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Bad Kreuznach is an attractive spa town in Germany ideal for a relaxing wellness vacation with hiking trails, mineral springs, and historic buildings. Not to mention some very unusual spa therapies.
A Trip to Bad Kreuznach
Crossing a footbridge over the River Nahe near the Parkhotel Kurhaus in Bad Kreuznach, Germany, I came to a startling sight. For a moment I wondered if I’d stumbled onto the set of a bad Sci-Fi movie, where a squadron of blank-eyed people were sitting around a vapour-spewing deity, their minds eaten by a mysterious fog.
To add a Dark Hedges Games of Thrones twist to the scene, the people were hemmed in by two walls of blackthorn branches, droplets of brine trickling down from their grey pointy twigs.
“I’m going to love it here,” I said to myself.
It didn’t take long to learn that this mist-spitting device wasn’t a god, but a key wellness feature of this gentle German spa town. It was, in fact, a nebulizer, a fountain-ish looking thing that sprays brine-infused micro droplets into the air.
And within days I’d become an enthusiastic vapour-breathing zombie myself, making daily stops to this free wellness area in the Spa Quarter of Bad Kreuznach.
Where is Bad Kreuznach?
Bad Kreuznach is about an hour west of Frankfurt and easily reached by car or train. A pleasant off-the-beaten path town, it’s located in the central west part of Germany in the Rhineland-Palatinate.
In addition to plenty of sights such as a picturesque Old Town, hiking trails and flower-filled parks, this unique town in Germany gained fame in the early 19th century as a brine spa.
What is a Brine Spa?
A brine spa uses the medicinal properties in salt water to help treat issues such as respiratory problems and inflammation.
Officially classified by the German government – or whoever it is who decides such things – as Heilwasser (medicinal spring water), the water of Bad Kreuznach is said to be good for asthma, skin conditions and rheumatic diseases.
Also, soaking in a warm pool of brine water is akin to bathing in hot springs, and is just plain fun.
But what is brine and how is it different from salt? Basically, brine is salt water, though it can contain other minerals too.
In Bad Kreuznach the water is a sodium chloride solution rich in flouride, and rises up from a 500-metre deep natural spring. You can soak in it, inhale it, and probably do other things I haven’t heard of.
Above all, a spa vacation in Bad Kreuznach is an excellent way to relax.
Free and Easy Spa Treatments
The greatest, and most fun thing about spa-ing in Bad Kreuznach is that your main job as a spa patron is to meander around this glorious river valley and breathe.
Even better, much of this beyond-exciting adventure is free.
Why Visit Bad Kreuznach?
If you want a typical North American spa experience with high-class treatments and snooty surroundings, Bad Kreuznach probably isn’t your place. If you want wild nightlife, it’s definitely not the German vacation destination for you.
If you want a sleepy spot surrounded by forest and bursting with fresh salt-laden air, a place that has warm pools to soak in, comfortable hotels that were probably once grander than they are now, an ancient bridge and pedestrian streets, you might like Bad Kreuznach very much.
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Bad Kreuznach, and if you’re a tourist, even better.
A Turbulent History
For all its spa-fuelled peaceful vibe, Bad Kreuznach is a town with a past. The Celts were here, then the Romans, and in the Thirty Years War, Bad Kreuznach was taken over by the Swedes. Under Napoleon, it was occupied by the French. After WWII, the U.S. Army was stationed here until 2001.
Things to Do in Bad Kreuznach
Even though I treated myself to an eight-day spa vacation here, I didn’t do a single treatment. I didn’t have to. Between cycling, hiking, strolling through town, soaking in warm mineral water and breathing there were so many other healthy ways to spend my time.
If you’re planning a trip here yourself, here are my top picks of things to do in Bad Kreuznach.
Sightseeing and Attractions
Check out the Bridge Houses on the Alte Nahebruecke
The 700-year-old bridge, the Alte Nahebruecke, is Bad Kreuznach’s landmark sight. Located in the Old Town, an area of historic buildings and pedestrian streets, the Alte Nahebruecke (which isn’t easy to spell, I can tell you that) is one of the few existing bridges with houses built right on it. These are known as the Brückenhäuser, or Bridge Houses, and you’ll find them over the section of the bridge that spans the Mill Canal (the Mühlenkanal).
Visit St. Paul’s Church
This Gothic church dates back to 1332 and was reconstructed in 1781, when a 61-metre high Baroque Tower was added. Built on an island between the Nahe River and the Mill Canal, it was a gathering spot for the many English spa patrons who flocked here when spa cures were all the rage.
Wander Through the Market Squares
You don’t actually go to the Egg Market to buy eggs, at least not any more. In the heart of the Old Town, the Eiermarkt is a former market square home to half-timbered houses and a sculpture of the butcher Michel Mort, who saved the ruling Count of Sponheim in the Battle of Sprendlingen of 1229.
Another thing to see here is St. Nicholas Church. Built in 1266, it’s the oldest place of worship in town.
At the Corn Market square you can still buy fresh produce on market days, or check out the fountain featuring some of the town’s most unforgettable inhabitants.
Get Cultured at the Museums of the Schlosspark
Across the river and uphill from the Old Town is a sightseeing area known as the Schlosspark. Here you’ll find three museums: the Schlosspark Museum, set in a restored aristocratic manor; the Roemerhalle, highlighting Bad Kreuznach’s Roman past; and the PUK Museum, which sounds disgusting but is dedicated to all things puppetry.
Things to Do Outdoors
Getting outside in Bad Kreuznach is the best part of a vacation here. This region is so romantic with greenery tumbling down hills, dramatic ridges and an appealing river setting that the famous artist William Turner painted here in 1844.
Walk the Riverside Path
My go-to stroll was along the riverside walk. From the Spa Quarter, where most of the hotels are located, it’s easy peasy to wander the well-maintained paths that run south along both sides of the River Nahe.
I prefer the more foresty west side, which is flanked by the river on one side and Kauzenberg Hill on the other.
The east side is good if you want to stop along the way at the Rose Garden, wander through parks and see more of the Spa Quarter. Usually I’d walk one way and back the other.
Visit the Salinental Valley Spa Park
Either way, if you’re walking along the riverbank and looking for things to see around Bad Kreuznach, your destination – though it’s quite a hike (about 2.5 km from the Parkhotel Kurhaus each way – should be the Salinental Valley. Why? Because it’s the ‘largest open-air inhalatorium in Europe.’
While that sounded impressive to me, since I hadn’t known there were any inhalatoriums in Europe, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, I would have been thrilled to visit even it was the smallest one.
Once I’d found this immense grassy park that goes by many names, including the Salinental Valley, Inhalation Park and Saline Valley Spa Park, I looked out over the vast spread of blackthorn walls dripping with brine water and realized it put the nebulizer with its two modest brine walls I’d seen earlier to shame.
Here, the big stretch of blackthorn-bush saline walls covers more than a kilometre altogether. Your mission here, if you should choose to accept it, is to walk along them and inhale. Or, you can sit on a bench.
A History of Salt in Bad Kreuznach
Four hundred years ago, salt was extracted in this spot in a similar method, not for therapeutic purposes but for basic salt purposes. The ‘white gold’ was a valuable commodity, and fuelled the economy of the area.
How it worked was that salty brine water ran down the blackthorn frames so that the water would evaporate, leaving a high concentration of salt behind. The methods were all very involved, concerning water wheels, pumps and graduated towers, but the idea is the same today.
The big difference between now and then is that in 1817, after the brine water’s medicinal qualities were discovered, Bad Kreuznach was transformed into a spa destination.
If you’re content to see the Saline Valley rather than wander around and breathe it in, and don’t want to walk or drive, you can take a little tourist train from outside the Parkhotel Kurhaus which will toodle by it for a minimal fee.
Note: The tourist train has a second route which goes through the Old Town.
Hike the Panoramaweg
If you get tired of walking to the Saline Valley Spa Park, check out the Panoramaweg, a popular hike that goes along Kauzenberg Hill and looks out over the riverside and the historical centre of town.
It also leads to something called the Tea Temple (or at least I thought it did but I might have been on the wrong path). However when I got there I was very intrigued – I mean, a temple to tea? How divine.
It was a bit of a let down, however, because all it was was an empty rundown pavilion. It does offer a good view, however, and that’s about all I can say about it.
Since I was getting blisters from walking so much, I finally rented a bicycle from the Tourist Information Centre near the Parkhotel Kurhaus. (I keep mentioning the hotel because it’s in the centre of the Spa Quarter, and since I was staying there it was the starting point for everything I did).
Note: It’s cheaper to rent a bicycle by the week than by the day.
Take an Excursion to Bad Munster am Stein-Ebernburg
As if having one German spa town to explore wasn’t enough, now that I had a bike I could cycle to another spa town, the even smaller, but longer-named Bad Munster am Stein-Ebernburg, which is 6.3 km (4 miles) from Bad Kreuznach past the Salinental Valley Spa Park.
The ride along the riverside path is spectacular. The River Nahe has carved its way down through the red volcanic rock above, leaving sheer rock faces cascading down from green-clad hills.
The route takes you directly to the 100-year old Kurmittelhaus, the former spa centre at Bad Munster am Stein-Ebernburg. The architecture is a combination of half timbered and Jugendstil styles, which is to say it looks like a big Swiss chalet.
Inside there’s a restaurant, historical memorabilia, and – this was the most wonderful thing of all – fountains where you can taste the salty water from the Rheingrafenquelle, also known as the Rheingrafen Spring.
Now that I knew you could soak in the brine water, inhale and sip it, my spa-cure happiness was complete. I’d spent a fair bit of time tracking down the Elisabeth Spring in Bad Kreuznach only to discover you could no longer drink from the mineral springs, and that the Anas Elisabethquelle Restaurant is now sitting on top of it.
Outside the Kurhaus at Bad Munster am Stein-Ebernburg you can walk along yet even more blackthorn walls (lucky you!) and then continue on to track down the very spot where William Turner painted the ruins of the Ebernburg Castle.
If you’re up for an uphill hike, you can take the hand-pulled ferry across the river and climb up to the ruins of Rheingrafenstein Castle.
Bad Kreuznach Wellness & Spa
The Spa Quarter
I’ve already mentioned the mist-spewing nebulizer and it’s modest brine walls in the Spa Quarter. Much smaller than the Saline Valley Spa Park, it’s super central, sandwiched between the Parkhotel Kurhaus the Crucenia Thermal Baths, and entrance is free.
There are chairs where you can sit, either by the nebulizer or by the blackthorn branch walls.
Crucenia Thermal Baths
I know I said earlier that exploring the outdoors is the best thing to do in Bad Kreuznach, and that inhaling brine air is also an enormously good time, but maybe the best activity of all is going to the mineral baths to soak and paddle around in warm brine water.
The Crucenia Baths overlook the river in the Spa Quarter of Bad Kreuznach. There are three warm pools filled with the brine mineral springs. At 33C (91F), they’re not really hot enough for me, but I can’t have everything I want in this life.
There is also a freshwater indoor pool for swimming and I kept meaning to join one of the aqua aerobics classes but I was tired from cycling.
The highlight of the thermal baths is the circular outdoor pool that is practically hanging out over the riverbank. Sitting there in the evening with the stars overhead, mist drifting off the water and the shadowy river below is beyond atmospheric.
There are also jets along the sides of the pool so you can massage your back while contemplating how so many things come together in Bad Kreuznach to create the perfect spa holiday that no one has ever heard of, (even if you skip aqua aerobics and don’t do a single spa treatment).
I did, however, get naked at the Baderhaus.
Bad Kreuznach Sauna – The Baderhaus
The Baderhaus is a grand classical building in the Spa Quarter so of course I had to go. The thing is, you can’t go to a bonafide sauna in Germany without accepting that you are going to have to strip down to complete nakedness, so I chose to go on Ladies Day, which is every Monday.
The Bad Kreuznach sauna house has sauna rooms of every shape, size and temperature imaginable. There’s a hot tub, a couple of modest-sized freshwater pools, an ice grotto, a restaurant, relaxation areas and a small brine pool. Particularly nice is the outdoor warm pool (not brine water) on the top deck, but this is definitely more about German sauna culture than mineral springs.
Just remember to follow the rules of sauna safety.
If you want spa treatments, the Crucenia Health Center is connected to the Crucenia Thermal Baths. It offers massages, salt-mud packs and other thrilling wellness options such as respiratory gymnastics.
Bad Kreuznach Hotels
I stayed at PK Parkhotel Kurhaus because it’s connected to the Crucenia Baths and offers free entrance to the pools. There is also a small but nice sauna downstairs in the hotel, though it’s tucked out of the way and took me awhile to find it.
My room had a sitting area, high ceilings and a view over the Spa Quarter. The single bed was extremely narrow and utilitarian, which is pretty standard for a German spa hotel.
The Parkhotel has a faded old world feel, which is one of my favourite types of hotels as I imagine all the life and activity that went on before me. It’s clean, not too expensive (I paid less than 100 Euros a night) and breakfast was included with my stay. It also has an ideal location in the Spa Quarter on the river’s edge, and I’d say it’s the best hotel in Bad Kreuznach, at least it was for me.
(I didn’t love the one dinner I had there, though, and found it expensive.)
Right across from the Parkhotel Kurhaus is the nice looking, and possibly more modern, though strangely named Sympathie-Hotel Fürstenhof. Sympathy? Sympathy for what? Or is it based on the French word sympathique, which means agreeable? Anyways, this would be my second choice because of its proximity to the Crucenia mineral baths.
A top contender for Bad Kreuznach hotels (in my opinion) is the cozy-looking Hotel Der Quellenhof. Tucked out of the way on a scenic stretch of the River Nahe, it’s still close enough to walk to the all-important nebulizer, which was a must-do activity for me every day.
Where to Eat
Brauwerk Restaurant sits midway between the Saline Valley Park and the Spa Quarter. It has a riverside location, a sleek modern atmosphere and excellent schnitzel and beer.
There is also an outdoor beer garden there. And, just in case you were feeling deprived, it’s right next to another wall of blackthorn branches. More breathing!
Located at Saline Karlshalle 11.
For a more traditional flavour, you can grab a light bite at the homey Cafe Wahl on Kurhasstrasse 19. It’s more of a cafe/bakery so an excellent place for tea and treats. It’s very near the hotels in the Spa Quarter.
Wrap up: Is Bad Kreuznach a Good Town to Visit in Germany?
Something I’ve realized over the years is that not everyone likes a quiet wellness vacation where you pretty much speak to no one except maybe a couple of hikers on the Panoramaweg. For me though, once I’d discovered the beauty of a German spa town where all you have to do is wander past blackthorn walls or sit like a zombie in front of a nebulizer to get healthy, I extended my stay for as long as I could.
The choice is yours, but even if you don’t salivate over the idea of saline air and aren’t into spa travel, with its creaky cute buildings, centuries-old covered bridge and plentiful hotels and hikes, the European spa town of Bad Kreuznach is at least worth a quick stop.