By Paul Wojnicki

FANS of city breaks will love Karlsruhe.

For a start it’s one of the warmest and sunniest cities in Germany; it’s also the ideal place for a twin city break, with Cologne, Paris, Frankfurt and Basel all being easily accessible by train.

It also has a unique fan-shaped urban design with street spraying out like spokes from the city’s most famous building. And it’s also the ideal city break for families travelling with children (and dogs).

Germany is full of grand palaces old and new, and while Karlsruhe’s isn’t the most famous it certainly doesn’t disappoint our family.

The Baroque palace served as the seat of government for the princes and grand dukes of Baden until the region was integrated into modern day Germany. But five-year-old Harrison and two-year-old Ella aren’t interested in history, they’re interested in the steam train which chugs and whistles its way around the large forest park to the rear of the palace and its botanical gardens.

We locate the station by following the narrow tracks then jump aboard and puff our way around the park with Ella squealing in delight at every piercing whistle. It’s tremendous fun and, since the sides are open, the breeze is welcome for Falco, our Jack Russell terrier, too.

Afterwards we tell watered down Brothers Grimm stories to the children as we walk Falco through the forest park and botanical gardens - this is the Black Forest after all. Then we round the day off by climbing a spiral staircase to the palace’s tower, from which we enjoy a bird’s eye view of the city’s unique fan shaped layout and the looming Turnberg hill beyond, where Germany’s oldest working funicular runs.

The following day we head over to the funicular using Karlsruhe’s innovative tram/trains, which are capable of running seamlessly from the city’s suburban tram lines onto the regional train lines. The tram ride is included in the price of our Karlsruhe Cards, as is entry to virtually all of the city’s museums, the zoo and the steam train we rode the day before. The funicular that we ride to the summit of Tumberg hill is included too and we enjoy a picnic on the forested hill looking over toward the world famous spa town of Baden Baden, where we’d originally planned to enjoy our picnic.

Unfortunately an uncharacteristic failure on the German rail system means that for the next few days Baden Baden can only be reached using replacement bus services.

Still Baden Baden’s loss is another town’s gain, and after exploring Tumberg’s forested hilltop we ride the funicular back down to the city and hop on the tram to nearby Bretten instead.

Bretten is a small town and pretty much off the tourist radar, unlike Baden Baden, but it is picture perfect nonetheless. Its half-timbered centre makes a delightful backdrop for a drink- as do numerous other traditional towns and hamlets that are easily reached from Karlsruhe. Had we booked for more than just two nights we could easily have reached world famous Heidelberg in under an hour, but you live and learn and we’ll just have to wait until next time we visit for that.

The following morning I’m up early to take the kids to the zoo before our train back to Paris. Karlsruhe’s large municipal zoo has been right there on our doorstep for the last two days after all, and the kids have been asking questions.

Harrison loves at the elephants and giraffes, while Ella prefers the polar bears and hippos. I’m not a big fan of zoos, but this one seems very well run, and it’s free with the Karlsruhe Card. But the highlight of the zoo for the kids isn’t the rare leopard, or even the penguin show, it’s a good old fashioned boating lake, where our boat is relentlessly pursued by hundreds, if not thousands of hungry looking catfish bobbing their mouths on the surface in anticipation of a handout. It’s a remarkable sight and the kids laugh all the way round the lake.


Karlsruhe is literally at the heart of Europe and makes a great base for exploring the Black Forest or an interesting side trip from a number of European cities. We travelled on the German ICE from Paris, which took two-and-a-half hours and cost £78 each way for two adults. Book via and under 6’s travel free with their parents.

Dog owners with pet passports are welcome on the trains from Paris. Small dogs travel free, while large dogs travel half price. The easiest way from South Wales to Paris with a dog is via Brittany Ferries Portsmouth-Le Havre service which has a limited amount of dog friendly cabins and costs as little as £118 return for a car with two people. You can save yourself the trouble of parking in Paris by leaving the car in Le Havre (free) and taking the train to Paris.