It is said that Freiburg im Briesgau is the sunniest and warmest city in Germany, yet we found the opposite to be true during a visit in the fall. We arrived to snow falling over the charming medieval town and experienced little relief (or sunshine) during our four day stay. The weather, however, did little to dampen the town’s beauty. We wouldn’t hesitate to return.
Freiburg: Exploring the Sunniest City in Germany When It Isn’t Sunny
Freiburg is a university town centrally located in the southwest corner of Germany on the outskirts of the Black Forest. We chose to use Freiburg as a home base for exploring the region as it allowed us to visit nearby Alsace, France and Basel, Switzerland. We stayed just outside of the downtown area, where it was easy to walk to the major attractions the main train station. Unfortunately, the city didn’t provide us with the sunny weather we were hoping for, but as we try to teach our kids, you have to just go with it. Bundle up, put on the snow boots and go! Which is exactly what we did.
We had a car available to us, but it definitely wasn’t necessary for exploring the town. Freiburg promotes itself as one of the birthplaces of the environmental movement, and prides itself on sustainability. Large parts of the city have been designated as pedestrian zones and trams run throughout the city, making transportation for tourists and locals easy to navigate. There’s also a large network of bicycle paths which many residents use to get to and from work.
I imagine Freiburg in the summer is exceptionally charming. The medieval old town is paved in cobblestones and has a network of bächle (small street canals) which children love to jump in and splash about. Unfortunately, inattentive adults can fall victim to these as we witnessed on multiple occasions. Thankfully they are only a few inches deep and about a foot wide, so no one has to worry about drowning.
The main attraction in Freiburg is the Freiburg Münster (cathedral) with its 116 meter spire towering above the town. The building of the cathedral took three centuries to complete (from 1200 to 1515) and features a five ton bell in its belfry dating from 1258. Due to its lengthy construction, the church features many architectural styles from Romanesque to Gothic and its unique spire and stained glass windows are truly a sight to behold. If you have the energy (and the weather is good), make time to climb the tower where you can see some of Germany’s oldest working bells up close. The nearby Augustinermuseum features the original church statues and stained glass as well as famous art work and is worth a visit as well.
There are also three prominent city gate towers to explore from different time periods in Freiburg’s history. There’s the Schwabentor (one of the original towers on the border of the pedestrian area), the Martinstor (the oldest tower from Freiburg’s first fortification built in the early 13th century), and the Breisacher Tor (built in the Baroque style under French occupation in 1677). Visitors might enjoy a city tour explaining not only the history of these gates but the history of the town as well.
In front of the Münster is the Münsterplatz, which holds a daily market featuring local vendors. Here you will find flowers and bread, sausage and jam, brandy and wine. The market is open Monday through Saturday and is a perfect place to gather supplies for a picnic.
As I said, the weather was not the best when we visited, but friends highly recommend the view from Schlossberg. There is a cable car to the top or visitors can hike, but those that undertake the climb to the summit are rewarded with outstanding views of Freiburg and the surrounding countryside. Not only can they see the towering spire of the Münster, but I imagine the red roofs and hills of the Black Forest provide quite a beautiful picture.
In warmer months, tourists and residents alike enjoy sitting in the main squares and along the canals enjoying meals and drinks with friends. We enjoyed having kaffee and kuchen (coffee and cake) with a friend of mine from high school and his family. It was pouring rain outside, but the typical German afternoon ritual allowed us to enjoy some traditional Black Forest cake and cheesecake while the kids played outside in the rain (go figure).
We spent some time strolling the pedestrian friendly streets and window shopping during our time in Freiburg. It was nice to enjoy the street musicians and mingle with the locals as they hurried around preparing for the holiday season. The city was about to kick off their Christmas market and we enjoyed seeing the transformation from a quiet town to a boisterous one on the opening eve of the market.
While it doesn’t seem there is much to explore in Freiburg, the opposite is true. The charm is the medieval town itself and the relaxed atmosphere it offers. There are fabulous restaurants, unique shops, museums, and theaters. It is also a perfect home base for those who want to explore nearby thermal spas, the Black Forest, and Europapark, Germany’s favorite amusement park.
Legend has it if you accidentally step in one of the bächle, you’re destined to return to Freiburg. As they were quite prevalent and the kids loved playing in them, it looks like we’ll be making a return trip.