Baden-Baden for Families: Taking in the Waters, Culture and Nature
Last summer we spent a family weekend in German Baden-Baden as part of our 15-day road trip through Germany, Alsace and Switzerland. In fact, a dreamy spa town of Baden-Baden in South West Germany in the foothills of Black Forrest was my and my husband’s inspiration for this road trip. We strategically planned Baden-Baden at the end of our exciting but exhausting road trip and could not wait to soak our tired bodies in the town’s thermal spas.
What’s in the Water
The town of Baden-Baden, famous for its curative spa waters, world class culture and beautiful natural surrounds of the Black Forrest, is only a 1.5 hours by car from Frankfurt’s airport so it could easily be incorporated into your Germany’s road or train trip itinerary.
“Baden” means BATH in German and SPA comes from Latin phrase “sanus per aquam” which means “healthy through water”. The town owes its status to 800,000 liters of healing thermal waters which flow from 12 underground springs each day. The effect of Baden’s curative spring waters was known 2000 years ago when the spa culture began to thrive under the Roman Emperor Caracalla (the town was then called Aquae Aureliae). You can see the ruins of the Roman Soldiers’ Bath beneath today’s Friedrichsbad spa.
Baden-Baden regained its modern-era spa traditions 150 years ago when royals from all over Europe came to “take in the waters” and enjoy world’s top casino.
The town’s two public spas, modern Caracalla-Thermae and Historic Roman-Irish Bath Friedrichsbad use spring water from underground springs (at 2,000 meters/6,500 feet) which emerge at temperatures between 50 and 68 C as (mainly) sodium chloride with small amounts of other minerals such as lithium, cesium, silica, boric acid, manganese, magnesium, as well as traces of cobalt, zinc and copper that are thought to have a curative effect on cardiovascular problems, metabolism or respiratory complaints. The warmth of the spring water also aids blood circulation in the muscles, joints and skin. (You can read about our date night visit to Friedrichsbad here)
Family Spa Day
For our family spa day, we went to the 4000-meter spa “palace” Caracalla-Thermae (I will do a separate post this spa later this winter). With its indoor/outdoor marble pools with water massage jets and counter-currents (temperatures ranging from 18C to 28C), stone grotto, sprawling steam bath and sauna complex, and sun bathing lawn, this is one of the largest and most beautiful swimming and sauna complex in Europe . (€15 for 2 hour visit; €25 for all day ticket (children 7+ are welcome; on site child care is offered for younger kids at € 5 per child).
We spent 4 hours at the complex, alternating between the spa pools and the sauna complex and could not get enough.
After the baths, we were ready for our Guided Town Walk with our guide Valeria. Baden is made for walking as most everything is within 10 minute walk of the baths and casino. You can plan your own walk or arrange one through Baden-Baden Tourism Office.
From our hotel Magnetberg we walked down Sophienstrasse all the way to the center of town, Leopoldstplatz (all while discussing Roman bath culture and comparing the notes on spa experiences).
Don’t these 19-century buildings with wrought-iron balconies remind of Paris?
The tour culminated with the Kurhaus complex (built in 1824) which houses world’s most beautiful (according to Marlene Dietrich) Casino and cultural venues. Dostoyevsky’s The Gambler was inspired by the Russian author’s visit to the Kurhaus casino.
You can enter casino (only) on a guided tour which run in the morning (from 9:30am to 11:40am, April through October; 10am to 11:30am in winter). You can bring the kids and take the pictures. You don’t need to be on a tour to visit casino during the evening “operation” hours, but there is a dress code and no picture taking. (More about the “night” visit in the upcoming post “Date Night Bade-Baden”)
The area with lush greens and flowers around the Kurhouse is used year-long for cultural events and festivals.
Nearby Lichtentaler Allee is 1.5 mile oak tree-lined promenade along Oosbach River, past old mansions and famous rose garden. You can take it all the way to medieval Cistercian Abbey (where you can stay in the guesthouse and volunteer at their garden if you so wish).
Or just imagine yourself a hero of the 19-century Russian novel, in town to cure mysterious maladies of the nervous system. (In those days you drank your waters instead of soaking your body in them.)
Taking in the Nature: Mount Merkur
Blame the curative effect of the waters, but we still had it in us after the walk to get to the summit of the 2,191 foot Mercur Mountain (it’s a 5 minute drive from the center; you can also take bus 204 or 205). Well, we did not plan on actually making the 4.5km steep hike up. Instead, we took Merkur Funicular Railway (Europe steepest and most technically advanced funicular railway). It only took 5 minutes to the top, but with a 1,214 feet climb (inclines of 23 and 53%.), boy, we were surprised that no human operator was in sight.
But it was no going back, so at the top we had no choice but to take in the views.
You can also stroll the marked footpath or have a snack at the restaurant, but it was a bit too late for either of these activities when we made it to the top at dusk). Funicular operates every 15 minutes, between the hours of 10am and 10pm (don’t forget to press the BUTTON to go up, as no one is there to do it for you!). If you intend to use the bus service to get to the base, make sure to buy a combination ticket from the driver that covers the Funicular).
Taking in the Culture
The town has rich cultural traditions centered around its famous (Germany’s largest) Opera House. There are year-round music and dance events, except everyone takes a break for a few weeks in August when we visited.
On our final morning in Baden-Baden, (after a quick spa visit, of course) we headed to modern art Museum Frieder Burda, on Lichtentaler Allee. “Light Shadow” Exhibit showing plastic-sculptural reliefs of Heinz Mack and his art movement Zero was on display:
Where we Stayed
There are several world class spa hotels with unique wellness facilities in town. During our stay, though, we “sticked” to public spas and a family-friendly hotel. 3-star reasonably priced and centrally located Hotel Magnetberg (we paid 80 euros for a single room for our son) was a great choice. The rooms were tastefully appointed and very clean.
Baden-Baden Hotel Tip: Be sure to inquire about (and take advantage of!) the Baden-Baden Guest Card when staying in Baden-Baden hotels. These cards entitle you to discounted entry to Caracalla Spa, Casino and other city attractions.
Other Family-Friendly Ideas:
Be sure to check with Baden-Baden Tourism Office for a schedule of family-friendly events and festivals at the time of your visit. There are open-air music festivals in the summer and Christmas markets in the winter.
Wildgehege Wildlife Reserve (near Mount Mercur’ funicular base station) allows access to wild life encounters in the natural setting.
Waterfalls of Geroldsau offer a variety of walking trails leading to the picturesque falls.
Climb Yburg Castle (dating back to year 1200), 4 miles southwest of the center of town, for the views of Black Forest and the Rhine valley.
We would like to thank Baden-Baden Tourism Office for helping to arrange complimentary access to several activities mentioned in the story. All opinions are our own.
READ NEXT: Bade-Baden Part 2: Date Night.
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