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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.

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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 spot, 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.

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

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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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Visit Germany with kids

Visit Germany with kids

There’s so much to do here with kids, and as we live here now, we’ve been doing loads of exploring. I’ll keep updating this page as we discover more about our new home country.

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 could resist this candy stall at a magical German Christmas market?
Who could resist this candy stall at a magical German Christmas market?

When to visit Germany with kids

Germany is a huge country, so you’ve got things to do at any time of year really. It gets very hot down in the southwest, so you’ll find quite nice temperatures down there in the spring. For summertime, German schoolchildren have either August or July off (they rotate it through the different areas of the country, so about half the kids will have that month off at any given time), and the smaller towns just don’t seem to be jampacked. Trier, even at peak tourist season, was half empty. Plan a visit in early December or late November (check when Advent begins) for the German Christmas markets, and you will not be disappointed. It’s absolutely magical.

The huge brezeln are a big hit with kids.
The huge brezeln are a big hit with kids.

Where to go in Germany with kids

We live in southern Germany, so most of our exploring has been down this way. I’ve collected the best things to see in Heidelberg with kids, what to do in Munich, and days trips to take from Frankfurt or day trips from Stuttgart. If you’re keen on history, the beautiful Rothenburg ob der Tauber is breathtaking, the old Roman Gaul capital of Trier is surprising, and the Black Forest Open Air Museum is magical. And of course our very own Heidelberg (with it’s famous castle), I’ve even got a GPS-enabled walking tour for you!

Also, playgrounds are everywhere, and they are, on the whole, terrific. If you’re looking for one nearby, search ‘spielplatz’, and you’ll find one. It’s a lifesaver when you’re travelling with small people who get ants in their pants. Which is all of them, really.

 

 

My son in front of the Elector’s Palace in Trier, with the Roman Imperial Throne Room behind it to the left.

Thinking about a visit to Germany with kids? From castles to Christmas markets, I've got your covered with loads of great places to visit and things to do.

The breathtaking Burg Hohenzollern
The breathtaking Burg Hohenzollern

Where to see castles in Germany

There are so many castles. I’ve even made you a list of the best castles to see in Germany that aren’t the super touristy Neuschwanstein. Our very favourite, Burg Eltz near Trier (pictured at the top), is hard to match for fairy tale atmosphere (definitely take the tour inside!). Burg Hohenzollern near Stuttgart is a bit of a new build in the grand scheme of castles, but it’s hard to beat photos from across the valley – and my Burg Hohenzollern post gives you all the details on how to get to the best photo vantage point. Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our own local castle, Schloss Heidelberg.

The dramatic market square in Mainz.
The dramatic market square in Mainz.

Should we rent a car or take the train in Germany?

This entirely depends on what you’d like to do. The public transport system is excellent, and clean, fast trains run to nearly every mid-sized town in Germany. If you need an overview, The Man in Seat 61 is the best site. However, it isn’t cheap to buy tickets at the last minute. Definitely check out the special tickets you can get for specific regions – for instance there are special tickets for each German state over the weekend for bargain prices if you only take regional trains. Look for ‘Sparpreis’ which means saver fares. The Deutsche Bahn site is really helpful, you can navigate most of it in English. If you sign up for an account, you can get alerts for special deals. Here’s a link to saver fares in English to get you started:
Saver fare for as little as EUR 29,90.


Or you can book your specific route or ticket right here, in English:






There are also some cool routes you can take through the countryside, like the Black Forest High Road, the Fairy Tale Route, and the Romantic Road. You can only do these with a car, though you could always just pick a few spots on the route to visit by train as well. If you’d like to see a specific out of the way castle, they often have bus tours leaving from nearby cities, or you could take one of the popular hop-on, hop-off Rhine boat cruises. The plus side of renting a car, is checking out little places along the way like Ulm or Mainz.

My son jumping for joy at Ibis Styles hotel in Aachen. It might have had something to do with the make-your-own pancake machine downstairs.
My son jumping for joy at Ibis Styles hotel in Aachen. It might have had something to do with the make-your-own pancake machine downstairs.

Hotels to stay in with kids in Germany

I’m not an Airbnb person, so I would skip that in favour of looking for holiday apartments, or Ferienwohnung in Germany. These are often incredibly affordable, particularly in smaller towns and cities. I recommend using Fewo Direkt (it’s in German, so use Chrome with the Google Translate plugin if you don’t speak the language) to find anything from a cozy apartment on a farm in Bavaria to a historic house in a town on the Wine Road in the Rhineland.

If you’re leaning more towards a hotel in a bigger city, let me mention our favourite hotel chain in Germany, Ibis. They are clean, modern and kid-friendly, and whenever I’m not sure or only need a quick stopover on a road trip, I check Ibis first. If there isn’t an Ibis near, I go with the cutest Gasthaus I can find, often they will have a restaurant on the ground floor, and handy triple and quadruple rooms as the buildings are not a standard size. They often have breakfast included in their rates, and you can have dinner right there too. I’ve had many good experiences at these Gasthäuser, they will often make your little person something special if you ask, too. The best place to find them is on Booking.com as everyone seems to use it here in Germany, just check for a restaurant on site.

If you’re thinking about planning a trip to Germany with kids, you should follow me on Instagram. Lots of castles, pretty buildings, and things I find in the grocery store over on IG Stories.

 

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

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What to do and what to eat at German Christmas Markets

What to do and what to eat at German Christmas Markets

WILL CHRISTMAS MARKETS HAPPEN IN 2020?
No, unfortunately nearly every Christmas market has been cancelled this year. Please do use this page to plan for your future visits!

Ah, I love a Weihnachtsmarkt, or German Christmas market. Such a lovely way to beat back those cold winter days and nights. Every city in Germany will have at least one market, and the bigger cities have many. Since the 17th century, Germans have been buying their gifts and festive sweets at special winter markets. Wandering around looking at wooden toys and ornaments, with a mug of Glühwein in hand, it’s nice to think of people doing this the same thing for hundreds of years, in these same Old Town market squares.

Check online for opening dates, but generally most markets open for the period of Advent, which begins in late November. There are a few things to know before you visit one of these famous markets.

Vintage carousels are a common feature of German Christmas Markets
Vintage carousels are a common feature of German Christmas Markets

What you will find at a German Christmas Market

Each market is different, but they generally all have food stalls, glühwein (mulled wine) stalls, toy stalls, and decorations stalls. There isn’t necessary a clear organizing structure, often some of the food stalls will be together, but not all of them. It’s worth doing a circuit around the market to get the lay of the land, as it were, and decide where you’d like to eat, and what you’d like to see. Often there will be at least one carousel for kids, if not several rides. Some markets even feature an ice rink. If you’re looking for a place to get Santa photos, you won’t find them – this isn’t a tradition in Germany.

Mini train at the Heidelberger Christmas Market
Mini train at the Heidelberger Christmas Market

 

What to wear

This sounds like odd advice, but visiting a Christmas market in Germany will mean a lot of walking in the cold. These are big places, and even when you eat, you will be standing around outside. Wear comfortable shoes or boots, and good warm socks. Gloves, scarves and hats are a must, because you will be spending several hours outside in the cold. It’s a shame to have to go early because your toes are about to fall off!

Carousels and gift stalls at a German Christmas Market
Carousels and gift stalls at a German Christmas Market

Tips from a local for visiting Christmas markets

  • Bring a reusable shopping bag for your purchases. Many of the stallholders won’t have any bags, so to avoid wandering around all evening juggling ornaments and toys, bring your own bag.
  • Bring some paper napkins. For your dinner, because you never seem to be given enough to contain the overflow of ketchup or mustard from your average wurst. But also for cleaning out your glühwein mug in case you’d like to pack it home in your reusable shopping bag. If you do decide to keep it, it’s nice to be able to dry it instead of finding the inside of your purse smells like glühwein for weeks. As festive as that is. You can also ask to trade it in for a clean one if you’d like to bring it home.
  • Plan to arrive by transit. The Christmas markets close off streets and make regular routes challenging, as well as usually being located deep in the windiest, smallest streets of any given town. Do yourself a favour and arrive by bus or bike. Not only does it allow for a bit more glühwein consumption, it means you won’t spend ages trying to get in and out of the area, ruining the festive mood.
  • Buy a couple of Brezeln (those big soft pretzels) when you first see them. That way, when your small people suddenly lose their minds/decide they won’t eat wurst/will die if they don’t go on the carousel RIGHT NOW/refuse to walk another step even though the food stalls are about 40 metres away… you are prepared.
Candy stalls are a regular feature at German Christmas Markets
Candy stalls are a regular feature at German Christmas Markets

Eating and drinking

You will definitely find grilled wurst (sausage) served on a bun, and sometimes grilled steak too. In southwestern Germany you will find Flammkuchen (a thin flatbread with soft cheese, onions, and bacon as the traditionally toppings, though you can get other kinds too) for sure. Crêpe stalls are popular with both sweet and savoury options. I’ve seen everything from Chinese noodles to Indian curries, so have a wander. Keep in mind that anything you buy you will be eating standing up, possibly with a table, but maybe not!

Glühwein and Flammkuchen are our favourite foods at the Christmas Market
Glühwein and Flammkuchen are our favourite foods at the Christmas Market

Glühwein, or mulled wine, will be in separate stalls. Be prepared to pay a deposit for your mug, usually €2-€3 which will be printed with a festive design. You’re welcome to bring it back when you order your next glühwein (which will be considerably cheaper now that you’ve paid your deposit), or just bring it home. You can also bring it back to the same stall you ordered from when you’re finished and ask for your ‘Pfand’ (deposit). If you’d like a bit more of a kick in your Glühwein, you can ask for it ‘mit Schuss’, which will net you a shot of rum, whisky, or my favourite, amaretto, in your mug too. If you’ve got kids with you, every Glühwein stall will have Kinderpunsch, which is a warm, spiced fruit juice. Glühwein isn’t always made with red wine, so hunt around a bit to see if you can find some made with local wine, or rosé or white versions. Be on the lookout for Feuerzangerbowle, a warm punch made with spices, sugar, and rum. You’ll be able to spot the stalls selling this drink by the cones of sugar on fire above a kettle of punch – traditionally this is the way they add the sugar to the drink, so it’s got an almost caramel taste to it.

Who can resist the Zuckerwatte (cotton candy)?!
Who can resist the Zuckerwatte (cotton candy)?!
Yum! You can smell these fire-grilled wurst stands all over the markets.
Yum! You can smell these fire-grilled wurst stands all over the markets.

Alongside hot food stalls, there are usually a few bakers selling their wares, both for eating straight away and packaged in little decorative bags for giving as gifts. My son’s favourite stalls are the giant candy ones, packed to the rafters with bulk candies, sweets, and loads of Lebkuchenherzen (gingerbread heart cookies) hanging on ribbons with cute sayings on them. The candy stalls also sell warm praline-covered almonds, handed over in a paper cone, which are one of our favourite market treats.

I love these lantern stalls, they are so beautiful.
I love these lantern stalls, they are so beautiful.

Buying German Christmas ornaments

These are not the cheesy decorations you find at local church fairs. There are artisans that work all year just to sell their wares at the Christmas markets, and they are impressive. There are the intricate winter scenes cut out of thin wood, often backlit by a candle. If you have a mantle you’d like to decorate, the small houses to create a miniature village are everywhere, both with a little light inside and not. My favourite is the miniature versions of the Glühwein stands you see in the markets with the giant rotating pyramid. The miniature versions have tealight holders, so when lit, the heat from the candles will turn the pyramid. These are often quite expensive, but also very detailed. I have heard many stories from my German friends about the pyramids their families have had passed down for generations.

A traditional, and quite affordable, German Christmas ornament is the Christmas star lantern. Traditionally, homes hang these lighted star lanterns in their windows during Advent. I love finding the stalls selling these, as they are a riot of colour and light.

These wooden toy stalls are my son's favourites. This one is full of puzzles.
These wooden toy stalls are my son’s favourites. This one is full of puzzles.

Finding great gifts at German Christmas markets

Beautiful German Christmas ornaments make good gifts, but there’s more to find. There are often stalls full of gorgeous wooden toys at remarkably reasonable prices – everything from little puzzle games to swords to animals. Another traditional stall you’re likely to see is the sheepskin and wool products – keep an eye out for cozy sheepskin slippers. Wearing slippers inside is a major thing here in Germany, everyone takes their shoes off and changes into Hauschuhe as soon as they come inside. Proper sheepskin booties are on my list to buy for myself and my husband this year for sure! If you’re thinking about bringing things back for friends, I’ve also written about the best things to buy as souvenirs in Germany, and where to find them.

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The Black Forest High Road

The Black Forest High Road

The Schwarzwaldhochstraße, or Black Forest High Road, is a beautiful driving route through Germany’s Black Forest region that takes you over the ridges of the low mountains in southwestern Baden-Württemberg.

The road runs from the spa town Baden-Baden in the north to Freudenstadt in the south, taking in all sorts of little sights and viewpoints along the way. We chose to make this a full Black Forest weekend break, but you could definitely do it in a day if you are not as keen on stopping all the time. We had the incredible bad luck to do most of this drive in rain and fog, so we missed out on most of the gorgeous views. However, the Black Forest lives up to it’s name in that weather, and I was sure we were going to run into an old witch from the fairy tales at any moment, so maybe it wasn’t a bad thing at all!

History

This route was formalized in the 1930s as holiday car trips began to be a popular way to spend holidays. The Black Forest itself has always been a popular hiking destination – with a local milliner opening up one of the first ever tourist offices and publishing hiking maps in the late 19th century. If you stop for a little walk on the many trails, you will see the very old trail signposts, many still dating from this period. The Black Forest itself takes its name from the Roman legionaries tasked with exploring it, and their experiences in the unfamiliar towering trees, as well as the habit of the local tribes of leaping out and attacking out of nowhere. The Brothers Grimm added to the mystique by publishing their books of fairy tales, generally researched from the local people throughout the region. Every time we set foot in the Black Forest it feels like the beginning of a fairy tale, I have to say!

Where to stop on the Black Forest High Road

Cute Baden-Baden
Cute Baden-Baden

Baden-Baden

This beautiful little spa town reminds me of Bath, in England, and for good reason. Like Bath, it was originally built around tourists coming to ‘take the waters’ to cure everything from the hysterics to a bit of melancholy. Gambling became a lucrative second industry for the town, as the French liked to nip over the border for a spot of legal game-playing. The rumour is Dostoyevsky learned how to gamble at the tables in Baden-Baden. If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll probably skip the casino, as we have.

A wander down the picturesque high street is plenty, with a pit stop at the cute Buchhandlung Straß book and toy shop. We had dinner at the sprawling Löwenbrau outpost around the corner, which is a Bavarian brewpub. It sounds strange, not being in Bavaria, but there’s lots of room and their location here is a riot of flowerboxes and has a gorgeous patio complete with a mini carousel. The kids can have a plate of tender spätzle (egg noodles) and you can have a giant Maß of beer (those comedy 1L beer servings) if you so choose. If you’re only passing through for lunch, I highly recommend the Peters Gute Backstube. It looks like just a bakery from the outside, but they have a nice lunch menu including schnitzel, pasta and sandwiches. We had an excellent lunch here, and my son’s spinach ravioli with cream sauce was incredible. Be prepared to point and gesture a lot if you don’t speak any German, though the staff was lovely, friendly, and helpful.

Burg Hohenbaden
Burg Hohenbaden
Burg Hohenbaden
Burg Hohenbaden

Burg Hohenbaden

Just above Baden-Baden are the ruins of the Hohenbaden castle. There’s quite a bit to clamber around on here, and it’s free to visit. When we stopped by, there was one other couple just leaving, so we had the place to ourselves. You can climb into one of the ruined towers and look out over the valley below. I love these ruins, where there’s enough to imagine where things were, but not so much that you’re not allowed to touch anything. It’s a good place to stop and let small people run around and blow off some steam before another stint in the car.

About to head up the hill to whizz back down
About to head up the hill to whizz back down

All-year-round bobsleigh

You may have seen the viral videos going around the socials of various trips down these bobsleigh tracks. I can tell you, it’s so fun. There are a few in the Black Forest, but the Mehliskopf is the only one actually on the Black Forest High Road. It’s part of a larger recreation area, but you can choose to just do the ‘Bobbahn’ if you like. You get on a structured cart with seatbelts, with a seat in the front for kids on the same cart, and it tows you to the top of a loooooong hill. Once you start going down, you can control your speed with a handbrake, and you zip in and out of the trees on your way down. It’s super fun, pretty cheap – two of you can go down for under €10 a go. There’s a cafe on site as well. Do check the website ahead of time, as they are not open everyday.

I loved this little red truck.
I loved this little red truck.
The Mummelsee is there! I swear!
The Mummelsee is there! I swear!

Mummelsee

As you come up to one of the highest elevations, you’ll suddenly find a hotel and a little lake. This is the Mummelsee – mummel means water lily, and see means lake. It is nearly perfectly round, and of course there’s a perfectly gory myth to go along with it. Apparently, water sprites live in a beautiful castle at the bottom of the lake, and they come out during the day to help the surrounding farmers with their chores and look after children while the mothers work (where are these sprites and can they come to my house?!), but of course one fell in love with a local lad, stayed out too late, and then the king of the water sprites killed her. Lovely! Anyway, there is a nice playground, rental boats, cafe, and many little tourist shops here. It makes a good place to break your journey.

Just one corner of Schiltach
Just one corner of Schiltach
Cute little owls spotted in Schiltach
Cute little owls spotted in Schiltach

A picture perfect German half-timbered town

Schlitach, which is a bit out of your way but well worth a stop, is one of those perfect little half-timbered German villages. It’s situated on a hill, and the Black Forest rises up beyond it, and you can imagine any number of fairy tales beginning in the little market square. An hour or so here is really all you need, but do get out of the car for a little walk around. It’s been a town since the 11th century, generally used as a central meeting place for the surrounding farmers, and as a stopping point for travellers coming through the Black Forest.

The cows of the Kloster Allerheiligen restaurant farm, they were mooing at us the whole time.
The dramatic ruins of the Kloster Allerheiligen (All Saints Abbey)

All Saints Waterfalls and Abbey Ruins

In one of the deep valleys off the Black Forest High Road are the Allerheiligen Wasserfälle, or All Saints Waterfalls. These are the tallest waterfalls in the Black Forest, and while very pretty in an in the forest kind of way, don’t go in expecting Niagara Falls. The parking for the path to the waterfalls doesn’t give anything away, it’s only when you walk for a couple of minutes that the little valley opens out a bit and you are presented with the dramatic ruins of the All Saints Abbey, with the Black Forest rising behind it. After exploring the ruined church and buildings, you can stop for a meal at the restaurant, also housed in a beautiful historic building. The Kloster Allerheiligen Restaurant focuses on hyper local cuisine, the pigs and the cows are literally in the field across the path! The cows like to complain at the tourists walking through on their way to the waterfall. We stopped for a light lunch and were really impressed, it’s definitely worth scheduling this stop around a mealtime.

The lovely cozy Gasthaus we stayed in, in the Black Forest
The lovely cozy Gasthaus we stayed in, in the Black Forest

Black Forest hotel experience

If you’re used to travelling in bigger cities, you’ll have to get used to the Gasthaus experience. This is the small-town German set up of a restaurant with rooms upstairs. Often there is no front desk, you just enter through the restaurant and the staff will give you a key. We lucked out with a lovely place in Mühlenbach, deep in the Black Forest. The Gasthaus Ochsen is a bit like the King’s Head or the Red Lion in England, there is one in every town. Regardless, we checked in, had a lovely meal downstairs with local wine, a huge plate of buttered spätzle for our son, and a dish of salmon, chanterelles and pasta I still dream about. The breakfast was lovely and traditional – think proper Black Forest ham, boiled eggs, endless types of bread, müsli, and the best hotel coffee I’ve had in awhile. The little canal beside the Gasthaus was rushing like a major river after all the rain, and the church bells from across the road made for a beautiful wake up call.

Black Forest hotel search

Here’s a handy map for searching for other hotels in the area. Zoom out, as it is very focussed on one small town for some reason!

Booking.com
PS – If you’re looking for another great Black Forest adventure, we love the Open Air Museum. It’s not on the Black Forest High Road route, but it’s well worth a detour.

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Find out how to do this famous route in the Black Forest, Germany. From Baden-Baden to Freundenstadt, check out fairy tale half-timbered houses, waterfalls, hikes, forest walks and more in this picturesque corner of southern Germany. #travel #germany
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Day Trips from Frankfurt

Day Trips from Frankfurt

Frankfurt has a bit of a reputation for being full of banks and boringness, and while I love an afternoon along the Main sampling biergartens or a wander through the museums, there are so many great places a short drive or train journey away too. It’s such an easy place to fly into, it would be a shame not to use your time there to explore some of the amazing things about western Germany. Here are some great options for day trips from Frankfurt.

Visit one of Germany's favourite ruined castles in Heidelberg.
Visit one of Germany’s favourite ruined castles in Heidelberg.

Heidelberg

It’s on every list, and for good reason. As a Heidelberg resident, I’m not going to disagree! Our little city features the gorgeous castle ruins, of course, but don’t stop there. If you take the historic funicular to the top of the Königstuhl (the castle is only halfway up) you can take in a falconry demonstration, and let the kids burn off some steam at Märchenparadies, a little amusement park in the trees. Our Altstadt, or Old Town, is full of beautiful little streets. I think our favourite thing to do is head down to the Neckarweise to hang out in the playgrounds and splash park. Read my full post on what the locals do around Heidelberg for more ideas. Heidelberg is about 1 hour from Frankfurt by train.

Pretend Mozart is around the next corner in the Schwetzingen Palace Gardens.
Pretend Mozart is around the next corner in the Schwetzingen Palace Gardens.

Schwetzingen

Whenever I post photos of Schwetzingen, people ask me if I’m in Italy. Oh no, this is still Germany! This little town is dominated by the incredible salmon-pink summer palace of the Prince Elector. The manicured gardens go on and on, and the photo opportunities are endless. Mozart visited these gardens at least once, so imagine him wandering through, thinking on his music. Be sure to make your way to the Garden Mosque, it’s my favourite spot. The big draw here is the gardens, the buildings are not open except on guided tours – the only English language ones happen on Sundays at 2:15pm, so plan ahead if you want to see inside. On sunny days, it’s easy to find space at the all the pubs and restaurants that put out tables on the square right in front of the palace. Schwetzingen is about 1 hour from Frankfurt by train.




Even the seating outside the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz is type-related.
Even the seating outside the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz is type-related.

Mainz

The Gutenberg Museum is the big reason to visit – you can see one of the original Gutenberg bibles, as well as replicas of the original printing press. A walk around the lovely old town is well worth it. Check out the cathedral dating from the 10th century, and Wood Tower and Iron Tower – medieval structures that used to form part of the old city wall. Mainz is on the Rhine river, so you could catch one of the river cruises from here, or just enjoy a walk along this historic waterway. Mainz is an easy 30-40 minutes by train from Frankfurt. I have a whole post over here on what to do with kids in Mainz for the day.

Rhine Valley

There are several different ways of seeing this stretch of the Rhine, full to bursting with castles. Take a Rhine river cruise (affiliate link), and relax with a coffee or a glass of wine while you watch the valley goes by.  You could rent a car, which allows you to stop off at the littler castles and investigate. Or take the train to Koblenz or Cochem, the bigger towns in the valley, and relax and enjoy the view as the train follows the river. The sides of the valley are nearly all carpeted with vineyards, and it’s a breathtaking sight with castles perched on the hilltops. It’s worth noting that not all the castles are open to visitors.

Hessenpark Open-Air Museum

About an hour on the train from Frankfurt is the glorious Hessenpark. Over 100 historic buildings have been moved to this site over the past 50 years and painstakingly reassembled using appropriate materials. There are shops, restaurants, exhibitions, and interiors set up to show you what life was like in this region 200-400 years ago. There’s even a hotel on-site so you can wake up to the sounds of regional cocks crowing. Open-air museums are terrific with kids, as they can run around and explore at their own speed. There’s a great playground and farm animals all over. Read my full guide to visiting the Hessenpark.

 


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

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