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Amsterdam in a Day

Amsterdam in a Day

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!

Can you do Amsterdam in a day? Well, no. This spring we hopped around the Netherlands exploring all sorts of things, and we ended up doing Amsterdam in a day. Obviously we could never cover everything, or even more than one museum, but it was a good first taste. We are city wanderers and history lovers, and so planned our day accordingly. There were a couple things we would not have bothered with had I known a bit more, so I’ll share what we learned.

I could stand on canal bridges and photograph houses forever.
I could stand on canal bridges and photograph houses forever.

I could have spent an entire day just photographing boats, houses, and bicycles! Definitely make time to just walk and wander, this city is full of little side streets, and side canals, that are worth exploring and experiencing. I really recommend not limiting your visit to museums and sights –– take time to for an unscheduled wander and see where you end up. 

Even when the trees are bare, Amsterdam is fun to photograph.
Even when the trees are bare, Amsterdam is fun to photograph.

Hop-on hop-off… on a boat

We always like to do a city tour when we arrive somewhere new, and because so much of Amsterdam is canals, we decided to go for the City Sightseeing Amsterdam boat and bus hop-on, hop-off tour, which worked out really well. We like these particularly with kids as it allows you to grab a place to sit and still see things while kids chill out and maybe even nap. The Amsterdam City Sightseeing folks have an app, which I highly recommend downloading ahead of time (Google Play or Apple), which shows you where the buses and boats are. It cuts down on waiting times tremendously. Tip: don’t bother with their free tour of the diamond-cutting museum, it is very boring and you are herded around in huge groups, you hardly see anything at all. The boat tour itself was quite lovely, and we enjoyed sliding through the quiet Jordaan neighbourhood the most. Do check what time they finish running and make sure you’re in the neighbourhood you want to be in –– the last boat was doing its rounds about 5pm. We just hopped on a regular tram to get back to the station, but if you want to avoid paying for more transit, keep an eye on the time. 

The National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam. And yes, you get to go on that ship.
The National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam. And yes, you get to go on that ship.
The beautiful Amsterdam, a replica 18th-century Dutch trading ship built by young people in the 1980s
The beautiful Amsterdam, a replica 18th-century Dutch trading ship built by young people in the 1980s
Climbing all over the Amsterdam at the National Maritime Museum.
Climbing all over the Amsterdam at the National Maritime Museum.
There's an amazing climbing area in the cargo hold of the Amsterdam.
There’s an amazing climbing area in the cargo hold of the Amsterdam.
The crew quarters on the replica 18th-century Dutch trading ship Amsterdam.
The crew quarters on the replica 18th-century Dutch trading ship Amsterdam.

The National Maritime Museum

You can get the full description of our visit to the National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam soon, but tl;dr version: it is so cool definitely go, even if you don’t have kids. If the big restored ship in the harbour doesn’t grab your attention, know the galleries are designed well with lots of interactive pieces to explore, and story narratives to take you through the history of this sea trading nation. It doesn’t shy away from the Dutch history with slave-trading and colonialism, which I found lacking in lots of other tourist narratives around the city. You can clamber all over the Amsterdam, the incredible replica 18th-century Dutch trading ship moored outside as well, which was definitely a highlight. It’s worth noting you have to put large bags and coats in lockers downstairs before visiting the main galleries, and the ship – though you can grab your coat before you head outside to the ship. What we skipped: the NEMO Science Museum. I hear lots of cool things about it, but we had an excellent hands-on science centre in Vancouver, and incredible huge technology museum near us in Germany, so we didn’t feel compelled to go. 

The gates of the co-op playground in Amsterdam.
The gates of the co-op playground in Amsterdam.
Co-op playground in the centre of Amsterdam
Co-op playground in the centre of Amsterdam

Wandering with a goal… sort of

We walked around a section of the city and found little sidewalk playgrounds, and a wonderful co-op playground in the middle of some houses. We played in one of these in Haarlem as well, and they look like such a wonderful resource for parents with small children. It reminded me a lot of our housing co-operative in Vancouver. They are open to anyone, so definitely drop in to let your kids blow off some steam. Peering into living room windows, canal boats, and just about holding my bike envy in check, we wandered with a general direction in mind. No garden space means Amsterdammers take their container gardening to the next level, lots of front steps were surrounded by 10-15 pots of herbs, flowers, and shrubs. 

Beautiful and classic canalside scenes in Amsterdam.
Beautiful and classic canalside scenes in Amsterdam.
Super cute bottles in an Amsterdam window.
Super cute bottles in an Amsterdam window.

Floating flower market: should have skipped it

One of my goals was to visit the floating flower market. I imagined open boats with flowers spilling out everywhere… I should have checked Google Images first! It’s a row of greenhouse-shaped shops that are indeed floating, but you can barely tell if you walk along the canalside. Also, in mid-spring there isn’t much to see except bags of bulbs, and lots of tourist tat. So, if you happen to be nearby it’s worth a little look, but definitely don’t walk for ten minutes to get there! Though if we hadn’t we might not have seen the best sandwich shop sign ever.

Best sandwich shop name ever? I think so.
Best sandwich shop name ever? I think so.

Where we ate

By complete accident we ended up in Betty Blue for lunch, a quirky cafe and restaurant with a sort of Mexicanish slant. We had nachos, burritos, and a sandwich, and some excellent coffee –– fairly reasonably priced for Amsterdam. They had a great selection of cakes as well, it would have been a perfect coffee and cake pitstop as well. It’s definitely not a tourist spot. By dinner time, we slide into the back garden of Herengracht, a bit of a low-key hipster restaurant with lots of seating out front by the canal and in the back in their garden, plus a few seating areas scattered inside an old house or two. This was a bit pricier but excellent, with local craft beer and decent house wine, and great nachos (they don’t serve them much where we live in Germany, so we were taking advantage of the great cheese and going a bit nacho crazy!). My son and I split steak frites, and my husband had a burger, everything was excellent. Not geared for families in particular, but we had no trouble finding things for our eight year old. Interestingly, this seemed to be a locals place, because we heard nothing but Dutch all around us. 

Love this neon in Betty Blue.
Love this neon in Betty Blue.

A friend of ours was visiting her family in Haarlem, and canvassed her relatives for restaurant recommendations – they suggested Moeders for some classic Dutch cuisine. They were booked up unfortunately, but the menu looks amazing: rijsttafel, stamppot, and spareribs. 

Tip: if you want to eat somewhere in particular, you need to book as much in advance as you can! Several places we wanted to try were fully booked up. 

A very skinny hotel in Amsterdam.
A very skinny hotel in Amsterdam.

Hotels in Amsterdam

It’s a pricey place to stay, and there’s no way around that, but some digging on booking.com will throw up some deals.



Booking.com

However, we took the popular choice of staying in Haarlem, a short train ride away, and saved quite a bit. The Ibis Styles is a short walk from the Bloemendaal train station (one beyond Haarlem Central) and super easy with kids or without. Their breakfast is often bundled with the room rate. 

We felt like we got a good taste of this famous city, and are looking forward to coming back for a few days to really dig in. What do we need to see next time?

Fifi and HopTwo Traveling Texans
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Day trips from Stuttgart

Day trips from Stuttgart

As a budget airline hub, Stuttgart in southern Germany is easy to get to. Don’t just limit yourself to the town itself though – there are some incredible things to see you can manage in some easy day trips from Stuttgart. The best way to do this is with a Baden-Württemberg ticket from Deutsche Bahn:

Baden-Württemberg-Ticket


You get an all-day ticket to travel on all trains and most buses, and your own kids under 15 go free (up to 5 people in one group). Castles, palaces, gardens, half-timbered houses, and monasteries, it’s all super close to Stuttgart.

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 breathtaking Burg Hohenzollern
The breathtaking Burg Hohenzollern

Burg Hohenzollern

You’ve probably seen photos of this castle on Instagram, and for good reason. The Hohenzollern Castle is incredibly beautiful, perched on a hilltop with green fields spreading out below it. This is the ancestral seat of the Hohenzollern family, who still own and operate this castle. For castle enthusiasts, this is a relatively new one, constructed in the 1800s, but it’s gorgeous and not too busy. In spring and summer, you can get lunch from an outdoor cafe right in the castle courtyard. From Stuttgart, it’s about one hour by train, with a short local bus ride to the castle parking lot. If you are traveling on a Baden-Württemberg ticket, you get a discount on your castle entrance fee so be sure to present it.




The impressive palace at Ludwigsburg, an easy day trip from Stuttgart.
The impressive palace at Ludwigsburg, an easy day trip from Stuttgart.

Ludwigsburg Palace

Just north of Stuttgart is the impressive baroque splendour of the Residenzschloss Ludwigsburg and its surrounding gardens. Built during the 1700s, the palace and gardens were built in the French style, and served as the home of the Duke Württemberg. It’s the largest in Germany, and has survived intact through several wars. You can tour the interior rooms, and a highlight is the Baroque theatre the Duke had built in 1758 – in fact the oldest surviving castle theatre in Europe with its original stage machinery. As with most German castles and palaces, you can only see the interior rooms on a guided tour – just check with the staff when you buy your ticket when the next English language tour is leaving. If you don’t feel like a full guided tour, just wandering the gardens is incredibly impressive as well. From Stuttgart main station, Ludwigsburg is a quick 15-minute ride on the S-bahn, and a short walk from the Ludwigsburg station.

The massively picturesque town of Schwäbisch Hall makes a good day trip from Stuttgart.
The massively picturesque town of Schwäbisch Hall makes a good day trip from Stuttgart.
The Kloster Großcomburg satisfies that Rothenburg requirements without the busloads of tourists.
The Kloster Großcomburg satisfies that Rothenburg requirements without the busloads of tourists.

Schwäbisch Hall and Kloster Großcomburg

If you’re not in the mood for castles and palaces, try the half-timbered town of Schwäbisch Hall instead. Tucked into a valley around the river Kocher, this town has a surprisingly good museum, several good quality art galleries and endless picturesque corners to explore. I particularly love the covered bridges across the river. Keep an eye out for local festivals like the spring cheese festival, and the Christmas markets. Hop on a bus or take a short hike up to the monastery complex above the town, surrounded by 17th-century walls. This is a quiet spot to experience local history without busloads of tour groups piling up behind you. To get there from Stuttgart, it’s a one-hour train journey and a 20-minute bus ride.

The incredible Wiblingen Abbey library in Ulm
The incredible Wiblingen Abbey library in Ulm

Ulm 

This beautiful town makes for a great day trip. The Ulm Minster is one of the tallest churches in the world, and you can climb the tower if you’re feeling energetic. We particularly enjoyed the old town with its crooked half-timbered houses and pretty streets, and the Bread Culture Museum which has a terrific audio tour in English for both adults and kids. If you’re as keen on history as we are, you will want to make time to see the Lion-man at the Ulm Museum, a prehistoric mammoth ivory carving of a human figure with a lion head. It’s the oldest animal-shaped carving ever found, carved around 40,000 years old. A little way from the centre of town is the incredible Wiblingen Abbey library, which regularly features on those ‘Most Beautiful Libraries’ lists on the internet. Here’s my full post on a day in Ulm, but it was before I knew the Lion-man was there! I have to go back. You can catch a direct train from Stuttgart to Ulm, and it’s about an hour. 

The beautiful Tübingen
The beautiful Tübingen

Tübingen

This adorable university town combines fairy tale half-timbered houses with picturesque old town, Cambridge-style punts, and a few museums. You can take a punt (small boat you push with a pole) onto the river, but check the availability as boats fill up fast. There are a few beautiful parks, and if you are visiting on a Sunday, you can visit the Gomaringen Castle and see their displays of everyday Tübingen life in the 19th and 18th centuries. Just wandering around and taking in the old town is one of the best activities here, and as it’s only an hour train ride from Stuttgart, it won’t be a taxing day trip. 

The Hohenbaden castle ruins
The Hohenbaden castle ruins

Baden-Baden

This historic spa town on the edge of the Black Forest has been a favourite place to relax and rejuvenate since Roman times. There are many natural springs in the area, piped in to different spa complexes including the fancy Caracalla Spa. Johannes Brahms also liked to spend his summers here, and his house is now a museum. There are some excellent galleries here including Museum Frieder Burda for modern art, the Fabergé Museum, and the Kunstmuseum Gehrke-Remund where you can see many of Frida Kahlo’s works. Baden-Baden is very close to the French border, and has always attracted French people wanting to gamble, and it was quite the party town during the 19th century. Dostoevsky even wrote The Gambler while gambling in the casinos there. Just above the town is the Hohenbaden Castle, which has been in ruins since the 16th century, but there are still towers to climbs, and upper floors to visit, so it’s great fun if you’re a fan of castles. It’s free, and kids will love having free reign to run around (there are railings, but definitely keep them within arms reach on the upper floors). 

Schloss Lichtenstein looking regal on its cliff
Schloss Lichtenstein looking regal on its cliff

Schloss Lichtenstein

A gorgeous little jewel of a castle, Schloss Lichtenstein is one of those 19th-century castle recreations that were so popular with the German aristocracy in that period. The castle standing there now was completed in 1842 by the Duke Wilhelm von Urach, cousin of King Wilhelm. It’s modernity shouldn’t dissuade you from visiting it, however, as it’s dramatic placement on a stone cliff jutting out into the landscape is so impressive. There are many tours in English and the surrounding area is beautifully epic with forests topping sheer cliffs and little villages tucked into tight valleys. Getting there from Stuttgart is a little bit of an adventure, requiring train to Reutlingen, a bus to Honau, and about a half-hour walk, but the castle and grounds are not big so consider it part of the adventure. Read my full post on visiting Schloss Lichtenstein here.

You can organize and buy your train tickets right here, in English.

PS – Need help with packing for Germany? I’ve got you covered for packing for your Germany trip in spring or summer.

Stuttgart in southern Germany is easy to get to, but don't limit your exploring to the city. Here are some great day trips from Stuttgart that take in castle, palaces, gardens, and half-timbered towns.
Stuttgart in southern Germany is easy to get to, but don't limit your exploring to the city. Here are some great day trips from Stuttgart that take in castle, palaces, gardens, and half-timbered towns.

PS – Flying into Frankfurt instead? I have you covered: Great Day Trips from Frankfurt

Oregon Girl Around the World
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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. 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 confectionary blogger Lindsay over at Eat, Explore, Etc suggested to head straight for the Lindt Atelier to make our 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.

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.

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:




Fifi and HopTwo Traveling Texans
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Kloster Großcomburg

Kloster Großcomburg

This monastery complex dominates a round hill in this region, overlooking farms and the town of Schwäbisch Hall, which is worth a visit as well. Like most monasteries and castles, it includes buildings and structures from different points in history. Today, many of the buildings are used for teacher training. You can wander the grounds for free, and visit the inside of the cathedral for a small fee, as part of a guided tour only. It’s worth noting that ‘Kloster’ means monastery in German, so you will see many signs for ‘Kloster Großcomburg’. Together with Schwäbisch Hall, this makes for a great adventure from Munich or Frankfurt, that will be much less busy than some of the more famous castles and medieval towns in the area.

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 grounds are gorgeous, even in the snow.
The grounds are gorgeous, even in the snow.

My son running into the monastery gates
My son running into the monastery gates

The buildings run the gamut from Romanesque to Baroque.
The buildings run the gamut from Romanesque to Baroque.

History of the Comburg monastery

This area of Germany was ruled by the Counts of Comburg/Rothenburg (yes, of Rothenburg ob der Tauber fame), and this monastery was originally founded on the ruins of one of their castles in 11th century. It began as a Benedictine monastery, and only admitted monks of noble birth. The monks really stuck to this rule, through a period of Benedictine reform and everything.

Watch for this archway leading to the central church.
Watch for this archway leading to the central church.

These manicured gardens are lovely under snow too.
These manicured gardens are lovely under snow too.

Beautiful courtyards are around every corner.
Beautiful courtyards are around every corner.

The monastery community went through a few ups and downs. During the Thirty Years War, the Abbey remained undamaged, but passed into the hands of the King of Sweden and then again into a local Duke’s possession.

By the time the second half of the 19th century rolled around, the buildings served as a convalescent home for soldiers no longer able to fight. During the Second World War, it was a headquarters for Hitler Youth and a prisoner of war camp. Now, it is a teacher training college.

Doesn't it look a bit like a castle from a distance?
Doesn’t it look a bit like a castle from a distance?

My favourite use of the monastery, however, was as a secondary palace by Paul von Württemberg at the beginning of the 19th century. He was in the middle of an argument with his father about supporting the French during the Napoleonic Wars, and withdrew to Comburg in a bit of a snit. He and his wife lived there for a few years, in the end making up with his father and then spending most of the rest of his life living in Paris.

The impressive 17th-century outer wall. You can walk all the way around the monastery.
The impressive 17th-century outer wall. You can walk all the way around the monastery.

The outer ring wall

One of the first things you encounter on visiting the monastery is the impressive ring wall. It was built in the 1600s. Erasmus Neustetter held various high-ranking positions in the area and monastery, and had this wall built. He had a tempestuous relationship with other church figures, and it seems he spent his later years holed up in Comburg, avoiding conflict. It’s a beautiful spot to hide away, I have to say. Visiting now, you can walk all around the complex along the ring wall, with arrow slits providing little views over the countryside. There is only one way to access the wall however, so once you’re up there, you have to do the full circle or turn back.

One of my favourite photos from this visit, my son exploring the outer wall.
One of my favourite photos from this visit, my son exploring the outer wall.

The central church

This is still a functioning Catholic church, and you can attend services on Sundays. If you’d like to see the interior, be sure to check the monastery’s site for times – it can only be viewed on a guided tour. If you miss this, as we did, it’s still a lovely place to see from the outside. We spent about an hour and a half here just wandering around, which has the added benefit of also being free. Inside the church is one of the largest surviving Romanesque chandeliers, a 12th-century gold altar piece, and extensive Baroque organ and interiors to see.

The entrance to the monastery
The entrance to the monastery

Love all this little passages around the monastery complex.
Love all this little passages around the monastery complex.

The view from the arrow slits in the outer wall.
The view from the arrow slits in the outer wall.

Visiting the Kloster Großcomburg

There is a bus route that will take you from Schwäbisch Hall up to the monastery, or if you choose to drive, there is free parking. There is a very small cafe at the monastery, mostly catering to the students from the training college, so if you visit on a weekend or when the college is closed, you will want to bring your own snacks. If you’re toting a stroller, it’s not too bad in most places, but there are stairs up to the ring wall, and that would be a challenging walk with a buggy. The monastery is definitely worth visiting in conjunction with a trip to Schwäbisch Hall, which I’ve described in more detail here, but it wouldn’t be much more than an afternoon’s entertainment on its own. Like Schwäbisch Hall, you can reach the monastery 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, and then a bus up to the monastery.

You can book your train right here, in English:



Even the outbuildings are beautiful.
Even the outbuildings are beautiful.

PS – If you’re thinking about visiting some castles in Germany, I have you covered!

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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.



Booking.com

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