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The Chocolate Museum, Cologne

The Chocolate Museum, Cologne

Cologne, or Köln in German, is famous for its cathedral, its beer, and its intense Karneval parties. High on our list for our visit also included the Chocolate Museum right on the river Rhine. I truly didn’t expect to enjoy this museum as much as I did – but it is well laid out, interesting, and fun for adults and kids.

This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on one, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my work!

The Chocolate Museum is on its own little island in Cologne.
The Chocolate Museum is on its own little island in Cologne.

Chocolate Museum history

You can thank Dr Hans Imhoff for this monument to chocolate. Born in Cologne in the 1920s, Imhoff began his chocolate and sweets company after the Second World War, and bought larger and larger German chocolate companies including Stollwerck and Hildebrand. In 1993, he opened the Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum. Lindt has partnered with the museum since 2006. Imhoff’s daughter and her husband continue hold the reins of the museum today.

The museum is full of vintage chocolate tins, containers, labels and more.
The museum is full of vintage chocolate tins, containers, labels and more.

What to expect

There are a few sections to the museum: a look at the cocoa plant itself including a small greenhouse, overview of cocoa production and shipping, the process of making chocolate including a full assembly line, the Lindt Atelier where you can make your own chocolate bars, the history of chocolate consumption, and chocolate marketing through the ages. There’s also a nice restaurant on the ground floor where you can indulge in various chocolate desserts and drinks, and I think my favourite museum gift shop of all time.

The excellent snack and confectionery blogger Lindsay over at Eat, Explore, Etc suggested to head straight for the Lindt Atelier to make our special Lindt chocolate bars first, as they require 45 minutes to cure. This tip was bang on, as we then took in the rest of the museum, picking up our custom bars on the way out. It’s a little way past the initial part of the museum, but use the map they hand you on the way in to make your way straight there.

Entering the chocolatey world of Lindt
Entering the chocolatey world of Lindt
Making the hard decisions about what to put in his chocolate bar.
Making the hard decisions about what to put in his chocolate bar.
Watching his chocolate bar being made at the Chocolate Museum.
Watching his chocolate bar being made at the Chocolate Museum.

Making your own chocolate bar

I’m going to be honest, this is one of the best parts of the museum. In the Lindt Atelier, you can pick up a form and choose what chocolate you would like, and what else you’d like to add. You queue up to hand over your forms, and pay about 4€ for each custom bar. After, you can watch the chocolatiers make your bar behind glass. You have to wait 45 minutes to pick up your chocolate, so now is the time to see the rest of the museum.

Cocoa plant in the wild! Okay the greenhouse.
Cocoa plant in the wild! Okay the greenhouse.

Have you seen a cocoa plant before?

I certainly hadn’t, not in real life. There is a whole museum section dedicated to the growing of cocoa, the different types, and what it looks like, but the most interesting bit for me was the little greenhouse with live cocoa plants growing there. It’s worth noting that all the information texts are written in German and English, and there are plenty of kid-friendly touching and flap-opening options.

Full chocolate factory action!
Full chocolate factory action!

Factory behind glass

As you approach the Lindt Atelier, you will find a chocolate factory behind glass panels, allowing you to see every step of the process from processing the cocoa to tempering chocolate to pouring it into molds to packaging, all by machine. It’s mesmerizing. I have always loved those ‘How Things Are Made’ shows, so seeing it live was super cool. Kids of all ages love watching the machines too. It doesn’t hurt that there is a giant, and I mean giant, chocolate fountain right there, with a friendly staff member handing out wafers dipped in warm fresh chocolate.

Obviously chocolates are delivered by stork.
Obviously chocolates are delivered by stork.
The Chocolate Museum's vintage packaging section is a dream for typeface lovers.
The Chocolate Museum’s vintage packaging section is a dream for typeface lovers.
Love this chocolate delivery bike!
Love this chocolate delivery bike!
Elephants, windmills – literally anything you can think of has been made into a chocolate box or vending machine.
Elephants, windmills – anything you can think of has been made into a chocolate box or vending machine.
The biggest Lindt ball you've ever seen?
The biggest Lindt ball you’ve ever seen?

Labels, machines, Kinder Surprise!

Upstairs there are rooms upon rooms of old chocolate advertising posters, labels, and packaging, as well as full-size vending machines used to dispense chocolate from all over Europe. There was a great interactive game that my son played with some other random children we met for half an hour up there as well. The display of every Kinder Surprise toy in a big pile was impressive to say the least. I loved the displays of old candy shops with all their drawers and jars. Less interesting for us was the history of chocolate from Central America to the present day. There is a lot to read, and my son wasn’t up for that part.

A drinking chocolate set built specifically for traveling in one's coach. Or a picnic. As you do.
A drinking chocolate set built specifically for traveling in one’s coach. Or a picnic. As you do.
I so want one of these cabinets in my house.
I so want one of these cabinets in my house.

The gift shop, oh the gift shop!

I have never enjoyed a gift shop as much as I did at the Chocolate Museum. It wasn’t just kitchsy chocolates in the shape of Cologne Cathedral (though there were some of those too), but really imaginative bars by smaller chocolate manufacturers as well as chocolate liqueurs, hot chocolate mixes of many types, cocoa nibs, raw chocolate bars, and little tins of chocolate of every description. The prices are quite reasonable for the quality. For the kids there are loads of chocolate cars, castles, keys, soccer balls, people, emoji tins and more. We are still eating our way through our haul a month and a half later! *cough* We may have gone a little crazy in there.

Chocolat Grand Café

The cafe at the museum is of course, dedicated to chocolate. There are many options for hot chocolate, or what we call an Eisschokolade in Germany, which involves liquid chocolate poured over chocolate ice cream with some added cream for good measure. I ogled the glass case full of cake options, but I didn’t have time for a leisurely stop during either of my visits unfortunately. In the summer, the outdoor terrace is open too, though it seems to fill up quickly so make sure you try the cafe early in your visit if that’s something you’re looking forward to.

What to do after

After you are all sweet thinged out, a meal of savoury things is in order. There’s not much else down there, so the family-friendly Vapiano right there is your best bet. They have a kids menu which is very affordable but also quite small portions, so if you have a big eater, just get an adult portion. It’s one of these places where you order at the menu station along the wall, and then receive a buzzer that vibrates when your food is ready. It’s really best to get all children situated and then figure out the food.

The Sport and Olympic Museum in Cologne
The Sport and Olympic Museum in Cologne

The Sports and Olympics Museum is right there next to the Chocolate Museum. We didn’t visit as we were all a bit museumed out at that point, but it looks like it would be good fun with kids. You can borrow sport equipment and go play a game on the rooftop field, as well as check out sports memorabilia throughout the exhibitions. If I’m honest, we’re not really sports people, so it wasn’t our thing.

The cute Chocolate Express minitrain in Cologne that takes you from the Cologne Cathedral to the Chocolate Museum.
The cute Chocolate Express minitrain in Cologne that takes you from the Cologne Cathedral to the Chocolate Museum.

How to get to the Chocolate Museum

The easiest, and most entertaining, way to get down to the Chocolate Museum is to take the Chocolate Express mini train. It leaves from right outside the Cologne Cathedral, and you get a little tour of the city as you head down to the Museum. The tour voiceover is in English and German. You can buy a round-trip ticket, which takes you back up to the Cathedral after you’re finished down on the riverside, though check the last train times if you plan to be down there towards the end of the day. The return journey takes a different route, so it’s well worth it.

The Chocolate Museum is right on the riverside on its own little corner of the harbour, and the address is Am Schokoladenmuseum 1a, 50678 Köln. I’ve marked it on the map below so you can get a sense of where it is in the city.

Getting to Cologne

Cologne is a short trip from Frankfurt, about an hour and a half on the ICE (intercity express) train – I have a direct booking link for you here:
Frankfurt-Köln

Looking for some other kid-friendly day trips from Frankfurt? I have you covered.

From Hamburg, Berlin and Munich, it’s a four-hour journey by train and you’d best spend a weekend exploring Cologne and Düsseldorf. You can book a train right here:




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Visiting Schwäbisch Hall

Visiting Schwäbisch Hall

I regularly peruse German instagram tags looking for new places to visit, and I had noticed one place kept popping up: Schwäbisch Hall. I remembered passing the exit on the Autobahn quite a few times, and somewhere in the back of my mind I knew it was a cute Fachwerk (half-timbred) town, but not much else. One Sunday, we went to investigate, and am I ever glad we did.

This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on one, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my work!

Who can resist these cute Fachwerk houses along the river?
Who can resist these cute Fachwerk houses along the river?

Schwäbisch Hall history

I had assumed that the town was named for a building, but in fact the ‘Hall’ refers to the West Germanic word for ‘drying something by heating it’ and by extension the saltworks that was the town’s min industry for hundreds of years. Possibly. To be fair, no one is exactly sure, and the town itself was just called ‘Hall’ for much of its history. The ‘Schwäbisch’ bit refers to Swabia, a linguistic and cultural region of Germany that includes much of this south west corner of the country – but isn’t actually a state or officially delineated on maps. It has its own German dialect and a very specific (and incredibly good, I should add) group of foods and dishes.

A cold snowy day in Schwäbisch Hall
A cold snowy day in Schwäbisch Hall

The town itself has been the site of salt production since the 5th century when the Celts started boiling off the water from the local saltwater spring, and the last saltworks shut down only in 1925. Before the advent of refrigeration, salt was an absolutely critical substance, allowing people to preserve and dry foods to last over the winter – think sauerkraut, sausages, bacon, pickles. Salt was also used to clean kitchen equipment and surfaces, preventing the spread of bacteria. You can see why a town like Hall would become very prosperous as the centre of salt production.

Colourful houses face the Marktplatz
Colourful houses face the Marktplatz

What to do in Schwäbisch Hall

This gorgeous town survived the Thirty Years War and the Second World War mostly intact when it comes to Fachwerk buildings. Just wandering through the old town is a good few hours activity. The town is set into a little valley around the river Kocher. The Marktplatz is up the hill a bit, and features these three colourful houses you can see in my photo above, as well as an impressive staircase leading up to the church of St Michael. These steps have quite a history of their own, as this is the site of a great outdoor theatre festival that has been running since the 1920s. In the summer you can catch the weekly farmers market here on Wednesday and Saturday mornings until midday, and during Advent the Christmas market is here as well. The South German Cheese Market takes place here at the beginning of May as well.

Checking out the ducks, who knew full well where the food comes from at this time of year!
Checking out the ducks, who knew full well where the food comes from at this time of year!

Wander down the winding streets towards the river, and you will find a couple of covered bridges, a park, playground, and the rebuilt Globe Theatre. Down along the river you will also find the Hallisch-Frankisches Museum. For free entry you can learn about the history of salt production, the open-air theatre, and marvel at the piles of historic artefacts from medieval torture chairs to remnants of Celtic stonework.

On the other side of the river and up the hill is the big art gallery, the Kunsthalle Würth, with a rotating exhibition schedule (check their website). This is no small town gallery – when we were there, they had works by Botticelli, Rembrandt and Rubens. There’s the Firefighting Museum (Haller Feuerwehr Museum), which we missed out on with our visit unfortunately! If you’ve got a small person into fire engines, this place will be a huge hit.

We also took a couple of hours in the Großcomburg Monastery on a hill above the town, and it’s so worth the short bus ride.

The covered bridges are particularly cute.
The covered bridges are particularly cute.

The 'new' City Hall, which replaces an old half-timbred one destroyed by fire sometime in the 17th century.
The ‘new’ City Hall, which replaces an old half-timbred one destroyed by fire sometime in the 17th century.

You can see the hills rising up beyond the town here.
You can see the hills rising up beyond the town here.

The famous St Michael's church with it's front steps used for open-air theatre productions.
The famous St Michael’s church with it’s front steps used for open-air theatre productions.

 

What to eat in Schwäbisch Hall

We didn’t have a chance to have a proper meal in town but living so close to Swabia, I can definitely share with you some excellent Swabian dishes you absolutely should try.

Maultaschen are a bit like big ravioli, but much denser. Traditionally filled with meat and cheese, these pasta pockets are called ‘God-cheaters’ in Swabian, referring to the story that the monks would eat them during Lent, hiding the meat from God by covering it in pasta dough. Now you can find Maultaschen of all varieties, from vegan to chicken. The classic way to have it is in broth with chives, but you may also see it served pan-fried. If you go into a grocery store in this region, you will find entire chiller cabinets filled with Maultaschen. They are definitely a favourite in our house.

A bowl of steaming Maultaschen I made at home.
A bowl of steaming Maultaschen I made at home.

Käsespätzle is a glorious glorious thing. Spätzle are little egg noodles made fresh by rubbing the dough over a pot of boiling water. Käsespätzle involves taking those freshly cooked little noodles and layering them with mild cheeses and butter, then topping the whole melting mass with crispy fried onions. You can get this as a dish to itself, or as a side with something else.

Potato salad is a German specialty, of course, but the Swabian version is famous. Instead of a mayonnaise dressing, the Swabian potato salad involves vinegar and onions, it’s quite sharp tasting and a good foil to the richer dishes.

How to get to Schwäbisch Hall

By car, you can reach Schwäbisch Hall in about two and a half hours from Frankfurt or Munich. By train, it’s about three hours from either Munich or Frankfurt, involving a change or two of trains as Schwäbisch Hall is on a smaller branch line.

You can book your train right here, in English:



Hotels in Schwäbisch Hall

We didn’t stay overnight, but for a small town, Hall has a fair amount of cute little places to stay. It’s worth keeping mind that the Goethe Institut runs a popular German language programme here, so book your accommodation as early as you can.



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Heidelberg Castle: A Local’s Guide

Heidelberg Castle: A Local’s Guide

Living in Heidelberg, the castle is a constant presence. Every morning on the way to school, my son and I see it up on the hillside as we cross over the river Neckar. My son goes with his school to see plays there in the summer, and we even had his birthday party up at the Heidelberg Castle – which was possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever pulled off as a parent.

This post contains affiliate links. Should you click on one, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my work!

My son's birthday party playing knight's tag up in one of the ruined castle buildings (with a guide).
My son’s birthday party playing knight’s tag up in one of the ruined castle towers (with a guide).

So let me share with you the best ways to experience this amazing castle in southern Germany, from someone who has been there many, many times.

Note: Heidelberg Castle is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the gardens are open

Photo taken the time I decided to climb the stairs to the castle the same day I went to the gym. Never do this.
Photo taken the time I decided to climb the stairs to the castle the same day I went to the gym. Never do this.

What does ‘Schloss’ mean?

‘Schloss’ is a word you’ll see, along with ‘Burg’, used to describe what we would call a castle in English. A Burg is more of a fortress, a building or complex of buildings, used for active military use and defense. A Schloss tends more on the palace end of the castle spectrum. One word you don’t use with any castle is ‘Berg’ – this means mountain rather than fortress! You will notice that Schloss Heidelberg has a bit of both fortress and palace going on. This castle complex has been in use for such a long time, it started life more as a fortress, and then over the years became more decorative in function. Unfortunately, by the time the French rolled in during the 17th century, canons and explosives were the weapon of choice for sieges and not even those thick, sandstone walls could compete with that, fortress or not.

Planning your trip to the Heidelberg Castle

There are many bus tours that offer a trip to the castle as part of a day trip. If at all possible, spend a night in Heidelberg and experience a bit more. Reading posts about the castle, everyone wishes they had more time to explore the city as well. I’ve collected our favourite things to do in Heidelberg with kids, so start there! Unlike many other German castles, Heidelberg Castle is right in the town, so it’s easy to visit without a car. There is the famous stairway, but it is quite an uphill trek, and you will be doing lots of walking when you’re up there. I’d recommend getting the funicular railway from the old town – you can get a ticket which includes your entrance to the castle, and find out when the next guided tour leaves.

There’s a hiking route that begins at Heidelberg Castle, Joe at Without a Path has all the details on how to follow this beautiful route.
A tumbling down romantic ruin indeed.
A tumbling down romantic ruin indeed.

Heidelberg Castle history

Like many castles, this one has been built, destroyed, and rebuilt many times. There aren’t many records pertaining to the first castle structure higher up on the Königstuhl, but the current castle complex’s history seems to start around 1200. Ruprecht made the first enlargement that you can still see evidence of today, and in fact he and his wife Elizabeth of Hohenzollern (her family has some amazing castles too) are buried in the Church of the Holy Ghost in the market square.

Romantic Heidelberg stories started a long time ago!

Frederick V, who took the position of Elector Palatine in 1610, has a special place in the hearts of Heidelbergers. He married Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I of England and Scotland, and by all accounts he was quite besotted with her. Look for the Elizabeth Tor (gate) in the gardens, which was carved and created in pieces and then assembled in the garden overnight to surprise Elizabeth on her birthday. The extensive formal gardens that were started, but never finished, were also the work of Frederick, ostensibly to entertain Elizabeth. Unfortunately, he accepted the crown of Bohemia right at the beginning of the Thirty Years War, and could not hold it for more than a season. Frederick and Elizabeth lived the rest of their lives in exile, earning them the titles the Winter King and Winter Queen.

 

The Elizabeth Gate at Heidelberg Castle is just the thing to post on Valentine’s Day. The Prince Elector Palatine Frederick V had stonemasons build this garden arch in pieces, and then assemble it overnight as a birthday surprise for his wife, Elizabeth Stuart (yes, daughter of James I of England and Scotland) around 1613. I thought that was possibly the most romantic thing ever, don’t you think? // Das Elisabethtor am Heidelberger Schloß ist die perfekte Post am Valentingstag. Die Kürfurst Freidrich V. ließ diesen Gartenbogen in Stücken bauen und über Nacht als Geburtstagsüberraschung für seine Frau Elizabeth Stuart (ja, Tochter von James I. von England und Schottland) um 1613 zusammenbauen. Ich dachte, das wäre die das romantischste überhaupt, denkst du nicht? . . . . #gofurther #dreamoflivingabroad #showthemtheworld #familytravels #familytravelblogger #letsgosomewhere #letsgoeverywhere #wanderwithme #familytravelblog #tinytravels #exploringfamilies #takeyourkidseverywhere #almostfearless #fearlessfamtrav #familyadventures #familytraveltribe #havekidswilltravel #familygo #familytraveler #familyjaunts #castleheideblerg #mytinyatlas #living_destinations #myeverydaymagic #pathport #abmtravelbug #visitbawu #visitbawü #historynerd #valentines

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The keeper of the giant barrel of wine

Perkeo is another personality associated with the castle. Clemens Pankert was a buttonmaker in South Tyrol, where he met Prince Charles III Philip. When Prince Charles became Elector Palatine in the first half of the 18th century, he brought Pankert up to Heidelberg with him. It was here that he was nicknamed Perkeo, because his response to being asked if he’d like another glass of wine was always ‘perché no?’ (why not)? Perkeo was a dwarf, and was essentially an entertainer at court in Heidelberg, though apparently he knew a lot about wine besides how to drink vast quantities of it. He alone kept the keys to access the famous Heidelberg Castle wine barrel. The legend goes that he drank nothing but wine through his entire life, but when he was sick and he drank water, at the behest of a doctor, he died the next day. To be fair, most people didn’t drink water at that point, it was quite sensible! You will notice pubs and restaurants named after Perkeo around town.

Romantic ruins

I was surprised to learn on my first visit that none of the damage was the result of the Second World War. All those tumbling down walls and half-collapsed towers are the work of the invading French army in the 17th century, lightning strikes, and the local populace making off with stones. After that final disastrous war with the French in the 1600s, the Prince Elector began the monumental task of rebuilding the castle, when it was struck by lightning several times, setting the castle alight. This was just too much. If you visit Heidelberg in the summer, look out for the special fireworks and light show that commemorates the burning of Heidelberg Castle, as well as the wedding celebrations of Frederick and Elizabeth (yes, Heidelbergers still celebrate this!).

After the Elector Palatinate gave up on the constant rebuilding of the castle in the late 18th century and moved the court to Mannheim, the castle buildings fell into disuse. Heidelberg residents started to take the stones, metal, and wood to rebuild their own houses. But the pile of disintegrating red Neckar Valley stone was stirring the hearts of Romantic poets and painters, who started to arrive in droves, just to experience the atmosphere. Goethe, of course, and William Turner, are some of the most famous visitors, though Turner’s paintings of the castle involve quite a bit of creative license when it comes to the surrounding landscape. We can thank, ironically, a Frenchman for saving the castle ruin when the government of Baden wanted to knock it down. Charles de Graimberg volunteered as a castle guard in the first half of the 19th century, and his many sketches of the romantic ruins brought tourists to Heidelberg. His residence was near the entrance to the funicular down in the Altstadt, off the Kornmarkt, I point it out in my audio tour. 

There’s a wonderful animation of how the castle has looked at various points in its history made recently, it’s worth a watch.

Heidelberg Castle tour

There are audio guides available, and they will share with you much of the history I’ve detailed above, and more, including the story about the world’s largest wine barrel in the basement of the castle. However, it really is worth doing the guided tour of our partially restored castle ruins. Like most German castles, you can’t see the inside of the structure without a guided tour. It takes about an hour, and you tromp all over the place, so bringing kids along isn’t as much of a chore as you’d think. The guides are lovely, quite keen local historians, and they have lots of stories to tell that you won’t find in the guidebooks or on Wikipedia. If you think you only have time for either the audio tour or the guided tour, I would do the guided tour. Ask at the ticket desk when the next English language tour leaves. Do remember to wear warm clothes (if it’s autumn or winter) and sturdy shoes, as you will be climbing many imperfect steps, and the castle buildings are unheated.

Can you imagine dusting all those jars?
Can you imagine dusting all those jars?

German pharmacy museum

Tucked into the basements of one of the Schloss buildings is the German Pharmacy Museum. If you’re with older children, and you don’t read German, you will get more out of this corner of the castle with the audio guide. However, it’s also quite a fascinating place to wander through even without a guide, so if your travel companions are running out of steam, it’s still worth a quick visit. Inside, you’ll find several apothecary shops set up nearly in their entirety, as the museum has been bequeathed a number of shop interiors. It’s fascinating, seeing all the many drawers and jars and bottles that would have been the stock and trade of a pharmacist not all that long ago. There’s a Kinder Apotheke (children’s pharmacy) where younger kids can pretend to examine someone and give a prescription. It’s worth noting that it’s very cool down here on hot summer days, and heated in winter. Entrance to the museum is included in your castle entry ticket.

Half the joy of the Pharmacy Museum for me is wandering around in these vaults.
Half the joy of the Pharmacy Museum for me is wandering around in these vaults.

Restaurants at Heidelberg Castle and nearby

While there is a fancy Weinstube (wine tavern), little cafe in the basement, Backstube (bakery restaurant) in the castle courtyard, and a cafe with Bratwurst in the garden, I would suggest eating your main meal down in the town first. The cafe is adequate for a coffee and cake, or an ice cream, but the staff is disorganized and harried. I highly recommend Mahmoud’s for a great falafel or döner, tucked down a side street with a view of the beautiful red sandstone catholic church. If you’d rather do easy Italian, Vapiano (opening summer 2018) across from the big church in the main square has a solid and affordable kids menu. Hans im Glück, also in the main square, is a local burger chain that has a really neat interior full of birch trees. They don’t have a specific kids menu, but it’s easy to find something most children will eat. If you’re looking for dinner, Hans im Glück fills up fast, but you can make a same-day reservation online here.

Take a picnic

Most of the other restaurants in the square are tourist traps, best avoided. If the weather is good, your best bet will be to pick up sandwiches at a bakery, or a few big soft brezeln, and picnic in the gardens. We had a picnic after my son’s birthday party, and the staff told me it’s perfectly fine – so don’t panic if you don’t see anyone else doing it! The closest bakery to the foot of the funicular is the Mantei Backerei, but there are many further along the Hauptstraße (the main pedestrianized street with all the shops).

I’ve got a full post on the best restaurants and cafes in Heidelberg here, too.

Opening hours and getting to Heidelberg Castle

Note: Heidelberg Castle is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the gardens are open

  • Entrance to the castle courtyard and Pharmacy Museum (doesn’t include the castle interiors, you need to go on a guided tour to see that) costs 7€ for adults and 4€ children, and this ticket includes the funicular railway up and down from the castle to the Old Town, on the opposite side of the big church from the Old Bridge (Alte Brücke)
  • The castle courtyard and the Great Barrel is open daily from 8am – 6pm, with last entrance at 5:30pm, with special times on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, and closed on Christmas Day
  • The Pharmacy Museum is open daily from 10am – 6pm (1 April – 31 October), and 10am – 5:30pm (1 November – 31 March), with special times on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, and closed on Christmas Day
  • Guided tours are about 1 hour in duration, and in the summer (1 April – 31 October) English language castle tours run every hour from 11:15am – 4:15pm on Mondays – Fridays, and 10:15am – 4:15pm on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. In the winter (1 November – 31 March) English language castle tours run every hour from 11:15am – 4:15pm on Mondays – Fridays, and at 11:15am, 12:15am, 2:15pm, and 4:15pm on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
  • Guided tours cost an additional 5€ for adults, and 2.50€ for children, though there is a family rate of 12.50€

The great thing about the Heidelberg Castle is it’s right above the old town, so there’s no need for a tour bus out to a remote site. Heidelberg is very easy to get to from Frankfurt, it’s about an hour by train. From Munich (Munich-Heidelberg), it’s about three hours, so you would want to stay overnight here. That’s not a bad idea, as the comment I see most is ‘I wish I had longer to explore the city!’ when I’m reading comments from visitors. From the Heidelberg train station, you hop on one of the many trams just outside the station. There is a tourist information booth right outside the station as well, and the people there can help you get your bearings. Once you get into the old town, you will want to take the funicular up to the castle itself, the station is just around the corner from the Kornmarkt square.

You can drive to the castle, but there is very limited parking nearby. You can walk up to the castle, but I think it’s worth saving your energy for exploring the castle and grounds and taking the funicular instead.

Book a train right here, in English:

It’s worth noting that your train tickets are cheaper the earlier you book, up to three months ahead.

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Get the local's guide to how to visit the beautiful Heidelberg Castle in Germany. It's a beautiful ruin that has inspired writers and artists for centuries.

Love castles? Me too! Here’s my list of the best castles to visit in Germany that aren’t the super popular Neuschwanstein.

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Visiting Beaune with kids

Visiting Beaune with kids

This post contains affiliate links which means when you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting this blog!

We’ve been slowly exploring different areas of eastern France as we’re quite close to the border here in Heidelberg (90-minute drive from Strasbourg). As we had a few days for a trip, we decided to go further afield and visited Beaune, in the heart of the Bourgogne.

Tip: Beaune is pronounced ‘BOW-n’, and the Bourgogne is also referred to as Burgundy in English. And yes, it’s where Beef Bourgogne comes from.

The canal in Beaune

Where to stay

We stayed right in Beaune, slightly outside of the old part of town. As there’s only three of us, we usually do hotels on the cheaper side of things, and when in France we often skip the hotel breakfast in favour of making a run to a local boulangerie for bread and pastries, supplemented by a bag of terrific French apples and some sliced meat we picked up at a Carrefour on the way into town. The need for coffee propels us out of the room in good time.

We’d like to return to the area, and now that we know a bit more, I think we’d stay in a gîte or cottage in the nearby countryside. This is particularly feasible for us as we drive in, but if you’re coming by train, I’d suggest staying in the town.



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Biggest ice cream cone ever?

Where to eat

Beaune is a serious wine town, and as such, there are many caves to sample the incredible local produce. If you’re traveling with kids, however, this may not be where you want to spend your money or time – at least not every night. We found La Remorque, a local food truck serving great burgers made with flavourful local beef, as well as some of the best chicken fingers I’ve ever tasted. Yes, it’s stationed in the car park of a grocery store, and it’s not all that picturesque, but you won’t be sorry foodwise. We also found, Le Belena, a quite reasonably priced bistro just outside of the Altstadt that was quite child friendly.

What to do

The Hôtel-Dieu is the 15th-century hospice opened by a local nobleman, and it is definitely worth a visit. They’ve turned the ground floors into a museum, and the accompanying audio tour is excellent (available in many languages, including English, with a children’s tour as well). The museum doesn’t focus on the grimmer side of early modern medicine, but rather how the hospital was run, which was quite ahead of its time.

Beautiful streets of Beaune after a rainfall.
Beautiful streets of Beaune after a rainfall.

It’s worth taking the little train tour that lives across from the Hôtel-Dieu, in front of the tourist office. Do check with the little kiosk straight away, because they assign a language to each car of the train, so showing up at the last minute might mean you have to wait until the next tour. They take you up into some of the vineyards right next to the town, it’s quite comprehensive.

We missed out on the mustard mill, but if you love the yellow stuff, it’s worth checking out one of the oldest independent mustard mills in the area. When you think about how close Dijon is, you will understand! Definitely stop at a local grocery store and look for the local products section, I picked up a giant jar of the best Dijon mustard I’ve ever tasted for about €2.

Wandering around this beautiful town is a half-day activity to itself. Like many French towns, you won’t find a playground, unfortunately, but when we visited in the summer there was a carousel in the central square. You can also walk along the tops of the old town wall, and marvel at the ways residents have incorporated their houses and shops into the old structure over the centuries. If you can keep your small people awake late enough, it’s fun to catch the light show that lights up various landmarks in the town. You follow a path lit up by blue lights to find the next little illumination show – it’s quite fun rushing around with a bunch of other tourists. It is also a bit confusing, so I would asking the tourist office about it during the day so you’re prepared!

The impressive Château de Savigny-les-Beaune
The impressive Château de Savigny-les-Beaune

Exploring just outside of Beaune

There are several Chateaux worth visiting outside of the town, as well as the incredible vineyards surrounding it. If you have access to a car, visiting Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune and Château de la Rochepot would be possible in one day. Savigny-lès-Beaune is closer, and if you’re without a vehicle, would be a reasonable taxi ride. It’s really worth visiting, as this chateau is surrounded by fighter jets. I know, sounds insane, and it is, but not only is there a field full of old fighter jets, but outbuildings full of vintage Italian race cars, and the chateau itself houses a collection of vintage motorcycles. Of course there are vineyards too, because this is the Bourgogne.

We really enjoyed our trip to Beaune. Is it the most child-centric destination? No, not really, but we enjoyed the town and our time there. We’re considering renting a cottage nearby for a week next summer.

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Mainz: A Great Day Trip with Kids

The dramatic market square in Mainz.

Where the River Main and the Rhine meet is the city of Mainz on one side, and Wiesbaden on the other. Mainz (pronounced MINE-zz) a short train journey from Frankfurt, and a lovely destination for a day trip with kids. It’s a very walkable city with a stretch of pedestrianized or low-traffic roads in the centre, and a lovely path along the banks of the Rhine.

Outside the Gutenberg Museum
Outside the Gutenberg Museum – love these movable type block seats.

Birthplace of Gutenberg

Johannes Gutenberg, European inventor of the movable-type printing press, was born in Mainz, and he printed his first books in the city. There is an extensive museum, with a vault containing two of the first Gutenberg bibles, as well as many examples of older hand-written books, and replicas of his original press. The audio guides are worth getting, and although they don’t have one geared for kids, the 20-minute highlight tour was interesting enough to keep our 7 year old engaged. But after 45 minutes he was pretty finished with this museum dedicated to books and printing, so unless your children are older or significantly interested, don’t expect this one to take all day.

Mainz Marktplatz
Mainz Marktplatz

Flower bed near the Mainz Marktplatz
Flower bed near the Mainz Marktplatz

Mainz Marktbrunnen (fountain or well) in the foreground, cathedral in background
Mainz Marktbrunnen (fountain or well) in the foreground, cathedral in background

Mainz Marktplatz - beautiful building decoration
Mainz Marktplatz – beautiful building decoration

Mainz Cathedral
Mainz Cathedral has been heavily restored and renovated beginning in the 13th century. No one seems to be able to leave this place alone!

Marktplatz and Altstadt

Thankfully the museum is centrally located in the Altstadt, near the central market square. Many of the buildings here have been restored as Mainz was heavily bombed in the Second World War. Starting in the Marktplatz, you can wend your way through picturesque little streets, in and around the cathedral. There are lots of cafes, ice cream shops, and restaurants. If you come on a Saturday, there is a huge market that fills the square and the streets above and below it. It’s a lovely festive atmosphere, so it’s worth catching the city on a Saturday if you can.

Roman ruins

Mainz was the site of Roman habitation as well, being well situated at the confluence of two major rivers. There are remains of aqueducts and city gates dotted around the city, as well as the remains of a massive stone monument inside the Mainz Citadel, which we didn’t have a chance to visit this trip.

Pedestrianized streets of Mainz
Heading down towards the Rhine from the Marktplatz in Mainz.

Outdoor cafe serving wine and beer on the banks of the Rhine at the Fisch Tor (Fish Gate).
Outdoor cafe serving wine and beer on the banks of the Rhine at the Fisch Tor (Fish Gate).

My son playing on the banks of the Rhine.
My son playing on the banks of the Rhine.

Banks of the Rhine and Mittel Rhine cruises

Follow the lovely pedestrianized streets down from the Marktplatz, past the cathedral, and head down to the banks of the Rhine by the old Fischtor (Fish Gate, which is no longer standing). There’s a set of steps to sit on, as well as a nice outdoor cafe serving wine and beer. You can watch the Rhine cruises stop here, as there are several jetties right here, or walk along the promenade. There are many Rhine cruises that work like hop-on, hop-off tour boats, running from 8am to 8pm, and taking in the middle (and most interesting!) portion of the Rhine from Cologne to Mainz (affiliate link).

Getting there

Mainz is a super quick 15 minute train journey from Frankfurt, so it’s a perfect day trip location.

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PS – Looking for more great kid-friendly German destinations? Try my posts on Heidelberg and Trier

 

Oregon Girl Around the World
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