Germans get this really cute look on their face when they talk about the Black Forest – you can just tell it is a place they love. After visiting, I totally understand why! Quite literally out of a fairytale, a Grimm fairytale to be specific, Germany’s Black Forest offers visitors an excellent assortment of things to do and see. From beautiful landscapes to the most charming small towns you can imagine, the Black Forest has something for everyone to enjoy.
The very name Black Forest conjures up images of deep woodlands, traditional half-timbered farmhouses, cuckoo clocks, and of course, the famous Black Forest cherry cake. Whether you are planning a 7 day road trip or simply a long weekend, there is so much to explore in the Black Forest. This German destination has year round appeal, thanks to its mostly sunny seasonal weather.
I think it is the combination of excellent outdoor activities, unspoilt nature and unique cultural identities that make the Black Forest such an alluring place for locals and foreigners alike. There is something timeless about it, and I can almost guarantee you’ll want to come back for a return visit in the future. If you are planning a trip to the Black Forest, there are a number of things that you must experience to truly understand the sense of wonder that this region brings out.
These are the 12 Best Things to Do in the Black Forest
Cool Attractions to Visit in the Black Forest
The towering 116-meter high Freiburger Münster is a stunning place to visit in the Black Forest. After living in Cologne for three years, I am no stranger to a beautiful church in the center of a German city! Construction of the Freiburger Münster began around 1200AD, and it was planned in Romanesque style. As construction continued over the centuries, other influences were incorporated such as the Gothic style, which is immediately apparent when you look at the main tower and steeple.
The artistic and architectural highlight of Freiburger Münster is the 46m high spire, which consists only of inlaid iron anchors and detailed stone overlay. This design was the first fully openwork Gothic steeple in Europe, a design that would quickly become replicated across Germany and the greater continent. This massive sandstone cathedral sits in the main square of Freiburg im Breisgau, and you can even climb up the towers for a stunning view of the city from above. Pop inside for a free visit or simply wander around the outside to marvel at all the intricate details. There is also a daily farmer’s market in the plaza around the church!
Nestled away in the dense forest behind the town of Triberg, Triberg Falls are the tallest waterfalls in Germany. Cascading down multiple levels of rock and water pools, these falls are perpetually shrouded in mist, giving the trees and footpaths around the sides a fairytale look. It’s like something out of a Brother’s Grimm story! They are a pretty spectacular sight to see.
You’ll buy a ticket to visit the falls 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. The entire walk takes about 30 minutes, and it can get a little slippery at the top, so I would recommend wearing sturdy gym shoes. Along the way, you’ll see some wildlife like birds and friendly squirrels who are accustomed to humans feeding them.
Lakes & Sees
There are a number of little lakes in the Black Forest, each more beautiful than the last. Further south, you will find larger lakes such as Lake Titisee in the southern part of the Black Forest. Smaller lakes, such as the Mummelsee, are located more in the center of the forest. Framed by lush mountains, these picturesque lakes offer travelers the opportunity to get out on the water with rental boats or swimming areas in the summer. 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. Of course, you can also enjoy the lakes on walking and hiking paths that typically circumnavigate the water.
Best Things to Eat & Drink in the Black Forest
Black Forest Cake
Called Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte in German, Black Forest Cake or Black Forest Gateau is one of the most iconic cultural traditions from this region of Germany. You should definitely order a piece (or three) of this wonderful cake while traveling in the Black Forest. Some historians say that the cake got its name from the traditional outfits worn by women in the Black Forest. Their dress was black (like the chocolate flakes), their blouse was white (like the cream), and they wore a special hat with red pom-poms (like cherries).
Black Forest cake has multiple layers of chocolate sponge cake, cherries, and whipped cream. There are usually at least three layers and four layers is the most common. Cherry schnapps is used to flavor the whipped cream, and the bottom cake layers are also brushed with it to provide moisture and a little extra flavor. The outside of the cake is frosted with whipped cream and covered with chocolate shavings. Then it is topped with a few cherries for decoration. I absolutely loved the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte at Café Bachbeck in Schiltach, as well as the one at Café König in Baden Baden.
Lange Rote Sausage
No trip to Germany is complete without eating at least one sausage, and the Black Forest is no exception. As with the rest of Germany, there are regional sausage varieties in the Black Forest and the most famous is probably the Long Red (Lange Rote in German). Originating from Freiburg im Breisgau, this red, skinless, grilled sausage clocks in at 35 cm long. Hence the name! The Lange Rote is typically served in a small bun or bread roll with optional toppings like fried onions or stone ground mustard. It is beloved by locals, and on the north side of Freiburg’s famous cathedral, you’ll see a row of sausage stands all offering this regional wurst specialty. Pick up a sausage at whichever stand smells best to you!
Black Forest Ham
Originally manufactured by Hans Alder in 1959, Black Forest Ham (Schwarzwälder Schinken in German) unsurprisingly comes from Germany’s Black Forest. It is honored with regional distinction, which means this type of ham must be produced in the Black Forest region in order to be officially called Black Forest Ham. Produced from dry-cured smoked ham, this deli meat is typically seasoned with pepper, garlic, juniper berries, coriander and other spices. Additional flavors can be imparted during the smoking process, such as hickory, applewood, or hardwood. This process creates a distinctive black color on the outside of the skin. You can find Black Forest Ham at about any deli or grocery in the region, but it is also incorporated into lots of dishes at regional restaurants.
Cool Activities to Do in the Black Forest
Relax in Baden-Baden’s Spas
I personally love visiting German thermal spas (thermalbad in German), and Baden-Baden is one of the best destinations for wellness in the whole country. Given its deep roots as a wellness destination, relaxing at one of the Baden-Baden’s thermal spas is a must-do activity while traveling in the Black Forest. The two best spas here 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.
There are a few things to know before visiting a German thermal spa for the first time. Firstly, a visit to the thermalbad 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.
Shop for Cuckoo Clocks
I grew up with a cuckoo clock that my parents bought together on a road trip in the Black Forest, so I have always been familiar with these beautiful timekeepers. Cuckoo 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. With movable parts like a bird popping out or people dancing, these clocks chime and put on a little show each hour.
Given the amount of time required to hand carve them, cuckoo clocks are rather expensive, but nonetheless fun to look at! There are a large number of shops that offer Cuckoo Clocks for sale, and you are likely to see them featured in gift shops and tourist stops all around the region. The most famous place to buy Cuckoo Clocks is around Triberg where you can find stores like the House of 1,000 Clocks (Haus der 1000 Uhren in German). It quite literally has thousands of different clocks to choose from!
Visit Fairytale Castles
When people think about traveling in Germany, one of the things they are most likely to picture is fairytale castles. There are two castles near the Black Forest that I would recommend visiting– Hohenzollern and Lichtenstein Castle. Hohenzollern Castle is one of Germany’s most imposing neo-Gothic castles. 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. With its many towers and fortifications, you’ll wander through the courtyard and garden marveling at the architectural details.
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.
Best Small Towns to Visit in the Black Forest
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 and a literal babbling brook in the center of town. 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 the Black Forest Cake I mentioned as my favorite above.
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 as well. If a 3-Michelin dinner is outside your price range, you can still stay at Bareis 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.
Near the southern end of the Black Forest, you will find Feldberg which is Baden-Württemberg’s highest mountain – and a charming small town as well. There are lots of outdoor adventures in this part of the Black Forest, so I would recommend spending the day out in the fresh pine-scented air. For some gorgeous alpine views from above, ride the Feldberg cable car up the mountain. 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 option is a visit to the Ravenna Gorge. The Ravenna stream cuts through a narrow part of the Hollental valley forming a long, picturesque gorge. There is a hiking trail that cuts through it, or you can visit the waterfall in the gorge for a nice viewpoint. Nearby, you can see the Ravenna Gorge’s old railway viaduct. A photographer’s dream, this curved arched viaduct is an iconic sight.