Home / World Tourism / Baden-Baden: The Leisure Capital of Germany’s Black Forest

Baden-Baden: The Leisure Capital of Germany’s Black Forest


Nothing quite matches a good old-fashioned spa town like Baden-Baden. And by old-fashioned, I mean really old-fashioned—or rather, “exceptionally storied.”

Roman soldiers garrisoned in what is now the state of Baden-Wurttemberg in Southwest Germany noticed the warmth emanating from the underground hot springs as early as the third century, and word spread so widely that even Emperor Caracalla came to the area to take advantage of the waters.

Ruins of the Roman baths exist today, virtually underneath their more modern incarnations. Visitors can wander through ancient stone pilings while fanning themselves from the effects of the geothermal heat. Up a set of stone steps nearby is a fountain where the springs naturally dribble forth. The mineral-rich water doesn’t meet EU standards for drinking, but residents and visitors have been doing it for centuries.

“Baden,” by the way, is an Old German plural noun for “baths” (in Modern German “Baden” is the verb “to bathe”). The extra “Baden” was added to distinguish the town from other similarly named spa towns in German-speaking Europe, and as a nod to the state of Baden-Wurttemberg (rather akin to New York, New York).

Visitors bent on immersion in the waters have two options: the glorious antique Friedrichsbad or the modern Caracalla Spa. The primary difference between the two is that bathing at Friedrichsbad is done nude, while swimsuits are worn at Caracalla, which is closer to a modern family waterpark.

Friedrichsbad was famously visited and written about by Mark Twain; his quip that “you lose track of time within ten minutes and the world and track of the world within twenty” certainly proved true. Bathers are segregated by sex certain days of the week and mixed on others (Valentine’s Day is always mixed bathing regardless of the day of week), but regardless of the day, the pinnacle in the process is shared by all bathers—a multistory cupola-topped pool.

Imagine floating naked in a pool in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. It’s like that. There’s also a series of hot air, steam and water baths with similarly ornate decoration, lit by skylights, and a station where bathers lay out on stone tables to be scrubbed and soaped down by efficient staff who signal the end of their services with two Teutonic slaps on the posterior.

It’s easy to see why the crowned heads of Europe have loved Baden-Baden throughout the centuries. In addition to the waters, the town is nestled in a gorgeous little mountain valley in the Black Forest that’s generally blessed with mild, sunny weather and fresh mountain air.

The town has also attracted a following among Russians, starting with Princess Louise of Baden who became Czarina of Russia in 1801 and frequently returned to the city for vacations. The huge entourages of Russians and name recognition among the elite kicked off a Russian infatuation with the city that continues to this day. There are a number of Russian Orthodox churches in town, and visitors wishing to take in the splendor of the Romanovs can check out the collection at the Fabergé Museum.

Outdoor lovers can take a funicular railway to the peak at Merkurberg (Merkur Mountain, named for the Roman God Mercury), where there’s a pleasant outdoor café, barbecue area, and hiking trails. It’s tempting to spend a day sitting outside and enjoying views of the town and valley (Strasbourg, France is visible in the distance on a clear day) while watching base jumpers float off the slopes into the air.

A similarly languid atmosphere permeates the town itself. A border town with international character, French joie de vivre is a clear influence, with tree-lined streets and smart cafes. The Lichtentaler Allee is two miles of greenery with diverse greenery (including a handful of sequoia imported from the United States) running from the center of town to the Cistercian abbey. One can almost feel the spirit of the 19th century when the most favored recreation was a good long garden promenade.

The babble of a brook and cool shade of the trees makes comfortable even the warmest summer day, and sights historic and modern please the eye. The city’s rose garden is a pleasant interlude among the grand hotels that front the path, museums and other attractions also dot the promenade.

There’s the Museum Frieder Burda, which has one of the largest collections of modern art in Germany, including works by Picasso and German Expressionists. Frequent visiting collections can also be seen; during our visit, it was a selection of works from the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Next door is the Theatre Baden-Baden, built in the 1860s and modeled on the Paris Opera. The interior has been retrofitted with modern technology while keeping the original design and aesthetic intact. It’s also a popular event space and a scenic view from the rooms at the Atlantic Park Hotel across the street. With horse-drawn carriages clopping by it doesn’t take much to imagine oneself in to be in the peak years of the belle epoque.

Further down into town is a shopping arcade and Casino Baden-Baden, which Marlene Dietrich once called “the most beautiful casino in the world.” A look inside proves her right, with thick red carpet and massive chandeliers presiding over classic table games and plush bar and grill. Jackets and long pants are required for gentlemen, and there’s a nominal entrance fee.

Those wishing to take in the splendor of the casino but not wishing to dress up for gaming can take a daytime tour. Tours are essential for anybody wanting selfies or a photo inside the gaming parlors—photography is prohibited once the roulette wheels start spinning in the afternoons. The casino also has a separate slot parlor for which there is no specific dress code.

Are you interested in traveling here for work or vacation? Travel agents have access to huge savings you’d never find booking on your own. Enter your email below and one of our expert travel agents will be happy to help you save money!

During the summer, the gardens and open spaces opposite the casino are filled with outdoor food stalls and shaded tables for visitors to enjoy live music as part of the Baden-Baden Summer Nights series which sends the strains of everything from Michael Jackson to Queen echoing through the streets. The shopping arcade is also where visitors will find the Baden-Baden tourist office, for information and help with planning their time in town.

Many North American tourists spend a half-day or day in Baden-Baden, typically from a river cruise, but there’s so much more to experience in the city than just a walking tour and a trip to ogle the casino. A three-day visit felt all too brief. Perhaps the best advice for visitors to this charming town is to fully embrace the slow-burning leisure and relaxation that’s attracted travelers for centuries.

Visit Baden-Baden, hands down—but don’t forget to spend time there.

The Takeaway

Whether it’s a night at the casino, a dip in the baths, or a walk through the endless chain of gorgeous parks, this is a city dedicated to good old-fashioned leisure.

Getting There

Baden Baden is about two hours by train from Frankfurt Airport. There’s a regional airport serving Baden Baden and nearby Karlsruhe but connections from North America are limited. Strasbourg is closer but the train schedules are less frequent and more circuitous. It’s possible to rent a car and drive, but as with many places in Europe, parking is limited—and expensive.

Good To Know

With an international clientele, English is widely spoken in Baden-Baden. Nevertheless, pleasantries in German are appreciated; as in most places in Europe, it’s best to start with a salutation before getting to business.

Credit cards are widely accepted but minimums may apply. The practice of using cards for small purchases hasn’t yet caught on in Germany; a good rule of thumb is to pay cash for amounts less than €20.

The entrance fee at the casino will show up as a cash advance if paid on a credit card.

It’s not published anywhere, but gentlemen aren’t admitted to the casino wearing athletic shoes.

For more information on planning a Baden-Baden visit, check out the town’s tourism website.


You can read more of the news on source