The university town of Tübingen – Top sights

Categories: Travel reports, Europe, Germany

A visit to the city of Tübingen had been on our bucket list for a long time. On our way back from our vacation at Center Parcs Allgäu we made a stopover here. We spent a day wandering through the historic old town with its alleyways, half-timbered houses and charming squares in the run-up to Christmas and discovered many beautiful corners.

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Interesting facts about Tübingen

Tübingen in Baden-Württemberg is picturesquely situated on the Neckar, around 30 kilometers south of the state capital Stuttgart. With a population of around 93,000, Tübingen is the twelfth largest city in Baden-Württemberg. With its castle, historic old town and numerous significant buildings, the city is steeped in almost a thousand years of history. The town was first mentioned in writing in 1078 and was granted city rights in the middle of the 12th century.

The Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, founded in 1477, is one of the oldest universities in Germany and, with its 28,000 students, has a significant influence on urban life. Due to the high number of students, Tübingen is one of the youngest cities in Germany with an average age of around 40 years.

A really nice and detailed overview map of Tübingen can be found here (it’s best to switch to “Aerial image 2022” at the top right).

Places of interest in Tübingen

Before our visit, we looked online to see which parking garage would be the best starting point for our city tour. We relatively quickly decided on the Neckar parking garage at Wöhrdstraße 7 (location in Google Maps), because it convinced us with its central location. On the way to the old town, you will also pass the tourist information office, where you can get information about the city.

Christmas market in Tübingen

On the weekend of our visit, the Tübingen Christmas market was taking place. And it really surprised us in a positive way, because it was so different from the Christmas markets we had seen before. For one thing, the Christmas market is not in a single square, but is spread out over the many winding alleyways of the old town – over 300 light-decorated stalls stand close together here and spread the Christmas spirit. On the other hand, there are only a few commercial providers. The majority of the stands are provided by local associations and non-profit organizations. In addition, much of the food is home-made, home-cooked and home-baked. We really liked that.

The old town

The best way to explore Tübingen is on foot. The tourist information office has a free brochure “Tübingen Rundgang durch die Altstadt” (Tübingen tour of the old town), which includes two different circular routes. There is a small tour and a large tour, which we have opted for. There is also some useful information in the brochure at each point, so you can find out about the most important sights.

If you don’t want to go on your own, you can join a public tour of the old town. These are offered at different times throughout the year, last around 1.5 hours and cost EUR 10 per person. More information can be found here.

If you prefer a private city tour, you can also book one via GetYourGuide.

Neckarfront and Platanenallee

Just a few steps away from the tourist information office is the Neckar Bridge, from where you have the best view of the picturesque “Neckarfront“. The ensemble of buildings consists of the city wall, colorfully painted houses, the collegiate church, old university buildings and the castle and has been preserved undamaged. The picturesque plane tree avenue is located on the Neckar island below the Neckar bridge. With its plane trees planted in 1828, it is considered the oldest still existing plane tree avenue in Germany. A stroll along the avenue always offers beautiful views of the Neckar front. What we found very unfortunate: From the bridge, there are only steps leading down to the Neckar island, which means we unfortunately couldn’t get any further with the baby carriage.

Hölderlin Tower and Tübingen punting boats

We therefore followed the circular route in our brochure and turned left immediately after the Neckar bridge. Here there is a path through the old city moat between the upper and lower city walls that leads to Tübingen’s landmark – the Hölderlin Tower. The poet Friedrich Hölderlin spent the second half of his life here – from 1807 until his death in 1843. The tower houses an exhibition about his life and works. Admission to the Hölderlinturm is free. As access is not barrier-free, you can also visit the permanent exhibition online.

The most important landing stage for punting trips on the Neckar is located on the bank near the Hölderlin Tower. The trips are very popular and are regarded as the best leisure activity for locals, visitors and guests. These are offered daily from May to September, last about an hour and cost EUR 13 per person. The famous “Tübingen Punt Race” takes place here every year. The traditional boat race on the Neckar is considered one of the funniest and wildest spectacles in Tübingen.

Marketplace and Town Hall

The heart of Tübingen and an important part of city life is the picturesque market square. Due to the Christmas market, we were unable to see the market in its full splendor, but what we did see impressed us greatly. The square is dominated by the imposing Tübingen Town Hall, a late Gothic building with a striking tower. The town hall was built in the 15th century, renovated in 2015 at a cost of EUR 11 million and is a popular photo motif with its beautiful façade.

The surrounding buildings on the market square reflect the rich history of Tübingen. The architecture ranges from medieval half-timbered houses to baroque buildings. There are also small stores, cozy cafés and restaurants that invite you to linger. In the middle of the market square is the historic Neptune Fountain or market fountain, which features various sculptures and reliefs.

The weekly market takes place three times a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the market square. Against the historic backdrop, local farmers and traders offer fresh (organic) food, flowers, handicrafts, regional products and national specialties.

Kornhaus and City Museum

If you walk along Marktgasse from the market square, you head straight for the old granary dating back to 1453. Grain used to be traded here on the first floor. Since 1991, the building has housed the city museum, which is open Wednesdays to Sundays from 11 am to 5 pm. It houses a permanent exhibition on the city’s history as well as temporary exhibitions. We found the exhibition on Lotte Reiniger, a silhouette artist, on the second floor particularly interesting. Here, our daughter was able to get active herself and make her own silhouettes, which we could then project onto the wall using an overhead projector. That was really cool! Admission to the city museum is free.

Protestant Monastery in Tübingen

Our tour continued to the Protestant monastery on the Klosterberg. The Protestant Monastery in Tübingen is a former Augustinian monastery that was converted and expanded into a ducal foundation – a “Stift” – after the introduction of the Reformation in Württemberg in 1534. Since then, it has served as a training center for Protestant theology students. The background to this was to ensure the training of Protestant pastors in the country. Today, the monastery is a place of residence and study for around 120 theology scholars. Women have also been admitted to the foundation since 1969.

Wilhelmsstift, Old Slaughterhouse & Nunnery

During our walk through the old town, we also passed the Wilhelmsstift. It was built in 1590 as a former knights’ academy and was the most important educational institution for Protestant European nobility until the Thirty Years’ War. Later, theology students were trained here and today it functions as a hall of residence.

The former Tübingen slaughterhouse at Lange Gasse 18 is a two-storey half-timbered house with a brick-built first floor and a covered external staircase. The house (Lange Gasse 18) was built at the beginning of the 16th century, so it is over 500 years old. From 1511 to 1892 the building housed the public slaughterhouse, from 1896 it was used as a residential building and later as a municipal auction house. In 1979, the Tübingen Artists’ Association moved into the renovated slaughterhouse.

If you walk past the old slaughterhouse along the Ammerkkanal, you will come to the 15th century nuns’ house. In the beginning, the building was the seat of charitable women. From 1535, it served as the home of the Tübingen medical professor and botanist Leonhart Fuchs, who planted a herb garden with medicinal plants here on the Ammer Canal. This was the foundation stone for one of the first botanical gardens in the world. We have already encountered Leonhart Fuchs on our trip to the fuchsia town of Wemding, because this is where Leonhart Fuchs – after whom the fuchsia is named – was born. During our tour at the time, we were able to discover his birthplace as well as Germany’s only fuchsia pyramid with over 700 fuchsia plants. We found it particularly interesting that Leonhart Fuchs never got to see a fuchsia: when the plant was discovered in South America in 1695, he was already dead. And Charles Plumier, the discoverer of the plant, wanted to honor and commemorate the famous botanist Fuchs with his choice of name.

Collegiate Church at Holzmarkt, Schulberg & Old Assembly Hall

One of the most impressive buildings in Tübingen is the Protestant collegiate church of St. George, which sits majestically on Holzmarkt. The history of the collegiate church dates back to the 15th century. It was built between 1470 and 1490 in the late Gothic style and replaced an older church from the 12th century. As there isn’t much free space around the church and there were Christmas market stalls everywhere, we actually had difficulty photographing it properly and as a whole.

A steep road, the Schulberg, leads from the Holzmarkt up to the Pfleghof. There is a viewing terrace at the top with a view of the surrounding area and the Neckar valley. The Alte Aula is located in the immediate vicinity of the collegiate church. It served as the main building of the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen until the New Assembly Hall was completed in 1845. Today, the building is a cultural monument and is still used by the university.

Hohentübingen Palace

Via the Burgsteige and the lower castle portal, we made our way up to Hohentübingen Castle, which sits majestically on the 372-meter-high Schlossberg above the city. The castle was first mentioned in 1078 as “castrum twingia”, meaning “castle/fortress Tübingen”, which served as a protective structure. The Lords of Tübingen, who were raised to the rank of Count Palatine in the 12th century, lived here until they sold the castle and town to the Counts of Württemberg in 1342. Hohentübingen Palace lost its function as the residence of the Württemberg dukes as early as the 16th century. In the middle of the 18th century, the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen began to use rooms in the castle for this purpose. In 1816, King Wilhelm I of Württemberg officially handed over the entire palace to the university. The Knights’ Hall temporarily housed the university library, while an observatory was set up in the north-east tower. In addition, a chemistry laboratory was set up in the castle kitchen, which can now be visited free of charge as a “castle laboratory”.

As part of the MUT (Museum of the University of Tübingen), the Museum of Ancient Cultures at Hohentübingen Castle houses an archaeological collection from various eras and regions. It is the only university museum in the world to house artifacts from two different UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Within the collection of recent prehistory are finds from wetland settlements, which have been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps” since 2011. The collection of ancient prehistory contains the oldest surviving figurative works of art and musical instruments of mankind, such as mammoth ivory figurines. These come from the Vogelherd Cave in the Swabian Jura, which has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Caves and Ice Age Art of the Swabian Jura” since 2017. The Tübingen castle cellar also houses the “Great Barrel”, which was built in 1546 and is considered to be the oldest preserved giant wine barrel in the world. There was even a world record entry in the Guinness Book for this.

We also really liked the outside area of the castle. From the castle grounds, you can enjoy wonderful views of the Neckar and Ammer valleys, the town and the surrounding area.

Other places of interest

On our tour of the city, we discovered many more historic buildings and places worth seeing. According to our parking ticket, we needed exactly six hours for our stroll, including a few breaks and a visit to the Christmas market. We really enjoyed our stopover in Tübingen and can highly recommend a visit to the city.