The Black Forest
The Schwarzwald or Black Forest is known internationally for its natural beauty and outdoor recreation. Hiking and biking trails weave through the forest to quiet villages and amazing panoramas. Traditional handicraft such as cuckoo clock construction and glassblowing are practiced there to this day. Delicious local specialties like Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest cherry cake), cherry schnapps, and Black Forest ham are exported internationally but always taste better locally. Although you can visit year-round, the best time to enjoy the beautiful landscapes is from May to September or for winter sports and activities from December to February.
The Black Forest is a sub-Alpine mountainous region in southwestern Germany. The region gets its name from the density of the forest blocking much of the daylight – when the Romans first arrived, they called it “Silva nigra.”
It is an area about 120 km (75 mi) long and 60 km (37 mi) wide with two distinct parts characterized by different weather patterns. The North is covered with dense forests thanks to high levels of rain, but it is also exposed to western winds. The terrain is characterized by steep changes in elevation and narrow valleys. The South is higher on average, but it has gentler slopes and is sheltered by the Vosges (a low mountain range along the border with France), which makes it drier.
In comparison to other places in Germany, the Black Forest has much lower population density. As you explore the region, you will find mostly small towns and villages or even just farmhouses standing alone.
From Stuttgart, it is easy to reach the Black Forest by car using the surrounding highways: the A8 (Stuttgart-Karlsruhe), A81 (Stuttgart-Singen) and A5 (Karlsruhe-Basel). Have a look at this map.
Alternatively, it is possible to visit the Black Forest using public transportation. The whole region has quite a good railway network and bus connections. Bikes and dogs are usually permitted on the trains, and some buses even have trailers for bikes. Generally speaking, the more touristy an area, the better the public transport is. Some of the railway routes are also very interesting and scenic.
Most local hotels or holiday apartments offer their guests the KONUS Guest Card which allows you to ride regional trains and buses for free.
The Bollenhut has become a trademark of the Black Forest in the same way the Dirndl and Lederhose represent Bavaria, although this strange wide straw hat with red or black pom-poms (depending on the relationship status of the woman) has been part of the traditional costume of only three communities in the Central Black Forest. You can find them at many souvenir shops. The region otherwise has a great variety of traditional outfits, because each community had their own unique way of dressing. You can see examples in the Schwarzwaldmuseum (Black Forest Museum) in Triberg.
Historical farm life
The open-air museum Schwarzwälder Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbauernhof intends to give visitors a historical experience of how people used to live in the Black Forest. It was founded in 1964 with the restoration of the original farmstead. Since then, many original structures have been transported and reconstructed there, including mills, storehouses, a day laborer’s cottage, and a chapel. The buildings are decorated, furnished, and equipped with authentic historical items from the 16th through 19th centuries. Better yet, craftspeople in period attire give demonstrations, and in the summer you can eat a local meal prepared at the cooking demonstration.
Close to the museum there is a 1‑km long mountain toboggan run which takes you on an exciting ride down the mountains, around bends and through tunnels.
Cuckoo Clocks (Kuckucksuhr)
These clocks are famous the world over, and they got their start in the Black Forest. You can buy all kinds of designs from local manufacturers, from very traditional house designs to more modern looks. Consider visiting Rombach & Haas, whose clock-making history goes back 120 years.
The town of Schonach features one of the cuckoo clocks that has been awarded “World’s Largest” by the Guinness Book of World Records. It’s 50 times larger than a traditional clock and you can even walk inside to see the gears at work.
The Deutsches Uhrenmuseum (German Clock Museum) got started more than 150 years ago as part of the University of Furtwangen, which originally offered courses in clockmaking. Today it’s an IT school, but the museum is still popular. It features more than 8,000 authentic German cuckoo clocks. Many of them are still functioning and delight viewers when they strike the hour.
Mouth-blown glass has been an artisanal craft in the Black Forest for more than 1,000 years. Today only two glassworks remains open: Dorotheenhütte in the town of Wolfach and Glasmanufaktur Hofgut Sternen in Breitnau. There you can visit the workshops to learn about the glassmaking process. You can actually see the glassgrinders and glassblowers at work.
At the Dorotheenhütte, every visitor has the opportunity to blow their own glass vase (with professional assistance). They also have a museum on the history of glassmaking. It includes an exhibit of glass more than 2,000 years old, as well as exhibits on modern uses of glass. There is also an outlet store selling pieces with slight (often nearly indetectable) flaws, plus a dedicated Christmas shop full of beautifully festive decorations.
The Museums-Bergwerk Schauinsland (Mining Museum of Schauinsland), not far from Freiburg, offers an underground experience of three mining periods. The Black Forest was a source of silver as well as some other metals including iron, copper, and lead. Depending on how much you want to learn about metal ore mining and the history of mining technology, you can choose guided tours ranging from 45 minutes to two and a half hours. The regularly scheduled tours are in German, but English leaflets are available and groups can book tours in advance in English. You can also find information about mines (no longer in production) that are open to the public.
Food and Drink
Cake and Brandy
Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest cherry cake) is a decadent cake that tastes as good as it looks. Chocolate sponge cake is layered in tiers with whipped cream and cherries between, doused in Kirschwasser (cherry brandy), then topped with additional cream, cherries, and chocolate shavings on top. The colorless, double-distilled cherry brandy is also offered in restaurants in a small shot after a nice dinner and is sold in decorative bottles as gifts. The foothills in the west and south are perfectly suited for orchards, which cultivate not only cherries but also plums, apples, and pears.
Black Forest ham is a boneless ham, salted and seasoned with a variety of spices including pepper, garlic, coriander, and juniper berries. It is dry cured, cold smoked till it achieves its distinctive nearly black color on the outside, and finally air cured once again. If you’ve had Black Forest ham in the USA, you might never have had the real thing – the protected designation is not respected in the States. Consider visiting the Black Forest Ham Museum in the Feldberg Tower, open from May to October.
Germany’s third largest wine region extends into the western foothills of the Black Forest. The wine is sold everywhere in local restaurants. Wine lovers can travel the Badische Weinstraße (Baden Wine Street), a 160-km (100-mi) long tourist route connecting Baden-Baden and Weil am Rhein and dedicated to wine. You can taste wine and simple local food at so-called ”Straußenwirtschaft” or “Besen,” simple wine taverns which are operated by the wine grower and opened only for a few weeks in spring and autumn. In autumn there are many wine festivals in the region. Müller-Thurgau, Grauburgunder and Gutedel are typical white wines in the Black Forest, and Spätburgunder, Schwarzriesling and Dornfelder are common reds.
Of course the Black Forest has its own breweries. Among others, two well-known breweries are the Rothaus Brewery – Germany’s only state-owned brewery – with its beer “Tannenzäpfle” in the south and the Alpirsbacher Brewery – founded by monks – in Alpirsbach in the central Black Forest. Both breweries offer brewery tours, beer tastings and have restaurants.
One of the world’s best gins, Monkey 47, is produced in the northern Black Forest near Alpirsbach. The name comes from the tavern “The Wild Monkey” opened by a former commander of the British Royal Airforce who relocated to the region and collaborated with a local distillery to produce the first Black Forest gin. Today there are several local distilleries that produce gin of various qualities.
At one time, the Hinterwälder was only common in a small area around the Feldberg in the southern Black Forest. The Hinterwälder is the smallest Central European cattle breed and since it feeds on trees like a goat, it preserves the typical grazing land of the southern Black Forest. Moreover, it produces a very tasty, tender, low-fat meat which is a specialty available in many restaurants in the region.
Less well known is the Black Forest’s abundance of freshwater fish, especially brown trout. The climate and the water quality provide ideal conditions for trout and freshwater fish farming. At some fish farms you can fish for trout or have a taste in the farm’s restaurant. Visit for example the Hotel & Restaurant Zur Alten Mühle in Neuenbürg, the Forellenhof in Baiersbronn-Buhlbach, or the Schwarzwaldgasthof Hotel Tannenmühle in Grafenhausen.
You don’t have to be athletic to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Black Forest. Go for a drive on the Schwarzwaldhochstraße (Black Forest High Street), a road through the southern part of the Black Forest. It offers unmatched panoramic views.
You might also enjoy driving on the Schwarzwaldbahn (Black Forest Railway). It has nothing to do with trains, but is a feat of engineering. It was designed by Robert Gerwig, also the founder of the German Clock Museum, to give a comfortable ride without causing roadsickness – in spite of the many hairpin turns.
The Schwarzwaldverein, or Black Forest Club, has been promoting hiking in the Black Forest since 1864. They are responsible for signposting trails as well as caring for the needs of nature in the area.
There are more than 100 Vesperstuben, or snack spots, along the trails of the Black Forest. They make for excellent hiking destinations. There are Vesperstuben that have a long history, impressive scenic outlooks, or overnight stay options. All of them serve a tasty rustic snack to refuel hikers.
Visit the Club’s website for maps, tips, and a guide to planning your hike, walk, or bike ride!
Freiburg is a well-known German university town: while it’s famous for its Renaissance university, it is a favorite of students to this day. The old town dates back as far as the 12th century and features an impressive medieval minster and cobblestone streets. Today Freiburg is respected for its future-focused environmental policies and high standard of living.
Freiburg is the perfect place to start your exploration of the Black Forest region. It is the sunniest and warmest town in Germany, located in the heart of wine country. There are frequent festivals, particularly in summer or around holidays. And of course, there are countless excursion opportunities into the beautiful natural region all around the town, including to the Schauinsland, or the beautiful Ravenna Gorge.
The name says it all: Baden-Baden is famous for its baths and mineral spas. There are 29 natural springs in the region, bringing forth water rich in salt and other minerals. The town was founded by the Romans, who appreciated its healing waters.
Baden-Baden offers a wide variety of entertainment. Sports enthusiasts can enjoy tennis and golf in the summer and skiing in the winter. Summer also brings the Baden-Baden Summer Nights, with open-air music concerts in the spa gardens. In May, August, and October nearby Iffezheim hosts horse races. Year-round, visitors can enjoy various museums, the local casino, and tours of the historic old town along the Oos River.
Kaltenbronn, Wildsee & the Grünhütte
Visit all three in a day on a lovely short hiking trip. You can drive or take public transportation to Kaltenbronn. Follow signs for Trail No. 8 to Wildsee. You will hike through the Bannwald Forest to the scenic Wildsee (Wild Lake), the perfect spot for a short break. Then you can continue up to the Grünhütte (Green Hut, appropriately named) which is a forest restaurant. We recommend the blueberry pancakes!
Bad Wildbad is a small town in the Enztal (Enz River Valley) that attracts tourists for a variety of reasons. Enjoy the beautiful bike park or head up into the trees along the canopy trail at the Sommerberg, a hill above the town. The Sommerberg Furnicular Railway takes you to the top. Spa enthusiasts should check out the 18th-century thermal spa Palais Thermal.
Mummelsee & Hornisgrinde
The town and lake of Mummelsee are found along the Schwarzwaldhochstraße scenic route. The natural area is wonderfully unspoiled, making it a favorite for nature lovers. It’s a lovely area for walking, hiking, mountain biking, and pedalo rides on the lake. We definitely recommend ascending the local Hornisgrinde peak for incredible panoramic views – and paragliding for the daring! Kids will enjoy the adventure playground with all their favorite equipment, plus regular storytelling sessions with legends from the Mummelsee.
The Murg Valley is full of natural beauty and is popular for hiking and biking. The Tour de Murg is a well-known bike trail that runs the length of the valley. If you visit the valley when the river is low, you can do a riverbed hike near Raumünzach. In summer there are rafting tours on the river. In winter there are snowshoeing trails and group walks. Visitors can also check out Freudenstadt for the largest marketplace in Germany and the Eberstein Castle in Gernbach.
The highest mountain of the Black Forest, the Feldberg, rises 1493 m (4898 ft) above sea level in the middle of the South Black Forest regional park. It is unsurprisingly a favorite destination in the region for both skiing and hiking. The mountain, town, and health & ski resort all share the name Feldberg.
In winter, enjoy downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or a fireside meal with a great view. In summer, explore the panoramic hiking trails crisscrossing the mountain. Your family will also love Fundorena, an indoor/outdoor adventure park featuring a trampoline gym, indoor and outdoor climbing, ice skating, and pony rides.
They don’t call it the “Black Forest Bathing Paradise” for nothing! This enormous complex comprises three delightful areas under one (mostly glass!) roof. You can get a Caribbean vacation feeling under the palm trees of the “Palm Oasis.” Visit the “Galaxy Schwarzwald” for an incredible adventure with 23 slides and a wave pool that’s active 25 times a day. Finally, relax all the way to your bones in the clothing-free saunas and pools of the “Palais Vital.”
The name Wutachschlucht means Great Canyon or Fury Canyon, depending who you ask – either way, it’s the largest canyon in Germany. It’s protected in a nature reserve that offers unique scenic features. Hike along the Gauachach Gorge and marvel at its numerous waterfalls. Explore the Three Gorges path for unusual rock formations along with high cliffs and frothing waterfalls. Walk the 13 km (8 mi) from Schattenmühle Hotel & Restaurant up to the snack shop called Wutachmühle, then take the Wanderbus Linie 7344 to return. For the hardcore hiker, there are hiking trips that last a week! It is also possible to canoe and kayak. Check out maps, tips, and actual conditions here.