This sunny German city should be at the top of your summer travel list

Founded in 1715, in southwestern Germany, Karlsruhe is still a bit young by European standards. This neoclassical city is located on the upper plain of the Rhine, in the middle of the Vosges, the Palatinate Forest and the Black Forest in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Karlsruhe is a center for technology, science and media, and the seat of German law: the German Federal Court of Justice. Art and the outdoors dominate everyday life in the city, while Baden-Württemberg’s natural playground is just a stone’s throw away, where epic hiking, cycling and outdoor adventures await. Here’s how to explore the city at its best this summer.

A fountain and a stately building surrounded by greenery in the Karlsruhe Botanical Gardens in Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

Visit the lush Karlsruhe Botanical Gardens, right next to Karlsruhe Palace, which is home to an array of exotic plants.

Photo by Fabian von Poser, Tourism Karlsruhe

One of Germany’s most sun-drenched cities, Karlsruhe enjoys average temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius in summer and around 140 days of sunshine per year. With its pleasant weather and wealth of green spaces, the city is ideal for exploration on foot. Start in the cultural and geographical heart of the city at Karlsruhe Palace with a walk through the ‘princely pleasure gardens’. For the more curious, Germany’s history is told at the Badisches Landesmuseum (Baden State Museum), located within the palace, or for the best view of Karlsruhe’s neoclassical design, climb the palace’s central tower.

From the palatial center of the city, 32 streets and avenues spread out in exactly the shape of a fan, giving Karlsruhe its nickname: fächerstadt or ‘fan city’. The beautiful layout so impressed former US President Thomas Jefferson that he used it as inspiration for the design of the city of Washington, DC. Choose the central street of Karlsruhe’s ‘fan’ and stroll south through the beautifully landscaped Schlossplatz, where locals gather on balmy evenings to make an Aperol spritz. From mid-August to mid-September, Schlossplatz plays host to the spectacular Schlosslichtspiele Light Festival that turns the palace and square into a vast canvas for art and expression. At Platz der Grundrechte (the Square of Fundamental Rights), do not confuse the numerous signals with German overefficiency; it is in fact an art installation of reflections on the concept of good and evil.

Continue to Marktplatz, the main square, where colorful buildings compete for attention, next to the Baroque-era Church of the Holy Spirit, the Town Hall and the Karlsruhe Pyramid, which was built over the tomb of the city’s founder, Karl Wilhelm III. Flowers flow from the market stalls, their scent fills the square and lingers on the terraces of nearby cafes and restaurants.

Karlsruhe Palace in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, illuminated with colorful lights for the Schlosslichtspiele Light Festival.

Karlsruhe lights up every year from mid-August to mid-September during the Schlosslichtspiele Light Festival.

Photo by Jürgen Rösner, Karlsruhe Marketing and Events

A crowd of people enjoying live music at Das Fest in Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

In July, Das Fest, one of Germany’s largest open-air concerts, takes over the Günther-Klotz-Anlage Park in Karlsruhe.

Photo by Steffen Eirich, Karlsruhe Marketing and Events

Take a seat at a konditorei (pastry shop) for people watching and refueling with a large slice Schwarzälder kirschtorte, better known as Black Forest cake – the cherry liqueur-infused dessert that is famous all over the world. As the sun sets, head to the string lights twinkling above Wilma Wunder’s patio and order a colorful unicorn cocktail decorated with rainbow sprinkles. Then go for the chic around the corner at Eigenart, where waiters combine the best German wines with dishes with Mediterranean influences.

Make the most of the warm evenings at Parkdeckzehn P10, a sand-floored beach bar built on the top floor of a parking garage. Littered with sun loungers and strandkorb, classic German wicker beach chairs, pulsates under party lights and lounge music – a beach in Ibiza amid the rolling greenery of Baden-Württemberg. Nearby, hidden in a vaulted cellar on Hirschstrasse, The Door will take you into the early hours with its creative menu of bird-themed cocktails and highballs.

When the sun rises, it is in the green spaces that Karlsruhe really shines. Take a morning stroll in the historic Karlsruhe Botanical Gardens, full of exotic plants and a showcase for stately architecture, designed in the style of Georgian-era English gardens. The neoclassical Staatliche Kunsthalle (State Art Gallery) is home to seven centuries of masterpieces from Dürer to Delacroix, but is most impressive when viewed from outside in the garden. Just to the north, the forests of the Waldstadt stretch to the horizon.

People relax on the grass in the palace gardens of Karlsruhe in Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

Just behind Karlsruhe Palace, the Palace Gardens are a popular place for relaxing, walking and cycling.

Photo by Joachim Mende, Tourism Karlsruhe

For a different perspective, visit in July, when Das Fest (the festival) rolls into Günther-Klotz-Anlage Park, bringing a quarter of a million partygoers for four days of fun. It is one of the state’s largest outdoor events and the line-up spans genres to attract the widest range of people, young and old, with music, performance, art and even the German Skateboarding Championships. If that’s not enough, the organizers organize Das Fest Am See a week earlier, a kind of pre-festival festival on the shore of the park’s picturesque lake.

But perhaps the most suitable way to explore Karlsruhe is on two wheels; after all, it was here that Baron Karl von Drais invented the bicycle. The extensive network of cycle paths that wind through the city reflects Karlsruhe’s love of cycling. Rent a bicycle or e-bike at one of the many KVV points and dive in and out as you please on the well-signposted NaturRAD tour. Or cycle beyond the city limits and follow a long-distance cycle route further into beautiful Baden-Württemberg, such as the Rhine Valley Route or the Black Forest Route.

This is paid content for the Baden-Württemberg State Tourism Office, a joint initiative with Karlsruhe Tourisme. It does not necessarily reflect the views of National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler (UK) or their editors.

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