The small student town of Freiburg im Breisgau, as its full name is, would hardly appear as a main destination in the plans of tourists. But when you find yourself in southwestern Germany, it’s definitely worth stopping by for a stroll through its charming medieval center. Its location makes it the sunniest city in the country, the modern ecological districts – the greenest and perhaps because of this combination it is defined as one of the most comfortable for living German cities, with some of the highest levels of happiness and quality of life!
Where is located, how to get there and where to stay
Freiburg im Breisgau is part of the state of Baden-Württemberg and is located at the western foothills of the Black Forest Mountain (Schwarzwald). It’s very close to the borders with France and Switzerland, and they share one airport with the cities of Mulhouse and Basel – EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg. We landed about 100 km to the north – in Baden Baden and with a rental car we arrived in about 1 hour. Despite the well-developed railway and bus transport, I recommend you to rent a car as the fastest and most convenient way to get around!
Parking around the city isn’t difficult at all, as HERE you can find an interactive map showing all the parking lots and the current free spaces in them. We used the underground parking Parkhaus Karlsbau, which is very close to the old town.
See car rental options in Freiburg
The main goal of our trip was the Alsace region of France and we didn’t plan to stay overnight in Freiburg, but the city is both lively and extremely quiet, making it a great place to stay, with plenty of hotel options.
See places to stay in FreiburgBooking.com
The Christmas market at Rathausplatz
Visiting Freiburg in December, the first place we head to is the Christmas market! It starts from the area around Unterlinden and expands to Rathausplatz – the square around the new and old town halls (Neues Rathaus and Altes Rathaus). The two Renaissance buildings are among the main attractions in the city, and a curious fact is that the new town hall is actually the older one, but it belonged to the university until 1891, while the old town hall has been functioning as such since 1559. Nowadays, they have the same purpose, namely for administrative aims.
All around them are the wooden Christmas chalets of the Weihnachtsmarkt! They offer a huge variety of typical German delicacies, aromatic mulled wine, sweet treats and wonderful handmade Christmas gifts. The mock-ups of half-timbered houses were impressive, and there was an opportunity to try writing with a quill or make our own candle!
The daily market and the famous wursts
We loaded up with a dose of Christmas spirit, but we also needed to eat. Despite all the aromatic offerings at the bazaar, we had headed to the main square (Münsterplatz) and the daily market to try Meier’s famous Lange Rote wursts. This is a regional sausage that is a grilled red sausage, 35 cm long, served in a fluffy bun and with the option of an additional garnish of onion and mustard. If there’s one must-do in Freiburg, it’s to try this family-run stall dating back to 1949! We also try and the currywurst… it was uniquely delicious!
The daily farmer’s market is a fixture of the main square’s landscape until noon, except on Sundays, and you can find stalls selling food, wine, fruit, flowers, herbs and many others… We liked a few teas to take home.
Fragrant cappuccino and Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte
We’ll return to the square again, but slightly frozen, we sneak into the Sam’s Café to drink an aromatic cappuccino with a piece of the region’s most famous cake – Blac Forest (Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte). The place is very cozy inside, but we barely managed to find a free table upstairs… Black Forest cake is one of Germany’s most popular and beloved desserts, and its exact origins have different stories. We enjoyed a juicy and tasty piece soaked in the secret ingredient – cherry brandy!
Around the central square Münsterplatz
Encouraged and with new strength, we go out to the cobblestone square Münsterplatz, where almost all the sellers have already left… It’s surrounded by beautiful historic buildings, most of which were reconstructed after the Second World War, due to the devastating bombing of Freiburg. Undoubtedly the most beautiful of all is the Merchant’s Hall (Historisches Kaufhaus) with its bright red facade, richly decorated with golden elements and beautiful towers. It was built around 1532 and was once used to store goods, and today hosts all kinds of events throughout the year. Other more interesting buildings are the city museum (Museum für Stadtgeschichte) and the Alte Wache winery, where you can taste local wine specialties.
More about Freiburg
The history of the city started around the 11th century and is closely connected with kings, bishops, dukes and influential families. The official year of establishment is 1120, when a free trade settlement was established in the southern part of today’s old town. This is where the name itself comes from: “frei” – free and “burg” – town. Its strategic trading location, close proximity to the Rhine River and the mines of the Black Forest Mountain have aided its development over the centuries.
The city has always been the subject of struggles between various empires and states trying to assert control over the region. The Second World War caused huge damage to the infrastructure, and the locals decided not to renew the environment, but to restore all the buildings and streets through their original vision.
Besides being home to one of Germany’s oldest universities, Freiburg is also among the greenest cities in the country. Bicycles are the main form of transportation for locals, and energy-efficient buildings have become the norm. The city’s newest city hall is the first public building in the world to generate more energy than it consumes. It can be said that here the Middle Ages and the future go hand in hand…
Freiburg Cathedral – Freiburg Münster
You can’t help but notice in the center of the square the most popular landmark of Freiburg – the Cathedral (Freiburg Münster), which miraculously remained intact during the war! The construction of the impressive temple began around 1200, and the originally planned Romanesque style changed significantly to Gothic when the main part was completed in 1330. Inside, the exquisite stained glass windows, donated by the various medieval guilds, whose symbols you can see woven into the paintings, are impressive. Beautiful statues, tall columns and altars complete the interior.
Entrance is free, but you have to pay a ticket if you decide to climb the steps of the 116m high west tower… She is definitely the most impressive part of the visit, and its 46-meter spire is the first built with a completely openwork structure in the European history of Gothic architecture. The view from above is also worth it… You can see the tall modern buildings or the roofs of the whole old town, and why not the funicular to the nearby Schlossberg hill…
The famous water channels
I’m sure the first thing you’d notice in Freiburg would be the so-called Bächle. These narrow canals have become one of the most interesting local features. In the past, they supplied the city with fresh water from the nearby Dreisam River and were also useful in case of fires. Today, they are mainly used to cool off during the summer months and are perfect for entertaining children, as almost every souvenir shop sells small boats with ropes. There is also no shortage of rubber boots, with which you can jump to your heart’s content. But also keep in mind the popular legend that any single person who happens to step into the water will marry a local!
Through the streets of the old town (Altstadt)
The walk continues with a pleasant wandering through the pedestrian streets of the old town. A huge part of the charm of Freiburg is due to them and the spacious squares. One of the most beautiful streets is the overgrown with greenery Konviktstraße. Nearby is the corner square Oberlinden square and the well-preserved 13th-century Schwabentor city gate. It’s a pleasure to stay there for a while and watch the trams passing through her…
We head to another of the main city squares – Augustinerplatz. In the summer, it is one of the favorite meeting places of the locals because the rush of people is significantly less. It’s surrounded by colorful buildings and cafes, and it is also home to one of the city’s main museums (Augustiner Museum), which houses famous works of art, as well as original stained glass windows and statues from the Cathedral. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go in, but if you have the time and museums pique your interest, you might want to add it to your plan.
We continue to the sophisticated and lined with great local shops Gerberau, past the quiet square in front of the Adelhauser Neukloster monastery and along the almost entirely canal-occupied Fischerau. Our walk ends around the older of the two well-preserved former city gates Martinstor (1202) and the lively Bertoldsbrunnen square, a crossroads for much of Freiburg’s transport.