The Black Forest corner of Germany has always been high on my list of places to visit. As a kid growing up in the states, I consumed countless kilos of black forest ham and black forest cake. I always wondered what this black forest was and why it was given such a name. It wasn’t until I started traveling that I discovered it’s an actual place with a real forest. Even better, they have real black forest cake in the black forest (but not so much black forest ham).
As my first trip after locking down during Coronavirus, I took a road trip to Freiburg, which is one of the most famous and beautiful towns of the area. It’s always been on my list because every German I’ve spoken to speaks so highly of it. A must visit from the locals? Sign me up.
Freiburg is located in the southwest in the Black Forest. It’s an university town so it’s filled with lively bars, restaurants, and beer gardens. The old town is beautiful with its side canals, cobblestone streets, and charming German architecture that I’ve grown so fond of.
I spent two days here (one night) but could have easily spent another night. There’s something here for everyone!
Walk through the old town
The city of Freiburg was established as a ‘Fortified Town of Free Citizens’ (a loose translation of the name Freiburg) in the year 1120. Although various rulers and wars have left their mark on the city, a preserved (and in some cases re-created) Old Town occupies the city center. Exploring the ancient cobblestone lanes is one of the top Freiburg things to do.
The historic Old Town is small and walkable, making Freiburg sightseeing enjoyable, rather than feeling like a task. During our time in the city, we literally stumbled onto many of the Freiburg attractions, but these are the ones you shouldn’t miss:
Dip your feet in the canals
While walking around the old town, you will inevitable see mini canals outlining the streets. The city’s unusual gutter system, locally known as Bächle, was once used to bring water from the Dreisam river down to the city to feed livestock and fight fires. The Bächle was first documented in the year 1220, but archeological excavation suggests that they existed at least a hundred years earlier right back to the time when Freiburg was founded.
The Bächle originally ran down the middle of the road, which can still be seen today in the Market street. But with increasing population and road traffic, the Bächle became a nuisance and in the mid-19th century they were moved to the edge of the road, and the majority were covered with wood or iron plates or edged with stone chutes or pipes.
Nowadays, it serves as a tourist attraction as well as a summer tradition to dip your feet on a hot day. Sometimes you can even see little kids sitting in the canals having a good time. There’s even a paper boat race
They old saying goes if you accidentally fall into the canal, you will marry a Freiburger. I could see falling into one to be quite easy so the locals must be quite busy with clumsy tourists.
Visit the Freiburg Munster
The Freiburg Munster – also spelled Minster – (or the Cathedral of Our Lady) is the Catholic cathedral at the center of the Freiburg Old Town. The incredibly detailed Gothic cathedral was built from 1200 to 1330. The spire reaches 380 feet into the sky and hanging inside are 19 bells (the oldest dates to the year 1285). Although Freiburg was heavily bombed in 1944, the church suffered little damage. The church is open (and free!); taking a look inside is one of the top things to do in Freiburg, Germany.
The square surrounding the church, Munsterplatz, is home to the Freiburg market (except on Sundays). Flowers, produce and hand-crafted toys are sold from stalls on both sides of the cathedral. On the north side of the church there a long row of vendors selling tasty local sausages. On the south side of the square is the blazing-red Historical Merchant’s Hall – one of the most beautiful buildings in Freiburg.
Miraculously, Freiburg’s Cathedral was spared in the bombings during the war and now bears witness to over 800 years of Freiburg’s history. And so much history needs to be preserved, which is why nearly every day of the year, the Cathedral is being maintained, cleaned and restored.
Entrance to the church is free of charge and is highly recommended. You can also walk to the top of the clock tower where you can stunning views of the town like this. Sadly, due to coronavirus, the church was not open to the general public.
Daily Markets at the Munster
If you happen to pass through Freiburg on any day except a Sunday or public holiday, then drop any plans you had during the day time hours and make sure to visit the market. As is the case in all of Germany, the people have a deep affection with weekly markets filled with food and alcohol. Living in Frankfurt, I frequent the markets and festivals almost every week that I am in town.
If you’re looking for tasty German snacks, make sure to try the lange rote which is the Freiburg style sausage. I’ve had countless wursts living in Germany and they all taste similar in the end. this specific one can be had with a French style baguette and grilled onions so it is tasty. But in the end, it’s a wurst and a must do when visiting Germany.
Drink at the Feierling Brewery
No visit to Freiburg is complete without a visit to its very own brewery.
It’s been open since 1877 with its brewery and outdoor beer garden in the center of the old city. It’s likely you’ll walk by it if you’re just aimlessly walking around the old town (which isn’t a bad thing). They only serve a few types of beers and make sure to get their famous Inselhopf. The brewery and beer garden are located right next to each other. They don’t export much of their beer so this is perhaps the only place you can try it.
The beer itself is absolutely delicious. It’s very smooth and packed with flavor as I’ve grown accustomed to with German beers. It brought back glorious memories of Oktoberfest when I wasn’t sure how I could consume so much beer until the first drop of delicious brewed for Oktoberfest only beer hit my lips. 6L later, I had no questions left to ask.
The beer garden is always full with people but the lines move quickly. As I visited Freiburg during times of Corona, the tables are spaced apart which must be so baffling to locals that are used to the beergarden lifestyle which is getting close with your fellow strangers. I feel like I will miss this about Germany because I can’t see beer gardens being beergardens of the past!
In the colder months, the beer garden is probably still open because Germans don’t care about the elements. There is also an indoor space with a long wooden bar that has plenty of seating for those that are not keen to drink in the cold.
Walk to the Schlossbergturm for stunning views
Freiburg is located at the base of the “Schlossberg” or Castle Mountain. From the old town, you can easily walk to the face of this hill towards the east. Paved roads and a relatively easily incline means you can hike this hill in a short amount of time but be afforded with the most incredible views of the city and its surroundings.
The hike is not difficult by any means. There are numerous ways to get up but we just simply followed signs that looked like they were in the right direction. Once you reach the Kastaniengarten which is an amazing beer garden with glorious views, you’re roughly half way there.
The best views in my opinion are directly after the Kastaniengarten. The city’s official vineyards are located here and you can see the vineyards with the city in the background.
You don’t need to hike to the top of the mountain for the best views but it’s certainly still worth it. At the very top of the Schlossberg, is the turm or tower. You can climb this spiral tower for 360 degree views of the entire city which are absolutely stunning!
The hike itself is not difficult. It’s a maximum 30 minutes to the top. Before you get to the turm (tower), you will have to climb a few hundred steep stairs which may be tough on a sunny day. This is why you should have your beers after your hike!
Have a drink at the Kastaniengarten beergarden
At the end of your hike, make sure to go to the Kastaniengarten to drink some of the local beers. Grab a seat by the vineyards for beautiful relaxation views.
Take a day trip to the Ravenna Bridge and Schauinsland
Schausinland is one of the highest mountains in the Black Forest. It’s located just a half hour outside of Freiburg and offers panoramic views of the entire area. On clear days, you can easily see into Switzerland and France!
A car is the recommended method to visiting this area but you can also take public transportation to the tram which brings you 1200m+ to the peak of the mountain. From here, you can hike to your pleasure. This is the longest loop cable car in Germany at 3.6km.
After hiking, we stopped at the famous St. Valentin restaurant in the Black Forest which is located high up on the hill.
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