So I spontaneously decided to spend the Easter weekend in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. If that name doesn’t ring a bell: it’s a small town in Franconia, Germany. Not just your regular small German town though. Rothenburg became world famous for being one of the most romantic and well-preserved medieval towns. It inspired Walt Disney who modeled Pinocchio’s hometown after it. Rothenburg appeared in countless movies and even in several video games such as Monkey Island. Some scenes for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows pt. 1 were actually filmed there. Arguably THE most authentic medieval town in Germany Rothenburg is a must for most travelers visiting Europe. As I’m a real history geek I was totally looking forward to spending some time there. I didn’t expect to be incredibly impressed though because a) I had already visited Rothenburg once about 10 years ago and b) I grew up in a very old and well-preserved medieval town myself. So I didn’t expect to see a lot of newness. I was so wrong. Boy was I wrong!
So grab a snack, relax and let me spark some wanderlust 🙂
I’d usually start this post with some recommendations on where to stay in Rothenburg. This time I’ll be covering this topic at the end though and once we get there you’ll understand why.
What you should know about Rothenburg ob der Tauber
What I absolutely loved about Rothenburg was the fact that it is a really small town packed with sights. Being able to reach absolutely every interesting spot on foot was such a blessing (especially after my recent trip to the massive city of Paris!). At the same time exploring this town on foot is really the only option that makes sense. Technically you can drive your car into Rothenburg. You’ll be faster on foot though and less likely to kill a horde of tourists standing in the middle of the street adjusting their selfie sticks. I’d recommend leaving your car either at your accommodation or using one of the parking areas just outside town.
If you have the time and really want to enjoy this town to the fullest I’d recommend spending 2 to 3 days there. Staying only one day will probably leave you feeling rushed and like you’re missing out. Oh and do yourself a favor and bring a backpack instead of a suitcase. As Rothenburg is a medieval town the streets are all cobbled which can get pretty annoying when dragging around a suitcase.
So what to do in this special place?
Rothenburg city tours
As Rothenburg’s streets and houses are already one of the famous sights in themselves I’d definitely recommend meandering around for a while taking in the flair of this history-laden place. Although it’s a pretty touristy place I frequently found myself wandering alleys and exploring places all by myself as soon as I had left the busy Market Square behind. And although it’s such a small town I kept finding new hidden gems I had missed the day before. Sometimes it even felt as if the town had magically rearranged overnight and looked different the next day. As Rothenburg has such a long and fascinating history taking a guided city tour really adds to the experience. I took the night tour with the nightwatchman which was not only interesting but also super fun! Night tours start at the central Market Square every day at 8 pm (English tour) and 9.30 pm (German tour) and they are SO worth it! (Another reason why you should definitely stay at least one night.)
The Castle Gardens
So there are the Castle Gardens but there’s no castle in Rothenburg. The gardens are actually covering the area where the castle once stood in the Middle Ages. The whole castle complex except for the chapel was destroyed in an earthquake in the 14th century which is just super unusual for Germany as strong earthquakes are rare here. The Castle Gardens are definitely a must visit as they’re a very tranquil place that gives you a great view on the town’s skyline and the valley below. Especially in spring and summer the gardens are a little lush green oasis just outside town.
Rothenburg from above
There are several ways to get a great view over the city of Rothenburg from above. So I definitely recommend you suppress your acrophobia for a moment and enjoy 😀 What you should definitely do is walk the city wall. You can pretty much walk all around the historic city center by following the roofed wooden pathway. This will give you a great overview over the town as well as heaps of cool opportunities for photos. For a very small fee you can also climb some of the many towers of the city. The highest and most central one is the tower of the city hall (Rathausturm). The staircase is very narrow and steep and climbing it was a pretty scary experience for me. But of course there’s little I wouldn’t go through to snap an awesome aerial view of Rothenburg for you guys 😉 So worth it!
This charming town is also home to a couple of very interesting and very different museums. The Christmas Museum and the Christmas Village are right next to each other and they’re open all year round. I skipped them this time as it was the Easter weekend and I wasn’t exactly in a Christmas-y mood. One day later, while I’m writing these lines, it’s merrily snowing away outside my window on April 18th. But that’s a story for another time… I did visit the Christmas Village about 10 years ago though (in August…) and if you’ve never been there it’s definitely worth seeing. If you’re interested in getting to know more about Rothenburg’s history the History Museum and Imperial Town Museum are for you. I haven’t visited these yet but definitely will the next time I go to Rothenburg. Arguably the most famous museum in Rothenburg is the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum. Because you know… we all love horrible stuff that gives us nightmares, right? As the name suggests this place is all about ripped out tongues, chopped off hands and trial by combat – if you like Game of Thrones this museum is for you. You will also get some interesting insights into the court proceedings of past times and the importance of court records, evidence and witness statements. To me it’s so fascinating that in the very era that brought forth the most absurd and savage penalties for crimes there were actually often pretty reasonable laws in place that were meant to protect the defendant of false accusations. Doesn’t seem like it helped a lot though…
The Taubertal valley
Rothenburg ob der Tauber lies on a hill overlooking the lovely green valley surrounding the Tauber river. There are actually several paths that’ll take you down into the valley and I so recommend making use of them! It’ll only take you about 10 to 20 mins to get down there but it’s such a peaceful place seemingly far away from the touristy town center. There’s an old Gothic church down there as well as a couple of cute timber-framed houses. The most interesting one is definitely this little zombie-proof fortress built in the 14th century by Mayor Heinrich Toppler. If you can you should go there on a weekend as it will be open for visitors.
I came across quite a few hikers while walking the valley and it seemed like a super lovely place for hiking. As I only stayed 3 days there wasn’t enough time for an extensive hike but if you do have the time you should definitely explore more of the beautiful area!
I had been kind of lucky with the weather so far as the dark clouds provided the perfect moody atmosphere for my photos while there was hardly any rain. Just as I was exploring the valley though far away from any kind of shelter the sky figured I might appreciate a good, thorough hailstorm, like you do. Just glad the month of April is so predictably unpredictable that every weather phenomenon will last for 5 minutes and then change into the exact opposite. I spent a very lovely sunny afternoon in the valley 😀
Wildbad Rothenburg (aka dreamy magical castle from my Instagram)
So while wandering the Taubertal valley I stumbled upon this favorite must see of mine. I didn’t even know this place existed and I never heard or read about it before. The term Wildbad was used for some kind of historic spa and health resort in the countryside. The castle-like structure was built around 1900 and consists of a main building as well as a couple of pavilions and a park and it’s surrounded by forest. I simply can’t get over how dreamy this place was. Do you know these places that just instantly give you this “yep, I’m officially gonna live here now” feeling? If I lived in Rothenburg I would take all my outfit pictures and pretty much any kind of pictures there. The building is located on a hill and after I had climbed it to the very top I eventually realized the entry to the property is right outside Rothenburg’s city walls. You don’t have to walk all the way through the valley to get there – just leave the town through the Spitalbastei gate, cross the street and enter an entirely different magical world. Plus, only a handful of tourists strayed there so it was basically me, my camera, the song of the birds and a few rays of sun. So now that I’ve introduced you to this place the circle is complete. And we can now talk about…
Where to stay in Rothenburg
Now when visiting a city most of us would probably instinctively try to find accommodation close to the city center – including me. And if you want to do that you can definitely go for it, especially if you’re visiting for the first time and/or are pressed on time. There are HEAPS of options to choose from for every budget – hotels, hostels, B&Bs, apartments, you name it. If I were rich and/or famous I’d most definitely stay at the Gothic House – a girl can dream, right? 😀 (No seriously, it’s not even that expensive.) HOWEVER. As Rothenburg is so small and distances are so short it is entirely possible to enjoy the peace and tranquility of staying in the countryside with the town center still totally within walking distance (we’re talking < 1 km here). So my recommendation (and that’s what I’m gonna do myself when I visit this beautiful place next time!) is finding accommodation down in the Taubertal valley. There aren’t as many options as in the city center but there are still a few. And YEP, you can stay at the magical Wildbad. It’s now an Evangelical conference center but you can book a room just like a regular hotel room from as little as 45 € p.p. in a double room including breakfast. Man, wish I had known that before I came to Rothenburg!!! Now if you’re not a hotel kind of person or just prefer a bit more privacy, fear not – I’ve got you covered! Right across a bridge from the Wildbad I discovered the cutest little Airbnb. I liked the look of it so much I even peeked through the windows and probably creeped the shit out of the current guests who were coming home this very instant. 😀 It has its own little backyard to sit outside and enjoy a glass of wine on a mild summer evening with the melodic murmur of the Tauber river always in the background. Yes please!
Where to eat in Rothenburg
Now most people who visit Rothenburg who aren’t from the area want to try typical local food. I understand. As typical local food usually consists of meat though I obviously can’t give any recommendations here 😀 Like in any touristy place rest assured that the restaurants closest to the central Market Square tend to be a bit more expensive and crowded. I’d definitely recommend wandering around and having a look at the menus to find a place you like. Most menus are in German and English, some even in Japanese and Chinese. You’ll definitely be able to find something! I came across the super cozy WuWi, a small café / restaurant / bar with good food and the loveliest staff. I really liked the atmosphere so I kept coming back. Another place that really caught my attention was the very cute and quirky looking Café einzigARTig (it means “unique” in German). Apart from beverages and cake they also serve small meals such as soup and quiche. If you’re willing to spend a little more money: the menu of the Reichsküchenmeister restaurant is downright mouth-watering (srsly, “Warm goat’s cheese with strawberries and balsamic onion chutney” – how about YES?). They serve traditional meals as well as more unique dishes and they offer vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. Just a little heads-up for you guys: not sure if this happened to me only because it was the night before Easter Sunday but I found it surprisingly hard to get something to eat after the nightwatchman tour (which ended at 9). For me this isn’t really super late at night and I would actually expect restaurants to still serve food at that time. However, many places were already closing their kitchens while those that were still serving food were completely full. If you’re planning to have a late dinner consider picking out a restaurant in advance and booking a table so you don’t end up running around for an hour with an empty stomach.
The bottom line
Rothenburg was SO MUCH better than I expected. I live only 80 km from Rothenburg which just proves once more that some real gems can sometimes be found right at our own doorstep. The best part was that my semester ticket allowed me to go there by train for free. Amazing travel experiences don’t have to be expensive. If you’re planning to go to Germany Rothenburg should definitely be on your to do list! If you’re living in the area but haven’t visited yet – you should!
Have you already been to Rothenburg? Let me know in the comments!