After living in Stuttgart for one year, I have come to two big realizations: 1. Stuttgart doesn’t get nearly enough credit as it should for being a pretty, interesting city and 2. It is an awesome base for a visit to Germany, or Europe in general.
Just think, within four hours of Stuttgart, you could be at the borders of six countries – France (1.5 hrs), Switzerland (2 hrs), Luxembourg (2 hrs), Belgium (3 hrs), Austria (3.5 hrs), and the Czech Republic (4 hrs). Not to mention, German Wings, a budget-friendly airline, flies out of Stuttgart to pretty much every location in Europe and beyond. RyanAir, also affordable, flies out of Memmingen and Frankfurt, both around two hours away.
Which brings me back to my second point, Stuttgart is a wonderful place to make as a center for traveling!
My top 10 places to see if you want to get the best feel for Germany, or Europe, in a short amount of time are as follows, in no particular order:
1. Rothenberg ob der Tauber (Located on Germany’s Romantic Road)
Rothenberg is a well-preserved medieval town that escaped major damage from WWII. It’s a mere 90 minutes northeast of Stuttgart, and being on the Romantic Road, it gives you options to visit other equally adorable towns. Rothenberg is not very big, but it is one of those towns that you can just wander around because there is so much to look at. We have friends coming out in April, and we are planning to do the “Nightwatchman’s Tour,” in Rothenberg. The tour got top praises on TripAdvisor, so I’m definitely looking forward to it and learning more about this beautiful city. One of my favorites near Rothenberg is Würzburg, which reminds me of a mini-Prague and is a nice place to sit by the river and have a glass of wine.
2. Border Towns – Strasbourg, France and Salzburg, Austria
Strasbourg, 90-minutes southwest of Stuttgart, is a border town that has spent time as both as both a German and France city. It is now firmly located in France, and is one of the stops on the Alsace Wine Route. Strasbourg is a large island, with a gorgeous Cathedral in the center. The Cathedral is one of my favorites, and definitely not to be missed. It is also a UNESCO-world heritage site, and a good starting point for any tour of this quaint town. Not to be missed – Petite France, which is so charming during the spring and summer months thanks to the insane amount of flowers on the buildings. After sufficiently experiencing Strasbourg, it is highly recommended to drive even part of the wine route. Two of the cute towns worth a stop are Ribeauville and Colmar, although there really is no part I dislike.
Salzburg is probably more of an overnight trip, as it is 3.5 hours east, but more likely than not you will get caught in a stau (German traffic jam), so it will probably take longer. But Salzburg, home to Mozart, is a perfect place for an easy overnight stay. It’s a walkable town, although it is highly recommended to take the Fraulein Maria Sound of Music Bike Tour. You don’t even have to be a fan of the movie to enjoy this one – the tour guide sufficiently gives you the history of the town while taking you by the highlights of the movie. It is because of this tour that I will always check out bike tours in the next places we go to. (If the areas are flat, of course!)
Munich, the town with a fascinating history, is just 2 hours south of here, and if going to Salzburg, a great stopping point to get out and stretch your legs. I love Munich – it was the first overnight trip John and I took in Germany, and as I’ve started earlier, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the town marred with a tumultuous past, but it was great. Go to the Hofbräuhaus, take the elevator up the “Neues Rathaus” to get a birds-eye-view of Munich (or if feeling really adventurous, walk 386 steps one way up the steeple of St. Peters – we’ve done both, go elevator!) and visit the Residenz, the palace in the middle of the Historic Area that had to be almost completely rebuilt after World War II. Just outside of Munich is Dauchau, the first concentration camp in Germany, and is worth the trip although it is a tough stop of course. Also outside the city is Kloster Andechs, a monastery that brews its own beer.
4. Local castles Schloss Hohenzollern, Schloss Lichtenstein and the Ludwigsburg Palace
As close as everything is, there is still a lot of driving in 10 days, which is why I always try to alternate longer driving days with shorter driving days. John is always reminding me of the cool things that are located close to here that we need to do and it’s easy to forget that. Two of the coolest are Schloss Hohenzollern and Schloss Lichtenstein, while my favorite palace tour is the one in Ludwigsburg.
Hohenzollern was one of the first places I visited when I got to Germany and I was in awe of the castle, which is built atop a mountain and is cool just driving up to it. The tour is okay, but there are no English options, so you’ll have to get a booklet to read along with. Bonus – it’s only about 20-30 minutes away from Stuttgart.
Schloss Lichtenstein is one of the coolest castles I’ve seen and it is also one of the smallest. They have an English tour, which is pretty good. But just going to see the castle alone is really enough. On a nice day, there are trails running out from the castle that are nice to take a walk on. Similar to Hohenzollern, it’s only about a 40-minute drive away.
Ludwisgburg is one of my favorite tours as it takes you to pretty much the entire palace during a 90-minute tour. It doesn’t even seem like it is that long as it is interesting and the tour guides are completely entertaining. Ludwigsburg lies about 25 minutes north of Stuttgart, and if you are really tired of the car, it is easily accessible by train. Make sure you know what time the English tour is, as it runs only once a day.
5. THE castle – Schloss Neuschwanstein
If you can get there, no trip to Germany is complete without a trip to the famous Neuschwanstein Castle, which Walt Disney used as inspiration for the castle in Sleeping Beauty. I’ve been there when it was sunny, and I have been there when it was raining and if I can offer one tip – never go when it rains if it is at all possible! What really makes the experience is getting to enjoy the view of the German Alps and the picturesque setting that surrounds the castle. The drive from Stuttgart is around 2.5 hours but you spend nearly all day touring both Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau (another castle that is right across from Neuschwanstein), that it doesn’t feel like you have spent five hours in the car once you are done for the day.
6. The American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg is just 2 hours north of Stuttgart, and while it is a teeny, tiny country, it holds a very important military cemetery – the American Military Cemetery of Luxembourg. It is where General Patton was buried, and it is a very moving, serene place. Take the trip, honor the U.S. troops buried over here.
You can easily fit in the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg and Trier in the same day, as Trier is about 20 minutes away from Luxembourg and the scenery along the drive is breathtaking. Trier is home to the best remaining ancient Roman Ruins outside of Rome, and is the oldest city in Germany. Trier has beautiful ruins, one of my favorite Cathedrals, and is an easy, walkable city.
Bamberg is a surprisingly delightful town, one which I’m sure I didn’t even kind of scratch the surface when I visited one warm, late fall afternoon. It’s a mixture of old and young, with buildings that suffered minimal damage in World War II and a thriving university. Its historic, UNESCO-recognized “Rathaus” is as cool as it seems in the pictures, and of course, when visiting Bamberg, you have to try one of the “smoky” beers that they are famous for. We already have it planned to do a self-guided tour of the nine breweries that inhabit this tiny town with our friends in April.
9. Lake Konstanz (The Bodensee)
One of my favorite days over the summer was the one when John and I drove two hours straight south to see Lake Konstanz, or the Bodensee. It is on the border of Switzerland, Austria and Germany – which is very cool, and is a fun place to spend a day, especially in the summer months. We made Meersburg our base for the day, paying 8E for entrance into their “Swimbad” which offers multiple swimming pools as well as direct, easy access to Lake Konstanz (which is quite cold, which made the pools a bit more preferable!) After the swim, we grabbed gelato on the waterfront boardwalk and then walked around the town a bit, which is bright and colorful. The one thing I’m sad we didn’t do, but plan to do this summer is Mainau Island, the “Blumen Insel” or Flower Island. It looks incredible, each year they pick a different theme and there are hundreds of different kinds of flowers that bloom there.
10. Stuttgart itself!
Again, Stuttgart doesn’t get enough credit, I don’t think – although I am probably a little biased. It has wonderful markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and one indoor year-round market to explore. Of course, you can’t mention Stuttgart without also bringing up the Mercedes Benz and Porsche museum that call this place home. Hiking up to Rubble Mountain, which is a man-made mountain of all the debris from the bombing of Stuttgart offers amazing views of the town, and the downtown center is a fun, vibrant place to sit and enjoy the scenery.
These are a few suggestions, although there are more places to see! I’m going to have to do a part 2 to this blog in a couple of months as we have friends coming to visit on multiple occasions with plans to do more new and exciting things! Stay tuned!