Because Karlsruhe was our first stop in Europe we ended up being a little tighter with our money than usual. Mostly, we were nervous about all of the upcoming unknowns, like travel costs, booking more house sits, that sort of thing. Thankfully, we found a ton to do in Karlsruhe and all of it was FREE!!! Here is my surprisingly long list of free things to do in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Free Things to Do in Karlsruhe:
- Explore by bicycle
- Visit Karlsruhe Palace and surrounding park
- Admire the ZKM Museum on one of their free entry days
Explore by Bicycle
Bicycling is very popular in Karlsruhe, so bike lanes are prevalent and well-maintained. Even better, the entire city is quite flat, making it easy to go for a nice, relaxing ride. We were lucky enough to have bikes provided for us at our house sit in Karlsruhe and at our AirBnB on the other side of town. If free access isn’t an option, bikes are available to rent throughout the city for around €15 per day. There are miles and miles of paths outside of the city, winding through beautiful farmland, villages, and forested reserves. For more info, check out the suggested Karlsruhe Cycling Routes on MapMyRide.
Biking was one of our favorite free things to do in Karlsruhe. One particularly good ride was along the Rhine River, ending at the border with France. Starting at the Maxau Train Station and turning around at Rheinkiosk Seyfert beer garden, we rode for 14 miles (23km) round-trip. The ride included views of the Rhine River, one of the most efficient steam power plants in the world, an outdoor swimming area, and wooded reserves packed with singing birds.
Other Useful Cycling Links:
- German Bicycle Laws (explained by an expat)
- Bike Path Route Planner
- MapMyRide Suggested Karlsruhe Cycling Routes
The area near the palace also held a bunch of free things to do in Karlsruhe. When looking at a map of of the city, there is an obvious ring road called Adenauaerring. Within that there is a smaller, less obvious ring, that encircles Karlsruhe Palace. It was inside this smaller loop that we found enough free things to see and do to keep us busy for an entire sunny afternoon.
Schlossplatz square hosts an amazing frontal view of Karlsruhe Palace, an 18th century beauty that sits in the center of downtown. In front of the palace is a grassy area decorated with running water features and lined with white Grecian statues. The grassy was so beautifully designed and maintained, and was packed with people picnicking, lounging, and children playing the running water. I wish we’d had the foresight to come with a bit of cheese and bread for a picnic of our own!
Tickets for the palace tour cost €12. Or, you could tour Karlsruhe Palace for FREE on Fridays between 2PM and 6PM. However, we opted to wander the square and look at the statues, admire the palace, and do a bit of discreet people-watching. Simply walking around the palace made for an enjoyable afternoon.
Karlsruhe Botanical Garden
Located in the Southwest quadrant of the circle, Karlsruhe Botanical Gardens in one of the gems of the city. It costs €3 to enter the glass houses, but the outdoor area is free. The outdoor garden isn’t as impressive, but definitely worth a visit. We were lucky enough to come in the spring when everything was in bloom. Like the grassy area in the square, the outdoor garden seemed to be a popular place for locals to hang out and relax.
The majority of the remaining area within the inner loop is the downtown park. There are expansive lawns, a pond, tree lined walkways, and hidden sculpture gardens. We walked nearly all of the paths and watched the birds that hung out near the pond. I even spotted my first Mandarin Duck!
ZKM – Center for Art and Media
Started in 1989 and housed inside of a retired arms and ammunition factory, the ZKM is a modern art museum dedicated to bringing classical art into the digital age. I would have never expected this amazing museum to be on the list of free things to do in Karlsruhe, but here it is! On most days, the adult admission to the ZKM is €7. However, the ZKM exhibitions are free every Friday after 2:00PM. We visited during one such Friday afternoon and could have easily spent the entire day exploring the unique museum.
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
Open Wednesday through Friday from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM
Open Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM
The exhibitions change regularly, but I wanted to share the ones we were lucky enough to see. My favorite was Negative Space, a sculpture exhibition that will be running until November 2019. “The aim of the exhibition is to rethink the relationship between sculpture and space in a decidedly spatial way,” says the ZKM website.
zkm_gamplay. the next level
As fans of video games, this was another highlight of the museum. Running until December 2021, zkm_gameplay. the next level is a multi level exhibition focusing on a few themes. The first level encompassed retro games and gaming culture. There were retro arcade games available to play and
old memorable consoles on display. Second was all about the possibilities of modern narratives in gaming. Third were aesthetic and creative games. These were all lovely works of art in their own right.
The fourth level was our particular favorite. This section included political games. One such game was The Democracy Machine that pit two players against each other and asked them to vote on a “yes” or “no” topic. If the two people disagreed, the goal of the game was then to debate until the players came to an agreement.
I know I’ve already listed two favorites, but would be OK if I listed this one too? We found this exhibition particularly moving due less to the art on display and more because of the message: “We live in a world created, controlled[sic] and controlled by data. Digital codes shape our present and have a profound impact on all areas of our lives, economy and society, politics and justice.” – ZKM Open Codes. Each display was fairly high tech and demonstrated the power of data. Upon entry, for example, we walked past several monitors that reflected us in different ways. One of the spookiest was the screen that estimated information about us simply by capturing us on video.
With only a short time in this amazing city, we only scratched the surface of all the free things to do in Karlsruhe. Still, we had an great time, and can’t wait to come back and explore even more.