The city of Stuttgart, Germany is an awesome city full of classic German charm, great food and lots of culture. There are tons of things to do in this college town; it definitely warrants its own visit. It’s also pretty centrally located within the state of Baden-Württemberg which makes it a great home base for all kinds of day trips.
These trips were some of my favorite day trips when I lived in Germany. Don’t let this guide limit you – there are tons of awesome places to see in Europe. The best part about this continent is how easy it is to move between countries, sometimes very cheaply. My best thrifty travel tip for European travel is to take advantage of the close proximity and country hop with cheap airlines, train travel or even ride sharing. There are websites where people who are already planning to drive a long distance advertise available seats in their cars. You pay a small fee, meet new friends, and get to your destination without having to rent a car. It’s kind of like AirBnB, but for road trips.
Getting the Best Deal With the Deutsche Bahn
The best travel deal in Germany is taking advantage of Bundesland tickets with the Deutsche Bahn. I have written about this many times, and I will keep suggesting it because it really is the best deal. These tickets allow you and up to 5 friends to travel anywhere within the Bundesland, (state in English) you are in in a single day. It also includes most light rail at your destination as well. These tickets can be purchased at any train station ticket machine. The base rate is €24 for a single rider and with each additional person the price raises a few euros. Trains usually run from very early morning to 10 pmish, but in some cases will stop running earlier than anticipated so be sure to check the website while planning your trip. Also keep in mind if you are coming back to Stuttgart late the light rail and buses will have stopped running so you’re looking at either taking a taxi or walking to your hotel.
In addition to the Bundesland tickets, the Deutsche Bahn sometimes has deals on international trips. Our round trip tickets to Luxembourg were about $60 USD and we got to take the ICE bullet train! For my trip to Heidelberg, since I was going alone I used FlixBus, which is a little slower but a very comfortable ride and cheaper than the train by a few euro.
Esslingen am Neckar
Ok, so Esslingen is *basically* a suburb of Stuttgart but it’s definitely my favorite neighbor and totally worth having a day trip here. Esslingen runs along the Neckar river and has evidence of people living in the area as far back as 1000 BC. But most people in the know would consider it a ‘medieval’ town. It doesn’t have a wall, but it has some stunning and distinctive architecture. The Altstadt, or Old Town, is full of charming half-timbered houses, impressive stone buildings, gothic churches and lots of little squares and narrow streets. Even the residential part of town is adorable with its gardens and red roofs.
Other than the famous wine that has been made here since the middle ages, Esslingen is well known for its festivals. Their Christmas market is my favorite – it runs all throughout the Altstadt with lots of food, stalls selling unique gifts, and medieval games including axe throwing and a hand turned ferris wheel.
Outside the Altstadt, the old Esslingen castle is worth visiting even though it’s not much of a castle. It’s hills are covered in wine grape fields and it’s a bit of a hike to the top, but it’s worth it.
Getting There: From Stuttgart HBF take the S1 train towards Kirchheim(Teck) exit at Esslingen(Neckar) station.
North of Stuttgart is the city of Ludwigsburg, sporting an insanely opulent palace, the Residenzschloss Ludwigsburg, or simply, the Residence. It’s comical that this Baroque palace with over 400 rooms is referred to as just a ‘home’, but that’s pretty much what it was for most of its life before being open to the public. Not only is the palace one of the most spectacular examples of Baroque architecture and interior design, it also miraculously survived WWII completely intact. Surrounding the palace is an equally impressive garden (Blühendes Barock) built for the 250th anniversary of the palace based on historical plans. The garden plays host to the Ludwigsburg Kürbisfest, or Pumpkin Fest every fall. The gardens are taken over by huge sculptures made from all kinds of squash, including pumpkins. Another fun element of the gardens is the Märchengarten or fairy tale garden that features life sized representations of classic fairy tales, most of which are interactive.
Every other year, Venetians invade the city of Ludwigsburg during the Venetians Fair held in the Marktplatz – adjacent to the Residence and the same place the Christmas Market is held. Once entering the grounds you are immediately transported, maybe not to Venice, but certainly to another planet. People in truly amazing costumes wander the area looking kind of whimsical and kind of creepy in masks covering their faces, but are approachable for pictures. There is art and theater, both classic and street, as well as music and much mayhem. It’s one of the most unique things I’ve ever seen and definitely worth a day trip. If you’re heading to the Stuttgart area this year (2018), the Venetian Festival is happening September 7-9.
Getting to Ludwigsburg: From Stuttgart HBF take the S5 train towards Bietigheim-Bissingen exiting at Ludwigsburg Station. To get to the Residence you can either walk or take the 422 bus.
A little further away is the storybook town of Heidelberg. This gem has everything, a ruined castle on a hill, an iconic gated entrance, romantic brick bridge crossing the Neckar, and windy cobblestone streets lined with those famous half-timbered houses. There’s at least a hundred ways you could spend a day here but I think a visit to the castle is a definite must. There are a few ways to get there but it’s a nice walk, even if it is uphill. Once you’re there, it’s free to walk around (most of) the grounds or you could take a guided tour and see a bit more.
You could choose to spend the rest of your day wandering through the Altstadt seeing beautiful churches, shopping or tasting the various German delicacies, but I’d suggest checking out the Thingstatte. A piece of architecture from the past many would think would be demolished, the Thingstatte was built in the 1930s as a venue for Nazi propaganda presentations. Nearby, you can also see several other ruined things, among them the remains of an eleventh century monastery.
Getting there: I used FlixBus for €16 round trip. Trip is about 2 hours. If you are traveling with more people, I suggest using the Bundesland ticket.
Another beautiful town with a castle, riverside dining, and filled with half-timbered houses and red brick roofs (are you sensing a trend here?) is the university town of Tübingen. A few hours south of Stuttgart and easily assessed by train, Tübingen is one of those places you just want to get lost in. Hint: if you want to get the best view of the city you are in, find the closest church steeple and climb it. The bigger the better.
Who doesn’t love a good castle, and as we wound our way through the narrow streets, peeking into alleyways and catching glimpses of the Neckar we didn’t really know what we would find at the top of the hill. The castle hasn’t been a castle for a long time and is currently owned by the university and holds an impressive museum focusing on Greek and Roman history. Fun fact: Germans invented the study of classics, to the disinterest of the Italians. This museum also holds the largest wine keg in the Europe.
Getting there: From the Stuttgart HBF take a regional train (RE). The trip is about an hour and the Bundesland ticket applies.
The best part about living (or visiting) in Europe is how easy it is to country hop. Being close to the western border of Germany, Stuttgart is the perfect homebase for international day trips. The quaint French town of Colmar lies in the Alsace region, an area along the border of France and Germany that has been fought over by the two countries for centuries. In towns like Colmar (and Strasbourg, it’s more well known neighbor) you’ll find a mix of German and French touches, like half-timbered houses and stores selling towers of macarons. French is mainly spoken, but they also speak German and English. Fun Fact: the designer of the State of Liberty, Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, was born in Colmar and there’s a smaller version of the bronze lady as you enter the town. You can also visit his birthplace, it’s a now a museum.
Colmar has a rich history as a heavily visited trading post, with small boats coming traveling along the river to the marketplace to sell their goods. Strolling along Colmar’s narrow cobblestone streets is a great way to immerse yourself in this charming town, but I’d recommend also taking a boat tour to see the city from a different perspective. Window shopping the gorgeous pâtisseries or enjoying a cold beer outside on a patio are wonderful ways to enjoy your day trip. Or, if it starts raining like it did when we visited in late September, slipping inside a tiny restaurant or one of the many indoor shopping districts will work too.
Getting there: The easiest way to get to Colmar is to drive. Lucky for me I had a friend with a car who wanted to go. You can rent a car, or check for a ride share that’s headed that direction. Driving time is about 3 hours.
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
A trip to Luxembourg might seem too far to really enjoy it in one day, but it’s doable thanks to the bullet train, ICE. We left very early morning from Stuttgart and left Luxembourg around 7 pm, so it was a long day but definitely worth it. Walking from the Gare Centrale (main train station) up the main thoroughfare N3, once you pass all the shops the street opens up to a pretty green belt as you cross La Passerelle. A bit further down the road we were Peter Piper’d by organ music wafting in the air. We followed it to the beautiful Cathédrale Notre-Dame that was holding an organ concert. Now fully in the mood we continued to wander the city to find some pretty interesting things. We stopped in at the tourist office, just behind the Cathedral and happened upon a farmer’s market that was happening in the plaza behind it. Beautiful fruits and cheeses were displayed, it was just so delightfully French!
One plaza over is the Palais Grand-Ducal, the royal residence of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. Tours of the residence are given during the summer. Across the street from the palace be sure to check out the Chocolate House Bonn and get yourself some amazing hot chocolate. My favorite part of the city is the view from Montée de Clausen overlooking the Casemates du Bock. The Casemates du Bock are underground tunnels that were started in the 17th century but used during WWII as bunkers. From here you can see the stone foundations of this century old city, the river that winds through it and the almost island-like area between the curves of the river covered with pretty white houses smooshed up next to each other and dotted with gardens and trees. It’s like a fairy tale village.
Getting there: I got an awesome deal on the Deutsche Bahn website – round trip tickets for about €60. The trip is about 4 hours with a lay over to change trains.
These are just a handful of day trips that can be easily done from Stuttgart. Being within a few hours of several countries, like France, Switzerland or Austria, there are lots of options for fun day or weekend trips. Check out my article on Disneyland Paris, just a quick 6 hour drive from Stuttgart. Many Germans take weekend trips to the Alps for skiing, and trips to places like Rome, Prague or even London can be had with just a short flight.
What are your favorite day trips in Europe? Let me know in the comments!
Loved this post? Pin it for later!