WIESBADEN, Germany - Germany's tourist board reports the country is the third most popular tourist destination in Europe and Americans the second most overnight guests.

And while Munich's Oktoberfest may account for a large number of those annual visitors, the Bavarian capital city on the Isar River beckons those from far and wide year-round. Munich is especially hospitable during the summer and fall months when the locals head to picnic along the river, relax in one of the many beer gardens situated all over town or to sunbathe in the city's parks.

If you've never been to the Oktoberfest and have your heart set on joining the 6 million other people in the huge party tents on the Theresienswiese at the fest which runs this year from Sept. 18 to Oct. 4, you probably should consider hopping the train or letting the USO take you there to avoid any chance of drinking and driving (Rhein Main Area USOs feature trips to the Munich Oktoberfest Sept. 18 and 25, and local Outdoor Recreation facilities likewise offer various opportunities to visit the famed festival).

But those who want to get a taste of Bavarian GemAfA1/4tlichkeit and explore the city's other charms without the frenzy of the O-fest, would be better suited to visit when the annual beer fest celebrating the 1810 marriage of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese has not yet opened for business.

Families might enjoy camping at the Thalkirchen campground which is situated near a U-bahn station, the Munich Zoo (Tierpark Hellabrunn) and the river. Offering less expensive accommodations than most Munich hotels, the campground offers a range of amenities including a small cafeteria-style eatery with a breakfast and dinner selection, hot showers (for a small, additional fee) and tree-shaded camping sites.

Just outside the campground are canals which feed off of the Isar which regularly attract surfers and kayakers. A short walk through the adjacent woods and across the river takes one to one of Germany's best zoos. Besides featuring some 5,000 different animals in more natural settings than many other animal parks, the zoo offers younger visitors a range of attractions from a rope bridge connecting two parts of the park, petting zoos, camel rides, playgrounds and several outdoor cafeterias.

Feeding time is a highlight at the zoo - with penguins and seals clamoring for hand-fed fish from the zookeeper's bucket and other animals such as polar bears within inches through thick sheets of glass in outdoor enclosures.

One of Germany's richest museum cities, Munich is a fantastic place to get lost for hours surrounded by great works of art, inventions, historical artifacts and other display items. Art lovers can explore works from the early years of humankind's depiction of the world around them at the Alte Pinakothek or move on to more contemporary artworks at the Neue and Moderne Pinakotheken. Day tickets are available for Ac'A!12 offering access to all three Pinokothek museums, the Museum Brandhorst and Schack Galerie.

Those with a bent for all things mechanical and scientific will want to head to Isartor to visit the Deutsche Museum, a technological showcase resembling the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Other museum highlights include a hunting and fishing museum, historical collections and more.

As host to the 1972 Summer Olympics, Munich's Olympic Center is still worth the U-bahn ride out to the grounds for a view of the massive steel-and-glass athletic facilities. While this year's Tollwood Festival, a massive collection of stages, eateries and emporiums from around the globe on the Olympic grounds has come and gone, the center features plenty of other attractions such as boat rides on the man-made lakes and a ride up the Olympic Tower for a view of the city.

Be sure to stop off in Schwabing while heading out to the Olympic grounds (get off at Gisela Strasse or the UniversitAfA$t stations) to stroll up Leopold Strasse where a host of cafes, restaurants and shops line the broad boulevard. From the UniversitAfA$t U-bahn station wander into the nearby Englischer Garten to discover miles of trails inviting bikers, inline skaters, carriage riders and pedestrians into this city oasis.

Completed after the Thirty Years War in the 18th century, the Englischer Garten offers a great place to unwind after sightseeing. Enjoy a Frisbee toss on the grass or lunch at one of the park's beer gardens, among the most well-known of which is the Chinese Pagoda area where a traditional oom-pah band can be found entertaining tourists and the locals munching on traditional eats such as Obazta (a paprika-spiced soft cheese dish), ribs, giant pretzels, white sausages and radishes washed down with a liter mug of Bavarian brew.

Shopping is plentiful in Munich - particularly on the Kaufinger Strasse - where one shop after another entices visitors from this pedestrians-only zone. And nearby are historical sights such as Munich's famed Marienplatz, dual-onion-domed Frauenkirche and the popular outdoor market - the Viktualien Markt.

If you decide to combine a trip to Munich with a visit to destinations farther south such as the Edelweiss Hotel and Resort in Garmisch-Partenkirchen or simply want a few days away from life in central Germany, you're sure to discover your own favorite attraction in this diverse cosmopolitan population center.

Page last updated Tue August 17th, 2010 at 02:27