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Itinerary Evaluation - German Christmas Markets and More (Stuttgart-Strasbourg)

We're planning a trip this December to both Germany and France primarily to see Christmas markets. I'm posting this in the Germany forum because we'll be spending the majority of our time there. I'm just looking for some opinions on this potential trip, mostly to make sure I'm not missing something I don't know about or something like that.

We will have 11 -12 days on the ground. Because there are direct flights from Atlanta, we're planning on flying into Stuttgart on a Sunday. We never sleep well on the plane, and because a lot of things will be closed on Sunday, this gives us a full day to acclimate, nap and recover from that. I've seen a lot of mixed opinions on Stuttgart, but I'm confident that we'll enjoy it, especially using it as a hub for further exploration in the Baden-Wurttemburg region. We know the days will be short this time of year as we were in Dresden and Berlin during this same time period four years ago, and we're okay with that. We will not be renting a car and instead relying on trains for all of our city to city travels.

Day 1 (Sunday): Land in Stuttgart, get acclimated, purchase rail passes, etc. Possibly see the main Christmas market there that afternoon and evening

Day 2 (Monday): Explore Stuttgart: This could just be the city itself -- or getting into the Porsche and/or Mercedes museum if the weather is dreadful.

Day 3 (Tuesday): More of Stuttgart in the morning. This afternoon, we're planning on heading to the Christmas market in Esslingen

Day 4 (Wednesday): Train to Strasbourg -- We plan to use this as a base for the next four nights. We'll do sightseeing here before visiting the various market stuff in the afternoon/evening.

Day 5 (Thursday): Train to Colmar -- sightseeing here

Day 6 (Friday): Train to Colmar again -- we plan to use the Christmas market shuttles to visit three to four of the Alsace villages' markets.

Day 7 (Saturday): Strasbourg - finishing up anything we missed here?

Day 8: (Sunday): Back to Strasbourg: Possibly go up to Ludwigsburg for the Palace there.

Day 9: (Monday): Day trip Baden-Baden and back

Day 10: (Tueseday); Day trip to Tubingen and back

Day 11: (Wednesday): Day trip to Heidelberg and back

Day 12: Fly back to Atlanta from Stuttgart

I realize we'll be spending a fair amount of time on the train. But we're kind of train crazy and totally good with that. None of the distances are so outrageous that we feel like we're wasting too much time on these day trips.

I know nobody can truly answer this for us, but I'm worried that we're spending too much time in Strasbourg. I feel like I could possibly eliminate a day there and use that to get a day trip into Gegenbach or Schwabish Hall or even Ulm. I'm also aware that we're backtracking a bit to get to Baden Baden. I'm not convinced that's something we need to do, but the significant other actually added that as input, which is something I don't usually get from him. So I thought I'd include it.

Is there something else in the region that's not to be missed? We don't want to get down into Switzerland (doing that next Fall), go as far North as Frankfurt, and we've already done parts of Bavaria.

Finally, does anybody have any hotel recommendations in Stuttgart? We were planning on staying near the train station for obvious reasons, but given how efficient the commuter trains have been in other German cities, I'm confident we'd be fine staying elsewhere in the city too. I just don't know where else that might be.

Thanks for wading through my wall of text!

Posted by
1397 posts

I would visit Tubingen from Stuttgart rather than Strasbourg. Probably Heidelberg also. In Stuttgart we stayed at the Achat Comfort Stuttgart, right near the Porsche Museum and an S-bahn station. good price.

Marcopolko on tripadvisor usually recommends City Hotel.

I think you have 2 days too many in Strasbourg. Personally I would stay the two days in Gengenbach, but that’s because I really enjoy it and have a great fewo to stay in.

Posted by
8889 posts

If you think that is too much Strasbourg, there are two places you can go from there as day trips which are both cities with nice old towns and have good Christmas markets: Freiburg im Breisgau and Basel.

Posted by
1653 posts

Stuttgart itself has a lovely Christmas Market, so it's actually a good base for that purpose! And the Mercedes museum is great even if you're not mad about cars. Porsche, less so.

Posted by
22 posts

I think my itinerary has a typo or isn't clear, but we'll be back in Stuttgart for all the day trips (Heidelberg, Tubingen, etc), so we won't have all the distance. But thanks for pointing that out!

I also appreciate the feedback on Strasbourg -- I've been unsure about how much time to spend there, and I think I will cut it back to 3 nights there as a base instead of 4 nights. Honestly, Colmar and the villages we intend to see appeal to me more than Strasbourg itself, but I've had friends say Strasbourg just works better as a base for what we're intending. Gengenbach looks like a great alternative. Many thanks!

Posted by
1837 posts

I think my itinerary has a typo or isn't clear

On Day 8, you say "Back to Strasbourg" when you mean "Back to Stuttgart"

Posted by
89 posts

I had visited all the towns you mentioned during Xmas market period in multiple years. I have home in Strasbourg, know Alsace towns well, family lives in the Black Forest, went to school in Freiburg, regular visitor to Basel/Baden-Baden/Gengenbach/Stuttgart. In December the trees are bare, sky is most likely gray, and gets dark at 4:30pm. Best to focus on towns with large number of beautiful old buildings.

--Stuttgart: very few historical buildings, unremarkable Xmas market. I usually stay at this hotel across from Stuttgart Hbf (big construction site!). https://www.steigenberger.com/en/hotels/all-hotels/germany/stuttgart/steigenberger-graf-zeppelin.

--Esslingen: lots of beautiful old buildings and the Xmas market is special.

--Ludwigsburg: Town is not attractive when trees are bare, Xmas market is small and unremarkable, but the Schloss is beautiful and the guided tour was excellent (I had excellent English-speaking guides in 2 different years). Please note that the Schloss interior is far colder than outdoor temperature. Best to skip the uninteresting long walk in winter from the train station to the Schloss, take the bus. You could combine Ludwigsburg (AM) with Esslingen (PM) in one day.

--Tübingen: did not find the town and Xmas market sufficiently attractive when trees were bare and sky was gray.

--Ulm: Xmas market is pretty, a few very attractive old buildings, but not much else. Not worth going out of the way to visit.

--Schwäbisch Hall: I was quite charmed by this pretty town and its Xmas market. A better day-trip than Tübingen and Ulm.

--Baden-Baden: Unless you are going there to use the thermal bath, I'd skip it. Baden-Baden is not attractive in the bare-tree winter months. The Xmas market is absolutely tiny and uninteresting, and too few pretty old buildings to make it a worthwhile day-trip.

--Gengenbach: Gengenbach's Xmas market draws large number of tour buses everyday. The town is full of beautiful old houses, their famous Xmas market is very special. If you are visiting it as a stop-over in train ride to another town, please note there is no train station locker in this town. When I made a lunch stop in Gengenbach last October, tourist office staff told me they would gladly keep visitor's bags during their biz hours. Tourist Office is about 10 min walk from train station. Another option is the train station lockers at Offenburg (one stop from Gengenbach).

--Freiburg: I went to school there and don't consider it a worthwhile day-trip town -- very few old buildings left. FYI, DB runs a Regiobus (train+bus) between Freiburg and Colmar. If you are going from Freiburg to Colmar, leave your luggage in the train station locker and visit the small historic center (about 20 min walk from train station).

--Strasbourg: a beautiful town that is absolutely magical during Xmas market period. However, since Colmar is where you can take the Xmas market shuttle (and regular buses) to visit other pretty Alsace towns, I'd recommend that you home-base in Colmar, and visit Strasbourg as a day-trip from Colmar. If you are visiting Strasbourg on your way to Colmar and plan to leave your luggage at train station lockers for a few hours, please note the severe shortage of train station lockers in Strasbourg.

Colmar: I stayed 5-nights in Colmar to visit other town's Xmas markets using public buses ( Riquewhir, Kaysersberg, Ribeauville, Eguiseheim) and TER (Selestat). I would recommend a day-trip on TER to Basel. In Xmas market time, Basel is prettier than Stuttgart/Ulm/Tübingen/Baden-Baden/Freiburg.

FYI:
1) Convenient Lufthansa Express Bus runs between Frankfurt Airport and Strasbourg train station.
2) See my 2/22 posting on this other thread for info re train/bus 24-hr tickets covering all the towns on your list -- https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/france/strasbourg-for-a-month

Posted by
7625 posts

I like the Stuttgart Christmas market a lot, and think it is the best large city market I have ever visited. Stuttgart has more to offer than many people think. You might want to check out Stuttgart Steps for a tour. http://stuttgartsteps.com/
There are many castles and palaces around Stuttgart, plus cool museums, so there is plenty to see and do here.
https://www.stuttgart-tourist.de/en/stuttgart-in-1-2-3-days

Esslingen is another favorite. Beautiful town and unique Christmas Market.

Posted by
287 posts

I have a soft spot in my heart for Tübingen. Such a cute university town. My Husband's 5th great-grandfather lived there and that is where the family immigrated from. In December, they have a Chocolate Festival. It brings people in from all over the world. We decided to go, because it is chocolate! We made the mistake of going on the last day (Sunday) it was like being a salmon and swimming upstream there were so many people we couldn't get near any of the booths. If this is something that interests you, I would go during the week and early in the day. I would take the train from Stuttgart, as trying to find parking there was not easy during the festival. I have seen pictures of the evening times during the festival and they project gingerbread decorations onto the houses and they look so cool.

The Stuttgart Market is fun. They decorate the roofs of the huts in the Market. We enjoyed exploring the Finnish market, and there was a flea market running too, which was interesting. I also recommend the Mercedes Museum. It is one of the best museums I have been to and I am not terribly into cars. I love the way they wove the history of the car with what was going on in the world.

If you do like cars, there is a suburb of Stuttgart called Böblingen. There is a place there call Motorworld. People can store their cars there in a museum-like setting for other people to look at. There is a hotel there that each room is car themed. It is on an old airport so you rent cars to race on the runways. I like to stay in a business hotel in Böblingen when we are there, but we normally have a car and drive into the city, so that may not work for you.

Last summer we did day trips from a hotel in the Blackforest to Colmar, Strasbourg, and Freiburg. We highly enjoyed all three places. In fact, I think I want to go back and visit them again.

Posted by
664 posts

We did a very similar trip to yours just this past Nov/Dec. Please click on my name for my Trip Reports- I tried to include many practical tips.
We stayed at the Hotel Unger in Stuttgart- would be happy to return, great service and breakfast, great location, [two blocks from train station, one block from S-trains]. Stuttgart markets were lots of fun, and the elaborate decorations on the tops of the stalls were incredible.

We were under whelmed by Ludwigsburg ; Essinglen was incredible. Plan to get there in the daylight, but stay into the evening for the entertainment. The costumes, fire juggling, alchemist, dancing in the streets to the medieval music- SO much fun. We were exhausted after that one, so follow with a slower day.

Colmar was packed!!! I suggest staying in Strasburg [we stayed 2.5 days] because it's more spread out, and it is the MOST decorated city that I have ever seen. We also did an all-day Alsace wine tour, which I highly recommend [Colmar, Riquewhir, Obernai ], with VinoRoute.
Research any French upcoming labor strikes- we were caught in the Dec 5 transportation strike.

Feel free to ask any more questions, once you're read my Trip Reports. This is a welcome break from the coronavirus news, as we have an upcoming April 13 trip to Italy, which probably wont happen. This is a nice distraction.
Safe travels!

Posted by
664 posts

I finally linked my four Trip Reports on Jan 12, 2020, thanks to OP advice. That date will help you find them.
[They appear separately from Dec 10 onwards.]
I'm so excited for you all!

Posted by
22 posts

Thanks for the all the advice, everybody! Looks like we will make a few tweaks based on all the helpful info.