In the vine-decked Neckar Valley, Stuttgart is the capital of the state of Baden-Württemberg. For hundreds of years until the 19th century the city was the seat of the Counts and then the Kings of Württemberg, and they left behind royal palaces for that have become government buildings and museums.
Stuttgart was also the city of car-making royalty, as the place where the first car and motorcycle were invented by Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler respectively. The headquarters for both Mercedes-Benz and Porsche are in Stuttgart and the stylish new museums for both brands are not to be missed. These are a couple of examples of Stuttgart’s head-turning architecture, joined by an Art Nouveau market hall, a house by Le Corbusier and a state-of-the-art new library.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Stuttgart:
This excellent art museum started out in 1843 and is still partly set within its original Neoclassical building.
In the 1980s the architect James Stirling helped raise the museum’s profile with an ambitious Post-Modern extension.
The newer annexe holds 20th-century art by Matisse, Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Franz Marc, Piet Mondrian and Joan Miró.
The original building is filled with painting and sculpture up to the 1800s, with a particular interest in the Renaissance and Baroque masters like Rubens, Rembrandt and Hans Memling.
A couple of masterpieces to keep in mind are the Corpse of Christ by Annibale Carracci and Jerg Ratgeb’s 16th-century Herrenberger Altar.
2. Mercedes-Benz Museum
Visiting the Mercedes-Benz Museum, in a curved metallic building with a double helix, is partly a journey back to the birth of the automobile.
Karl Benz invented what is considered the first true car in 1886. The double helix design allows for two parallel audio-guided tours; one dipping into the distinguished history of the brand, and the other showing the great diversity of vehicles manufactured by Mercedes-Benz.
And because of that double helix design you can swap from one tour to the other at any moment.
The two routes converge when you arrive in the present day and size up the brand’s 21st-century innovations.
In all there are 160 vehicles and 1,500 or more exhibits.
3. Porsche Museum
At Zuffenhausen, a little way up the road from Stuttgart, are the headquarters of another automobile brand of international fame.
The Porsche Museum has been around since the 70s but got a stylish redesign ten years ago and reopened in 2009. The museum uncovers the early days of the brand, and recounts the many innovations of engineer and founder, Professor Ferdinand Porsche, the man who invented the VW Beetle and the first gasoline-electric hybrid.
There are multi-sensual, interactive displays, like a new sound installation you can control and a “touch wall”. Timeless classics like 356, 911 and 917 are just some of an 80-strong fleet of vehicles at the museum.
What’s great is that nearly all are in driving condition and are transported around the world for heritage races; you can even look inside the workshop where they’re maintained.
4. Wilhelma Zoological-Botanical Garden
This much-loved zoo and botanical garden is in the north of Stuttgart on the grounds of a royal palace.
The Wilhelma was first landscaped as a pleasure park during the reign of William I, and he picked a Moorish Revival theme for the royal bathhouse, which is a miniature version of the Alhambra in Granada.
The park opened to the public in 1880 and was rebuilt as a zoo following damage in the war.
There are more than 1,000 species at the zoo, exceeded only by the Berlin Zoo.
Drawing the most attention are the many great apes like chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans.
The steamy Amazon House is also special, growing 2,000 plant species among habitats for mammals, reptiles and fish.
And then there’s the botanical garden, which has Europe’s largest magnolia grove, thousands of orchid species and dozens of varieties of camellia and azalea.
Landscaped for a horticultural show in 1939, the Killesbergark is 50 hectares of gardens, fountains and sculptures in a former quarry on high ground in a northern borough of Stuttgart.
Eighty years later the park continues to host gardening events, and its Tal der Rosen “Valley of Roses” is a wonder in summer, as are the 200 dahlia varieties.
There’s a catalogue of public art in the park bringing both whimsy and sophistication.
Most eye-catching being the Killesbergturm, which we’ll come to next.
Children are also very well catered for: They can feed donkeys, ponies and goats at the farm, and in summer ride both a narrow-gauge steam railway and a diesel-powered tram.
The most memorable thing in the Killesbergturm is a 40-metre cable-stayed tower by the structural engineer Jörg Schlaich.
The award-winning, cone-shaped structure opened in 2000. Two sets of stairs in a double helix format lead to four platforms at 8, 16, 24 and 31 metres.
Combined with the high ground, it leaves you with a supreme, far-reaching view of the city and Neckar Valley.
The tower is safe, but when the wind blows you’ll feel it swaying in the breeze, which can be a bit unnerving if you’re wobbly when it comes to heights.
In the heart of Stuttgart, this square effuses power and gravitas.
A lot of that comes from the facade of the Neues Schloss, the Classical seat of the kings of Württemberg and HQ for ministries of the Baden-Württemberg state government.
The space in front has been a private pleasure garden and parade ground in its time, but today is a place for the people of Stuttgart to gather for open-air concerts or when there’s something big to celebrate.
A few steps back is a formal garden embellished with fountains and a monumental column for William I. On the south side is the Gothic Old Palace for the Counts of Württemberg, now the state museum, and to the north is the unmissable cupola of the Kunstgebäude, built for the Württemberg Art Association in the 1910s.
8. Kunstmuseum Stuttgart
On the southwest corner of Schlossplatz is a modern landmark.
The facade of the Kunstmuseum changes depending on when you pass by.
By day it’s a large, reflective glass cube.
But when the interior is illuminated at night you can see the limestone walls behind the glass.
The design of the galleries inside is also exciting as they make use of a 5,000 square-metre system of disused tunnels in a subtle and imaginative way.
The museum was born in 1924 on the back of a donation by Count Silvio della Valle di Casanova and covers Swabian, German and Swiss art from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Look for the works by the Realist and early Modernist Adolf Hölzel, and the Concrete Artist Dieter Roth.
Otto Dix takes centre stage though, for his Portrait of the Dancer Anita Berber from 1925.
9. Solitude Palace
Posted on a ridge to the west of Stuttgart is a residence and hunting retreat commissioned by the 18th-centruty Duke of Württemberg, Charles Eugene.
Solitude Palace is the Stuttgart equivalent to Berlin’s Sanssouci, a peaceful escape from court life, and the duke oversaw almost every aspect of the design.
You can see for miles from the top of this ridge, and at the northern gate watch the arrow-straight Solitudeallee extend all the way to the royal palace at Ludwigsburg 13 kilometres in the distance.
The palace has Rococo and Neoclassical architecture, and is enriched with glorious ceiling frescoes by the Frenchman Nicolas Guibal.
The best bit is the Weisse Saal (White Hall), under the palace’s striking central dome.
To get some real shopping done, go to the 1.2-kilometre boulevard leading diagonally through Stuttgart-Mitte.
Königstraße has been pedestrianised since 1977, and in 2014 received 12,795 visitors per hour, making it the third most frequented shopping street in Germany.
Nine out of ten shops on the street belong to chains, and all the usual names are on hand (Uniqlo, Zara, H&M). Königstraße has long been held in high regard by Stuttgart’s citizens, and once had residences for members of the Württemberg court.
Its current route was plotted by King Friedrich at the start of the 19th century when he relocated his stables and the Eberhardskirche to this street from Solitude Palace.
11. Württemberg Mausoleum
You can catch the bus or S-Bahn to Untertürkheim in the east of Stuttgart, where there’s a solemn royal memorial standing over rows of vines above the Neckar Valley.
The Württemberg Mausoleum was built by William I at the start of the 1820s following the death of his wife Catherine Pavlovna of Russia.
The memorial is in the Palladian style and is the resting place of Catherine, William and their daughter Marie Friederike Charlotte von Württemberg.
The chapel is open in the summer for sightseeing, and has dreamy vistas of Stuttgart.
Above the western entrance reads the inscription “Die Liebe höret nimmer auf“, “Love never ceases”. The family tombs are in the crypt, and the space below the dome produces a haunting echo.
12. Weissenhof Estate
In 1927 world’s leading architects were invited to design 21 buildings for the Deutscher Werkbund exhibition (German Association of Craftsmen). The project was overseen by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and the estate is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of the 11 surviving buildings.
Sadly the remaining ten, including designs by Walter Gropius and Hans Poelzig, were claimed by the war, but what has been left is an unrivalled document of avant-garde architecture.
There are buildings by Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Peter Behrens and Jacobus Oud, all in one place.
Le Corbusier’s building was intended as a showcase for his International style, and this pair of semi-detached houses has since become a museum.
They have his trademark clean lines, demonstrating the technical possibilities created by materials like steel, concrete and glass to increase airflow and the amount of natural light inside.
One of the semi-detached houses is a museum about the Weissenhof Estate, with lots of interesting details like plans, models and contemporary photos of the buildings that have been lost.
The other house has been left as Le Corbusier intended, complying with his “Five Points” and equipped with stowaway beds, sliding doors and a roof terrace.
The collegiate church in the Innenstadt has the same outline as a church constructed much earlier, in the 900s.
The oldest architecture on the current building is Romanesque style and from the 13th century, with later extensions in an Early Gothic (nave) and then High Gothic style (choir). The current church was built by the 13th-century Count Ulrich I, who resided close by at the Old Castle.
In the chapel of the south tower are tombs for him and his wife Agnes von Schlesien-Liegnitz.
After Ulrich I, and until 1677, the chancel became the burial place for every count of Württemberg . On the north wall is a row of memorial statues for all 11 counts, all sculpted during the Renaissance in 1574.
15. Linden Museum
Stuttgart has what many consider to be the finest ethnological museum in Europe.
The artefacts gathered from Africa, the Far East, Oceania and North and Latin America are like a trip around the world under one roof.
The pieces span hundreds of years and include Indian sculptures going back to the 700s, a 19th-century Native American transformation mask and 800-year old sculptures from Japan’s Kamakura Dynasty.
The collection has been assembled in stages since the 1800s, and now the museum’s aim is to showcase the beauty of other cultures, stimulate debate and promote understanding.
The city’s central market hall is a part of many people’s daily routine, even after total destruction in the war and then a fire in the 1990s.
As a gourmet destination the Markthalle has stalls selling specialty foods and exotic treats alongside staples like meat, cheese, vegetables, wine, confectionery and flowers.
The Markthalle was built in 1914 and has a graceful Art Nouveau design.
You don’t even need to look for anything in particular to appreciate the building and its soaring roof, immaculately presented stalls, bustling atmosphere and the scent of spices and freshly prepared food.
You can take it all in from the gallery on the first floor where there’s an Italian restaurant.
17. Stadtbibliothek am Mailänder Platz
The new central library hall opened close to the Hauptbahhof in 2011 and was designed by South Korean architect Eun Young Yi.
The architecture and ethereal white interior put this on the list of things you have to see in Stuttgart.
The cube-shaped exterior is inconspicuous, apart from at night when its panels are illuminated.
But go in (entrance is free) and you’ll step into a huge, cathedral-like hollow space lit from above by a glass roof.
The bookshelves and reading areas line the walls and there’s an almost bewildering system of stairways linking each floor.
Go to the very top and there’s a cafe in the attic with clear views of Stuttgart.
Lots of Modernist television towers sprouted across Germany in the middle of the 20th century, but Stuttgart’s was the first, and its reinforced concrete construction would be replicated many times.
Topped off at 216 metres, the tower was completed by 1956 at an eye-watering cost of 4.2 million marks.
That sum would be recouped by the start of the 1960s through ticket sales.
You can see what the fuss was about by taking the lift to the observation decks at 150 metres.
The tower stays open until 23:00 in summer, and the sunset and Stuttgart’s lights are well worth the entry fee if you pick a clear day.
In the daytime you can relish the views with a cup of coffee and a pastry at the cafe.
The highest hill in Stuttgart is partly man-made.
Birkenkopf is a literal mountain of rubble cleared from the ruins of the city following Allied bombing in the Second World War.
That masonry added an extra 40 metres to a hill that now crests at 511 metres above sea level and has a prominence of around 300 metres over the Neckar River.
A walk to the top is an opportunity to reflect on the war, and a large piece of rubble beside at the summit has a plaque stating that the hill is a memorial to the dead and a warning to the living.
At the top you can see as far as the Black Forest and the Swabian Jura.
20. Landesmuseum Württemberg
In the Old Castle on Schlossplatz is a museum about the art, handicrafts, archaeology and ethnography of the state of Baden-Württemberg.
An intriguing fact about the collections is that they derive from the royal cabinets of curiosity first assembled in the 1500s.
In the underground vaults is an astounding assortment of Renaissance clocks, and you can go from there to the Ernesto Wolf Collection, which has gathered an array of glass encompassing four millennia.
Further up you can view the Crown Jewels of Württemberg, medieval sacred art and a marvellous variety of Celtic artefacts, like weapons, jewellery, tools and cookware.
And from the royal cabinet of curiosities are two of the world’s four surviving Aztec feather shields, a card game dating to 1430 and a celestial globe designed by the 15th-century astronomer Johannes Stöffler.
The Mercedes-Benz Museum is in a 55-hectare complex for events, entertainment and sport on the right bank of the Neckar River.
As well as the museum, the Neckarpark contains the Mercedes-Benz Arena, home stadium of the football team, VfB Stuttgart.
Also in the park is the Porsche-Arena, for high-profile indoor sports, and various exhibition halls and sports facilities.
There are three sports teams and 12 sporting associations based in the park.
Try to come when there’s something big on, because the Neckarpark really kicks into top gear during a citywide event.
The largest of these are the three-week Cannstatter Volksfest in Autumn, and the Frühlingsfest (Spring Festival), in late-April/early-May.
22. Standseilbahn Stuttgart
In Heslach to the southwest of Stuttgart there’s an elegant funicular railway shuttling up the slope from the Südheimer Platz U-Bahn station to the Stuttgart Degerloch cemetery.
The railway line is part of the public transport network, has heritage protection, and its cars are made from dark teakwood.
When it was complete in 1929 the Standseilbahn was the first semi-automatic cable railway in Europe.
Those two handsome cars are originals, even if one had to be restored after being hit by a tree in 1999. The trip to the top takes four minutes, and drops you off at a graveyard in the forest.
You could use the upper station as a starting point for a walk in the woods.
23. Gottlieb Daimler Memorial
Car aficionados can’t afford to miss this piece of automotive history on Taubenheimstraße.
The Gottlieb Daimler Memorial is the large shed where Daimler and fellow engineer Wilhelm Maybach worked tirelessly in the 1880s to develop a liquid petroleum engine that he hoped could power vehicles on land, water and even in the air.
It was here that they invented the first light sprinting motor, as well as a two-wheeled “riding wagon”, the first ever motorcycle and the “Neckar”, the first ever motorboat.
By 1887 the workshop had become too small and the pair relocated to a factory.
The old atmosphere of a workshop has been recreated, and there are models, photos, sketches, diagrams and a reproduction of that riding wagon.
24. Cannstatter Volksfest
For three weeks between September and October the Neckarpark Stuttgart puts on the second largest beer festival in the world, after Munich’s Oktoberfest.
The Cannstatter Volksfest began as a harvest festival to revitalise the city following a disastrous crop failure in the Year Without a Summer in 1816. This has burgeoned into a large-scale beer festival and funfair.
Seven huge tents seat thousands of revellers, and are named after the breweries that supply the beer.
The Fruchtsäule, a 26-metre column adorned with fruit, is at the heart of the celebrations and harks back to the time of the Württemberg monarchy.
And as for the funfair and market, you may never have seen something on this scale before.
There are 60 or more stalls, dozens of amusement stands, up to 100 places serving food, and all manner of rides like rollercoasters, carousels and Ferris wheels.
25. Stuttgart Christmas Market
There are no half measures in Stuttgart at Christmas time either.
Beginning on the last Thursday of November the centre of the city at Schloßplatz.
All the streets and squares north and west are overrun with hundreds of stalls.
Each open space has something different going on.
So at the Renaissance Courtyard of the Old Palace there are dignified concerts for seasonal classical music, while Schloßplatz itself is a winter wonderland with a fairytale theme, miniature railway and skating rink.
Stuttgart’s Christmas tradition is one of the oldest in Europe, dating back to 1692.