Far from being a dark and gloomy forest straight from the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, the Schwarzwald is a fantastical setting for magical landscapes and charming half-timbered towns and villages. A top destination within Germany, attractions range from a treetop path to spa towns to roller coasters to one very famous cake.
Located in southwest Germany in the state of Baden-Württemberg (only about 2.5 hours from Frankfurt's busy airport), discover this enchanting region of Germany that has beguiled visitors since Roman times. Here are the top 12 things to do in the Black Forest.
A visit to the Schwarzwald is not complete without a stop in the forest. Baumwipfelpfad Schwarzwald (Black Forest treetop path) is a winding 4,100-foot wooden walkway that takes visitors through the treetops to experience the forest on a whole different level.
Meander by beeches, firs, and spruces at a height of 67 feet with panoramic views. It is particularly lovely in fall when the trees are awash in color. For kids who might have trouble appreciating the wonder of endless trees, entice them with a ride down the observation tower's massive slide. Back on the ground, the tree cover is so strong it is dark and mysterious throughout the year.
For more untouched nature, nearby Nationalpark Schwarzwald was opened in 2014 and is the only park of its kind in the state of Baden-Württemberg. This picturesque area features over 40 square miles of trees, lakes, and peaceful landscapes.
The woods seem to crowd right up to the cultivated city of Freiburg. A cheerful university town built around the münster (cathedral), it largely survived WWII and its ornate buildings look like they are straight out of a Grimm's fairy tale.
You should spend some time admiring the Freiburger Münster and its stunning spire that dates back to the year 1200, but don't forget the other medieval structures that surround it (like the colorful 16th-century Kaufhaus). If you arrive during market hours (every day except Sunday from about 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.), enjoy the best of local goods and cuisine such as the Lange Rote (long red) sausage, jokingly refereed to as "Freiburg's shortest landmark."
Drive Some of the Most Scenic Roads in Germany
Germany is a great place to go for a drive. While many car lovers dream of going full throttle on the autobahn, some of the best routes are more about the journey than how fast you get there.
One of the most beautiful drives in Germany is the Schwarzwald Hochstrasse (B500). The 37-mile road from Baden-Baden to Mummelsee to Freudenstadt boasts endless mountains, valleys, and lakes, and there are biking and hiking trails should you wish to get out and explore.
The Deutsche Uhrenstraße (German Clock Road) provides another adventure. This circular route runs an impressive 199 miles between Triberg, St. Peter, Lake Titisee, Villingen-Schwenningen, and other towns. Along with admiring gorgeous scenery, you can learn everything there is to know about clocks with factory tours and deals on cuckoo clocks.
Buy a Cuckoo Clock
A cuckoo clock is one of the most sought-after gifts from Germany. They range in style and quality, but they usually feature intricate wood carving and the delightful call of the cuckoo bird at the top of the hour. Although cheaper souvenir clocks are widely available, authentic clocks still are made in the Schwarzwald and must be certified by the Verein die Schwarzwalduhr (known as VdS or "Black Forest Clock Association" in English).
Stops on the Deutsche Uhrenstraße include the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum (German Clock Museum in Furtwangen) and the world’s largest cuckoo clock in Eble Uhren-Park in Triberg.
Germany’s largest theme park is brimming with hair-raising roller coasters, water rides, live entertainment, and accommodations for the whole family. Situated on 85 hectares, the park offers more than 100 attractions, some of which alternate to fit the season (think theatre in the summer and ice skating shows in the winter). Among the 13 impressive roller coasters are the Euro-Mi—based on Soviet space missions—and Iceland's Blue Fire, which twists and turns over the water. In addition to the rides, a roaming cast of characters enliven the European-themed lands.
Relax in 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, fine restaurants, and healing springs. A visit to the town is not complete without seeing the illustrious Kurhaus; this Versailles-inspired spa complex dates from 1824 and is made up of vivid frescoes, Corinthian columns, and views of the river Oos.
The waters of Baden-Baden produce around 211,338 gallons of thermal water a day and have drawn an endless stream of visitors from Mark Twain to Kaiser Wilhelm I and Queen Victoria. Spa options are endless in this elegant city, but the Friedrichsbad is the most traditional. The historic bathing temple offers 17 stages so visitors can fully experience the healing properties of the mineral water.
Besides being home to the world's largest cuckoo clock, Triberg is a wonderful example of a typical Black Forest town. What really sets it apart, though, are the easily accessible and impressive Triberg Falls. They are promoted as Germany’s highest waterfalls—although that honor might actually lie with Röthbachfall in the Berchtesgaden area.
No matter: The falls are no doubt breathtaking. With an overall drop of 207 feet over seven cascades, they draw around half a million visitors per year. Well maintained paths offer full accessibility until 10 p.m., when the falls are picturesquely lit.
One of the most visited open-air museums in Germany, the Schwarzwälder Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbauernhof allows visitors to see how the Black Forest has operated for hundreds of years. As visitors wander through 17 acres featuring six farmhouses from the 16th to 19th centuries, museum workers demonstrate traditional crafts in Gutach costume. Along with woodworking and straw painting, there is, of course, an exhibition of cuckoo clocks.
There are free guided tours in German and in English; care is taken to entertain the youngest visitors with livestock, a playground, antique toys, and crafts.
Walk Into a Fairy Tale During the Holiday Season
Even when the sun is shining, this quaint town of half-timbered houses and cobblestone streets crackles with jolly energy. The embodiment of a charming Black Forest village, Gengenbach is known throughout Germany for its Christmas market and legendary advent calendar, which encompasses the entire façade of the 200-year-old Rathaus (town hall).
One of the region's top attractions, Titisee is both the biggest and highest natural lake in the Black Forest. Though it might sound a little funny in English, the views around the lake are nothing to laugh about.
Formed by a glacier, the 1.2-mile lake is crystal clear and a haven for swimming, sailing, or any other water-based activity you can think of. Step out of the water for a 90-minute hike or shorter bike ride around the lake with unbeatable views. In the winter, the lake often freezes over and becomes a natural skating rink.
If you like your flora tamed as well as wild, Rosenneuheitengarten auf dem Beutig (Rose Society Garden) is an explosion of color in the summer. Roses abound from every angle as they stretch overhead in arches, peek from behind hedges, and line the tidy pathways. In June, the garden hosts a series of Rose Concerts where Baden-Baden's Philharmonic Orchestra plays among the blooms for a magical experience.
Schwarzwalder kirschtorte, or Black Forest Cake, is a popular dessert in and outside of Germany. Moist layers of sponge cake are soaked in Schwarzwälder Kirschwasser (Black Forest cherry schnapps), interspersed with thick cream and sour cherries, and topped with dark chocolate shavings.
And remember, you can't survive on sugar alone, so round out your culinary itinerary with maultaschen, spätzle, and plenty of schwein.