At the start of the 18th century Duke Eberhard Louis of Württemberg built an “Ideal City” up the Neckar River from Stuttgart to cement his absolute power. A Baroque urban plan was put into action, with a grid system of streets around a monumental market square. By the time Eberhard Louis passed away in 1733 his namesake city already had 6,000 residents.
Three centuries later Ludwigsburg is still a city of palaces, ruled by Eberhard Louis’ 452-room Residenzschloss, and constellated by summer retreats and hunting lodges. You won’t help but be intoxicated by Ludwigsburg’s glamorous Baroque and Rococo design, parterre gardens, classical concerts and exhibitions of period art and handicrafts.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Ludwigsburg:
1. Residenzschloss Ludwigsburg
Between 1704 and 1733 Eberhard Louis, Duke of Württemberg built himself a Baroque palace of outlandish dimensions, and it would be one of the largest of the period in Germany.
One look and you’ll know that the palace and its endless grounds were inspired by Versailles.
There are more than 450 rooms in the building, and the subsequent Dukes or Kings of Württemberg left a spectrum of architecture and interior design, from Baroque to Rococo to Neoclassical.
The best of the original Baroque decor can be found in the glorious marble salon in the hunting pavilion, embellished with pilasters.
The theatre is also breathtaking, as is the Italianate Baroque chapel, which holds the tombs of three generations of the royal line.
There are also three museums in the palace, for fashion, ceramics and painting, all of which we’ll mention below.
2. Blühendes Barock
Schloss Ludwigsburg is enclosed on three sides by 30 hectares of gardens with French, English and Medieval designs.
The most distinguished is the French parterre immediately south of the palace.
This has straight paths between geometric lawns, broderie, topiaries, arbours and perfectly trimmed hedges arriving at a central circular lake with fountains.
That Baroque style is repeated in the north garden beside Schloss Favorite where there’s yet more dainty broderie on white beds trimmed with flowers.
Go east and that rigid structure is left behind for a boundless English landscape park, with vintage amusements like a Russian swing, merry-go-round and boating lake.
And lastly, on the lower east side there’s a Medieval garden with Romantic follies.
3. Das Modemuseum (Fashion Museum)
A branch of the Landesmuseum Württemberg, the fashion museum is set in the palace’s banquet hall.
In chronological order there are more than 700 pieces of clothing for women, men and children from the 18th to the 20th century.
Shoes, hats, stockings, bodices and the wildly elaborate dresses of the Rococo court indicate the social changes, and the progress of fabrics, dress-making and tailoring.
Among the leading names with pieces at the museum are the Victorian fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth, as well as Paul Poiret, Christian Dior and Coco Chanel.
4. Schloss Favorite
Moments up the slope from Residenzschloss Ludwigsburg is the Baroque hunting lodge and summer residence ordered in the 1710s by Eberhard Louis, Duke of Württemberg.
The palace, with balustrades, stone vases and statues was restored in 1980 and is open for 20-minute tours of its exuberant interiors.
These were redecorated in the Neoclassical style, with abundant stuccowork and frescoes, by King Frederick I. Only one room was left in Eberhard Louis’ original Baroque style.
And as it was a hunting lodge the palace opens onto a 72-hectare park, which is now a wildlife reserve for fallow deer and mouflons.
5. Das Keramikmuseum (Ceramics Museum)
The sizeable royal ceramic collection is also presented in the Residenzschloss.
You’ll admire stoneware, porcelain and faience from many of the German speaking world’s foremost manufactories of the 18th and 19th centuries.
These include Berlin, Nymphenburg, Vienna, Meißen, as well as right here in Ludwigsburg.
There are plates, figurines, vases in glass showcases and unprotected on long galleries with parquet floors and chandeliers, while the audio-guide will explain the origin and story of each piece.
The museum also puts on exhibitions of contemporary ceramics.
In the centre of Ludwigsburg’s pre-planned latticework of intersecting streets is the spacious marketplace, built in the 1710s.
This symmetrical square measures 110 metres by 80 and was carefully plotted to be much higher than the Residenzschloss, which is close by to the northeast.
On the square’s margins are arcaded houses and the Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity and the Protestant Town Church, which face off against each other across the square.
At the very centre is the fountain with a statue of city founder Duke Eberhard Louis.
7. Seeschloss Monrepos
In the 1750s Duke Charles Eugene built himself a summer residence a few kilometres northwest of Schloss Ludwigsburg and Schloss Favorite, but linking to those properties via stately pedestrian avenues.
On what had been Eberhard Louis’ hunting lodge, Charles Eugune created a sumptuous lakeside palace.
This Rococo masterpiece is the only property that the Württemberg royal line kept hold of after it was removed in 1918, and is still a private home today.
But the trip from Ludwigsburg is more than worthwhile for the boating lake in front and the restaurant in the grounds.
During the Ludwigsburg Festival from May to July there are regular chamber music concerts and fireworks in this fabulous setting.
8. Märchengarten (Fairytale Garden)
One corner of the Blühendes Barock that merits a separate mention is the fairytale garden in the Ostgarten (East Garden). This was created after 1959 when the head gardener Albert Schöchle discovered a Dutch fairytale garden near Tilburg.
There are more than 40 imaginatively rendered scenes from fairytales in the garden.
Little ones can marvel at the Rapunzel tower, see the throne of the lily king, find out where the frog prince lives and float off down the “fairytale stream” . The Märchengarten is a little world of princes and princesses, with a cast of cheeky goblins and other mythical creatures.
When Duke Carl Eugene built a six-kilometre long wall around Ludwigsburg between 1758 and 1763 he constructed gatehouses to control the entrances to the city.
Of the remaining six gatehouses, five are identical, with a mansard roof and arcade on the ground floor.
Almost all have been turned into little museums, like the Asperger Torhaus, which has an exhibition about the history of the Ludwigsburg garrison.
The Schorndorfer Torhaus deals with the post-war investigations into National Socialist crimes, while there’s a small film museum in the Aldinger Torhaus and the Stuttgarter Torhaus an exhibition about the Kuhländchen area in Sudentenland, now in eastern Czechia.
10. Alter Friedhof
Ludwigsburg’s old cemetery has a few occupants that resonate throughout history.
In the cool shade there are memorials for the First and Second World Wars and plots reserved for the city’s most esteemed dignitaries from the 19th and 20th centuries.
As there hasn’t been a burial here for decades, the Alter Friedhof is now a historical monument.
The most famous name is Wilhelm II, the last king of Württemberg, who passed away in 1921. He is with his first wife Marie and second wife Charlotte.
The most imposing of all the monuments is the Neoclassical mausoleum for Johann Karl von Zeppelin, the imperial count and minister of state who died in 1801.
The last of the museums in the Residenzschloss, and no less worthy of a visit, is the collection of German and Italian painting from the 17th and 18th centuries.
A big portion of these works were collected by the Dukes and Kings of Württemberg, and they’re displayed together with around 90 Italian, Spanish and French works from the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.
One painter to keep on your radar is Johann Heinrich Schönfeld, and make sure to see his masterpiece titled “Schatzgräbern” (treasure hunters).
In the oppressive confines of the former Ludwigsburg prison is an often grisly exhibition of artefacts for corrections and justice.
You can experience what it was like to be a prisoner in a preserved cell from 1930, and also see all the things that former prisoners created with time on their hands: There are model ships, sets of miniature furniture, chess pieces, and Christian icons fashioned from toothpaste tubes.
Much more alarming though are items like a genuine executioner’s sword, pillory, leather straitjacket, flogging table and two guillotines, one from Berlin and the other from Karlsruhe.
13. Ludwigsburg Museum
The city museum documents Ludwigsburg’s many sides, as a royal residence, an industrial city, a hotbed for the arts and as a garrison.
You’ll begin with memorabilia from the reigns of Eberhard Louis and Charles Eugene, and copper engravings and early graphics of the various castles in the city.
There are also more details about the design of Ludwigsburg as an Ideal City, with plans, maps and insights into the people who settled here in the 1720s.
You can then read up on the many literary figures tied to Ludwigsburg in the 18th century, like Friedrich Schiller who spent five years of his childhood here.
The city has also had a hand in some world-changing inventions, and you’ll learn about its connection to Barbie dolls, Viagra, Aspirin and powdered chicory coffee!
14. Ludwigsburg Festival
From May to July Ludwigsburg puts on one of the oldest cultural festivals in the German-speaking world.
The Ludwigsburg Festival dates back to 1932 and has a high-brow programme of music, dance, literature and theatre in the sumptuous environs of the Residenzschloss, which is the headquarters for the festival.
But there are also performances around Blühendes Barock, the Seeschloss and further afield at palaces and monasteries around Baden-Württemberg.
And it’s the concerts that garner the most attention as some of the top soloists, ensembles, orchestras and conductors are invited.
Recently Martha Argerich, the Orchestre National de France, John Eliot Gardiner and Cecila Bartoli have all performed.
15. Barock Weihnachtsmarkt
In December a Baroque-themed Christmas Market lights up the market square in Ludwigsburg.
More than 180 stalls are set up in this beautiful space, framed by the two Baroque churches and arcades.
These sell handicrafts like glass tree decorations, traditional wooden toys, hand-knitted socks, slippers, carved wooden figurines from the Ore mountains and lovingly decorated Lebkuchen (gingerbread). There’s a program of concerts in the square and fun for youngsters in the form of puppet shows, clowns and magic.
For a treat you can indulge in some popcorn, roasted chestnuts, bratwurst, or a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream or Glühwein (mulled wine).