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Bad Kissingen is a beautifully-preserved spa town in Germany that combines traditions of the past with modern spas, historic architecture and scenic parks and hikes.
My husband and I spent a week at the Grand Hotel Kaiserhof Victoria, and here’s what we found, along with a suggested itinerary.
If ever a town has claimed an important person as their own, it’s the German spa town of Bad Kissingen. Stroll around. You’ll find a number of monuments dedicated to the region’s most influential guest, Otto Von Bismarck.
Germany’s first chancellor, who unified 25 states to create the German Empire in 1871, first came to Bad Kissingen in 1874.
It impressed him so much that even after an assassination attempt at the town’s Rose Garden he returned 14 times.
Visiting Bad Kissingen
There might not be as much political wheeling and dealing going on as there was in Bismarck’s time, but Bad Kissingen has plenty to offer.
Nestled in the heart of Bavaria, it’s a charming spa town with a rich history, therapeutic waters and impressive 19th and 20th century architecture.
I’ve been reviewing and writing about European spas for more than a decade, so a visit to Bad Kissingen was long overdue.
And, as my husband and I discovered on our week-long stay, it still serves up a fun wellness-focused stay.
Where is Bad Kissingen?
It’s about 2.5 hours by train from Frankfurt (if your train is on time – ours wasn’t), and less than two hours by car.
East of Frankfurt and 318 km north of Munich, this town of 22,000 is located on the Franconian Saale River, which snakes merrily along the spa quarter as it passes through town.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Bad Kissingen has been so well maintained it’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, listed as one of the Great Spa Towns of Europe.
Only 11 other spa towns have received the same honour. They were chosen for the remarkable communities that grew up around the therapeutic mineral springs, blossoming into fashionable resorts combining health, leisure and culture.
Music, in particular, has always been a part of the spa scene in Bad Kissingen, and when we were here there were concerts of some sort nearly every day.
Easy to Sightsee
Because the area containing the spa buildings, gardens and parks is so compact, and many of the historic buildings are interconnected, it’s an ideal place to explore by foot.
Things to Do in Bad Kissingen
During our week here we fit in a lot of activities, from seeking out restored staircases in former spa buildings to riding e-bikes to the nearby spa town of Bad Bocklet.
As it’s unlikely you’ll spend as much time here as we did, we narrowed this guide down to the top 10 things to do.
1) Visit the Brunnenhalle to Sample the Water
The mineral springs are the liquid soul of Bad Kissingen, so start at the source.
The Brunnenhalle, or Drinking Hall, is where you can sample your choice of springs.
You can wander into the Brunnenhalle any old time, but the real action happens between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m. or 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. (On Sundays, it’s only open in the a.m.)
This is when, in an endearing nod to tradition, the Brunnenhalle Ladies serve up the spring water from copper taps.
They also offer advice and help you decide which spring is best for you.
Mineral Springs of Bad Kissingen
There are seven springs at Bad Kissingen. For me, they recommended the Luitpold Sprudel. Loaded with iron, it’s said to be good for fatigue.
Mark drank from the Rakoczy-Quelle, a spring named for a Hungarian freedom fighter (who never actually visited Bad Kissingen but was a popular romantic figure of the time).
Truthfully, Mark was dreadful about following the twice a day water regimen, though he was faithful about a Pilsner-at-dinner regimen of his own making.
💦 Spa Tip: there are also various fountains outside and around the Brunnenhalle that are accessible all day. Bring your own cup.
The Max Spring
💦 Don’t Miss: The Max Temple at the edge of the Spa Garden.
The Maxbrunnen Spring is the oldest mineral spring in Bad Kissingen, and was first mentioned in 1520.
Formerly called the Sour Spring, its name was changed to make it sound more palatable. (Though according to Mark, it doesn’t make it taste better.)
2) Listen to a Concert in the Wandelhalle (The Grand Foyer)
Once you have your water in hand, wander into the Wandelhalle. This 90-metre-long hall connected to the Brunnenhalle is the largest drinking hall ever built in Europe.
This meant that in bad weather, you could still get your fill of gentle exercise (not to mention your see-and-be-seen social kudos).
One of its key features is the revolving stage at one end, and there were daily concerts when we were there.
💦 Sightseeing Tip: The Spa Orchestra of Bad Kissingen was founded in 1837.
💦 Hotel Card: If you’re staying in a hotel, you’ll get a hotel card. This gives you access to the concerts in the Wandelhalle for free, as well as spring water from the Brunnenhalle Ladies, local bus rides and more.
3) Stay at the Grand Kaiserhof Victoria Hotel
If you like historic hotels, the Grand Kaiserhof Victoria is the best place to stay in Bad Kissingen.
Steps away from the Wandelhalle, it has a luxury-level atmosphere, modern spa and wellness facilities and a long history as a kurhaus (spa building) hotel.
The Spa at the Grand Kaiserhof Victoria
The hotel has a spa (I opted for a brine bath), an indoor swimming pool and a sauna area with two saunas, steam room, relaxation room and outdoor plunge pool.
My favourite spot to linger?
The salt inhalation room, where natural brine water drips down a wall of blackthorn branches, which promotes evaporation and infuses the air with salt.
If you’re not staying at the hotel you can stop in for a coffee and kuchen (cake) in the lobby lounge or get a day pass for the spa.
Check prices and availability for the 4-star Kaiserhof Victoria Hotel here.
4) Visit the Regentenbau
If you’re going to see just one sight in Bad Kissingen make it the Regentenbau. It’s a series of ornate public rooms that illustrate the grand scale of Bad Kissingen’s high culture.
Do a twirl through the ballroom, glide through the Green Room, take a Selfie in the Neo-Renaissance garden courtyard, and check out the acoustics (and chandeliers) in the wood-panelled Max Littmann concert hall.
Our self-guided tour of the Regentenbau ended in the Arkadenbau (the Arcade Building) where the Tourism Office is located.
Before you go peek into the fresco-filled Rossini Salon, where concerts and events are often held today.
A Tip About Sightseeing in Bad Kissingen
Personally I was confused about what was where until I realized you can do it all in a row:
1) the Wandelhalle (Grand Foyer) flows into the Brunnenhalle. The Brunnenhalle, or Drinking Hall, is the room with the gleaming copper taps.
2) The Brunnenhalle leads outside to the Arkadenbau (the Arcade Building) and the Spa Garden.
3) The Arkadenbau is adjacent to the Regentenbau.
4) Inside the Regentenbau are the most lavish public spaces.
5) Across the street from the Regentenbau is the Rose Garden.
5) Visit the Rose Garden
The Rose Garden must be spectacular on a fine summer day.
Admittedly, it was less exciting in November, but with 160 varieties of roses, more than 6,000 rose bushes, and a multimedia fan-shaped fountain, I can well imagine it’s a lovely floral-filled spot to check out.
Where to Eat Near the Rose Garden
There are a number of cafes and restaurants alongside the Rose Garden. Da Vitos Restaurant and Gelateria has views of the garden and a terrace in summer.
6) Explore the Historic Town Centre
The Old Town is a great place to wander around, with high-end clothing boutiques, cafes and pedestrian streets.
Where to Eat in the Town Centre
We liked the Gasthaus zur Post restaurant for its warm casual atmosphere and hearty dishes like Jägerschnitzel and Roast Suckling Pig.
7) Spa and Soak at the KissSalis Therme
When the KissSalis waterpark opened in 2004, it ushered Bad Kissingen out of the past and into modern hot springs soaking and fun.
You can easily spend an afternoon here (we did), enjoying its warm indoor and outdoor pools sourced from the area’s Schönborn Spring.
Between free water aerobics, a salt inhalation room, a ‘weightless’ brine pool and various water jets and bubble beds, you’ll forget that soaking in mineral water is supposed to be a healthy serious pastime.
My favourite part?
The outdoor current pool, which will whip you around a circular path in no time.
The SaunaPark at KissSaliss Therme
Part of KissSalis is a SaunaPark. Here the spa excitement continues with nine different saunas, steam rooms and garden.
The Earth Sauna was Mark’s favourite, but there are many others, even a gently-heated ‘Planetarium’ if you want to sweat under a starry sky.
💦 Sauna Tip: German saunas are clothing free. You soon get used to it, but until you’re comfortable feel free to wrap yourself in a towel. Before you go, I recommend you read this article on German Sauna traditions.
Need to Know for Your Visit to KissSalis Therme
💦 What to Bring: You can rent robes and towels, but bring your own swimsuit and flip flops.
💦 Getting There: To get to KissSalis we walked through the scenic Luitpold Park. There is some uphill towards the end so you may prefer to take a taxi.
Address: KissSalis Therme is located at Heiligenfelder Allee 16, 97688 Bad Kissingen. Check out their website for more info.
8) See the Obere Saline and Otto von Bismarck Museum
Once a bishop’s residence, the Obere Saline is where our friend Otto von Bismark holed up when he was in town.
He did stay in the city centre on his first visit, but after the assassination attempt in the Rose Garden he set up shop in a more fortified home. Who can blame him?
Today the Obere Saline is a museum with several sections.
Obere Saline means Upper Saltworks, and one section focuses on Bad Kissingen’s 1,000-year-old history of salt production.
Otto Von Bismarck at the Obere Saline
Mark, a history buff, was most interested in the section devoted to Bismarck.
As I peered into the room where the famed politician did much of his work, I couldn’t help noticing his desk chair had an indentation that looked like it had been left by a substantially-sized seat.
“He was a man of large appetites,” said Annette Späth, director of the museum. “When his spa doctor finally convinced him to change his ways and lose weight, he had such a cult following that he was publicly weighed each week and the number published in the paper.”
For those really interested, you can see the public weighing chair, too.
💦 Sightseeing Tip: There isn’t a lot of information in English at the Obere Saline Museum but they’re working on an English-language audioguide.
Things to See on the Way to the Obere Saline Museum
The Obere Saline is a fair distance from the town centre. If you have time, it’s a lovely walk along the Saale River, and on the way you can see the first statue dedicated to Bismarck.
The other point of interest, which fascinates me but possibly not so much others (if we use my husband as an example), is the Gradierwerk.
9) Breathe the Salt Air at the Gradierwerk
The Gradierwerk, or Graduation Tower, was first built to aid salt production.
It’s a large wooden structure lined with blackthorn bushes. As brine water drips down, the water evaporates, leaving a more concentrated form of brine.
A Wellness Tradition in Germany
The Gradierwerk is a popular healing tradition.
I became a huge fan of these healthy ‘breathing’ walls when I visited the German spa town of Bad Kreuznach, which has miles of them.
Breathing the salt-rich air is believed to have detoxifying effects that helps with respiratory issues and reduces inflammation.
💦 Spa Tip: Simply walk on the boardwalk that runs along the tower, and presto, you’ve done a spa treatment.
10) Follow the Sisi Walk
Rivalling Otto von Bismarck in the VIP guest department is spa-loving Sisi, the Empress of Austria, who came to Bad Kissingen six times.
The Lady Di of her time, this real life fairy princess was an ethereal-looking but people-shy woman who felt constrained by restrictions of Austrian court life.
Spa towns offered her a certain freedom and she would walk in the surrounding hills and forest for hours a day.
You can follow signs for the 3.3 km Sisi Walk (the Rundwanderung Sisi-Tour) that will take you across the Saale River up to the Alton Temple, where a memorial has been in place since 1907.
Is Bad Kissingen Worth a Visit?
Yes. There are so many things to do in Bad Kissingen in addition to these 10 top sights.
You can visit the casino, sniff out the original Leopold Bathhouse, take a boat tour in season or hike to the ruins of the Botenlauben Castle.
The longer we stayed in Bad Kissingen, the more it cast its gentle spell on us, and its elegant buildings and continuing spa traditions make it clear why it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Great Spa Towns of Europe.