Lake Constance - known as "Bodensee" in German - lies below the northern edge of the Alps. Not only is it the largest lake in Germany, it's also one of the most beautiful bodies of water in Europe. Bordered by Austria and Switzerland, it offers strikingly breathtaking scenery with its majestic expanse of water, and encompasses some 270 kilometers of shoreline, by far the greatest share of it in Germany.
The largest and deepest part of the lake, the Obersee (Upper Lake), extends from Bregenz Bay to Konstanz and is fringed by numerous old lakeside towns and attractive villages. These quaint communities each offer very pleasant diversions, along with incredible views of the Swiss Alps.
Long a center for water sports - it's particularly known among sailing and windsurfing enthusiasts - the area is also rich in culture and history and boasts many old castles, picturesque medieval villages, and beautiful gardens. Popular things to do here include hiking and mountain biking, as well as swimming at the many beaches, or enjoying a relaxing boat ride.
And don't be shy about visiting the region in winter. Especially popular this time of year are the Christmas markets. Those in Lindau and Konstanz are among the best, with music, skating, and food all adding to the fun.
You'll discover more great places to visit with our top tourist attractions around Lake Constance.
Explore Spectacular Flower Island (Mainau)
One of the most popular of all the tourist attractions around Lake Constance - and for good reason - is the spectacular 110-acre "flower island" of Mainau (Insel Mainau). Just over seven kilometers north of Konstanz, off the southern shore of the Überlinger See, this site attracts many visitors with its beautiful parks and gardens, luxuriant with semitropical and tropical vegetation.
The island also boasts a spectacular palace, Schloss Mainau. Built in 1746 for the Grand Duke of Baden, its notable interior features include the lovely White Hall. Also worth seeing is its well-preserved old defensive tower (one of the original 16), and a gatehouse.
Those traveling with kids will want to check out Mainau Kinderland. This island-based kids play area has a petting zoo and a fun wet play area called Water World (Wasserwelt). There's also a butterfly house (schmetterlingshaus), the largest such attraction in Germany. Two restaurants are also available for visitors to enjoy.
Access to the island is by boat or via a pedestrian bridge connected to the mainland.
Official site: www.mainau.de/en/welcome.html
Visit the Zeppelin Museum
The pretty town of Friedrichshafen has long been famous for its connection to Germany's Zeppelin airships. It was here the famous Hindenburg, heralded as the world's most luxurious "liner of the air," was built, only to meet its tragic, fiery end in Lakehurst in the US in 1937. Today, the airship's former hangar now houses the Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen with its fascinating displays and exhibits retelling the history of LZ 129 and the events leading up to its destruction.
An interesting thing to do is explore the reconstructions of the airship's Bauhaus-inspired interiors, including the elegant lounges and passenger cabins, as well as areas used by the crew. Other highlights include displays of artifacts and pieces of wreckage, artworks, and photos, as well as scale models showcasing the history of airship travel. English language guided tours are available.
Official site: www.zeppelin-museum.de/en
Take a Zeppelin Flight
Be sure to also include the remarkable Zeppelin NT on your Friedrichshafen itinerary. This modern-day take on the famous Zeppelin airships of the 1930s demonstrates how relevant the technology remains, and how, thanks to modern technologies, it is now entirely safe. Best of all, the company behind the Zeppelin NT now offers a variety of thrilling excursions over Lake Constance from Bodensee Airport.
A "cruise" can last anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours, while those with the money and inclination can opt for a two-day personal Zeppelin flight training experience. Once airborne, you'll marvel at the views through the airship's large panorama windows as you slowly pass over the town and lake at heights of 300 meters.
Back on terra firma, join an English language guided tour of the Zeppelin Hangar, one of the largest such aircraft facilities in Germany, and learn more about the workings of these amazing machines. And if you're hungry after all that excitement, there's also a restaurant on-site offering great views over the airfield.
Official site: https://zeppelin-nt.de/en/
Reichenau: Lake Constance's Largest Island
Near Konstanz is the largest of the many islands of Lake Constance, Reichenau. Connected to the mainland by a causeway and covering an impressive 1,057 acres, this beautiful island has long been inhabited.
Among its oldest man-made structures are three churches belonging to the famous monastery of Reichenau: St. George's Church in Oberzell with its fine wall paintings of the Ottonian period, the Minster of St. Mary and St. Mark with a rich treasury in the sacristy, and the church of Saints Peter and Paul in Niederzell.
Founded in AD 724 by Charles Martel, Charlemagne's grandfather, they're among the finest examples of Early Romanesque art in Germany, both for their architecture and for their magnificent frescoes. Also of note at the northwestern tip of the island is the 14th-century Schloss Windegg.
Hike or Bike the Lake Constance Trail (Bodensee-Rundwanderweg)
Walkers and cyclists are well catered to by the excellent Lake Constance Trail (Bodensee-Rundwanderweg). This spectacular trail network encircles the entire lake at varying distances from its shores for about 272 kilometers. Within Germany, the trail frequently follows the paths waymarked by the Black Forest Association (Schwarzwaldverein).
Highlights you'll encounter along the way include the Wollmatinger Ried nature reserve, as well as the majority of the lake's small villages, the historic towns of Lindau and Konstanz, and the islands of Reichenau and Mainau. You can join a hiking tour, which can last anywhere from a day to a week (or longer). Even casual walkers and cyclists can enjoy the trail, as it's easily accessible at numerous entry points around the lake.
The German Stilthouse Museum
A highlight of a visit to Lake Constance is a chance to visit the wonderful Pfahlbaumuseum Unteruhldingen. Literally translated as the Pile Dwelling Museum (though more usually referred to as "the German Stilthouse Museum," this fascinating attraction consists of an open-air museum with reconstructions of stone- and bronze-age homes. Opened in 1922, it's a wonderful way to spend time exploring living conditions of the lake's original residents, dating as far back as 6,000 years.
Tours take in re-created buildings on the shore before delving into the heart of the attraction, the Lake Dwellings, built over the water on piles and offering superb views of the area's stunning scenery. Guided tours are included in the price of admission and last up to an hour.
Official site: www.pfahlbauten.com
Exploring Lake Constance by Boat
Exploring Lake Constance can easily be done by boat, a mode of transportation that offers many opportunities for sightseeing without needing a car. Tourist boat services on Lake Constance run from mid-April to mid-October, the main routes including Konstanz, Überlingen, Kreuzlingen, and Lindau, with many additional stops being made to smaller communities. There are also ferry services capable of carrying cars, most of which run year-round between Friedrichshafen and Romanshorn and between Konstanz-Stadt and Meersburg.
Local passenger ferries also operate between Allensbach station and the island of Reichenau and across the Rhine at Konstanz. During the summer, numerous excursions of various kinds are offered, from whole-day or half-day trips to shorter breakfast or lunch trips, as well as fun journeys including evening mystery excursions.
Perched high atop the ancient volcano of Hohentwiel stands Hohentwiel Castle (Schloss Hohentwiel), one of the largest and most impressive castle ruins in all of Germany. Located just 30 kilometers west of Lake Constance near Singen, it's an easy place to find, as both the hill and the castle stand out dramatically from their surrounds.
While the now much eroded volcano is many millions of years old, the old castle dates back to AD 914 and was part of a fortress complex that included a monastery. It remained in use right up until the 1800s, and in that time withstood countless sieges, as well as serving later on as a prison. Today, it's a delightful place to explore for its interesting history, as well as its amazing views over Singen and the surrounding countryside.
Explore Meersburg's "Old" Castle
The attractive old lakeside town of Meersburg - a name that literally translates as "Castle on the Sea" - is home to not just one, but two, fine old castles. The oldest of these, referred to simply as the Old Castle (Alte Burg), is a well-preserved medieval fortress which can, in fact, trace its history all the way back to the 7th century when its original central tower was constructed.
Notable as the oldest still-inhabited castle in Germany, it's well worth visiting for its interesting interiors, with highlights that include the Fortress Museum with its many original artifacts and furnishings. Be sure to also take a peek at the old dungeon and torture chamber. All told some 30 rooms can be visited as part of a self-guided tour, including the kitchen and bakery, guards room, and armory. A restaurant is also located on-site.
Official site: www.burg-meersburg.de/index_engl.html
Tour Meersburg's "New" Castle
Just a short stroll away from Meersburg's Old Castle is the New Castle (Neues Schloss). This attractive 18th-century edifice with its Baroque flourishes was completed in 1712 as a palace of the Prince Bishops. Now open to the public, the castle houses the Town Gallery (Städtische Galerie) and the Dornier Museum, both worth visiting for their impressive displays and exhibits related to local history and culture.
The New Castle is also where you'll find the Palace Museum of the Prince Bishops (Fürstbischöfliche Schlossmuseum), which includes a variety of rooms preserved in their original manner. Also worth a visit are the castle grounds, which include a lovely garden terrace boasting magnificent views over Lake Constance.
After exploring these two lovely castles, be sure to spend time visiting some of the historic castle-inspired attractions in the old town of Meersburg itself. Highlights include the town square, or Schlossplatz, notable for its large old clock with an attractive face portraying Chronos, the God of Time, and the pleasant Castle Chapel.
Also worth seeing are the two old town gates that have survived since medieval times, along with a number of well-preserved half-timbered houses. For those with an interest in German literature, the Droste Museum is worth popping into for its mementos and displays of original writing by poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff.
Official site: www.neues-schloss-meersburg.de/en/start
Another area castle that has seen continued ownership and occupancy over the centuries is the beautiful German Renaissance-era Castle Heiligenberg (Schloss Heiligenberg). Built in the 16th century on the ruins of an old medieval fortress, Castle Heiligenberg is considered to be one of the luckiest castles in the country. Not only has it survived countless conflicts intact, it was miraculously spared during the Thirty Years War after an attempt to destroy it with barrels of explosives ended up failing - after the fuses had been lit.
These days, in addition to enjoying its superb views over Lake Constance, visitors can explore the huge two-story-tall Grand Hall. This splendid room is notable for its elegant wood ceiling and floor, along with its many fine artworks and old coats-of-arms.
Be sure to also visit the equally fascinating Castle Chapel. It's home to the family's crypt and a burial place for family members since 1586. Also worth seeing is the Fürstenberg Collections with its fine displays of historic uniforms, chalices, and trophies.
Also of interest are unique artifacts, such as a portable urinal that once belonged to Napoleon and an impressive natural history collection. Regular events from musical concerts to Christmas festivals and polo matches are held here. English language guided tours are available.
Official site: https://haus-fuerstenberg.de/heiligenberg/?lang=en
Salem Abbey and Palace
The town of Salem should certainly be included on your Lake Constance itinerary. Here, you'll be rewarded with a chance to explore the lovely Salem Abbey and Palace (Kloster und Schloss Salem), a former Cistercian monastery in one of the most beautiful settings in the area.
The monastery itself can trace its history all the way back to the 12th century and was once the most important such site in the country. After secularization, interesting decorative Baroque flourishes were added to the surviving Gothic-style monastery buildings, making for a unique display that has remained largely unchanged since then.
An on-site museum showcases the "Masterpieces of the Imperial Abbey," including many fine original artworks and furnishings. Other highlights include a collection of antique firefighting equipment; the delightful gardens, complete with an adventure playground for the kids; plus a shop and on-site dining. English language guided tours and audio-guides are available.
If time allows, be sure to also visit the famous Affenberg Salem, home to one of Europe's largest open-air monkey enclosures. This fascinating attraction is home to some 200 or so Barbary macaques (feeding time is a great time to visit).
Official site: www.salem.de/en/