My husband and I are not traditional people and our approach to Christmas (or, substitute the end-of-year holiday that you celebrate here) reflects this. Most people we know spend a ton of time and generate a lot of stress shopping, buying presents, and traveling on packed airplanes to celebrate the festive season. We choose to avoid the associated holiday stress and visit family during less busy times of year. This means we are free to start our own traditions. For us, that means renting an Airbnb somewhere in Europe, setting up house for 1-2 weeks and experiencing what it would be like to be a local in cities off the tourist track (or on the tourist track but off-season). This year, we visited Stuttgart Germany for Christmas. Here are some of the things we loved about the city during our week long city break.
Get There Easily from Frankfurt by Train
Stuttgart is pretty easy to get to from Dublin. A 1.5 hour flight gets you to Frankfurt and then it's about an hour and a half ride in a comfortable train to get to Stuttgart. As an added bonus, we were able to delay our train ride for a couple of hours and stop by to see a friend of ours for a coffee in Frankfurt. That's what friends do when they 'live' nearby :-)
Explore the Many Regional Christmas Markets
One of the key advantages of visiting Germany for the holidays is the wealth of Christmas markets to add a bit of holiday cheer. We visited markets in Stuttgart itself, Esslingen, Karlsruhe, and Ludwigsburg. Each market is unique and was just a short train ride away from our Airbnb home base in Stuttgart. As always, we love collecting each market's signature mug. We used the mugs for coffee both on the trip and still use them year round back at home in Dublin providing a nice reminder of our German Christmas vacation every weekend.
Raise a Glass at a Brauhaus
While "living" in Germany we got to sample some local beers at Brauhaus Schönbuch. In contrast to the old-fashioned and touristy beer halls in much of Bavaria, Brauhaus Schönbuch had a sleek white interior and felt almost hipster. It felt like a place locals would go and that we were in-the-know having sought it out.
Sample Some Comfort Food
Germany in the winter is great for comfort food. We definitely ate plenty of schnitzel with spaetzle on this trip! When I said that we typically avoid the usual holiday traditions, gaining weight by eating awesome rich food is one tradition we still subscribe to (at least unintentionally)!
Follow Vines to Wine
We were also pleasantly surprised by the wines in Stuttgart. We bought bottles of local red wine: typically Trollinger mit Lemberger. The wines were light, fruity, and easy to drink. They were also super inexpensive and often sold for around 5 EUR in the supermarket. Since we were renting an apartment, we followed one of our usual traditions in Dublin, crack open a bottle of wine with a simple home cooked meal.
Pose with Cool Statues
I like seeking out the quirky things in a city. We walk a lot wherever we are and regardless of what Mother Nature throws our way. The temperatures were unseasonably mild in Stuttgart when we visited so it was a pleasure to walk and explore the city. One of my favorite offbeat finds was this shamanic moose standing sternly on a busy street corner.
Visit Traditional and Offbeat Museums
Stuttgart also has both traditional and quirky museums which kept us occupied. We hopped on public transportation (just like any other local) and were on our way. The Mercedes museum was incredibly well done and followed the history of the automotive industry from its inception to the present alongside the corresponding wider historical context.
The Schweine, or Pig, Museum, on the other hand, was pure fun. There was a big pink pig streetcar outside the building so you can't miss it. Inside, above the pub, we found several rooms chock full of pigs. There were pig sculptures, mounted pig heads on the wall, stuffed pigs, porno pigs (I kid you not!), and just about every other kind of pig collector's item you can imagine. Pigs are considered good luck in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland and marzipan pigs are often given as gifts when ringing in the new year.
Eat Dessert First
Germany is a fantastic place to visit for the holiday season because of their afternoon cake and coffee tradition. Locals eat dessert first and typically have a slice of cake and coffee in the afternoon before dinner. This is my kind of culture!
Get Your Game on at the Baden Baden Casino
Stuttgart is about an hour and a half by train from Baden Baden. Just like we often do at home in Dublin, we decided to take a short day trip adventure. Baden Baden is known for its posh casino. It doesn't look like much from the outside but the inside (where there are no photos allowed) was an ornate gaming hall with high ceilings, opulent chandeliers hanging down, and sumptuous red walls. It's definitely worth a visit. When we arrived, we agreed to "spend" a max of 50 EUR. We see this as a cost of entertainment rather than as gambling. We ended up hitting on the roulette wheel very early on after only "investing" 20 EUR and nearly tripled our money. We played for a bit longer but as soon as our winnings dropped to double our original investment of 20 EUR, we walked away and smugly treated ourselves to a drink at the bar; on the house!
Explore the Black Forest near Baden Baden
Baden Baden is also in the Black Forest. After our short diversion at the casino, we enjoyed exploring the town, walking along the river, and breathing in the fresh air.
Pretend to be Royalty at the Ludwigsburg Palace
Ludwigsburg Palace is another easy day trip excursion just 20 minutes outside of Stuttgart proper. In addition to the atmospheric Christmas market, we enjoyed a tour (both inside and out). Ludwigsburg Palace is one of the biggest Baroque palaces in Europe and a large garden figures prominently on the grounds. Even into the early 20th century, the site was the main royal palace of the Kingdom of Württemberg. Positively sumptuous!
Discover Secret Gardens
We take a lot of short weekend trips around Europe during the year. One advantage of renting an apartment for a week is that we can explore a place more slowly and deeply. We were delighted in Stuttgart when we were taking a walk not far from our Airbnb and discovered this secret Asian garden high atop a hill overlooking the city of Stuttgart. It was a charmingly zen location that I doubt we would have discovered if we'd only been in town for a couple days.
Visit the Futuristic Library
What else do locals do? They go to the library. What do tourists do? They gawk at cool architecture. We combined both approaches with a visit to the Stuttgart Libary. The interior is almost blindingly white with pops of color from the bookshelves drawing the eye over several stories. Very cool!
Spend Christmas Day at the Wilhelma Zoo
One of the disadvantages of traveling at Christmas-time is that many of the popular attractions are closed on Christmas Day. We've never found this to be a problem; there is always something open that's worth seeing. In Stuttgart we made our way to the Wilhelma Zoo for an afternoon walk on Christmas Day and were just delighted to be able to get up close and personal with some exotic animals (thanks in part to my zoom lens, of course!).
Enjoy Fine Dining in Bad Canstatt
Exploring the local restaurant scene is another advantage of staying longer in a place. In Stuttgart, we had a lovely Christmas dinner at Weinstube am Stadtgraben in Bad Cannstatt (not far from the zoo). We were treated to a gourmet 3-course Christmas dinner complete with local red wines. What a fantastic way to end our trip!
Working a full time job means limited time to travel throughout the year. We make the most of our holidays by squeezing in lots of short weekends around Europe. We especially enjoy the end-of-year holidays because it gives us a chance to pretend to be locals and explore a city in more depth. Stuttgart did not disappoint and is a most excellent choice for a Christmas city break.
For other ideas of cities to consider for a Christmas trip, check out my write-ups on our Christmases in: