Black Forest Guide: Planning Your Trip

Black Forest

Britus / Getty Images

The Black Forest, or Schwarzwald, is where German fairy tales are born. This länder (state) of Baden-Württemberg was the home of the Brothers Grimm and its fantastical forest (the largest nature reserve in Germany) and charming half-timbered villages are a top destination.

Get inspired to star in your very own storybook adventure with our guide to planning a trip to the Black Forest.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: The Black Forest is a year-round destination with distinct seasons. It gets the most sunshine in Germany and late summer the ideal time to visit with its many wine festivals. In winter, there is also a lot of Christmas cheer with the many markets like Gengenbach with the world's largest advent calendar house.
  • Language: German
  • Currency: Euro
  • Getting Around: Whether you experience the area by car or by train, with a hiking stick, or on cross-country skis, the journey is half the attraction of the Black Forest. It has renowned scenic routes like portions of the Wine Road, Fairy Tale Road, and the German Clock Road.
  • Travel Tip: For many visitors, quintessential elements of a trip to the Black Forest are a souvenir cuckoo clock and the decadent Black Forest cake.

Top Destinations in the Black Forest

This region is full of charming destinations from small medieval towns to bustling student cities. Popular locations within the region include: Gengenbach, Wutach Gorge, Pforzheim, Haslach, Staufen, Schiltach, Schwäbische Alb, Titisee, and Triberg Waterfalls. Here are our top Black Forest highlights:

  • Schwarzwald Nationalpark: If you want the forest, the Black Forest National Park includes 40 square miles of trees, lakes, and picture-perfect views.
  • Freiburg: A delightful university town built around the münster (cathedral), this town largely survived WWII. Buildings look like they are ripped straight out of the fairy tales like the 16th-century Kaufhaus and medieval village life still rules with a vibrant daily market.
  • Baden-Baden: One of the oldest spa towns in Europe, Baden-Baden has been a luxury destination since Roman times with its casino, horse racing, and fine restaurants.
  • Europa-Park: Germany’s largest theme park is brimming with mini-foreign lands filled with dozens of hair-raising roller coasters, water rides, live entertainment, and accommodations for the whole family.

What to Eat and Drink in the Black Forest

You can expect German classics like sausage and potatoes piled high, but there are also local specialties you shouldn't miss out on.

The plentiful lakes mean trout is popular, while the forest promises bountiful schwein (pork). Maultaschen, similar to large ravioli, can be filled with almost anything and are served simply with butter and onions or in a soup. Spätzle (egg noodles usually topped with cheese and onions) is another delicious option.

On the wine route, a strausswirtschaft (owner-run wine tavern) is the ideal place for a rustic lunch or dinner. They are only open in the high season of late summer and early fall and offer their own wines with simple, local cuisine. As for the wines, expect rieslings, traminers, spätburgunders, and pinot gris.

Finish a meal with a decadent slice of Schwarzwalder kirschtorte, known in English as Black Forest cake. Sponge layers are moistened with kirsch (cherry schnapps), inter-laid with cream and cherries, then topped with dark chocolate shavings.

Where to Stay in the Black Forest

The Black Forest is filled with quaint pensions (B&Bs). Staying at one will save you money and provide beautiful country settings, but are best if you are driving a car.

If you are in search of luxury, Baden-Baden is where you should look. Its many spas are often located in an equally high-service hotel. Pforzheim and Freudenstadt are also luxurious spa towns.

Student-friendly Freiburg is a great destination for budget travelers. Or along with a great meal, some strausswirtschaft may offer a few rooms. Wherever you go, look for signs mentioning "Zimmer Frei" (free room).

Getting to the Black Forest

The Black Forest is tucked into the southwest corner of the country and is well-connected by roadways and train rails. Cities like Baden-Baden and Freiburg are easily reached by public transport, but to get off the beaten path or travel in the off-season, traveling by car is much easier.

The biggest airport is the Frankfurt International Airport, located about 2 hours north (90 minutes by train) of the Black Forest on A5. The smaller airport at Karlsruhe-Baden Baden, Stuttgart, or international airports at Basel-Mulhouse and Zurich may be closer, depending on your destination.

Once within the region, the Schwarzwaldhochstrasse (Black Forest High Road) is one of the best known themed drives in Germany with well-marked stops. It is on the B500 federal highway and continues for 60km from Baden-Baden to Freudenstadt. The A5/E35 motorway is the quickest way to cut through the Black Forest.

There are also some old-world tourist railway lines with traditional and chugging steam engines. The Waldenburg-Liestal route takes a hair-raising path through a narrow gorge, while the Ettlingen-Bad Herrenalb meanders through the forest.

Money-Saving Tips for the Black Forest

  • In Germany, it pays to plan ahead. The farther in advance you can book flights, train tickets, rental cars, bus tickets, and accommodations, the cheaper they will be.
  • The SchwarzwaldCard provides free admission to more than 100 attractions in the Black Forest. Museums, tourist transport like cruises, and spas are all discounted. The card is valid for three days from early April to November. It can be purchased at most tourist offices.
  • The Upper Rhine Museums Pass offers discounts to more than 150 museums, castles, and gardens. It is valid for four days in a month or can be purchased as an annual pass.
  • Deutsche Bahn's Baden-Württemberg-Ticket is the best way to travel around the area by train. It is just 21 euros for up to five people to travel in the region in one day (from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m, Monday to Friday, or at any time on weekends).
  • Many of the cities offer their own discount cards, so if you are spending time in places like Freiburg consider offers like the 3-day WelcomeKarte which provides free transport and discounts.