14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in the Black Forest
The beautiful Black Forest with its dark tree-covered hills is one of the most visited upland regions in Europe. In Germany's southwestern corner, it extends 160 kilometers from Pforzheim in the north to Waldshut in the south, while to the west, it descends to the Rhine valley in a steep scarp slashed by well-watered valleys. To the east, it slopes gently down to the upper Neckar and Danube valleys. The northern Black Forest reaches its highest point in the Hornisgrinde at 1,166 meters, with the main tourist attractions being the spa facilities of towns like Baden-Baden, its picturesque valleys, and verdant forests. The central Black Forest region reaches its highest point in the Kandel at 1,241 meters between the beautiful Simonswald, Elz, and Glotter valleys. The area most popular with tourists is the stretch along the wonderful 150 kilometer-long Black Forest Railway (Schwarzwaldbahn) and Triberg with its famous waterfalls. The southern Black Forest, perhaps the most magnificent part, is dominated by the 1,493-meter-high Feldberg. As well as its popularity among hikers and bikers, the Black Forest is also Germany's oldest ski area.
Blessed with a wonderfully mild climate and numerous hot springs, Baden-Baden has for centuries been one of the world's most popular spa destinations. Visitors flock from far and wide - and have been doing so since Roman times - just to sample this beautiful town's famous therapeutic waters, accessible at top-notch luxury spas such as the Friedrichsbad with its beautiful 170-year-old Roman-style setting, and at numerous affordable public baths. Baden-Baden is also extremely popular among sports enthusiasts, particularly hikers, and in winter attracts both Nordic and downhill skiers. Thanks to the superb Schwarzwald-Hochstrasse tourist route, Baden-Baden is the perfect spot to begin exploring the beautiful Black Forest.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Baden-Baden
2 Freiburg im Breisgau: The Gateway to the Black Forest
Surrounded by rolling tree-topped hills, Freiburg im Breisgau is considered the gateway to the southern Black Forest. The 1,284-meter Schauinsland, a mountain with stunning views across the region, lies within the city's boundaries, its numerous small streams still flowing through the streets of the old town. It's a beautiful city to explore on foot, especially if starting along Kaiser-Joseph-Strasse, which divides the old town into an eastern half, with the Minster, and a western half with the Town Hall and University. On the south side stands the old Martinstor (St. Martin's Gate), and a short walk away, in Münsterplatz, are numerous well-preserved old buildings including the red Merchants' Hall (Kaufhaus) dating from 1532 with its splendid arcading and stepped gables and flanked by oriel windows with pointed roofs. Other highlights of the old town include the 13th-century Swabian Gate with its wall paintings and dioramas; the Rathausplatz with its statue of Berthold Schwarz, a Franciscan friar said to have invented gunpowder in 1359; the Gothic St. Martin's Church, with a beautifully restored interior and cloister; and the lovely House of the Whale (Haus zum Walfisch), a Late Gothic house built in 1516 as a residence for Emperor Maximilian.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Freiburg im Breisgau
3 Kloster Maulbronn
Just 18 kilometers northeast of Pforzheim lies the little town of Maulbronn, charmingly situated in the vine-covered foothills of the Stromberg and home to its famous Cistercian abbey, Kloster Maulbronn. Founded in 1147, it's the most beautiful of all surviving German monasteries (so much so that the monastery has been designated a World Heritage Site). A particular highlight is its large central courtyard surrounded by handsome half-timbered buildings. The most notable of these historic buildings, built in a transitional style between Romanesque and Gothic, is called the "Paradise" and consists of the porch of the church of St. Mary, consecrated in 1178. Highlights include a stone crucifix from 1473, and its splendid 15th-century choir stalls. Adjoining it is the magnificent cloister, with a fountain house and the monks' and lay brothers' refectories. A variety of excellent guided tours are available.
Address: Klosterhof 5, 75433 Maulbronn
4 Freiburg im Breisgau Minster
The Freiburg im Breisgau Minster (or münster in German), built on-and-off between the 13th and 16th centuries, is one of the great masterpieces of Gothic architecture in Germany. It has a beautiful interior with many works of art, including 14th-century stained glass in the aisles, a famous altarpiece dating from 1512, and an altarpiece in the University Chapel by Hans Holbein the Younger from 1521. From the platform of the delicately articulated 116-meter-high tower, built in 1330, you'll be rewarded with magnificent views of the old city.
Address: Münsterplatz, 79098 Freiburg im Breisgau
5 The State Art Gallery
The lovely town of Karlsruhe has become somewhat of an art lovers' destination of choice in the Black Forest. It's here you'll find the Bavarian State Art Gallery (Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe) with its important collection of paintings. Highlights include the Orangery with its permanent display of German painting from 1890 to the present day, as well as French Impressionist works by Monet, Cézanne, and Degas. Other notable galleries include major works of the modern Baden school, a fun Children's Museum with pictures hung at just the right level for kids, a fine collection of French paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries, and works by German masters including Cranach, Grünewald, Holbein, and Strigel. The adjoining Hans Thoma Museum showcases works by landscape painter Hans Thoma, including his famous Rain on the Black Forest.
6 The Black Forest by Car: Tourist Routes
Probably the most famous - and certainly the most popular - of the region's many wonderful driving routes is the Black Forest Ridgeway (Schwarzwald-Hochstrasse). This spectacular route follows a crest of hills through magnificent fir forests, with extensive views from Baden-Baden along the Hornisgrinde to the Kniebis plateau at Freudenstadt. The southward continuation of the road runs from Triberg to Waldshut. Another popular route is the Black Forest Valley Road (Schwarzwald-Tälerstrasse), which begins at Rastatt, home to the sumptuous Schloss Favorite, a former summer residence and pleasure palace for Margravine Sibylla Augusta of Baden-Baden with the largest collection of early Meissen porcelain in the world. From here, the road ascends the Murg valley, passing the imposing Schwarzenbach Dam before continuing by way of Freudenstadt where it meets the Black Forest Ridgeway to Alpirsbach. Spa fans will want to try the Black Forest Spa Route (Schwarzwald-Bäderstrasse), a 270-kilometer-long circuit taking in a series of spas between Pforzheim and Freudenstadt, including Baden-Baden.
7 The Augustinermuseum, Freiburg
The fascinating Augustinermuseum in Freiburg im Breisgau occupies the former monastery of Augustinian Hermits and contains the artistic and historical collections of the city and the Upper Rhine region. Highlights include masterpieces from the Middle Ages to the Baroque period and 19th century, including Matthias Grünewald's Miracle of the Snow. Also on display in this bright, airy museum are many original stone figures and stained glass windows from Freiburg im Breisgau Minster, plus panel paintings and medieval sculptures carved from wood.
Address: Augustinerplatz, 79098 Freiburg im Breisgau
8 The Picturesque Town of Pforzheim
Famed for its goldsmithing and jewelry, Pforzheim lies on the northern fringe of the Black Forest at the confluence of the rivers Enz, Nagold, and Würm. Pforzheim is an excellent base from which to explore the beautiful valleys of these rivers and the northern Black Forest. It's also the starting point of three Black Forest ridgeway trails. Highlights include Schlosskirche, part of the original palace of the Margraves of Baden-Durlach with its old tower and palace church, the lovely old Marktplatz with its shops and cafés, fine old churches (the 12th-century Romanesque St. Martin's Church being one of the best), and Roman ruins, including the remains of a 2nd-century Roman Villa.
9 The Schlossberg, Freiburg
On the Schlossberg, rising 456 meters above Freiburg im Breisgau, are the remains of three old castles (the oldest dating back to the 11th century) and a column erected in honor of Otto von Bismarck, the man responsible for uniting Germany. Getting there is half the fun, and the summit with its great views, can be reached via well-marked trails or the Schlossbergbahn funicular railway. The very best views can be had from the Kanonenplatz on an old bastion directly overlooking the old town and the cathedral. Another hill with great views is Kaiserstuhl, just northwest of Freiburg im Breisgau and rising directly out of the Rhine plain. Standing 557 meters high, it's also worth visiting for the sake of its rich flora and fauna.
10 Pforzheim Jewelry Museum
A highlight of any visit to Pforzheim is the Stadtgarten, or Municipal Park, with the lovely Reuchlinhaus named after the 15th-century humanist Johannes Reuchlin. It's here you'll find the Pforzheim Jewelry Museum (Schmuckmuseum) devoted to local jewelry and clock making. Along with frequent special exhibitions of art and applied art, the museum contains a superb collection of precious stones among its more than 2,000 pieces representing some 5,000 years of jewelry history. Also of interest is the Museum of Technology, with its displays of jewelry and watchmaking manufacturing processes, old machinery, and workshops.
Address: Jahnstrasse 42, D-75173 Pforzheim
11 The Black Forest Museum
The Black Forest Museum (Schwarzwaldmuseum) in Triberg has 18 unique exhibition rooms that reveal the unique lifestyles and traditions of the Black Forest region. It contains collections of arts and crafts, as well as furniture pieces and personal artifacts. Another good place from which to explore the Black Forest is the small town of Schonach, famous for having the world's largest cuckoo clock, which dominates the town center. Also of note is the Black Forest Open Air Museum near Gutach with a farmhouse dating from 1612, along with other historic buildings used as a backdrop and interesting exhibits regarding the region's history and traditional practices.
Address: Wallfahrtsstrasse 4, D-78098 Triberg
12 The Baths of Badenweiler
Badenweiler, a much-frequented and very beautiful spa town, lies on the southwestern edge of the Black Forest and is commandingly situated on a terrace 210 meters above the Upper Rhine plain. Well known for the subtropical vegetation in Badenweiler Kurpark, it's extremely picturesque and pedestrian-friendly, with plenty of old buildings and ruins to explore, such as Schlossberg, built in the 11th century, with great views of the surrounding countryside. But the town is perhaps best known for its baths, including those of the Kurhaus built on terraces on a hillside, the remains of Roman Baths from the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and the Margrave's Baths with thermal water, indoor and outdoor pools, and treatment facilities.
13 Donaueschingen and the Source of the Danube
Donaueschingen lies on the eastern fringe of the Black Forest, on the river Brigach, which together with the Donauquelle form the Danube. Schloss Donaueschingen stands on the east side of the town, with its sumptuous state apartments full of tapestries and period furniture, along with a popular festival of contemporary music. The beautiful Schlosspark is also worth a visit and is home to what is claimed to be the Source of the Danube, set in an enclosure representing the Baar (the upland region between the southern Black Forest and the Swabian Alb) and the young Danube through its elaborate stonework. Other highlights include the Court Library with its medieval German manuscripts, and the Princely Collections featuring works of the Swabian masters of the 15th and 16th centuries.
In addition to the wonderful State Art Gallery, historic Karlsruhe has many other good reasons to pay a visit. In the town center, you'll find the spacious Schlossplatz with its Grand-Ducal Palace, built between 1752 and 1785. The building is now home to the richly stocked Landesmuseum with its numerous displays of the region's early history, as well as antiquities, applied art, folk art and traditions, and an Art Nouveau collection. Behind the palace lie the extensive gardens (Schlossgarten), as well as the Botanic Garden, while in the pedestrian-friendly Marktplatz are shopping arcades as well as interesting attractions such as an unusual six-and-a-half-meter-high red sandstone pyramid-shaped burial vault containing the remains of the town's founder. Other highlights include the Museum am Friedrichsplatz with its displays of natural history, the old Margravial Palace, and the beautiful Stadtgarten with its Japanese Garden, the Vierordt Baths, the Tulla Baths, and the Zoo.
Organized Black Forest Tours
If you are based in Frankfurt or Zurich, you can easily visit the Black Forest on an organized day tour. These tours focus on particular highlights of the region and include an expert guide and driver, saving you the time and stress of finding your way between the top sites.
- From Frankfurt: The ten-hour Black Forest and Strasbourg Day Trip from Frankfurt visits two beautiful countries in one day. Travel via air-conditioned coach to the famous spa town of Baden-Baden, deep in the Black Forest. Once you arrive, you can explore the top attractions on a guided walking tour and learn about the thermal baths. Then cross over the border to France to visit the charming Alsatian town of Strasbourg, with its UNESCO-listed old town and magnificent cathedral. The tour also includes a ride along the city's picturesque canals.
- From Zurich: The seven-hour Black Forest and Rhine Falls Day Trip from Zurich includes regional culinary and cultural delights as well as plenty of natural beauty. Hop aboard a luxury coach to visit the quaint town of Titisee-Neustadt, in Germany's Black Forest. Here, you can see how cuckoo clocks are made at the distinguished Drubb watchmaker and try some of the region's famous Black Forest Gateau. A boat ride on picturesque Lake Titisee is optional. On the return trip, you can admire the tumultuous Rhine Falls thundering 23 meters into the river below, with plenty of free time for photos.