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Imagine that you have never set foot in a medieval European city. The closest you have come to exploring the architecture, sights, and sounds of the Middle Ages was in a movie, book, or video game.
Where could you go to get the most authentic 12th-century experience? Where could you feel like you could sharpen your sword at the local blacksmith?
Where you could almost hear the sound of horses and carts trundling the cobblestone streets? Where might you encounter hooded monks in medieval attire? Or have to dodge a bucket of slop thrown from the upper window of a half-timbered house?
Many European destinations fit such a bill (slop not included), but Rothenburg ob der Tauber is up there with the best. A must-see location on Germany’s romantic road, its ancient town center is a fairy-tale delight, with more old-world charm than you can attack with a trebuchet.
Nestled in the Tauber Valley in Northern Bavaria, Rothenburg is one of the world’s most well-preserved medieval cities. This Barvarian beauty attracts around 2.5 million visitors yearly looking for its history fix. Or anyone who wants to feel like they have wandered into a permanent Renaissance fair.
But genuine medieval fans will want to stay a night or two. That’s when the magic of these ancient city walls will truly take hold, and you’ll realize why it’s one of the most stunning places to visit in Southern Germany.
So, with a lantern in one hand and a halberd in the other, cometh with me as I lead you through the best things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. I’ll try not to trip on my cloak.
- Things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
- 1. Visit the Magical Old Town
- 2. Get High at Rothenburg Town Hall
- 3. Walk the Old Town Walls
- 4. Relax in the Castle Garden
- 5. Go Tower Hunting
- 6. Experience the Rothenburg Night Watchman Tour
- 7. Jingle Bells at the German Christmas Museum
- 8. Do Some Time at the Medieval Crime Museum
- 9. Educated Yourself at the Rothenburg Museum
- 10. Get Gothic at St. James’s Church
- 11. Step Into the Past at the Old Rothenburg Craftsman House
- 12. Chuckle at the Topplerschlösschen
- 13. Listen to a Medieval Music Tour
- 14. Celebrate at a Festival
- 15. Go Hiking in the Tauber Valley
- What are the must-see attractions in Rothenburg ob der Tauber?
- How much time should I spend in Rothenburg ob der Tauber?
- Is there a Christmas market in Rothenburg ob der Tauber?
- Most significant landmark – Rothenburg Town Hall
- Best park – Burggarten
- Best free activity – The city walls
- Best activity for kids – The German Christmas Museum
- Best activity for adults – The Night Watchman Tour
- Best food – Zur Hoell
- Best nightlife – Liquid Corner
- Best place to stay – Hotel Reichs-Küchenmeister
Things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
1. Visit the Magical Old Town
When touring any European city, the best place to start is always in the old town. It’s usually here that you’ll find that quintessential medieval vibe to make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. And Rothenburg’s “Alt Stadt” is one of the finest on the continent.
Founded in 1274, it’s a veritable checklist of European medieval characteristics. Admire the well-preserved old town walls, wander the narrow cobblestone streets, and be enthralled with the spellbinding half-timbered houses. For anyone interested in travel photography, Rothenburg is a dream come true. Not too dissimilar to picturesque Bamberg, the snaps practically take themselves.
If you don’t want to miss any of the best sights or hear the stories behind them, I recommend a private walking tour to get the most out of your visit. And be sure to spend plenty of time at the famous Plönlein landmark for your “I’m in Rothenburg” selfies.
And while a Rothenburg day trip is one of the most popular ways to see the city, not many tourists actually stay here (comparatively speaking). That alone makes it a great place to sit down for the night and explore this charming town minus the horde. Try the historic Hotel Reichs-Küchenmeister with its perfect location, or the 12th-century Burghotel for a fully immersive old-world accommodation experience.
2. Get High at Rothenburg Town Hall
Address: Marktplatz 1, 91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
While wandering Rothenburg’s ancient cobblestone streets, you’ll undoubtedly come across its famous town hall. The “Rathaus” can be found in its prominent position on the market square (Marktplatz) and is a stunning fusion of architecture through the ages.
First constructed in the 13th century, the building features an eye-catching Renaissance facade and distinctive town hall tower. Refurbishments have been made (following the proverbial fire), but the sheer size of this fortress-like construction will strike you.
If you’re feeling energetic, you can climb the 200 ft medieval tower for outstanding views of the town and the Tauber Valley. One of the 42 towers in Rothenburg ob der Tauber costs a small entrance fee.
Be aware that the staircase gets relatively narrow. If you’re not as mobile as you once were, I’d recommend admiring it from the ground.
The Rothenburg Town History Museum in the Thirty Years War is also in the town hall. Small but perfectly formed, it offers an insight into life during this destructive (and confusing) conflict. And when you’ve soaked in all the history you can handle, the nearby Hotel-Gasthof Goldener Greifen offers a welcoming light.
3. Walk the Old Town Walls
Rothenburg ob der Tauber was a free imperial city in the Middle Ages, meaning it was self-governing and answered only to the Holy Roman Emperor. At the time, it was the second-largest city in Germany and an important trading post. It needed to be defended as such.
With some sections dating back to the 1100s, Rothenburg’s medieval city walls are Germany’s oldest and most well-preserved. One of only three cities in the country where the fortifications are fully intact, walking them is one of the best things to do when visiting Rothenburg.
The complete route will take you around 2.5 hours at a walking distance of just under three miles. I would suggest starting from the old town market square and going to any of the six city gates. Most of the ramparts are covered, which makes it an ideal experience even if it’s raining, but take care as the stone steps can get slippery.
One of the best free things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, walking the walls of the medieval town will give you a thrilling view of its ancient streets. The stunning Romantik Hotel Markusturm dates from 1264 and is just two minutes from the market square, and makes for a fitting base from which to explore Rothenburg’s storied stones.
4. Relax in the Castle Garden
Address: Alte Burg, 91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Although the castle is long gone (destroyed in an earthquake in 1356), you can still visit its beautiful surrounding green space. The “Burggarten” is a popular spot for locals and visitors, as it offers some of the city’s best views. Yet, thanks to its location away from where the old town crowds typically gather, it never feels too busy.
Located on the west side, the wooded garden is accessed through one of Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s six gates. Leaving the old town center and walking through the “Burgator,” you’ll find a welcome escape among the manicured hedgerows and flowerbeds of the garden.
Aside from the welcome tranquility, the park contains some notable points of interest. There are eight sandstone sculptures representing the four elements and the four seasons.
There’s a quirky fountain resembling broccoli (aptly called the “Brokkolibrunnen”). Parts of the castle’s defensive walls still stand and offer several excellent viewpoints. And there’s a stone chapel with a Jewish memorial nearby.
For a place to stay, the family-run Klosterstüble is mere yards from the Castle Gate. A hotel where ancient meets modern, the 16th-century building features exposed stone walls and wooden beams, inter-spliced with the comfortable conveniences of today.
See Related: Best Castles in Germany to Visit
5. Go Tower Hunting
When a city boasts 42 towers dating back to medieval times, it would be a shame not to try and visit at least some of them. And while the walk along the old town walls is also known as the “tower trail,” not every Rothenburg ob der Tauber tower is accessed from it.
As such, I highly recommend you spend a day “tower bagging.” (It’s like climbing mountains but visiting towers instead.) Of the 42 available, notable (ahem) erections include Siebers Tower, a former entrance to the city.
Burgturm (pictured) with its striking bastion. Röderturm offers a stunning panorama of the city. And Spitaturm, which guarded Rothenburg’s old town infirmary from 1586.
But that’s merely scratching the surface of the medieval towers and buildings you’ll discover in and around the city walls. Don’t miss the Gerlachschmiede (the blacksmith’s house), with its beautiful half-timbered facade and unique roof. See the famous yellow house at the Plönlein. And eat at the To Hell Tavern, the oldest structure in Rothenburg.
For history lovers traveling on a budget, there’s no better place to stay than the historic Old Horse Mill. One of the most striking buildings in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, it was converted into a hostel following renovations in 1957.
6. Experience the Rothenburg Night Watchman Tour
Address: Hotel pickup
One of the main reasons to stay in Rothenburg ob der Tauber is so you can enjoy the city without its multitude of day trip crowds. Once they’ve all returned to Munich, Frankfurt, or Nuremberg, the old town feels different, and you’ll almost have it all to yourself!
A one-hour tour with a night watchman is one of the best things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber when the sun goes down. Walk the darkened streets of the walled city with an expert guide wearing traditional medieval attire. From his entertaining and informative stories, you can learn all about the trials and tribulations of a European town in the Middle Ages.
Visit St James’s Church, the city hall, and some of the town’s gates. Hear tales of the Black Death and learn the importance of night watchmen and their role in Rothenburg’s history. The night watchman private tour is the perfect way to see Rothenburg ob der Tauber from a different perspective.
You should stay close by as you will be picked up from a hotel within the city walls. Hotel Herrnschloesschen is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Rothenburg and sits opposite the Franciscan Monastery. And make sure you pick up your Night Watchman Tour tickets in advance, as it often sells out.
7. Jingle Bells at the German Christmas Museum
Address: Herrngasse 1, 91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Christmas and Germany go together like Rudolph and his red nose. Like the holly and the ivy. Like novelty socks and disappointment, many of the season’s iconic traditions originated in German-speaking Europe. And it just so happens that Rothenburg ob der Tauber is considered by many to be the country’s Christmas capital.
The German Christmas Museum is open year-round inside a beautiful Christmas store. You can learn about the origins of yuletide customs and traditions whether you visit in December. Discover where Christmas trees originated, the history of Christmas decorations, and why Santa wasn’t always the good guy he’s known as today.
And if you are lucky enough to visit in December, you will witness arguably the finest Christmas village on the continent. The Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas Market takes place during Advent when the town comes alive with twinkling Christmas lights.
A delight for the senses, you can try traditional mulled Glühwein, buy unique Christmas decor and gifts, and enjoy the festive classics from choirs and brass bands. You can even try a private walking tour of Rothenburg’s Christmas market.
Be advised that if you book for Christmas, you’ll want to do so well in advance. Try the Hotel Gotisches Haus Garni on the same street as the Christmas museum and store. And Hotel Eisenhut is even closer, as it sits right next door.
8. Do Some Time at the Medieval Crime Museum
Address: Burggasse 3-5, 91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
As it’s practically a medieval theme park, you can’t visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber without exploring a bit of middle-age punishment. It’s the gruesome stuff I always loved as a kid. Visiting castle dungeons.
Seeing the inventive torture devices and trying to get my sister to try on the thumb screws. The Medieval Crime Museum has a fascinating collection of exhibits geared toward administering the justice of the Dark Ages.
And while the pieces on display and the topics covered can be dreadful, it sets out to inform rather than to disturb. As such, it’s a great place for all the family and is the perfect tonic if you’re tired of the Christmas shops.
The museum is well laid out and contains all your torture favorites: the rack, the shame masks, the hanging gibbet, and the spikey chair. But of course, the highlight has to be the original Iron Maiden, which rocks.
Open all year round, even visitors of a squeamish disposition will find the Medieval Crime Museum educational. And for a place to sleep that’s a million miles from a cold dungeon floor, the Hotel Goldener Hirsch is just along the street.
See Related: The Best Museums in Germany
9. Educated Yourself at the Rothenburg Museum
Address: Klosterhof 5, 91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
When visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber, be sure to stop in at the town’s main museum. Housed in a former Dominican convent, this interesting collection showcases three floors of artwork, crafts, and exhibits from the past eight centuries.
Highlights include finely minted gold coins from the 15th century—Marie Antoinette’s richly decorated hunting rifle. The surviving monastery kitchen dates from 1260 and is one of the oldest in Germany. For history buffs, this is one of the best places to visit in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
The Rothenburg Museum also has a prominent Jewish collection, an impressive weapon room, and an exhibit on music history. You’ll find all the descriptive blurbs are written in English and German.
And while kids might find the Medieval Crime Museum more entertaining, there’s still plenty for youngsters to enjoy here. The museum covers much local history and is one of the most educational things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Close by, you’ll also find the Toppler Theater, with its tiny open-air stage. In-house performances are in German, but you don’t need to speak the language to enjoy this unique experience. Afterward, you can rest your weary head at this cozy half-timbered apartment just around the corner.
10. Get Gothic at St. James’s Church
Address: Kirchpl., 91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Dramatic architecture was a staple in the Dark Ages, particularly when it came to cathedrals and churches. In Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the most prominent and most beautiful place of worship is St. James’s Church. Located in the heart of the old town, just two minutes from the Marketplatz, it was constructed between 1311 and 1484.
The city’s main Gothic church, St. Jakobskirche, sits on the pilgrimage route, the “Way of Saint James” (Camino de Santiago). Aside from its notable towers and striking exterior, the church contains several points of interest.
This includes some beautiful stained glass windows, the lavish Twelve Apostles altar, and a Rieger organ, one of the largest in Bavaria. But the church’s highlight is undoubtedly the Holy Blood altar, which attracts thousands of pilgrims yearly.
The work of Tilman Riemenschneider, a master wood carver from Würzburg, this stunning sculpture depicts the Last Supper. Said to contain a relic of Christ’s blood, it’s an impressive attraction even if you’re not religious.
Note that there is an admission charge to the church, around two Euros at the time of writing. And for a place to stay, the spotless Gästehaus Edelzimmer guest house is less than five minutes walk away from the church’s entrance.
11. Step Into the Past at the Old Rothenburg Craftsman House
Address: Alter Stadtgraben 26, 91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
It might be a mouthful to say in the native tongue, but the Alt-Rothenburger Handwerkerhaus is worth a visit to experience days gone by. Translated as the Old Rothenburg Craftsman House, it was built in 1270. Today, it offers a fascinating example of what life was like living in the dark ages.
The house is located close to the Medieval Crime Museum, and as it’s a very small building, it won’t take long to poke your head in and look around. Inside, you’ll find a perfect recreation of a medieval household, including a wide selection of craftsman’s tools.
An ideal attraction for anyone who likes to see history come alive, it’s one of the best things to do in Rothenburg with kids. It’s especially good for anyone who learns through visual stimulation, and has a shorter attention span. Local artisans continue to use the Old Rothenburg Craftsman’s House to this day, and watching them work is an interesting way to pass the time.
Rothenburg is known for its many souvenir shops, and a visit to the Craftsmen’s House might inspire you to find the perfect German gift to bring home to a loved one.
12. Chuckle at the Topplerschlösschen
Address: Taubertalweg 98, 91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
The Topplerschlösschen, or Toppler Castle to English speakers, is a unique and fun attraction in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Located close to the castle garden just outside the old city walls, you’ll discover this odd architectural dwelling sitting in a field.
A bizarre mash-up between a fortification and a residential home, Toppler Castle was built in 1388 as exactly: one part defensive tower, one part weekend townhouse.
It was built by/for the town’s legendary mayor, Heinrich Toppler (presumably as a defensible bolthole in case his opinion rating plummeted). These days, it contains a small but interesting museum with well-preserved period furnishings and features.
One of the more whimsical German castles, access to the Topplerschlösschen is via a short walk from the Burggarten. If you want to stretch your legs further, this route is part of a picturesque hiking area along the River Tauber. That is one of the best things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, especially if you enjoy getting into nature.
The family who owns Toppler’s Castle has been known to rent it out for a night or two, but Fuchsmühle offers country-style rooms right opposite. And you should check out this article on the best castle hotels in Germany for a guaranteed historic sleepover experience.
13. Listen to a Medieval Music Tour
Address: Marktpl. 1, 91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Now, here’s something a little different. If you’re looking for alternative attractions in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, allow me to suggest the Medieval Music Tour. The perfect marriage of information and entertainment, you can wander the city with a guide who will sing to you simultaneously!
Ideal for people who love music, history, and…music history, this tour takes you around all the major sights in the city. Dressed in period costume, your knowledgeable guide is classically trained and will serenade the group with the medieval hits of the period.
Learn about the origins of “Minnesang,” the lyrical songwriting style popular in the 12th to 14th centuries. Listen to tales and songs about local Rothenburg legends. Enjoy medieval chants in atmospheric settings. And all while exploring the nooks and crannies of this gorgeous city on foot.
Tours begin in the main square close to the town hall, and this deluxe ground-floor apartment is less than a three-minute walk away.
14. Celebrate at a Festival
As you might expect, with a history dating back several centuries, Rothenburg ob der Tauber has its fair share of annual festivals.
To make your vacation particularly memorable, you can time your trip to coincide with the celebrations. Then again, there’s a good chance you won’t need to plan, and you’ll happen to stumble into one.
Everyone knows about the Rothenburg Christmas Market, so I won’t labor the point. But there’s also the Historical Shepherd’s Dance, celebrated by Rothenburg’s Shepherds Guild since 1517.
The Rothenburg Wine Festival offers fine food and drink from local vendors and vineyards in August. (Wine tours are popular from Frankfurt.) The Imperial City Festival is a Renaissance fair on steroids when the old town becomes a giant medieval camp.
But perhaps the most important of all is the Master Draught Festival, which takes place in mid-May every year. It tells of a legendary tale from the Thirty Years’ War where the heroic actions of its mayor saved the city.
Not from an act of bravery in the field but his ability to drink nearly four liters of wine in one go. Several theatrical reenactments occurred around the city, and the festival was even added to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Many drinking, eating, and dancing are involved in these colorful festivals. But mainly just drinking. You are in Barvria, after all. The Boutiquehotel Goldene Rose offers a full spa service if you feel worse for wear.
15. Go Hiking in the Tauber Valley
If you’ve had your fill of medieval museums, tourists, and towers, perhaps it’s time to explore outside the fortifications. Lush green meadows, vineyards, fields, and forests await beyond Rothenburg’s town wall gates.
Hiking in the Tauber Valley is a wonderful way to explore the region, and as several routes begin in the town, it’s easy to start on a trail. Leaving the old town via the Burgtor (close to the castle garden) is one of the best ways to begin your journey.
Hiking areas include Grillplatz im Steinbruch, which takes in the famous Tauber Double Bridge. The Taubertalbrücke in der Nähe des Topplerschlösschens area offers romantic strolls for couples. And Turm und Stadtmauerweg winds past more historic sites on the east side of town.
You’ll discover all sorts of curiosities along your way, and it’s a great activity in Rothenburg for kids. Energetic hikers will love staying at the Wildbad Tagungsort Rothenburg, set in a peaceful location outside the city and on the Tauber. And while you’re in the area, you should check out this article for more of the best things to do in Bavaria.
What are the must-see attractions in Rothenburg ob der Tauber?
There are several top attractions in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, but the city is the main event. There’s a reason it’s considered one of the most beautiful places in Germany.
Walking the city walls, exploring the 42 towers, and getting lost in the medieval town are some of the must-do things when visiting Rothenburg. The Medieval Crime Museum should not be missed; the Christmas village is essential if you come in December.
How much time should I spend in Rothenburg ob der Tauber?
One of the best day trips from Nuremberg, Rothenburg, is small enough to be done in the afternoon. But I would highly recommend staying one night (at the very least). When the tour buses turn for home, and the streets quieten, Rothenburg ob der Tauber takes on a charm you might have otherwise missed through a haze of tourists.
Is there a Christmas market in Rothenburg ob der Tauber?
Yes. Rothenburg ob der Tauber is known for being Germany’s “Christmas capital.” Aside from the Christmas museum and store, Rothenburg’s Christmas Village is one of the best in Europe.
It takes place from the 1st Dec to the 24th Dec every year. Seasonal private walking tours are available if you’d like a guided experience around the markets. But if you decide to visit Rothenburg now, be sure to book well in advance. Otherwise, you might find yourself in the stocks.
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.
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