Free Things to Do in Karlsruhe, Germany

Here is my surprisingly long list of free things to do in Karlsruhe, Germany.

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

Bicycling in Karlsruhe - The Places We Live

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:

Innenstadt (Downtown)

Free in Karlsruhe - Exploring Karlsruhe Palace

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.


Karlsruhe Palace, Germany - The Places We Live

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 6PMHowever, 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

Karlsruhe Botanical Gardens - The Places We Live

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.

Schlossgarten Park

Free Things to Do in Karlsruhe, Germany

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

ZKM Karlsruhe - The Places We Live

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

ZKM Website

Negative Space

Free Things to do in Karlsruhe - The Places We Live

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

ZKM - Gameplay

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.

Open Codes

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.

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Free things to do in Karlsruhe, Germany - The Places We Live

Eating and Drinking Our Way Through Karlsruhe

One of our biggest worries when deciding to spend this next set of adventures in Europe was the budget. The cost of living is notoriously high in the EU, and unlike in Asia and Australia, we were at a currency disadvantage, so our meager $26 per day wasn’t going to stretch nearly as far here as it did in, say, Thailand. Therefore, we were expecting to eat at home a lot more often, and a lot more peanut butter and jelly.

Thankfully, the price of food in Karlsruhe was very affordable. When we arrive at each new sit, we like to do an initial grocery run and pick up some staples, usually consisting of cereal, instant coffee, milk, bread, peanut butter, jelly, chips, rice, zucchini, carrots, garlic, 4 chicken breast, and ice cream. At home, this would cost between $20-$25. In Karlsruhe, we were able to get all of the above for about the same price, around €20. As an added bonus, the beer ended up being cheaper than we were expecting, around €2 each. With some careful meal planning, we’d be able to keep our usual menu and stay well under budget, which was quite the relief.

Dining Out in Karlsruhe

The restaurant prices in Karlsruhe were also quite affordable, though not enough for us to eat out as much as we wanted. Still, we made it a priority to try out the local cuisine, and frequented the bakery down the road almost daily. I loved the pretzels, donuts, and hand-made bread loafs! And it wouldn’t have been a successful trip to southwestern Germany if we didn’t try a Black Forest Cake, which was delightful.

Black Forest Cake in Karlsruhe, Germany. Three layer chocolate cake filled with layers of chocolate cream and cherry jelly. The outside is frosted with chocolate cream and chocolate shavings.

In an attempt to try local food in Karlsruhe that a blue collar worker might enjoy on her lunch break, we headed to one of the nearby lunch counters. Unlike almost everyone we met in Germany, the staff there did not speak English. We fumbled our way through ordering with our poor German and ended up getting stuffed red peppers, spaetzle (thick, egg pasta), and alcohol free beer. It wasn’t at all what we wanted, but I would be lying if I didn’t say it was all delicious.

Stuffed red peppers covered in a dark brown sauce, spaetzle, and Vaeltins beer.
Not the most attractive meal, but still tasty

Our favorite places to eat, however, were the beer gardens. They were often beautifully located, had outdoor seating, and inexpensive food. We tried several beer gardens and loved them all. The beers were cold and plentiful and the food was basic, but well-made. They were the sort of places we could sit for hours… and did. My favorite was the Rheinkiosk Seyfert, located off a quiet bike path next to the Rhine River. I ordered the cashier’s favorite wurst (sausage) and a bottle of Hoepfner Hefe-Weizen.

Beer Garden Food in Karlsruhe - The Places We Live

German Beer Tasting

Our worldwide beer tasting tour continues with a truly amazing selection of German beers. The majority of our tastings were purchased at the grocery store to keep the prices down, though we did enjoy a pint or two at the beer gardens and a local pub. However, our most enjoyable tasting experience, by far, was with our house sitting host over dinner. She had read on the blog that we enjoyed drinking beer, and prepared a wonderful spread of flavors for us to taste. It was a great way to get to know one another and get a taste of what the locals enjoy.

German Beers - The Places We Live

For the most part, we had only two styles to choose from, either Pilsner or Hefeweisen, but each brew had subtle differences in flavor that made each one feel special and unique. My favorite brew of the trip was the Warsteiner Premium Verum, a German Pilsner. With one new tasting per day, plus a wonderful spread by our host on our final day in town, I ended our Karlsruhe adventure with 15 new German beers.

German Beer Collection - The Places We Live

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House Sitting in Karlsruhe, Germany

After an amazing journey across the Atlantic Ocean, we arrived in Europe to begin the next leg of our world travels. We started it all off with a house sit in Karlsruhe, Germany. Truth be told, I’m not sure we would have ever gone to Karlsruhe if not for this sit, but I’m so glad we did. It was a city unlike any we’ve been to before, with natural beauty, a great art scene, delicious food, and the most down-to-earth people. We loved Karlsruhe and are already looking for an opportunity to go back.

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Karlsruhe, Germany

Karlsruhe is in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, located in the southwest corner of Germany. The city’s western border sits on the Rhine River, which separates Germany and France. As the city lies exactly on the 49th parallel (same as the border of Canada and USA), the climate is consistently a little bit chilly but can rarely be called hot or cold. However, it is said to be one of the sunniest cities in Germany.

Karlsruhe, Germany - The Places We Live.jpg

The Neighborhood

Our Karlsruhe home was located in the far northwest corner of the city, literally on the edge of town. However, everything we needed was within walking distance: grocery store, bakery, park, and several restaurants and pubs. Our hosts were gracious enough to let us use their bikes, which extended our range quite a bit, and there was a train station right nearby, so we had full access to the city anytime we wanted.

Bicycling in Karlsruhe - The Places We Live

Exploring the area was a challenge at first, in part because it seemed like no one wanted to talk to us.  We would smile and nod at each person we passed on the bikes or at the markets and received nothing in return, sometimes not even eye contact. A little digging around on the internet revealed this to be a quirk of the local culture. It turns out our attempts to be polite were viewed as attempts to start a conversation, hard to do when one party is riding past on a bicycle. Once we got the kinks ironed out, we found the local people to be incredibly welcoming, kind, and truly hilarious. Scattered among the homes were tiny pubs, each one only large enough to seat a dozen people. We popped into one on Easter simply out of boredom and ended up having an amazing day chatting with some locals. The quote of the day was “Do all Americans really smile this much?” On another occasion, I nearly plowed into a small child on my bike. I stopped just in time, but in a horribly embarrassing fashion. The parent didn’t start yelling at me or threaten me. Instead, he began laughing and offered a hand to help me back up and going. We found the people of Karlsruhe to be the true highlight of the trip with so much kindness and a penchant for fun and laughter.

Our Home

Our home in Karlsruhe ended up being quite a bit larger than we were originally expecting. It was a three-bedroom home with three partial bathrooms (two rooms with toilets and one room with a tub). There was a large kitchen and dining room combo along with two large living areas. The best part of the home, however was the beautiful outdoor area with the large back deck and garden that looked onto a pond. Neighboring properties in the area are on sale for around $650,000.

House Sitting Karlsruhe Patio - The Places We Live

We slept in the master bedroom on the main floor. The whole house was very comfortable and functional, but had some fun and interesting quirks. For one thing, all of the light switches were pull-strings. It was very curious at first, but we eventually found it to pretty common place throughout Europe. Another was the mysterious yellow wedge in the bathroom. Next to each of the bathroom sinks was a small football shaped block attached to the wall. We had no idea what it was at first, wondering if maybe it was some sort of strange wall art. Eventually, my complaints about the lack of soap in the bathrooms tipped me off to the realization that the “art” was actually bar soap. Once I figured it out, I really liked the idea of having soap that wasn’t constantly sticking into the counter.

German Sink - The Places We Live

Our Family

Due to the timing of our arrival, we were unable to meet our hosts at the beginning of our sit in Karlsruhe. Instead we met their father, who put our German language skills to shame with his beautiful English and even better Spanish. We were lucky enough to meet the whole family for a dinner party upon their return. Some of their friends showed up as well and we talked and laughed well into the wee hours of the night. We left feeling delightfully full, and our faces hurt from all of the smiling and laughter.

Our fur-babies for the house sit in Karlsruhe were two independent cats named Ruhchen and Suri. They didn’t speak English and even if they did, I am sure they would have ignored us. But we enjoyed their company and they seemed to tolerate us well enough. We even got a number of “presents” in the mornings, so we must have done something right. Haha!

Cat House Sitting in Karlsruhe - The Places We Live

Ruhchen seemed constantly disappointed in us. We apparently didn’t open the door the right way, sit on the couch in the right formation, or walk down the stairs in the correct cadence. He tried each day to train us, but seemed constantly befuddled by our lack of understanding. When he wasn’t judging us, he was either playing in the tall grass, snoozing on the couch, or eating.

Cat House Sitting in Karlsruhe - The Places We Live

Suri, on the other hand, was very easy going. If I didn’t open the door the way she liked, she walked the extra couple of feet to let herself in through the cat door. She enjoyed regular tickles, sleeping in the top bunk of the kids’ bunk beds, and napping at Josh’s feet while he worked… I think she just really enjoyed napping.

Our Lives

Life house sitting in Karlsruhe was pretty great. Ruhchen and Suri were easy going and the house was very little trouble. This left us with plenty of time to really see the area. The weather was all over the place with several chilly and rainy days, but also several warm and sunny days. We took advantage of each, using the sunny days to ride our bikes and the rainy to try new foods. Karlsruhe had so much to offer and left us wishing we had more time to see it all. It was a great way to start off our European adventure, and we can’t wait to get back and see more of Germany.

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