Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a city straight out of a fairy tale with medieval city walls and castle spires. I had the opportunity to visit Rothenburg during my busking tour of Europe and it was one of the most magical places I visited, and that includes Switzerland! There are so many things to do in the Bavarian town of Rothenburg and so much to see that it should be part of any traveller’s itinerary when they visit Germany.
From amazing museums to guided tours of the medieval walls and great seasonal festivals, Rothenburg has it all.
A brief history of Rothenburg
Rothenburg is one of the oldest and most historic towns along Germany’s Romantic Road. The official history of the town is considered to begin with the construction of the castle in the 10th Century above the Tauber river, hence the name ‘ob der Tauber’ (above the Tauber).
In the 12th century Rothenburg was granted official town charter by the Hohenstaufen Emporers of Germany after the original line of rulers had died out. The next century saw rapid expansion and many of the buildings and the town walls from this period are still intact.
Rothenburg has a long history of wars and alliances. One notable story is that of the ‘Meistertrunk’. The town mayor was said to have quaffed a massive tankard of local wine as part of a bet to save the Protestant town from pillaging by Catholic forces during the 30 year war. In truth the town was forced to pay a massive amount of money and goods to the opposing force but the wine story is a lot more fun! Plays of this legend can be seen at various festivals in Rothenburg during the year.
The marketing of this medieval town in later years has led to international interest and saw restrictive laws introduced to preserve both the history and appearance. This is considered to be part of the reason Rothenburg was spared the utter devastation of other German towns during World War 2. Although it was bombed from the air, ground commanders on both sides hesitated attacking or defending the city with full force.
Damage from bombing during the war was repaired with the help of donations from across the world and today you can once again bask in the medieval charm of this beautiful German town.
There are so many things to do in Rothenburg that planning An itinerary can get a little overwhelming. Here are some of my highlights:
Things to do in Rothenburg – Museums
Christmas Museum – ‘Deutsches Weihnachtsmuseum’
The Christmas museum in Rothenburg will get you into a festive mood regardless of the season. Many of the Christmas traditions that exist today originated in Germany, so why not explore the magic of Christmas in one of the most magical towns you can visit.
The museum covers the entire historic spectrum of Christmas so you can watch how decorations have evolved over the years. There is also a collection of 150 historical Father Christmas figurines which is a special treat for any Christmas fanatic!
The museum is open all year round and an adult ticket costs €4. There are also guided tours which last roughly 1 hour. For more information visit the official English website of the Chrismas Museum.
Medieval Crime Museum – ‘Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum’
If you have a fascination with medieval law, crime and torture then the Medieval Crime Museum is the place for you. This museum is also the 6th most popular museum in Germany and ranks 76 out of the top 100 sights in Germany as voted by the Visitor’s Choice awards of 2017.
A thousand years of legal history are brought to life in Rothenburg’s Museum of Medieval Crime. The Crime museum has impressive exhibits and provides a detailed commentary to give insight into the laws and punishments of the past. With exhibits displaying woodcuts and copper etchings of notorious crimes and a whole department dedicated to witchcraft and witch-hunting in Bavaria, your inner history scholar will be happy.
The Museum is open all year round but during the winter season it is only open during the afternoon so make sure to check before you visit. An adult ticket is €7 but there are senior, children and group discounts so make sure to visit the official Medieval Crime Museum website.
Graphic Museum in the Dürer House – ‘Grafikmuseum im Dürerhaus’
This museum is for the art enthusiasts. The Graphic Museum features the collections of the artist Ingo Domdey and consists entirely of etchings, with works from the 16th century by Dürer and van Leyden, and including pieces by Rembrandt, Goya, Munch and Renoir.
The museum’s collection also includes a variety of modern and contemporary artists such as Hrdlicka, Janssen, Göttlicher, and Kneffel. In the museum you can find a print shop where you can try the art of etching for yourself. There are also drawing lessons, lectures and an ‘open workshop’.
Things to do in Rothenburg – Explore the town
Rothenburg Tower Trail
The Rothenburg Tower Trail gives you an opportunity to explore the medieval fortifications of the historic town. You can walk around the town walls which not only gives you a wonderful glimpse into the history of the town but also an amazing view over the whole of Rothenburg.
You can do this tour by yourself for free but I would suggest looking over these videos of what you will encounter along the way so that you can truly experience the history that you are walking along.
I will always advocate going for your own wanders around a new town. However, there are times, especially with a very historical town, that it is really worth taking a guided tour because there are quirky facts your guide can regale you with that you won’t find in guide books or tourist information.
Rothenburg offers daily guided tours with the famous Nightwatchman through the darkness. You can book this tour for groups as well. For more information you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the guided tours page of Rothenburg’s official website.
Take yourself for a walk
With a town as beautiful as Rothenburg ob der Tauber I would recommend just going for a walk and seeing what you can find. There are lots of beautiful photo spots and unusual places that won’t ever make it into a guide book but can make your trip truly memorable.
During one of my wanders I stumbled across a door draped in autumn vines. It felt like I had stepped into one of my favourite fantasy novels and it is an image that keeps Rothenburg magical in my mind several years later. I can’t even remember where I saw it but it is little things like that door that can make a trip stand out in your memory. So just step out of your door and see where your feet take you!
Things to do in Rothenburg – Parks and gardens
Despite the name this little park is not in fact the gardens of the Rothenburg castle but it is where the old castle used to stand. In 1356 an earthquake destroyed the castle complex and the stones were then used to create the town walls of Rothenburg. The Chapel of St Blaise was the only building to be renovated after the earthquake and can still be seen standing in the gardens today.
The Castle Gardens offer an amazing view back over the southern part of Rothenburg as well as the Tauber valley. A feature of the gardens to look out for are the geometric flower beds and 8 sandstone figures representing the four seasons and elements.
I was lucky enough to be in Rothenburg during Autumn and the mottled colours with the ancient stone walls and buildings drew me further into the fairy tale. There were also very few tourists so I mostly had the gardens to myself.
The Convent Gardens
The Convent Gardens are attached to the former Dominican Convent in Rothenburg, which is now home to the Rothenburg Imperial Town Museum. The gardens are surrounded by the old city walls and the tranquility typical of a convent garden can still be enjoyed here. You will also find a large herb bed, that the Dominican sisters would have cultivated, still being maintained today. It has around 50 different herbs on display.
Things to do in Rothenburg – Festivals
Rothenburg has a lot of exciting festivals throughout the year. The exact dates will change from year to year so visit the Rothenburg calendar page to make sure you know the correct dates for what you want to see. That being said, here are some highlights to look out for:
Spring Awakening (End of March through April)
Celebrating the end of winter and the coming of warmer weather, this festival sees the town brightly decorated and lots of outdoor activities.
Spring Festival (Last weekend of April)
Musical performances, fashion shows, car shows, street markets, food experiences and much more to celebrate spring.
Historical Festival Play 1631 “The Master Draught” (7th Sunday after Easter – Pentecost)
This festival is a reenactment of the events during the 30 year war that led to the ‘Meistertrunk’ legend in Rothenburg. The play of the story is performed during this festival.
Rothenburg Summer Fair – Beer Festival (Beginning of Summer)
With carnival rides, stage acts, festival tents, a festival market and fireworks display, this Summer Festival is a great day out for the whole family.
An open-air music festival held in the Tauber valley below Rothenburg town. Tickets and more information can be found at www.taubertal-festival.de.
Wine Festival (August)
Every year the Grüner Markt in the middle of the old town is transformed, lending Rothenburg the atmosphere of a wine-making village. With a variety of live musical performances each day, this is a festival not to miss.
Fairytale Week (November)
A week of festivities based around fairy tales and legends made to be enjoyed by adults and children alike. There is even a fairy tale quiz that will lead you on a treasure hunt through Rothenburg’s shop windows.
Old Rothenburg Christmas Market – ‘Reiterlesmarkt’ – (December)
Advent festivities are accompanied by the Rothenburg Christmas market in the fairy tale scene of the town that shows off the best of German Christmas traditions.
Things to do in Rothenburg – Outdoor activities
There is no shortage of outdoor activities in and around Rothenburg. If you want to explore the beautiful surrounding scenery, then consider going for a hike on one of the numerous hiking trails around the town.
If you enjoy cycling you can hire a bike and explore the many cycling trails that stem from the town and wind through the Tauber valley. For information on routes and bicycle hire email email@example.com.
Deep in the forests surrounding Rothenburg you will find a climbing park suitable for all ages. With 70 different elements and reaching heights of 120m you will have a great experience. For more information and directions visit the official Kletterwald website.
Things to do in Rothenburg – Spielbach beer
German cuisine is one of my favourites and you will not be short on amazing German food in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. But what really stood out for me was the beer. If you read some of my other posts you will know that I am an avid Guinness drinker but I have to say that Rothenburg changed my life with regard to beer.
Spielbach is a local beer that is brewed in the town of Spielbach just 15km outside of Rothenburg. I haven’t seen this beer served anywhere else so I’m not sure if it is available outside of Rothenburg. If you do get a chance to visit Rothenburg you have to have this beer, it is indescribably good but I’m going to try anyway!
Spielbach is like drinking the golden honey of beer. It has the colour of a great Pilsner but where a Pilsner is quite light or thin in texture, Spielback reminded me of the weight of a Stout. The flavour is deep but with a very subtle sweetness that means you can drink several glasses without being overwhelmed by any bitterness. I am not a beer connoisseur but Spielbach is the best beer I have ever had and I tried a lot of different beers across Germany! I thought it was so good that I even wrote a bagpipe tune dedicated to the beer.
The Fairy Tale Town
Rothenburg ob der Tauber was one of the most amazing towns on my entire Euro-trip and I visited completely by chance. I wish I had known more about it when I first went there to take full advantage of what this medieval town has to offer but I still loved every minute exploring its ancient streets. Hopefully this post will help you get the most out of your visit to Rothenburg or inspire you to visit this magical, German town.
Happy travels and blue skies!
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