May 16, 2018

Stuttgart for Kids

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After a wondrous time in Munich, we took a 2-hour-plus train ride to Stuttgart where we began our next leg of our epic Europe journey. Even before arriving in the city, I have read (and heard) so much about Stuttgart - from one of the best zoos in Germany and beautiful nature to snazzy automobile houses and exciting museums, I had an inkling that Stuttgart has enough treasure in store to entertain my family for days.

There was only one problem: we had only 2 nights in Stuttgart which meant we had to be choosy.

And since it was the Christmas season, it would be criminal to miss the Christmas Markets in Stuttgart. Along the way, we walked through Königstraße, a busy shopping boulevard 1.2 kilometres long with specialist shops, department stores, cafés, restaurants and relaxation areas and one of Germany's longest and finest shopping thoroughfares.

There were plenty of playground equipment along the street too, presumably to keep the kids occupied while the adults go shopping. Heh.

We also made a short pit stop at the Market Hall Stuttgart, a century-old market place selling a diverse range of products housed in a grand art nouveau building.

Even though we did not buy anything, it was an experience just soaking in the sights and sounds of the market place. Another place that we passed by but did not had time to enter was the Württemberg State Museum.

Established in 1862 by King William I as a “state collection of national antiquities”, the Württemberg State Museum offers its visitors a stimulating presentation of the history of our state from the Stone Age to the present time. In addition to the main location in the Old Castle, the museum also includes the New Castle, which houses the Roman lapidarium, and the "Stiftsfruchtkasten", a former granary and wine depot, as a home for the musical instrument collection. I was told that the museum also showcases exhibitions targeted at kids periodically so it is definitely worth a visit if you are in Stuttgart.

But there was no way we will ever miss the Stuttgart Christmas Markets.

Boasting a tradition of more than 300 years, the Stuttgart Christmas Markets are one of the oldest and largest of its kind in Europe. What makes the markets even more charming is the stallholders compete enthusiastically to see who has the best roof decorations - something unique in Stuttgart.

For us though, we just came for the food.

Well, as for me it is a different story because I think I found my fave drink!

Gluhwein, or mulled wine, is a hot beverage made with red wine with spices. Yes, being alcoholic helps but it really gives a warm fuzzy feeling in the tummy. There's a kiddy version too - Kinderpunsch, a non-alcoholic version made with apple juice. Great way to combat the cold in winter! (And a great excuse to drink 😁)

AND if you are visiting Stuttgart whether it is for one, two or three days, I highly recommend purchasing the StuttCard. The StuttCard essentially offers many advantages with 46 partners for the duration of 24, 48 or 72 hours, including FREE admission to all museums and many leisure facilities, discount on the Stuttgart Citytour, attractive savings in selected theatres, attractive reductions at partner retail stores and welcome drinks or desserts in selected restaurants.

If you are planning to travel around Suttgart via public transport - which was what we did - then get the StuttCard PLUS instead which grants you the additional advantage of free travel on the public transport network (buses and trains) in the entire Stuttgart Region (VVS network) - AND up to two children up to the age of 17 travel for free too!

And the StuttCard came in really handy for the three main attractions we visited in one day.

Wilhelma Zoo

When it comes to zoos, the philosophy of "seen one, seen them all" usually holds true.

But I have kids.

And because we had visited a few museums while in Munich, I thought it would be a refreshing change to visit a zoo. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much - at best, we will while away 2 hours of our time and at worst, the weather won't be hot and humid like in Singapore.

Well, similar to how life always tend to prove us wrong, Wilhelma Zoo in Stuttgart totally exceeded our expectations!

Initially built as a royal palace and as Europe's only large combined zoological and botanical garden, the monkies love how Wilhema Zoo allows them to get really close to the animals (but still at a safe distance) and there are just so many things to see and do.

By the way, is that a ZEBONKEY (Zebra & Donkey cross) in the above photo?

With around 9,000 animals of almost 1,000 species, an aquarium with crocodile hall and famous coral fish collection, and bear facilities and much more, I have to say Wilhelma Zoo is THE place to visit for ALL ages.

We ended up spending close to 5 hours there and even then, the monkies couldn't get enough. Well, thanks to the various obstacle-course playgrounds - made entirely of wood - which did a magnificent job in slowing us down too.

Loads of instagrammable corners around the Zoo too but when I wanted to take an #OOTD shot with the wifey, I ended looking like I am missing one leg. 😂 Something tells me I'm not cut out for this posing thingy.

But poses aside, I appreciate how the zoo does not feel like a prison for the animals, with the barriers between humans and animals kept to the necessary minimum. The good thing about visiting the zoo in Winter is admission prices are cheaper but the flip side is all of the cafes are closed so do remember to bring along some food and drinks if you are planning to spend more than half a day there.

Mercedes-Benz Museum

Stuttgart is home to both Porsche and Mercedes-Benz, two top German marques which have museums that are open to the public. We would have loved to visit both but could do one due to time constraints. We chose the Mercedes-Benz Museum in the end because it is bigger (9 floors!), and is the birthplace of the world's first automobile!

Indeed, the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart is the only place in the world capable of documenting the unbroken history of the automobile from its very beginning. But first, there was the small matter of starting our journey by taking this futuristic lift right to top of the museum - to the year of 1886 where it all began.

For this is where the legend begins, with the pioneering invention of Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz – the automobile.

In fact, if you have seen a car, this museum is for you. In short, it is for everyone!

And the monkies thoroughly enjoyed the museum, and a lot of that had got to do with the free audio guide which includes bite-sized and fun commentary specially catered for kids.

 Ash summed it up best when I asked him what made the museum so engaging and interesting - "The audio guide, because it told me the information I wanted to know.”

Did I mention the museum is HUGE? Over an area covering 16,500 square metres on nine levels, the exhibition presents 160 vehicles and over 1,500 exhibits, divided into Legend rooms and Collection rooms. The Legend rooms document the history of the Mercedes-Benz brand and are subdivided into themes and epochs. The Collection rooms offer a thematic presentation of the wealth and diversity of vehicles made by the brand.

That’s a lot of cars, especially for someone who isn’t all that interested in cars. Despite that, the Mercedes-Benz Museum did an excellent job of tying in history and what was happening at the time. Of course, the highlight of our visit was coming face to face with the world's first modern automobile.

The monkies and I are no car geeks, and know almost nothing about them. But we ended spending close to 3 hours there! To me a good museum is one that makes me and the kids interested in a subject that we didn’t even know we were interested in. And the Mercedes-Benz Museum definitely slotted into that category effortlessly.

Entry to the museum was free thanks to our StuttCard, and I can now understand why the Mercedes-Benz Museum is one of the largest tourist attractions in Stuttgart.

Esslingen Medieval Christmas Market

There are numerous Christmas Markets scattered across Europe, but this Christmas Market in Esslingen (a 20-min train and bus ride from Stuttgart) takes the cake - it is a Medieval Christmas Market!

Here, the merchants are dressed in historical medieval clothes, just like hundreds of years ago. In addition to food stalls, there are craftsmen like pewterers, blacksmiths, and glass-blowers demonstrating their craftsmanship on the streets. Coupled with Esslingen's backdrop of medieval half-timbered houses, going back to the Middle Ages at Esslingen is a must-do!

A post shared by Kelvin Ang (@cheekiemonkies) on

That, and all the munchies that the monkies could eat at the Christmas Market!

Our accommodation

We stayed in Maritim Hotel Stuttgart which is about a 5-minute bus ride from the main train station in Stuttgart. The Maritim hotel chain is a family-owned and run company, and is Germany's best known. There are two  grocery stores, a few good restaurants and a coffee bar just outside the hotel so it is pretty convenient.

Our room was a one-bedroom suite which opened into a living area and then another room for the bedroom.

An extra bed was provided for the boys and overall, the room was nice and clean, though the decor was a tad dated.

But it provided the perfect rest for all of us as we toured Stuttgart over two days.

Stuttgart certainly has revealed itself as an enticing destination for families and my only regret is we did not have as much time as I would have liked to explore more of the city.

Hopefully, we will get to return one day to suss out more kid-friendly attractions… and to visit that famous Pig Museum. (YES, IT IS A REAL MUSEUM >>> See HERE)

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