Nestled among the Alps between Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Lake Constance (Bodensee in German) is an underrated, non-touristic gem in Europe. Central Europe’s third-largest lake, and a location not often visited by English tourists, it is the perfect part of Germany to visit for an authentic, historic, and activity-filled holiday.
During my year abroad, I lived a ten-minute train journey away from the lake, so was lucky enough to get to know the region quite well. As Durham University has links to the university in Konstanz, it is very possible that some of our students are in the area. So, here is my ultimate guide to Lake Constance to help out any students currently in the region, living in Germany, or anyone planning a trip to the country in the future.
Starting with the biggest town around the lake, Konstanz lies a stone’s throw from the Swiss border. During the war, the town was considered too close to the neutral Switzerland to be bombed, meaning its charming Altstadt is still incredibly well-intact. From medieval buildings, to shopping centres, to walks to the Rhine River, there absolutely is something for everyone. If you’re lucky and make it to Konstanz in October, you can go along to the German-Swiss Oktoberfest which takes place every year, offering an exciting but calmer alternative to Munich’s world-famous Oktoberfest.
Hop on a ferry from Konstanz to Meersburg, just on the other side of the lake. Meersburg is truly the jewel in the crown of the Bodensee. With its winding, cobbled streets, lined with colourful buildings, and its castle which is one of the oldest in Germany, Meersburg is a town easy to fall in love with. It’s from here that you can really take in the magnificent landscape: the vast lake gives way to the Alps, sprinkled with snow in the winter, towering high above you. Explore the weekly market or the annual wine festival in the upper part of the town, then wander down the stairs to the lower part Meersburg for a slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Gâteau) in a lakeside café. If you’re in need of extra rest and relaxation, book yourself into the town’s spa, which boasts unbeatable views over the lake and the Alps.
Just a thirty-minute bus ride from Meersburg is Birnau Kloster. This small church doesn’t look like much from the outside, but has a breath-taking painted ceiling, which would give the Sistine Chapel a run for its money! A short walk up the hill will take you to Birnauer Weinstube which offered, without a doubt, the best meal I had in Germany. Sit down by the window for a hearty traditional Swabian lunch and take in the views. For wine-lovers, you can buy wine made from vineyards in Meersburg which makes for a perfect souvenir!
Birnauer Weinstube offered, without a doubt, the best meal I had in Germany
Head east around the lake and you’ll reach Friedrichshafen, a small port town known for its wartime history. The first successful airship flight left from near Friedrichshafen, and the town is now home to the Zeppelin Museum, where visitors can find out more about the town’s history and about the role that it played in the World Wars. Friedrichshafen’s architecture can’t claim to be the best of the Bodensee, but definitely has one of the most amazing views! Find one of the little restaurants by the lake, sit back and relax with a pizza and an Aperol Spritz in hand and watch the sun go down over the lake.
For a very different kind of day, head inland to Germany’s ‘City of Towers and Gates’ and the home of Ravensburger, a company known for its puzzles and games which are loved around the world. Ravensburg was my home for 6 months and has a lovely, relaxed atmosphere. The weekly market is unmissable, with countless food stalls and farm shops makes it the perfect place to try your very first Currywurst! When strolling around Ravensburg you can expect to find unique boutique stores, a handful of museums, and ten dominating towers, dating back to the town’s medieval fortification.
The perfect place to try your very first Currywurst!
Last but by absolutely no means least, Lindau is by far the most unique location on this list. A historic island with a distinctive old-school German charm looking over the Alps, Lindau is unmissable for any Lake Constance trip. One of my fondest memories of my time in Germany was at the Lindau harbour Christmas. Grab yourself a Glühwein, wrap up warm and watch the reflections of the twinkling Christmas lights reflecting on the crystal-clear waters, before warming yourself up by the fire in your hotel.
Lake Constance truly is a hidden gem of Germany. If you’re looking for the same bustling city life you get in Berlin or Munich, it may not be the place for you. But what you will get are cosy cafés and restaurants, opportunities to swim, sail, or kayak, and postcard-perfect views.
Photography by: Lottie Gibson