Munich's Swishy Nymphenburg Palace
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
At the grand Nymphenburg Palace in Munich, swans glide, nymphs dance on Rococo ceilings, and thematic follies dot the lavish park. Nymphenburg Palace is a must see site in Munich. It's the perfect way to get off the beaten Marienplatz and take a royal stroll in a beautiful oasis outside the city.
The 17th century Schloss Nymphenburg is one of Munich's top sights and one of Europe's largest palaces. The grand and lavish palace has witnessed history — a 7 year old Mozart concert, an aged King Ludwig cavorting with femme fatale Lola Montez, and the birth of Mad King Ludwig II.
History of Nymphenburg Palace
Nymphenburg Palace has a compelling romantic backstory. It was the result of a combination of love and luck.
Bavarian ruler Ferdinand Maria and his wife Henriette Adelaide had been having some unfortunate fertility problems. In 1662, after a 10 year effort, they finally had their coveted son. In gratitude, Ferdinand gave his wife land, on which she built an Italian style Baroque palace. This certainly takes the notion of a "birthing gift" to a new level.
In 1664, construction began and the palace took on the appearance of an Italian villa. In 1701, Max Emanuel came along and decided to expand the palace and add two long wings. He brought in painters and craftsman, decorating the palace in a more Baroque style.
Max Emanuel’s son Emperor Charles VII continued making improvements to the palace. He created more formal gardens and adopted the rather frilly Rococo style. He was responsible for the lavish Rococo decorations in the Stone Hall and the garden's Amalianburg folly.
After centuries of construction and tinkering, Nymphenburg Palace was complete. For almost 300 years, it's been the swishy summer residence of the Bavarian Kings. Even today, the head of the Wittelsbach family, Franz von Bayern -- who still rather pompously refers to himself as a duke -- has an apartment there. He's sometimes spotted strolling in the gardens.
Main Attractions and Highlights of Nymphenburg Palace
The main palace building consists of a large villa and two wings. There are 16 rooms. It has intricate parquet floors, colorfully painted ceilings, paintings galore, and sumptuously decorated period rooms.
1. Stone Hall
The glittering Stone Hall is the highlight of the main villa. It's the three story grand room of the palace, where guests would first arrive. It was the center of life at Nymphenburg Palace.
Dating from 1760, it’s one of the grandest and best preserved Rococo rooms in Bavaria. It boasts elaborate stucco and plaster work by François de Cuvilliés, which includes embedded musical instruments.
The exuberant ceilings frescos are by Johann Baptist Zimmerman and inspired the name of the palace. He painted them on his back, Michelangelo style. The nymph-filled frescos induce happiness. They’re filled with cavorting nymphs, rainbows, flowers, and other pastoral pleasures. The green and blue hues are captivating.
2. Gallery of Beauties: Ludwig and His Girls
One of the palace highlights is King Ludwig's fantasy hall -- the fascinating Schönheitengalerie, or the Gallery of Beauties. It’s decorated top to bottom with a bevy of 38 gorgeous women painted in the Beidermeier style, all the rage in the 18th century when Neo-Classicism was giving way to Romanticism.
Ludwig was a notorious ladies' man and appreciated beauty. He prided himself on his ability to spot beauty anywhere, anytime. He didn’t care about class or social rank. He liked both commoners and princesses.
Judging from the gallery, he obviously preferred brunettes. And didn't prefer his wife, whose portrait is noticeably absent. The long-suffering queen looked the other way and let her philandering husband philander.
The stunning portraits were painted by Joseph Stieler between 1827-50. That's over two decades of Ludwig stalking and gawking.
The most famous portrait is of Helene Sedlmaryr, the daughter of a shoemaker. She was considered the prettiest girl in Munich. She poses in a dress way beyond her budget. Eventually, she married Ludwig's valet and had 10 children.
The most infamous portrait is of Lola Montez, a dancer from Ireland, who helped change the course of German history. Posing as a Spanish aristocrat, she bewitched Ludwig. In 1846, she became the king's most notorious lover (she was 29, he was 60). Ludwig refused to keep his lust a secret, scandalizing Munich.
In 1847, Ludwig granted her the title Countess of Landsfeld along with a large annuity. The taxpayers grew tired of both Lola and Ludwig. Legend has it that Lola inspired the phrase “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.” In the end, prompted by a tide of revolution, the faithless Ludwig was forced to abdicate.
3. The Queen’s Bedroom and the Birth of Mad King Ludwig
You’ll also stroll through the Queen’s green bedroom. This was the the birthplace of the dashing but doomed Mad King Ludwig II on August 25, 1845. More famous than his father Ludwig I, the eccentric mad king was the creative force behind the incredible fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle. A spendthrift, he also built Linderhof Palace and Herrenchiemsee Palace.
While Ludwig’s birth was witnessed by everyone via the mirror in the Queen's Bedroom (such a momentous event needed real proof), his death was murkier.
Mad King Ludwig was addicted to spending, as his father was addicted to ogling women. He couldn’t be removed by constitutional means. But he could be forcibly deposed if it he was too ill to rule.
In 1186, Ludwig's advisors had Dr. Bernhard von Gudden declare him mentally insane. Ludwig was forced to resign from the throne, evicted from Neuschwanstein Castle, and jailed in Berg Palace.
Just 24 hours later, Ludwig died under mysterious circumstances, discovered floating waist deep in Lake Starnberg. Was he murdered or did he commit suicide? No one knows for sure. But Ludwig was a strong swimmer, so many speculate that he was murdered by his own government.
But back to the palace, there are a whole host of other beautiful rooms in the main palace. Most of them were remodeled by Max Emanuel in the style of the Régence, not my personal favorite decorating theme.
4. The Nymphenburg Palace Museums
There are a few thematic museums located in the palace’s wings, linked to the main palace by arcades, that you may want to visit.
This museum is the Royal Stables Museum. It's one of the world's best museums devoted to carriages from the 17th-19th century, in case you didn't know there was that kind of sub-speciality in the museum world.
The museum's housed in one of the former riding stables in the southern wing. The favorite horses were boarded there during the summer months. The museum has over 40 outstanding gilded coaches, carriages, and sleighs. They're actually pretty astonishing.
The most famous coach is the Coronation Coach of Emperor Karl VII. It stands in the entryway drawn by 8 fake white horses.
But I liked the 19th century rococo sleight of Mad King Ludwig, fitted with oil lamps, best. Aside from being called crazy, Ludwig was also known as the "Night King" because of his nocturnal outings and vampire-like waking hours. You can also see the Mad King's favorite horse, Cosa-Rara, who is stuffed and mounted.
Nymphenburg Porcelain Museum
If you love Nymphenburg china, then this one is a no-brainer. The museum has the world’s best collection 18th-20th century porcelain. You’ll see ceramics in various styles from the ancient Greeks to Romantic period to Art Nouveau.
Erwin von Kreibig Museum
This museum is dedicated to obscure Munich painter, Erwin von Kreibig. He illustrated world famous art journals. It’s a lovely museum, but you may need a guide if you’re unfamiliar with German art.
Highlights of the Nymphenburg Palace Park
The expansive Nymphenburg Palace Park is just as interesting, if not more, than the palace itself. The beautifully landscaped park is the perfect place for your royal promenade. You’ll need a couple hours to explore it properly.
In ancient times, the nobles used the park’s waterways to stage nautical battles or to cruise around in a gondola. That custom has been revived. You can actually hire an authentic Venetian gondola in the summer months and cruise around amid swans.
There are a couple of lovely little “castles” sprinkled throughout the park. These follies and tiny palaces were the Wittelsbachs' getaway from the main palace when the hassles of courtly life proved too much to bear.
1. Badenburg, the Royal Bathing House
Built in 1719-21, Badenburg is the first royal bathhouse ever built. You might think of it as the first modern swimming pool. Inside, you'll find a largish plunge pool, which is quite luxurious and decorated with Dutch tiles. The dressing room is decorated with Chinese wallpaper.
2. Pagodenburg, the Royal Tea House
Built in 1719, the enchanting little Pagodenburg is the royal tea house. While the exterior has an understated look, the interior is decorated in a colorful Chinoiserie style, which was then in vogue. Each room features Chinese tapestries, tiles, and lacquerware – hence the name “pagoda castle.” It’s a tiny royal sweetbox.
The Pagodenburg was where the royals and their guests would rest after playing Mailspiel, a game similar to golf. On the ground floor, blue and white Dutch tiles sparkle. On the upper floor, there are small but cleverly designed rooms -- the Chinese Drawing Room, the Chinese Cabinet, and the Boudoir.
3. Amalienburg, Rococo Loco
Amalienburg, or Amalia’s castle, is pretty in pink on the outside. Inside, it's the most glittery and fabulous site on the park grounds. Indeed, Amalienburg may be the most perfect example of Rococo Architecture in Germany.
Amalienburg is a small hunting lodge about 300 yards from the main palace. It's so elaborate that I think of it as "Rococo Loco." It was built between 1734-39 by the Elector Karl Albrecht of Bavaria, as a gift to his wife Archduchess Amalia of Austria. Gifting is a theme of Nymphenburg Palace.
Amalia was an unusual character for the 18th century. She was extremely passionate about hunting. She had little time for stuffy court etiquette. Amalia was said to have donned a special hunting costume and shot pheasants from the rooftop of Amalienburg.
Like the Stone Hall inside, Amalienburg was the product of the duo of Cuvilliés and Zimmerman. The facade is pink and white. Inside, it’s pure silver. There’s a mini hall of mirrors, with a silver and dreamy light blue explosion of color designed by Cuvilliés.
Like Amalia, Cuvilliés was also an odd character. He was a dwarf, which typically meant being a buffoon at the royal court. But Max Emanuel recognized talent. He sent Cuvilliés to study architecture in Paris. He went on to great fame in the profession.
I also liked Amalienburg's "dog and gun room." It has blue and white wallpaper, in a distinct Chinoiserie style. At the bottom, dogs slept in special kennels, beneath built-in gun storage bins. Quite the fancy kennel!
4. Temple of Apollo
A nice area in the Nymphenburg Palace Park is the temple of Apollo, by the famous architect Leo von Klenze. On a sunny day, it’s the perfect place to rest on and gaze at the tranquil landscape.
5. Magdalenenklause, The Grotto Chapel
Another mini-schloss in Nymphenburg Park is the Magdalenenklause, or Maria Magdalena’s Inn. It was built between 1725-28 by Joseph Effner.
It’s a rather weird artificial hermitage ruin hidden deep in the forest, quite a contrast to the regal palace and other ornate follies. The faux ruin has fake cracks in the brickwork and crumbling plaster.
The Magdaleneklause also had a monastic room. It was meant as a place for silent contemplation and escape from courtly life. Escaping court life is another theme at Nymphenburg Palace.
King Max Emanuel died before his little chapel was consecrated.
Nymphenburg Palace is an unmissable sight in Bavaria. Plan to spend 3-4 hours there admiring the lavish Rococo style, the verdant gardens, and the great gallery of beauties.
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