It’s been five long years since I moved from Stuttgart to the United Kingdom, and I miss it every day. In fact, I travel back every single chance I get – not least because I met my wife there.
There’s something about the way the city nestles along the ‘kessel’, or cauldron shaped by an ancient volcano, that feels welcoming, homely, inviting. I just can’t get enough of it.
That’s not all there is to love about the capital of Baden-Württemberg, however. Here’s my top ten reasons why Stuttgart is the perfect place to visit, or maybe dally in a little longer.
10. It’s easy to get to, and leave from.
It sounds funny including this at the head of my list, but Stuttgart’s relative centrality and excellent transport links make it an ideal base for travellers to venture elsewhere from – or even stay for a prolonged period.
Manfred Rommel Airport (named after the former mayor of Stuttgart and, yes, Erwin’s son) flies to almost every destination in Europe you care to think about, and many beyond that. Trains, including high-speed ICE and TGV connect other German capitals and cities in France. The roads around the centre of town leave a little to be desired, but if you can handle the occasional ‘Stau’, the city is connected to number of major roads spanning across Germany and beyond.
9. In terms of art and culture, it punches above its weight.
The heart of the former Duchy of Württemberg has had centuries to accrue a massive amount of art. The Neue Staatsgalerie, not far from the city centre has a world-class collection of medieval, baroque, impressionist and modern art. Not far away, the Kunstmuseum, just off Schlossplatz in a giant modern ‘cube’ has a treasure trove of modern art, including many paintings by Weimar Germany’s most famous painter, Otto Dix, The Landesmuseum Württemberg, located in the Alte Schloss also has a superb collection of religious and civic art from the last 500 years.
Stuttgart's Alte Schloss. Photo: DPA
Stuttgart also has a world-class ballet and opera, and it’s very easy to pick up cheap tickets to see some world-famous performers do their thing, either in their dedicated buildings near the Neue Schloss, or in venues around the city.
Additionally, as a one-time Stuttgarter, let me say this – it’s almost impossible to go a fortnight in ‘Stuggi’ without coming across some amazing cultural festival, tucked away in one of the city’s many ‘Viertels’.
8. It hosts the Oktoberfest more attractive, more interesting little sister.
For thousands of backpackers and tourists, the Munich Oktoberfest is the apogee of beery, boozy festivities. Truth be told, in some ways, it’s quite played out. In fact, Munich city officials are starting crack down on some of the more debauched hijinks.
If you’re looking for something a little more authentic, with more of a distinct local flavour, the Cannstatter Wasen, held each September into October, is a smaller, but no less fun version of Munich’s signature festival. Indeed, many travellers are switching on, and choosing the Wasen over the more famous festival.
There’s a huge number of tents each year, with the city’s most ubiquitous beers – Dinkelacker and Stuttgarter Hofbräu – freely flow. There’s also a whole bunch of fairground rides if you’re not too wobbly afterwards.
Inside a beer tent at Canstatter Volksfest. Photo: DPA
7. It does Christmas right.
Stuttgart’s Christmas Market is one of Germany’s biggest, with coaches arriving daily full of eager visitors looking to pick up handcrafted treats. That said, the way the market is structured throughout the squares and city streets never makes you feel as if you’re in some large, by-the-numbers tourist experience. The vendors, often having travelled a long way, have some truly wonderful artisanal products.
If it’s a little something different you’re looking for, a short train ride away is the town of Esslingen. There, starting in November every year is their Medieval Christmas Market. Juxtaposed against the city’s extremely well-preserved half-timber buildings, hearty medieval style food is sold, while musicians and tumblers do their thing among the crowds. There is also a number of specialised vendors selling appropriately medieval art and crafts.
Truth be told, while it’s hard to avoid the Stuttgart Christmas Market, I make a special effort to visit the Esslingen event – it’s a deeply rich experience, and all those involved do so with gusto!
6. It’s a car lover’s paradise.
Stuttgart is the birthplace of the automobile, and they never quite let you forget that fact. It was Gottfried Daimler’s work on engines that allowed the first economically viable cars to be built, and today the city is home to two iconic auto marques – Mercedes-Benz (part of Daimler AG) and Porsche.
Both Mercedes-Benz and Porsche have their own dedicated museums, and they’re a wonderful way to learn about, and appreciate, just how much engineering and design hard work went in to bringing you some of their most recognized models.
If you’re a bit of a car fanatic, it’s not uncommon to see prototypes being tested on the company’s dedicated tracks (the Mercedes one can be spied from the U-Bahn), or driven around town (albeit under cover). The odd glimpse of a new model captured by a photographer is enough to generate a firestorm of publicity and reportage!
5. There’s a definite local character.
Stuttgarters, it seems, are viewed from the outside as a serious, hard working – dare I say it – miserly lot. Yet spend time among them and they will open up to you and claim you as their own, and that’s a bond not easily broken.
Working and playing hard is a little bit of a cliche, it must be said, but Stuttgarters also do seem to embody the stereotype. After a hard day’s work, they take having fun almost as seriously as they do their day jobs. They’ll take almost any opportunity to crack out the beers, especially if it’s sunny, and they’ll party on all night if you let them.
They will observe proper noise regulations, however, and take their bottles for the all important pfand.
4. The food is great.
Swabian food is hearty food. Expect a lot of pasta and noodles, combined with pork and beef. Maultaschen are a regional specialty that have undergone a renaissance of late – large pasta-wrapped parcels containing a spiced pork centre.
Mautaschen served at Stuttgart's 'Todi's'. Photo: DPA
Eateries throughout the city compete to win over some very picky customers with their variations. If that’s not your scene, you can get an amazing rostbraten – or beef – served with Swabia’s distinctly tangy potato salad and fried onions. My tip is the Alte Kanzlei, on Schillerplatz.
For those watching their figure, or are looking for a bit of variety, Stuttgart is home to a growing number of eateries serving the city’s huge expat population. Whether it’s Turkish or Thai, Sri-Lankan or Serbian, you’ll find at least two or three restaurants dotted around the city and inner suburbs, serving you favourite fare.
3. It’s a city of neighbourhoods.
As a collection of villages that have grown together to create a metropolis, Stuttgart offers a variety of neighbourhoods with their own distinct feel. Whether it’s scrappy, working-class Stuttgart-Süd, the relaxed, boho Heusteigviertel or football-mad Bad Cannstatt, you never get the impression of homogeneity you can find in some other cities.
That not only gives the visitor more opportunities for exploration, but gives those wanting to settle down more choice – while prices are rising, and quickly, there’s neighbourhoods to suit most lifestyles.
2. It’s an attractive city.
Stuttgart has an amazing variety of architectural styles, from medieval survivals such as the Stiftskirche, the Fruchtkasten and the Alte Schloss, right up to cutting-edge design such as the Kunstmuseum and the city’s new Stadtbibliothek.
While the city was subject to heavy bombing during the second world war, enough of the grand 19th century architecture of the city has survived to give it a faintly majestic air – not exactly faded, but comfortable and lived in.
Whatever your preferred architectural style, you’ll find areas rich with it, with plenty of opportunities to take in examples and photograph them.
A view of Stuttgart's inner city, including the tower of the Stiftskirche. Photo: DPA
1. It has an amazing heritage.
Stuttgart may not have some of the grand origin stories that other German cities have, but that doesn’t mean nothing ever happened here.
Before it was a ‘stud farm’ (from which the name comes), the area was colonised by Romans living and working on the Rhaetian Limes, or border against the wild Germanic tribes. Before that, it was home to a number of Celt tribes, whose artwork and ability to shape metal now seems almost mythical.
In Charlemagne’s day, it was the scene of a massive slaughter of Alemannic tribes, before becoming eventually a local centre of power during the High Middle Ages, as it lay at the conjunction of a number of roads.
15th and 16th century Stuttgart was a centre of learning, as the Dukes of Wurttemberg invited scholars from all over Europe to contribute to the court. This love of learning, art and culture would last well into the 18th century, before the Dukes decamped to nearby Ludwigsburg.
Those who love history will find much to enjoy in Stuttgart. The Landesmuseum Wurttemberg holds treasures from over 5,000 years of occupation, while the Haus der Geschichte and the new Stuttgart City Museum tell their own tales of the Duchy, and the city’s rise respectively.
What do you love about Stuttgart? Let us know – [email protected]