The Black Forest isn’t all about gateaux. It’s also about rolling green valleys, hillsides clad in dense trees, and traditional crafts that have been around for generations. Whether you’re after hiking, castles, or cake the Black Forest makes a great base for your European holiday.
This mountainous area is the first national park in Baden-Württemberg, southwest Germany, and has been attracting culture lovers to its evergreen forests and charming towns for decades. The region is said to have inspired the otherworldly Brothers Grimm fairy stories, but don’t worry, in real life it’s perfectly magical and serene.
Here are just a few of the top experiences you shouldn’t miss whilst you’re visiting the Black Forest.
This university town just oozes charm, with winding cobbled streets and half-timber houses creating a picture-postcard old-world atmosphere. Located in the south of the Black Forest, Freiburg is surrounded by vineyards and wooded mountainsides, with plenty of hiking trails to explore. You can take the cable car up to the lookout tower on Schlossberg (Castle Mountain) for sweeping 360-degree panoramas of Freiburg and the undulating countryside beyond. It’s extra romantic at sunset, especially when coupled with a drink in the beer garden at the top.
Don’t miss visiting the 11th-century Gothic cathedral, which is a designated national cultural monument. It’s one of the most famous landmarks in Germany and heralded amongst the top beautiful towers on earth. Other architectural highlights include the medieval Swabian Gate and the historical merchants’ hall. Swing by the Cathedral market to rub shoulders with locals buying their fresh weekly produce, and pop into the galleries and museums to discover more about the past, and future, of this vibrant city.
You’ll spend your afternoons strolling beside the canal in the sun, and sitting at pavement cafes treating yourself to chocolate cake and coffee. By night, Freiburg really comes to life with all the concerts, bars, and restaurants you can handle. The local wine is pretty good too, so try and glass or two and get your evening off to a good start.
Discover traditional crafts
The Black Forest is renowned for its traditional crafts, with everything from wood to glass vying for your attention. First up, make your way to Dorotheenhütte in Wolfach to witness how mouthblown glass is still being manufactured in the region over 1000 years since it began. You can see the artists at work beside their fiery ovens, and even have a go at blowing your own glass vase to take home. There’s a shop too, and it’s a great place to stock up on Christmas decorations.
The most iconic souvenirs you could lay your hands on are the intricately carved wooden cuckoo clocks which have been crafted here for centuries. Clockmaking is often a family-run business, with the skills and designs being passed down through the generations. The styles are timeless, and a great way to remember your adventures in the Black Forest. Visit the small town of Schönwald to discover the birthplace of the cuckoo clock and find out more about this beautiful tradition. You can see the craftspeople at work, and be amazed at the hours that go into creating such masterpieces.
Pop over to Schonach to clap eyes on the biggest cuckoo clock in the world. It won’t fit on your wall back home but just seeing it will give you serious bragging rights when you return! Finally, head to the Black Forest Clock Museum to admire thousands of historical cuckoo clocks that have been made right here in Germany.
Don’t leave the Black Forest without checking out the Vogtsbauernhof open-air museum. This restored farming community includes original worker’s cottages, a mill, and even a chapel which you can explore to see what life what like here centuries ago. Crafts were a huge thing in the settlement, and the traditional has been kept alive today with frequent demonstrations. You may catch a weaver or woodcarver hard at work, and during the summer you can see the mill in operation.
Take photos of Lichtenstein Castle
The fairy tale continues with the castles of the Black Forest, which are peppered through the valleys and mountain ridges of the region. One of the most famous and spectacularly located is the jaw-dropping Lichtenstein Castle, which teeters on a cliff looking out across the Black Forest. There’s no other castle in Europe that quite beats this dramatic location, perhaps with the exception of the Predjama cave castle in Slovenia.
Designed in the Gothic Revival style, this romantic fortress was built as recently as the 1840s by Count Wilhelm von Urach, but feels a whole lot older, and more steeped in history than you’d expect for a relatively modern construction. It was inspired by the novel ‘Lichtenstein’ which was written in 1826 by German poet Wilhelm Hauff. Today, it’s one of the few castles that have been restored and is certainly one of the most impressive.
It’s still privately owned, and perhaps the most staggering views are from the outside, but on certain days Lichtenstein Castle is occasionally open to the public for tours. Very few international tourists venture here as it’s well off the beaten track, which just makes a visit even more exciting. You’ll find the ruins of a real medieval castle just a short distance away too.
Go boating on Titisee Lake
If you’re looking for somewhere serene to relax after your all your adventures, there’s nowhere better to unwind than Titisee Lake. This resort in the southern section of the Black Forest is the biggest natural lake in the region, and one of the top holiday locations in the country. Spend a few days here chilling out on the shore, drinking in those incredible views. Or go for a swim in the summer if you want to cool off after rambling around the 5-mile lakeside trail. This hiking route is one of the most picturesque in the area, taking you through fragrant pine forests, up hillsides to the top of Hochfirst Mountain, and beside the shimmering lake waters.
One of the most popular things to do at Titisee Lake is to go boating. There are heaps of activities available depending on what you feel like doing, with no experience required. Take out a rowing boat and explore the hidden bays and beaches of the lake – remember to pack a picnic so you can make a day of it. This is a great family-friendly option as well as being a favourite with couples and honeymooners for the romantic vibe! Alternatively, you can go sailing in one of the local dinghies, with or without an instructor depending on your skills! There’s no better way to drink in the scenery than by slicing through the water with the wind in your sails. Adrenaline junkies love having a go at windsurfing here too, and it’s an ideal place to learn if you’ve not done it before.
There are plenty of hotels to choose from at Titisee Lake, lining the shores with superb views out over the forests. Spending a few days here at the end of your Black Forest trip will be the icing on the cake.