When I first moved to Germany, I was envisioning like most who have not spent much time in the country, big beers and colorful little wooden houses. Living in Frankfurt has been great, but you will not get much of these things. Enter Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which translates to Rothenburg on the Tauber (river), is exactly the cure to what ails you when it comes to everything German.
This town is a quintessential Disney fairy tale movie come to life and of my favorite towns in my travels around Germany. Rothenburg is considered to be one of the best preserved medieval style towns in Germany and I would have to agree. If it’s cobblestone streets, colorful German style wooden houses, cathedrals, and little shops you’re after, this is your place. Rothenburg is also hardly a secret. The summer months will see loads of tourists piling in the streets that make you wonder if someone actually lives in that cute little green house on the side street.
This post will largely focus on just beautiful pictures of the town. You really don’t need a guide or need a map to explore the town. It is small but packed full of amazing little streets and buildings that you can just spend your day being mesmerized by the beauty!
When to visit Rothenburg
Rothenburg is open for tourism year round. As you’d expect, the high season for European tourism is the summer and Rothenburg’s official tourism season runs April to October, with of course stunning Christmas markets in December.
I visited Rothenburg in the end of August so peak tourist season on a Saturday/Sunday. While it was definitely busy with people, I did not find it overwhelming like the equally beautiful town of Bruges, Belgium where I was unsure if there were any Belgian people that actually lived in the town. Even in the summer months, the main square is packed with tourists but the great thing about Rothenburg is as soon as you venture off the main streets, it is empty.
The winter months are a great time to visit Rothenburg. There are far fewer crowds, especially the big tour buses. Prices for hotels will be much cheaper during the off season but all the tourist attractions will close earlier, if not completely. Some restaurants will also close for the winter months but there are still plenty enough to keep you fed. The weather can be questionable during these months but I think Rothenburg can be enjoyed in any weather conditions and probably looks like an actual fairy tale if you are lucky enough to catch it with some snow.
Stay a night in Rothenburg
While most people visit Rothenburg for a day trip, I would highly recommend staying the night here. If you’re planning a Romantic Road roadtrip, Rothenburg is a great evening stop for you along the way. There is a lot to do in Rothenburg and plenty of fantastic restaurants in the evening. Much of the day trippers leave the city by dinner time allowing you to enjoy the city without the crazy crowds. We also had an amazing morning exploring the town with few people around.
How to get to Rothenburg
Rothenburg is located in Bavaria and is a bit far away from most of Germany’s big cities. However, being the tourist hotspot it is, there are numerous ways to get here.
Come on a day tour
This is probably the easiest way to get here. There are numerous day tour options from Munich and Frankfurt for reasonable prices. However, I don’t recommend this option as you’ll be sandwiched with hordes of other tourists and you’ll visit the town when the swarms from every other bus come as well.
Living in Frankfurt, we of course elected to just rent a car and drive here. We actually stopped in Wurzburg, which is another absolutely beautiful town before coming to Rothenburg in the afternoon. It’s roughly 40 minutes from Wurzburg and about 2 hours from Frankfurt (and 2.5 hours from Munich). Just follow the A7 highway towards Wurzburg and Ulm and you’ll find it no problem. If you’re using a GPS, make sure you’re searching for Rothenburg ob der Tauber as there are other Rothenburgs in Germany!
As we stayed in a hotel inside the old town, we had parking provided. Otherwise, it may be best to park outside of the city walls and walk into the old town.
Rothenburg’s train station is located right next to the old town making taking a train a viable option. As a day trip option it may be a bit tight on schedule because it is roughly 3 hours by train from Frankfurt or Munich. However, if you want to experience the medieval capital for a night, then taking the train is probably the easiest way to do so.
What to do in Rothenburg
Rothenburg’s charm lies in the fact that you don’t need to research in advance or plan your itinerary for the day. Once you arrive, you can’t help but me captivated by the amazing streets and buildings. You can just stumble from beautiful street to beautiful street and have a great time.
Without a doubt, this is Rothenburg’s most famous little area. Any pictures you see of medieval German towns or of Rothenburg will likely be of the Plonlein. A bright yellow timber house is sandwiched between cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, and two watch towers. It doesn’t get much more picturesque than this!
I would highly recommend coming here in the morning hours before the crowds come alive. We stayed the night in Rothenburg mainly because we knew the best time to see the town would be in the early morning. We were not wrong. We arrived in the Plonlein around 7:30am and it was completely empty!
The City walls
The old fortified walls of Rothenburg ob der Tauber are well preserved and filled with amazing towers. The walls wrap around the entire town and you can walk the entire length of it. I’d highly recommend doing this as it is free and gives you fantastic views of the town. The walls stretch of for seemingly forever and I felt like I was on some Game of Thrones movie set!
In total, the walk is two to three kilometers and we walked on the bridge for a good half hour. I think sunset would be fantastic here as you can see the colors bouncing off the colorful rooftops of the town.
St Jacob’s Church
You can’t miss the giant church that dots the Rothenburg skyline. It carries a wide variety of religious artworks, including a main altar that is recognized as one of Germany’s most important. Entrance is free as you’d expect with most churches in Germany.
This is the city’s main hub, where you’ll find the Rathaus (town hall), the Ratstrinkstube (Councillor’s Tavern), the Tourist Information Centre and just nearby, George’s Spring.
If you plan on taking any of the city’s guided tours, this is where the meeting point will be like the Night watchmen’s tour.
Accompany the Rothenburg Night Watchman on his entertaining and informative rounds through the darkness. Follow him through dark alleyways and across dimly lit squares and enjoy the special mood of the town at night. Listen to his stories and find out how the people lived in the Middle Ages. I highly recommend this tour as it was very interesting and went perfectly with the vibe of the town.
During the summer months, there is a daily tour at 8pm for English tourists (and 9:30 for Germans). In the winters, it only runs on Saturdays.
What to stay in Rothenburg
There are no shortage of hotels to to stay at in Rothenburg. If you’re visiting in the summer months, I would highly booking your hotel well in advance as it is such a popular place. Expect to pay significantly more in Rothenburg than in other towns in Germany especially in the summer months. It is still not unreasonably expensive like many places in the US and you can expect to find a room between €100 and €200 a night.
All the hotels in Rothenburg are in traditional German houses and operate more as a Bed and breakfast style than a chain hotel. If you’re looking for Marriotts or Hiltons, Rothenburg is not your city.
We stayed at the Hotel Spitzweg which was inside the old town. I booked the accommodation too late in the process that there were hardly any options left. I found Hotel Spitzweg which had great reviews on Booking.com and had a very reasonable price of €120 a night. I was pleasantly surprised at our rooms which were much larger than I expected, with a renovated bathroom and views of the street. The breakfast was also delicious and included in the price. Here are a few other options in Rothenburg to consider for your stay!
Stay outside of the city walls
If you’re on a budget, then the secret here is to just stay outside of the city walls. There are a ton of accommodation options within 1km from the old town walls where you can expect to pay half the price of hotels in the city. As we only stayed the night, we figured splurging a bit for a room in the old town would be worth it!
What to eat in Rothenburg
There are a plethora of fantastic restaurants in Rothenburg to sample all the local German cuisines. If you’re not familiar with German cuisines, expect it to be hearty and filling with lots of meat centric dishes. If this is not your jam, don’t worry there are plenty of Italian and Asian restaurants in Rothenburg as well.
Alte Keller Restaurant
Alte Keller is one of the oldest and most storied restaurants/hotels in the town. We had dinner here which was fantastic. You can try all the German dishes here like schnitzels, schweinhaxe, a variety of wursts, and venison goulash.
Eat a schneeball
Make sure to a schneeball (snowball) when in Rothenburg. These local treats are fluffy shortcrust pastries that make for the perfect breakfast snack when paired with some coffee. You can find these desserts everywhere in Rothenburg and there are certain stores completely dedicated to this stuff.
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