With loads of castles, the Black Forest, half-timbered towns, thermal spas, and swimming lakes, the southwest corner of Germany is a beautiful spot to explore. And I’m not just saying this because I live here, I promise. Here are the best places to visit in Baden-Württemberg according to a resident.
Where is Baden-Württemberg?
The Bundesland (or state) of Baden-Württemberg covers the southwest corner of Germany. The cities you’ve probably heard of are Stuttgart, Mannheim, Tübingen, Heidelberg, Freiburg, and Baden-Baden. It also encompasses the beautiful Black Forest. The highest points in the Black Forest get some snow in the winter, and in the summer the whole region gets very warm, think 35ºC/95ºF. When you’re travelling, another country’s state lines don’t usually mean all that much, but when you’re travelling by train, there are some special deals to be had within each Bundesland.
Where to visit in Baden-Württemberg?
A romantic, red-roofed old town overlooked by a giant tumbling ruin of a castle, Heidelberg is on all the tour itineraries for a reason. Do yourself a favour and stay overnight to catch the city in the evening after all the bussed in day trip tourists have gone home. Heidelberg Castle is definitely worth a visit but be sure to do the guided tour inside, and step into the Kurpfälzisches Museum on the pedestrianized main street to hear about the Celts and Romans that lived here before the castle was even built. I have you covered for the best hotels in Heidelberg (and my friends and family have actually stayed there, or I’ve been inside myself) and where to eat, too.
This nearby town has a wonderful summer palace with acres of landscaped gardens to get lost in. There’s not much else to do in the town itself, but it does have a spectacular white asparagus festival if you happen to be visiting in May. The road leading up to the salmon-pink palace has a few good restaurants and cafes for enjoying a summer afternoon.
If you’ve seen photos of castles in Germany, chances are Burg Hohenzollern was one of them. This famous castle is still in the Hohenzollern family, and it is actually quite new, built in 1850. It is a glorious castle nonetheless, and quite a fun tour, with big felt slippers to go over your shoes and costumes for kids to wear. The interiors are gloriously opulent, and the family still holds events here, so it’s best to check ahead the castle is open before you make the journey. The iconic photos of this castle are taken from a neighbouring peak, and I’ve explained how to get there in my post about visiting Burg Hohenzollern.
This small town is dominated at one end by the huge Speyer Dom, an important cathedral during the Holy Roman Empire. There are many emperors buried in the crypts below, in fact. There is an audio tour in many languages you can get inside the building, and there is an excellent museum across the square. In the summer, there is Brezelfest, with rides and big Oktoberfest-type tents, as well as a lovely small-scale Christmas market in December.
Black Forest High Road
The Black Forest High Road route from Baden-Baden to Freundenstadt takes you up on the peaks of the Black Forest, with some incredible views down into the valleys below. It’s mostly a forest drive, and there are several places to stop on the way for hikes. If you’re looking for cute towns, you need to leave the route a bit for that, but they are easy to find. I have a full post on how to do the Black Forest High Road over a weekend, though you can easily do the whole thing in a day.
Black Forest Open-Air Museum
One of our favourite places to take guests, the Black Forest Open-Air Museum or Vogtsbauernhof, is an incredible village of meticulously rescued farm buildings from the region, all set up to demonstrate what life was like up to 400 years ago. There’s a working wooden toyshop, wood-fired bread ovens (if you’re lucky, they will be baking that day!), farm animals, and exhibits. The audio tour is excellent, but you’ll still get a lot out of it just walking around and reading the signs. It is a magical spot.
Burg Berwartstein is a fascinating castle, perched on one of the rocky hills in southern Baden-Württemberg. Taken over by robber barons in the middle ages and full of amazing myths and legends, this is one of those places I am mystified isn’t more popular than it is. You don’t need to take a tour to see inside, but it’s worth doing anyway, they tell you all the good stories and take you down to the hand-carved, candle-lit tunnels beneath the castle.
This gorgeous medieval town just southeast of Stuttgart is worth a stop if you’re into half-timbered buildings. Esslingen has some beautifully preserved big ones in the centre of their old town. If you’re visiting during Christmas market season you absolutely must see the medieval market here, it is so magical – from middle ages-era kids rides to betting on mice running into numbered wooden houses to huge flaming torches and braziers at night, it is such fun.
Beautiful and charming Schwäbisch Hall should be on every visitor’s map. Once a centre of salt production, this town has an old town centre of winding streets and half-timbered buildings, with a gorgeous central town square. Hang out in the park on the banks of the Kocher river and enjoy the picturesque covered bridge. It’s definitely worth visiting their local museum to learn more about the fascinating history of salt making in the area. They have some great local festivals, so check their city calendar ahead of time too. Just above the town is the Großcomburg monastery, with its 16th-century external walls still standing, and Romanesque chapel and cloister inside.
This spa town has been a special retreat for thousands of years, even the Romans built a public bath here. The natural warm springs were the original draw, but in the 18th century it also served as a haven for French nobles escaping the revolution. Casinos, hotels, and posh shops started springing up, and it’s been a popular summer destination ever since. You can enjoy the baths as well at one of the two wellness complexes, the more family-friendly Caracalla Therme or the adult-orientated Friedrichsbad [note: Friedrichsbad is still shut due to COVID restrictions]. It’s worth noting neither of these pool complexes are the waterslide-and-kids-pool variety, they are very wellness focused. You can bring children to the Caracalla Therme, but they may find it a bit boring. There are also art galleries, the famous casino, and an extensive castle ruin above the town.
The university town of Freiburg has the distinction of being the sunniest city in Germany. It’s a charming town to wander around in, with little streams running through it through channels in the roads and pavements, called Bächle. If you step in one, the local legend says you will marry a Freiburger! Visit the gothic red sandstone cathedral, built in the middle ages, or take the cable car up to the peak of the Schauinsland for an incredible view. There’s also the funicular up to the Schlossberg for more of a city vista.
On the Bodensee is the city of Konstanz, right across from Switzerland. This town is a beautiful place to visit in the summer, with a lovely lakeside promenade full of restaurants and cafes. There are many tour boats to take you around the Bodensee. Do take a look at the Roman ruins of the fortress that once stood here, and the impressive Imperia statue that rotates on its plinth once every three minutes. The pile-dwelling open-air museum, a UNESCO Heritage site, is not too far, and is a fascinating look at Stone Age and Bronze Age human life. The Meersburg Castle is Germany’s oldest inhabited castle, and while some of it is available for visiting, there are still people living in it! Mainau Island is also a popular destination near Konstanz, with botanical gardens, a baroque palace, butterfly house, and more.
What to eat in Baden-Württemberg
Food in Baden-Württemberg is wonderful and includes many traditional dishes that don’t seem to make it outside of Germany.
A dish of melted cheeses like Emmental mixed with the uneven local egg noodles topped with fried onions. It is truly a joyful comfort food.
Filled pasta that look like large ravioli, but they are much more solidly packed with a variety of fillings, typically pork. You can have them sliced and fried on salad, or in a clear broth soup with chives (my favourite!). I’ve even had them sliced in an omelette.
These are everywhere in this region and the neighbouring Alsace in France where they are called Tarte flambée. A thin, crisp dough is topped with a soft cheese, leeks, and lardons (bacon), and baked in a wood-fired oven. There are many, many varieties of Flammkuchen from the traditional to goat cheese and figs to tomato and pesto to sweet ones with honey and apples.
True Black Forest ham is salt-cured for two to three weeks, and then smoked using local Black Forest wood and sawdust for several days. Within the EU, it is a protected term, so anything labelled Schwarzwälder Schinken must be made in this traditional way and at least partially produced within the Black Forest. It’s much smokier tasting than anything labelled ‘black forest ham’ in North America, and closer to prosciutto in texture.
What’s your favourite things to see and do in Baden-Württemberg? I am always updating my list of places to visit and I’d love to hear your favourites.