Rothenburg ob der Tauber, with it’s virtually untouched Medieval Altstadt, sits on a hill in northern Bavaria (due west of Nuremburg, 2 1/2 hours south east of Frankfurt), and seems to be on everyone’s MUST-SEE list. Sadly, I think far too many people just show up, take a photo near the Plonlein, shop for a Christmas ornament and Kathe Wohlfahrt, then hop back on their tour bus. Do yourself a favor… schedule more time. There are so many things to do in Rothenburg Germany! I promise, you won’t get bored. In 2019 I had the opportunity to visit twice (summer and winter). Let me share some of our favorite things in this beautiful city!
See the storks in the top photo?
All photos by Karen Lodder
(You didn’t think you’d get away without a little background info… did you?) Rothenburg ob der Tauber became a free Imperial city in 1274. This meant that the city was self-ruling, and answered only to the Holy Roman Emperor. This also meant that the city could set taxes, and gain wealth. The money was used to build strong walls and beautiful buildings. Flash forward in time, and we come to the Protestant Revolution. Rothenburg swings back and forth between Protestant and Catholic, and ends up paying tens of thousands of Guilders in reparations. During the Thirty Years War, they are forced to garrison Swedish troops, costing them even more money. By 1650, the town has lost half of its inhabitants because of war. It never quite recovers, and in 1850, the city is loses its independence and is annexed to Bavaria.
Why is all this important?
Think about other cities. When there is money, people replace the old buildings with new. They update, renew… modernize. When there is no money, people make due with what they have. This is why the city seems frozen in time!
Another side note: (One of my FAVORITE stories about Germany) During World War II, the US Army was poised to completely destroy Rothenburg because they suspected the city was housing Nazis. Only the intervention of the assistant US Secretary of War, John McCloy, slowed that down. Why? His mother had visited Rothenburg as a young woman, and she brought home a painting of the city. John McCloy grew up looking at that painting in his home… there was no way he would let it be wiped out. He sent in a mission to encourage the town to surrender. Local military commander Major Thömmes gave up the town. And Rothenburg ob der Tauber was saved.
Things to do in Rothenburg Germany
Walk the Walls
It’s up there…
One way to get a great view of Rothenburg is to walk the walls. Do all, or just a section. You will find staircases leading up in various places around town (we used the one near the Plönlein). The walkway is covered (watch your head).
Photograph the Plönlein
The Plonlein in Rothenburg ob der Tauber might be the most photographed and painted spot in Germany (don’t quote me, I’m just guessing by the sheer number of images I’ve seen online, and the vast crowds of people in front of it with cameras). The name Plönlein refers to the triangular square (yes, that’s confusing) where the roads branch. It contains a fountain and a wood-topped box that fishermen used to store their catch. From that spot you can see 2 of the towns gates- the Kobolzell Gate and the Sieberts Tower. Best time to get that iconic shot with no one else in it? 2AM. (kidding… before 9am and after 7pm the tourist crush is reduced enough to get that clear shot)
Rathaus and Market Square
Drinking away on the hour…
The Rathaus and Market Square are right in the center of the Altstadt, and make a great starting point, ending point, meeting place, and spot to get an Eis. There are tours of the Rathaus, and you can climb up the tower for another bird’s eye view of town.
From the Market Square you can see the famous Ratsherrntrinkstube. Every hour on the hour (between 10am and 10pm, little doors beside the clock open, and you are treated to a re-enactment of the famous “Meistertrunk“. Long story short- the mayor saved the town from destruction by drinking 3 1/2 liters of Franconian wine in one big guzzle (took him 3 days to sleep it off). Fair warning…. it’s kind of high up and hard to see, but it’s a great story.
The Market Square is also the spot to meet up with the nightly Nightwatchman tour. If you need ANY justification at all for spending the night in Rothenburg, this is it. The tour isn’t overly long, but it is fun, interesting, engaging and worth every cent. Take the tour in English or German.
Read my full review of the tour here–> Nightwatchman Tour Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Altar of the Twelve Apostles St Jakobskirche
Go north from the Marktplatz to the St. Jakobskirche. Inside you will find the Altar of the Twelve Apostles, an absolutely fabulous carved and painted Altar.
Holy Blood Altar
The St Jakobskirche also houses the Holy Blood Altar, which contains a splinter of the True Cross encased in a glass container up high. Sit down and enjoy the stained glass windows and the quiet….
Medieval Crime and Justice Museum
Shame Mask – Medieval Crime Museum
I’m going to come right out and say it… the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum is one of my favorite things to do in Rothenburg Germany. The museum is well laid out and completely fascinating (of course, I’m also a fan of reading mysteries and watching Criminal Minds). Inside you will find torture devices like the Violin and shame masks, thick books on Medieval Law, an IRON MAIDEN (no, not the rock band), and a section on Witch Hunts.
Iron Maiden- Medieval Kriminal Museum
Take my word for it, teenagers may not be thrilled looking at yet another church or old building, but they will enjoy this.
Looking for a much less gruesome exhibit? Upstairs in one of the six Kathe Wohlfahrt stores (yes, there are six of them in town) is the Christmas Museum. Inside you will find the evolution of Christmas ornaments and decorations. From Nuts to glass, paper to tin. I’m crazy about small museums, so I enjoyed it. (Tech Guy was more than happy to sit on the bench across the street.) After touring the Museum, you can shop to your heart’s content. Kathe Wohlfahrt stores have loads of ornaments, pyramids, tablecloths, and decorations. (They also carry Easter decorations).
Note- You may not take photos in the museum! In fact, they have signs forbidding taking photos in the Kathe Wohlfahrt stores too…so I may or may not have taken this photo while visiting.
While walking down the Schmiedgasse, you will notice one building with 14 figures carved into its columns. This home, the Masterbuilder house, belonged to master stonemason Leonhard Weidmann, who clearly understood marketing. The intricate carved figures represent the seven vices and 7 virtues of men.
Had enough buildings and people for a while? Head out the Castle Gate to the Burggarten. This long and narrow bit of land is surrounded by low wall, and offers fabulous views of the valley (it also offers benches and shade). I find that it’s a fantastic place to enjoy a snack, rest and drink. Stand at the wall and look back for a great view of the city.
Hike OUTSIDE the Walls
I’m a walker, so hiking outside the city is one of my favorite things to do in Rothenburg.
One way to avoid a lot of tourists is to take a nice hike OUTSIDE the city walls. (Remember, when you go down, you have to hike back up!). Grab a map in any hotel, shop, or tourist info kiosk. The trails are well marked through the Tauber Valley. The river is lovely, and you will see some small waterfalls and watermills (on the Muhlenweg). We even came across an Alpaca Farm! And there is a Biergarten at about the half-way mark.
Then you cross over the Double Bridge, and walk past the Kobozell Church to get back in the Kobolzell Gate.
Somehow I managed to be in Rothenburg in July and AGAIN in December! It was interesting seeing the town in snow! (We arrived in a snowstorm, which slowed this California girl down just a bit). Compared to other Christmas Markets, Rothenburg’s is more spread out. AND since there are so many shops in town carrying Christmas Items, I felt that there were less stands. Doesn’t matter! Visiting the Rothenburg ob der Tauber during the Christmas Season is magical! Just bring a jacket and comfortable shoes!
Read more about my Christmas Market adventures here–> Christmas Market Tour
Have You Worked up an APPETITE?
There are some great places to eat in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Here are a few of our favorites.
And I feel I need to put in a disclaimer. EVERYWHERE in Rothenburg you will see “Schneeballe” (Snowballs) made from pastry covered in chocolate or powdered sugar. Somehow, I never tried one, so I can’t tell you what they are like. They certainly look interesting.
If you’ve walked all over Rothenburg, you deserve dinner in Hell…. well, Zur Höll. The building dates back to 900 AD, and is not only the oldest, it’s one of the more interesting looking buildings in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. The food is excellent! If you want to insure a table, make a reservation, it’s a rather popular place to eat.
In the summer, their shaded patio gives you a fantastic view of St Jakobskirche… in winter, the restaurant is a cozy and comfortable escape from the cold. I was delighted to eat at the Reichskuchenmeister TWICE this year (same waiter both times… he showed me his American belt buckle when he heard we were from the US). The food is excellent and the beer is refreshing. The menu changes with the seasons! I had the most amazing Flammkuchen in July, and a Wildgoulasch with Spätzle that was so good I practically LICKED the plate in December. Don’t miss this wonderful place.
Looking for a place to Stay?
We stayed in the Boutique Hotel Goldene Rose. It’s a delightful place near the Plönlein. The beds are comfy, the breakfast is perfect, and it’s central to everything. (We just parked the car and never had to move it for 3 days. Say hello to Diamond for me!
Find them HERE–> Boutique Hotel Goldene Rose
Have I convinced you there are enough things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber?