As a kid, for me visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber meant dashing into the town’s Christmas shop, the only one I knew of at the time that was open year-round selling Christmas decorations and stuff.
These days when I come to visit, there are different things I appreciate (though the Christmas shop is still a huge draw).
Rothenburg, located in the Franconia region of Bavaria along the famous Romantic Road is one of Germany’s best preserved historic walled towns. It dates back to 950, and once you have crossed one of the wall gates into the historic core, you will truly feel like been transported back in time. The narrow cobble-stoned alleys and colourful houses create the impression nothing has changed over the centuries.
This is likely the reason why the town is hugely popular with tourists (official statistics state more than 2.5 million visitors per year) so if you plan to visit, try to avoid weekends and the peak summer holiday period. Which I greatly ignored during my last visit, coming here on a weekend in June which even coincided with the towns epic annual Meistertrunk festival!
The Meistertrunk festival is hold each year over three days on the weekend of Pentecost and retells the story how Rothenburg was saved from destruction by its mayor Georg Nusch after being taken by the troops of General Tilly during the Thirty Years war. The general conceded not to destroy the town if someone would be able to drink a barrel of three and a quarter litres of wine in one go, and the mayor succeeded.
Visiting during the festival meant lots of people around and even more severe restrictions driving into the historic town, which are fairly strict anyway but as a hotel guest you are normally allowed in. Not so during the festival, thus we had to carry our luggage from the parking lot outside the wall all the way through the crowded streets to our hotel.
All that said, it was just awesome walking around town observing the many groups of locals wearing historic costumes. The small groups will gather in front (or inside) the cafes, restaurants and hotels singing songs remembering the story of the Meistertrunk. In return, they will be offered a drink by the owner, quite often a Schnaps (a type of spirit). Now consider they start their singing in the morning and do it the whole day!
Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber, my recommendation would be to actually find a hotel in the walled centre and to stay overnight. Most of the day tourists will start leaving in the late afternoon and by early evening you will have the town almost to yourself.
Likely the most photographed place in the village is The Plonlein; and it’s really the picture-perfect postcard view.
Fun fact: Did you know that it was Rothenburg that inspired Walt Disney to create Pinocchio?
There are many more towers distributed around the town wall in within the town itself (testimony of a rapidly growing town during the middle ages up until the Thirty Years War) offering amazing views when walking the streets leading towards them.
Not all the alleys have their own tower off course, but are nevertheless drop dead gorgeous and simply passing along and admiring the colourful buildings will make time fly by.
Head to the large market square at the full hour (between 10 am – 10 pm) to attend another re-telling of the Meistertrunk legend. The two windows next to the Town Councilors’ Tavern Clock Tower will open to replay the story of the Master Draught.
You can walk nearly the full perimeter of the old wall, from where you get some gorgeous views over the town centre and into the surrounding valley. If you are interested, there are also guided walks during the evenings from mid-March to December starting daily at 8pm for the English speaking tour and there is also one in German departing a bit later.
Along the wall, you will see lots of stones engraved with names. These belong to people, businesses or organization who bought parts of the historic wall in order to raise money for rebuilding the town after the second world war. Thankfully, the damage was limited to a few parts of Rothenburg, including a section of the wall but spared the old core.
Next to the wall, you will also come across one of Rothenburg’s most unique houses. Once owned by legendary blacksmith George Gerlach (who also gave the house its name), the Gerlachschmiede is one of the houses destroyed in 1945 and rebuilt in the early 1950s.
The massive Spital Bastion fortification with its two inner courtyards was built around the late 1580s and is the latest – and strongest – of all the town gates.
Next to the gate of Spital Bastion you will find gedeckte Brücke (literally meaning covered bridge) which is another historic landmark of the town, albeit without any significant historic meaning other than providing another path into the walled town.
Once an Imperial City, Rothenburg was also home to a castle which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1356. In order to protect the city, the ruins of the castle were used to built a fortified tower which became known as the Castle Gate.
At the time, it was the only option to leave the town by night through the so-called ‘eye of the needle’ which was a narrow gap that allowed a person to pass through whilst the whole heavy gate would never be opened at night as it would have left the town vulnerable to intruders. Still, passing through the gap would nevertheless require a permission from the Town Council.
Today, the Castle Gate is the entrance to the Castle Garden, a small planted park.
Rothenburg seems to be an entire souvenir shop (and shops are open seven days a week, a huge exception in Germany where retail opening hours are still strictly regulated and Sundays normally all shops are closed). Whilst shopping will be likely least on your mind when visiting Rothenburg, having not been here for a while I was quite positively surprised. Where in the past most shops sold the usual cheap souvenirs not worth a second look, there are now many small shops selling really nice stuff from home decoration to art, ceramics, jewelry and excellent local food, wine and spirits.
Definitely worth a visit is the Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas shop (and museum) I already mentioned at the beginning.
Speaking of Christmas, there is an absolutely beautiful historic Christmas market in the historic centre of Rothenburg during the whole month of December. It’s looking back of a 500 years plus history; and if you speak to locals they will tell you the market has barely changed over time.
And finally, you can’t leave Rothenburg without having sampled the towns most famous pastry, the Schneeball (snow ball). It is a fright pastry dough dusted with either powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, or dipped in chocolate; and they might also be filled with marzipan or nuts. To tell the truth, I don’t think they are worth the hype but they are the towns most cherished pastry, so have your try.
Practical facts about Rothenburg ob der Tauber
How to get to Rothenburg ob der Tauber
To start with, you should be well aware there are other towns in Germany called Rothenburg. Hence when searching for directions or public transport connections, it is essential to add ‘ob der Tauber’ to make sure your search comes up with the right town.
There is a train station close to the historic walled town and Rothenburg is also served by Flixbus from several cities across Germany. However, most connections require multiple transfers as Rothenburg is not on a major line.
The best solution reaching the town is therefore driving. The town is about 90 minutes from Frankfurt and 2.5 hours from Munich.
Accommodation in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
There is plenty of accommodation within the walled town as well as outside of the historic centre, covering all categories and prices.
If you are looking for luxury accommodation, the most renown hotels are Hotel Herrenschlösschen, Hotel Eisenhut and located just outside the historic wall Villa Mittermeier.
Have you been to Rothenburg ob der Tauber? Isn’t it the most charming town ever? Let me know about your experience.