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Visiting Colmar with kids

Visiting Colmar with kids

I admit my knowledge of Colmar previous to moving to Germany was a sandwich named after the town that I really liked from Apostrophe in London about 10 years ago. So. Not well informed then!

Colmar is in Alsace, in Eastern France. Over the past few hundred years, Alsace, and its neighbouring region Lorraine, have been German, and then French, and then back again, many many times. As a visitor, this means you get lots of cute half-timbered houses and good sausages, as well as French country food and good wine. Alsace is a incredible wine region, producing Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinto Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Crémant d’Alsace. Lots of floral and fruity tastes dominate, but they are also quite dry. Terrific with roast chicken or turkey, and curries.

Petite Venise in Colmar Colmar street

What to do

The town itself is beautiful and full of charm. It’s well worth taking one of the little ‘train’ tours, which are really trains on wheels pulled through the streets of the old town. It gives you an overview of the area’s history and train-mad small people will love it. Bonus: it’s only 40 minutes. Also check out the boat tour on the canal which is lovely, short, and mellow. The train tours have pre-recorded audio tours in many languages, but for the boat tours, you’re at the mercy of the language skills of your captain. I didn’t find much overlap between the two tours, actually. It is worth doing both. You won’t be able to take buggies on either of these tours, though the boat tour is connected to a pub, so I think you’d be able to leave your buggy there. The train tours leave from an outdoor tourist information kiosk, so it’s unlikely you would want to leave it in the street.

Colmar has several little squares and fountains, so there are plenty of places to let antsy kids run around. In the spring and summer, the window boxes are overflowing with flowers, and even the canal railings are decked out with their own flower boxes. It’s an infinitely photogenic place! We visited in February before the flowers came out, and as you can see from my photos, it’s still beautiful.

Colmar Winstub Petite Venise Colmar

As usual, we preferred to wander the town and explore rather than visit too many attractions. Petite Venise is worth a visit, and the canal boat tours leave from here. As you wander around the town, look up. There are incredible balconies, statuettes, and elaborately painted panels above street level to ogle.

If you’re looking to go for a longer adventure along the Alsace wine route, the Trip Gourmets have a great overview of the route and where to go.

What to eat

Flammkuchen or tarte flambée is king here, which is handy because it’s very kid-friendly. It looks like a big pizza, but it’s on a very thin, crispy crust and usually features a soft, mild cheese like Münster, together with thinly sliced onions and lardons or pieces of bacon. It’s quite rich, but very good. There’s also Choucroute Garnie, a specialty of the region. Imagine sauerkraut, but cooked in wine, and then make a pile of it, and cover it with various sausages, slices of ham, and some potatoes. It sounds terrifying, and it generally looks terrifying when it arrives at your table, but if you like sauerkraut at all, it’s great. This is not your slimy grocery store kraut, but a local specialty that locals take pride in. It’s worth trying at least once, but my advice is to share a plate of it, as I have yet to finish one by myself.

Colmar street Colmar square

If you’re looking to save a bit, swing by the Market Hall, and pick up bread, sliced meats, and cheese, and a few local apples. There are lots of little squares, benches, and tiny parks nearby to devour your bounty. I had some incredible apples when we were there, as there are often little orchards dotted around the vineyards, and some local cider distilleries as well. It’s hard to beat a good baguette, nice cheese, and some good apples in my mind!

Riquewihr in late winter
Riquewihr in late winter

Where to stay

We were in Colmar for a day, and I think I could have easily spent two there. We stayed the night in a village a 15-minute drive away called Riquewihr. This was good fun, as the drive winds through the vineyards. When I saw ‘vineyards’, I mean every single spare square meter was planted with vines. I have never seen anything like it. There are loads of wineries along the route, all selling their wares from their own ‘cave’. Riquewihr itself is a picture perfect medieval town nestled at the bottom of some hills. There are old city walls, a clock tower, beautiful churches and a windy high street to wander up. I drove up it by mistake, you don’t want to do this! There’s a round that goes around the outside. I seem to be really good at picking routes that take us straight through very narrow old streets and tiny 15th-century city gates!

It’s worth noting that while it’s a beautiful little village, and accommodation is quite affordable, eating is expensive. It’s a stop on the popular Alsace wine route, and smack in the middle of the wine-producing region, so if you’re looking for a special meal with local wine, I’m sure it will be great. If you’re trying to feed a picky eater, and yourselves, without too much fuss, you’re going to pay a bit of a premium. We stayed at Hotel le Saint Nicolas and paid half-board for €29 for each adult, which covered dinner with salad and dessert, and breakfast. There’s a reduced rate for kids. For dinner we had the set menu for guests (there are no options if you’ve picked half-board) and had veal with mushroom sauce, accompanied by the biggest dish of spätzle I’ve ever seen, which is saying something as we live in southern Germany.

Riquewihr

I quite liked the Saint Nicolas, it was down one of the little cobbled streets, and the staff were very friendly and welcoming. We were able to book a triple room, which is so great when it happens, because with one child we only need a double bed and a single, and our son got a real proper bed, not a pull-out sofa. It was very affordable, though there’s no wifi unless you troop downstairs into their lounge. It’s no bad thing, I reckon, on holiday, to have a bit of downtime that is not online.

Climbing up into the vineyards beside the village the next morning was lovely, and the views out over all the vineyards in the valley was just incredible. I could have spent another day here just hiking around, visiting the shops. There are the traditional Riesling glasses everywhere, with their distinctive green stems.

Even if you’re not a big wine drinker, this region is full of romantic charm, with winding roads, beautiful villages, cute canals, and flowers everywhere. It’s well worth a little two-day jaunt from Strasbourg.

Getting there

There’s an airport in Strasbourg serviced by Air France and others, but most people will probably take a train, or come by car. Colmar is two and a half hours by train from Paris, and about three hours from Frankfurt. The small places like Riquewihr aren’t connected by rail, but it’s so close you could definitely hire a taxi for that distance.

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Visiting Colmar with Kids

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Things to do in Heidelberg with Kids

Things to do in Heidelberg with Kids

Heidelberg is a cute little city in southern Germany, about an hour by train from Frankfurt. I live here with my family, so I’ve had plenty of time to discover all the little corners, bakeries, and playgrounds. Of course, there’s the romantic ruins of the Schloss, there’s the beautiful Altstadt, but… then what? This is what the locals do with their families.

Heidelberg: Take a picnic down to the Neckarweise like a local. Heidelberg: Take a picnic down to the Neckarweise like a local.

Take a picnic to the Neckarweise

Neckarweise [Neckar-VEE-zah] translates to Neckar meadow, and on a nice day, it’s home to pretty much every Heidelberger in a 5km radius. There are several playgrounds to choose from: a fenced-in one for smaller kids, a water and natural stone hill with lots of streams and channels, and some bigger play structures dotted around. The meadow has lots of space for kicking a ball around, as well as a beach volleyball area.

There’s a little cafe serving ice cream, toasted cheese and ham sandwiches, and cold drinks. Clean public washrooms are available right there too.

If you’re looking for something for dinner nearby, see my last point about the Neuenheim Marktplatz, as it’s just a two-minute walk away. If you’d rather stay on the meadow, there’s a really great and super affordable neighbourhood pizza place just up Werderstraße called Il Carpaccio. The restaurant is just where Werderstraße meets Ladenburgerstraße. It’s a two-minute walk, and you can bring the pizzas back down to your spot on the grass.

The little mechanical horse ride in the trees at Märchen-Paradies.
The little mechanical horse ride in the trees at Märchen-Paradies.

Escape the heat in the Märchenparadies and visit the falcons

It’s not just the castle up there on the Königstuhl, there’s also an aging amusement park called Märchenparadies at the very top. It’s small, but entertaining for an afternoon – and if you’re looking to escape the heat in the summer it’s cooler up there. This is less an amusement park than a strange collection of old-school, self-powered fun park rides. Among the giant trees are concrete pads where your kids can drive little cars, ride strange bikes, and sit on jerky metal horses that go around a track.

There’s a soft play area that’s covered, and a very basic cafe that serves currywurst and wurst in buns. Entrance is 5€, and rides are a few tokens each, with each token costing 50 cents. Arrive at opening to catch the quietest time, but to be honest, even in the middle of the summer it’s not that busy. From April to the end of October, you can also catch a falcon show, at the dedicated Tinnunculus (this is not inside Märchen-Paradies, but near the top of the funicular).

To get to the top of the Königstuhl, you can take the funicular that leaves from the Kornmarkt, or the 39 bus goes up there for much cheaper (but takes much longer), or there’s a road if you’ve got a car – but in the summer you may need to park some distance away.

The view of the Old Bridge and Old Town from one of the little motorboats on the Neckar.
The view of the Old Bridge and Old Town from one of the little motorboats on the Neckar.

Rent a little boat on the river

You can rent either a pedalo or a small motorboat from right beside the Theodor-Husse Bridge (that’s not the old bridge with the arches, but the newer one to the west) and put-put around on the Neckar river. It’s 18€ per half hour for the motorboat and 12€ per half hour for the pedalo, and you just need to leave a 50€ deposit that is returned to you when you return the boat. The motorboat is very easy to drive, and all the boats fit four people. There’s no booking ahead, it’s a pretty bare-bones operation. Handily, the same little office that rents out the boats also sells cold drinks and ice cream.

Looking for the best places to eat in Heidelberg? 

Visit the Klosterhof

Walk across the Altebrücke, and then catch the bus for a few stops, and it’s like you’re in another world. The Klosterhof is an old monastery farm dating from the middle ages, and like all good monasteries, they also have a brewery. Sample their local beer, peer at the cows and goats, take a walk in the orchards, check out the trout in the stream, and have lunch in their Gasthof. There’s a little shop with lots of locally produced things you can pack home – jams, jellies, and that sort of thing. There’s also cheese, beer, wine, and cider, so you can stock your hotel room too.

Wander down the Hauptstraße, eat gelato, then playground

This is not so much an specific activity, as what most Heidelbergers end up doing at some point in the week. Our Hauptstraße is a very long pedestrianized shopping street, and if you need anything like an extra jumper, a USB cable, or clean socks, this is the place. It runs from the Altstadt where the shops are more souvenir-and-novelty-liquor to the Bismarckplatz, where all the usual things are like H&M, Galeria Kaufhof (the big department store), Mountain Warehouse, Saturn (tech stuff, and if you need an adaptor or cable, go here), Accessorize, and all that.

There is a nice gelato place inside the little Darmstadter Hof mall at the Bismarckplatz end, but to be honest, there are gelato places all over and they’ve all been good. After you’ve picked up the necessities, head to Plöck, the street running parallel to the Hauptstraße, away from the river. Watch out for bikes, as all the locals use this as their bicycle thoroughfare, but it’s also where you can find a couple central playgrounds.

Our favourite is on the corner of Märzgasse and Plöck. There’s a clean, coin-operated public toilet there, and the super cute and tasty Bäckerei Göbes just around the corner on Plöck for snacks. Kinderladen Troll, just over the road from the bakery, is a classic German toy store, full to the rafters of amazing wooden toys. If you happen to be farther down towards the Altstadt, check out the playground opposite the school on Schulgasse, between Plöck and the Hauptstraße.

Have dinner and let the kids play

One of my favourite German things is the playground in the biergarten situation, though I should say our local pub in London had this figured out too. It is so civilized. If you’re looking for something a little nicer, try Heid’s, a Heidelberg institution. They have a beautiful garden, complete with some ride-on toys and a play structure. The food is mainly pizza and steak, but it’s very good.

Three restaurants, beautiful outdoor seating, and a little playground – doesn’t get better than that.

For something more relaxed, check out the cluster of restaurants in the Neuenheim Marktplatz. It’s really one of my favourite things about living in the neighbourhood. Three restaurants put their tables and chairs out in the Marktplatz, that shares space with a church tower from the 12th century, and a little play structure shaped like a fire truck in a sandpit and a swing. You can sit at a nice table, have a glass of wine, while your child fills their trousers with sand. The Marktstübel does Flammkuchen, a sort of flatbread pizza with onions and bacon pieces, that most children are up for. It’s totally fine, and normal, to have your child run up, eat for a minute, and then head back to the playground. We often meet friends here, because we can have dinner out, and have a conversation.

 

Heidelberg, Germany is a lovely storybook German town that's great for kids - we know because we live here! Let us take you on a locals tour of our home abroad.

 

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Travelling to Germany: Books to Get You in the Mood

Travelling to Germany: Books to Get You in the Mood

Before I travel somewhere (or move there!), I like to get myself in the mood, atmospherically. This may seem excessive to some, but I read a lot, so transitioning my reading list to focus more on where I’m going adds a lot to my trip.

I have a few history books in my list, but not guidebooks. This is all about getting the feel for a place.

[amazon_image id=”B00358VI2I” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Treasure Chest: Unexpected Reunion and Other Stories (Penguin Classics)[/amazon_image]

The Treasure Chest, Johann Peter Hebel

Imagine Reader’s Digest-type stories from the early 19th century, but all centred on the southwest corner of Germany. The Treasure Chest is a collection of Hebel’s fables originally written to accompany a Lutheran calendar sold in the region. Some are funny, some are clearly meant to impart a moral, and some are just ridiculous, but it’s an easy read that brings to life some of these Black Forest villages you see out the train window.

[amazon_image id=”B00LGUF0F8″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Red Love: The Story of an East German Family[/amazon_image]

 
Red Love: The Story of an East German Family, Maxim Leo

This is a very personal story of East Germany, and how different family members managed their relationship to the state. The author digs back in his own family’s history to pull apart the narratives of his socialist hero grandfather, his journalist mother, and his artist father. It’s the first book I’ve read that really conveys the feeling of building a new world that infused the early days of the GDR after the war, and it’s fascinating to watch it go to pieces through the prism of these small stories.

[amazon_image id=”014044503X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Sorrows of Young Werther[/amazon_image]

The Sorrows of Young Werther, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

You’re going to Germany, you have to read some Goethe. I kind of love Young Werther for all its moping around, hand-on-forehead draping moodiness. The landscape descriptions are lovely, and give you a real sense of the pastoral scenes Germans of the 18th century were so enamoured with. Goethe loved the ruins of my local schloss in Heidelberg, so I admit I have a fondness for him no matter what.

[amazon_image id=”0006511260″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Royal Flash (The Flashman Papers, Book 2)[/amazon_image]

Royal Flash, George MacDonald Fraser

Now I recommend Flashman books with a very huge caveat, which is that while they are enjoyable to a certain extent, the average woman’s role in these books is terrible. Fraser wrote the screenplay for Octopussy, so that should give you an idea of what I’m trying to get at. However, this one covers Flashman’s mixup with Bismarck and delves into some interesting North German and Danish history.

[amazon_image id=”0312680686″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of Germans and Their History[/amazon_image]

Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and their History, Simon Winder

This rambling sort-of history is a good overview of the different regions in Germany, and some of the history that makes the country what it is today. I found the author’s occasionally smug, self-important Britishness a bit much sometimes, but he is quite funny. It’s clear, particularly by the end of the book, that he has a great fondness for the country.

[amazon_image id=”0746098545″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Illustrated Grimm’s Fairy Tales[/amazon_image]

Illustrated Grimm’s Fairy Tales

This one is a great for kids coming along on a German adventure. The Brothers Grimm collected folklore in the early 19th century, and grew up in southwestern Germany. They were influenced by Johann Peter Hebel’s stories, and you can see the parallels in their description of little villages, naughty cobblers, recalcitrant blacksmiths, and so on.

I’ve made you a lovely image, so you can pin this post for later.

Germany Book collage

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Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber with Kids

Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber with Kids

When you think of cute medieval German towns, this is the one you probably have in your mind. It was the inspiration for Pinnochio’s home village in the 1940 Disney film, and parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2 were filmed here. Founded in 1170, it has the charming subsidence-affected half-timbered buildings, cobbled streets, and my favourite thing: the city wall. You can walk along the upper walkway of the city walls, peering out arrow slits, and imagining you’re a city guard on watch (at least, my son loved doing this). The wall also affords a wonderful bird’s eye view of all the little gardens and courtyards among the red roofs of the town.

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Rothenburg’s historic significance as a perfect little medieval town has featured heavily in its recent history. During the run up to the Second World War, it became a symbol of ideal Germanness. The Nazis even organized trips to visit this ‘Most German of German towns’. In 1945, Allied bombing destroyed just over 300 houses, a few public buildings and some of the iconic city wall. However, the Americans tasked with taking the town were instructed to offer peace terms, rather than destroy it outright. The Germans stationed there agreed, against Hitler’s orders, saving the rest of the town from destruction. The houses, buildings, and wall that suffered bomb damage were quickly repaired with funds donated from all over the world. You can see bricks in the city wall with donors names.

There is a circular city walk, well-posted with signs explaining the various stops, that incorporates a good chunk of the upper city wall walk. I love self-guided city walks like this, because when you’re exploring with a small person, their unexpected requirements for toilets, food, and running around mean your carefully crafted itinerary can go out the window. Even if you thought you had accommodated lots of kid time. The beauty of Rothenburg is it’s amazing just to wander the streets, peer in the shop windows at endless carved toys, chocolates, and dolls. It’s terrifically easy to visit with small people for this reason.

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However, there are a few fun stops if your family is game. The Kriminalmuseum covers crime and punishment over the past thousand years. My seven year old was fine with it, and enjoyed it, but my husband said he thinks kids younger than seven would find it too scary (I passed and wandered around taking photos instead). The Christmas Museum is upstairs from the Käthe Wohlfahrt shop, and if you’re looking to add a few ornaments to your collection, this is an excellent place to invest.

I’ll give you a tip: don’t bother with Schneeballs. The signature sweet treat, it’s a weird ball of dough scraps, fried and covered with sugar or chocolate. That sounds like it would be good, but in practice it’s often dry and tasteless. Go for a good Käsebrezel (cheese-covered soft pretzel) instead.

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I would love to have had lunch in the Biergarten at the Reichsküchenmeister, there’s a cute little carousel right in the fenced Biergarten, and you can sit under the Linden trees and admire the church of St Jacob’s across the road. We visited in February, so it was all bare branches and inside dining unfortunately.

Getting there

It’s a 2.5-3 hour train journey from Frankfurt, and slightly longer from Munich. Driving shaves off half an hour to an hour. Public pay parking is plentiful outside of the city walls.

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visiting rothenburg with kids

 

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Visiting Burg Hohenzollern with kids

Visiting Burg Hohenzollern with kids
A sentinel watches out over the countryside from Burg Hohenzollern.
A sentinel watches out over the countryside from Burg Hohenzollern.

The Hohenzollern family has a long and illustrious past in Prussia, so it might cause some confusion to find their ancestral seat down south in Baden-Württemberg. Prussia was one of their more famous holdings, but the family originated in Swabia (which is partially contained in the current state of Baden-Württemberg) near the site of this castle.

The current castle is the third to be built on the Berg Hohenzollern, and it’s more of a memorial to the might of the Hohenzollern family than a home or even a fortress. When it was built in the mid-19th century, there were upheavals all through Baden, Bavaria, and the Palatinate as the many smaller states made their shuddering way into Bismarck’s German Empire. Burg Hohenzollern version three came to be right in the middle of this, and I’m sure the giant idealized castle on a hill was a bit of a heavy-handed exercise in Making A Point.

They don’t get into it on the tour, however, probably because the castle is privately owned by the Hohenzollern family.

Burg Hohenzollern

Interestingly, neither of the previous versions of the castle were destroyed during the Thirty Years War, which ravaged so much of this end of Germany. The medieval castle built in the 11th century withstood a year of siege by the collected armies of the Swabian Free Imperial Cities, and a junior Hohenzollern brother, before it was completely destroyed in 1423. The second one was constructed about 100 years later, and it flipped around between the Habsburgs and the French before everyone seemed to lose interest in it, and it was abandoned from 1798 onwards. This is all detailed in a mural in one of the hallways inside the current castle.

Burg Hohenzollern Burg Hohenzollern Burg Hohenzollern

What to see and do

When you come to visit Burg Hohenzollern, you can see it from kilometres away, standing proud and exceptionally castle shaped on top of its little mountain. It does look like a very large child has dropped it from the sky.

You can approach the castle on foot from the parking lots, or by taking a minibus up for about 3 Euros. If you’re going as a family, definitely take the minibus as the walk up is an energetic hill climb, and there will be walking once you’re up there. You buy your tickets at the bottom, and they are checked as you enter the castle. You will want to arrange your places on an English-language tour when you check in at the top castle gate – it is the only way to see the interior rooms. This is a common feature of castles in the region, by the way. The tours are fairly quick, about 45 minutes or so, but buggies are not allowed inside. On the tour, the kids get to wear ‘royal robes’ which feature heavily in the family portraits on the walls, so my son was pretty chuffed about that. If you have a squirmy one under 5 years old, the tour may not be worth it. It’s worth noting you can’t take photos of any kind inside during the tour.

Burg Hohenzollern

There’s an outdoor cafe kiosk serving pommes frites, snacks, coffee, hot chocolate, ice cream, and that sort of thing in the courtyard. There are lots of tables, and it’s quite beautiful really, so if you need to kill time while someone else does the tour, it’s not much of a hardship. There’s a white tablecloth restaurant inside, but if you’re wrestling small people, this is probably not your deal either.

The winding walk up to the castle courtyard, and the exterior walks, are beautiful and afford pretty astounding views out over the countryside. The walls along the edge are not very high in places, however, and there are not the railings you may be used to, so it’s best to keep firm hold of little hands.

Taking photos of Burg Hohenzollern
Taking photos of Burg Hohenzollern

Burg Hohenzollern

The best photo spot

The dramatic photos of the castle from a distance are taken from a specific view point about a half an hour drive away. This sounds like an extra thing that is too much of a pain with kids in tow, but to be honest, there’s a good 20-minute walk up a trail before you get there, and it was a really good break from all the driving in the car. The viewpoint itself is amazing, even if you don’t take many photos, but it is very unofficial, and it’s literally a rocky outcropping with a steep drop-off. There is no railing, and it’s a bit intense. If you have a under-five that likes to dash away from you, this is best viewed back from the edge with firm hand-holding. My active seven year old was fine, and there are a few benches. We were there firmly in the off-season, and it was FREEZING, and there were three guys having beers sitting on the rocks, two other photographers fussing over their shots, and us. I can imagine this spot gets very very busy in the summer. To get there, park in the lot next to the Zollenstieghof, and take the white gravel path that goes around the back of the hotel. I found this place thanks to Be My Travel Muse. I think it’s really worth finding this spot, the drive there is through several picturesque little German towns and the walk is lovely. The view is truly breathtaking, coming out of the trees and seeing this spread out before you.

Where to eat: Ochsen

While driving home, we decided to find somewhere other than a fast food place, and a rapid translation of German Yelp netted us this local gem in Balingen. Ochsen is a very local place. Like ten tables, and at least three of them seem to know each other in that neighbours running into each other at the grocery store kind of way. The single waiter was very friendly, and we had a selection of Swabian dishes that were wonderful. Pork and beef in paprika sauce, käsespätzle (noodles with cheese sauce), and excellent pommes frites. There’s a small kids menu too. You’re going to need your Google Translate ready to go if you can’t read German – there are no English menus and we had all our conversations with the waiter in (simple) German. It’s also cash only, but there’s a ATM just up the road. Walk off your meal in the beautiful village of Balingen, with half-timbered houses all over the place. This is not on any tourist trail, so enjoy this little corner of the proper Swabian countryside.

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