starred Schuhbecks in den Südtiroler Stuben (www.schuhbeck.de; 00 49 8921 6690 0) has been serving food with a Bavarian twist since 2003 (mains from around €80 [Dh423]).
A short walk from the city centre is the Englischer Garten, one of the world's largest city parks and home to several excellent restaurants. The friendly atmosphere and traditional menu (priced around €50 [Dh265] per person) makes the lakeside Seehaus (www.kuffler.de; 00 49 8938 1613 0) another special find, whether you're enjoying the view from the terrace or huddled inside the cosy Alpine interior.
Southern German food tends to be heavy on meat, so those in need of a respite can try the sophisticated vegetarian dishes at Prinz Myshkin (www.prinzmyshkin.com; 00 49 8926 5596), from around €15 (Dh79) for a main course.
Munich's style shines through its shop windows. The city has rightly earned a reputation as Germany's premier retail centre but still maintains a strong thread of tradition on its high street, so don't be surprised to see plenty of stores selling traditional Bavarian trachten - dirndls for girls and lederhosen for boys. If you're brave enough to try your own, Wies'n Tracht & Mehr (Tal 19) offers combination deals on the basics, while Gössl (Residenzstrasse 14) adds a touch of catwalk-inspired modernity.
A glance at the names that crowd Maximilianstrasse and Theatinerstrasse proves that Munich is nothing if not diverse. Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Gucci and Armani are just some of the big labels here, along with homegrown designers such as Escada and Bogner.
The Fünf Höfe, Munich's newest shopping mall, offers a more mainstream experience, all within the confines of an architecturally striking space underneath a "living ceiling" of plants. It's a world removed from the nearby Kaufingerstrasse, where department stores tempt shoppers with vast selections of stock and lower prices.
What to avoid
Visitors during Oktoberfest would do well to avoid the U-bahn and other transport hubs at night, when revellers cause the most trouble.
Munich is the home of luxury car giant BMW, which operates from the landmark "four-cylinder" BMW Tower in the north of the city. There's a fascinating museum charting the history of the brand on site, but the two-hour tour of the plant (€8 [Dh42]; Monday to Friday) is a behind-the-scenes experience you're unlikely to get elsewhere.