Called Schwarzwald in German, the Black Forest is famous for its dense forests, enchanting villages, cascading waterfalls, and thermal spa towns. You might be familiar with it from the Grimm Brothers fairy tales, many of which were written about and inspired by this part of Germany. Or maybe you are a dessert lover in hunt of the famous Black Forest Cherry Cake. Regardless of how you’ve heard about the Black Forest, this mysterious corner of Germany is sure to steal your heart.
A long weekend in the Black Forest is a romantic and alluring getaway, perfect for any type of traveler. There are so many things to do and you can easily explore for 3 days. If you’re looking for a longer visit, I also have a 1 week Black Forest itinerary. You’ll find yourself enamored with the unique scenery, charming cities, and historical attractions found throughout 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. Baden-Württemberg is considered to have the best weather in all of Germany with the most sunny days. The temperatures in spring will be a little bit cooler, but it is quite picturesque with clear skies and blooming trees. Autumn is a lovely time with less tourists but there is still good weather.
The Perfect Long Weekend in the Black Forest
About the Black Forest
Located in the southwest corner of Germany in the state of Baden-Württemberg, the Black Forest (Schwarzwald in German) refers to a small mountain range characterized by dense pine forests. From Frankfurt, it is about 1 hour driving directly south. 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 and spectacular scenes of nature (think lakes, waterfalls and mountains).
Traveling in the Black Forest
The easiest way to get around in the Black Forest is by car. There are a couple of predetermined driving routes that you could follow in the Schwarzwald. The first is the Black Forrest High Road (Schwarzwaldhochstrasse in German). This is the oldest tourist route in the Black Forest, visiting a number of famed locations and 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.
If you prefer to visit the Black Forest with the train, you’ll mainly need to stick to the larger cities which are better connected via rail. Karlsruhe, Freiburg, Baden-Baden, and Offenberg are all well-connected to the Deutschebahn national rail network. From there, you can take regional buses and trains to get to some of the smaller locations. Traveling with the train requires a bit more planning and you won’t be as flexible with where you can go.
Day 1: Baden Baden
To start your long weekend in the Black Forest, Baden-Baden on the north end of the forest is an ideal location to begin. Baden-Baden is a historic spa town that literally translates as “to bathe – to bathe.” The Black Forest is littered with small 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, also 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 will almost always be 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.
Where to Stay in Baden Baden
Because of its reputation as an upscale destination in Germany, you’ll find that Baden-Baden has a number of beautifully restored 4 and 5 star hotels. There are also a number of wellness resorts in the area, and hotels with their own private spas. We stayed at Hotel Belle Epoque, a 20-room boutique hotel just on the outskirts of the Altstadt. Surrounded by an idyllic mini park, the hotel is an oasis of peace and tranquility in harmony with elegance and nature.
Day 2: Triberg & Schiltach
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, and 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 (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). I grew up with a cuckoo clock that my parents actually bought together while on a road trip in the Black Forest. 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. Given the amount of time required to hand carve them, cuckoo clocks are rather expensive, but nonetheless fun to look at!
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 around the sides. They are a pretty spectacular sight to see.
You’ll buy a ticket at the visitor center on the edge of Triberg. 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. You’ll be able to see lots of birds and squirrels along the walking paths. Some people even buy food to feed the squirrels, so they will get quite close to you.
Where to Stay in Schiltach
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. We stayed in the turret room you see in the red building below. I can absolutely recommend this hotel!
Day 3: Freiberg
End your long weekend in 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 (Haus zum Walfisch), 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 running (called Baechle) 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 (or 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 Münster platz around lunch time, you will see lines of patrons waiting at all the stands. Pick up a 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, to climb up on 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 Freiburg
Compared to Baden-Baden, Freiburg doesn’t have quite as many stylish or boutique accommodation options. Many of them are more historic and a little bit dated. But, Hotel Oberkirch is centrally located with a great view of the cathedral. I mentioned it above with the nice patio as well. For something closer to the train station, we have stayed at the recently opened Courtyard by Marriott. The rooms are spacious and modern, and the amenities are the hotel are good.