A Guide of Our Top Choices
Southern Germany, it’s a destination that so many people talk about putting on their bucket list, yet it somehow regularly gets overlooked when it comes time to schedule a trip. People tend to always look towards large, mainstream cities, yet the best gems in the world are usually found in the smaller towns nestled away off the beaten path.
I’m here to encourage you to get out, see the world, begin traveling again (after these wild two years of being homeward bound), and to add Southern Germany to the top of your list! The South of Germany is filled with culture, a rich amount of history, the rustic adventure of the Black Forest, and the charm and personality of so many small cities just waiting to be explored. Of everything you can do in Southern Germany, I’m recommending four unique destinations, each with their own charm and overwhelming personalities. So, get inspired by Germany, get out your agendas, and start looking to explore Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden-Baden, Heidelberg, and Trier today. I’m going to explain to you why you should visit each of these places, as well as highlight the best things to do in each of these incredible cities.
Freiburg im Breisgau
Frieburg im Breisgau is a culturally rich, modern city still filled with history and tradition. And with warm winds coming in from the South of France, it has the best climate of Germany, too. While the area is filled with University students ready to challenge the system and push for a more green, sustainable future, there’s also a heavy imprint of the past in Freiburg im Breisgau. That’s what makes this hip, artistic place so special. While it’s a very green, vegan-friendly, sustainable place (which is so important in travel right now), as you walk down the streets of the city center, you will also discover a cultural destination with stories and history that date back through Germanic and French culture. For instance, the streets are lined with a small water canal system that dates back to the 1200s. Though its purpose isn’t as imperative today as it was back in older times, it still colors the city and adds a unique personable charm. You’ll see children playing with boats down the water system and puppies splashing through it on their walks. It gives a magic charm to Freiburg unlike any other place. And while 80% of the town was destroyed in the second world war, it was rebuilt to look like it was before, holding onto its character and charm. Let’s discuss what to do in Freiburg so you can get a better idea of its distinct and wonderful personality.
Tour the City
Being such a hot spot of culture, we insist that you take an official tour with a guide through Freiburg im Breisgau. With so much to do throughout the town and centuries of stories, your experience wouldn’t be complete without seeing the entire city firsthand with a guide. From the charming canal waterways mentioned above to the mosaics coloring the walkways of the town, each holding their own unique story, a guide will be able to enlighten you on the history and lore of Freiburg. My favorite tales from my tour included the house of the ‘Hang Man’ or executioner of Freiburg. Now a storefront, this green building used to be the home of the town’s executioner. Since he was considered bad luck, there is now a little black cat painted on the front of the building along with a black cat mosaic in the store’s front entrance.
You may also want to note that you can find methods of measurement on the side of the church dating back to the 1300s. The marketplace was (and still is) held at the foot of the church, so the city would carve the standard size of a loaf of bread (amongst other measurements) into the side of the church so you could tell if you were being cheated by a baker. This really stood out to me, as I’ve never seen anything like it before.
As you go about your city tour, I also highly recommend you take the cable car up to the hillside to overlook the beautiful city. The gorgeous panoramic views are worth the trip up, and the ride, itself, is pretty fun, too.
With wine being a major treat of the Black Forest area, it’s important to partake in a wine tasting while you are here. We highly recommend the popular spot, Alte Wache Freiburg (House of Baden Wines). The interior of this happening spot is very chic and modern, and let me tell you that their tapas are to die for! You must try the tapas. When I was there, the exterior was packed, as this is the prime spot to go after your workday. And, clearly, all those locals are onto something! The wine was unique, fresh, and delicious, from the regular Rieslings of the area to the more unique choices. They have wine from 35 different wine companies and 90 wines from this particular region of Germany, 12 of which are their own wine. The special wines are upstairs in the chic gorgeous sitting room. Their wine connoisseur was incredibly educated and informed on all things wine and was ready to answer anything about the wine, whether it be in English or German.
For me, personally, I loved the Riesling offered here, as it is less acidic than in most other places, and with my stomach issues, I’m always looking for a wine with lower acidity. And you must try their slushie wine; it was absolutely delicious.
With gorgeous views looking out at the main market square and the Freiburg Munster, this really is the best spot to sit back after your day and enjoy a glass or two of wine. You get the perfect view of the sunset without ever having the sun directly in your face. With Alte Wache Freiburg celebrating its 26th birthday this year, there’s no excuse for you not to come visit!
This former monastery church turned museum by the architect Chrisoph Mäckler is something you cannot miss while in Freiburg. The Augustinermuseum houses a remarkable collection of art from the Middles ages, the Baroque period, and the 19th century, as well. Unlike many modern museums, the fact that this takes place in an old monastery adds to its appeal, and the collection of original stone figures and stained glass windows all around you as you enter immediately make you feel as if you have been transported to another time. This is the only opportunity I have had to have been this up-close and personal with church statues and gargoyles, and it was well worth the experience.
At the moment, the Augustinermuseum is restoring a centuries-old map, and you can actually walk by and watch the team restore the piece throughout the day which is a really unique and cool experience.
They also throw occasional museum night get-togethers, so be sure to look out for these, as it offers such a cool and unique way to experience the art and culture of the past. I was really inspired by how the Augustinermuseum embraces their art history yet continues to incorporate new ways to inspire the modern world to come get inspired by its history.
While Freiburg is more artistic and modern, Baden-Baden mixes the old and the new together in a much different way all its own. In fact, if I had to describe Baden-Baden in one word, it would be LUXURY! Defined by a very glam, lux casino surrounded by high-end hotels and luxury shopping, Baden-Baden is the place to be for a luxurious getaway. The history of this city dates back to the Roman Empire and the thermal baths that used to grace the Roman people have been carried over in today’s modern times with luxury spas. After all, the term Baden-Baden means “bath-bath”, and the city is on the UNESCO list as one of the great spas of the 19th century for being a center for health and culture. Unlike many surrounding cities, Baden-Baden was not destroyed in the second world war, so it still has many classical buildings standing in tact. And the traditions of the Black Forest are just a short car-ride away. Here’s the best things to do on your visit to Baden-Baden.
Visit the Casino
A visit to the casino in Baden-Baden is a must. But don’t think of this as any common casino, think of it as a Monte-Carlo style lux affair. This is a casino where you can dress to the nines (or at least dress up smart casual) to experience a high-class affair containing gambling halls, orchestra concert halls, ballrooms, and more. With golden chandeliers and Renaissance paintings, you will surely be brought back into a different time as you step into the casino.
Just outside of the beautiful casino building, you’ll find a complex of luxury shops. These stores were in development in the early 1830s and were all completed by 1868. Since then, Baden-Baden has been a prime spot for luxury shopping. You can, of course, spend time in the shops directly outside of the casino building or head into the old town and enjoy all the wonderful shopping experiences down the Main and side streets of the city. There’s shopping to be had for all tastes and pleasures.
As I mentioned above, Baden-Baden is a center for health and culture. A big part of that comes from its history of having natural hot springs. One of the hills near the city center used to contain authentic Roman Baths during Ancient Roman times, of which the ruins are still there, though they are hidden down below the church. The history of the thermal waters has easily carried through to the modern age, so Baden-Baden currently has luxury spas and thermal baths for you to try- whether you prefer a more modern spa experience or a more classical one.
While I was in Baden-Baden, I had the distinct pleasure of trying both Caracalla Spa and Friedrichsbad, two very different (though both lux) spa experiences. At Caracalla, you can get the full spa experience with thermal baths of different temperatures all underneath of a beautiful, gleaming glass dome. It’s a more relaxed modern experience to thermal bathing. At Friedrichsbad, you get a much different experience. You walk through different rooms in a particular (and easy-to-follow) order and spend a certain amount of allotted time in each room/experience. However, at Friedrichsbad, your experience is completely nude. While some days they separate the sexes and other days they do not (you can inquire with them to see which days they separate genders), I can say it is a truly liberating and calming experience unlike anything I’ve seen before. If you are comfortable, I’d say to go for it. After all, Mark Twain supposedly said about Friedrichsbad, “After 10 minutes you forget time, after 20 minutes you forget the world.” If you have the time, I recommend both spas, as each has a truly unique and special experience for you to try.
Museum Frieder Burda
It’s a fabulous idea to start your day in Baden-Baden with a nice walk down the park. On one side you will get a beautiful view of the old hotels and buildings, and on the other side, you will see all the museums the city has to offer. And in between lies a gorgeous ‘scape of green. If you’re going to stop into one museum over all the rest, we recommend the Museum Frieder Burda. While it generally holds an array of modern art, today at Frieder Burda, you can see a wide variety of gorgeous hand-crocheted coral reefs put together by Australian sisters Margaret and Christine Wertheim as a way to push for the protection of the ocean reefs.
A Trip into the Black Forest
If you love fairy tales and adventure, no trip to Germany is complete without an adventure deep into the Black Forest! I recommend a nice afternoon visit and stroll through the forest of Lake Mummelsee. Legend has it that the lake is filled with Mermaids who can come out of the water and spend time as people. However, they must return to the lake before midnight or else there will be dire consequences. Tales tell of a man who fell in love with a mermaid and tricked her into staying out past midnight, forever cursing the merfolk to disappear. However, other tales say that you can only spot the mermaids at exactly midnight. Either way, if you look closely at the water, you will see a beautiful statue of a mermaid who encapsulates the joy and mystery of the old Black Forest tales.
I’m sure you’ll see “wine tasting” on many of my lists here, but Southern Germany really is a great hub for wine tasting. They can trace growing grapes for wine back to this region for at least 1,000 years to the Romans, and many of the wines are crisp, light, and sweet- my kind of wines. If you’re going to pick one place to do your wine tastings, however, I highly recommend Schloss Neuweier. This gorgeous 7th-century chateau encapsulates all the charm of a fairy tale, complete with wine! You can stay in the the chateau as a hotel, visit the restaurant within, or experience a unique wine tasting outside in the yard of the chateau. It’s such a lovely experience, but perhaps, my favorite part is that the current owner has studied and grown wines for all of his adult life. He bought the property out of a love of wine, and you can really feel his love in both the taste of the wine and the environment of the property. While the wine is light, it certainly is still flavorful and pushes the idea that you should have a light drink to help make yourself a little sharper to end your day- not to drink to get drunk. Those are ideals I can get behind!
Heidelberg is, perhaps, the most charming and unique of all the towns I visited in Southern Germany, and I heavily encourage you to visit there. The Old Town in Heidelberg looks like something out of a fairy tale, sprinkled with buildings that tell the stories of its centuries past. With influence from the Romans, the French, and the Germanic people, and with a massive castle structure standing proudly above the old town, this picturesque place will leave a permanent imprint on your heart and mind. With medieval, Baroque, and modern history from during and post World War II, it’s a spot filled to the brim with historical events. Here’s how you can get the full experience to soak in all the history Heidelberg has to offer.
Tour of the Town
No trip to Heidelberg can even officially start without a guided tour of the town. There is so much history and so many stories that you truly have to have an expert show you around and cater the experience to your preferences. From the Philosopher’s Walk high above the city overlooking the water, the city, and the castle to the streets of the Old Town, you can have quite the experience. In the old town, it’s possible to read the history right off the sides of the buildings. What do I mean? You can tell the buildings that survived from the medieval times, you can see the buildings that were rebuilt in Baroque periods, and you can see more modern renovations done to them, too. The architecture, alone, reveals the secrets of the past of Heidelberg with the oldest buildings made from the red sandstone of the castle walls. From modern shopping to antiques and old book stores, you really can have a plethora of historical and modern experiences here at the same time.
When spending time in Heidelberg, you absolutely will not miss the palace. It towers high above the cityscape. And at night, with the lights illuminating it, the castle really is like something out of a painting. With the oldest parts of the castle dating back to the 1200s and walls up to 6 meters thick at parts for fortification, Heidelberg Palace is the biggest castle ruin in Germany.
With tickets, you can now walk into the castle gates and through the courtyard to see both the ruins and the parts of the castle that are still standing up close. Again, this is a great opportunity to see the medieval ruins as well as notice and admire the Baroque additions to the castle. And you will also be able to see the largest wine barrel in the world in the cellar of the castle, a barrel that could hold 58,000 gallons of wine!
Throughout my recent travels abroad, I’ve found that cable cars are the attraction of the future! There are many cities now that offer rides in a cable car or small railway vehicle up from the city to the highest point nearby so you can enjoy an overhead view of the town. Heidelberg is no different! However, Heidelberg was well ahead of its time in this aspect, as their cable-car like railway was constructed in the 19th century, being ran for the first time in 1890. And if you’re in Heidelberg, it’s a must-do! You should definitely ride the Heidelberger Bergbahnen up to the very top of the Königstuhl hillside to see the most picturesque view of the city.
Now, I love the unusual, so my favorite thing I found in Heidelberg was the Student Prison! From 1823 to 1914, University students were incarcerated in this small building for reeking havoc around the city of Heidelberg. These students, generally noble boys, tended to get into a lot of trouble, whether that be from releasing the town’s pigs and chasing them through the city streets, throwing rocks at officers, or just generally acting unruly. In response, the University put together a building to incarcerate these students for a length of time they felt justifiable for what they did. However, it never quite worked out the way it was supposed to.
What started as a punishment turned more into a competition, a rite of passage, and an experience for them instead of a punishment. They began having celebrations and parades to lead their fraternity brothers into the prison. Fraternities began competing to see who could have the worst punishments. And the walls of the student prison became a truly unique and (well, somewhat breathtaking) canvas. The boys painted their fraternity colors, ridiculous sayings, and why they were put into prison on the walls. While the building didn’t work out as a student prison, it is most definitely a really wild tourist attraction you must see to believe today!
Unlike anywhere else I’ve visited in Germany, Trier holds the oldest and most impressive landmarks. Being German’s oldest city, that only makes sense. In fact, Trier was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire in the 2nd Century AD, and many landmarks, ruins, and archaeological finds still remain there for you to explore and experience for yourself. So, if you’re interested in Roman history, this is the spot for you!
This large structure that once served as the City Gate to Trier is now the pride of the city. It’s Trier’s main landmark, as it was built by the Romans in the 2nd century, and it somehow still remains impressively standing, allowing for visitors to explore its ruins. When you climb up to the top, you will get an amazing view of the city. I was more impressed, however, by the detailed carving work found within the inside of the ruins. If you love archaeology, I cannot recommend Trier and Porta Nigra enough.
Konstantin Basilika was the Imperial Throne room of Emperor Constantine, build in 310 AD. It is the largest single room to survive from Ancient Roman times that is not supported by columns, and that’s incredibly impressive, as you feel like a tiny ant when you enter this space. When you step into the Imperial space, it’s as if you are transported to a different time. Just being in an ancient throne room in thought alone is incredibly impressive.
As an archaeology and adventure lover, the Imperial Baths were my favorite landmark in Trier. While the one exterior wall still standing from the ruins was impressive, the most exciting part, in my opinion, is that you can actually go into and explore the subterranean passageways that used to contain the heating for the baths. You can follow the path underground and navigate through quite an impressive distance of tunnels as well as get a look at the excavations up close. The Imperial Bath ruins really do provide for a memorable adventure!
Built in the 1st century AD, the Amphitheater in Trier will take your breath away. You can explore the exterior, get a view from the top looking down within, or head down into the aqueduct underneath. All of these experiences will really leave you in awe. On a quiet day, you can feel the energy and excitement of the times past that took place on this spot from the bloody gladiator fights, animal baiting, and executions.
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