This is a must go place! If you travel to Northern Bavaria, you cannot miss this incredible village. When planning our road trip to this region (check our post about it here), we knew for sure we'd stop there. Located on the Romantic Road, this fairy-tale village of Bavaria is a charming place in which it feels good to wander in its cute alleys. It is the picture-perfect German village and can hardly be described with words. In this post, we've concocted a tailor-made walking tour for you not to miss a thing when visiting this magical town.
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 17th 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.
HOW TO GET TO ROTHENBURG?
Rothenburg can be easily reached from many major German cities:
- By car: it is around 1h30 minutes drive from Bamberg and around 1h15 from Nuremberg. It is a 2h30 drive from Frankfurt, Stuttgart or Munich;
- By train: you can take advantage of the nice weekend trip plans Deutsche Bahn offers to visit Nuremberg over a weekend for as low as 13.5 EUR (if you are a group of 5);
- By bus: unfortunately, the city is not reachable by bus, it seems that Flixbus does not offer routes to reach it.
PLANNING THE PERFECT DAY
1. GALGENTOR (GALLOWS GATE)
As the best way to experience the unique medieval townscape of Rothenburg is to get lost into its ancient alleyways, 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 19th century. As this entrance is located in the highest part of town, it was the most vulnerable point of the wall.
2. 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 12th century and is also part of the first fortification system with its 33-meter height.
3. 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. 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. 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. LOCAL FOOD IN ZUM PULVERER OR 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. 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. 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 façade 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.
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.
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 short crust 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.
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.
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. FACHWERKHAUS GERLASCHSMIEDE
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. 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 the Röderbogen (Röder Arch) and its slim clock tower, were part of the town’s first fortification system (dating back to the 12th century) and remains today as one of the most beautiful tower of Rothenburg.
OUR FINAL THOUGHTS
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.
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? We look forward to reading your comments in the section below.
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