There are few regions of Germany that evoke more mystery and beauty than the Black Forest. Famous for its dense forests, enchanting villages, cascading waterfalls, and thermal spa towns, the Black Forest is an ideal destination for a road trip. Driving through the dark pine forests, you’ll understand why the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales were inspired by this corner of Germany. Maybe you’ll even see some of the wildlife that characterized their tales!
Called Schwarzwald in German, the Black Forest offers endless things for any type of traveler. It is beloved by German travelers and international tourists alike. My husband and I went on a road trip with my parents this fall, and we were absolutely blown away by the beautiful scenery, delicious food, and charming villages. I hope that this epic one week road trip itinerary will inspire you to plan your own visit to Germany’s Black Forest.
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Everything You Need to Know About Visiting the Black Forest
Where is the Black Forest?
Located in the southwest corner of Germany in the state of Baden-Württemberg, the Black Forest refers to a small mountain range characterized by dense coniferous forests. From Frankfurt, it takes about 1 hour’s drive directly south to reach the northern edge of the forest. The Black Forest is roughly 200 kilometers long and 60 kilometers wide. There is technically a Black Forest National Park, but when most people refer to the Schwarzwald, they are talking about the larger region. It is best known for its enchanting fairytale forests, quaint villages, spectacular waterfalls and mist shrouded mountains.
How to Get Around the Black Forest?
The easiest way to get around in the Black Forest is by car. I have structured this itinerary as a north-to-south road trip because I think it is the best & easiest way to explore the region. Highway A5 runs along the western edge of the Black Forest while Highway A81 runs through the valley on eastern side of the region. From these two highways, there are a number of connections to cross the forest, and cut into some of the smaller towns.
There are a couple of predetermined driving routes that you could follow in the Schwarzwald. The first is the Black Forest High Road (Schwarzwaldhochstrasse in German). This is the oldest tourist route in the Black Forest, visiting a number of famed locations with excellent panoramic scenery. If it is your first time in the Black Forest, this route is an easy choice. The Black Forest Scenic Road (Schwarzwald Panoramastraße in German) covers more of the southern parts of the forest, with similar sweeping vistas and highlighted attractions.
Like most highways in Germany, the road conditions in the Black Forest are excellent, well-marked, and easy to navigate. Adverse weather happens regularly in this region, especially fog, so make sure you are comfortable driving. It snows in winter, and a four-wheel drive car is advisable.
When to Visit the Black Forest?
While the Black Forest can be visited throughout the year, the best time of the year is in early spring or late autumn. The temperatures in spring will be a little bit cooler, but it is quite picturesque with clear skies and blooming trees. I visited in early October hoping to see some fall leaves and colors, but there isn’t too much color changing here since most of the trees are pine trees. Still, autumn is a lovely time with less tourists but good weather. Baden-Württemberg is considered to have the best weather in all of Germany with the most sunny days, so you are bound to get lucky at least a few days during your week long visit.
The Perfect 1 Week Black Forest Itinerary
Day 1: Heidelberg
Start your one week trip in Germany’s Black Forest region a little bit north of where the forest actually begins in the charming and romantic city of Heidelberg. While not technically in the Black Forest, Heidelberg is an excellent gateway to the region. Built on the steep embankments of the Neckar river, Heidelberg is surrounded by beautiful hills. It would be a shame to miss it!
With lovely views overlooking Heidelberg’s Altstadt, Heidelberg Castle is a must-see attraction. Heidelberg Castle was built over a series of centuries under different rulers, so you will notice different styles from the gothic through the renaissance periods. The pink sandstone façade in the main courtyard is decked out in renaissance details like busts and statues, while the terrace overlooking the river is much older. Access to the interior of the castle is only possible on a guided walking tour, but you are welcome to explore the terraces and squares without a guide.
In the afternoon, explore the Altstadt of Heidelberg. You can reasonably explore the highlights on foot in a few hours. The densest stretch of the Altstadt sits on the south side of the river where you can visit the Church of the Holy Spirit, a large protestant church in the middle of the city. From there, wander a few blocks towards the Old Heidelberg bridge. This is a quintessential photo spot in the city, thanks to the lovely views of the Altstadt, castle and river. Make sure to snap a picture with the famous bridge monkey statue before crossing over!
For dinner, make a reservation at Schnitzel Bank. It is the best schnitzel I have eaten in Germany– I still dream about that creamy mustard sauce. The restaurant is a tiny hole in the wall place with communal seating for approximately 30 people. The menu has about 8 different kinds of schnitzel, in addition to other German classics. You can order the schnitzel either breaded, deep fried or grilled. If you’re looking to grab a beer after dinner, I would recommend either Vetter’s Alt Heidelberger near the bridge for a traditional brauhaus experience or Kulturbraueri with its pretty multi-level dining room and friendly staff.
Day 2: Baden Baden
Roughly a one-hour drive south of Heidelberg, Baden-Baden is a historic spa town that literally translates as “to bathe – to bathe.” The Black Forest is littered with spa towns, but Baden-Baden is the most well-known. Its origins as a wellness destination date all the way back to the Romans, who were the first to discover the healing waters of Baden-Baden. The waters here are rich in healthy minerals, like calcium and magnesium, and are said to be excellent for the skin, joints and general healing.
Once the summer capital of Europe during the Belle Époque era, you’ll also find stunning architecture in Baden-Baden. The whole city has an upscale vibe to it, with luxury shopping options and elegant boutiques lining the streets of the Old Town. These days, Baden-Baden is a fairly popular destination with domestic and foreign tourists alike, especially Russian tourists. You get the sense that people come here to spend money.
Before spending your afternoon at the spa, walk around Baden-Baden’s city center. You can sample one of the best Black Forest cakes at Café König, which is likely to have a line out the door. Meander along the beautiful Lichtentaler Allee, a riverside walkway that is lined with flower beds, oak trees, and historic architecture. Pop into the Trinkhalle, a 19th century arcade with detailed frescos featuring epic German tales and stories.
Given its deep roots as a wellness destination, relaxing at one of the city’s thermal spas is a must-do activity with your one day in Baden-Baden. I personally love visiting German thermal spas (called thermal bad in German). It is one of my favorite leisure activities, because it is really relaxing and makes me feel great. There are a few things to know before going however. Firstly, a visit to the thermal bads is a several hour affair. You typically buy access for 2 or 4 hour increments. Most German spas have a variety of amenities available, including hot and cold pools, wet and dry saunas, and outdoor bathing pools. There is almost always a clothed section and a naked section. Be aware that the naked section is mixed gender.
The two best spas in Baden-Baden are Friedrichsbad and Caracalla Spa. They are conveniently located in the heart of the city. Although Friedrichsbad was opened in 1877, you can actually see the ruins from the ancient Roman baths in the existing spa. Friedrichsbad has stunning historic architecture to admire while you are relaxing in one of their many thermal pools. Unfortunately Friedrichsbad was under renovation during our visit to the Black Forest, and it was closed to the public. Not to worry – Caracalla was an excellent second option! This spa offers a more modern take on the German thermal bad, complete with outdoor Finnish saunas, a swim up bar, and lots of relaxation and meditation areas.
Day 3: Culinary Adventures in Baiersbronn
A few years ago before I moved to Germany, my mom cut out an article from Afar magazine to give me. The article was all about this small foodie destination in southern Germany that had 8 Michelin stars in a town with less than 15,000 inhabitants. The beautiful photos and memorable storytelling stuck with me, and for some reason, I saved the article thinking “Maybe one day, I’ll go there”. Fast forward a few years, and I dug up that article when I was planning a road trip to the Black Forest. The small town was none other than Baiersbronn!
The Black Forest is a surprising foodie destination, but Baiersbronn boasts an impressive number of fine dining restaurants with a combined 8 Michelin stars. If you love good food and traveling for unique culinary experiences, then Baiersbronn is a must-see stop on your one week Black Forest road trip. The two restaurants with 3 Michelin stars are Restaurant Bareiss and Schwarzwaldstube. Both of them are located in hotels, so I would recommend booking a night at either hotel to get the full foodie experience.
We opted to stay at Bareiss Hotel for two nights, where we had an absolutely fantastic experience. Although the Michelin star eatery is the most prestigious restaurant in the hotel, there are several other less formal restaurants. If a 3-Michelin dinner is outside your price range, you can still stay at Bareiss and eat like a queen! Even as a hotel guest, you’ll need to make a reservation for your Michelin dinner several weeks or even months ahead. On my other blog, I’ve written all about how to prepare for a Michelin Star dining experience if it is your first time. I can assure you that the experience will be one of the most memorable meals of your life.
Day 4: Schiltach & Triberg
Continuing your journey south through the Black Forest, your next road trip stop is in the picturesque town of Schiltach. Located in the Kinzig Valley of the Black Forest, Schiltach is genuinely one of the cutest small towns in Germany. Like something out of a story book, you’ll find beautifully restored half-timbered houses, a literal babbling brook in the center of town, and one of the best Black Forest cakes in the whole region.
You can easily wander around Schiltach on foot. You’ll want to keep your camera ready for all the picturesque little streets and charming homes! Gerbergasse is an especially cute street which deadends at the Schüttesäge Museum where you can see a historic mill in action. The triangular Market Square is the heart of the old town, dating all the way back to the 15th century. There have been a series of fires that have destroyed parts of Schiltach, but the resilient local community always rebuilds. Just around the corner from the old town, pop into Café Bachbeck for a slice of their Black Forest Cake (called Schwarzwälderkirsch Torte in German).
From Schiltach, drive about 40 minutes south to the tiny town of Triberg. Along the route, you will pass a few shops specializing in cuckoo clocks, such as the House of 1,000 Clocks (Haus der 1000 Uhren in German). These clocks were first invented in the Black Forest in the 18th century, made with locally sourced timber. Wood is carved with an impressive level of craftsmanship and detail into these masterpieces, depicting forests, nature or small town life. The cuckoo clocks are pretty grand with movable parts like a bird popping out or people dancing.
On the surface, Triberg may not look like much more than a main street with a few restaurants and cafes; but it is actually home to the tallest waterfalls in Germany. Nestled away in the dense forest behind the town, Triberg Falls cascade down multiple levels with mist shrouded trees and footpaths along the sides. They may not be Niagara or Iguaza, but I think Triberg Falls is pretty spectacular. You’ll buy a ticket at the visitor center on the edge of town. From the park entrance, it is a 10 minute walk to the first viewpoint of the falls. From there, you can continue walking up a fairly steep path to the top of the falls, with viewpoints at the various levels along the way.
Day 5: Fairytale Castles
When people think about traveling in Germany, one of the things they are most likely to picture is fairytale castles. Germany is home to more than 20,000 castles! There are two castles in Baden Wurttemberg that I would recommend visiting on your one week road trip in the Black Forest – Hohenzollern and Lichtenstein Castle. If you are staying in Schiltach as I recommend, the castles are located about 1 hour’s drive east. I featured both of these on my Instagrammable Castles & Palaces list because they are so photogenic and well-worth the day trip from the Black Forest.
Hohenzollern Castle is one of Germany’s most imposing neo-Gothic castles. With its many towers and fortifications, you’ll wander through the courtyard and garden marveling at the architectural details. With origins all the way back to the 10th century, Hohenzollern Castle is an impressive complex that serves as the ancestral residence of the Prussian royal families. A drive up the mountain to Hohenzollern Castle truly makes you feel like you’re approaching a royal residence. The castle sits on the literal top of a mountain in Swabia surrounded by forests and overlooking a large plain. It is best to visit Hohenzollern on a clear day when you can truly appreciate the amazing location and beautiful viewpoints from the castle.
Teetering precariously on a large rock in the Swabian region of southern Germany, Lichtenstein Castle is a privately-owned Gothic Revival castle. Although it was built on the foundation of an older knight’s castle, the current castle was largely constructed during the 19th century. It was designed by Carl Alexander Heideloff based on inspiration from Wilhelm Hauff’s novel Lichtenstein. Lichtenstein Castle is the thing of fairytale dreams with a wooden drawbridge leading up to the entrance, a grand turret overlooking the Echaz valley, and intricate spires climbing towards the sky. You can purchase a ticket for only the gardens or for a garden & interior tour.
Day 6: Feldberg & Titisee
Near the southern end of the Black Forest, you will find Feldberg which is Baden-Württemberg’s highest mountain. There are lots of outdoor adventures in this part of the Black Forest, so I would recommend spending the day in the fresh pine-scented air. The 1-hour hike to Feldsee Lake is a short and easy option with a good payoff. This lake is a little bit hidden and only accessible by foot, so there are typically less crowds.
Another nice outdoor activity is the Ravenna Gorge. The Ravenna stream cuts through a narrow part of the Hollental valley forming a long, picturesque gorge. There is a 3 hour hiking trail that cuts through the gorge, or you can visit the waterfall for a nice viewpoint. Nearby, you can also see the Ravenna Gorge’s old railway viaduct. A photographer’s dream, this curved arched viaduct is an iconic attraction in the Black Forest.
There are a number of little lakes in this part of the Black Forest, each more beautiful than the last. Lake Titisee is the most popular lake in the Black Forest. Framed by lush mountains, this picturesque lake offers rental boats if you want to get out on the water. You can also take the train up to Schluchsee Lake for a very scenic ride. This lake is higher altitude but is blessed with a warm microclimate. For some gorgeous alpine views from above, ride the Feldberg cable car up the mountain.
Day 7: Freiburg
End your one week traveling the Black Forest in one of my favorite cities in Germany – Freiburg. Often referred to as the capital of the Black Forest, Freiberg im Breisgau exudes the essence of the regional culture, and yet is somehow distinct and defies labels. It is a lively university city with medieval roots and a cool, alternative vibe. I have visited twice and loved it both times.
Start your 24 hours in Freiburg exploring the Old Town. Fuel up with a coffee from the cozy Fili Café. They’ve got good coffee and even better baked treats. Walk around the corner from the cafe to the Whale House (called Haus zum Walfisch in German), a red painted Gothic-style mansion that was the former home of Erasmus of Rotterdam. Dating from the 16th century, the trippy black and white painted doors are a great photo backdrop. As you’re wandering the Altstadt, don’t forget to look down at the tiny water gutters (called Bächle in German), which are a unique part of Freiburg’s infrastructure.
Continue your walk towards the Freiburger Münster, a massive sandstone cathedral in the main square. You can climb up the towers for a stunning view of Freiburg from above. Surrounding the cathedral on every day except Sunday is the Freiburg Farmers Market. There are regional fruits and vegetable vendors selling the most in season ingredients, as well cheese, meat and honey stands.
On the north side of the church, you’ll see a row of sausage stands all offering the regional wurst specialty – The Long Red (Lange Rote in German). This red, skinless, grilled sausage clocks in at 35 cm long, and is beloved by locals. If you’re near the Münsterplatz around lunch time, you will see lines of patrons waiting at all the stands. Pick up a Lange Rote sausage at whichever stand smells best to you!
The plaza surrounding the church has a few other notable attractions, such as the Historical Merchants’ Hall. This distinctive 14th century building has a beautiful and iconic exterior with marble busts, gold leaf accents and arched details. If the Lange Rote wasn’t quite enough lunch for you, Oberkirch Restaurant is a great al-fresco lunch option. For drinks, Alte Wache is a lovely wine bar facing the cathedral or the stylish SKAJO rooftop bar has some great views over the city.
I think much of Freiburg’s charm is found in the narrow streets and shady squares around the Altstadt, so I would recommend spending your afternoon getting a little lost. Pass through Schwabentor, one of Freiburg’s two stunning city gates. You can also climb up Castle Hill where you’ll be greeted with excellent views. Salzstrasse has a great assortment of boutiques and shops featuring local artists and makers. Meander down Niemansstrasse which has a number of places with outdoor seating for a quick snack or coffee.
Freiburg has really good secondhand shopping. Umkleide is one of my favorite secondhand shops because it has a great selection and it is well sorted into unisex categories, like high-waisted pants, sporty trainer jackets and flannel. Another favorite is Kleiderei Freiburg, which is located closer to the university campus. This German chain has both secondhand and upcycled clothing at really good prices.
For dinner, I would highly recommend making a reservation at Wolfshöhle. It is an elegant option for a date night, with its sophisticated modern German cuisine using seasonal ingredients. You can opt for a 5-course tasting menu or an ala-carte option. After dinner, sample some of Freiburg’s famed beer. The bottom-fermented beer Freiburger Pilsener is the most common type of beer you’ll see, and Freiburg has a long history of craft brewing. With eight craft beer breweries at present, Freiburg is Germany’s craft beer capital. The Braukollektiv has been brewing tangy craft beer since 2014. You can visit the Bierhandlung beer shop for a craft beer tasting with a trained beer sommelier.
Where to Stay in the Black Forest
I would recommend choosing 2-3 hotels in the Black Forest for your 1 week road trip itinerary. This way, you can move north to south through the forest, and it will save you a lot of driving time. We stayed at Hotel Belle Epoque in Baden-Baden, a 20-room boutique hotel. Surrounded by its idyllic park, the hotel is an oasis of peace and tranquility in harmony with elegance and nature.
Schiltach has an advantageous location in the middle of the Black Forest, making it a good jumping off point and ideal place to book a hotel for a few nights. We stayed at Adler 1604, a family owned boutique hotel with a lovely restaurant on the first floor. The friendly owners were super kind & helpful with cozy rooms in a historic building. I can absolutely recommend this hotel!
I already mentioned Hotel Bareiss as an excellent luxury option for foodies. The Landhaus Mühle Schluchsee near the Titisee is another good choice. With beautiful, woodsy designs, this boutique hotel makes you feel like you’re staying at a family cabin. It is cozy, and has excellent restaurant specializing in ingredient-focused French cuisine.