48 Hour Guide / Bavaria

Everything You Need to Know About Traveling in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Known for its medieval architecture, I can almost guarantee you’ve seen pictures of Rothenberg ob der Tauber. Maybe you didn’t realize it at the time, but the slightly slanted Plönlein landmark is one of the most photographed places in Germany. Images of Rothenburg’s city walls or historic towers adorn the cover of many German guidebooks or are used as a banner image on blogs featuring German travel tips. 

Whether you’re meandering through the cobblestone lanes or taking in a bird’s eye view from the medieval walls, exploring Rothenburg’s old world charm is a must-do experience in Bavaria. Regardless of how you explore, I can practically guarantee that this town will bring a smile to your face because it is just SO STINKING CUTE. I am just obsessed with this small medieval town. There is so much to enjoy.

I decided to visit this charming town for the first time with my parents in 2021, after learning that it is my grandfather’s favorite place in all of Germany. He is 91 now and can no longer fly to Europe. But he still speaks fondly of his visit to Rothenburg ob der Tauber over 40 years ago, so I thought this would be a lovely way to have a shared connection. Thankfully I loved it so much that I returned for a second visit in winter 2022. In this blog post, I am sharing my insights about the best things to eat, see and experience in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

The Essential Guide to Traveling in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

What to See in Rothenburg 

Plönlein

One of the most photographed places in Rothenburg (and Germany for that matter) is the Plönlein town square.  It was actually the cover of one of the recent editions of Lonely Planet! The term Plönlein is actually translated as a “small square at a fountain”, so naturally, you can see all of these features. This iconic square is surrounded by half-timbered houses, including the recognizable “Cobblers’ Corner” building, which dates back to the 15th century.

The slightly crooked yellow house sits in between two streets both leading towards city towers with a small little fountain in the front. It is the epitome of German charm, and it feels like you are walking through the set of “Beauty and the Beast”. This area is quite touristic, and you can expect to see crowds waiting to take pictures in front of the Plönlein. Go early or late to get a clean shot.

Marketplatz

In the heart of the medieval town, you will find the Marktplatz. This picturesque square is the historical center of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. It is surrounded by a number of historic buildings, including the Town Hall, St. James’ Church, and the Town Hall Tower. If you are visiting during the holiday season, this is also where you will find Rothenburg’s Christmas Market.

The Town Hall is a beautiful Renaissance building that dates back to the 16th century, when it was rebuilt following a fire. You can climb the tower for a fantastic view over the entire town. Another popular attraction in the square is St. George’s fountain. Built in 1446, the artful pillar depicts a popular German legend about St. George slaying a dragon. A replica of this statue can be found in Disney World! Just around the corner is St. James’ Church, a Gothic church built in 1485. Known for its beautiful stained glass windows and impressive altar, it is free to enter, so pop inside for a quick peek.

City Gates

Another thing I really enjoyed about Rothenburg is all of the gates and towers in the city. Like other medieval cities in Germany, Rothenburg was fortified with walls and towers to protect the residents inside from attack. There are a total of 42 towers and six gates. Along with several doors for pedestrians, these gates provide openings into (or out of) the historic quarter of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. 

Today, the gates remain in great condition. You can even drive through some of them! Adorned with clock towers or turrets, each one has a slightly different look and flair to it. My favorites are the Burgtor gate on the west end of town and the Rödertor closest to the train station. Both of these have a pale orange exterior wall with stone interior turrets and walls. The rounded shapes and pointed roofs are adorable!

Medieval City Walls 

A majority of Rothenburg o.d. Tauber is still surrounded by the original medieval walls. Dating back to the Middle Ages, these historic fortifications run roughly 4 km around the city, and are totally open to the public. They are one of the top attractions to explore in Rothenburg! You can access the city gates using staircases, typically found next to one of the gates or towers.

There are a few entry points around the city, so it is easy to walk a short or long stretch depending on your fitness level and interests. You can hike the whole Rothenburg Tower Trail in about 2.5 hours. Along the route, you’ll find a number of plaques and info signs to learn about the history of this fascinating town. From the walls, you’ll get to enjoy stunning views over Rothenburg’s rooftops.

Interesting Things to Do in Rothenburg

Christmas Museum

The Käthe Wohlfahrt flagship store in Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in traditional German crafts and Christmas. Käthe Wohlfahrt is a well-known brand that specializes in handcrafted Christmas decorations, collectibles, and gifts. The family-owned brand has been around for more than 50 years. Synonymous with Christmas, Käthe Wohlfahrt preserves and perfects the traditions of German Christmas decor. I grew up with Käthe Wohlfahrt products without even realizing it, so the first time I stepped foot in the store, I was overwhelmed by holiday nostalgia in all the best ways.

With over 16,000 square feet, this year round Christmas village offers an exceptional selection of Christmas décor, such as Pyramids, Nutcrackers, Advent calendars and Ornaments. The shop is always decorated for the holidays, and there is even a Christmas museum inside. Knowledgeable staff is always on hand to answer any questions and provide recommendations. Plus, they can package everything carefully to ensure your precious (and pricey) Christmas souvenirs make it back in one piece.

Medieval Crime and Justice Museum

For an interesting look back in time, spend an hour or two walking through the medieval crime and justice museum near the Marktplatz. Unlike other torture museums which focus on the guts and gore of the dark ages, this museum explains the evolution of law and criminal punishment throughout the Middle Ages. The exhibit follows different methods of punishment, imprisonment and torture throughout the middle ages. 

I was surprised to learn what an Iron Maiden was (turns out more than a metal band!) and some of the historical stories are pretty wild. The museum draws comparisons to inhumane criminal punishment practices that remain in use today. It is a good reminder that we have come a long way, but many of the tactics we utilize today have their origins in the primitive and medieval practices from over 1,000 years ago.

Golden Hour Photography

You’ll want to keep your camera handy throughout your visit in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, but it is especially true around sunset. The colorful architecture lights up in a vibrant glow during golden hour, giving everything a warm and romantic look. It is magical, honestly. I think the golden hour photography here is exceptional. Check the time of sunset, because I would definitely recommend going out for a walk around this time of day. Plus, most of the day trippers have left so your photos will have a lot less people and bystanders in them.

Christmas Markets

There isn’t a bad time of the year to visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber; but if you go around Christmas time, you are guaranteed to be swept up by the fairy tale holiday vibes. The Christmas market here is pretty small, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in charm. Surrounding the Marktplatz and Kirchplatz, there are approximately 50 stands to choose from. I found the food and gluhwein at Rothenburg’s Christmas Market to be especially nice. Don’t forget to wander around the town too. Many of the stores and homes in Rothenburg decorate the exteriors beautifully for the holidays, so the entire town has a charming Christmas feeling.

Travel Logistics

Check Your Destination – Twice!

In case you didn’t already know, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is not the only Rothenburg in Germany. Not to be confused with Rothenberg either… Germans aren’t exactly known for their creative town names, and this is a prime example. “Ob der” means “on the” and “Tauber” is the name of the nearby river, so the city’s name quite literally explains which Rothenburg this is by saying it is the Rothenburg on the Tauber River. Avoid arriving at the wrong town by confirming that you are, indeed, going to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. You may laugh, but I personally know folks who went to the wrong one and were sorely disappointed.

How to Get to Rothenburg 

Easily accessible by train, bus, and car, you can arrive at Rothenburg ob der Tauber in whichever manner best suits your travel plans. Taking the train to Rothenburg o.d. Tauber station is the most convenient and efficient way to arrive. There are regular trains multiple times per day with connections from Nuremberg, Würzburg, and Munich. You’ll need to transfer once (or twice depending on your origin point), which I was a bit stressed about. The connection times were only a few minutes, but once I realized how well-trod this path is, I was less worried. Many people follow this route, and the train conductors are fairly aware of this.

On my first visit, I drove to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. It is located along the A7 and A6 motorways, making it easily accessible. Along the way into town, visitors will enjoy scenic views of the German countryside, which is particularly beautiful during the spring and fall months. While there is ample parking outside of the historic city walls, car parking inside the walls is minimal. I would recommend dropping off your bags, and then parking outside the city unless your hotel specifically has parking available.

When to Visit Rothenburg 

Appropriate to visit throughout the year, Rothenburg’s charm is not bound to the seasons. You’ll find something to love regardless of when you go. However, the best times to visit from a tourist perspective are during the late spring and early fall when the weather is mild and the town is in full bloom. With its hilltop location, Rothenburg is breathtaking when the trees and leaves change color in autumn.

Of course summer is also lovely, but the crowds balloon in July and August. In such a small town, you definitely feel when it is crowded with day trippers. If you are particularly interested in Christmas markets, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is famous for its Christmas market, which takes place the entire month of December.

How Long to Visit

Thanks to its compact size, you can easily explore Rothenburg ob der Tauber in one day. There is enough to see and do for two days however. It is a fairly popular destination in Bavaria, and a lot of people visit Rothenburg o.d. Tauber as a day trip from Nuremberg or even Munich. Because most people come on a day trip, the city has a completely different feel during the day versus at night. As such, I recommend spending a night or two. Waking up in this quiet historic hamlet is absolutely lovely.

Where to Stay in Rothenburg

Most of the hotels in Rothenburg ob der Tauber are small, family run operations. You won’t see many chain hotels, which I personally love. We had a fantastic stay at Burg Hotel on the west side of town. It is located on the city walls with a gorgeous view over the landscape. The grandfather of the current owner was there togreet and check us in. He must have been 90 years old, but was the sweetest man. He spent his entire life in Rothenburg, and when I asked him if he ever wanted to leave, he said “why would I leave a place like this? Look how beautiful it is!”

What to Eat in Rothenburg

One of the most famous local foods from Rothenburg ob der Tauber is called schneeballen. It translates to snowball. Made from leftover pie crust pastry, the individual slices of dough are rolled into a ball and deep fried. They are then dunked in chocolate, marzipan or powdered sugar. You’ll see them in several bakery windows around town, but the most famous shop is Café Walter FriedelI. Personally, schneeballen aren’t my favorite German dessert, but they are worth trying once. I find them to be a little bit dry and crumbly, but the flavor is great. 

For a charming dinner that feels like a local gem, try Restaurant Alter Keller. Their cozy dining room will transport you into a Bavarian grandmother’s home kitchen, and the authentic Bavarian food is delicious. Enjoy a night cap at the oldest bar in town, Zur Höll. Dating back to 900 AD, this bar has a slightly off kilter look and low ceilings. The staff is friendly and the drinks are strong.

Do you have questions or comments about visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber? Tell me below!

1 Comment

  • Melissa Rowland
    June 15, 2024 at 2:09 am

    I loved this beautiful town so much when I visited in the early 2000s. I’m going back this fall and staying for a little over a week. This was a fantastic write-up and I enjoyed the pictures – thank you!!

    Reply

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