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Rothenburg ob der tauber travel guide
The fairytale town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the most beautiful small towns in Germany and one of Europe’s unique places to visit. Located in the state of Bavaria, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is world-renowned for its perfectly-preserved medieval old town (altstadt) and given its enchanting beauty, is a strong contender for any European bucket list. Encased inside historic walls which are dotted with high and mighty towers, the old town is paved with cobble-stone streets and colourful half-timbered wonky buildings. Here are the 12 very best things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany, which you must not miss on any visit to this children’s storybook town!
How to get to Rothenburg ob der Tauber?
Located in the central-south region of Germany in the state of Bavaria, the nearest major cities to Rothenburg ob der Tauber are Nuremberg which is ~100km east, Stuttgart which is ~150km southwest, Frankfurt which is ~200km northwest, and Munich which is ~250km southeast. Rothenburg ob der Tauber does have a train station and (I believe) you can arrive by train from these major cities – you can check the routes out on the official German train provider website, Bahn. But perhaps the best way to reach Rothenburg is by car, or via motorhome as part of a campervan trip to Europe!
What’s the difference between Rothenburg and Rothenburg ob der Tauber?
Absolutely nothing. Rothenburg is the shortened version of Rothenburg ob der Tauber (because it is quite long to say). If you’re driving to Rothenburg, you may see road signs which refer to Rothenburg o.d.T or Rothenburg o.d Tauber but they all refer to the same enchanting town we are all here to see!
What to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber?
1. Walk the historic old town walls
Wondering what to see in Rothenburg ob der Tauber? Well walking the inside of the historic old town walls is one of the top things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. It will afford you panoramic views across the red roofs of the wonky old buildings that fill the old town. There are various steep staircases which lead you up to the tower trail, which is effectively a raised narrow footpath that runs around a small section of the city walls. Once you have walked the raised section, be sure to continue to follow the fortified walls around the town, past many gates and towers.
2. Spot the gilded wrought-iron signs
Many of the shop fronts in Rothenburg’s old town are decorated with intricate gilded wrought-iron signs, especially along one of the main streets, u. Schmiedgasse, which passes by the picture-perfect Plonlein (see best things to do in Rothenburg #10). The wrought-iron signs denote what each establishment is and what it might stock, such as guesthouses and apothecaries. Be sure to look up and not just ahead when you are walking through Rothenburg ob der Tauber and pay closer attention to these signs, because otherwise these historic forms of street art may be sadly missed.
3. Visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber as part of a road trip to Europe
In my humble opinion, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the best places to visit on a magical 10 day motorhome itinerary for Europe. I am fortunate enough to have been to Rothenburg multiple times as part of various campervan tours of Europe. I have noticed on each visit that mid-morning the town gets busy, and late afternoon the crowds thin out so I can only assume many visit as part of a day trip or organised tour, but I think Rothenburg ob der Tauber deserves more time than this. Visiting by motorhome will allow you to spend more time exploring the old town streets and will afford you the chance to see a quieter version of Rothenburg at dawn and dusk (like in the above photo).
Tip: Given its aesthetics, it’s unsurprising that Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a popular place to visit on Germany’s Romantic Road. Therefore, accommodation can be on the pricier side whereas overnight parking is considerably cheaper, so if you have a motorhome, I’d suggest you take advantage.
4. Watch the clock strike the hour at Ratstrinkstube (Councillor’s Tavern)
Also known as the Councillor’s Tavern, Ratstrinkstube is located in the main town square (Marktplatz) and a visit is one of the best things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany. Adorning the front facade of Ratstrinkstube and facing the main town is an astronomical clock and on either side of this are two small doors. Every hour from 10am until 10pm when the clock chimes the hour, the doors will open and reenact a famous scene whereby a former mayor drank an obscene amount of wine in one swig to save his city from destruction.
Tip: Rothenburg ob der Tauber tourist information is located within the Councillor’s Tavern building.
5. Look out for the night watchman of Rothenburg
The night watchman offers walking tours around Rothenburg which will offer you a snippet into what life was like in the town during the medieval period. You might spot him somewhere in Marktplatz near the Rathaus (town hall) as this is where he tends to gather those partaking in his tours. You can find out more about the night watchman’s tours at the official Rothenburg ob der Tauber website. But even if you don’t fancy joining a tour, keep your eyes peeled for him because a sighting adds to the magic of the town, especially at dusk when he carries his lantern to light the way.
Tip: The Marktplatz and surrounding side streets are lined with some lovely little gift shops and restaurants, making it a perfect place to grab a trinket or a refreshment.
6. Spot the storks – hidden gems in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Now for one of the most unusual things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany… I have visited Rothenburg many times throughout the late Spring/early Summer and have been lucky enough each time to spy the stork that nests on one of the rooftops in the old town. The best way I can explain this to you is, as you are standing at the southern end of Marktplatz and looking directly up towards Ratstrinkstube (Councillor’s Tavern), the stork usually nests on one of the buildings over to the right. The nest is raised on a curved platform supported by a pole so if you’re looking up, it’s quite easy to spot.
7. Explore the old town (aldstadt)
Rothenburg’s old town is a treasure trove of medieval wonky half-timbered buildings and getting lost in the narrow cobbled streets is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Prize yourself away from the main sights of Marktplatz and Plonlein because you don’t know what delights you will stumble across in the quaint lanes. Personally, I could spend days wandering around the old town but in order to see the best it has to offer you probably don’t need any more than one day in Rothenburg ob der Tauber to get a good taste of the town.
8. Visit Rothenburg Christmas shop
One of the top things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber is to visit the renowned Christmas Shop, Kathe Wohlfahrt. Stepping inside Kathe Wohlfahrt offers a glimpse into what Santa’s grotto is like! Kathe Wohlfahrt are so famous for their Christmas decorations that they now have shops all over the world, including in the UK, USA and France. The shop can usually be distinguished by a unique Christmas car which parks outside, and within the shop you will be able to find all sorts of Christmas trinkets and ornaments as a special reminder of your trip to Rothenburg. And if you want an even intenser dose of the festive season, then a Christmas Museum adjoins the Kathe Wohlfahrt shop.
9. Photograph Gerlachschmiede
Gerlachschmiede is one of those little gems I stumbled across on a trip to Rothenburg when I decided to deviate from the tourist trail, and is probably one of the quirkiest buildings in the medieval town. The curvy corner house adorned with colourful window boxes was once a forge and home to the local blacksmith, and it could easily feature as the set for a Brothers Grimm fairytale or Walt Disney production. I bet the inside of Gerlachschmiede is full of character – personally, it captures my imagination every time and I would love to peek inside!
Tip: You will get a wonderful view of Gerlachschmiede from the historic town walls, so I’d suggest you climb the stairs to take advantage of this viewpoint and see the building in all its glory!
10. See Plonlein – Quintessential Germany
If you don’t know the word, you will likely be familiar with the image. Plonlein is probably one of the most famous places to visit in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and most photographed. It represents one of the finest scenes of what a quintessential German town looks like and is the featured photo on oh so many postcards and travel guides. On some of the occasions that I have been in Rothenburg, there is a violinist who seems to form part of the backdrop of Plonlein, which adds to the magic and romance. But Plonlein is more than just the yellow half-timbered building which takes centre stage – it is also the fountain in front of it, and the two towers which rise either side (one to the left and one down the hill to the right).
11. Visit the Castle Gardens (Burggarten)
If you fancy a moment away from the hustle and bustle of what can be a very busy little town, I’d suggest you head to the Castle Gardens (known as Burggarten) for a slice of serenity. Burggarten is located on the western side of the old town, so if you exit Rothenburg ob der Tauber through Burgtor Castle Gate you should fall right into them. Burggarten is not only blooming with colourful flowers, but there are some wonderful views to be had from here across the surrounding countryside.
12. Wander through Spital Bastion
In my humble opinion, the Spital Bastion is one of the most dramatic and finest parts of Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s fortifications. Located on the southern edge of the old town, Spital Bastion (also known as Spital Gate and the Spitalator) acts as an intimidating entrance to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. A stone’s throw from Plonlein, the bridge to enter Spital Bastion crosses over a mighty moat, and leads into the courtyards of the defensive structure. You can even explore the inside of Spital Bastion, so keep your eyes peeled for the staircases leading inside!
13. See the town’s reflections in Georgsbrunnen
Located in the southwestern corner of the main Market Square (Marktplatz) of Rothenburg in the vicinity of Ratstrinkstube (Councillor’s Tavern), Georgsbrunnen is one of the largest fountains in the old town. The column that takes centre stage in the fountain features a statue of St George slaying a dragon. It sits next to Marien-Apotheke (a pharmacy) which I have always thought is one of the most eye-catching buildings on the square with its colourful timber and flower boxes.
Tip: If the waters in Georgsbrunnen are still, one of the best things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber is to snap some interesting photos of the buildings opposite and their reflection in the water!
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