12 AMAZING Things To Do In Esslingen For An Incredible Trip [Don’t Miss Them]

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Let’s take a journey as we uncover the top 12 must-do activities in the charming town of Esslingen am Neckar. This historic gem, nestled in the heart of Germany’s Baden-Württemberg region ultra-close to Stuttgart, offers a rich tapestry of experiences that seamlessly blend its past with a vibrant present.

Stepping into Esslingen is like wandering through the pages of a live history book with towering medieval structures and quaint half-timbered houses setting the stage for an adventure through time.

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Just outside Stuttgart (only ten minutes by train), Esslingen is often ignored by foreign tourists who don’t realize what you can see here. It’s a lovely place for a wander in a half- or full-day trip from Stuttgart. Or do what I did and use Esslingen as your base to explore Stuttgart and the surrounding area.

As we explore Esslingen, you’ll encounter architectural marvels that have withstood the sands of time, and hidden nooks that offer whispers of centuries-old tales.

Whether you’re drawn by the allure of Gothic spires, the tranquility of riverside retreats, or the creative pulse of modern galleries, Esslingen holds many treasures waiting to be discovered.

So, let’s step forward and see what this picturesque town has in store for us.

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A Brief History Of Esslingen

Esslingen am Neckar stands as a storied tapestry, rich in history and resilient through time. The roots of Esslingen stretch back to the prehistoric era, but its narrative took a decisive turn with the advent of the Romans, who established a military garrison nearby in the 1st century AD.

The name “Esslingen” itself has evolved from ancient descriptions, with medieval references such as “Ezelinga” and “Hetsilingen” echoing the early iterations of a community destined to thrive.

The town’s significance burgeoned in the Middle Ages due to its strategic location by the Neckar River, an asset for both trade and defense. By the 13th century, Esslingen had emerged as a Free Imperial City, enjoying political autonomy and becoming a thriving economic hub within the Holy Roman Empire.

Esslingen from Esslingen CastlePin
Esslingen from Esslingen Castle

This period witnessed Esslingen’s expansion, the establishment of its town rights, and fortifications that stand testament to its once essential defensive role.

Esslingen’s characteristic timber-framed houses and gothic churches bear witness to its medieval wealth and the skill of its craftsmen, a legacy of the booming cloth and wine trade. The town was a member of the medieval trade league, the Swabian League, and later became part of Württemberg.

Its allegiance shifted in the post-medieval era, yet its economic prowess continued, especially with the advent of industrialization in the 19th century when engineering and metalworking industries took root.

The Second World War did not significantly harm the ancient heart of Esslingen, allowing it to retain its medieval cityscape—one of the best-preserved in Germany. Post-war, Esslingen became part of the prosperous Baden-Württemberg state and underwent a cultural renaissance while rebuilding its economy.

Today, Esslingen is a confluence of antiquity and modernity, where centuries-old festivals like the Onion Festival and the Medieval Market mingle with contemporary art at Villa Merkel. It is a city that encapsulates the German experience—not merely surviving through history but adapting with grace, maintaining a deep reverence for its past and a dynamic progression towards the future.

Esslingen, with its cobblestone charm and industrious spirit, is not just a relic to behold but a living city continuing to weave its story through the ages.

Note that this city is sometimes referred to as Esslingen am Neckar to distinguish it from another Esslingen in Germany.

Top 12 Incredible Things To Do In Esslingen

These attractions in Esslingen have been written somewhat in geographical order starting with the castle above the town and working down to Villa Merkel on the Neckar River.

You can easily walk between all these places to visit in Esslingen. Click here to find them on a Google map so you are all set to go.

You can see all these things to do in Esslingen in a day. With more time, consider day trips to Stuttgart (more information here), Ludwigsburg (more information here), Tübingen (more information here) or Ulm (more information here).

1. Explore the Esslingen Castle (Burg Esslingen)

Esslingen Castle (Burg Esslingen)Pin
Big Tower at Esslingen Castle (Burg Esslingen)

A visit to Esslingen Castle is a step into a world where tales of knights and feudal life emerge from the stone. The Fat Tower, a robust relic of the Middle Ages, stands as a testament to the town’s former defensive might. It’s a beautiful setting amongst the vines and above the town.

With a history that whispers from each ruinous nook, visitors can roam these ancient grounds and engage with the tactile storybook of Esslingen’s prestigious past.

While there isn’t a big palace or here or castle-like structure, walking between Fat Tower and the Powder Tower through the covered wall is likely to be the highlight. There are breathtaking views of the surrounding valley and town from here which make the climb up the many stairs from the Old Town to the castle worth it. I took the photo in the history section above from here.

Walking between Fat Tower and the Powder Tower at Esslingen CastlePin
Walking between Fat Tower and the Powder Tower at Esslingen Castle

There are two ways you can walk here from the Old Town – up the stairs just mentioned and walking round the streets to arrive at the top of the site. I did the latter and walked down the stairs. This way I got to see everything and I enjoyed the steep, but better than lots of stairs, walk.

If you want to take the stairs, put into Google maps “Eingang zur Burgmauer” and then look for the stairs there. It wasn’t showing the stairs as a valid path when I visited. To go to the top, “Esslinger Burg” will take you there.

From the top of the site, you have a great view of the castle site itself.

An alternative to walking up is to take a bus to the top at Burgplatz. Google Maps can help you with this too.

2. Take a Stroll in the Old Town (Altstadt)

Esslingen Old TownPin
Esslingen Old Town

Esslingen’s Old Town is lovely to wander. With cobblestoned streets, half timbered houses and a variety of colorful architectural styles, you’ll feel like you are in many eras at once!

Each timber-framed house and fountain-dotted square has a story to tell, offering a chance to see, touch, and feel history.

As you wander around the Esslingen attractions below, also wander off the direct path. Soak in this beautiful and largely original Old Town.

While I did really like Esslingen Old Town, I was a little disappointed. This was because I had visited here after seeing it mentioned in many lists of “best Old Towns in Germany”. So I had very high expectations! It is very nice, but I wouldn’t say it was one of the best (you can read my list of the best old towns here).

I say this just to set expectations if you have been to many absolutely amazing old towns. I’m sure you will love it here.

3. Explore Frauenkirche

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Frauenkirche

As a masterpiece of gothic architecture, the Frauenkirche captures the devotion and artistry of medieval masters. It’s reputed to be the first Gothic hall church in this part of Germany after being started in the 1300s. It took nearly 200 years to be completed which happened in 1515.

To give you an idea of the historic treasures you can find in Esslingen, this is Esslingen’s newest church!

Inside Frauenkirche EsslingenPin
Inside Frauenkirche

The towering spires and resonant chambers form a majestic spiritual heart in the town. Inside, the ethereal light passes through stained-glass narratives, illuminating the interior with stories of faith that span generations – some of the stained glass windows in the choir date back to 1330.

4. Browse Around Marktplatz

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Marktplatz

The Marktplatz isn’t a historic square like in many towns. This platz was created in 1811 when the city’s hospital was pulled down.

However, what it lacks in history, its makes up for in color and beauty. There are beautiful houses lining the square, the iconic Stadtkirche (coming up) and an actual market does take place here twice a week.

It’s also the site of other events such as the Zwiebelfest (Onion Festival) in August.

5. Visit Stadtkirche St. Dionys

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Stadtkirche St. Dionys

The Stadtkirche St. Dionys stands as a guardian of high gothic grandeur, its spires reaching towards the heavens as they have for centuries. The church is an architectural narrative in stone and glass, holding within its walls many stories of faith from the long time it has served as a city church.

Most of the church comes from the 13th century but it was built over older churches from the 8th and 10th centuries. In the 17th century, an addition was made which it is most famous for now – the footbridge between the two towers. It was replaced in 1900 with what you see pictured above today.

Inside Stadtkirche St. Dionys EsslingenPin
Inside Stadtkirche St. Dionys

You can view the Gothic art inside, stained windows from the 14th century and other beautiful historic items inside.

6. Admire Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall)

Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) EsslingenPin
Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall)

The Altes Rathaus enthralls with its exquisite facade and the horological genius of its astronomical clock. This building served as a hub of governance and pivotal decisions that steered the course of Esslingen’s history.

It can feel like it has a split personality – walk right around the building and you’ll see what I mean!

One side is pictured above. It’s from the late 16th-century by Renaissance architect, Heinrich Schickhard. However, walk round the other side and you’ll see half-timbered architecture that dates back to the 1420s.

Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) EsslingenPin
The other side of Altes Rathaus

Back then, council chambers was on the upper floor while the ground floor was about taxation and trade.

The cool astronomical clock dates back to 1592.

7. Walk Past Little Venice (Klein Venedig)

Little Venice (Klein Venedig) EsslingenPin
Little Venice (Klein Venedig)

Klein Venedig, or “Little Venice,” in Esslingen captures the hearts of its onlookers, with the gently converging streams of the Neckar, Rossneckar, and Wehrneckar supposedly like the iconic canals of Venice. It’s nothing at all like Venice, but it is a pretty spot.

The historical ambiance is richly evoked by the closely packed framework of traditional houses and old watermills that hail from the 1400s, all set against the impressive backdrop of sites like the spires of the Stadtkirche.

8. Visit Esslingen City Museum in the Yellow House (Stadtmuseum im Gelben Haus)

Esslingen City Museum in the Yellow House (Stadtmuseum im Gelben Haus)Pin
Esslingen City Museum in the Yellow House (Stadtmuseum im Gelben Haus)

The walls of the Stadtmuseum im Gelben Haus are steeped in history, each room a chronicle of Esslingen’s transformation from its first mention in 777 to the present.

The focus isn’t just on big events but the everyday life of the city. It covers Esslingen’s development from a medieval imperial city to an important industrial city.

The focus is on the history and everyday life of the imperial city with its craftsmen and guilds. It takes you through the historical development from medieval imperial city to one of the most important industrial cities in Württemberg.

This is the place to go in Esslingen to learn more about its history. There is information in English.

9. Walk Through Wolfstor

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Wolfstor

A great way to enter the Old Town area is through the Wolfstor (Wolf Gate) which is a medieval defense tower dating back to 1220. Once part of walls that encircled Esslingen, it gives you a glimpse into the past.

On the outer side, look for a pair of lions that were carved in the 13th century. They symbolize a line of Holy Roman Emperors who held court in Esslingen. These lions have warped over the years to look more like wolves which is where the name of this gate originates.

10. Discover Villa Merkel

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Villa Merkel

Villa Merkel is a contemporary art gallery in a stately 19th-century villa surrounded by parkland. It was constructed in concrete – a first for southern Germany.

Next to the Neckar River, it’s a beautiful spot. 15 rooms of the Villa are used for changing exhibitions of international art.

11. Stroll by the Neckar

Path by the Neckar River in EsslingenPin
Path by the Neckar River in Esslingen

Once you have made it to Villa Neckar, you are just steps away from a beautiful path along the Neckar River. Take a stroll or sit and have a picnic. It’s a lovely spot.

If you are here on a day trip, you can walk along this path back to the train station.

12. Take a Day Trip

Old Town TübingenPin
Old Town Tübingen

Esslingen is so close to Stuttgart that I used it as my base to explore this part of Germany. It’s such a lovely town, and I found accommodation to be much better value here. I also loved returning in the evenings to such beautiful surrounds.

Stuttgart is just ten minutes away with plenty to explore. Read more here.

Ludwigsburg is also just one train trip and a must visit for the Ludwigsburg Residential Palace, often referred to as the “Versailles of Swabia”. Read more here.

I also day tripped to Tübingen which is just a 45 minute train trip. The Old Town in this university town is spectacular. Read more here.

While I stayed in Ulm, you can also easily day trip there from Esslingen too. Read more here.

Where To Stay In Esslingen

Esslingen is a smaller place so there isn’t a huge range of places to stay. However, I have an excellent option very close to the Old Town and an easy, 5-minute flat walk from the train station. It’s great value!

MAVO Hospitality by Büroma Apart Apartmentvermietung

MAVO Hospitality by Büroma Apart Apartmentvermietung Studio ApartmentPin
Part of my Studio Apartment

This is a great option if you would love some space as well as a great location. The studio apartments are a great size and have everything you need from a dining table and chairs to an equipped kitchen (including dishwasher) to a television to a private bathroom and bedroom area.

My studio apartment had everything I needed as well as climate control, a welcome bottle of water and a delicious macaroon. The only downside is that the “curtains” are shutters on the outside and they didn’t come close to blocking all the light. They dimmed the room rather than made it dark.

There aren’t really any facilities here – and the reception is only staffed during weekday business hours – but there is a laundry room you can use with washing machines and dryers and great wifi internet.

If you arrive outside of their opening hours, they message instructions about how to access your apartment. It was all quite straightforward.

Click here to see the latest prices.

How To Get To Esslingen

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Esslingen station

Your first step to get to Esslingen is generally to get to Stuttgart. Direct regional trains or high-speed trains come to Stuttgart from many parts of the country quickly and easily.

The next step is an easy trip on the S-Bahn or a regional train for your final stretch to Esslingen. This is only around 10 minutes on a regional train and trains run regularly. If you are coming from elsewhere in Baden-Württemberg, you may be able to get a direct train to Esslingen.

Click here to check out Deutsche Bahn schedules and prices.

Driving is a tempting alternative, offering you the freedom to meander through Germany’s varied landscapes. Rental cars are abundant and roads are well-signed.

Click here to check out car hire options and prices.

Final Words

Esslingen Old TownPin
Esslingen Old Town

Esslingen presents a charming blend of medieval history and contemporary vibrance, offering an array of experiences that caters to the tastes of every traveler. Whether you are meandering through the cobblestone streets, checking out the views from the castle, or exploring nearby towns, Esslingen encapsulates a timeless allure that leaves an indelible mark on its visitors.

It also made a great base from which to explore this part of Germany.

Ultimately, the town is a hidden gem nestled in the heart of Baden-Württemberg, inviting those who seek a break from the rush of city life to a place where tradition and modernity dance in harmony.

From the architectural splendors of the Stadtkirche and the blissful views atop the Esslingen Castle to the simple pleasure of a leisurely stroll along the Neckar River, Esslingen am Neckar is a wonderful place to spend some time.

Read our our guide to nearby Stuttgart here, Tübingen here and Ulm here. Find more guides to Southern Germany here.

Sharon Gourlay in the Rhina Valley

By Sharon Gourlay

Sharon first fell in love with Germany back in 2000 on her first visit. She loves the long history, the picturesque Old Towns, the castles, the food, everything really! Since then, she has visited many times and loves writing about Germany here so you can enjoy it too. In fact, Sharon loves German culture so much that she sent her kids to a German primary school in Australia. She especially loves Berlin and towns with charming Old Towns like Celle and Quedlinburg. Sharon also has a Certificate III in International Travel Sales and understands the nitty gritty of travel planning. Through this site, she'll help you have the perfect trip to Germany whether it's your first or tenth time!

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