ULM lies on the southern side of the Swabian Alb, around 95km southeast of Stuttgart and 85km east of Tübingen, but it's the city's location on the Danube that has shaped it most. In the Middle Ages it enabled Ulm to build great wealth from trading, boat building and textile manufacture. It became an imperial city in 1376 and then leader of the Swabian League of cities, which it used to throw its weight about on the European stage. Over time though, corruption, wars and epidemics whittled away at the city's greatness; then, in just thirty minutes in December 1944 its glorious Altstadt disappeared beneath 2450 tonnes of explosive. Luckily its giant Münster came out relatively unscathed, and parts of the Altstadt have been reconstructed, but Ulm has also used the opportunity to experiment with some bold modern buildings too. This sets the scene for a city that is as forward-looking as it is nostalgic and one that celebrates its festivals with an almost Latin passion. The best place to appreciate Ulm's skyline is on the eastern side of the Danube in the modern and uninteresting Neu Ulm – a city in its own right and in Bavaria.
The vast sweep of Münsterplatz provides Ulm with its focal point, and when there's not some sort of event taking place here it provides space for a Wednesday- and Saturday-morning market. The dimensions of the square are matched by the gigantic Münster beside, which protrudes from town like a Gothic rocket and provides an easy orientation point wherever you are. The streets south of the Münster contain the Fischerviertel, Ulm's most immediately attractive old quarter, where fisher-folk once lived. Ulm's Rathaus and two best museums, Kunsthalle Weishaupt and the Ulmer Museum, lie just south of here.