Step Back in Time in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is pure storybook Germany. This city is a maze of winding cobblestone streets filled with crooked half-timbered buildings that look like they’ve been plucked right out of a fairytale. Encircled by old town walls made of stone, the city still retains its distinct medieval feel. There are old clock towers, fancy wrought iron signs, and flower pots spilling with blooms.
The Romantic Road
Although Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a small town, it’s far from off the tourist radar. This is due in part to its strategic location along the Romantische Straße, or “Romantic Road,” a title created by travel agents to describe the 220 mile stretch of highway between Würzburg and Füssen in southern Germany, which is filled with quintessential German towns and castles. Formerly a trade route in medieval times, the Romantic Road now serves as a principal tourist artery though Southern Germany.
The city of Rothenburg dates from 1142. It was one of the most important city states during the middle ages, but eventually lost its prominence in the following centuries. As a result, the city was left alone and this isolation is what created one of Europe’s most authentic and well preserved medieval towns. Rothenburg contains a surreal amount of historic medieval buildings, along with 42 classic towers and gates.
Old City Walls & Hikes
The surrounding hills and valleys around Rothenburg are filled with vineyards and hiking trails, making it the perfect place to ramble. Within the city, the old city walls are another great walk just over a mile and half in length. They are free and open to the public. Simply find a tower, climb up, and begin enjoying the views!
A Christmas Wonderland
Christmas all year round? No one does Christmas like they do in Germany, and Rothenburg is one of the best places to do some Christmas shopping, no matter what the season. Head to the Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas empire, which includes a mega-shop with multiple levels and unending rooms of twinkling lights, as well as over 30,000 glittering ornaments. Inside you’ll discover the spectacular Christmas Village (Weihnachtsdorf). There are giant, larger-than-life wooden nutcracker figures to pose with, a multi-story spinning Christmas tree with over 4,800 glass ornaments, rooms glowing with illuminated ornaments, and what has to be the largest rotating Christmas pyramid in the world. Incense smokers, music boxes, cuckoo clocks, traditional beer steins, and Bavarian souvenirs abound. As if all this wasn’t enough, there’s even a German Christmas Museum inside, which goes through the history of Christmas decorations and Christmas trees. Although the place is swarming with tourists in a shopping frenzy pretty much all year, it’s still worth braving the craziness. Across the street is a smaller Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarket) specializing in wooden ornaments, and incase all that wasn’t enough, there’s even a third smaller store in town!
Top Church: St. Jacob’s
If you only see one church in Rothenburg, be sure to make it St. Jacob’s (St. Jakobskirche). This Lutheran church dating from the 14th century contains the famous 500-year-old Altar of the Holy Blood carved in wood by Tilman Riemenschneider. Standing 35 feet high, the left wing of the altar shows Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, while the right wing depicts Jesus on the Mount of Olives. In the central shrine is The Last Supper.
Rothenburg by Night
The city may be flooded with tourists by day, but by night the streets clear out and you’ll have the city to yourself. A great way to get to know Rothenburg is the evening tour with the Night Watchman. Dressed in a cape and holding a lantern and staff, join the Night Watchman on his evening rounds throughout the medieval city, following him through dark alleyways and dimly lit squares as he tells tales of life in the Middle Ages in Rothenburg.
For traditional German food, a great restaurant in town is Glocke. Here you can feast on an array of traditional specialties like Franconian pot roast of venison with Savoy cabbage, or pike perch with apple horseradish-sauce. Wash your meal down with local white wines served in Bocksbeutel, classic flat green Franconian bottles. Be sure to save room for dessert—a local dessert specialty is sweet dumplings with cherries and vanilla sauce.
Local bakery specialties include Bauernbrot (farmers bread), spicy Hutzelbrot (fruit bread), Walnusskuchen (walnut cake), and Rothernburg’s crown specialty: Schneebälle. Schneebälle are tempting snowball-shaped treats similar to shortbread that are covered in a coating like cinnamon, chocolate, coconut, or almonds.
Getting to Know Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Rothenburg ob der Tauber translates to red fort on the Tauber River. It’s also called Rothenburg and Rothenburg o. d. Tauber for short. Since there are several other Rothenburgs in Germany, be sure to specify which Rothenburg you’re headed to when making your travel arrangements.
Sleep in a Crooked Building in Old Town
The whole point of coming to Rothenburg o. d. Tauber is to soak up the historical setting, so it doesn’t make sense to stay anywhere besides old town—within the medieval city walls. This adds to the fun since you can stay in a crooked historic inn like Flair-Hotel Reichsküchenmeister.
By air: Frankfurt airport is 112 miles away and Munich airport, 130 miles away.
By car: the A7 autobahn goes through Rothenburg o. d. Tauber, as does the Romantic Road Bus, seasonally.
By train: frequent trains connect Rothenburg o. d. Tauber (via Steinach rail station) with Würzburg, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Munich and other German cities. Visit Rail Europe to check out train routes. The train station is about a 10 minute walk from the old town.
4 Seasons of Festivals in Rothenburg
Summer: In August Rothenburg holds its “Wine Village” celebration which brings together roughly 20 Franconian winemakers to show off their wines, which range from Sylvaners to ice wines.
Fall: In September Rothenburg turns back the clock to medieval times, ushering in the annual Reichsstadt-Festtage, or Imperial City Festival, complete with costumed knights, markets, torchlight processions, music, plays, and cannon and firework displays.
Winter: December is Rothenburg’s busiest month, and winter brings one of Germany’s oldest and best Christmas markets: the 500-year-old Reiterlesmarkt. Set among medieval buildings, you can warm up with a cup of mulled wine, often made with local Franconian white wines. There are also concerts, costumes, and nutcrackers.
Spring: In spring, Biergartens spill into the streets. Spring also brings the Meistertrunk Show and Schäfertanz, or Shepherd’s Dance, in Market Square.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a one-of-a-kind German city, and definitely one of the most charming and picturesque towns in the world.
If you missed Part 1 of our guide to charming German towns for Culture Lovers, read all about the Franconian Wine capital of Würzburg, Germany here.