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What’s the number one requirement for a successful city break with kids? Museums? Attractions? Kid-friendly places to eat? Sure, these are all important factors, but we have found that children need space – green space, preferably – to let off steam and relax in between museum visits and sightseeing.
Mannheim, a buzzing metropolis in south-west Germany, surely must rank highly among major cities with the most green space. Its riverside walks, urban forests, huge parks and green squares are scattered liberally across the sprawling Rhine-Neckar region.
But the jewel in Mannheim’s sparkling crown simply must be the gorgeous Luisenpark.
Before we go any further, let’s just clarify something: unlike most city parks, entrance to the Luisenpark is not free of charge. Whereas locals can buy a very reasonably-priced jahreskarte (annual pass), visitors will pay €8 for adults (€4 for kids) to get in, and – trust us – this is money very well spent.
Entrance fee aside, the Luisenpark is otherwise a perfectly “normal” municipal park: across its 41 hectares (101 acres, around twice the size of the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris) you’ll find beautiful flower gardens, wide-open expenses of lush grass, multiple playgrounds, several cafés, hundreds of places to sit and relax and, er, penguins (but we’ll come back to that later).
Nestling to the north-east of Mannheim city centre, the Luisenpark was originally laid out in the late 19th century, but its present appearance is largely thanks to a complete remodelling carried out in the early 1970s. Nowadays over 1.2 million visitors come each year to relax among the 140 species of trees and hundreds of thousands of flowers. Nevertheless, it is practically undiscovered by foreign tourists, perhaps unsurprising given that its (otherwise excellent) website is in German-only, as are all signs and explanations within the park itself. But don’t let that put you off!
Our visit to the Luisenpark
Given its size and entrance fee, the Luisenpark isn’t just a respite from the hustle and bustle of Mannheim – it is an attraction in itself. It is practically impossible to see everything in the Luisenpark in a single visit, and we sensibly didn’t try. Instead, we let our kids set the pace, wandering around the park enjoying whatever took their fancy. We were somewhat surprised to find that this didn’t involve too many playgrounds; instead they preferred to make the most of the flora and fauna, seeking out the animals, climbing the trees and playing amongst the spectacular springtime bloom.
One thing that struck me was that there is an enormous sense of getting close to nature within the park. Yes, there are animals are in caged enclosures, but others are free to roam, fly or swim around this enormous green space at will. Wild storks have built nests here, enormous pelicans patrol the banks of the lake (whilst huge fish and cute turtles swim within it), wild parakeets squawk noisily from treetops and herons stand motionless with one eye on their next meal.
Seeing penguins in captivity arouses mixed feelings in many, including me. But there is no doubt that these well looked-after little cuties were a particular highlight for my kids. As he watched the penguins devour a bucket of fresh fish, my six-year old austerely declared that he wants to work with animals when he grows up. Whatever your thoughts on zoos, this is surely exactly the sort of reaction that places like this are supposed to incite, the sort of thing that creates the future protectors of our planet.
One intriguing feature of the park is the enormous Chinese Tea House and Gardens. Built in 2001, this is apparently the largest “original” tea house of its kind in Europe. We are rather confused as to what “original” means in this context, but it is nevertheless a very impressive and beautiful structure.
Unfortunately the Teahouse itself was closed on the day of our visit, but we still spent quite some time exploring the surrounding gardens, mostly trying to get as close as possible to a rather non-plussed heron. Like I said, close to nature.
Other highlights within the park include a butterfly house (that we somehow missed), a pedagogical farm, sound sculptures, giant chess boards, gondolas plying a leisurely circuit of the Kutzerweiher lake, a 1,000-seat arena for outdoor concerts, and numerous ruhebereichen – quiet areas where visitors are encouraged to disengage from the din of the city and tune in to nature instead.
It was probably these quiet places that we enjoyed most of all. After all, aren’t city parks supposed to be a haven for tranquility and nature? Luisenpark is not only beautiful, but it serves the citizens of Mannheim wonderfully. It is perhaps no wonder that the people in this corner of Germany don’t tell the world about their Luisenpark – they want it all for themselves. And who can blame them?
Practical info for visiting the Luisenpark
- Website here (in German only).
- The main entrance to the park is at Theodor-Heuss-Anlage 2
- Getting there by public transport: Take the number 9 tram from Mannheim train station to the “Luisenpark” stop. Number 6 also works. The number 5 tram is another possibility; get off at “Fernmeldeturm” and use the north entrance.
- Getting there by car: No problem! Ample and free parking directly opposite the main entrance.
- Admission prices: In summer – €8 for adults, €4 for children aged 6+. Some other concessions apply. Half-price from November to February.
- No dogs, bicycles or micro-scooters allowed in the park: they might freak out the pelicans. Pushchairs are fine, and very German bollerwagens are available to rent.
- Plenty of reasonably-priced eating possibilities within the park. Or bring your own picnic if you prefer.
Daisy the bus visited Mannheim in May 2019
(c) 2019 Jonathan Orr
Some facts and figures in this article were taken from https://web.archive.org/web/20080405195617/http://www.mannheim.de/io2/browse/Webseiten/Tourismus/english/citytour/luisenpark