Wreathed in vineyards in Baden-Württemberg, Freiburg is a Medieval university city on the edge of the Black Forest. The minster has to be the first thing you see in Freiburg, and you’ll want to view this Gothic marvel and its marvellous tower from every angle.
The city is one of Germany’s most liveable, and the green movement was born in the 1970s. Now Freiburg is both a stronghold for the Green party and one of the most sustainable cities on the planet. Freiburg is also a jumping off point for the Black Forest, and you can catch a cable-car from the south of the city to the summit of Schauinsland mountain at 1,284 metres.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Frieburg:
1. Freiburg Minster
Begun as a Romanesque church in the 13th century, Freiburg’s awe-inspiring minster would take another 300 years to complete.
Despite the destruction wreaked around Münsterplatz in 1944, the minster came through with only minor damage.
In 1869 the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt described the 116-metre tower as the most beautiful in the world, and it’s hard to disagree.
For three years after it was completed in 1330 the tower was also the highest in the world and is a hollow, highly ornamented mass of tracery and pinnacles.
The amount of artistry on the facade alone is astounding: The tympanum and archivolts on the portal have 418 stone figured carved at the end of the 1200s.
Inside, see Hans Baldung Grien’s Renaissance altarpiece and scale that tower to reach the viewing platform at 70 metres.
Surrounding the minster is a cobblestone pedestrian square, ringed by historic monuments and scene of a market that trades every day of the week except Sundays.
The square was almost totally flattened by bombs in 1944, but along with the minster one of the buildings to come through intact was the Wentzingerhaus on the southern margins of the square.
This late Baroque mansion was built in 1761 by painter, sculptor and architect Johann Christian Wentzinger and now holds a small museum about the city.
And as for that market, there are 96 regional produce stalls on the north side, and 65 on the south side selling anything from exotic spices to handicrafts.
At the foot of the minster are snack bars selling freshly cooked food like a long, Freiburg style wurst in a toasted bun.
3. Historical Merchants’ Hall
Also on the south side of Münsterplatz is a magnificent Renaissance building constructed as a market storehouse.
The hall is impossible to miss for its crimson facade and glazed patterned tiles on its bay windows.
In its current format, with crow-stepped gables and arcade on the ground floor, the building dates to the start of the 1530s.
The four statues above the access balcony on the facade depict three Holy Roman Emperors, Maximilian I, Charles V and Ferdinand I, as well as Philip I of Castile, son of Maximilian I who died before his father and so never became emperor.
Under the bay windows check out the coats of arms of the five dominions under the control of the House of Habsburg . These, along with the statues were carved by the Renaissance artist Hans Sixt von Staufen.
4. Freiburg Bächle
You can’t spend any time in Freiburg without dodging one of the little waterways in grooves in the Old Town.
These are fed by the Dreisam river and are called Bächle.
They were first recorded in the 1200s and in Medieval times they had a few uses, like helping to fight fires, providing local trades like tanners with water but were also open sewers.
The system of channels adds up to 15.5 kilometres, 6.4 of which is underground.
Now they’re a quaint fixture in the city and help to cool things down in summer.
The legend also goes that if you accidentally step into one you will end up marrying someone from Freiburg.
5. Augustiner Museum
On Augustinerplatz a former Augustinian monastery has been converted into a stylish gallery for art from the Middle Ages to the Baroque.
In the gallery upstairs are works by German Renaissance masters like Matthias Grünewald, Lucas Cranach the Elder and Hans Baldung Grien, as well as paintings from the Speyer Altarpiece by Master of the Housebook.
Original Medieval stained glass from Freiburg Minster is presented on two levels, and a trove of wooden Medieval sculpture is also shown on the upper floor.
Downstairs, the chancel of the abbey church has been reserved for Baroque sculptures, statuettes, paintings and altars, and has solemn carved figures arranged in rows along the pillars.
The younger of Freiburg’s two Medieval gates went up in the middle of the 13th century and is close to the oldest crossing on the Dreisam River.
The tower is three storeys high and built from red sandstone.
The staircase tower and half-timbered extensions are a little later, from the 16th century.
On the town side you can see a Baroque painting from 1672 of a merchant.
This soon became the subject of a legend about the city about a merchant who tried to buy Freiburg with sacks of what he thought was gold but had been replaced with sand and pebbles by his wife.
Above the keystone on the city side of the arch is a Romanesque carving of Boy with Thorn, a motif that goes back to Ancient Greece.
Protecting Freiburg from the east is a 456-metre hill in the Black Forest.
As a handy strategic position Schlossberg was fortified from as early as the 1000s, and though these structures are now in ruins efforts have been made to bring them to life.
One of the main draws now is the Schlossbergbahn, a funicular railway that opened in 2008 and lifts you from the foot of the hill to the top in three minutes flat.
At the summit is the Schlossbergturm, which was erected in 2002 and grants a panoramic view of the city.
And if you follow the line of defences to the southwest side there’s a scenic terrace at Kanonenplatz where you can gaze across a vineyard to the minster.
Freiburg’s New Town Hall and Old Town Hall are in the same compound on the picturesque Rathausplatz.
The Old Town Hall is on the north side and is in the Renaissance style, dating to the end of the 1550s.
On the curved cable above the clock you can make out the double eagle of the Holy Roman Empire, while Freiburg’s various ruling families down the years are honoured with coats of arms tracing the outline of the gable.
The Old Town Hall now houses Freiburg’s tourist office, so you can go inside.
The New Town Hall, is next door, and rather than being a whole new building, it’s actually two Renaissance burgher houses joined together by an arcade.
Stop by at 12:00 when the glockenspiel chimes in the connecting section.
The older of the two city gates is on the southwest side of the Old Town and has stood here in some form since 1202. The first record of the Martinstor is from 1238, but analysis of the timbers has shown they’re a little older.
The gate was an anchor for the Medieval fortifications, but when the French military engineer Vauban redesigned the city’s ramparts in the 1600s it became obsolete.
The lower third of the gate’s tower is all original, while the upper floors date to the turn of the 20th century and were capped with a Late Gothic style roof.
On the city side of the passageway there’s a grim reminder of justice in days gone by, as a plaque commemorates three women burned as witches in the city in 1599.
10. Haus zum Walfisch (Whale House)
This elegant early Renaissance house was ordered by Jakob Villinger von Schönenberg who was the Grand Treasurer to the Holy Roman Emperor.
The house goes back to the 1510s and over the next hundred years accommodated some important personalities.
The Dutch humanist Erasmus visited between 1529 and 1531, while Emperor Ferdinand I used the house around 1562-63. And if you happen to be a fan of art horror director Dario Argento you’ll know the Whale House as the setting for the dance school in Suspiria from 1977.
Baden-Württemberg’s largest animal park is in over 38 hectares on an estate dating back to the 9th century.
In the past the Mundenhof was agricultural land, but over the last 100 years has been bought by the city and turned into a recreation area, and there’s still a peaceful rural ambience in the park.
The zoo opened in 1968, and differs from most as it is a non-profit enterprise that is free to enter and relies on donations.
Most of the animals are native, domestic and working species, kept in open paddocks.
But there are also gibbons, macaques, brown bears, alpacas, llamas, yaks, emus and ostriches.
A former stables has become an aquarium and terrarium, while during the summer the park is nesting ground for storks.
Just around the corner from Martinstor is a culinary attraction best described as an international food court.
There are over 20 stalls preparing specialities from all over the world, so you can try Italian, Chinese, Argentine, Japanese, Indian, Brazilian or Middle Eastern cuisine.
Or since you’re in Germany you can go for something a little more local like Frikadellen (pan-fried meatballs) or Freiburg-style wurst.
The champagne bar adds a festive atmosphere on weekend afternoons, and in the evenings the hall books live music and DJ sets.
13. Alter Friedhof (Old Cemetery)
When Johann Christian Wentzinger passed away in 1797 he left estate to the city on the one condition that his grave would be looked after forever in Freiburg’s Alter Friedhof.
And for that reason the cemetery, which was in use from 1683 to 1872 has been more or less untouched.
Coming here is as much a cultural activity as it is a walk in peaceful nature on the north fringe of the Old Town.
All of Freiburg’s wealthy and noble citizens form the period are buried here, and their tombs and gravestones are works of Baroque and Neoclassical art.
Apart from Wentzinger, you’ll come across historical personalities like Mirabeau’s brother, the father of 19th-century painter Anselm Feuerbach and Felix Mendelssohn’s daughter-in-law.
At this 35-hectare park in the west of Freiburg you’d never guess that until just 35 years ago you’d be standing in the middle of a gravel quarry.
The Seepark grew in stages from the early 1980s and was at the heart of Freiburg’s plans for the 1986 Landesgartenschau (Federal Garden Show). One third of the park’s area is taken up by a lake, which has a jetty where you can rent pedal boats in summer.
In 1990 a 3,600-square-metre Japanese garden was created to symbolise Freiburg’s partnership with the city of Matsuyama.
The Seepark is also equipped with a viewing tower, mini golf course and eco-station.
On Freiburg’s southern horizon is a Black Forest mountain 1,284 metres tall.
Schauinsland is only ten kilometres from the Old Town and is go-to day out for its cable car.
The Schauinslandbahn is the longest cable car in Germany, running for 3.6 kilometres and with a vertical ascent of more than 700 metres.
Normally you won’t have to wait more than a minute for a cabin to arrive, and the journey to the top takes 15 minutes.
The Schauinslandbahn runs in winter and summer, but does close down in adverse weather conditions.
At the mountain summit you can look west to the rounded Vosges and south to the jagged northern peaks of the Alps.