Stuttgart might not have quite the same profile as top German city break destinations like Berlin, Cologne and Munich, but the home of Mercedes and Porsche still has plenty to offer. So does this motor city naturally lend itself towards a car-based holiday, or can you get around perfectly well without one?
- Romantic Road – the Romantic Road is a well marketed modern creation, based around touring by car. The route runs in a roughly north-south direction for some 300 km, with Stuttgart being a natural place from where to start. If you pick up a hire car at Stuttgart airport and work your way down from the north, then you will save the best ’til last, concluding at the spectacular folly that is the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein. Travelling between the different stopping off points by car, you can take as little or as much time as you want, either staying overnight at hotels along the way, or breaking the journey into two or three days and returning back to Stuttgart each night.
- Black Forest – heading south-west towards Basle, you can hit the top of the Black Forest within a couple of hours of leaving Stuttgart airport, and there are some great driving opportunities to be had.
- Baden-Baden – they say New York is so good that they named it twice, but that only happens in song. Baden-Baden quite literally means The Baths – The Baths! With imposing leisure palaces such as Caracalla evoking the spirit of the original in Rome, Baden-Baden is one of those towns where indulgence is strictly top of the menu.
Think of this as the German equivalent of, well, Bath, and you can’t go too far wrong, although the Roman references here are strictly of a more modern variety. Whilst it is perfectly possible to reach Baden-Baden by train from Stuttgart, you need to allow a couple of hours, and you have to change to get here. The spas in Baden-Baden can stay open as late as 10 p.m., and after this there is plenty of entertainment from casinos to shows. The last train back to Stuttgart leaves that 11 p.m., so if you don’t plan to overnight here, a hire car is a much better idea.
- Slow public transport – if there was an award for the slowest train from an airport to the city centre it serves, then Stuttgart would be a very strong contender. The combination of stopping at each suburb on the way and a very circuitous route mean you should allow a good half an hour to get into town by train, whereas the drive can take as little as 15 minutes. Of course, there is no point in getting a hire car in Stuttgart just to drive around the city, but for a mix of city attractions and getting out into the countryside, the hire car is just a lot more flexible.
- Excursion to Ulm – a quick sprint from our to the East of Stuttgart will take you to the dramatic city of Ulm, which has one of Germany’s most impressive churches, although technically there is no bishop here, so it isn’t officially a cathedral. In addition to a delightful historic centre, Ulm also has a number of impressive modern buildings, including a pyramid shaped library and a cleanly designed cultural centre with the instantly recognisable signature of Richard Meier.
- City connections – although Stuttgart can be a good base in its own right, for many people it is the sort of city to pass through and dwell perhaps for one night, before carrying on elsewhere. Stuttgart makes a natural break between the better-known cities of Frankfurt and Munich, and it is also well-connected with destinations to the South West such as Baden-Baden, Freiburg, Karlsruhe and then into Switzerland via Basle. Jumping around between major cities is always much easier to do by train, because you arrive directly into the heart of each destination, and you don’t have to worry about parking costs. Additionally, Stuttgart makes a great stopping off point on the type of multicity tour where you fly into one destination (perhaps Cologne or even Amsterdam) and fly out from another (let’s say Munich or Zürich). Even if you stay within the boundaries of one country, doing this sort of journey as a road trip is likely to land you with hefty one way car rental fees, when there’s just no need to bother.
- Cultural attractions – the most famous cultural attraction in Stuttgart is the starts Gallery, designed by British architect James Stirling, which is regarded as one of the leading examples of post modern architecture. Whilst the collection inside is as impressive as any other major European cultural centre, the real beauty of this building is the way you can wind your way over it on the path that runs up the hillside from one end to the other. This is very much a walking experience par excellence!
- Pedestrian central – you might be reminded that Stuttgart is a car town when you are greeted with a huge Mercedes logo on acting the main railway station, but the centre itself is actually heavily pedestrianised, and all of the main points of interest are within an easy 10 to 15 minute walk of each other. This network is backed up by several suburban (s-bahn) railway routes which run underneath the city at this point, and it is very easy to orientate yourself around the main station anyway.
- Hiking and mountain biking – many of the scenic areas mentioned above can be enjoyed even more on foot, or from a mountain bike, which can easily be hired at various different locations. Although having a hire car means you can set the pace, public transport in this part of the world is still perfectly adequate, and this can give you the flexibility to walk between different locations and returned from a different stop.
- Romantic Road by bike – although primarily marketed as a road trip, the Romantic Road is also a very popular destination for cycling holidays. Starting from the UK, you can look at flights to Stuttgart and then either take your own bikes or hire ones locally, or you can reach this part of Germany by train from London, changing at Brussels and Cologne.
- Public transport network – apart from the slow train to and from the airport, the network of public transport in Stuttgart is excellent, with plenty of buses supplementing the substantial local and suburban train network.
Conclusion: Should you rent a car in Stuttgart? As with any other German city, there is no firm advice about whether or not to get a hire car in Stuttgart, you can get by perfectly well, whether you have one or not. Yet on balance, there must surely be more places of interest outside the city than there are within, and the best way of exploring the scenic areas is to do so with a car. Therefore, a hire car is recommended, but it is by no means essential.
Verdict – yes
Useful links relating to Stuttgart car hire and transit: