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The past and present meld in Freiburg, the modern medieval marvel at the edge of the Black Forest

On the southern edge of the Black Forest sits the small yet cosmopolitan city of Freiburg, which gives you a compelling taste of medieval history and a convenient base for exploring the region.

Dome of Freiburg Cathedral

Best known for its imposing Gothic cathedral and its longstanding university, Freiburg combines a strong sense of tradition with a forward-looking attitude. The medieval cathedral and city gates, which have been preserved since the 13th century, combine with buildings and street plans that were reconstructed after World War II to recreate the 16th-century city. The university, established in 1457 by the Hapsburg Dynasty, has seen such 20th-century luminaries as Max Weber, Martin Heidegger and Hannah Arendt, and now is a world leader in sustainability research.

The entire central city was converted to a pedestrian-only zone in 1973, and Freiburg is best explored on foot. Look for the Bächle, the runnels built into the cobblestone streets that carry runoff water from the Black Forest, and the mosaic patterns decorating the walkways.

Known as the Jewel of the Black Forest, Freiburg is a small university city with a 21st-century attitude and a 16th-century feel. Extensively reconstructed after World War II to appear as it did during the Renaissance, Freiburg’s immense Gothic cathedral, medieval gates and mosaics in its cobblestone streets all give the sense of stepping back in time.

The city also has a reputation as a metropolis, with its old and respected university, sophisticated shopping and forward-thinking environmental practices. Close to the border of both France and Switzerland, the city has an international character while also being the gateway to the unmistakeably German Black Forest.

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Freiburg Minster, the cathedral at the city’s heart, is the main draw. Finished in 1200, the cathedral took 300 years to build, and its fanciful gargoyles at times reflect the builders’ discontent with the bishop, who wasn’t paying them on time. The rest of the structure, with its sandstone bricks that glow gold and red in the afternoon sun, is a marvel of Gothic spires, intricate arches and stained glass. The central spire was the first to be built with an open latticework structure, giving it an airy lightness as it pierces the sky. Around the cathedral, the Münstermarkt or farmers' market operates six days a week, and the cathedral’s many exterior carvings include the shapes of bread.

The city gates of Martinstor and Schwabentor have also stood since the 13th century, and offer a glimpse into a time when fortification from the outside world was paramount. Both are near the middle of the city, and like the cathedral, survived the 1944 bombing that destroyed all of the houses surrounding them.

The small canals running through the old town are actually a cunning gutter system, known locally as Bächle or little streams. On hot days you can see dogs drinking from them and people cooling their feet, and legend has it that whoever steps into the canals by accident must marry someone from Freiburg. (A warning that the cathedral needs to be reserved very far in advance.)

As you walk the old town streets, you’ll also notice the patterns laid into the cobblestones, including the shapes of pretzels, beer steins and scissors that indicate the businesses that once existed nearby. Outside the city hall, look down for the coats of arms of the many sister cities that Freiburg enjoys, including Innsbruck, Matsuyama in Japan and Madison, Wisconsin.

Best time to visit Freiberg

Freiburg is lovely in the warmer months, and late May through August is best if you want to avoid the sometimes-rowdy university students. November and December, though colder, are also great due to the city’s excellent Christmas markets.

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Map of Freiberg

Places & hotels on the map

    Places near Freiberg

    Accommodation choices for Freiberg

    We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Freiberg. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.

    • Zirbelstube Restaurant

      Colombi Hotel

      Deluxe

      The Colombi Hotel offers a luxe experience in a location that’s convenient to all Freiburg has to offer. Eat at the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, enjoy the infinity pool or take the short walk to the main sights in town.

    Ideas for experiencing Freiberg

    Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Freiberg, and which use the best local guides.

    • Tree lined path of Triberg

      Black Forest in depth

      Baden-Baden

      Ride the panoramic roads of the Black Forest, venture up the seven-tiered Triberg Waterfalls and explore the town of Triberg. Spend a day getting to know the Black Forest on this full-day trip through the region.

    • Blueberries, Freiburg

      Freiburg farmers' market

      Freiberg

      Get to know the local produce and cuisine with this three-hour guided tour of Freiburg’s farmers’ market. Learn about the market from a local who can help you choose among the offerings, from sausage and spices to locally made handicrafts.