The Best Historical Locations to Get Inspired by While Spending Time in Freiburg, Baden-Baden, Heidelberg, and Trier
Perhaps, my favorite thing about visiting Southern Germany is the layers and layers of history that can be found throughout every single city you visit. In fact, with strong roots from the Roman Empire, the French, and the Germanic, you can find little details and inspirations left behind from centuries past as you walk down the street on any adventure. So, what I’m saying is… if you love history, then Germany is the place for you to visit! It’s a wonderland of historical landmarks and fun legends. So, without further ado, here’s our favorite historical locations to get inspired by in Southern Germany.
Freiburg im Breisgau
Frieburg im Breisgau is a culturally rich, modern city still filled with history and tradition. And with warm winds coming in from the South of France, it has the best climate of Germany, too. While the area is filled with University students ready to challenge the system and push for a more green, sustainable future, there’s also a heavy imprint of the past in Freiburg im Breisgau. That’s what makes this hip, artistic place so special. It has a rich history that it proudly embraces.
Tour the City
A great way to get the full historical depth of Freiburg is to take a guided tour of the city. If you don’t know where to find a guide, reach out to the tourism board, and they can connect you with someone who knows all about this wonderful city’s past. My favorite tales from my tour included the house of the ‘Hang Man’ or executioner of Freiburg. Now a storefront, this green building used to be the home of the town’s executioner. Since he was considered bad luck, there is now a little black cat painted on the front of the building along with a black cat mosaic in the store’s front entrance.
You may also want to note that you can find methods of measurement on the side of the church dating back to the 1300s. The marketplace was (and still is) held at the foot of the church, so the city would carve the standard size of a loaf of bread (amongst other measurements) into the side of the church so you could tell if you were being cheated by a baker. This really stood out to me, as I’ve never seen anything like it before.
As you go about your city tour, I also highly recommend you take the cable car up to the hillside to overlook the beautiful city. The gorgeous panoramic views are worth the trip up, and the ride, itself, is pretty fun, too.
This former monastery church turned museum by the architect Chrisoph Mäckler is something you cannot miss while in Freiburg. The Augustinermuseum houses a remarkable collection of art from the Middles ages, the Baroque period, and the 19th century, as well. Unlike many modern museums, the fact that this takes place in an old monastery adds to its appeal, and the collection of original stone figures and stained glass windows all around you as you enter immediately make you feel as if you have been transported to another time. This is the only opportunity I have had to have been this up-close and personal with church statues and gargoyles, and it was well worth the experience.
At the moment, the Augustinermuseum is restoring a centuries-old map, and you can actually walk by and watch the team restore the piece throughout the day which is a really unique and cool experience.
So, if you are a history-buff, you can’t miss out on this stop while in Freiburg. I was really inspired by how the Augustinermuseum embraces their art history yet continues to incorporate new ways to inspire the modern world.
While Freiburg is more artistic and modern, Baden-Baden mixes the old and the new together in a much different way all its own. In fact, if I had to describe Baden-Baden in one word, it would be LUXURY! Defined by a very glam, lux casino surrounded by high-end hotels and luxury shopping, Baden-Baden is the place to be for a luxurious getaway. The history of this city dates back to the Roman Empire and the thermal baths that used to grace the Roman people have been carried over in today’s modern times with luxury spas. After all, the term Baden-Baden means “bath-bath”, and the city is on the UNESCO list as one of the great spas of the 19th century for being a center for health and culture. And the traditions of the Black Forest are just a short car-ride away.
What I loved the most about Baden-Baden is that because it wasn’t destroyed in the second world war, a lot of its buildings are the original structures from hundreds of years ago. That being said, their gorgeous Baroque styles keep them from feeling outdated at all. Rather, their age adds to their beauty and charm.
Visit the Casino
A visit to the casino in Baden-Baden is a must. But don’t think of this as any common casino, think of it as a Monte-Carlo style lux affair. This is a casino where you can dress to the nines (or at least dress up smart casual) to experience a high-class affair containing gambling halls, orchestra concert halls, ballrooms, and more. With golden chandeliers and Renaissance paintings, you will surely be brought back into a different time as you step into the casino.
As I mentioned above, Baden-Baden is a center for health and culture. A big part of that comes from its history of having natural hot springs. One of the hills near the city center used to contain authentic Roman Baths during Ancient Roman times, of which the ruins are still there, though they are hidden down below the church. The history of the thermal waters has easily carried through to the modern age, so Baden-Baden currently has luxury spas and thermal baths for you to try- whether you prefer a more modern spa experience or a more classical one.
While I was in Baden-Baden, I had the distinct pleasure of trying both Caracalla Spa and Friedrichsbad, two very different (though both lux) spa experiences. I loved them both; however if you’re a lover of history, you must visit Friedrichsbad.
At Friedrichsbad, you get a historical experience like no other. You walk through different rooms in a particular (and easy-to-follow) order and spend a certain amount of allotted time in each room/experience. However, at Friedrichsbad, your experience is completely nude. While some days they separate the sexes and other days they do not (you can inquire with them to see which days they separate genders), I can say it is a truly liberating and calming experience unlike anything I’ve seen before. If you are comfortable, I’d say to go for it. After all, Mark Twain supposedly said about Friedrichsbad, “After 10 minutes you forget time, after 20 minutes you forget the world.”
A Trip into the Black Forest
If you love fairy tales and adventure, no trip to Germany is complete without an adventure deep into the Black Forest! I recommend a nice afternoon visit and stroll through the forest of Lake Mummelsee. Legend has it that the lake is filled with Mermaids who can come out of the water and spend time as people. However, they must return to the lake before midnight or else there will be dire consequences. Tales tell of a man who fell in love with a mermaid and tricked her into staying out past midnight, forever cursing the merfolk to disappear. However, other tales say that you can only spot the mermaids at exactly midnight. Either way, if you look closely at the water, you will see a beautiful statue of a mermaid who encapsulates the joy and mystery of the old Black Forest tales.
Heidelberg is, perhaps, the most charming and unique of all the towns I visited in Southern Germany, and I heavily encourage you to visit there. The Old Town in Heidelberg looks like something out of a fairy tale, sprinkled with buildings that tell the stories of its centuries past. With influence from the Romans, the French, and the Germanic people, and with a massive castle structure standing proudly above the old town, this picturesque place will leave a permanent imprint on your heart and mind. With medieval, Baroque, and modern history from during and post World War II, it’s a spot filled to the brim with historical events. Here’s how you can get the full experience to soak in all the history Heidelberg has to offer.
Tour of the Town
No trip to Heidelberg can even officially start without a guided tour of the town. If you love history, you have no excuse not to go on a tour. There is so much history and so many stories that you truly have to have an expert show you around and cater the experience to your preferences. From the Philosopher’s Walk high above the city overlooking the water, the city, and the castle to the streets of the Old Town, you can have quite the experience. In the old town, it’s possible to read the history right off the sides of the buildings. What do I mean? You can tell the buildings that survived from the medieval times, you can see the buildings that were rebuilt in Baroque periods, and you can see more modern renovations done to them, too. The architecture, alone, reveals the secrets of the past of Heidelberg with the oldest buildings made from the red sandstone of the castle walls. From modern shopping to antiques and old book stores, you really can have a plethora of historical and modern experiences here at the same time.
When spending time in Heidelberg, you absolutely will not miss the palace. It towers high above the cityscape. And at night, with the lights illuminating it, the castle really is like something out of a painting. With the oldest parts of the castle dating back to the 1200s and walls up to 6 meters thick at parts for fortification, Heidelberg Palace is the biggest castle ruin in Germany.
With tickets, you can now walk into the castle gates and through the courtyard to see both the ruins and the parts of the castle that are still standing up close. Again, this is a great opportunity to see the medieval ruins as well as notice and admire the Baroque additions to the castle. And you will also be able to see the largest wine barrel in the world in the cellar of the castle, a barrel that could hold 58,000 gallons of wine!
Throughout my recent travels abroad, I’ve found that cable cars are the attraction of the future! There are many cities now that offer rides in a cable car or small railway vehicle up from the city to the highest point nearby so you can enjoy an overhead view of the town. Heidelberg is no different! However, Heidelberg was well ahead of its time in this aspect, as their cable-car like railway was constructed in the 19th century, being ran for the first time in 1890. And if you’re in Heidelberg, it’s a must-do! You should definitely ride the Heidelberger Bergbahnen up to the very top of the Königstuhl hillside to see the most picturesque view of the city.
Now, I love the unusual, so my favorite thing I found in Heidelberg was the Student Prison! From 1823 to 1914, University students were incarcerated in this small building for reeking havoc around the city of Heidelberg. These students, generally noble boys, tended to get into a lot of trouble, whether that be from releasing the town’s pigs and chasing them through the city streets, throwing rocks at officers, or just generally acting unruly. In response, the University put together a building to incarcerate these students for a length of time they felt justifiable for what they did. However, it never quite worked out the way it was supposed to.
What started as a punishment turned more into a competition, a rite of passage, and an experience for them instead of a punishment. They began having celebrations and parades to lead their fraternity brothers into the prison. Fraternities began competing to see who could have the worst punishments. And the walls of the student prison became a truly unique and (well, somewhat breathtaking) canvas. The boys painted their fraternity colors, ridiculous sayings, and why they were put into prison on the walls. While the building didn’t work out as a student prison, it is most definitely a really wild tourist attraction you must see to believe today!
Unlike anywhere else I’ve visited in Germany, Trier holds the oldest and most impressive landmarks. Being German’s oldest city, that only makes sense. In fact, Trier was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire in the 2nd Century AD, and many landmarks, ruins, and archaeological finds still remain there for you to explore and experience for yourself. So, if you’re interested in Roman history, this is the spot for you!
This large structure that once served as the City Gate to Trier is now the pride of the city. It’s Trier’s main landmark, as it was built by the Romans in the 2nd century, and it somehow still remains impressively standing, allowing for visitors to explore its ruins. When you climb up to the top, you will get an amazing view of the city. I was more impressed, however, by the detailed carving work found within the inside of the ruins. If you love archaeology, I cannot recommend Trier and Porta Nigra enough.
Konstantin Basilika was the Imperial Throne room of Emperor Constantine, build in 310 AD. It is the largest single room to survive from Ancient Roman times that is not supported by columns, and that’s incredibly impressive, as you feel like a tiny ant when you enter this space. When you step into the Imperial space, it’s as if you are transported to a different time. Just being in an ancient throne room in thought alone is incredibly impressive.
As an archaeology and adventure lover, the Imperial Baths were my favorite landmark in Trier. While the one exterior wall still standing from the ruins was impressive, the most exciting part, in my opinion, is that you can actually go into and explore the subterranean passageways that used to contain the heating for the baths. You can follow the path underground and navigate through quite an impressive distance of tunnels as well as get a look at the excavations up close. The Imperial Bath ruins really do provide for a memorable adventure!
Built in the 1st century AD, the Amphitheater in Trier will take your breath away. You can explore the exterior, get a view from the top looking down within, or head down into the aqueduct underneath. All of these experiences will really leave you in awe. On a quiet day, you can feel the energy and excitement of the times past that took place on this spot from the bloody gladiator fights, animal baiting, and executions.