A charming medieval old town, ancient towers, funiculars and possibly the longest bratwurst in Europe – check out the best things to do in Freiburg, Germany
This guest post comes from the talented Valerie Stimac Bailey who writes the popular blog Valerie & Valise. Valerie’s Freiburg travel guide is packed with top sightseeing tips and practical information on how to make the most of your visit. I’ve visited Freiburg too and completely agree with Valerie’s recommendations.
Freiburg im Bresgau, Germany
The small and charming city of Freiburg nestles in the state of Baden-Württemberg in South West Germany. With its picturesque medieval old town, beautiful architecture and Black Forest right on the doorstep Freiburg is well worth adding to your south west German trip itinerary.
Freiburg im Breisgau, more often called simply Freiburg, is often overlooked for more full-on German destinations like Munich, Berlin, or Cologne and Frankfurt. But Freiburg im Breisgau, not to be confused with the other Freiberg in Saxony, is a gem of a city which I think the people of Germany would rather like to keep to themselves.
The sunny city is home to 230,000 people, if you include the students of the University of Freiburg. The city offers a different perspective on German life, and shows the diversity that ranges across this huge European country. It’s also one of Germany’s greenest cities.
While you might not initially plan to visit Freiburg, it’s a great spot if you’re travelling through southwestern Germany and we highly recommend a visit. This guide will show you how to discover the city in your own way, through the best things to do in Freiburg, places to eat, and other experiences to enjoy during your visit.
The History of Freiburg
Freiburg’s history can actually be tied to its name – frei and burg meaning “free” and “town.” Around 1120, Freiburg was settled due to its strategic location along trade routes between the Mediterranean and North Seas and its accessibility to both the Rhine and Danube Rivers.
As was common for other cities in Europe during the middle ages, the history of Freiburg is full of bishops and kings ascending and falling. There were stabbings, assassinations and, of course, the appearance of the Black Plague which wiped out a quarter of the city’s population.
The city didn’t fare much better between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries with many changes of political and governmental hands. Freiburg is home to one of the oldest universities in Germany and throughout history was occupied or co-occupied by the French, even as late as 1991.
Freiburg’s recent history
Freiburg also has a fascinating recent history both good and bad. The university was home to several British Secret Service agents, some of whom may have inspired James Bond. It was also one of the first cities in Germany to enforce the deportation of Jews in late 1940. Much of Freiburg sufferent from bombing in WWII and has since been rebuilt. Like so many places in Germany, history is a double-edged sword for Freiburg.
If you’d like to learn more about Freiburg and German history, a walking tour is a good place to start. Historix-Tours offer daily walking tours, year round, on a variety of topics. Prices start from €7.50 for adults and €6.50 for children.
Things to do in Freiburg
In addition to the walking tour, which I highly recommend, read on for some top Freiburg’s attractions. Add these to your Freiburg itinerary and you’re guaranteed an unforgettable trip.
Take the Schlossbergbahn for easy hiking and views
To the east of Freiburg a 456-metre hill was once fortified to protect the city. A 3-minute funicular ride will get you most of the way up Schlossberg Hill for fabulous views and an orientation of the city to set you up for the rest of your visit.
From there, explore ancient forests, castle ruins, and maybe even climb up Schlossbergturm, the observation tower, Head to the other side of the hill to spot parts of the Black Forest over the vineyards.
Explore Münsterplatz and the daily market
Freiburg is a city of beautiful squares and Münsterplatz is the pretty cobbled square at the heart of the city. It’s surrounded by historic buildings, many of which were reconstructed after WWII, including Wentzingerhaus. The red merchants‘ hall fortunately survived the bombing.
Münsterplatz is home to Münstermarkt, Freiburg’s food market. For daily happenings in Freiburg, the Münstermarkt in the shadow of the grand cathedral (the Freiburger Münster) is the place to head to and one of the tastiest and best things to do in Freiburg.
Every day except for Sundays, Freiburg wurst (sausage) carts line the inside border near the church, and vendors surround them selling fresh flowers, food, wine and local produce.
There are over 150 stalls in all and it’s a must-stop for a street food lunch and for picking up souvenirs. Enjoying a “Lange Rote”, Freiburg‘s renowned bratwurst in the Münsterplatz is one of the top things to do in Freiburg.
The Merchant’s Hall
The Historisches Kaufhaus, or Merchant’s Hall, is located on Münsterplatz. The eye is instantly drawn to the ornate, ox-blood coloured building with its colonnade and tiled turrets. The building, which was constructed around 1532, is one of the top things to see in Freiburg.
Behind the façade lies a large courtyard once used to store merchandise. From the courtyard a spiral staircase leads to the Kaminsaal (fireplace room) and Rococo Room. The only way to gain entrance to the inside is by way of attending an event like theFreiburg Weinkost (wine tasting), readings or a concert.
Climb the Schwabentor
Of the original five towers in Freiburg, only two remain. The Schwabentor is one of the towers that originally formed the city’s defence walls and was built in the middle of the thirteenth century as a city gate. It’s close to the oldest crossing on the Dreisam River which would have been the route that merchants and traders took to and from the city.
From the town a Baroque mural from 1672 is visible. The painting is of a salt merchant that tried to buy the city with barrels of gold. Unknown to him his wife had replaced the gold with sand and pebbles. The merchant was laughed out of town.
On the gate’s exterior wall you’ll find St George the dragon slayer, the patron saint of Freiburg.
If you’d like to see the inside of the Schwabentor you’ll need to visit the Zinnfigurenklause museum of miniature tin figures. Thousands of handmade figurines display notable historic Freiburg events. The other remaining city gate is the Martinstor.
Freiburg Cathedral – Freiburger Münster
On a clear day, the view from the Cathedral Tower of the eleventh century Freiburg Minster displays the beautiful city of Freiburg spread out below you. Admittedly, to enjoy the views you’ll need to climb all 333 steps. The cathedral took over 300 years to complete and is built from red sandstone. The ornate pinnacle was built in an open lattice structure – the first in the history of Gothic architecture.
The 750-year-old, three-ton Hosanna bell is housed in the 116-metre high west tower and is one of Germany’s oldest Angelus bells. The stained-glass windows inside are particularly impressive.
Check out some of the 91 grotesque gargoyles. As well as diverting water away from the Cathedral their ghoulish, tortured faces are designed to keep evil demons away from the Cathedral. See if you can spot an exceptionally cheeky gargoyle displaying his bottom to the square.
Explore the Augustiner Museum
If museums are your thing, be sure to add the Augustiner Museum to your list. The building houses works from German artists throughout the centuries, primarily focused on religious history – the building is a former monastery and church of Augustinian hermits. It’s one of the most important museums in southern Germany.
If you prefer a more modern architectural experience, stop by the funky University of Freiburg Library to admire the unusual structure and shape. Said to resemble a black diamond, the glass façade reflects the contrasting historic buildings which surround the library. The library is one of the more contemporary things to see in Freiburg.
Freiburg has two Town Halls. The New Town Hall and the Old Town Hall which are both located on the Rathausplatz.
The Old Town Hall, built in the Renaissance style, dates back to the end of the 1550s and is where you’ll find the Freiburg tourist information office.
Next door is the new Town Hall which is made up of two Renaissance burgher houses con-joined by an arcade. The façade is decorated with coats of arms from Freiburg’s old ruling families but we’re here for the clock. Make sure to pay a visit at midday for the glockenspiel chimes.
Beware the Freiburg Bächle. These seemingly innocent channels transporting sparkling fresh water from the Dreisam River through the narrow, cobbled streets of Freiburg’s old town have a hidden threat.
Once a source of drinking water to Freiburgers, local legend has it that any single person who steps into a Bächle has to marry a Freiburger. Be warned and avoid the potential lethal combination of Bächle and Freiburger Pilsener.
Freiburg Christmas Markets
If you’re in Freiburg in December you’ll find Christmas markets in Rathausplatz, the Franziskanerstraße, Unterlindenplatz and also on Kartoffelmarkt. Be sure to buy yourself some Lebkuchen German cookies like the ones I found in Munich Christmas Market. Nowhere does a Christmas market better than a medieval European city and Christmas in Bruges is another of my favourites.
Try Freiburg Beer
The Ganter Brewery (Ganter Brauerieausschank) is a family-run brewery founded in Freiburg back in 1865. Take a tour of the brewery to see the beer being produced. It’s on the outskirts of town so if you’d rather stay near to the city centre then the Ganter Brewery Bar on Munsterplatz will serve you a stein or two in a traditional setting. The brewery produces a Ganter pilsner, a Freiburger pilsner pus light and dark wheat beers.
Where to Eat & Drink in Freiburg
When it comes to food and drink Freiburg offers everything from hole-in-the-wall spots to national chains. Students from around Germany, Europe, and the world call Freiburg home while enjoying their studies at the city’s university which means there are lots of budget friendly options. Here are some of the must-try places to eat and drink in Freiburg:
The Munsterplatz. Seriously, all the sausage you could ever want. There are other foods too, but enjoying a delicious wurst with onions and mustard in the shadow of the cathedral is a must-do in Freiburg.
Restaurant Dattler has the best views in the city, located up on Schlossberg hill. After climbing up (or walking the short distance from the tram), recover your strength with a slice of Black Forest cake. Am Schlossberg 1.
Markt Halle. At the recommendation of several in-the-know Freiburgers/travellers, we made Markt Halle one of our lunch spots. This is a must-do – ethnic cuisine from around the world, plus beer and wine.
Grünwälderstraße 4.Hausbrauerei Feierling. A cozy restaurant with an awesome beer garden in summer, they brew their own beers in house and serve German and regional dishes. Gerberau 46.
Schlappen. A common student hangout, they serve flamenkuche (a regional dish), a famous dish of fries, and all the whisky you could imagine. Löwenstraße 2.
Kastaniengarten Biergarten. Located on another part of Schlossberg hill, this beer garden is a favorite spot for locals in the summer, with great views of the surrounding countryside. Schlossbergring 3.
There are, of course, many other restaurants worth trying in Freiburg. These are just some of the ones I enjoyed – and which feature cozy atmospheres, good beer, and great German food. check more Freiburg restaurants on Trip Advisor.
Where to Stay in Freiburg
As a large, university city, there are far more hotel options in Freiburg than smaller towns in the region. If you’re travelling during the university term time, you can probably get a good deal on a hotel – be aware of times like new student enrolment or graduation when planning, as accommodation can book up.
We stayed at a managed apartment hosted by StayInn Freiburg, located on the Fischerau. Only two minutes’ walk from the Martinstor (another of the original city towers), this centrally located loft apartment was a perfect vacation rental for a few night’s stay. It was fully equipped with a small kitchen and is a great base if you’re spending all day out exploring.
The StayInn Freiburg offers both apartments for rent and a hostel/guest house. Apartments start from €50 per night.
There are both chains and independent hotels in Freiburg; Booking.com has a good list of the top recommended choices. I like to use this platform as it offers cancellation up to 24-hours beforehand.
Stay in the oldest guesthouse in Germany
Zum roten Bären which translates as ‘to the red bear’ is the oldest hotel in Germany and also Europe so you won’t get any more authentic than this. The foundations predate the founding of Freiburg in 1120.
Even if you don’t stay then do go for dinner for traditional German food and wine in a traditional setting. English translations aren’t printed on the menus so be sure to download a translation app to your phone. The Wiener schnitzel is recommended.
Check rates and availability at Zum roten Bären
How to Get to Freiburg
Though Freiburg might seem isolated compared to larger and more centrally located German cities, it’s not hard to reach. Here are the ways to travel to Freiburg.
By plane & car: The nearest airport to Freiburg is Basel Airport in Switzerland. The drive from Basel around 60 minutes along the German border. You could also compare flights to Stuttgart, but then your drive is a little over 2 hours to Freiburg.
By train: Freiburg has a major train station, and is serviced by routes throughout Europe through Deutsche Bahn. You can search routes and timetables on Bahn.de.
By bus: We arrived in Freiburg by bus on the Flixbus; you can book from Munich directly to Freiburg. Bus tickets are as low as €18 one way.
These are some of the best things to do in Freiburg along with some useful travel information and tips on where to eat and stay during your visit. We hope you find it useful. If there’s anything we’ve missed that you’d like to add let us know in the comments below.
Valerie Stimac Bailey of Valerie & Valise grew up in Alaska, so it’s no surprise she loves sharing stories from there and the rest of the American West. On her blog, you can find resources to have unforgettable experiences throughout the western U.S. including California, Hawaii, and yes, The Last Frontier.
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