Rothenburg ob der Tauber translates to ‘red fortress above the Tauber river’ & is easy fall in love with. This perfectly-preserved medieval town has been through a lot since it was founded in 1170 & remains one of the most historical & beautiful places in Germany.
Travelling to Rothenburg
We stayed in Nüremberg & got the train into Rothenburg for the day. A round trip cost €80 for the two of us (including the underground between our apartment & Nüremberg Hbf station). We had to change twice at Ansbach & Steinach (b Rothenburg) & in total took just over an hour.
We had only 4 minutes between trains; had we have been in the UK I would have searched for different tickets! However, German transport really is incredibly punctual & it wasn’t a problem to get to the next platform in the given time. Each DB train has a 4/5 digit number so you can check you’re on the right one easily. We did book the tickets last-minute, via the ‘trainline EU’ app, so with a little more forward planning they could be found cheaper!
When it comes to being out all day, we normally pack a lunch or pick something up on route if we aren’t sure about food options (or we’re trying to save some money!) HappyCow app is an absolute MUST if you’re a veggie or vegan traveller. Overall, Germany was pretty good, but the the old town of Rothenburg has some catching up to do! Be prepared!
Follow signs for ‘Altstadt’ or ‘old town’ from the station & you will come to the arched entrance & clock tower. Make sure to take the pedestrian route to the right! As soon as you pass through the archways you can see why this is such a popular place with people from all over the world. It’s even been said that Disney was inspired by the town to create Pinocchio! Even in the dull light of winter it is full of colour, I wished really hard for snow but I guess the blue fairy wasn’t working that day…
We arrived early & enjoyed some quiet before the crowds arrived; it also gave us plenty of time to make the most of our day. So what’s there to do?
1. Get snap happy!
This one goes without saying really but we took a lot of photos! There is a famous part of the town where the road splits, left to a clock tower & shops slopes down to the right to another tower. You may have seen it on Instagram or Pintrest. A yellow building with a small statue in front, sits in the middle. When we were there, there was some construction work going on so we didn’t get the perfect picture that had originally attracted us to the town. Even so, there are hundreds photo opportunities all around. From full length roads of coloured buildings to the little details on doors and shop windows.
2. Coffee and cake
This seems to be a favourite pastime & one I am totally on board with! There are plenty of little coffee shops & bakeries to warm up and rest your camera. Specified Vegan options are few & far between but if you’re happy to ask around about ingredients then you’re sure to find something. ‘Shneeballs’ or ‘snowballs’ can be found everywhere. Dough like balls of sweetness famous to the town. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for dairy free versions on my next visit!
Whether aimless wandering or planned routes drawn on a pre-printed map is your style, explore. Explore all corners of the city If you have the time. The whole place is beautiful, a lot of the buildings have the year they were built on the outside, and each has its own character. There are several clock towers, multiple archways & if you want, you can even walk around the entire city. The city walls have steps up, usually close to the towers and you can follow it round for free. One of my favourite things was the shop signs. Many have metal signs that swing from the upper levels, each with their own style & shape.
No matter what time of year (although I recommend December!) this isn’t one to be missed. For just €4 you can take a look at Christmas through the ages & see how some of our traditions came to be. The best part is the shop though, save this until the end & you’re in for a magical surprise!
There are thousands of Christmas decorations to look at and buy if you want to.It isn’t the cheapest place for decorations but they do have some beautiful hand carved & painted items. I fell in love with some of the Christmas characters and ended up purchasing a little wooden Santa with moving limbs (for the Christmas tree we don’t yet have in the home we don’t yet own!) it set me back nearly €20 but no regrets! The building is just off the main square & has a Christmas car outside. Who says Santa can’t deliver by road?
5. History museums – Rothenburg’s dark history
There are several museums in the town and we chose the one that couldn’t be any different from the festive cheer of the Käthe Wohlfahrt Weihnachtsdorf (No, I can’t pronounce it either, we’ll just call it the Christmas museum). The medieval crime museum stands as an important reminder that the town’s history is not all fairytale but real life horror.
You can see a huge array of torture devises & items used for punishment. Some were bordering on humorous, like the silly masks that gossiping townsfolk would be made to wear in front of their peers. Others were down right disturbing. They even have an iron maiden & chairs once used for executions. It was certainly an eye opener.
Tickets were €7 and there is enough to keep you occupied for a couple of hours if you want. At the end there is an exhibition on the witch trials, above a small cafe. If you fancy a chocolate iron maiden then this is your place. Personally I found this really weird, I mean… that thing is real and killed very real people, however long ago (Not to mention in a brutal way!). Not sure it’s something I would turn into a sugary treat, but each to their own!
6. Climb the tower
It should go without saying not to do this if you’re scared of heights. Don’t go if you aren’t a fan of small spaces, narrow stairs or climbing ladders either! It is a common attraction in old towns & it wasn’t our first tower. But it was the most treacherous. Enter through the front of the city hall & up the stone spiral staircase. A large roof space takes you through to the adjoining building and this is where the fun starts!
Rickety wooden steps lead you up further with small areas to allow people to pass. Once you reach the top a lady in a little booth will take your €2.50 before allowing you to climb the ladder up to the standing platform. The views are totally worth it. There is a limit to the time you can have up there (5 minutes) as there isn’t space for a lot of people. A light shines green to red to control the amount of people entering the final room before the ladder, but it can get cramped none the less!
7. Christmas markets
The Christmas markets aren’t too dissimilar to the ones we have visited elsewhere in Europe, but the surroundings made it one of the best atmospheres. Expect to find the usual array of meat & hot wine, roasted chestnuts & Christmas decorations. We even found veggie sausages! Yay! They have a Christmas market program which details any events taking place. We witnessed a parade of singing school children with lanterns welcoming Santa Claus, the story of Christmas (we think) told in German & a brass band. All adding to the magic of Rothenburg in December!
Psssst, did you know?? Rothenburg was one of Hitlers favourite places, as he saw it as the ‘most German of German towns’. The story goes that in 1945 German soldiers were stationed in Rothenburg to defend it when bombs were dropped by the US from 16 planes. 306 houses, 6 public buildings, 9 watchtowers & 2,000 feet of the wall were destroyed. 6 US soldiers were sent in to negotiate the surrender of Rothenburg. They held up a white flag and offered to spare the beautiful & historical city if the Germans stepped down. The local commander ignored the order from Hitler to fight to the end and gave up the town, thus saving the city from total destruction. Donations were later received from all over the world to restore it to the beauty we see today.
So, this is how we spent our day, how will you spend yours? Have you visited before and ticked off some of the other attractions? Leave a comment or let me know on facebook or instagram! Oh, and don’t forget to pin this post for later!