We've been fortunate enough to have several family members and friends come to visit us over the last three years. As a result, we've developed a pretty solid list of things to see and do in and around Stuttgart. Whether you're just visiting Stuttgart or have lived here for a while and want to take some time to experience the city like the tourists do (which I always recommend), I hope you'll find our list helpful, too.
What to See
Our first stop is always Downtown Stuttgart. Though the shopping along the Königstraße (king street) is all very commercial, it really is the heart of the city. We like to go the full length, starting at the Hauptbahnhof (main station) where you can use the elevator to go to the top of the tower for a stunning view of the city -- for free! (There's also an interesting exhibit for the new underground train station if you have any train fanatics in your group.) From there, we'll walk up through the Schlossgarten (castle garden) and past the Opernhaus (opera house) by the lake.
Next up is the Neues Schloss (new castle), which is great for an iconic photo of the city, followed by the Altes Schloss (old castle). You can actually go into the Altes Schloss which now houses a museum with a collection of artifacts from the state of Baden-Württemberg, including an impressive set of crown jewels. If you're not the museum type, it's still worth a visit to the courtyard for the architecture or even into the lobby for a free look at a small collection of jewels, paintings, and royal table settings.
The Markthalle (market hall) behind the Altes Schloss is a must-see as its a great example of one of Europe's few remaining covered market halls. It's also a nice place to pick up a snack or even some gifts for loved ones back home. Once outside, the cobblestone Schillerplatz next to the old Stiftskirche is worth strolling through to get to the main Marktplatz (market square) and the new Rathaus (town hall). Unfortunately, the town hall and market square were largely destroyed during the bombing of WWII, however, if you're lucky you can see it on a market day (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday) when the local farmers are displaying their goods.
For more active guests, my favorite walks through the city include a walk through the Schlosspark (castle park) up to either Rosensteinpark or Bad Canstatt, a walk through the gardens of Killesbergpark (with a stop for ice cream, of course), and a hike up the Birkenkopf to see the rubble cleared after WWII and for a fabulous view of the valley. If you've got a bit more time, the hike from the acoustically impressive Grabkapelle (mausoleum) through the vineyards of Collegium-Württemberg to Esslingen is always another nice walk. After you exercise, you could always relax at one of the many local mineral baths, like the one at Böblingen, though be forewarned that the sauna section is nude (and this is common in Germany).
For visitors interested in Stuttgart's automobile history, you must see either (or both) the Mercedes-Benz Museum or the Porsche Museum. I find the Mercedes-Benz Museum to be a bit better for non-car enthusiasts, too, because they have a great timeline alongside their cars, a collection of historically significant cars, and a racing simulator. The Porsche Museum is nice because it's a bit smaller and more manageable in a shorter amount of time. The Fernsehturm (TV tower) is also a neat site to see. The iconic TV tower stands over 700 feet (216 meters) tall and also affords an impressive view over the city. (The tower was closed in 2013, but may reopen this year for visitors.)
If your guests are up for a little exploring, check out Ludwigsburg just 20 minutes to the north of Stuttgart. The palace there is called the "Versailles of Germany" for a reason, and they run daily tours in English. Take the train a bit over an hour beyond, and you'll reach Heidelberg. I think it's probably one of the most picturesque small German cities that I've visited, with a lovely old town along the Neckar river and an old medieval castle on a hill. If you're up for a hike, you can climb the mountain on the opposite side and see an un-used amphitheater built by the Nazis and the ruins of an 11th century monastery.
About 40 minutes to the south lies the university town of Tübingen. It's also very picturesque with tons of half-timbered houses and a town square much the same as it was 100 years ago. About one in three residents is a university student, so you can find plenty of good eats and eclectic shops if you do a little exploring along the many winding streets in the town. You can also get to Ulm in the south-east in just over an hour where you'll find an elaborate Gothic church with the tallest steeple in the world at 530 feet (161 meters). You can climb to the very top of the spire, through I wouldn't recommend it for those afraid of heights or who find stairs a challenge. Coincidentally, Ulm is also the birthplace of Einstein.
About an hour and a half north of Stuttgart is the financial capital of Germany and the capital of the state of Hesse, Frankfurt-am-Main. Although the city was also heavily bombed during WWII, the reconstructed city center is still impressive, and there's a lot of history around the area. You can also find tons of great shopping, parks, museums, and dining experiences thanks to the city's status as an international hub for travelers.
To Stuttgart's immediate east is the state of Bavaria and its capital city Munich. You can easily get there on the train in just two hours, but you'll want to stay for at least a couple of days to explore the city's many beer halls and museums. If you're up for it, make a visit to the Dachau concentration camp; it's certainly a moving experience that you'll never forget. And if you have a car, you could head south to King Ludwig II's iconic Schloss Neuschwanstein to see the inspiration for Walt Disney's theme park in Florida.
If you're looking to cross the border, Stuttgart is an easy hour or so to Strasbourg in France. This border town has a really fun mix of German and French cuisine, and boasts one of the best Christmas markets in Europe in December. Beyond that, Stuttgart is just three hours by train to Zurich (Switzerland), three and a half hours by train to Paris (France), four hours by train to Salzburg (Austria), five hours by train/bus to Prague (Czech Republic), six hours by train to Berlin (Germany's capital), and seven hours by train to Amsterdam (The Netherlands). As you can see, Stuttgart is pretty centrally located in Europe, making it a great jumping off point for most major cities within about an eight hour train ride.
What to Eat
I think the best part about visiting another country is the food, but I'm biased, obviously! The first place that I like to take visitors is to a traditional German restaurant, like Calwer-Eck Brauhaus. They brew their own beer, and have a great mixed plate that contains all my Swäbian favorites, including Maultasche (a kind of German version of ravioli), Käsespätzle (cheesey pasta with onions), and Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage). At some point during their stay, I like to get freshly baked German pretzels from my local bakery, as well as a Döner Kebab from our favorite place down the street. These are some of my favorites that you can't really get anywhere but in Germany.
That said, most people can only take so much meat, potatoes, and bread. And so another local favorite that I like to take guests to is Injeera for Ethiopian food. Stuttgart has several African restaurants, and I think Injeera does a particularly good job. There's also Takeshii's Vietnamese for great mixed drinks and some fresh noodle and rice dishes. And last but not least, there's always Italian. My local favorite is La Bruschetta. It's run by one woman in a kitchen, and her homemade pastas, sauces, and pizzas are so fresh and no-fuss, that we find ourselves going there for a delicious home-cooked meal when neither one of us feels like cooking.
Of course, there are many other great restaurants in Stuttgart (just browse through my tag cloud for more ideas), but these are some of my favorites for visitors. Plus, don't forget about the many seasonal festivals in the area, and you're sure to find plenty of great bites and fun activities for you and your guests.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Stuttgart? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.