Postcard-worthy villages tend to feature heavily on my European itineraries so it was with great anticipation that I headed to Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany recently. Situated at the north end of the aptly named ‘Romantic Road’, a 410 km tourist drive which passes through irresistibly pretty villages, Rothenburg more than lived up to its reputation as a charming fairytale town.
My introduction to Rothenburg came as we drove through the narrow, cobbled streets on the way to our hotel, the Herrnschlösschen, which was perfectly situated right in the heart of the Old Town. Ducking through the archway of one of the town’s original fortified gates I held my breath as we bumped over the cobblestones and gasped with delight at the town’s pastel coloured, half-timbered buildings. This is a town with serious charm!
After checking in to our hotel, we wasted no time in setting off to explore Rothenburg. Even though it was a weekday, the Old Town was bustling with people all, like us, eager to immerse themselves in what looked like a movie set.
Pride of place in Marktplatz, a large cobbled square in the centre of town, sits the Town Hall with its 48 metre high tower offering spectacular views over the red rooftops of Rothenburg. Surrounding Marktplatz are an abundance of cafes and tempting shops selling everything from the usual souvenirs to local specialities like the Schneeball, a ball of biscuit dough flavoured with all manner of tastes from apple and cinnamon to champagne and truffles and everything in between.
At St. Jacob’s Church, whose twin towers dominate the skyline, we admired the stained glass windows and the intricately carved Altar of the Holy Blood by Tilman Riemenschneider, which dates back to 1499.
Rothenburg’s fortified city walls stretch right around the historic town centre and even today you can still walk along almost the whole length. In medieval times the 42 towers and gates of the city walls protected the town from invaders and the best way to learn more about the history of the town and the all-important walls is on the Guided Nightwatchman’s Tour.
We joined the one hour tour, which operates each evening from mid-March to early January, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Dressed in a black cape and broad-brimmed hat and carrying a lantern, the Nightwatchman leads tourists around town, pointing out places of interest and explaining their place in Rothenburg’s history. With his entertaining style, the Nightwatchman had everyone in fits of laughter as he regaled us with stories from the past and we were all a little sad when the tour came to an end.
The next morning we headed for one of the town’s most famous attractions, Kathe Wohlfahrt’s Christmas Village and the German Christmas Museum. Thanks to the lovely team at Rothenburg Tourism, I was given a ‘press’ pass that allowed me to take photos inside - a very special treat as the museum and shop are out of this world! The Christmas Museum traces the history of German Christmas celebrations and includes displays of all manner of Christmas paraphernalia including cards, Advent calendars, trees, music boxes, decorations, Santas and much more.
Housed in the same building is the Christmas Village, a shop chock-full of Christmas decorations to make even the most avid Christmas-hater become a raving fan. Just like a child writing his list for Santa, I found myself mentally noting all the things I’d like to add to my shopping basket. The only problem - how do I get them all home?! I did contribute to the local economy, though, with a gorgeous Santa and his sleigh now calling Australia home! (You can see more photos from the Christmas Village and German Christmas Museum here.)
Before we left oh-so-cute Rothenburg there was one photo I had to take. Adorning endless travel brochures that I’ve browsed over the years, the distinctive yellow half-timbered house with towers either side was something I had to see for myself. Sitting alongside both the Siebers Tower and the Kobolzeller Gate, the house is the epitome of German charm. With its bright blue shutters, flower boxes brimming with blooms and a small fountain at the front, there could hardly be a lovelier scene. I waited until the crowds dispersed and snapped away.
Often when you finally visit a place you’ve long dreamt about, you are disappointed but my visit to Rothenburg surpassed even my lofty expectations. Whoever came up with the town’s motto, certainly got it right. It definitely is “Romantic but real!”
Need to know about Rothenburg ob der Tauber
- The Nightwatchman’s Tour runs nightly at 8pm from mid-March to early January. The one hour tour costs €7 per adult and €4 per child. Wait at the front of the Town Hall in Marktplatz for the Nightwatchman to appear!
- Entrance to the City Tower is €2 per adult. Due to limited space, only 20 people can access the tower at a time.
- A €2 per adult entry fee allows access to St. Jacob’s Church.
- The German Christmas Museum is open year round (opening times vary depending on the season). Entry is €4 per adult. Allow at least half an hour to browse the exhibits and another half an hour to wander amongst the amazing selection of decorations in the Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas Village (shop).
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is located at the crossroads of the Romantic Road and the Castle Road, 67 kilometres from Wurzburg and 255 km from Munich. For those without a car, the Romantic Road Coach stops at the town daily enroute between Frankfurt and Fussen and vice versa.
Daily train services operate via Wurzburg or Ansbach to Rothenburg (change to a regional train at Steinach).
Nearest airports are: Frankfurt (175 km), Stuttgart (165 km) and Nurnberg (90 km).
Where to Stay in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Hotel Herrnschlösschen is situated right in the heart of the Old Town, just around the corner from the Town Hall. The 4* boutique hotel is housed in one of the town’s oldest buildings, dating back to the 11th Century. Luxuriously appointed rooms, a delicious a la carte breakfast and friendly staff made this a wonderful place to spend our night in Rothenburg. (Read my review of Hotel Herrnschlosschen.)
Where to Eat in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
In fine weather, dine in the lovely garden behind Hotel Schwan. An inside dining room is also available. Friendly staff and delicious food.
Plan to stay at least two nights. Had I had more time I could have included the Imperial Town Museum, the Medieval Crime Museum and the Historical Vaults (amongst other things) to my itinerary.
Rothenburg Tourism kindly provided my husband and I with free entry to the German Christmas Museum, City Tower and the Nightwatchman’s Tour.
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