This post is the third and last part of our weekend road trip through Northern Bavaria. The trip started in Bamberg (check here), one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Germany. From there, we parted to Nuremberg, the home town of the Nazi Party rallies (check here). To lighten up the mood, we selected our last destination as being the medieval cute city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
So, after our morning tour through Nuremberg, we left around noon towards Rothenburg to spend the afternoon there. After a bit over one hour we arrived at this enchanting little town, left the car in one of the many parking lots just outside the walls and started exploring all the cuteness of this village standing above the river Tauber valley.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber - a german fairy-tale
One of the favorite stops along Germany’s “Romantic Road”, Rothenburg ob der Tauber began as a settlement in the year of 970. Afterwards, in 1142, King Conrad III built a “Red Fortress” (or Rote Burg in German) on a peak overlooking the river Tauber and a town flourished around it. Finally, in 1274, King Rudolf of Habsburg granted the town the right to be a Free Imperial City, bringing considerable political power to the city and fostering its economic success with different fairs taking place in the city.
However, when the Thirty Years’ war turned Catholics against Protestants in the fragmented Holy Roman Empire, Rothenburg suffered an invasion by the army of the catholic Count of Tilly and was abandoned in the following winter. Two years later, it suffered a bubonic plague outbreak. Without any money or power, Rothenburg stopped growing, and that’s why, luckily for us, it still preserves its XVII century looks. Later on, during the Nazi period, the town held a special significance to the ideologists, once they considered it to be the epitome of the German "Home Town" representing all that was traditionally German. They organized regular day trips to Rothenburg from all across the Reich to showcase the ideal German community, allowing tourism to thrive in the city.
Planning the perfect day in Rothenburg
1. Start the tour at the Galgentor (Gallows Gate)
As the best way to experience the unique medieval townscape of Rothenburg is to get lost into its ancient alleyways, you can leave your car in the parking lot just outside the walls near the Galgentor (Gallows Gate) and enter the city through this passage near to which the town's gallows stood until the beginning of the XIX century. As this entrance is located in the highest part of the town, it was the most vulnerable point of the wall.
2. Check the WeIsserturm (White tOwer)
Continuing through the Galgengasse, a street with two towers at the opposite ends, you will reach the WeißerTurm (White Tower) which was built in the end of the XII century and is also part of the first fortification system with its 33-meter height.
3. Pass by the Saint-James Church
The most important church of Rothenburg has its origin in 1311 and holds two impressive treasures: a wooden work of the famous caver artist Tilman Riemenschneider depicting a representation of the Last Supper in the Altar of the Holy Blood and the Twelve Messenger Altar by Friedrich Herlin which portrays the oldest known representation of the town. This temple in homage to Saint-James attracts many pilgrims of the Camino de Santiago.
4. Go through the Burgtor (Castle Gate)
Continue crossing the town until the Burgtor. Built around 1460, it is the tallest gate of the town’s fortification system and its western access. It shows traditional medieval defense systems such as the so-called “Eye-of-the-Needle”, a narrow opening on the heavy gate to allow previously authorized people to enter or exit at night without the exposing risk of opening the whole gate, and an opening on the ceiling of the gate which could be used to pour boiling tar on eventual attackers.
5. Stroll around the Castle Gardens
Exiting through Burgtor, you will reach a park just outside the walls called the Castle Gardens in which once upon a time a castle stood, before an earthquake destroyed it in 1356. From there, you can have a stupendous view of the landscape of the city, its fortification and the Tauber river valley below.
6. Have a local menu in Zum Pulverer or in Meistertrunk
You can have a quick stop for lunch in one of these two restaurants serving good portions of German specialties. If you are looking for an experience of a traditional German tavern, head down to the Zum Pulverer. But if you want a more refined experience without losing the German decoration part, you can try the Meistertrunk and its fabulous inner garden.
7. Stop by the German Christmas Museum
If you are a fan of the Christmas Holiday like we are, going up the Herrngasse street, you can stop by the Deutsches Weihnachtsmuseum (German Christmas Museum). We did not visit the museum itself, for which you have to pay from 2.50 to 4 EUR per person depending on the period of the year (more information here), but its shop part is already fascinating with thousands of different Christmas decoration items that will certainly make you dream about the most wonderful time of the year.
8. Climb up the Townhall Tower
In the heart of the city, you can find the Rathaus (Town Hall). Consisting of two buildings, the first one with a Renaissance facade was reconstructed after a fire and is the entrance to the second one with its Gothic architecture and its 52-meter tower overlooking the city. Going up is possible only by stairs and offers a nice panoramic view, but the way is very narrow and, if during high season and peak hours, can take a while since you have to do it only in a single line.
9. Visit the Markt-platz
This is the heart of Rothenburg! The Markt-platz gathers the tourists looking for overall information about the city and the guided tours in the Tourist Office (located inside the Clock Tower) and the local residents attending to occasional markets taking place there. Framed by the remarkable patrician houses, it also hosts the Georgsbrunnen (the George's Fountain), a 8-meter deep well able to store up to 80 thousand liters of potable water and portraying an image of Saint George on the top of a column.
10. Taste Schneeballs - the local specialty of the village
After all this walking and climbing, what would be better than a sweet treat? We googled the best place to have the traditional and incredibly appealing treat from Rothenburg: Schneeball (snowball in English). It is a deep-fried dough made of shortcrust pastry shaped like a snowball, and covered in different kind of frostings, from confectioner’s sugar and chocolate to the very German marzipan. After reading some reviews saying the best place to have some was the Zuckerbackerei, we were ready to indulge ourselves in this famous treat. However, after the first bite, we got a bit disappointed. As it looks super yummy, we were expecting a delicious treat, but it is kind of tasteless and not sweet enough, specially for French and Brazilian standards of desserts. Nevertheless, it is worth trying.
11. Take your photo souvenir in the Plönlein - the most picturesque spot in Rothenburg
One of the most famous postcards from Rothenburg is definitely the Plönlein (Little Square). Thomas saw pictures of it on Instagram and pinned it as one of the must go spots for his owns. A narrow cute half-timbered building with a small fountain in front, framed by the Kobolzeller tower to its right (providing a secured entrance to the town from the Tauber Valley) and the Siebers Tower to its left (protecting the southern gate), it creates a charmingly picturesque effect. As every trip we make, we faced some unlucky restoring work. In Rothenburg, it was the Little Square.
12. Do the tour of the ramparts (or at least part of them)
Walking on the ramparts is a must do, even if it is just a small part so you can soak in all the medievalness of Rothenburg. It completely encircles the town’s historic center and there is a trail all over it passing through the towers and gates that take around 2 hours. As we did not have this much time, we didn’t do it but if you do have time, you can check the trail here.
13. Admire the numerous tower gates and the cute houses from the ramparts
The whole town depicts well preserved medieval-looking buildings. More than the tower gates, ramparts and Market Square, you can also witness it throughout the town in some nice houses with typical architecture of the region. The one worth mentioning is the Fachwerkhaus Gerlachschmiede, the former smith house which presents the ideal half-timbered architecture.
14. End the day at the Markusturm (Marcus Tower)
Ending the tour, you can stop by this location where you will also be able to take great pictures. The Markusturm (Marcus Tower), with Röderbogen (Röder Arch) and its slim clock tower, was part of the town’s first fortification system (dating back to the XII century) and remains today as one of the most beautiful tower of Rothenburg.
We can guarantee you that Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the most medieval city you will see in Germany. Coming from a country whose history has been told since only 1500, I felt like going into the scenario of the medieval fairytales and movies. If you are going on a trip to Bavaria, make sure to reserve time to pass by this German medieval jewel.
Details of the trip
- By car:
- From Nuremberg: both Bamberg and Rothenburg are 1 hour away from Nuremberg (North and West respectively).
- From Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Munich: around 2 hours 30 which is a bit far but might be a nice opportunity to try the famous and toll-less German highways;
- By train: you can take advantage of the nice weekend trip plans Deutsche Bahn offers to visit all these cities over a weekend for as low as 13.6 EUR (if you are a group of 5);
- By bus: Flixbus offers routes between the main cities in Germany and medium towns, it is worth checking if you are travelling alone and on the budget.
- Many options of accommodation in the 3 cities. If you are going for the weekend, you can choose the one you want to stay overnight.
- Nuremberg: if you want a more lively city with options of things to do, we advise to stay there like us.
- Rothenburg: if you are looking for a romantic getaway with your loved one, Rothenburg is definitely the right choice;
- Garden Hotel (Nuremberg): a central and very tranquil hotel. We were very happy with the choice. The room was very spacious, comfy and clean and there is a good and traditional German breakfast included in the fare.
- Bamberg: we are not proud to say this, but as we were in a rush after spending too much time in the car rental office, we had a quick meal on the go in order not to waste time and visit the city;
- The Bratwursthäusle: a very typical restaurant where they serve the famous sausage of Nuremberg;
*All prices are referred to September 2017
And now it's your turn to let us know your impressions, thoughts and also tips to visit this medieval German jewel. Have you already been to Rothenburg ob der Tauber? Which other attractions would you recommend? We look forward reading your comments in the section below.