Ask someone what the prettiest town in Germany is and there’s a fair chance they’ll reply Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Even if you don’t know the name, you probably recognise the photos. This medieval town in southern Germany has many admirers and is one of the big destinations along the Romantic Road in Bavaria. Plenty of tourists quickly pass through the town in half a day, but in my mind you really ought to spend at least one day in Rothenburg.
Although I do try and focus on more obscure places, like say Erfurt in the case of Germany, I couldn’t resist the chance to visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber for myself. Thing is, there’s much more to Rothenburg than most people realise. The town has been marvellously preserved and there are medieval gems around every corner. So it’s worth taking a little more time to explore. To back up why I think the town deserves more of your time, here are the sights that will help you fill a day in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Town Walls and Gates
Rothenburg is one of those towns that make a big impression right off the bat. The town is enclosed by big stone walls that provide it with lots of character, especially since you have to pass through one of its mighty gates to enter. Coming up from the train station, you’re most likely to approach this the Rödertor first. If you can, I encourage you to visit each of the town gates as they each have their own distinct and impressive design.
At the heart of Rothenburg ob der Tauber you’ll find the main square of Marktplatz. Much like many main squares in Europe it’s the busiest part of town and where you’ll find its Town Hall. I didn’t quite get the typical view of the square as work was going on, but it was still clear how important this space was. While the Renaissance Town Hall is the clear centre of attention, the timber houses that it shares the square with are equally enchanting. Also hard to miss is the Marktplatz Fountain and its incredibly detailed design, unless a crowd of tourists is around it that is.
When it comes to famous Rothenburg attractions, none can compete with the corner at Plönlein. This picturesque intersection of two streets is iconic thanks to all the photos people share of it. Take one look and it’s easy to see why, with the half-timbered house and tower gates either side. I was kind of amazed there weren’t more people the first time I walked down here. That was in the late morning though and things changed drastically later in the day. Not much more to say than the enjoy!
Old Town Streets
No matter which historic city or old town you’re in, the best thing you can do is simply wander. Rothenburg is made to be explored on foot, with plenty of pretty backstreets just waiting for you. Leave the most central streets and you’ll soon find the tourist numbers drop off dramatically. Tour groups don’t want people straying I suppose.
One of the most popular streets for tourists to see is Schmiedgasse, as it connects Marktplatz with Plönlein. Here you have a number of different styles of building, each with their own charms. A thing they do share in common though is the golden guild signs that hang out over each doorway. It’s these smaller details that really do make you feel like you’ve wandered into the past.
Down past Plönlein at the southern end of town stands one of Rothenburg’s most impressive gates. Known as the Spital Bastion, there are several parts to this impression imposing section of fortification. With several layers of defences between the gates and even a earthen moat around it, you can’t imagine anyone forcing their way in. Just as you can walk along the town walls, it’s also worth climbing up into the bastion to see the insides.
Markusturm and Röderbogen
It’s not only around the outer walls of Rothenburg that you’ll find quaint towers. There are actually other towers in town as well, like the one above, built in among the Markusturm and Röderbogen houses. What makes this spot nice is that you have the stone tower and gate blended in with lovely half-timbered houses. The view from the other side of the gate is much more common but there was scaffolding in the way while I was there. I think this angle still works though.
Burggarten and Burgtor
Heading to the western end of town down from Martkplatz you’ll soon reach another tower, the Burgtor. What makes this tower special is that provides access to the pretty Burggarten gardens. This is the rare green space within the walls of Rothenburg and it’s quite a lovely little spot.
Besides the gardens, it also features a stellar viewpoint with views of the far end of the Old Town. It’s here that you can really see how the town conforms with the landscape of the river valley. The other great part of the view is that you can look down the hillside to the Tauber River below. With trees and small vineyards dotting the hillside, it’s exceptionally pretty.
Tauber River Valley
Having seen the views from the Burggarten, the temptation to explore the valley below town is hard to ignore. Walking trails zigzag down the hillside, past the grapevines and lead you to the Tauber River at the bottom of the valley. There, you’ll find the historic Tauber Bridge and Kobolzeller Kirche. While it’s really not far from the town centre, you do feel like you’re transported into the German countryside.
Once you’re down in the valley, you can cross the Tauber Bridge and go for a walk following the river. Walking trails into forest branch off from the main road, but offer a less direct route than the road. Curving round to the north you’ll eventually read a small covered wooden bridge which brings you to path back to the Burggarten. Unfortunately, it started drizzling as I did this walk, but in the right weather it would be really nice.
Tips for Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber
When to Visit
Seeing as it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Bavaria, it’s best to expect crowds when you visit Rothenburg. Mornings are the best time to go sightseeing it seems, as most tourists have yet to arrive. The town centre would get quite busy during the middle of the day even visiting in early spring. I shudder to think though what it’s like in high season during summer.
Day Trip or Overnight?
Many travellers make a day trip to Rothenburg, but is it worth staying overnight? I found that having two days in Rothenburg made it much easier to thoroughly explore the town. It also meant that I had time to wander down into the Tauber River Valley. Had the weather been better my second day I would have gone further on the local walking trails. Still, you can see a lot of the town in a single day.
If you do choose to stay in Rothenburg, you have plenty of options open to you. Many of the nicer hotels and guesthouses are found inside the town walls which is nice. A more budget-friendly option is Hotel Rothenburger Hof by the train station, which is nothing fancy but did the trick.
How to Get to Rothenburg
The easiest places to reach Rothenburg from are the cities of Nuremberg and Wurzburg. You can take the train from both, but you might find local bus connections from Ansbach or Dombuhl make the trip much cheaper. If driving, there are large carparks just outside the town walls.
Is visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber on your list for your next Germany trip? Do you agree that it’s one of the most beautiful towns in Germany? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Now, if you’re looking for a guide to this part of Germany, then you should really look at this Lonely Planet guide. I’ve often travelled with Lonely Planet guides and they can really make life easier.
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