While Germany is only a border away from Belgium, my trips to the country have been fairly limited. I've been to Cologne as a teenager, spent time in Berlin as a student and made short trips to Dresden and Dusseldorf, but that was about it. So when Germany Travel asked me to visit the German state of Baden-Württemberg for a week, I was immediately up for it.
On my program were the Black Forest, Burg Hohenzollern and the Baden-Württemberg cities of Mannheim, Karlsruhe, Tübingen and Stuttgart, the state capital. As I only had a day in each of the cities, I put on my comfortable Nikes, pulled out my list of things to see and do, and started exploring.
- 4 of the best Baden-Württemberg cities to visit
- 1. Mannheim
- 2. Karlsruhe
- 4. Stuttgart
- Final thoughts on my first Baden-Württemberg trip
4 of the best Baden-Württemberg cities to visit
First up on the list of places to visit in Baden-Württemberg is Mannheim. The city center is shaped like a half circle, with the Schloss or castle in the middle of the straight end of the half circle.
The main road is the road right across the castle. It's called the Breite Strasse or “Wide Street” and intersects with Planken at the Paradeplatz, which is the center of the city and the spot where soldiers used to parade during official events. It's also the shopping street of Mannheim.
If you walk from the Schloss until the end of the Breite Strasse, you'll see that the side streets don't have street names, but building blocks that have a combination of a number and a letter: the further you move away from the Schloss, the higher the letter goes. The further you move away from the Breite Strasse, the higher the number goes. Let me show you on a map:
This system makes it very easy to find your way. When you know you have to be at G6, you just have to count in the right direction from where you are.
The house closest to the Schloss gets the number 1 and the other houses are numbered in the direction of the clock if they're located right from the Breite Strasse and counterclockwise if they're located left of it.
I was pretty proud to get the hang of the system quickly, as someone told me that some people have been living in the city for years and still don't know how it works.
You're probably thinking: “Cool, but are there things to do and places to visit in Mannheim?”. There are.
Mannheim Music city
Mannheim is a city with a rich cultural history, especially when it comes to music. Did you know that Mozart once applied here to join the Mannheim Orchestra? He didn't get the job and instead had to give piano lessons to the illegitimate children of Electoral Prince Karl Theodor. Obviously, he didn't stay in Mannheim that long.
There's still a renowned music academy in the city today, while those who are into pop tunes can go to the Popakademie to study different areas of the pop music business and graduate as a Bachelor or Master of Arts. The presence of this school makes that there are many young bands in Mannheim that you can go see at one of the many bars in Jungbusch district, often for free.
The Schloss is now owned by the university, and a part of it is turned into a museum and open to the public. In the museum, you get an idea of what the palace used to look like when it was still inhabited.
Don't forget to look up: my favorite thing here was the beautifully painted ceilings.
Or wait, that's not true. My favorite part about the Schloss Mannheim was the one completely original room that you can still see through a glass door.
When you've seen the first floor, don't take the main staircase down, but the small winding one. It'll get you to another exhibition room and there, on the right, you'll see a special door. Behind that door is a room that's completely as it was and the colors of the wall and ceiling paintings there – soft green, pink and red – are pretty amazing.
I didn't see any signs pointing to that room, so make sure not to miss it!
If you're looking for some rather unusual things to do in Mannheim, you definitely need to go and get spaghetti ice. It was invented by Dario Fontanella in the 1960's. Dario runs Fontanella, the ice cream bar at Breite Strasse.
When he came to Mannheim from Italy, he noticed how the Germans used this specific kitchen tool to make their noodles. They would put their pasta in the tool, which had holes in the bottom, and push it through to get the noodles in noodle-shape.
Dario decided to do the same thing, but with vanilla ice cream. He started with a bit of crème fraîche, then added the noodle-shaped vanilla iced and topped it off with strawberry sauce or some other kind of red fruit sauce and white chocolate. The result was an ice cream looking like spaghetti.
I visited the Schloss and Fontanella with a guide and she told me that, when he'd invented spaghetti ice, Dario had consulted a lawyer because he wanted to get a patent for his invention. His lawyer, however, told him that that would never work and now everyone in Germany is allowed to make spaghetti ice and call it that. I'm pretty sure Dario still isn't talking to his lawyer.
Also nice to know: my guide was lactose intolerant, but that wasn't a problem at Fontanella as they serve plenty of lactose-free sorbets.
The water tower and the jesuit church
Two buildings I really liked in Manheim: the Jesuit Church and the water tower. The water tower is an Art Nouveau building with a small park behind it that marks the end/beginning of the grid.
The church deserves a mention because of its colors. I'm not a fan of the “typical” churches with dark wood and lots of heavy ornaments, but the Jesuitenkirche was the opposite of that.
When I visited it, it was drizzling outside and the sky was covered in clouds. I'd expected it to be even darker inside the church, but the interior consists mostly of white, pastel green and soft red/pink, which actually made it look “bright” if that's not an odd thing to say of a church.
There's also a big organ above the entry door that you can walk up to, when I was visiting, someone was playing it. I actually don't know if it was just a visitor or “the organ guy”. I like to think it was just a visitor.
How to get to Mannheim
I arrived in Mannheim by train. The train station is just a 5-minute walk from the Schloss and the entire city center of Mannheim can easily be done on foot. If you do like using public transportation, there are several tram lines to take you around.
Chain: Mercure Mannheim
I spent one night at the Mercure Mannheim in a clean room that had everything I needed (which basically means coffee and tea supplies) and was conveniently located at F7, just within the city center.
Budget: Hotel am Hafen
It might look a bit nondescript from the outside, but Hotel am Hafen offers quality, fresh-feeling rooms that come with a small kitchenette (microwave, fridge, kettle, coffee machine), a private bathroom and free toiletries. It’s in a great location, not far from the river Neckar.
Directly opposite the Mannheim Main Station, this four-star boutique hotel has a fantastic central location and a really stylish interior. The chic decor has been carefully thought out, and the rooms have big windows, free WiFi, air-conditioning and en-suite bathrooms. The hotel also has a bar and terrace, on-site restaurant, and gym.
Apartment: Magic Mannheim Apartment
Located in the city centre district of Mannheim, this apartment is near all the action of the city. The flat is bright and fresh with lots of space, and the kitchen is fully equipped (it even has a dishwasher and washing machine!).
From Mannheim, I traveled on to Karlsruhe. The day I visited there was a big festival at the Schloss with local bands, theater groups, and dancers performing.
I was pretty amazed when I heard this and even more when I attended the festival in the evening and noticed how proud the people of Karlsruhe are of their city. They actually started cheering when a light show highlighted all kinds of important people and events in the history of the city.
Best things to do in Karlsruhe
Earlier that day, I'd taken a guided bike tour to find out what makes Karlsruhe interesting to visit. I'm glad I did this as the city is rather large and I wouldn't have been able to see as much if I'd gone wandering on foot.
It was the first time I rode an electric bike and I did have to get used to it! It took me a while before I realized that I actually had to adjust the energy it gave depending on whether I was going uphill, downhill or riding on a flat piece of lane. Have you ever driven an electric bike? I don't think it's as easy as it looks!
We started our tour in front of the train station and drove towards a long stretch of green in the southwest of Karlsruhe with a bike path running right through it. When we were riding there I thought we'd left the city as it was so quiet and we hardly saw other people.
But from that path it only takes a couple of minutes to get to the big sports complex Europahalle and, a bit further, the ZKM.
The ZKM or Medienmuseum focuses on the history and artistic potential of new media like telephones, computers and the Internet in combination with paintings, sculptures and other art forms. Unfortunately, I didn't get to go in as the museum was closed on the day of my visit.
From the ZKM we headed to the Ludwigsplatz, a very lively square ideal for people watching. On the Waldstrasse, one of the streets by the Ludwigsplatz, you can also see a yellow line in the middle, made out of tiles that carry the names of important people from Karlsruhe.
The Waldstrasse, by the way, is one of several fan-streets. Not “fan” as in “I want to marry Justin Bieber”, but “fan” as in the thing people use to create air movement.
According to my guide Betina, the legend goes that during a hunt, the wife of Magrave of Baden-Durlach Karl Wilhelm (1679 – 1738) lost her fan. As fans were very expensive at that time, everybody had to go and look for it.
Karl Wilhelm himself didn't really feel like helping his wife retrieve her fan and he fell asleep under a tree. While he was asleep, he dreamed of a city where the streets extended outwards from a central palace like the spokes of a fan, and so now Karlsruhe has a central Schloss with 32 streets and paths radiating from it and creating the shape of a fan.
Fun fact 1: you can see a small piece of the palace from any of these streets.
Fun fact 2: this layout inspired Thomas Jefferson and was a source of inspiration for the design of Washington DC.
I love stories like this and that's why I think it can be useful to take a city tour with a guide. These people always know fun facts about a place.
Or useful facts, like that you can't ride your bike in the botanical garden.
Karlsruhe botanical garden
Karlsruhe's botanical garden is free to visit. It has wide walking lanes and there's one giant tree that offers all the shade you need on a hot summer day.
Wander around the city center
Unfortunately, the weather wasn't that great when I was there and so we left the garden again after a short stroll to further explore the city. We drove by some Karlsruhe, Germany points of interest such as art installations, the State Museum of Natural History and an impressive church before we went to get ourselves counted at the end of the tour.
“Get yourself counted?”
Yes! Karlsruhe has this counter in the Erbprinzenstraße that only registers people cycling by. I have no idea how it works, but it's pretty cool. It shows you how many cyclists have already passed there that day, as well as since the start of the year.
When my tour was finished, it was almost time to go to dinner and then the festival, but there was one spot I absolutely still had to visit: the Zoological Garden.
The Zoological Garden
I had to rush a bit, on my visit to the Karlsruhe Zoological Garden, so I didn't enjoy it as much as I probably would have if I'd had more time.
I only saw some of the animals and I missed the botanical garden of the zoo. Solely based on a short first impression, I'd say this is definitely not the most impressive zoo I've ever been to, but a fun place to take kids for an afternoon.
How to get to Karlsruhe
The Karlsruhe train station is located right across the Zoo. It's a 30-minute walk from the city center. Although the concentration of sights is largest in the center, be sure to also head out a bit. For that, you can take the tram, the bus, or a bike tour like I did.
Boutique: City Partner Hotel Berliner Hof
I spent one night at the City Partner Hotel Berliner Hof in a small but clean single room. Free WiFi is provided and there is a spa available for a surcharge. It’s in a quiet but central location, only 100 yards from an S-Bahn station.
In a great location, this is a fun and colorful bed and breakfast with a variety of choices. The cheapest option is to go for a bed in a dormitory but there are also great value private rooms available. All the rooms have vibrant themes and free WiFi, and there is a shared kitchen area that guests are free to use.
Chain: Holiday Inn Express Karlsruhe – City Park
Just outside the city center (about a half-hour walk) this Holiday Inn is clean and well-equipped with an outdoor terrace area, 24-hour reception desk and glamorous bar. Rooms have free WiFi, air-con, a kettle and an en-suite bathroom.
Luxury: Schlosshotel Karlsruhe
A four-star luxury hotel in the centre of Karlsruhe with a classic, historical feel. Found opposite the city’s main railway station and with rooms overlooking the zoo, Schlosshotel offers guests well-sized air-conditioned rooms, a breakfast buffet and gym.
Apartment: SEEGER Living Premium Downtown
Situated in the central district of Karlsruhe, this apartment has a minimalistic interior which keeps it feeling classy and clean. A fully equipped kitchen is provided (complete with dishwasher, oven, stovetop and fridge), as well as a lounge area and large windows.
Where public transportation or a bike comes in handy in Karlsruhe, the center of Tübingen is very walkable again. While there are churches and museums to visit, the real attraction is the old center itself, with its timber houses, hilly streets and tiny alleyways.
You can find several nice cafes and smaller boutiques here, as well as quirky stores like MyMuesli (Neckargasse 4).
I didn't buy any muesli, but instead I got a pancake with chocolate at the Crêpes stand by the Marktplatz. Apparently, this stand has been here for 30 years already!
Tip: when you're at the Marktplatz, pay attention to the houses. You'll notice that there's always one with the timber showing, one with the timber covered, one with the timber showing etc. They're actually obliged to be like this – alternating. All the other houses in the old center are protected as well and you need permission for renovation works etc.
My heaviest climb on foot during this trip was probably to get to Schloss Hohentubingen (no worries, it's a short climb), now part of the University of Tübingen. You can find the MUT (Museum of University Tübingen) there, which has an archeological collection. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to go in.
Tip: when you're facing the university's entry gate, look to your left to get a great view over the rest of Tübingen.
I found one thing in Tübingen that I thought you could only find in England: punting!
Punting in Tubingen
Students have their own punting boats on the river Neckar, but you can also take a punting tour, which is what I did. The tour goes up and down the river and I really liked the part where it went along the Platanenallee – a small green island in the Neckar.
At that point it was so quiet I could hear the birds chirp and I didn't feel like I was in a city anymore.
Lastly, I have to recommend restaurant Forelle. By the time I got to Tübingen, I'd already spent four days checking out Baden-Württemberg tourist attractions and eating traditional food and Forelle was presented as another traditional restaurant. Although the food I had in other places was not bad, the food at Forelle was from a different level.
I had a cauliflower cream soup to start, a salad with trout and salmon as the main course and a giant apfelstrudel with vanilla ice cream as dessert. Yes, I overestimated myself by taking three courses, but everything was delicious and the service very friendly.
If you're looking for refined local food, this is where to go in Tübingen.
The old center of Tübingen is rather small and can easily be done on foot. It's a bit hilly, so it's best to wear comfortable shoes.
Boutique: Domizil Tübingen
I spent one night at Domizil Tübingen in a very large bed with an even larger bedroom. Small downside: the WiFi wasn’t great. It’s a four-star hotel located next to the river Neckar, with views across the Old Town and easy access to the center.
Budget: Hotel Restaurant Meteora
There aren’t that many super cheap options in Tübingen but this is one well-sited hotel that won’t break the bank. The rooms are really nicely decorated and the bathrooms feel classy, and there’s a Greek restaurant on site too.
Chain: Ibis Styles Tubingen
This Ibis can be found close to the Old Town and railway station. Guests can use the outdoor terrace, gym and trendy bar, and the stylish, urbanic rooms are fitted with free WiFi and a flat-screen TV.
Apartment: Apartment König
A large apartment in the middle of the city within walking distance of most attractions. It has a simple layout and style but plenty of space, and comes with a small balcony and garden views. Guests can use the fully equipped kitchen and free WiFi.
My final stop on my tour of the best things to do in Baden-Württemberg was Stuttgart. The Stuttgart city population is over 2.7 million people. It's a big place, and yet very pleasant to wander around in. The city center, with the Schlossplatz (“Palace Square”), the Markthalle, the Stiftskirche, Hegel's House and many more sights can easily be done on foot. If you'd like to venture out a bit more, there's are the practical U- and S-Bahns.
I took the U-Bahn to Südheimer Platz. Just a two-minute walk from there I took an old cable car up into the hills of Stuttgart, where I followed the walking route indicated by signs with blue stockings on them. The walk took me about an hour and ended at a rack railway station, part of the only urban rack railway line in Germany.
From there I took the train down to Marienplatz, where I had a delicious ice cream at the Gelateria across from the train stop (the other ice cream place on the square is not as good, I've been told). This square is a great place to meet up with friends as there are plenty of bars and restaurants in the area.
I didn't finish my day there though, but at the gardens behind the New Palace where students were taking a break on the grass, couples were busy cuddling in the sun and another tourist was taking photos of the beautiful opera house.
Although the city center of Stuttgart can easily be done on foot, I highly recommend getting a ticket for public transportation. You can get a single ticket, a day ticket, a week ticket… It really would be a shame if you just stuck to the center. Plus, you can often find less pricey hotels just a few stops away from the centers.
Another way to see the city is by catching a ride on the hop on/hop off bus as it drives along a lot of sites that are located away from the center, like the Mercedezs Benz Museum and the vineyards.
Budget: Jugendherberge Stuttgart International
I spent one night at the International Student Hotel. It’s not actually a student hotel, but a regular hotel with large rooms and friendly staff a few stops from the city center.
Boutique: B&B Hotel Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt
Sited near the river, this bed and breakfast is in the Bad Cannstatt district and is just round the corner from U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations. The rooms are very simply furnished, but they do all offer a desk, flat-screen TV and en-suite bathroom. Free WiFi is available in public areas.
Luxury: Jaz Stuttgart
Right in the middle of the city, Jaz Stuttgart has a rooftop bar with amazing skyline views, and an elegant restaurant. Rooms are vast and contemporary, and the adjoining bathrooms are fitted with a bath and rain shower. The hotel also has a 24-hour gym and spa area.
Apartment: Appartement Selina
Appartement Selina has a clean and sharp interior, with a modern fully equipped kitchen that is fitted with a dishwasher, oven and stove, coffee machine, fridge, kettle, microwave and sink. Large skylights give the flat plenty of light, and its location right in the heart of Stuttgart is perfect for exploring the city.
Final thoughts on my first Baden-Württemberg trip
As you might have guessed, there's a lot more to see and do in each of these four cities than I mentioned. My trip was merely an introduction to Baden-Württemberg cities. I've tried to cover as much as I could in the limited amount of time that I had to give you a taste of what these cities have to offer.
There are dozens of other great places to visit in soutern Germany like Lake Constance and Freiburg im Breisgau and the Black Forest. Hopefully, this one bite will make you want more and get out there to explore for yourself.
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I took this trip in the light of Germany Travel's #joingermantradition campaign. This campaign wants to highlight traditions and customs all over Germany. Most of the costs I had for this trip were covered by Germany Travel. As always, all opinions are my own.