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  • Writer's pictureMarie Williams

8 Fun Things To Do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to step back in time to the Middle Ages, then spend some time in the old-world town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a city located in northern Bavaria. This fairytale burgh is brimming with as much history as it has half-timbered homes. This town is so charming I have visited it twice now. Continue reading to learn about this historic and one-of-a-kind town and what amazing things you can do and see.

History of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Around 970 A.D. noblemen came to the area known now as Rothenburg ob der Tauber and founded the city. A little more than a century later, King Conrad III took over the town and built a "Red Castle" on a mountain above the Tauber river. Hence the city's name, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which is German for "Red Castle above the Tauber". Later, fortifications were built around the city for protection and the city flourished. In 1802, the city became part of the Kingdom of Bavaria after Napoleon consolidated land in Central Europe.

Unlike many German towns that updated their cities by tearing down their ramparts and renovating buildings, Rothenburg ob der Tauber did not. The town simply did not have the money to modernize the city, therefore, the city stayed as it was for centuries. The city recovered economically in1873 when the railroad was built. The once run-down town now became reawakened by artists, writers and scientists that visited the old burgh and gave it national attention. Soon after, tourism stimulated economic growth and the city began to prosper once again.

During WWII, the Allies bombed nearly half of the town's fortifications and buildings. Thankfully, donations poured in from around the world to save this old world town and reconstruction of the walled city ensued. Now, once again, Rothenburg becomes THE place for tourists to travel through time to a well preserved medieval place.

How to Get To Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Located along the Romantic Road, (a 350 km road stretching from Füssen, in the south, to Würzburg, in the north, connecting scenic towns and castles) Rothenburg ob der Tauber is easy to travel to, whether you get there by train, car, or bus. Since we rented a car for our multi-city trip through Germany, we arrived via the scenic roads from Heidelberg in under two hours.

Romantic Road

We previously visited Rothenburg ob der Tauber in March of 2016 from Munich by utilizing the train system. To get to Rothenburg from Munich takes about 3.5 hours and you will need to make a couple of transfers as well. If flying into Germany, you can fly into Frankfurt or Munich and then travel to Rothenburg. Either way, your journey to Rothenburg will be about the same time from either of these major cities.

Where to Stay in Rothenburg

Hotel Altes Brauhaus was a beautiful and centrally located hotel. This family run hotel is only a three minute walk from the historic market square and the price of the room includes a breakfast feast fit for a king! We stayed here in 2016 with our family of four and had more than enough space to unload and relax.

Built in 1698, this historic hotel is very spacious with an outdoor space to wander, a lounge to relax and read about where to roam in Rothenburg, and a children's corner for little ones to play. The breakfast area looks like an ornate great hall in a castle complete with vaulted ceilings.

In 2023, we stayed at the historic Hotel Reichs-Küchenmeister. This charming and magical hotel is in the heart of Rothenburg and located next to St. Jakob's church and only a two minute walk to the historic market square.

I enjoyed the modern and updated bathroom, however, there is no central air-conditioning. Thankfully, a fan was provided, which helped considerably. In addition, this hotel has a restaurant and outdoor beer garden with delicious and traditional food options. Breakfast is included and there was an amazing array of options, which included eggs, weisswurst, freshly baked breads, homemade jams, and an assortment of meats and cheeses. You will not leave hungry!!! Because we arrived by car, we were able to keep our car in a private parking garage about a block away. A bellhop provided transportation to the car and back with a golf cart which was very much appreciated.

What to do in Rothenburg

Explore the Town's Fortified Wall

Built back in 1142, the two mile city wall with 46 towers is a perfect way to get a bird's eye view of this picturesque town. To navigate the entire city wall will take around 2.5 hours. You can obtain a Tower Tour brochure at the tourism office located at Marktplatz 2. This brochure will provide a brief history of Rothenburg and also provide information about each tower. In all, exploring the old ramparts was a fun and exciting adventure.

Map of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Walk the Outer Perimeter Tower Trail

Explore the Rothenburger Turmweg, otherwise known as the city wall to learn about the 42 towers in the city. The walk can begin outside one of the five main gates, such as the fortified castle gate, which was built around 1460, and is the west gate with the tallest gate tower. This is where we started our walk. Simply exit the west gate, or castle gate, turn right through the arched door (pictured above, bottom right) and begin at the first sign.

Castle Gate on west end of city

Along this 4 kilometer loop (it takes a total of 2.5 hours to navigate) around the old city, you can learn more about each tower and what it was used for. For example, the Punishment Tower, also called "Schuldturm" (or Guilt Tower) was built in the 15th century to hold people that committed crimes.

This informative and quiet walk was fun and a great way to explore the outside of the city and enjoy a reprieve from the bustling crowds.

Visit the Castle Garden

When visiting the town of Rothenburg, wander to the Castle Garden for some relaxation and an opportunity for a secluded stroll through the flora. The garden was built as a recreational area for the local residents and is a beautiful area to visit and get away from the crowds. While here, you can get a perfect view of the Tauber Valley below.

When there is no foliage on the trees you can see Toppler Castle down below in the valley. Read about visiting Toppler Castle, a 14th century medieval castle next.

Visit Toppler Castle

Looking for a short hike to a quaint and small castle? Rothenburg has this too! In about fifteen minutes you can visit a 14th century medieval tower/castle that is currently lived in. On certain days of the week you can tour the inside of this historic building for €5. The tower was built in 1388 as a water castle for the mayor of Rothenburg, Heinrich Toppler. The castle was built for Toppler to reside in and be used for the town residents when under attack and the surrounding area could be flooded to protect them

To visit this castle, begin in the Castle Garden (enter through the castle gate on the west end of the city). Once in the Castle Garden, turn right towards the arched doorway. (see above photo) Once through the door, immediately turn left onto the dirt trail. Follow this trail through a forest, an open field, a wooden bridge, and then turn left onto Taubertalweg (a street). Head straight, walking along a stream, for a few hundred feet and you will see the castle before you. Make sure you pet the resident cat that will greet you upon your arrival. Visiting this little gem of a castle was a fun way to burn off our breakfast and meander through the Tauber valley.

Map to Toppler Castle

Visit St. Jacob's Church

St. Jakob's Church (St. Jacob) is located in the heart of Rothenburg. St. Jakob's church, named for the patron saint of pilgrims, and part of the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela has nearly 1,000 pilgrims visit annually along this pilgrimage.

This beautiful and ornate 12th -13th century church was a Catholic Church that became a Protestant Church during the Protestant Reformation. During the reformation, many of these churches went through an elimination of relics, however, the Riemenschneider Altar (right photo, above) and the High Altar (center photo) were not removed because of their intricate beauty and history. Riemenschneider's Altar was sculpted between 1501 and 1505 by Würzburg sculptor, Tilman Riemenschneider. Another beautiful work of art in St. Jakob's is the High Altar, a painting by Friedrich Herlin, completed in 1466.

The church is open daily for tours and is a stunning church to visit during your stay in Rothenburg.

Stroll the Local Shops

Whether you want to shop for some finely crafted Birkenstock shoes or hunt for some handmade souvenirs, Rothenburg has it all.

These are a few of the stores I visited: Käthe-Wohlfahrt, a German company that sells Christmas decorations, and is a Christmas wonderland that has everything from Advent calendars to ornaments. Wood Art, a quaint store that sells Franconian wooden art items, such as, wooden spoons and wooden mugs that are pre-made and can be engraved on site by the owner. And, of course, Birkenstock, for a great deal on a huge assortment of well-made shoes and sandals.

There are many more souvenir shops with a vast assortment of German items, such as clocks, smokers, and ornaments. There are also several shops with t-shirts, Swiss Army knives, sweets, and much more.

Have fun perusing a few stores or more to work up an appetite for a delicious German snack, like fried snowballs, a.k.a Schneeballen. These deep fried balls of dough are yummy and come in a variety of flavors.

Tour the Old Town

First on my list of places to visit in the historic old town is Plönlein. (top middle photo) This iconic area translates to "small place by the fountain". Just past the tower is the old city moat filled with water. Walking through this area will make you feel like you've walked back in time.

A walk to the Market Square and Town Hall is a must! This area is the heart of Rothenburg and is a great place to sit and people watch. Whether you want to sit on the steps of the town hall or opt for a table outside at one of the many eateries, you will have plenty of options to choose from. Also, at the top of the hour, witness the magic of the clock tower that portrays a funny anecdote. Read the story here.

(Bottom three photos above) Starting in the photos from left to right is the Marketplace fountain, once used to provide water for animals when for sale at the market. This is also the location to meet the Nightwatchman for a night tour of the town. The next photo is of the clock tower also called Rastrinkstube. The clock chimes every hour on the hour from 10am to 10 pm. In the bottom right photo you will see the Town Hall/Rathaus. The Rathaus was built in 1240 and has a 200 ft. tall tower that you can climb to get commanding views of Rothenburg.

Take A Nightwatchman's Tour

Take a stroll with the Night Watchman of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. The meeting point is at the Market Square in front of the Town Hall at 8:00 pm from April - December. No reservations are needed, just show up. The cost is €9 for adults and €4.50 for students and children over 12. Under 12 years old is free.

In this informative one hour walk, Hans Georg Baumgartner, a local resident, will enlighten you about why there was a need for a night watchman in towns such as Rothenburg, as well as some fascinating history of the town.

Eating in Rothenburg

Eat Spaghetti Eis

You may be asking what is Spaghetti Eis? It is the super fun German way to eat ice cream (Eis) with strawberry sauce and shaved white chocolate.

What a brilliant idea!!! German people are so innovative. Who would have thought that you could make ice cream look like a bowl of spaghetti! Just imagine, softened vanilla ice cream extruded through a potato ricer into a bowl, covered with a bright red and juicy strawberry sauce, and then topped off with a shaving of white chocolate. Chef's kiss!!!!!!

If you prefer chocolate, enjoy the Spaghetti Carbonara which is ice cream with dark chocolate and nuts. Guten Appetit!

We enjoyed this scrumptious creation at Eis Cafe' Dolomiti in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Located just one block away from the Market Square, this fun cafe' has indoor and outdoor seating for you to sit and relax and enjoy your delicious treat.

Lunch Options

There are so many dining options in Rothenburg that it can be hard to choose where to eat. For a wonderful, quick, and delicious lunch, we ate at TobinGo Döner. Döner is a very popular German street food that is traditionally Turkish. After WWII, Germany needed help to reconstruct, therefore, many people from Turkey came to help. Now, Turkish people make up the largest immigrant population in Germany and their food is very popular.

Döner is a delicious meat cooked on a vertical spit, then shaved onto a roll or pita with various toppings to choose from. It is very similar to a Greek gyro, but on another level.

At TobinGo Döner you can get your sandwich made up and eat at an indoor or outdoor table, along with some crispy french fries and, of course, a German beer.

Dinner Options

Alter Keller

On our first visit to Rothenburg, we ate dinner at the lovely Alter Keller. We enjoyed delicious German fare at this restaurant/hotel. The ambiance was warm and cozy with wood beams throughout the restaurant. There are many options to choose from on their menu, such as steak with frites and a mushroom and pepper gravy, käse spaetzle (cheesy pasta) or salmon with asparagus. Reservations are a must at this popular restaurant, so call ahead and secure a time to eat here.

Reichs Kuchenmeister

In the hotel we stayed at, Hotel Reichs Kuchenmeister, there is a beer garden and a restaurant which is open for lunch and dinner and serves a wide selection of unique and delicious Franconian specialties. After a day of snacking and sightseeing, we wanted to have a light dinner and Reichs Kuchenmeister fit the bill.

Reservations are recommended when dining here, especially during the summer when the restaurant is crowded. We enjoyed sampling some of the beers served here along with an appetizer of obatzda and the best rye bread I've ever eaten. For our entree, we shared a very light, but flavorful Flammkuchen with bacon and chives. Flammkuchen is a very thin bread dough rolled out in an oval shape and topped with crème fraîche and other toppings. This was a perfect meal to enjoy after a full day in Rothenburg.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is such a magical, fun and relaxing town to visit with so many unique and varied things to do. Take time to wander the cobblestone streets, tour historic buildings, investigate the medieval architecture, and roam the area at night when the town shines like a star.

Spend at least a couple of days to explore this intriguing town and partake of the delicious Franconian foods that Rothenburg has to offer. I guarantee that you will fall in love with the character and charm of this city and look forward to when you will return. I know I did. Now it's time to get into our rented BMW and fly down the AutoBahn to the Oktoberfest in Munich! Read my blog entry about this portion of our our trip here.


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