Baden-Baden, the historic spa town on the edge of Germany’s Black Forest, has long been a favored destination of the European elite. Napoleon III, Queen Victoria, Victor Hugo, Nikolai Gogol and even Marlene Dietrich all took the waters here, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky is said to have used its famed Casino as the setting for his novel “The Gambler.” Town lore has it that in 1865, Ivan Turgenev wrote to Gustave Flaubert: “Do come to Baden-Baden. Here are the most magnificent trees I have ever seen. They do wonders for the eyes and the soul.” Fortunately, however, Baden-Baden is not frozen in time. In addition to an array of excellent restaurants, a striking concert hall that attracts some of the world’s best orchestras (including an annual residence by the Berlin Philharmonic) and a sleek, inviting museum dedicated to contemporary art, the town also offers free Wi-Fi in much of the central pedestrian zone. Here, the Belle Époque meets the Age of Instagram.
1) 4 P.M. A RIVERSIDE STROLL
The Oos River, which snakes through Baden-Baden, is a narrow, shallow tributary that is more babbling brook than river. But the Lichtentaler Allee, the lovely, tree-lined promenade that adjoins it, is a perfect way to acclimate yourself to the town. Start at the Gönneranlage rose garden, a jewel box of a park that features more than 400 varieties that bloom from May to October. Then exit on the avenue, turn right and keep going until you hit the imposing Festspielhaus, or concert hall, a little more than a mile away. The entire stretch can probably be done in a brisk 20-minute walk. But this is Baden-Baden. No one does anything briskly.
2) 5:30 P.M. LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING
With its Corinthian columns and gorgeous frescoes, you would think that the imposing building called the Trinkhalle was a major museum, perhaps housing an impressive collection of Renaissance paintings. But it is no more than an awfully grand home for the city’s tourist information office and a place to book tickets for local cultural events. Worth a quick pop-in near the midpoint of your stroll.
3) 6 P.M. ON THE WATER’S EDGE
For all its importance to the city, the Oos offers a surprisingly small number of bars or restaurants from which to enjoy the view. One of the few places with a perch right on the water’s edge is Wallstreet & Hamilton. This popular restaurant and cafe is a great spot for a quick beer (3.20 euros, about $3.65), especially if you can snag one of the eight tables that directly overlook the water. Then head to the nearby Casserole, a homey, family-run restaurant that specializes in hearty Alsatian fare, like a saddle of venison with mushrooms in lingonberry sauce and breast of Barbarie duck with a potato and apple gratin. Start off by sharing the Flammkuchen, a regional specialty and one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. It’s similar to a thin-crust pizza, but made with crème fraîche, onions and chunks of salty bacon. Dinner for two should come to about 120 euros, including wine. Reservations highly recommended.
4) 11 P.M. DEALER’S CHOICE
Even if you don’t want to risk losing your euros at the roulette wheel, the famed Casino Baden-Baden is worth a visit for its opulent design and its importance to the town’s history. Jackets are required for men, and the gambling goes on till 3:30 a.m. on weekends. Admission to the gaming rooms is 5 euros, but if all you want is a spin on the slot machine, that will cost just 1 euro.
5) 10 A.M. A COLLECTOR’S EYE
Start your morning at the Museum Frieder Burda. This sleek, white box of a building, designed by Richard Meier and with light pouring in from every corner, is dedicated to modern and contemporary art, much of it based on the impressive private collection of Mr. Burda, the scion of a wealthy German publishing family. In addition to Mr. Burda’s holdings, which include several significant late works by Picasso, the museum, which opened in 2004, has mounted retrospectives of Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer, Sigmar Polke and the photographer known as J R.
6) 11:30 A.M. STORY HOUR
The Sophienstrasse is called the “Fifth Avenue of Baden-Baden.” And, yes, you’ll find Hermès, Max Mara, Escada and other global brands here. But you’ll also encounter a charming children’s bookstore, Max & Moritz, with a vast collection of alluring picture books. (O.K., they are all in German, but if the young ones don’t speak it already, it’s never too early to get them started on a second language.)
7) 12:30 P.M. AWAY FROM THE CROWDS
The Gasthaus Löwenbräu biergarten is never less than two-thirds full, often with a crowd that looks suspiciously as though it might have just gotten off a tour bus. But right next door, with the exact same menu, is its tiny offshoot, with an array of wooden tables fronting the street, offering great people-watching. Recently, the main restaurant was occupied by a boisterous crowd that included two tables of overexcited children, while next door, a lone man sat enjoying his plate of sausages and a stein of beer in contemplative silence. A traditional meal of sausages, beer and a freshly baked pretzel will cost 13.20 euros.
8) 2 P.M. A WALK BACK IN TIME
In the Middle Ages, the Marktplatz, or marketplace, was the vibrant center of daily life in Baden-Baden. Now, it is mostly a quiet area of cobblestone streets, a few cafes, a historic church (the Stiftskirche, whose original structure on this site is said to date back to about 1200) and a lushly landscaped, terraced garden that, from its upper levels, offers sweeping views of the city below. After a calorie-burning stroll, indulge in a bit of afternoon tea. Perhaps the most popular spot in Baden-Baden is the Café König, serving finger sandwiches, cakes and cream-filled pastries. Traditional afternoon tea will cost 15.60 euros per person, 25.90 euros with Champagne.
9) 7 P.M. A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC
With 2,650 seats, the Festspielhaus, which opened in 1998, is one of the largest opera houses in Europe and a regular draw for some of the continent’s top orchestras. Next summer, one of the highlights will be a July 8 concert gala celebrating the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein.
10) 10 P.M. AFTER THE OPERA
If you haven’t booked (or can’t get) a table at Aida, the lone restaurant on the premises of the Festspielhaus, a few blocks away is an excellent alternative. Mamma Lina offers skillfully prepared Italian dishes, like spaghetti with seafood and homemade gnocchi, served either in its cozy restaurant or out on the inviting terrace. Dinner for two, including wine, costs about 70 euros. Reservations essential.
11) MIDNIGHT; NIGHT OWLS
Not ready for the evening to end? Baden-Baden doesn’t have much of a late-night scene — the otherwise busy town center can be eerily empty after the sun goes down — but one lively spot is the Sun-Si-Bar, open until 5 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Cocktails like a mojito or a tequila sunrise cost 9.50 euros.
12) 9:30 A.M. THE MORNING AFTER
Late night? Work out those toxins at one of two Roman baths that remain the primary reason most visitors make the pilgrimage to Baden-Baden. The Friedrichsbad is a strictly enforced, no-clothes-allowed immersion in water, steam, sauna and a rather bracing soap massage, offered in either “hard” or “soft.” (Don’t ask for hard unless you like the masochistic pleasure of having your skin ripped from your body.) But next door is the slightly less-Teutonic offering of the Caracalla Spa, where you can keep your swimsuit on for much of the time and which has two large heated outdoor pools, open year round.
13) 1:30 P.M. GAME, SET, LUNCH
Two popular (and pricey) spots for lunch are the garden restaurants attached to the Atlantic Parkhotel and Brenner’s Park-Hotel and Spa. But nearby is an unexpected spot for a great meal: the Rot-Weiss Tennis Club and its Rosso Bianco cafe. The menu features elegant salads, thin-crust pizzas and expertly prepared pasta dishes, like ravioli stuffed with sage and Parmesan cheese, served in a lovely outdoor setting overlooking the red-clay courts. There is something oddly soothing about tucking into your lunch as the sounds of tennis balls being aggressively thwacked back and forth reverberate in the background. Lunch for two, including a glass of wine, is about 45 euros.
The Belle Epoque (Maria-Viktoria-Strasse 2c, hotel-belle-epoque.de/en/home) is a sweepingly romantic hotel on the outskirts of the town center (but still within walking distance of all the major attractions). Its ornately furnished rooms and reception area invoke the days of the Grand European Tour, as does the hotel’s highly attentive staff. Try to snag the “Queen Victoria Room” if you can, with its fantastic view of the hotel’s lush garden. Doubles start at about 250 euros. Breakfast and afternoon tea are included.
Right in the charming Marktplatz, in the shadow of the Stiftskirche, is the cozy, family-run Hotel am Markt (Marktplatz 18m, hotel-am-markt-baden.de/en). The building dates back to the 18th century, but the rooms have been nicely refurbished and modernized. Breakfast buffet (included in the price) is served on the lovely outdoor terrace during the summer. Doubles start at 105 euros.
In the center of town, just off the main pedestrian zone, is the Heliopark Bad Hotel Zum Hirsch (Hirschstrasse 1, heliopark-hirsch.de/en/home), which not only has a spa on the premises but many of the bathrooms have their own supply of thermal water. The spacious rooms are good for families (though the hotel may want to think about changing that name). Doubles start at 115 euros, breakfast included.