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Freiburg Im Brisgau – the city of miniature canals and cobbled alleys, beautiful mountains and stunning architecture – is Europe’s best kept secret. It’s not only a delightful family destination but a super-convenient base to explore Germany’s iconic Black Forest. Let’s look around this friendly, charming city, nestled in Germany’s sunniest corner.
The scintillating 116-meter tall Freiburg Minster is the pride of the Freiburg skyline. Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt was so enamored with the Minster that he insisted that it “will forever remain the most beautiful spire on earth.” Another distinctive landmark of Freiburg is the Merchants’ Hall. This crimson Renaissance building, dating back to the 1530s, is marked by beautiful bay windows, glazed patterned tiles and crow-stepped gables. Two medieval gates – the red sandstone Schwabentor and the Gothic-roofed Martinstor – add immense historic character to the city skyline. Other noteworthy buildings in Freiburg include the early Renaissance Haus zum Walfisch (Whale House) from the 1510s and the Renaissance New Hall and Old Hall.
Munsterplatz, the cobbled pedestrian square surrounding Freiburg Minster is the beating heart of the town. This charming square, ringed by historic monuments, was almost entirely burnt to the ground during the Second World War. This is difficult to comprehend when you see relaxed crowds basking in the sun and munching on typical Freiburg street food along the Munsterplatz. This is also the location of a bustling market every day of the week other than Sundays.
In Freiburg old town, you’ll find roads lined by Bächle – narrow gutters of clean, flowing water fed by the River Dreisam. Kids love splashing about and dragging little boats behind them along the water. You can also sit with your feet dipped in, an especially pleasant activity on hot days. But remember, legend goes that if you inadvertently step into a Bächle, you will end up marrying a local!
If you’re enthusiastic about art, you’lll love the art gallery at the Augustinian Monastery, not only for its exemplary collection but also for the unique ambience. In a historic but stylish setting, you get to enjoy artwork ranging from the Middle Ages to the Baroque days, paintings by legendary German Renaissance artists, original stained glass from the Freiburg Minster, medieval sculpture, and more.
Augustinerpl., 79098 Freiburg im Breisgau, +497612012501
Schlossberg is Freiburg’s very own hill, which was once fortified to protect the city against invasions. Today, it is a much popular attraction, drawing tourists with the promise of uninterrupted views across the city from its observation tower, Schlossbergturm. However, the journey to the tower is as much fun as the destination. The Schlossbergbahn, a funicular railway, whisks you up from the base of the hill to the tower in three minutes.
A few steps away from Martinstor, you will find Markthalle, a street which offers a gastronomic adventure around the world. Take your pick from Japanese, Chinese, Italian, French, Indian, Brazilian and Middle Eastern cuisines, or perhaps try something quintessentially German. This spot comes to life in the evening, with live music playing in several of the bars and restaurants.
The Höllentalbahn (Hell Valley Railway) connects Freiburg im Breisgau with Donaueschingen via the dramatic Dreisam River Valley. It is Germany’s steepest rail line, elevating to an altitude of 278 m (912 ft) to 885 m (2,904 ft) in the course of its 90-minute journey. While the train ride promises gorgeous views of the countryside every moment of the way, crossing the Ravenna Gorge on the 40-metre-high (131 ft) Ravenna Bridge is a particularly thrilling section.
Schaunisland is the easiest and among the most popular day trip options from Freiburg. Schaunisland (translating to ‘look into the country’), only a short drive from Freiburg city center, is a 1,284 m (4,213 ft) high mountain looming over Freiburg. The thrill of reaching the destination on the longest loop cable car in Germany adds to the joy of panoramic views from the peak. Schaunisland also promises interesting museums, hiking trails and gastronomic options.