Days out in Germany
There’s plenty for families to explore in the German regions of Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland - from science museums, to wolf sanctuaries, and Apollo 15 space vehicles to one of the highest rollercoasters in the world.
Towns for a day trip
Koblenz, from the Roman name Confluentes, refers to the fact the town is located where the Rhine and Moselle flow together. The town is dominated by the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, which affords great views over both rivers and is reached by a cable car (the ticket can include entry to the fort). Inside you’ll find exhibitions on history and culture from the region and an area dedicated to costume dressing up and medieval games. There's also a fun exhibition on robbers and baddies from the region. There are numerous family tours and a chance to see historical activities in action.
The fort is open from 10.00 to 18.00, and you can buy tickets on site, online or with your cable car ticket (you can also park near to the fort if you prefer). A combi ticket with a cable car ride to and from the fort, plus entry, costs €16,90 for adults and €7,60 for children.
Back in town the Romanticum museum has 10 interactive sections, also devoted to the history of the Middle Rhine Valley, with 70 hands-on stations. Tickets include a virtual boat trip, but must be booked online for a specified time slot lasting 1 hour and 45 minutes, between 10.00 and 18.00.
Cochem & Bernkastel-Kues
Another day trip combines the towns of Cochem and Bernkastel-Kues, both beautiful historic places filled with timber-framed houses. In Cochem, the town is dominated by one building, the Reichburg, and much of the original 1000 year old castle has been restored. You can take a one-hour guided tour. Afterwards visit the Senfmühle, one of the oldest mustard mills in Europe, for a quick 30-minute tour, then hop on the chairlift to the Pinnerkreuz lookout point.
Nearby Freizeitpark Klotten provides a mix of animals and birds of prey with family rides. Perfect for smaller children, the animals include bears, pigs, racoons, and llamas, goats and deer to feed, whilst the rides feature the haunted castle of knight Kunibert, a water coaster and a rollercoaster, plus several self-operated smaller rides.
Bernkastel Kues is a pretty place for lunch or dinner, and children will enjoy the bear statues. Nearby, the Zylinderhaus museum takes visitors through 90 years of the German automotive industry from 1937 to the 1970s, including the first plastic sports car, made in 1957.
Animal parks, zoos and aquariums
Some of the zoos in this region of Germany are tired and old, and don’t get great reviews from those who feel animal welfare is not at the heart of the establishment – so we’ve missed those off this list.
Saarbrücken Zoo gets mixed reviews, but having visited it personally, I can say that yes, it is tired, but no, the animals did not look unhappy or mistreated. The zoo has penguins, lemurs, giraffes, apes, sea lions, and predators such as cheetahs, jaguars and pumas, plus more unusual species such as the South American tapir. There’s also a petting area with dwarf goats. Near the kangaroo enclosure you’ll find two playgrounds with climbing frames and a 42m suspension bridge.
It’s not expensive, with adult tickets costing €15 and children (aged 5 to 15 years) at €2. It’s open 9.00 to 18.00.
Neunkircher zoo is set over 20 hectares and has 70 species of animals including Asiatic wild dogs, elephants, bears, iguanas and various fish, plus baboons and Sumatran orangutans. Tickets cost €11,50 for adults (over 18 years) and €5 for children aged 3-17 years and students. The zoo park is open from 8.30 to 18.00.
At Landau Zoo you can see the latest arrivals brought by the resident stork, or check out the Siberian tiger enclosure. Masks are still required in the monkey house too. Open from 9.00 to 18.00 every day (monkey house is open for a shorter duration), entry costs €25 for two adults and up to four children, including adolescents up to the age of 18 years - so quite a cheap day out for the family.
A small zoo set in a hilly forest, Neuwied Zoo has amphibians, reptiles, birds and of course mammals, including red pandas, cheetahs, bears and sea lions. Open from 9.00 to 18.00, tickets cost €14 for adults and €8 for children.
The Kaiserslautern Zoo has been dubbed a semi-exotic farm. There may not be lions but you can see cheetahs, polar bears, penguins, monkeys, zebras and porcupines, plus a whole host of reptiles and farm animals. The zoo is open from 9.00 to 18.30 and costs €9 for adults and €6 for children aged 4-17 years.
Not a zoo, but you can dive into the underwater world of more than 100 sea and freshwater species at Sea Life Speyer. Follow the river Rhine up to the North Sea, or journey with tropical fish, learning snippets of fascinating information about the creatures you are viewing. Themed areas include a shipwreck, a mountain stream, and Lake Constance.
You can book tickets online (and change dates free of charge if your plans change), with prices starting at €17,50 for over 15s and €14 or children aged 4-14 years. The aquarium is open from 10.00 to 17.00 daily. Tickets can be combined with Legoland, but this attraction is probably just that bit too far from Luxembourg to be classified as a day trip.
Wolfpark Werner Freund in Merzig is set in the forests with plenty of trails for a long walk or geocaching near the parking area.
If you arrive at feeding time you can watch the trainers with the wolves, or just wander past the various enclosures to see American and European wolf species. Entrance is free and it’s open from 9.00 to 17.00 daily. There is a free tour on the first Sunday of every month (meeting at the white wolf enclosure at 16.00).
Racoons, reindeer, moose and deer can be found at Nature Wildpark Freisen, which also has a great wooden playground complete with a fort and Viking ship. Entry costs €10 for adults and €5,50 for children aged 3-12 years, and the park is open from 9.00 to 19.00 (last entry at 17.30). There are also bird displays in the morning and afternoon.
Drive around 8km of dirt road to get up close and personal with buffaloes, wild boar, ostriches (you can see new-born ostrich chicks hatching), llama and very cute donkeys at the Daun Wildlife Park. You can also walk through a monkey sanctuary to see mothers and babies up close, plus there is a good sized playground nicely spaced out with trampolines, enclosures with rabbits and goats, and a summer toboggan run. Family tickets cost €45 for two adults and two children and there are baby changing facilities on site. It’s open from 10.00 until 18.00 daily.
Kasselberg’s Eagle and Wolf Park is housed in the ruins of a 12 century castle. There are daily flight shows and wolf feeding sessions. Tickets cost €10 for adults and €7,50 for children aged 4 years or more or family entry is €40 and it's open from 10.00 to 18.00 with flight displays and wolf feeding in both the morning and afternoon.
Take a "train" tour to visit the 500 or so ostriches that call the Straussenfarm Gemarkenhof their home. You’ll stop at the egg incubator to visit the new hatchlings which you can pet and hold. Note that tours are in German. Afterwards you can buy anything from a slab of ostrich meat for the BBQ, to an egg shell or an ostrich feather duster. The little trains run from Tuesday to Sunday and the journey time is about 90 minutes. Tickets cost €5 for children up to 1.5m and €9,50 for anyone taller and can be bought from the farm shop.
The animal park Rheinböllen has bears, birds of prey and wolves. You can feed the deer and other animals. Open daily from 9.00 to 19.00. Tickets cost €10,50 for adults and €5,50 for children over 4 years. You can bring your dog for €1, and parking is free.
The Erlebnispark near Bell has cougars, Siberian tigers, lemurs, meerkats, camels and racoons. You can watch one of the park rangers handle the tigers or just pet a few of the farm animals and have fun in the playground. Other topics such as dog training, getting up close to reptiles, and inhabitants of the forests, including owls, are also often on the daily agenda. Husky tours including rides are available from October onwards.
Open from Wednesday to Sunday 10.00 until 18.00 (and on Easter Monday and Whit Monday), entry is €10,50 for adults and €8,50 for children aged 7 to 15 years.
Nearby, Kastellaun Castle in Bell makes a nice excursion, and you can get some great views of the surrounding area from the tower. You can park for free a five-minute walk from the castle and a regional history museum is open from Thursday to Sunday (and public holidays) from 12.00 to 17.00. Entry is €2.50 for adults and €1 for children aged 10 to 18 years. A family ticket is €5.
A treetop path in Saarschleife includes fun activities on your journey, and a new adventure park. The entry to both is not combined. The treetop route, near the spa town of Orscholz gives amazing views over the surrounding wooded countryside, and costs €11,50 for adults and €9,50 for children aged 6-14 years or a family ticket of two adults and two kids costs €27 (and you can buy your tickets online). The adventure forest next door has several playgrounds, and learning stations, and a family ticket costs €20. Both are open 9.30 to 19.00 daily.
Who knew that volcanic explosions were happening all the time in Central Europe 13,000 years ago? The Mayern-Koblenz Volcano Park brings together a number of places related to the volcanic history of the region, including interactive exhibits on volcanoes, archaeology and education trails. You can cycle to them or drive, and the best sites include the Andernach Geyser, the Mendig lava dome and the Roman mine. You can visit individual sites or pay for combined tickets.
Kids will enjoy the adrenalin rush of crossing the 360m long suspended bridge Geierlay that hangs 100m high above a canyon near Morsdorf. There are two walking routes to the bridge from the visitor centre and parking place.
The Biospharenhaus or Biosphere House is a brilliant way for families to spend time in nature in one of the biggest forests in Germany, at Fischbach by Dahn. It has a museum with interactive exhibits, walking routes, a falcon show, and a treetop trail, plus a children’s park for burning off energy. The canopy walk has panels featuring illustrations along the way, whilst the museum offers challenging quizzes. Easily a full day’s entertainment.
Open from 9.00 to 18.00, a combined ticket to the museum and treetop walk is €9 for adults and €7 for children aged 4 to 17 years. Family tickets for two adults and two children cost €25, but there are other combinations such as one adult and one child, or two adults and three or more children.
Has the job of a firefighter changed much over the centuries? Of course it has, and you can test just how hard it was to work a historical hand pressure pump at the firefighter museum at Hermeskeil. The museum covers fire as an element and the events that led to the founding of the first fire brigades in Germany in the Middle Ages. Kids will also enjoy the historical equipment, and audio guides in English can be downloaded. Entry tickets for a family of two adults and two children cost €18, and it’s open from Tuesday to Friday 14.00 to 17.00 and at weekends from 10.00 to 17.00.
The Technik Museum in Speyer goes one step further and has aeroplanes, including a Lufthansa Boeing 747, space ships, space capsules and replicas of the space vehicles used during the Apollo 11 and 15 missions. Ever wondered what the inside of a submarine looks like, what a sea cruiser needs on board, or just want to walk amongst some vintage motorcycles and classic cars? You can visit 365 days of the year (according to the website) from 9.00 to 18.00 on weekdays and until 19.00 at weekends. Entry costs €19 for adults and €15 for children aged 5-14 years (kids younger go for free). Add €5 for a combined ticket that includes entry to the IMAX Dome.
If boats are more your bag, then head to the Museum of Ancient Seafaring at Mainz, housed in an old engine house not far from the Roman amphitheatre in the town. You can check out ancient vessels, patrol craft and naval ships, with portraits of the turbulent life at sea, and letters revealing the daily life of a sailor in the Roman navy. The highlight includes reconstructions of Roman ships discovered in Mainz in the early 1980s. Kids can learn how a Roman battleship was moved, what Roman sailors wore at sea, and try out ship-themed crafts and colouring. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 to 18.00, with free entry. There are guided tours for people with visual impairments.
The Dynamikum science centre in Pirmasens is located in a converted shoe factory, and is filled with hands-on science fun that asks you how high you can jump using the time jump, and shows you what forces are at work on a rollercoaster, and where it gathers the most speed. You can also test how your body moves to the beat of music on the vibration bed. This museum will fascinate older teens as well as younger children, and is open from 11.00 to 17.00 Tuesday to Sunday during the scool holidays. Entry costs €11 for adults and €9.50 for children and students (over 5 years).
Discover what it’s like to be a giant when you enter Gulliver World at Bexbach, and walk by many of the world’s most famous buildings in Lilliputian size. The Eifel Tower, Greek Parthenon and Rome’s Coliseum rub shoulders with the Osaka Imperial Palace, Tehran’s Freedom Tower, the White House and Abu Simbel. All set in a lovely leafy park. Most of the models have been acquired over 36 years and lovingly restored by local craftspeople. Entry is free and it’s open every day.
Explore the traditional way of life in the Rhineland regions of Eifel Hunsrück and Saargau, including what it was like to be in a school classroom in 1912, at the Roscheider Hof Folklore and Open Air Museum at Konz. Families can visit a traditional grocer, a barber and a village pub, and nosey around 19th century replicas of houses and farms, furnished with original items. A family ticket costs €14, and it’s open from 10.00 to 18.00.
Voelklinger Huette is a World Cultural Heritage Site at a former ironworks. Families can take a journey through time via a multi-media site, or a tour on a coal track across 7000m of sign posted walkways, visit the science centre Ferrodrom, or take in an art exhibition. You can visit without booking in advance or book online.
Dolls and dollhouses, cars, building blocks, miniature steam trains and toys of all varieties from bygone times await you at the Spielzeugmuseum in Trier (which can be combined with a trip to the Roman museum and excavations plus an ice cream on the main drag). Open Tuesday to Sunday 11.00 to 17.00 a family ticket for two adults and up to three children costs €13.
There are plenty of castles in Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland, some ruins, some restored, but perhaps the best is Eltz Castle in Wierscham. Atop a secluded hill, this 12th century castle has been in the same family for 33 generations. You can’t park nearby, but you can take a buggy-friendly stroll of just under 2km to the castle (downhill on the way there) or catch a bus (there is a charge for this).
Tours of the castle are available in English, and take you to a medieval kitchen and the armoury amongst other rooms. It’s open from 9.00 with last admission at 17.30. The castle can only be visited by tour, although you can visit the treasury by yourself. At the base of the castle are shallow river pools that kids can splash about in, and several trails into the forest.
For a more secret and secluded castle, try Burg Montclair in Mettlach, which is reached from the parking lot by a 3.1km hike through the woods. Watch out as the path can be steep when pushing a buggy, and takes about an hour with kids. Entry to the castle ruins costs €2, and it's open Friday to Sunday 11.00 to 18.00. There's on on-site bistro offering chips and schnitzel.
Fun and amusement parks
Simply called Holiday Park, and located in Hassloch/Pfalz, the main reason for visiting this place is the Expedition GeForce ride, ranked one of the highest rollercoasters in the world. But if that’s not a big enough thrill, try the Sky Scream coaster or the Dino splash log flume. The newest ride, The Big Wave, is a rollercoaster where you travel on a rotating disk. Tickets cost between €15,50 and €43,50.
Probably the most visited amusement park after Disneyland Paris, and not far from Cologne or Bonn if you’re looking to combine it with a city break, Phantasia Land in Bruhl has the fastest multi-launch rollercoaster in the world. The latest attraction is the new Rookburgh rollercoaster, set in a steampunk world of metal and rising steam, which has riders travelling upside down. There are more stomach churning rides including the Black Mamba, so this is probably not a great theme park for younger children. The associated hotels are open if you want to book an overnight stay. Tickets to the park must be booked online in advance and are priced between €47 and €57.