Augsburg is one of the most surprising places in Germany. Yes, it has all the history you would expect, and lovely buildings as a result.
But who would have thought that it would prove equally attractive to railway enthusiasts, people passionate about plants, animal lovers, puppeteers, steam engine fans, art aficionados, Mozart lovers, fashionistas and anyone who likes relaxing over a beer or a coffee to the sound of fountains? Or that the world’s highest roller coaster is a short outing away, as is Germany’s Legoland?
And while London has the Shard and the Walkie Talkie, Augsburg has the Corn Cob – actually a luxury hotel whose round design is based on Chicago’s Marina Towers.
It’s full of surprises, and you’ll find yourself struggling to see everything during your visit here, especially since there are lots of cafes and restaurants tempting you to sit down and unwind with a beer or a coffee and one of the wonderful local bagels.
This is a very easy city to visit with children and there is lots for them to do. Ask your children to spot the yellow flag flying on top of the tower. When you see it, it means the Perlach tower, which dates from 1182, is open. It’s only 70 steps to the top – but the children will love going up and seeing the city from above.
As well as the zoo with its adventure playground, there’s the puppet theatre, a lovely swimming pool with sea animals carved into the walls, the botanic gardens to run around in, and just outside the city walls, short pony treks and cycle hire for rides around the lake. And…
Legoland is a short journey away!
Legoland Germany is at Günzberg, just 30 miles from Augsburg. There are water attractions, roller coasters and the full-on Lego experience. If your older kids are thrill seekers, the highest rollercoaster in the world is in the Allgäu Skyline theme park 40 minutes away. Just saying!
The Dorint Hotel (the “Corn Cob”) is part of a chain that gives a “teddy bear” rating and if you look on the hotel’s website, you’ll get a list of what child-friendly features they have.
Meet Mr. Diesel – Augsburg’s amazing engineering heritage
One of the city’s most amazing sons is Mr Diesel himself. Augsburg is where Rudolf Diesel invented the diesel engine and the MAN diesel factory has been here since 1840. Today, they make heavy machinery that leverages the famous German talent for precision engineering.
If you want to see historic trucks of every kind, the MAN museum has them, plus tractors, printing presses and much more. There’s even a MAN engine at the plant that’s been running for 111 years.
And Rudolf Diesel isn’t the only famous son of Augsburg – Mozart’s father was born here and his picturesque house in the old town is now a museum.
Augsburg’s animal-friendly zoo
Augsburg zoo is very much a modern, animal-friendly zoo. The animals have natural and spacious habitats, and the zoo is involved in over 20 international breeding programmes for endangered species – the animals, include white rhino and elephants. They live in a landscaped park with ponds, streams and open spaces.
Historic churches and synagogue
Augsburg Cathedral dates from the eleventh century originally. There are pillars in the nave which have paintings dating from 1493, by Hans Holbein and the cathedral also contains the Bishop’s Throne which goes back to the eleventh century.
The cathedral is a Catholic church; among a raft of historic churches, make time to see the lovely little Protestant church, St. Ulrich’s, built in 1458.
And Augsburg synagogue is this year celebrating its centenary. It was renovated in the 1980s and became a place of worship again. It houses the first independent Jewish cultural museum to open in post-war Germany, and often hosts lectures and talks.
Eating and drinking
Bavarians are not noted for meanness when it comes to food and drink! In fact, part of any visit here must be to sample the local beers, cheeses, wines, produce, regional dishes and specialities. German bread is really, really good and available in lots of different varieties – so ask for a recommendation to a good baker if you are putting a picnic lunch together. There’s no crusty roll like a German crusty roll fresh from the bakery!
Vegetarian and vegan
Opting to be vegetarian is as common in Germany as it is in England, so vegetarians will find themselves with a great choice of places to eat out. In fact, there are both vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Augsburg.
The Perlach Acht often gets the best rating online for a vegetarian restaurant – it has a small menu, often a sign of good food, as it means that everything is being freshly cooked. Interesting starters, hearty main courses – and very good reviews from hungry vegetarians.
Vegans are served by several “vegan-friendly” restaurants, such as the Happy Cow and Mom’s Table, including some that offer gluten-free dishes.
Restaurants serving both meat and vegetarian cuisine
There are also restaurants that serve meat but are vegetarian-friendly. Don’t be put off by the name, the Ratskeller has a great reputation. It’s wonderfully atmospheric, hidden in the mediaeval vaulted wine cellars under Augsburg town hall. It’s ideal if you are a mixed party of meat eaters and vegetarians, and the Bavarian dishes on offer here are very authentic. As well as hearty schnitzels though, the restaurant offers lighter meals – specialising in salad and fish.
Fine dining – wild game
As well as the Ratskeller, Augsburg has a number of other fine dining restaurants. Perhaps the best-known is the Restaurant Die Ecke, where wild game in traditional Swabian style is a speciality. Restaurant und Brasserie Haupt also offers both Swabian and Bavarian fine dining dishes.
Forget everything you think you know about German wine. The wines in this area come from a region called Franconia where it’s very warm. Most Franconian wines are dry. They are drunk young, while fresh, and are delicious. Although the Munich beer festival is famous, many towns in Bavaria have wine festivals, called Weinfest.
Lots of German vineyards have small outlets where they sell their wine – often at amazingly good prices. So it’s worth sampling and travelling around a bit if you are mobile, because if you find a wine you like, you could bag yourself a bargain. Some of these are places that are only open at certain times of year – so for the curious, it’s worth doing some research.
Put together a Bavarian picnic
Traditional Bavarian foods include large fresh pretzels. Forget the little biscuits in packets you get in UK supermarkets – these are substantial fresh snacks, baked in the oven, glazed with beaten egg and sprinkled with salt – delicious as part of a picnic in the botanical gardens or forest. You may find them made with wheat or spelt, or containing different kinds of grains – definitely worth sampling several different kinds.
Augsburg is in the sub-district of Bavaria known as Swabia – and Swabians have several delicious specialities that you’ll be able to try in Augsburg. The Weisswurst is a spiced sausage that is always eaten very fresh – in Augsburg, they used to say you shouldn’t eat it after the church clocks chimed midday. Pretzel, weisswurst, and some German mustard – a great midday snack.
Another Augsburg mid-morning snack (well come on, they did invent the diesel engine before lunch) is the Leberkäse. In Augsburg, this is a kind of meatloaf with fresh beef and pork. “Wurstsalat” is any kind of sausage with salad – often onions and lettuce.
For a quick snack while exploring the city, the Stadtmarkt is the place to go. It’s got everything from Asian to Mediterranean, to Swabian food. You eat standing up at the counters – like a native born Augsburger.
Nature and the environment
Augsburg Environmental Centre has tonnes of information about the natural environment around Augsburg. If you’re a geocaching fan they’ll even lend you a GPS device, so pick up your coordinates here and get searching!
There’s a bat park in town, best visited at dusk to see these mysterious creatures.
For a hike, bike ride or stroll through the woods, you have one of Bavaria’s national parks on your doorstep. The Augsburg-Western Woods Nature Park has a lovely landscape of gently swelling hills – ideal either for a family day out, or some serious walking.
It’s a mercifully short journey by plane – under two hours – which makes Augsburg a practical option for a long weekend if you can’t spare an entire week. The nearest airports are Munich and Stuttgart – there are usually more flights to Munich from the UK, so you may find it cheaper.
It’s about an hour from the airport to Augsburg; you can hire a car, get a taxi (it may be cheaper to book this through your hotel or as part of a flight/transfer package) or choose public transport if you’re feeling adventurous. You’ll need to get the subway to Munich Hauptbahnhof station and then get the train to Augsburg.
There are also shuttle services that can be booked online, and of course buses and coaches. When you get to Augsburg, you’ll find buses and trams, so the city is easy to get around.
Good value hotels at every level
There ‘s accommodation to suit every possible pocket and taste, from youth hostels and budget hotels, to the famous four star “Corn Cob” Hotel Dorint, right in the centre of town.
If you’re used to UK prices for hotels, you may be pleasantly surprised at some of the excellent value on offer, even in the four-star hotels.