Stunning Old Town, River & Castle: BEAUTIFUL Things To Do In Tübingen

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I headed to Tübingen as a day trip when I was staying in Esslingen near Stuttgart. This was very easy to do and, since I had heard it mentioned many times as very pretty on the Germany Footsteps Facebook page, I was excited to visit here. Especially as I love pretty old towns and this one was largely spared damage in World War II.

So was it great? Is it worth your precious Germany vacation time? Let’s find out!

Nestled in the heart of Baden-Württemberg, Tübingen strikes a rare balance between rich history and lively modernity, largely thanks to its vibrant student population. The town has a picturesque setting with the Neckar River gently cradling it and half-timbered houses lining its banks as if posing for a postcard.

However, don’t let Tübingen’s traditional facades fool you into thinking it’s stuck in the past. This place is brimming with contemporary appeal, from innovative research hubs to bustling cafes and verdant parks.

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In this article, we’re uncovering the top ten activities that make Tübingen, Germany, a treasure trove of culture and charm. As we peel back the layers of this quaint and colorful university town, we’ll discover why it’s a must-visit on any traveler’s itinerary – and what you should do when you go there as well as what I thought of visiting here.

Let’s embark on a journey through its quaint streets, explore its intellectual heart, and delve into leisurely activities that both soothe the soul and stimulate the mind. We’re about to lay out the best things this charming town has to offer.

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A Brief History of Tübingen

The town of Tübingen, nestled in the Swabian region of Baden-Württemberg, Germany, brims with a history that dates back to the Middle Ages. With its establishment as a market town in the 12th century, Tübingen quickly became a focal point of trade and ecclesiastical authority.

Yet, it was the founding of the Eberhard Karls University in 1477 that established Tübingen as a beacon of scholarship and intellectual vigor—a character it retains to this day.

The university, one of the oldest in Europe, attracted thinkers and academics from across the continent. Notably, the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther’s influence reached Tübingen, which played a substantial role in the spread of the Reformation. The town became a cradle of enlightenment and liberal thought, leaving an indelible mark on its culture and architecture.

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Throughout the centuries, Tübingen has seen its share of tumult, shaped by the forces of war and peace that swept across Europe. It endured the Thirty Years’ War and later conflicts, with its university serving as a sanctuary for intellectual pursuit amidst chaos. In World War II, Tübingen was fortunate to escape the extensive bombing that devastated many other German cities, allowing its historic core to remain largely intact.

In the post-war years, Tübingen stood as a symbol of recovery and reconciliation. It became home to a number of institutions aimed at fostering international understanding, further solidifying its reputation as a place of learning and dialogue.

The town emerged not just as a center for academic study but also as an exemplar of conservation, maintaining its picturesque medieval streets, and its harmonious coexistence with nature along the Neckar River.

Today, Tübingen’s history continues to be woven by its students, residents, and visitors. The past is celebrated and preserved, even as the town pulses with contemporary life, evolving yet mindful of the heritage that gives it so much character and allure.

Top 10 Incredible Things To Do In Tübingen

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Beautiful Tübingen

Most of these attractions in Tübingen are in the Old Town and are easy to walk between. It’s also easy to reach them from the train station.

However, the last two are a bit further afield and require a bus or car to reach them. Google Maps is a great tool for seeing your bus options, timing and where to catch them.

Other than the last two, you only really need half a day to explore Tübingen’s attractions. It is a great place to go as a day trip, although I’m sure staying overnight and really soaking it all in would be awesome too.

Please forgive some of my photos. I visited on a beautiful, sunny day which made it super hard to take photos with the stark sun and equally stark shade.

1. Explore the Old Town (Altstadt)

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The Old Town of Tübingen is where the rich tapestry of the city’s history unfolds, making it an essential experience for any visitor. This part of the city has been the heartbeat of Tübingen since its foundation in the Middle Ages. Thankfully, Tübingen suffered little damage from WWII so many buildings you see are original.

As you wander through the Altstadt, each cobblestone underfoot and half-timbered façade above tells the story of centuries. The architecture is a testament to the town’s endurance through times of prosperity and hardship.

Notable landmarks like the Ratstüble, a traditional tavern, or the many studiously maintained medieval houses, contribute to the enchanting atmosphere. You can also bask in the academic air emanating from the ancient University of Tübingen, established in 1477, contributing to the intellectual reputation of the city, and you’ll definitely notice the young vibe of the city.

This is definitely a charming and picturesque old town. Whether it’s one of the best in Germany, I’m not convinced, but I did very much enjoy wandering around here.

2. Explore Am Markt and the Amazing Town Hall

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Tübingen Rathaus

Am Markt, the central market square, serves as a picturesque stage for Tübingen’s daily social symphony and is encircled by some of the town’s most historically significant buildings—an architectural feast.

The Town Hall, or Rathaus, stands as a Renaissance masterpiece with a faceted façade and an ornate astronomical clock, a marvel of engineering dating back to the 16th century. On market days, the square buzzes with activity as vendors tout fresh produce, regional specialties, and handcrafted items, continuing a centuries-old tradition.

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Am Markt and Tübingen Rathaus – the market was in full swing when I visited

Around the square, you can delve into boutique shops, indulge in local pastries from quaint bakeries, or simply enjoy the open-air cafes that invite people-watching and relaxation. Special events, including open-air concerts and the magical Christmas market in winter, add to the lure of Am Markt, making it a year-round hub of Tübingen vitality.

This is a highlight of Tübingen’s Old Town.

3. Climb the Stiftskirche Tower

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Stiftskirche

The Stiftskirche is a true emblem of Tübingen, rising prominently above the town and offering one of the most panoramic and enchanting views. The church dates back to the 15th century and has been a witness to the town’s history, observing the tumultuous times and peaceful moments alike. It’s hard to miss this church.

Climbing the Stiftskirche Tower is to literally walk in the footsteps of history, ascending the same steps that generations before have climbed. The interior of the church retains its Gothic appeal with pointed arches and stained glass windows.

From the tower, you can cast your gaze over the scenic sprawl of the town, the Neckar River, and the surrounding valley. Unfortunately, it only has limited opening hours and may not be open if you visit on a weekday. It wasn’t when I visited. 🙁

4. Explore Cottahaus

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Cottahaus

Though modest in size, Cottahaus is rich in cultural significance, a historic dwelling that once was the home of Johann Friedrich Cotta. He published the works of Goethe and Schiller.

In 1797, Goethe stayed a week in Tübingen visiting many pubs.

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One of the signs at Cottahaus

A plaque outside the house commemorates Goethe with the sign “Hier Wohnte Goethe”. On the wall of the house next door is the sign “Hier kotzte Goethe” (Goethe puked here).

It’s opposite the entrance to Stiftskirche so easy to visit as you wander around.

5. Visit Hohentübingen Castle

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Hohentübingen Castle

The formidable Hohentübingen Castle is more than just an imposing silhouette against the skyline of Tübingen. It stands as a sentinel over the city’s stories, with walls that have withstood sieges and the passage of time. The current building was built during the Renaissance with a castle on this site since the 11th century.

Transforming over the years from a defensive fortress to a place of academia and learning, the castle now hosts the University of Tübingen’s museum. Here, you can unearth the past through extensive collections spanning over multiple millennia, including artifacts from the Paleolithic Age to Egyptian mummies, and from the university’s history.

There’s also a large collection of Ice Age Art with some of the oldest pieces of art made by humankind.

And you won’t want to miss the 84,000 liter wine cask from 1564.

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Views from Hohentübingen Castle

The castle’s court also plays host to vibrant festivals and cultural events throughout the year.

I was concerned how much of a climb it might be to this castle from the Old Town, but actually, it only took a few minutes from other areas I was exploring and is definitely worth it, even if you don’t want to visit the museum. There’s also a big terrace area with views over Tübingen.

6. Stroll Along the Neckar Riverfront and Try Punting

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Neckar Riverfront walk

The Neckar River is Tübingen’s serene companion, its gentle flow mirroring the rhythm of life in this historic town. A stroll along the riverfront is a quintessential Tübingen experience, where the serene landscape is often peppered with the sight of the Stocherkähne—traditional punting boats—that glide gracefully along the water.

The history of punting in Tübingen goes back hundreds of years, closely tied to the local culture and leisure. The practice has not only been a means of transport but a social activity, most famously represented by the annual Stocherkahnrennen, a race that has students competing in a spirited display of camaraderie and tradition.

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Punting on the Neckar

You can rent a boat yourself for a hands-on experience or simply watch the punts drift by from the Neckar Bridge or riverside gardens. Nighttime brings a new perspective as the lights from the town and stars above create a magical ambiance.

7. Stroll around the Neckarinsel

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Neckarinsel

The Neckar Island, or Neckarinsel, with its willow-draped banks and peaceful walking paths, is a green oasis at the heart of Tübingen. Accessible via a short walk from the Old Town, this strip of land in the middle of the river beckons those seeking solace from the city’s bustle.

The island is a natural sanctuary where you can indulge in bird-watching, admire the colorful reflections of the Old Town in the river, or simply bask in the shadow of tall trees. The Platanenallee, lined with its plane trees, is particularly stunning in summer when the foliage offers cool shade, and in autumn when golden leaves crunch underfoot.

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Neckarinsel

Neckarinsel is not only an ecological gem but a place of communal joy and relaxation, as seen during the warmer months when it transforms into a venue for leisurely get-togethers and picnics.

8. Delight in Local Cuisine

Tübingen’s culinary offerings are an embodiment of the town’s heritage, a perfect synthesis of traditional flavors and regional produce. The town’s various gasthäuser (inn), weinstuben (wine bars), and biergartens serve as gateways to Swabian cuisine, with dishes like Maultaschen—pasta pockets filled with a savory mix of meats and spinach, seasoned with herbs from the region.

Spätzle, a type of soft egg noodle, is another local favorite, often topped with cheese (Käsespätzle) and crispy onions. Local cuisine serves not only to satisfy hunger but also provides a window into the communal culture of Tübingen, where food is shared and enjoyed together.

9. Visit the Botanischer Garten

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Botanischer Garten

The Botanical Garden of the University of Tübingen serves as a living museum, a place of research, education, and enjoyment. With origins dating back to the 16th century, it has evolved into an expansive area that shelters over 10,000 species of plants from various climate zones.

The garden is a tribute to the diversity of natural beauty, with greenhouses that recreate tropical and subtropical environments, alpine gardens that showcase mountain vegetation, and medicinal plant sections that reflect the garden’s academic link to pharmaceutical studies.

You can take a botanical journey around the world as you move from one ecosystem to the next. The garden also serves as a venue for workshops and exhibitions, heightening the educational aspect of your visit. It is a tranquil spot that offers respite from urban life and beckons with the promise of quiet and discovery.

10. Kloster Bebenhausen

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Kloster Bebenhausen, Holger Uwe Schmitt, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nestled in the heart of the Schönbuch nature park lies Kloster Bebenhausen, a Cistercian abbey founded in the late 12th century. The abbey’s architecture comprises a tranquil blend of Romanesque and Gothic styles, and it invites you to step into a world of contemplative calm.

Its cloistered courts, immaculate chapel, and echo-filled scriptorium speak to the monastic life that once thrived within these walls. Post-Reformation, it served various roles, from a hunting lodge for the Kings of Württemberg to a legislative seat post-World War II.

Today, it is a monument to serenity and a window to the past. Guided tours reveal the abbey’s history, while special events breathe contemporary life into its ancient stones.

How To Get To Tübingen

Setting out for Tübingen? This quintessentially German town is well-connected and waiting for you to discover its charm. Whether you’re venturing from the bustling streets of Berlin or the dynamic shoreline of Hamburg, a journey to Tübingen is a transition from the familiar to the allure of the unknown.

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Tübingen station

From elsewhere in Germany, the most straightforward way is to hop on a train. There are trains from many places in Germany, particularly Stuttgart. If you can make your way to Stuttgart, Tübingen is just another hour by regional trains.

Click here to check out Deutsche Bahn schedules and prices. This site will show you the best way to get there by train.

Not too keen on rail travel? Consider flying into Stuttgart Airport. It’s the nearest major airport to Tübingen and serves numerous domestic and international flights. Once there, the airport shuttle can ferry you comfortably to Tübingen in about an hour. It’s a breeze, and you’ll be dropped off right at the central bus station, a perfect starting point for your Tübingen adventure.

Driving to Tübingen presents its own pleasures. The autobahn network is well-maintained and clearly signposted. Rental car services at every major airport and city center make it easy to start your road trip. Just plug Tübingen into your GPS, and you’re ready for a scenic drive through Germany’s picturesque landscapes and villages en route to your destination.

Click here to check out car hire options and prices.

Whichever method you choose, each route to Tübingen has its unique charm, offering glimpses of Germany’s varied landscapes and an anticipation of the discoveries that lie ahead in this storied town.

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Tübingen Old Town

Final Words

Tübingen is a pretty and friendly town with some nice, low-key attractions and plenty to take in and enjoy as you wander its streets.

Is it worth your holiday time? Yes! If you are in the area, I recommend trying to fit in a visit here. You don’t need long to check out Tübingen and you’re sure to enjoy it. I wouldn’t only come to this area of Germany to see Tübingen though – but add in a visit to Stuttgart, Esslingen and Ludwigsburg too and it makes for a great vacation.

Read our our guide to nearby Stuttgart here, Esslingen here, Ludwigsburg 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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