Most travellers are all about Munich or the Black Forest when planning a trip to the south of Germany. And don’t get us wrong, these are fantastic places to visit. But Konstanz is definitely one city you should add to your ‘must explore’ list. Amazing scenery, tasty food and all-around lakeside frolicking.
Located at the western end of Lake Constance and bordering Switzerland, Konstanz is an affordable and fun place to take the family or to visit with friends.
What to see
Beautiful, historic and charming, Konstanz will steal your heart. Its history dates back to Roman times and it has remained relatively unchanged. Today, this lively university town is home to over 85,000 people. It is a cultural wonderland, with museums, art galleries and historic neighbourhoods to explore.
One way to get around is to hop on a bicycle and explore historic places, like the Konstanz Minster, the proto-cathedral of the former diocese of Konstanz or the Rosgarten Museum, where you can find out about the history of the area and local traditions.
If museums aren’t for you, we recommend you make your way to Konstanz harbour. At its entrance, a surprisingly brash modern statue commemorates the wrangling that took place between 1414 and 1418 when the Council of Constance was convened. The Imperia concrete statue (watch the YouTube clip here) is nine metres (30ft) high, weighs 18 tonnes and, very slowly, rotates on its plinth. It was created by German sculptor and satirist Peter Lenk, and the erection of the statue caused huge controversy amongst the locals.
Head to the heart of the marketplace where you should have a good look at the Emperor’s Fountain (Kaiserbrunnen in German). It features four Emperors but, more surprisingly, a three headed peacock wearing a crown on each head and a bronze horse sculpture.
Known as ‘Bodensee‘ in German, the freshwater lake sits in the middle of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, right next to the majestic Alps. And about half an hour away lies the small nation of Liechtenstein.
On a good day, you will be able to see the snow-covered mountain tops while perhaps having a refreshing swim in the lake. No matter in which direction you look, the scenery simply is breathtaking.
There is an activity for everyone here, on as well as around the lake. If you want to explore by foot, you will be spoiled for choice for places to taste the local produce or simply to relax. Try the Hafenhalle at Konstanz harbour, where you can spend hours watching the world go by.
Or, if you prefer to cover some ground, hire a bike and take the 273 km trail along the water’s edge. If you are super quick – or Sir Bradley Wiggins – you could cycle in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in the same day! The trail is broad and flat, free of cars and clearly signposted. There are enough places where you feel totally away from it all, yet you are never more than minutes from a village or an abbey, a glass of wine or slice of cake.
No matter what time of the year you visit, a ferry around the heart of Lake Constance is a must. We recommend taking a boat to the town of Meersburg to explore medieval Meersburg castle (with its own dungeon). The town of Friedrichshafen on the other side of the lake can be reached by catamaran and Friedrichshafen’s Zeppelin Town is worth a visit.
Boat hire and ferry services run throughout the year and on a regular basis but do check schedules in advance.
And, if it’s a lazy time you are after, do it like the locals and spend the day at the Strandbad Horn (also known as Hoernle) a popular lido that offers more than just a pool.
Eating, drinking and nightlife
There are buzzing cafés, Weinstuben, popular beer gardens and gourmet restaurants lining those narrow cobbled streets, and no shortage of leafy squares for flaneurs.
Make sure you stop at the Niederburg in the oldest part of town. Every Friday of the month – between May and October- it’s ‘“Gassen-Freitag”‘, with live music, street food, drinks and even a traditional flea market.
Wine tasting is also available at Weinhandlung Franz Fritz but you have to make a reservation in advance.
You can find one of the best beer gardens, St. Katharinen, at the Mainauwald. It’s a bit further away from the centre but easy to get to and there are plenty of activities for the little ones.
Expect some culinary delights in this great city. Such diverse food culture is rare. At Lake Constance Baden meets Swabian cuisine, Strudel from Austria meets Swiss chocolate.
Fish is a must at the lake, whether it’s prepared as a pike dumpling or smoked fillet. Fish lovers should definitely try the Bodensee Kretzer, fresh from Lake Constance.
Other local things to try are:
The Baden version of the pizza is traditionally covered with sour cream, bacon and onions, but also sweet with apple slices
Popular Lake Constance fish with little bones.
A part of the bovine stomach, it has hardly any flavor. Preparation varies. Wine, onions or tomato make the necessary seasoning. Try it with fried potatoes.
There are of course plenty of opportunities to part with your Euros. Since many artists and craftsmen live on the lake, a stroll through the art galleries is worthwhile.
In addition, the museum shops offer stylish souvenirs. That ranges from jewellery, art and books to inflatable Zeppelin models.
Lago Konstanz shopping centre is always popular if you prefer everything under one roof. Remember that most shops are closed on a Sunday in Germany.
Arrive at the Schänzle when it’s still light, bring a picnic and enjoy a glass of lemonade or bubbly as the sun sets over the lake.
For the best view over the lake, and a bit of Switzerland, go to the Bismarck Tower at the Raiteberg. This observation point is surrounded by vineyards and one of the quieter places in town.
Take a stroll in the Kreuzlinger Park. It’s well sign-posted and there is a petting zoo, Tierpark Kreuzlingen, which is home to a very large pig called Emma. It’s open all year round.
Best time to visit
Konstanz can be visited all year round and there is something happening most months. Christmas markets, fireworks, garden open days – you name it.
In terms of weather, in winter, the lake tends to store heat, and extremely low temperatures are rare. On particularly hot days, the climate can almost be described as subtropical and in summer, the air is cooled by the slowly warming water.
If you are visiting in the summer, don’t miss the annual Konstanzer Seenachtsfest taking place in August. It’s been running for 65 years and around 40.000 people visit each year. It has everything you expect from a fair, live music, artists, kids activities, shows and much more. The fireworks display on the lake never fails to impress. Each year Germany and Switzerland try and outdo each other with their fireworks (taking place on different days). Be prepared to be awed. Oh, and you will need a ticket.
A word of advice – use plenty of insect repellent – the little blighters just love it by the lake on a warm summer evening.
Traffic is usually busy with people from Switzerland coming over to spend their strong Swiss francs. If you can, avoid driving altogether, especially as public transport is reliable. Or just rent a bike.
Where to stay
Villa Barleben am See
Original small hotel located in an old villa by the lake
Phone +49 (0)7531/50074
www.hotel-barleben.de | €€€
Situated on a small island directly in front of the Old Town. It has its own beach.
Auf der Insel 1
Phone +49 (0)7531/1250
www.konstanz.steigenberger.de | €€€
Good value for money in a central location, a five minute walk away from the Old Town
St. Gebhard Str. 14
Phone +49 (0)7531/993399
www.petershof.de | €€
Mainau Island lies just off the shores of Lake Constance. The Arboretum is over 150 years old and home to giant sequoias. It is a beautiful place to enjoy nature seasons and kids can explore the adventure playgrounds.
The largest island on Lake Constance. The Kloster Reichenau is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2003.