The Black Forest (German: Schwarzwald) is a 6,009.2 km2 (2,320.2 sq mi) area located in the state of Baden-Württemberg in the southwest of Germany. A paradise for peace seekers, sporty folks and Burgundians! If you appreciate value and quality for your money, beautiful nature, no crowds, friendly locals, traditional architecture, delicious local wine and surprising culinary highlights, the Black Forest is your place to be! So what are the things to do in the Black Forest area? Here are my tips.
I have visited Germany many times; this summer I went to the Black Forest area for the first time. While many Dutch people prefer to drive their caravans to France each summer, my boyfriend and I like going to Germany. Freiburg, Cologne or Munich may not sound as romantic or sexy as Loire, Montpellier or Avignon; the land of ‘Mutti’ (Mum) Merkel is as comforting as its leader. So take that German highway (‘Deutsche Autobahn’) and exit at the Black Forest to discover all the great things the area has to offer!
Go hike & swim
In this beautiful Black Forest area the one thing you should at least do is obviously hiking. There are many trails for experienced hikers that take multiple days. A famous one is the West Way (Westweg) from Pforzheim to Basel for example. The total network of tracks in the Black Forest area is around 23K km (14K mi) so many different routes to choose from!
The highest peak of the Black Forest area is the Feldberg with an elevation of 1,493 meters (4,898 ft).
Luckily for not so experienced, mediocre walkers like me, there are also numerous shorter paths suitable for day walks. You may want to ask your accommodation host for tips. For instance, you are not an experienced hiker like me, possibly kids join as well, and you want to do a nice half-day walk, you could for example walk the Klostersteig Kniebis, which we did.
Klostersteig Kniebis walk
In summer temperatures easily rise above 30 in the Black Forest area. As a consequence it is best to start walking early in the morning and bring lots of water with you. Park your car at Hotel Café Günter in Kniebis, right between the local monastery ruin and the pool. Walk a few hundred meters to the monastery ruin next to the bus stop (‘Die Klosteranlage Kniebis’). The starting point of the Klostersteig walk is at the monastery ruin.
If you are unsure how to proceed, ask local people to show you the way to the Feuerwehrpfad (‘Fireman path’). Soon after that, you will get the option for a bypass track to the Karsee view point; take it, the view is amazing! The Klostersteig walk takes about 4 hours, depending on your walking speed and breaks, and includes several parts that go uphill.
Forest view pool
The Klostersteig Kniebis walking path basically ends at the outdoor pool Wald Schwimmbad Kniebis with forest view. The perfect place to cool drown from the hike. Entrance fee is EUR 3 (adult), opening hours Mon-Fri 13-19h, Sat-Sun 11-19h. Another pool in the area that is worth visiting, is the Naturerlebnisbad Ottenhofen.
Baiersbronn is another a good area for walking; for example you can start walking from Parkplatz Keckenteich. There are big maps at the parking lot including the Tonbachtal Nordic Fitness Park that starts here.
Visit the All Saints
The early Gothic ruin Monastery of All Saints (‘Allerheiligen’) from Buntsandstein is picturesquely situated in a small valley near Opennau. In 1804 the tower of the monastery church got struck by lightning, causing a terrible fire, which eventually led to the abandonment of the monastery.
The nearby All Saints waterfall, also known as Büttensteiner waterfall, was opened to the public in 1840. The waterfall is 90 meters high and can be reached after a 20 minute walk from the abbey. After the walk I would suggest to get a drink (and maybe something to eat) at the terrace of Restaurant Kloster Allerheiligen right next to the monastery ruin. Parking is free and nearby. Inside the monastery summer concerts are held, mostly Saturday evenings. Mass is still held in the nearby forest chapel every Saturday.
Ride the 500
The Schwarzwaldhochstraße, also simply referred to as the 500, is a popular road of 60 km (37 mi) between Baden-Baden and Freudenstadt. If you are tired from walking, or it gets too warm, or for whatever reason you are in the mood for some road tripping; drive down the 500 and enjoy the view! Especially around the Mummelsee (Mull Lake) the view is panoramic, looking into the valley, moreover on a clear day. This is also the busiest and most touristy part of the route.
We loved taking detours from the 500 here and there, for example the L84 and the L401 Ruhesteinstrasse, which might even be prettier than the majority of the Schwarzwaldhochstraße. Cruise along the cute, sleepy villages, for example Ottenhöfen and Seebach. Enjoy the views, stop and buy an ice cream, take a walk, get lunch, whatever you are in the mood for. Simply enjoy!
Soak & sweat
Besides hiking, a more relaxed way of losing some sweat is hitting the sauna in a wellness resort. The city of Baden-Baden in the northern part of the Black Forest area is famous for its wellness resorts (‘kurhaus’). Brenners Park Hotel & Spa is a five-star top class luxurious resort where you can get pampered 24/7. Therefore, very suitable for a luxurious weekend or as part of a honeymoon! Or for whoever can afford it.
The staff of Brenners Park Hotel & Spa includes a whole bunch of (medical) specialists who are ready to help you to get rid of all kinds of physical complaints and improve your well-being, including weight loss. From 20 minute treatments to sessions that are spread out over several weeks.
Traditionally, Germans like pork, beef and baked potatoes and this is not really different in this particular area. The Black Forest area does have its own culinary specialties and traditions. Wurstsalad (sausage salad), spätzle (Swabian pasta) and pfefferlinge (mushrooms) in summer are some typical things you will notice on a menu of most restaurants in the Black Forest area.
Obviously along with a big glass of regional wine or beer, as it should in Germany. Grauer Weisburgunder is a delicious regional wine and Apirsbacher is a popular regional beer brand. In Freiburg I would recommend trying tap beer from Ganter or Martin’s Brau, two local beer breweries.
These traditional food and drinks may not sound very gastronomically sophisticated. However, you may be surprised to hear that no fewer than 17 Michelin starred restaurants are located in the region. Baiersbronn is said to have the highest number of Michelin stars per capita, at least in Germany. Up to three stars!
Two out of four Michelin star restaurants in Baiersbronn are located in the five-star Hotel Traube Tonbach, at the same street and on close walking distance of Landhaus Eickler mentioned later in this article. Count on EUR 200 each for dinner at a one star restaurant, EUR 300-500 at a three star restaurant. So not cheap, but definitely a special culinary experience!
Cake & more
The one thing that I already love since my childhood is Schwarzwälder Kirsch, Black Forest Cherry Cake. At Landhaus Eickler they serve different kinds of fresh pie including this one. Give it a try, it is absolutely delicious! Often apfelstrudel (pastry with apple desert) is also available, but that is not a regional specialty. On the market of Freiburg you will see lots of food trucks selling bratwurst (sausage from BBQ) with regional herbs. The Black Forest variety of flammkuchen (German pizza) is a Baden specialty made with regional ham, cheese and cream.
Where to stay in the Black Forest?
The Black Forest is a rather large area. Therefore, it depends a bit on your points of interest and where you are coming from, where would be the best place to use as a base to explore the area. What I was looking for in an accommodation:
- Good bed and shower
- Traditional, cozy atmosphere
- Landscape view from room/balcony
- Good breakfast
- Nice restaurant with affordable prices
- Great reputation (reviews)
- Friendly staff
- Charming village
- Other restaurants/bars nearby
- Walking paths nearby
- Parking space
In the immediate surroundings of the 500 road I could not find what we wanted. The culinary reputation of Baiersbronn caught my attention. The above mentioned Hotel Traube Tonbach was a bit over the budget we wanted to spend for this trip. So where to stay then?
We decided to book Landhaus Eickler, which is actually down the street of the fancy Hotel Traube Tonbach with its Michelin star restaurants. Landhaus Eickler meets the above mentioned criteria to the fullest, and turned out to be even better in reality! The view, the staff, the restaurant, the atmosphere… I can only imagine how romantic it must be to stay here in winter, with the snow outside. Landhaus Eickler is very affordable with room rates starting around EUR 79 per night for a double room including breakfast
We found Baiersbronn an excellent base to explore the Black Forest area. Central location, traditional houses with colored shutters and window boxes full of flowers, green hills and trees, waitresses in traditional dirndl dresses… Baiersbronn definitely has the charm that we were looking for in the Black Forest area. Should you be a fan of classic cars, consider to rent one from Café Rundblick.
Distances to/from Baiersbronn:
- Stuttgart: 1.5 hours (95 km)
- Colmar: 2 hours (135 km)
- Frankfurt: 2.5 hours (200 km)
- Basel: 2.5 hours (180 km)
- Zurich 2.5 hours (185 km)
- Cologne: 4 hours (375 km)
- Luik / Liege: 5 hours (450 km)
- Salzburg: 5 hours (450 km)
- Arnhem: 5.5 hours (525 km)
In addition, besides hiking and swimming, mountain biking and horse riding are two other fun sporty activities you could do in the Black Forest area. Beautiful in summer as I discovered, and it must be amazing here in the other seasons too. In winter you can go sledging, cross-country skiing (langlaufen), skiing, etc. So many trails to explore!
With the Black Forest Card you can discover over 160 different attractions in the Black Forest area, valid for three days, with or without admission to the Europa-Park in Rust. The Black Forest Card for families is valid for 2 adults and 3 children (up to 17). For instance, think about entrance to museums like the Fairytale Museum in Baiersbronn, caves, former mines, sleep-in-a-tree tent, ranger hike, mini-golf, bowling, swimming pools, thermal baths, vineyards and winter sports stuff such as ski lifts and snow shoe hire.
Taste German wine
In the Dutch supermarkets German wine is not popular. I find this is strange because German wines can be very good. Wine is taken seriously here. Wines from Baden are actually the only German wines that are categorized as wine-growing zone B of the EU. In other words, they meet the higher quality standards. The western edge of the Baden wine area, with 12,500 hectares the third biggest in Germany, officially belongs to the Black Forest. Each weekend there is at least one wine festival held in the area, including harvest parties in September.
Wine routes & paths
There are several wine routes in the Black Forest area that you can take. Most famous is the Badische Weinstraße (Baden Wine Street), a wine route of 160 km (99 mi) that goes from Baden-Baden to Weil am Rhein and you can easily drive by car.
Moreover there are even several wine walking trails (no kidding). Walk along the vineyards, drink wine directly at the wine-grower’s farm and spend the night in wine-growing villages. Not bad, right? The Schwarzwald Tourismus (tourist office) offers luggage transfer service. The best wine walking trails include:
- the Ortenauer Weinpfad (120 km) from Gernsbach to Lahr
- the Markgräfler Wiiwegli (81 km) from Weil am Rhein to Freiburg
Baden-Badener Weinhaus am Mauerberg is a winery on the outskirts of Baden Baden. They are producing wine since 1474! With over 1500 hours of sunshine per year, a mild climate and a spectacular terroir, high quality wines are produced here. Lots of different choices: red, white, rose, with or without bubbles, all kinds of local grape types. The three-star exclusive collection of Baden-Banener includes Spätlese, Auslese, Riesling and Spätburgunder (red).
Visiting Baden-Badener Weinhaus am Mauerberg
- Wine shop open Mon-Fri 09-18h, Sat 9-13h and from the 1st Sunday in April till the last Sunday before Dec 24 also open on Sundays from 10-13h
- Wine tasting Mon-Sat at 14:30h*
- Closed on national holidays
*At any other time, a staff member is available to help you taste and pick wines before you purchase some bottles. The level of English is limited, but they are friendly, the wine taste good and the choice is huge!
Want to see the vineyards too? City Seg offers a special vineyard tour by Segway in Baden-Baden on certain dates.
Explore Freiburg im Breisgau
Freiburg is located on the edge of the Black Forest. The city actually deserves its very own article, but I wanted to mention it at least briefly here. With approximately 235.000 inhabitants, Freiburg im Breisgau is the 4th largest city of the Baden-Württemberg state (after Stuttgart, Karlsruhe and Mannheim).
From touristic point of view Freiburg im Breisgau is the main city of/near the Black Forest area. The many students that live in Freiburg make the city pleasantly vivid. Actually one of my cousins from New Zealand studied here for a year. Freiburg im Breisgrau offers enough to do to spend a couple of days, which we did.
Freiburg has an unusual system of gutters (‘Freiburg Bächle’) that run throughout the city center. These water streams are constantly flowing with water diverted from the Dreisam River. Freiburg has many picturesque houses, squares, churches, a beautiful Historical Merchants’ Hall and the city is great for shopping! I bought lots of stuff. In Freiburg we stayed at The Alex Hotel.
Discover the southern lakes
Besides the earlier mentioned Mummelsee at the 500 road, in the southern part of the Black Forest area has three pretty lakes close to each other, which are worth exploring:
How to get there & around
For a wide spread area that the Black Forest is, getting around by car is the easiest. Reaching the Black Forest by car:
- west via A5/E35
- east via A81/E41
- north via A8/E52
- south via A98 and/or B34
- from Zürich via A3 to Basel
- from France via A35, E25 and/or N83
For rental cars, I am a big fan of Sunny Cars. Most Dutch professional travel agents use them and they are SMART! Sunny Cars is an all-inclusive, worry free rental concept with affordable, fair prices, great service and no unpleasant surprises upon pick up or drop off. Ideal, I use them all the time!
The Black Forest area is relatively easy to reach by train from all over Europe. Karlsruhe, Freiburg, Baden-Baden and Offenburg can be pretty easily reached via ICE, TGV, Intercity, EuroCity and CityNight lines. In addition, there are local trains and buses. For timetables, tickets, etc. check out bahn.com
Need to get there cheap? FLIXBUS goes to the bigger cities like Baden-Baden and Freiburg im Breisgau.
There are several airports in and close to the Black Forest. For example:
- EuroAirport Basel (BSL)
- Baden Airport (FKB)
- Strasbourg Airport (SXB)
- Stuttgart Airport (STR)
- Zurich Airport (ZRH)
Colmar & Basel
The Black Forest area borders with Switzerland and France. Nearby places of interest are Colmar in France and Basel in Switzerland, which we both visited during this same trip. You can easily drive, take the train or bus from Freiburg for example. For more information about Colmar, check out my earlier article Colmar: practical tips for visiting the cutest French town that became a social media hit. In the future I will also write an article about Basel, which was my first encounter with Switzerland.
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Have you ever been to the Black Forest? Do you have any additional tips? I am curious to hear what you think of this article, at least I hope it is useful for you! Please feel free to leave a comment or question below.