Coupling small town charm with big city perks, Karlsruhe makes the perfect location for a day trip. It’s easy to access by car or train from both Kaiserslautern and Stuttgart. Plus, with tons of outdoor activities, fabulous art exhibits, and southern Germany’s largest shopping mall, Karlsruhe literally has something for everyone.
Now that the weather is starting to warm up, I was excited to take the train to Karlsruhe’s main station and spend the day exploring by foot. The city is extremely accessible and easy to navigate for even the most directionally challenged (i.e. me). Directly across from the train station’s main entrance, there is a tourist office that gives out free maps. I picked one up and headed out toward Schloss Karlsruhe, one of the town’s big highlights.
Now getting there on foot you have two options, the simple 20-minute direct walk or the walking path through the zoo. Obviously, the first choice makes sense if you are in some kind of time crunch, but if it’s a beautiful day, there is no reason to turn down the scenic route.
The Karlsruhe Zoo has an amazing collection of animals from all over the world. Chimpanzees, spider monkeys, giraffes, red pandas, and African lions are all among the exotic animals you can find within its walls. Personally, I was enamored with all of the free-roaming birds. Peacocks, flamingos, and parrots can all be seen on the grounds. I also got to the zoo just in time for the 10 a.m. feeding of the elephants, another huge highlight. If you feel that a walk through the zoo is too taxing, you can always hop in a boat that sails along the river inside the zoo. Adult tickets to the zoo cost 7.50 and tickets for children over the age of six cost 3.50. Children under six are given free entry to the zoo.
Once you have gotten your animal fix, continue making your way to the palace. Before you make it there, you will pass by another Karlsruhe icon — Germany’s only pyramid. The Karlsruhe Pyramid is located in the center of the market square and is made out of red sandstone. It was inspired by the Egyptian pyramids and was built as a replacement for the city’s main church. Unfortunately, the pyramid is currently undergoing renovations and is boarded up so tourists can only see the outline of the structure.
After pausing for the pyramid pit stop, you will finally arrive at the gate of the palace. You’ll know you have arrived when you see a building that takes your breath away.
Schloss Karlsruhe and the surrounding palace grounds looks like something out of a movie. Lush green pathways lined with marble statues lead up to the magnificent marigold-colored baroque building.
The palace was built in 1715 and it served as a royal residence and seat of government for nearly 200 years. But the palace is now home to the Badisches Landesmuseum, the largest cultural history museum in the German state of Baden. Since 1921, the palace has housed some type of museum. After the destruction of large parts of the castle by bombs in September 1944, it was decided to dedicate the entire palace to this purpose. The impressive museum literally takes you through history. You walk through exhibits from the prehistoric period to today, as well as a full section on the castle’s specific history.
My favorite exhibits were the ones that were more hands-on. You could see how royal 1700s fashion looked on you in special mirrors in one exhibit and “ride” in an old-fashioned stagecoach in another. Please note that only one floor has English translations of its item descriptions completed. All other information is in German. However, an English language brochure is available for free at the front of the museum. Tickets to the museum cost 4 a piece or 6 if coupled with a visit to the palace tower. On Fridays, entry is free after 2 p.m.
The visit to the palace tower is a must-do, but be sure to come prepared to climb up a number of stairs. There is no elevator. Once you get to the top, you can see the entire city spread out like a fan before you. Karlsruhe is an incredibly unique city. The palace tower is the center of the city and it was designed with 32 main streets radiating out from it. This visual effect has given it the nickname Fächerstadt or “fan city.”
Just down the street from Schloss Karlsruhe is one of the city’s other highlights for culture lovers – Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe. The Staatliche, opened in 1846, was one of the first museums built in Germany. Most impressively, it continues to showcase many of the works that were in the museum’s original collection.
The museum spans three buildings. The main building and Orangery are home to a permanent display of around 800 paintings covering the late middle ages to the present. It has a special focus on Dutch and German artists. The Copperplate Cabinet in the main building contains more than 90,000 prints and is one of the oldest collections of graphical art in Europe. And don’t worry if you are bringing your kids along. The museum has though of that too. The third building, the Junge Kunsthalle, features collections that appeal to children. Tickets to Staatliche cost 8 a piece.
As you head back to the train station after the art museum, you will pass by Ettlinger Tor, which claims to be the largest shopping center in Southern Germany. Stop in to kill some time before you train home or to hit up some shops that your German home town doesn’t have. I couldn’t pass up the chance to check out Zara and the MAC makeup counter myself.
My day trip to Karlsruhe satisfied my love for animals, art, culture, and new clothing. I hope yours can do the same.