Forget those postcards of old Bavaria. Today's Munich looks to the future, with new architecture, forward-thinking designers, and outlandish young chefs

Mareike Foecking

Munich has often been defined by static images from its past: the history-rich Marienplatz district; the Frauenkirche, a 15th-century Gothic church topped by copper-sheathed onion domes; the overflowing fruit and vegetable stalls at the 200-year-old Viktualienmarkt. And though this city—often called Germany's secret capital—is rife with traditional Bavarian charm, there are now great new snapshots to take. Munich has had a modern face-lift, thanks in part to a contemporary art museum (one of Europe's largest) by architect Stephan Braunfels and a shopping center by the celebrated design duo Herzog & de Meuron. There's been a mini-boom in hotels, too, with several boutique properties giving the five-star classics some stylish competition (causing the old masters to respond in kind). With so much going on, Munich's future has never looked brighter.

CHIC SLEEPS: HOTELS There's been a flurry of openings and grande-dame renovations in Munich. The latest debut is the somewhat straitlaced Hotel Anna (1 Schützenstrasse; 49-89/599-940;; doubles from $165, including breakfast), with 56 minimalist rooms; ask for one of the four tower suites with 180-degree city views. · A vibrant makeover of the Kempinski Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten (17 Maximilianstrasse; 49-89/21250;; doubles from $364) has updated the Neoclassical public spaces and 170 of its 316 rooms; the lobby's stained-glass dome has been restored, too, letting refracted light pour in. · The 33 rooms of the Cortiina Hotel (8 Ledererstrasse; 49-89/242-2490;; doubles from $196, including breakfast) take their cues from Frank Lloyd Wright, with flagstone walls, and fixtures made of natural materials (a touch of oak here, a bit of cowhide there). · While the muted interiors of the 73-room Mandarin Oriental (1 Neuturmstrasse; 49-89/290-980;; doubles from $348) will get an Asian-themed redo by year's end, the hotel's heated rooftop pool and patio will retain their current grand style. · The 50-room Advokat (1 Baaderstrasse; 49-89/216-310;; doubles from $158, including breakfast), near the up-and-coming Gärtnerplatz neighborhood, is filled with carefully edited retro-chic pieces.BEST VALUE Above one of Munich's oldest cafés, the Mariandl (51 Goethestrasse; 49-89/5440-4348; doubles from $42 with shared bath, from $100 with private) is an inexpensive pensione restored by the antiques-loving Bayer family, who retained the original moldings and chandeliers and filled the 29 rooms with pieces from their private collection. The best room is number 30, just $116 a night, which has a matching 1880's bedroom set and a beautiful claw-foot tub facing the window.

SHOPPING The crown jewel of Munich's retail scene is the massive Fünf Höfe (15 Theatinerstrasse; 49-89/242-1480), a 35-acre space designed by Herzog & de Meuron that houses more than 60 luxury boutiques (Zegna, Strenesse, Ligne Roset). Check out the architectural details, such as the te·tured metallic façade and a hanging garden. · In an almost hidden courtyard on the Maximilianstrasse, Munich's magnificent mile, is the one-of-a-kind Sicking (36 Maximilianstrasse; 49-89/2554-0606). Here shirts, suits, and dresses are made to order by e·pert tailors who add a slinky, body-hugging edge to classic suits and dresses. · If Sex and the City were filmed in Germany, Carrie and her pals would flock to Modehaus Marion Heinrich (9 Falckenbergstrasse; 49-89/292-526), which stocks the latest from Manolo Blahnik, Balenciaga, Chloé, and others. · The full bar and DJ lend a clublike atmosphere to Pool Fashion Music Lounge (14 Kreuzstrasse; 49-89/266-035), a shop specializing in upstart labels, including Plein Sud, Dsquared2, and Bikkembergs. · Lola Paltinger started her own label, Lollipop & Alpenrock (27 Tal; 49-89/201-1114; showroom only; appointment required), after working for Vivienne Westwood in London. Lola specializes in playful interpretations of Bavarian dirndls and lederhosen, some with a 1930's retro twist, making them out of every imaginable material—French hand-painted cotton, Chinese satin brocade, herringbone tweed, embroidered silk from Japan.

MUNICH'S TOP TABLES In the ongoing battle to be called Munich's best restaurant, Tantris (7 Johann Fichte Strasse; 49-89/361-9590; dinner for two $135) always comes out on top, thanks to chef Hans Haas and stellar dishes such as red snapper with coriander pesto and mussels in a spinach and truffle sauce. · The restrained façade of Lenbach (6 Ottostrasse; 49-89/549-1300; dinner for two $86) barely hints at what's inside. Sir Terence Conran updated the 1898 interiors with blue neon lighting, a mosaic tile floor, and a fashion-show runway cutting through the room. Worthy of this theatrical environment is the food of Stefan Marquard, one of German cuisine's Junge Wilde (young wilds) group—think punk-rock chefs. · Ododo (6 Buttermelcherstrasse; 49-89/260-7741; dinner for two $53) opened its doors five years ago, and it's still hard to get a table. If you do, don't miss the fondues: bread, meat, vegetables, chocolate—you name it, you dip it. · Twenty years before its current vogue, Karl Ederer made organic food fashionable here, when he opened Gasthaus Glockenbach (29 Kapuzinerstrasse; 49-89/534-043; dinner for two from $95). A classic is Ederer's mini-eggplant with arugula and octopus. BEST VALUE Sitting down to eat in the collectibles-packed Master's Home (11 Frauenstrasse; 49-89/229-909; dinner for two $85) is a bit like dining in an overflowing flea market: you get everything—including the kitchen sink. The inexpensive nine-course menu changes often and you never quite know what you'll be served; simply choose vegetarian or meat.

AFTER DARK You can't talk about Munich nightlife and not mention Schumann's American Bar (36 Maximilianstrasse; 49-89/229-060), still going strong after more than 20 years. And though most tables say reserved, they're not really: etiquette dictates that you wait for an invitation from owner Charles Schumann himself (he's behind the bar) before sitting down. · The blink-and-you'll-miss-itentrance to Maria Passagne (42 Steinstrasse; 49-89/486-167)—minuscule writing on a nondescript door—ensures that most out-of-towners pass right by this sweet sixties-inspired lounge. · The pared-down Bar Centrale (23 Ledererstrasse; 49-89/ 223-762) has a great wine list, good cocktails, and the best panini in town. · Dress your best for Erste Liga (3 Hochbrückenstrasse; no phone), a packed dance club with Munich's pickiest door policy.

NEXT GREAT NEIGHBORHOODS South of the Marienplatz, two turn-of-the-century quarters—Gärtnerplatz and Glockenbach—are attracting major attention. Among the chic boutiques that have colonized Gärtnerplatz are Slips (2 Gärtnerplatz; 49-89/202-2500), with a lively collection of Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, and Paul Smith; and Sarajo (3 Rumfordstrasse; 49-89/ 2602-4343), selling selections from Jil Sander and Dries Van Noten. · You'll see more than international labels in the two new neighborhoods; local stylemakers have their own shops: Talbot Runhof (41 Klenzestrasse; 49-89/236-6730) specializes in opulent evening gowns, and Clara Niggl (8 Rumfordstrasse; 49-89/2602-6035) turns out classic fashions reminiscent of early Ralph Lauren. · In the studio behind their namesake Glockenbach shop, Eisenblätter & Triska (13 Hans Sachs Strasse; 49-89/260-5860), Katrin Eisenblätter and Astrid Triska design hats from everyday wool ones to over-the-top-occasion chapeaux worthy of Ascot.· The menu and décor at Kay's Bistro (1 Utzschneiderstrasse; 49-89/260-3584; dinner for two from $85)are revamped every month. The most recent theme was Caribbean, with waiters in sunny tropical shirts dishing out jerk chicken.· The tiny Holy Home (21 Reichenbachstrasse; 49-89/201-4546), a funky lounge with comfy couches and other secondhand furnishings, spins house and trance late into the night.


Master's Home


Kay's Bistro



Mandarin Oriental, Munich

The 2007 renovated hotel occupies an 1870's building and has a delightful heated rooftop pool and patio. The hotel's Michelin-starred Restaurant Mark's is open for an elegant Christmas Eve meal of almond-covered venison with cherries and semolina strudel.

Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski

A vibrant makeover in 2003 has updated the Neoclassical public spaces and 170 of the hotel's 316 rooms; the lobby's stained-glass dome was restored, as well, letting refracted light pour in.

Hotel Anna



Cortiina Hotel

The intimate, newly expanded boutique hotel in a central but tucked-away location.