Somewhere between a dreamy fairy tale and a medieval storybook is the walled city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Perfectly preserved since the 13th century, a visit to this German town is a transport back to the middle ages.
Literally. The guest house I stayed in was over 800 years old! That gives you an idea how about how old this city is.
History buffs, medieval enthusiasts and hopeless romantics will relish in the old German folklore sights and sentiments exuded here.
Walking through the streets here is like dancing on the pages of a storybook. The half-timbered houses and cobblestone streets leave you feeling deeply enchanted.
Closing your eyes, you can almost hear armored knights walking among the crowds and the sounds of horse hooves clopping on the ancient cobblestone roads. Postcard worthy is an understatement.
If you find yourself in southern Germany, a stop in this magical place known as Rothenburg ob der Tauber is definitely worth visiting.
While this German city has become quite a tourist attraction, I think it still has the ability to sweep anyone off their feet. Even when it’s full of tourists in peak season.
If you’re visiting Rothenburg, Germany during the peak summer months, it will be busy. But if you spend a night or two here, you will be able to wander the streets of this walled city relatively tourist free after the tour buses and day trippers leave.
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Tips for Visiting Rothenburg ob de Tauber
How to Pronounce Rothenburg
Locals pronounce Rothenburg ob de Tauber as “road-en-burg.”
Rothenburg is a Walled City – Here’s How to Drive
When you first arrive at Rothenburg, the walled city will be a little alarming when you drive up to it! When I arrived there, it didn’t look like you could actually drive within the boundary.
Embarrassingly, it took me several minutes (and laps around the walls) to figure out how to get into the city! So don’t be alarmed when you arrive, yes you can drive in through any access point!
Unless it’s a one-way of course. And since the streets haven’t changed for hundreds of years, they will seem very narrow, just exercise a little more caution than normal.
Parking Tips in Rothenburg
With that in mind, parking is a nightmare. It’s best to park your vehicle for the entirety of your stay outside of the walls. Then plan to walk as your main method of getting around. It’s not a very big place, but comfy shoes are a must.
You’ll find that many accommodations will have you park outside of the walled portion of the city.
There are more parking lots that are less expensive. Be sure to ask your hotel where you should park when you book your stay.
Take note of which gate you enter through, as some of them look the same!
While not a big place, it can be a little confusing if you don’t pay attention. Snap a quick photo of the closest street sign and you’re all set!
Because Rothenburg is the most popular town on the romantic road, it is extremely busy.
I would highly recommend visiting in the off season as much as possible and in the middle of the week for the best experience. I visited at the end of May, which wasn’t quite peak summer season and it was still very crowded.
If you can only do a Rothenburg ob der Tauber day trip, try to avoid going between June and August. But if you’re visiting in the Summer, plan to spend a couple nights.
This way you can wander the empty streets before the tour buses arrive.
While it’s busy, that doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful.
Dog Friendly Destination
Like many places in Europe, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is dog friendly. You’ll find many people walking their pups and there are lots of water dishes put out for pets outside of shops and restaurants.
There are even several areas specifically for dogs to relieve themselves. Just look for the signs above little gravel areas.
Cash is still king at many restaurants here. There aren’t many ATMs easily found, but they are around. I recommend stocking up on euros before visiting Rothenburg.
How Long Should You Stay in Rothenburg ob der Tauber?
If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know I’m a big proponent of slowing travel down and really enjoying each destination.
Avoiding drive-by tourism is also a big one for me.
With that in mind, I recommend a 2 night stay (3 if you have the time). I promise you one night will not be enough. A lot of people do day trips here.
But if you can build it into your schedule, you’ll be happy to enjoy at least a couple of days. (A little later in the post I share my favorite places to stay).
Since there are many day-trippers and bus tours, you’ll enjoy some respite from the crowds in the evenings once they all leave for the night. So to make the most of your visit, stay at least one night to get a little more of the place to yourself!
If you do only have one day to spare, there are tours you can hop on from Munich or Frankfurt.
Get Your Guide has great day trips from Munich and you can get a glimpse of a few of the beautiful towns along the Romantic Road, in addition to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Alternatively, if you’re coming from Frankfurt, you can also hop on a day trip tour and combine a Rothenburg experience with the Neuschwanstein Castle, arguably Germany’s most iconic castle.
With that being said, many shops are closed on Sundays. You’ll find this is the case in most of the region as well.
The Fascinating History of Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Rothenburg ob der Tauber was once one of the largest cities in Germany in the 15th century.
After several plagues and the 30 Years’ War, the town experienced a major population decline and poverty for decades. Subsequently, the town’s growth essentially stopped.
Without the resources or population to modernize the city, it has essentially remained perfectly preserved since in the 17th century!
Beacause of this, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany is literally a place where time stands still. I don’t think there’s anywhere else on earth left like this.
However, the town was almost completely destroyed in WWII. The Americans had started to air bomb the village because of Nazi soldiers stationed there. Fortunately, they missed many targets because of cloud and fog.
Later that week the Americans were set to finish the job. The story goes that upon receiving this internal military intelligence, an American general made a deal.
Although having never been himself, he had fond memories of the town from paintings his mother had hung in his childhood home. Consequently, he proposed a deal.
In exchange for sparing the town from bomb destruction, the Nazi soldiers agreed to leave the town leaving it no longer Nazi-occupied. Following WWII, the area underwent a revitalization in an effort to attract tourists post war.
Things to Do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
1. Snap Iconic Photos of the the Plönlein
Find one of the most famous and photographed buildings in Germany! If you’ve done any reading or research about Rothenburg, this is likely the most popular thing you come across.
You’ll have to be here close to sunrise to beat the crowds if you want some good lighting and tourist-free photos.
If you’re staying overnight or longer, I would recommend visiting a few times over the course of your visit for different lighting and people-free photo opportunities.
The Night Watchman’s Tour
My number one recommendation about what to do when you visit Rothenburg is to take part in this tour. Every evening at 8:00pm is the English tour.
No need to pre-purchase tickets, just show up a few minutes before 8 o’clock at the Market Square in front of the Town Hall.
Try to hit this on your first night. It’s about an hour tour, and he takes you on a walk through town. You get a full and complete history of the city, which is absolutely fascinating.
Even if you aren’t a history buff, his humor and delivery will have you captivated the entire time.
You learn all about the how the residents lived, the different social classes, the plagues that wiped out huge numbers of residents, the history of the protective wall and much more.
Experiencing this on the first night is highly recommended so that on your second day you have a much better understanding and appreciation for the history. It’s under 10 euros for adults and well worth it.
2. Walk Along the Walls Above the City
Travel back in time and walk along the tops of the fortified ramparts. Wander along the tops of the walls and in the footsteps of the former night watchmen who used to guard the city.
Walking above the red rooftops gives you such an interesting perspective of the town. If you wish to walk the entire perimeter, it’s about 5kms or 3 miles.
Bring comfortable shoes and know that you will be going up and down stairs (sometimes steep) several times. There are dozens of towers, gates and bridges you’ll pass.
You can also choose to just walk portions of the wall, so just choose an entrance.
This is a free and worthwhile activity in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Budget about an hour and a half if you do the whole perimeter and taking your time, enjoying the view and snapping some photos.
3. Spend a Couple Hours at the Medieval Crime Museum
This is one museum you don’t want to miss. Here you get an in depth looks into punishment and torture techniques through the middle ages.
With some displays in the basement or dimly lit rooms, it’s an eerie museum experience that I had never experienced before.
At times, it can be a little graphic, but still intriguing to learn about nonetheless. Budget about 2 hours or slightly less.
Even if you’re not a big museum fan, the Medieval Crime Museum in Rothenburg ob der Tauber will keep anyone interested!
4. Take a Break at the Burggarten
Money saving tip! While Rothenburg can be a little expensive, pack a picnic lunch (and maybe even a bottle of some local Riesling) and enjoy a peaceful and well earned rest.
A peaceful green oasis nestled among the rock walls, it’s definitely worth a stop. You’re confronted with beautiful views of the valley below and of course, the Tauber river.
Another tip! Come here to momentarily get away from the day crowds. Most day trippers don’t make time to stop here, so it’s usually a little less crowded.
Sometimes there are local merchants and artisans who set up pop-up market as well. How much time to budget here? It depends on how you want to experience it. 15 minutes if you just want a quick view, or up to an hour for picnic and a pause.
5. Spot Famous Filming Locations
Movie buffs will enjoy the sights of Rothenburg as there are a few famous movies filmed here, and several others inspired by. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2 were filmed here, as well as scenes from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).
This German walled town was also the inspiration for the village in Walt Disney’s Pinocchio (1940).
6. Explore the Nearby Hiking Trails
If you’re going to be in Rothenburg for more than a couple of days, there are numerous trails you can explore. From valleys and vineyards, there is plenty to choose from.
Visit the official Rothenburg tourism site for detailed information.
Where to Eat (and What to Eat!) in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Breakfast in Rural Germany is usually something like hard boiled eggs, different types of breads, jams, cold cut meats and some cut fruit.
Make sure to have one meal at Zur Höll, a medieval tavern that specializes in traditional German food; also known to be one of the oldest buildings in Rothenburg. Zur Höll’s history apparently dates back to the 10th century!
Black Forest Cake is found everywhere! I liked to enjoy it after every meal. You know, to compare.
As soon as you enter the city and walk the streets, you’ll be inundated with Schneeball! A German pastry that translates to snowball, there are tons of flavors to choose from.
Make sure you try the traditional Schneeball with icing sugar, and then go crazy with different flavors!
Enjoy sampling the local schnapps varieties found at merchants throughout town.
Where to Stay in Rothenburg
There are a good handful of choices to stay the night in Rothenburg. It’s possible to get last minute bookings if you’re not planning to visit during peak summer season.
I visited in late May and was able to find a hotel room in Rothenburg ob der Tauber a couple of nights before arrival.
However, there were limited choices. For the best prices and most options, book ahead as much as possible.
I stayed at the Hotel Uhl which is within close proximity to the Plönlein which makes it a great option if you’re a photographer looking for the perfect shot. As an added bonus, breakfast was included!
I also loved my stay at Zur Silbernen Kanne which is a family run guest house and included a lovely welcome basket with some goodies.
The rooms overlook a quiet courtyard and the hotel has very reasonable rates. It’s also really cool staying in a building that is several hundred years old (rumored closed to 800).
The phrase ‘if the walls could talk’ really resonates here.
And if you want quintessential ancient charm with all the modern amenities, you’ll find it at Hotel Reichs-Küchenmeister.
As one of the highest rated hotels in the town, you’ll understand why with the magnificent views from your room and perfect central location.
If the above properties are booked up or you want some more choices, I recommend Booking.com for the best prices and variety.
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