Arriving into Kulmbach by train it’s impossible not to be transfixed by its charm. As I look out the window, green fields, rolling hills and tiny villages zip by, making me wish the train would slow down so I could take it all in a little better. This quintessentially bucolic setting is the ideal gateway to Kulmbach, which I am eager to explore.
Kulmbach is a relatively small town in Upper Franconia with a population of 25,000, though its influence and impact over the years is befitting of a much larger city. The town was an important site for trade in the Middle Ages due to its proximity to major cities in the region like Nuremberg and Bamberg. The town’s historical importance is evidenced by the impressive Plassenburg Castle, which sits high on a hill looming over Kulmbach.
Kulmbach has an impressive brewing presence in its own right, made even more so given the town’s size. As early as the Middle Ages, Kulmbach citizens had the right to brew and sell their own beers. In the 19th century, Kulmbach beers grew to prominence as they began to be exported throughout the country and later the world. We drive by the Kulmbacher Brauerei headquarters, which is the largest brewery in town, and notice a field of hop plants on the other side of the road. It confirms what I already know: this is a true beer town.
What to See & Do in Kulmbach:
Plassenburg Castle is the most prominent landmark in Kulmbach, perched formidably on a hill overlooking the town. The castle, which was both a fortress and residence of the Hohenzollern dynasty, is one of the most striking in Germany. Visitors enter the castle through the courtyards, which are a marvel of the German Renaissance style. The castle now houses different historical and cultural exhibits including a showcase of Prussian weaponry in the Frederick the Great Army Museum and the Deutsche Zinnfigurenmuseum, which is the largest collection of pewter figures in the country. The views of Kulmbach from the castle are fantastic.
Kulmbach’s Altstadt, or old town, provides a glimpse of the city’s past. Notable buildings include gothic Petrikirche (St. Peter’s Church), Künßberger Schlösslein (Little Castle), the rococo style Rathaus (Town Hall), Markgrafenkirche (Margrave Church), and a few well preserved half timbered houses. A self guided walking tour of all the old town sights is offered by Kulmbach Tourismus and can be completed in about an hour.
The Marketplatz is a picturesque square in the centre of the Altstadt with a beautiful fountain as the focal point. Visit the market on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7am to 1pm, when you’ll find a variety of stalls set up selling fruits and vegetables, flowers, and ready to eat snacks like the town’s famous bratwurst.
The former brewery of Mönschof, a beer with its roots in the Middle Ages, no longer produces beer on site but instead has been converted into a complex of museums. The Bavarian Brewery Museum is the flagship attraction with over 3,000 square metres dedicated to beer, from its origins to its cultural importance in Kulmbach and beyond. Recently added are the Bavarian Bakery Museum and the German Spice Museum. The Mönschof property also includes a traditional restaurant and large beer garden.
Several festivals and celebrations take place throughout the year in Kulmbach, all of which offer an opportunity to experience local culture. From April to mid May, the Kulmbach Fair sets up with rides and food stalls while the Old Town Festival livens up the Altstadt during the first weekend of July. A popular attraction in town is Kulmbach Beer Week where residents and visitors celebrate the town’s beer heritage over nine days in July and August. During the Christmas season, Kulmbach also hosts an Advent Market.
Where to Eat & Drink:
Consolidation in Kulmbach’s beer industry hit a fever pitch in the 1980s and 90s, with the town’s most prominent breweries merging under one conglomerate. As a counter initiative, Kulmbacher Kommunbräu was founded as a co-operative of Kulmbach beer drinkers who bought shares to support the creation of the brewery. Today, the brewery features two year-round beers as well as a monthly special brew reflective of the season. Kommunbräu offers a full menu of local and regional specialties, and the beer garden is a lovely spot with large, leafy trees and communal tables.
For the classic German dining experience, head to Zunftstube. It’s everything a traditional restaurant should be: dark wood accents, hearty dishes, a friendly local crowd, and excellent Kulmbach beers. The menu incorporates both national favourites and local specialities, with standouts including the sweinebraten (roast pork), schnitzel, and Krenhaxe (pork knuckle in horseradish sauce).
A local favourite in the notable Holzmarkt, Stadtschänke is a good option for lunch or dinner. Franconian dishes are on offer including Schäuferla (roast pork shoulder in a caraway sauce), Sauerbraten (braised beef in a gingerbread sauce), and Forellenfilet (fried trout). The patio out front is an ideal spot for people watching and enjoying one of Kulmbach’s infamous beers.
Although German food is delicious, sometimes you need a break from the rich meat-heavy dishes. Mix it up a little by visiting Greek restaurant Filion, which serves up classic dishes from the Mediterranean. The menu is absolutely enormous making it a struggle to choose, though you can’t really go wrong with anything from grilled fish to souvlaki.
Die Sohle, a restaurant and bar near the Altstadt, is an ideal spot for drinks or a late night bite staying open until 3am on weekdays and 5am on weekends. The crowd here is mostly in their 20s and 30s, the vibe is relaxed, and local sports games are played on the bar’s television.
Where to Stay:
Hotel an der Eiche is one of the top rated hotels in Kulmbach for good reason. It offers a peaceful setting, large rooms, friendly staff, and an excellent breakfast buffet. Though the location may seem a little far from the action in the Altstadt, the main sights can be walked to easily. The hotel rents bikes as well, which make it even more accessible.
All Kulmbach Travel photos by Lauren Barth.
Departful was a guest of Franken Tourismus and Kulmbach Tourismus, but all recommendations and opinions are our own.
Four Days In Franconia: A Guide To Germany’s Beer Trail (From Prostly – our sister site)