There’s something about seeing age-old traditional crafts being made and learning about the people who choose to keep these skills alive. But it can be equally interesting – and arguably even more valuable – to know how the things we use every day are made.
Touring the facilities that produce the clothes we wear and the cars we drive helps us not only appreciate those things on a deeper level, but also to make better choices as consumers. It also turns out that these modern factories can be as important to a place as leather is to Florence. Portugal has been producing textiles since the 18th century, after all, and can you really imagine Stuttgart without Porsche?
Factory tours are also a lesson in ultimate efficiency. Until I toured Volvo’s factory outside of Gothenburg, Sweden, I didn’t think about the fact that wooden blocks are more comfortable to stand on than concrete and wood absorbs oil stains better.
That kind of direct look serves both the companies and the viewers: by showing you their sustainable and worker-oriented credentials, companies get to burnish their brand. By having you there watching it, companies are also under more pressure to really walk the walk. So go ahead and book a factor tour (and you really do need to book these tours in advance) the next time you’re in Europe to see how things are made.
1. Porsche factory tour in Stuttgart, Germany
In the Zuffenhausen area of Stuttgart, Porsche offers factory tours that include a visit to The Porsche Museum, which has nearly 100 beautiful vehicles to drool over. The museum entrance fee is 10€ (about $10) and 5€ for students, kids, and seniors.
The tour allows you to “accompany a sports car through production and experience the perfect symbiosis of tradition and modernity,” says Frank Wiesmann, a product communications manager of Porsche North America.
His wording might sound corporate, but Porsche has in fact been making luxury and race cars since 1948, so they do hew to values of craftsmanship and quality. Porsche cars are also some of the world’s most innovative, and the factory is a good place to see all that come together.
“Visitors are typically fascinated by the experience,” Wiesmann says, particularly when the car’s “body is connected to the drivetrain and chassis.” The tour gives some insight into “Porsche Production 4.0,” a method of building cars that he says is “smart, lean and green.”
You can go even greener and get a tour of the fully electric Porsche Taycan’s assembly and painting process. You’ll start at the Porsche Museum foyer and take a bus to your destination. The two-hour tours are €15 per adult, with €6 for 14-18 year-olds and free under 14. Children under eight aren’t permitted on the tours.
2. Porsche factory tour and drive in Leipzig, Germany
Porsche manufactures its Panamera and Macan models in Leipzig in eastern Germany. You can see the whole production process there and, just as in Stuttgart, be amazed by the sophisticated robotic machinery, the places where the human touch is still essential, and other elements of putting together a car that you just haven’t seen before. The 90-minute tour is for people aged 14 and up and costs €12.
The real reason to go out to Leipzig for the tour though is the part that comes afterward, if you’re willing to pay the money: You can ride “co-pilot” in a Panamera or in a GT3 Cup race car driven by a professional driver in a private track. (Helmets are obligatory for the GT3 Cup drives). The cost is €110 for the Panamera and €250 for the GT3 Cup. Coupled with the factory tour, the whole experience takes three hours.
3. Getzer textile factory tour in Bludenz, Austria
The Getzer Textile Factory was founded more than two hundred years ago in Bludenz, Austria. Today, Getzer says it’s a leading maker of “dressmaking damasks, fashion fabrics, and technical textiles.” For the consumer, the point of visiting a factory like this is to see a textile making process that is actually Earth friendly.
Getzer has received a bluesign certificate since 2006 for its shirt fabrics, damasks, and corporate apparel – and the company goes through recertification every three years. The bluesign idea of producing fabrics with the lowest environmental impact was conceived in Switzerland in 1997 and outdoor-wear companies like Mammut are bluesign certified. For Getzer, the means the fibers, chemicals, and dyes it uses meet strict ecological standards.
Contact the company directly, at least two months ahead of time, to have them organize a walking tour of the factory that lasts between 90 minutes and two hours. You’ll visit the weaving preparation area, the weaving mill, the finishing area, and the dying mill.
4. BMW factory tour in Munich, Germany
There’s plenty of things to see in Munich, one of Matador’s favorite second cities in Europe – among them excellent museums, sprawling castles, and, in summer, welcoming beer gardens. While you’re there, you should add in a visit to the BMW factory, which has been churning out world-class cars for over a century. You can combine the tour with the visit to the 534,000-square-foot BMW Museum, which costs €10 for adults and €7 for seniors, students, and youth. Among its stunning collection of new and classic cars is one used in a James Bond film.
The factory tour itself, which is only for ages six and up, lasts 90 minutes and costs €14 for adults and €11 for students, seniors, and youth. While the Porsche tour is on a bus, the BMW tour has you walking. The nice part about that is you can get really close in some places, and spend longer in certain spots. But be prepared to walk almost two miles.
5. Volvo factory tour in Göthenburg, Sweden
Göthenburg is another visit-worthy second city, with opulent 17th and 18th century architecture, bustling cobbled streets, and inviting cafes to duck into when the weather invariably gets cold. Just outside town, Volvo has been making cars since 1927.
Today, the Volvo factory is an interesting place to see Nordic values at work. It is also surprisingly quiet in the factory. Note that factory tours are also not available over the summer months.
Starting in 2015, Volvo extended its eco-commitment to the cars themselves when it launched its first hybrid. It now plans to build only electric cars by 2030, phasing out all cars with internal combustion engines. You can see all of this in process for SEK 125 ($12) on a factory tour that you take on a little cart. Because you’re on the cart, you can’t linger long in any one area, but seeing huge slabs of steel become finished cars by the time your tour ends is very memorable.
6. ISTO organic clothing factory tours in northern Portugal
The organic clothing manufacturer ISTO touts the transparency of its sustainable products and the production process itself. It endeavors to back it up with free tours of not just one factory, but of many of the suppliers it works with in northern Portugal from the cities of Braga and Porto to Benedita and Serra da Estrela. It calls the effort “Factourism.”
Unlike automotive factory tours, ISTO tours don’t happen on a regular basis. You’ll have to register to participate in a tour when they are open to the public. Because ISTO is committed to working with independent operators it can trust, some of the factories you’ll see will in fact feel like artisan workshops. The family-owned NGS MALHAS has only 25 employees and makes top-quality jersey fabric, whereas the family-owned MODCOM has even fewer workers who sew lightweight jackets and other linen apparel for ISTO.
The ISTO tour will take you through more sizable factory floors as well. The Label Factory ETILABEL has 180 employees and they just make labels. But they are OEKO-TEK certified, which is why ISTO uses them exclusively for their own labels. ISTO also works with knitwear manufacturers like A. Ferreira & Filhos and a leather maker, Olhamar.
With fourteen factories that make ISTO’s organic and sustainable clothing, Factourism is starting to sound pretty fascinating after all..