For such an auto enthusiast's paradise, the city is easily explored without one. A €2.50, half-hour ride on the S2 or S3 train will get you from the airport to the central rail station, from which all the major cultural sites are within a 10-15 minute walk.

Frankly, the city bus tour is easily skipped; almost everyone abandoned the tour before the end anyway, right about the time the guide started pointing out major intersections and "world famous" piston manufacturers. You are better off on your own or opting for one of the off-the beaten-track tours, like the one of major construction sites.

On the Stäffele tour, an excellent workout can be had climbing the hundreds of hillside stairs that used to meander through vineyards but now provide a romantic-if steep-path through exclusive neighborhoods. Pick up a city map or book tours at the "I-Punkt" Tourist Information Center across from the Central Rail Station at the beginning of the Königstra. pedestrian shopping street.

Stuttgart's Cultural Monuments

The heart of the city is clustered around the central park behind the Tourist Information Center and is an easy stroll. The broad avenue called Kölnrad-Adenauer-Strasse, which marks the park's eastern border, is better known as the "Cultural Mile." The colonnaded sandstone Opera House, also home to Stuttgart's distinguished ballet company, stands opposite the Staatsgalerie, which houses a medieval to classic modernist art collection. When we visited, a temporary Monet exhibition was in full swing, but the building probably attracts as many visitors as the art. The original 1840s neoclassical building has been dwarfed by the postmodern addition, completed in 1984 by English architect James Stirling. It comprises a monumental horseshoe of sandstone and local travertine marble punctuated by bright pink and blue tubes and floors that look like acid green Legos (Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Kölnrad-Adenauer-strasse 30-32).

When you reach Charlottenplatz at the end of the Cultural Mile, look for the Café Grand Planie at Charlottenplatz 17. This would be a great time to fortify yourself with something from their huge selection of bistro dishes, cakes, and coffees. The cheery, yellow fin-de-siècle dining room overlooks Karlsplatz, which during our visit was rollicking with the annual fish market fair from Hamburg.

Cross Karlsplatz to reach the fortress-like Altes Schloss, the heavily refurbished 16th century traditional seat of the Counts of Württemberg. It now houses a regional archeological museum, including the Württemberg crown jewels. (Landesmuseum Württemberg, Schillerplatz 6; open Tues.-Sun. 10am-5pm; closed Mon.). On the other side of the castle is the picturesque Schillerplatz. Here you will find the Stiftskirche, the basilica whose two mismatched towers also survived the bombing. Schillerplatz was formerly the site of the original stud farm, but it now hosts a flower and fruit market every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Market rules forbid the sale of anything not locally produced.

Crossing Planie back toward the park, you will find yourself in Schlossplatz facing the grand baroque/Neoclassical façade of the Neues Schloss. It was once the palace of the Württemberg kings and now serves as a government reception hall and ministry offices. At the corner of Planie and Köningstrasse is the beautiful new Kunstmuseum, which houses a modern art collection in a cool new glass cube that seems to float above the plaza. The star of the collection is Otto Dix, but other Swabian modern artists get good billing. Restaurant CUBE on the top floor is the hot spot for a table with a stunning view of the city (see Stuttgart restaurants below). Contact: Kleiner Schlossplatz 1, tel. +49/711/216 2188. Open Tues.-Sun. 10am-6pm, Wed. 10am-9pm.

Hanging Out in Stuttgart

Swabians might be busy as bees, but they also know how to chill. In summer, it seems like every patch of sunshine was decked out with café tables and people enjoying the fresh air. Cheerful beer gardens tucked in green courtyards invite a leisurely pub crawl. Here are some favorites:

  • The Bohnenviertel, or Bean Quarter, a gritty former working class neighborhood, has been transformed into a charming and pastel-colored district of wine pubs, antique stores, cafés, and design boutiques. The main streets of the quarter, Rosenstrasse, Brennerstrasse, and Wagnerstrasse, run between Esslinger and Olgastrasse. The residential district beyond Olgastrasse is a good place to find some of Stuttgart's stäffele, the flights of stairs that used to go up through the bean gardens that gave the quarter its name. Lorenzstäffele, leading up past Engl Church, is an outstanding example.
  • Calwerstrasse looks like one giant outdoor café in summer, culminating in the leafy Calwerplatz. Nearby Rotebühlplatz offers a Sylt seafood bistro and a charming coffeehouse.
  • Weissenburg Park offers an Art Nouveau Teahouse Pavilion and beautiful views of the city. You can drive right up to the pavilion, but those coming by from the Bopser stop on the U5, U6, or U7 should prepare themselves for a steep 15-minute hike. The Wilhelma, a popular botanical garden and exotic animal zoo, originally built as Wilhelm I's private Xanadu, is a 19th century Teutonic fantasy of The Arabian Nights. (Wilhelma, Neckartalstr. Open daily from 8:15am until dark. Wilhelma stop on the U14.)

—by Lydia Itoi