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. Situated at the north end of the aptly named ‘Romantic Road’, a 410-kilometre tourist drive which passes through irresistibly pretty villages, Rothenburg more than lived up to its reputation as a charming fairytale town.
If you’re wondering what to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber and why you should visit, read on!
My introduction to Rothenburg came as we drove through the narrow, cobbled streets on the way to our hotel, the Herrnschlösschen (click here to check current prices), 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.
Things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Old Town and Markplatz
Taking pride of place in the centre of Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s Old Town is Marktplatz, a large cobbled square lined with beautifully preserved Medieval buildings.
At the heart sits the Rothenburg Town Hall that dates back to 1250 and features two architectural styles, Gothic and Renaissance.
The Town Hall’s 52-metre high tower can be seen from all over town and, if you’re prepared to climb the 220 narrow steps to the top, it offers the most spectacular views over the red rooftops of Rothenburg.
I’m not one for heights and admit to feeling a little nervous at the top but the views more than made up for my unease.
It’s at the entrance to the Town Hall that you can join the Nightwatchman’s tour each evening, too. (More details below.)
Surrounding Marktplace are an abundance of pastel coloured houses, cafes and tempting shops selling everything from the usual souvenirs to local specialties like the Schneeball.
This ball of biscuit dough comes flavoured with all manner of tastes from apple and cinnamon to champagne and truffles and everything in between.
It’s also in Markplatz that the annual Rothenburg Christmas Market has been held since the 15th century. Known as the Reiterlesmarkt, the market features plenty of stalls selling handcrafted souvenirs and gifts, mulled wine and delicious Christmas treats.
You can read more about the Rothenburg Christmas Market on this link.
One of the things that had attracted me to Rothenburg was a small yellow house that I had seen adorning the pages of many travel brochures over the years. Of course, I had to see it for myself!
In Plönlein, a small square, a distinctive yellow half-timbered house sits alongside both the Siebers Tower and the Kobolzeller Gate, and it 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 prettier house. Add to the scene a red roofed tower on either side and cobblestones at your feet, it’s not hard to see why visitors from all over the world flock to Rothenburg.
I waited until the crowds dispersed and snapped away.
Kathe Wohlfahrt's Rothenburg Christmas store
Without doubt, one of the town’s most famous attractions is 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 Rothenburg Christmas Museum and shop are out of this world!
The Christmas Museum in Rothenburg traces the history of German Christmas celebrations and includes displays of all kinds of Christmas paraphernalia including cards, Advent calendars, trees, music boxes, decorations, Santas and much more.
Housed in the same building is the Christmas Village, the most famous Christmas shop in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. This is a shop so chock-full of Christmas decorations it will 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 accompanying me all the way to Australia from the Rothenburg Christmas store!
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).
(You can see more photos from the Christmas Village and German Christmas Museum here.)
St. Jacob’s Church
On Church Square, you’ll find St. Jacob’s Church, whose twin towers dominate the skyline. Completed in 1485 after 173 years of construction, the church was initially Catholic but later became a Protestant church. It is still the main church in Rothenburg today.
Most visitors are drawn to St. Jacob’s Church to see the stained glass windows and two altars, in particular the intricately carved Altar of the Holy Blood by Tilman Riemenschneider, which dates back to 1499.
Wurzburg woodcarver Tilman Riemenschneider produced the piece, which represents The Last Supper, between 1499 and 1505 and it is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of his work.
With the addition of the Riemenschneider Altar, Rothenburg’s St. Jacob’s Church received an incredible treasure that is still marvelled at today.
The church is open daily. A €2 per adult entry fee allows access to St. Jacob’s Church.
Rothenburg City Walls and Gates
Rothenburg’s fortified 12th-century city walls stretch right around the historic town centre and even today you can still walk along almost the whole 2.5 kilometre length.
In medieval times the 42 towers and numerous gates of the city walls protected the town from invaders and provided excellent lookout points beyond the town. The views from the west side of the Rothenburg wall at Kobolzell Gate (Kobolzelltor) overlook the beautiful Tauber Valley.
As you stroll around town and along the walls, you’ll notice that more of the main gates of the city walls remain standing today. Amongst them is Roder Gate (Rodertor), a former toll booth and gatekeeper’s cottage which has the only lookout tower along the city walls.
It was badly damaged in an Allied air raid in 1945 but was rebuilt soon after the war. A small museum in the tower (open daily from March to October and December) documents the destruction with aerial photographs from the time.
Rothenburg Nightwatchman Tour
If you are fortunate enough to be staying in Rothenburg ob der Tauber overnight, I highly recommend you join the 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 this is definitely one of the most fun things to do in Rothenburg, Germany.
If you will only be in Rothenburg during the day, the Tourist Office also runs guided city tours at 2pm.
Whilst the Rothenburg Castle no longer exists - it is thought that an earthquake in Switzerland destroyed the castle in 1356 - a garden now sits on the site of the Hohenstaufen imperial castle.
The park is designed in the style of an English garden and offers one of the most spectacular views of both the Old Town and the Tauber Valley.
You can find the Castle Garden at the end of Herrngasse.
Medieval Crime Museum
Another of the popular Rothenburg attractions is the Medieval Crime Museum (Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum) which explores the history of crime and punishment from the late Middle Ages to the 19th-century.
On display are a collection of historical documents and photographs along with various tools used in medieval times for torture and punishment, masks of disgrace that gossips were forced to wear, chastity belts and more.
There’s also a special exhibition about witch hunts in Europe.
In the twelve dungeons below the Town Hall, the Historical Vaults museum provides an insight into life during the Thirty Years War. Military equipment including uniforms, weapons, guns and flags are on display.
One of the twelve dungeons, the Imperial Dungeon, is considered Rothenburg’s oldest prison and it houses a guardhouse, a torture room and three jail cells.
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!”
I can't wait to return.
Where is Rothenburg ob der Tauber?
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is located in the German state of Bavaria. It sits at the crossroads of the Romantic Road and the Castle Road, 67 kilometres south of Wurzburg and 255 kilometres north of Munich.
It is 177 km from Frankfurt to Rothenburg ob der Tauber and just 81 km from Nuremberg to Rothenburg.
How to get to Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany
Arriving by car is the most popular way for visitors to reach Rothenburg but there are also numerous transport options for those that don’t have their own vehicle.
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 between Wurzburg and Ansbach to Steinach where you change for a regional train to Rothenburg. It takes just over two hours by train from Frankfurt to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
If you would like details about getting from Munich to Rothenburg ob der Tauber by train, click here.
On an organised day tour
If you’d prefer to take an organised day tour by coach to Rothenburg, options are available from both Munich and Frankfurt. These include:
- Romantic Road and Rothenburg from Munich - click here to check details and prices
- Day trip to Rothenburg from Frankfurt - click here to check details and prices
- Day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle and Rothenburg from Frankfurt - click here to check details and prices
There are more day tour options on this link.
Where to Stay in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
For my two night stay, I chose Hotel Herrnschlösschen, one of the luxury hotels in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. The hotel 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.)
If you’d prefer to stay elsewhere, there are plenty of other hotels in Rothenburg ob der Tauber to choose from. Click here to browse more Rothenburg hotels.
Where to Eat in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
There are a wide range of places to eat in Rothenburg from cafes serving casual meals to more refined dining.
In fine weather, the lovely garden behind Hotel Schwan is a great option for a delicious lunch.
Further reading: If you are interested in exploring more towns along the Romantic Road, Fussen is a great place to start. Click here to read my article about Fussen.
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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