Worldwide: 48 hours in ... Stuttgart

Shop till you drop along Germany's longest pedestrianised zone - then recover with some Kaffee and Kuchen, says Margaret Campbell

Why go now?

All the big trade fairs are over for the year and the Christmas Market in Stuttgart's twin squares of Marktplatz and Schillerplatz continues through to 23 December.

Visitors can take advantage of cheaper hotel rates, see two major exhibitions - "Chagall" at the Staatsgalerie and "Expressionist Paintings" at the Kunstgebaude - and enjoy some world-class dance by Uze Scholz, George Balanchine and Glen Tetley at the Stuttgart ballet (5-11 December).

Beam down

Rumours are rife in aviation that Stuttgart is a target for one or more of the UK's no-frills airlines. Until the cheapies fly in, the route is restricted to flights from Heathrow on British Airways and Lufthansa. Through discount agent Hamilton Travel (0171-344 3333), a flight on Lufthansa will cost pounds 137.10 including tax, though availability is limited. Alternatively, order a brand-new Porsche and the company will fly you out business class.

The city has an extensive public-transport network, best experienced with the three-day transport pass - pounds 4.30 from the tourist office. A city pass (pounds 10) provides access to public transport and a book of vouchers giving free or reduced admission to various attractions. Take subway line S2 or S3 from the airport to the main railway station. A taxi will cost close on pounds 20.

Get your bearings

Capital of the Baden-Wurttemberg region, Stuttgart's origins date back to the 10th century. Today it is home to Porsche and Daimler-Benz, and a prosperous symbol of Germany's post-war reconstruction. The tourist information office (00 49 711 222 8240, www.stuttgart-tourist.de) is at the top of Konigstrae.

Check in

There are hotels aplenty in Stuttgart, most of them catering to the business traveller - which makes them cheaper at weekends. The Christmas market means that it's advisable to book rooms in advance through the tourist office (00 49 711 222 8233), or you can just turn up and take advantage of their on-the-spot booking service. I stayed in the centrally located three-star Unger Hotel (Kronenstrae 17, tel 00 49 711 209 90), where I paid the special weekend rate of pounds 40 for a single room, including breakfast; a double costs pounds 72.

Take a ride

Hop on a 41 or a 43 bus (they stop outside the railway station) for a good overview of the city and its sights.

Take a hike

Start at the station, and wander down through the Schlossgarten, pausing to admire the wildlife in the lake and the gilded buck on the top of the Kunstgebaude art gallery. It's worth looking into the three-storey courtyard of the Alte Schloss, now the Landesmuseum (and a popular backdrop for wedding photographs), before nodding to Schiller's somewhat moody statue and following the narrower streets down to the City Hall on Marktplatz.

Lunch on the run

If you've followed the walk above, you are now within metres of Topferstrae and Geissestrae, which are lined with restaurants offering reasonably priced lunches, including Swabian and lighter cuisine. If you've stayed on Konigstrae, why not try Germany's healthy answer to the fast-food restaurant - the Movenpick Marche at number 16? Fill your tray with salads, pick from one of the many dishes (including a wide vegetarian choice), or watch as your meat is grilled to perfection.

Cultural afternoon

The New State Art Gallery is worth visiting just to look at James Stirling's postmodern design; it's often regarded as one of his most original buildings, where bright colours and unusual geometry contrast with the classic interior garden. Once inside, you'll find one of Germany's largest Picasso collections, and there is currently a fascinating exhibition of Chagall's lithographs, all rich colours and mythological motifs. Highly recommended.

Window shopping

Germany's longest pedestrianised zone, the Konigstrae, starts opposite the station, and you'll find department stores, boutiques, chain stores, arcades, churches and cinemas along it. Keep an eye out for the artwork on the shop-fronts, as well as the fountains and mobiles.

Work your way down to Schlossplatz, and stop in one of the cafes for a break and a chance to watch a swan that has wandered over from the nearby Schlossgarten, or listen to a street musician before tackling the second half of the street. The smaller side streets, such as Calwer Strae, are home to more exclusive boutiques.

An aperitif

Cafe le Theatre (Bolzstrae 6, through the Gloria Passage from Konigstrae) makes a smooth transition from popular day-time eating place to trendy evening bar. Beer drinkers should try the local brew, Herren-Pils, but the Cafe often has special cocktail nights to tie in with a specific theme: their "Something About Mary" cocktail (whisky, lemon, soda and a secret ingredient) didn't turn me into Cameron Diaz, but was worth the pounds 4, nevertheless.

Demure dinner

It's a short walk across the Schlossplatz to the Alte Kanzlei on Schillerplatz. Housed in the former treasury, this restaurant has friendly staff and typical Swabian cooking (main dishes start at pounds 6.50, soups at pounds 2.60). As wine-growing used to be one of Stuttgart's main sources of revenue, don't miss this opportunity to sample some local wine, such as Trollinger or Riesling. Reservations are recommended (00 49 711 294 457). If the Alte Kanzlei's full, try the Tauberquelle, 19 Torstrae (00 49 711 235 656), a more traditional tavern.

Sunday-morning: go to church

Begun in 1170 and largely restored after the Second World War, the Stiftskirche (Collegiate church) is widely regarded as a symbol of the city. Inside, a row of 11 statues depict the Dukes of the Wurttemberg region and modern stained-glass depictions of the prophets contrast with dense, deep-red traditional designs. The morning service starts at 10am.

Bracing brunch

The Cafe am Kunstlerbund at 2 Schlossplatz, adjoining the art gallery, is the place to go for elevenses that run into lunch. Expect to pay pounds 2.40 for the "Mini" and pounds 7 for the "Big Time" breakfast; the lunch menu starts at pounds 1.50 for a small salad. If you can face it at this time of day, ask for the organic wine (pounds 3.20): it might even put you in the mood for a quick look at Otto Dix's paintings of decadent 1920s Berlin.

A walk in the park

And what a park - home to thousands of animals and exotic plants. Take bus 53 or 55 over the Neckar to the Wilhelma park, designed as Moorish gardens for Wilhelm I of Wurttemberg in 1850. Sit beside the water-lily park, visit the polar-bear enclosure, or try to put your arms round the 140- year-old trees: the choice is yours. Entry is pounds 5.

Alternatively (and if you prefer your parks free of charge), take tram 2 to the Rosensteinpark, the setting for a small artificial lake and the Schloss Rosenstein, once a country house for the aristocracy and now a natural-history museum. This quiet area of greenery stretches all the way south, past the Planetarium and over a main road to the Schlossgarten.

The icing on the cake

You can't come to the home of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche without paying a visit to one of their museums. Either is worth a visit, but Mercedes-Benz is closer to the centre: cross the Neckar on bus 56 to the Daimler-Stadion stop (there's free entry to the museum). The Silver Arrow, the world's first motorbike, and luxury limousines are all a far cry from the modern-day automobiles manufactured in millions in Stuttgart.

Or opt for some real cake. German Kaffee und Kuchen are justifiably renowned, and the selection of cheesecake and gateaux at Cafe Graf Eberhard makes the walk to Nesenbachstrae 52 worthwhile. Off the usual tourist trail, it's frequented by locals who appreciate comfortable seats and good coffee.

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