Baden-Baden is by no means a new destination. Visitors have been bathing in the town’s renowned thermal springs since Roman Times. But this quaint German town on the edge of the black forest isn’t just a place for communal bathing, it’s also a cultural hub. Once the playground of creative thinkers such as Henry James and Mark Twain, Baden-Baden still has an incredibly refined cultural scene. The Festspielhaus, Germany’s largest concert venue, draws music enthusiasts looking for world-class performances in a world-class venue. But that’s not all this town has going for it. In fact, you could almost say that Baden-Baden has so much going on, they had to name it twice. Here are five things to do in this charming spot:
1. Put on your finest attire and watch a performance at the Festspielhaus
From operas to symphonies to ballets, the Festspielhaus hosts world-class performances throughout the year, including the annual debut of a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera (which then goes on to show in New York). It’s a sophisticated affair where you’ll certainly need to trade in your sneakers for dress shoes. If you’re feeling really fancy, have a glass of champagne in the festival hall’s restaurant, Aida, during the interval. It’s located inside the beautiful waiting lounge of an old train station, and it will make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time.
2. Get lost on winding roads in the Black Forest and Rebland wine region
Take a drive out of town to see incredible views of the Rhine Valley and the bewitching Black Forest. Stop along the way for a shot of kirschwasser (schnapps) at some ‘shnapps fountains’—private Hansel and Gretel-style homes with honesty bars, which sell shots of schnapps for a Euro each. Then pick up local cheeses and meats from the über-cool market and beer garden, Geroldsauer Mühle. Or, if you’re after a more refined experience, sample wines at the Weingut Schloss Neuweier (a winery in Baden-Baden’s Rebland wine region) and have lunch at the Michelin star restaurant Röttele’s, which is located in an old German castle.
3. Luxuriate in the thermal baths
People travel from all over the world to bathe in the famed waters of Baden-Baden. There are two spas you can choose from: one where you bathe nude and another that requires a bathing suit. The first, Friedrichsbad, is definitely a more authentic experience, so if you’ve come all this way, you may as well do as the Romans did, get naked, and luxuriate with fellow bathers in the beautiful, ancient baths. There are 17 stages of steaming, scrubbing, and soaking to get through, so make sure you plan your time accordingly.
4. Spend a night walking through the town
Evenings are a lovely time to get lost in the town’s fanciful maze of streets, especially because most of the sights in town literally shut down at night. If you’re wondering where all the people have gone, it’s likely that they’re grappling for a seat at the liveliest tapas bar in town, Monte Christo. When you’re done with your walk, grab a seat and tuck into some jamón and chipirones, then swing by the swanky Brenner’s Park Hotel Oleander Bar, for a discreet nightcap.
5. Stay in a family-owned hotel
Small, family-owned hotels aren’t easy to find—especially in 2016. But in Baden-Baden you’ll find the Hotel Belle Epoque and Der Kleine Prinze, which are located in the center of Baden-Baden and are owned by the same family. Hotel Belle Epoque is more upscale than its Little Prince-themed sister property, but they are both traditional, cozy, and exactly where you want to be when visiting a small German town.