One of the prettiest towns I’ve visited in Europe has to be Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Southern Germany, and whilst it’s a hugely popular destination year round, perhaps the best time to visit Rothenburg is at Christmas time.
During winter, Rothenburg transforms itself into a winter wonderland, and since the 15th century, the medieval Old Town has been home to a very special Christmas market known as Reiterlesmarkt. The narrow, winding streets and squares around the beautiful Town Hall are lined with stalls where shoppers can find everything from tasty German Christmas pastries to hot ‘white’ mulled wine, handcrafted treasures, souvenirs and gifts.
To coincide with the annual Christmas market, numerous cultural events are held including daily brass band concerts and guided tours of the town or the St. Jacob’s church with its Holy Blood Altar made by Tilman Riemenschneider.
The highlight of the market, though, is the appearance of the ‘Rothenburger Reiterle’ (Rothenburg horseman), who also gave his name to the market. Originally regarded as a messenger from another world who floated through the skies in wintertime with the souls of the dead, the image of this mythical character has changed over the centuries.
Where previously the Reiterle was a feared character, today young and old look forward to his arrival and the now-friendly messenger opens the market each year.
Another daily highlight of Rothenburg is the guided tour with the famous Rothenburg Night Watchman, who awaits his guests every evening at the Market Square to guide them through the wintery town with stories about life in the medieval ages. It’s a tour not to be missed.
As lovely as it is, the Reiterlesmarkt isn’t the only Christmassy thing to do in Rothenburg. The cobbled streets are home to a number of stores under the Kathe Wohlfahrt brand that specialise in beautiful Christmas ornaments, decorations and home wares. You should also allow time to visit the German Christmas Museum in Herrngasse (Herrn street) which showcases the history of Christmas celebrations in Germany over the centuries.
And when you’re all shopped-out, take a wander around the old town walls or climb the Town Hall tower for superb views of the snowy landscape beyond.
I haven't yet visited Rothenburg at Christmas time, but knowing how lovely it is in summer time, I'm hoping a winter visit comes sooner rather than later.
Opening hours - Rothenburg Christmas Market:
Monday to Thursday: 11.00 am – 7.00 pm
Friday to Sunday: 11.00 am – 8.00 pm
Daily events during the Rothenburg Christmas Market:
2.00 pm Market-Square: English Guided Tour
4.30 pm Christmas Market: Santa Clause visits the Christmas Market
5.00 pm Christmas Market: Illumination of the new advent window (Dec 1 – Dec 23)
5.30 pm Christmas Market: Brass band concert
7.15 pm Market Square: Executioner-Tour anno 1399 (except December 23)
8.00 pm Market-Square: Guided Tour with the Night Watchman
Photos © Rothenburg Tourismus Service, W. Pfitzinger