Stepping into a Fairytale: Two Days in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Rothenburg above the Tauber River. It’s the fairytale Bavarian town that graced my Instagram feed often enough to completely highjack the itinerary of a six day trip to Germany. I was headed to Frankfurt to visit one of my best friends, and ridiculous as it may be, there was one particular photo that swayed me in its direction. It’s literal direction, by the way, is approximately two hours by car or three hours by train southeast of Frankfurt. Here’s the scene that drew me in like a bug to a very, very pretty light.
And Rothenburg is not just a pretty place to take photos. The town has a rich and fascinating history, going back as far as 1070, the year Rothenburg’s first castle was built. I’m actually glad I went knowing nothing about it, as there is an activity I’ll suggest later that provides you with the history of the town in a very entertaining way. If you do want a history lesson beforehand, check out this timeline from Insider Germany Facts. It doesn’t give away any of the fun stories and details that you can get in person.
The medieval town is part of the famous Romantic Road and is entirely fortified and quite small, so if you’re wondering how much time you need to explore, two days and one night are totally sufficient. We stayed for two nights and considered leaving early, but found nice country walks and delicious restaurants to occupy our free time instead.
Where to buy train tickets:
Trainline is a great site for finding train and bus tickets in Europe. The site is very easy to use, and you don’t need to print anything out- the electronic tickets on your phone are valid proof of purchase and can be shown to the conductor on the train. To give you an idea about price, our Friday morning to Sunday evening trip from Frankfurt to Rothenburg cost approximately €50 each round-trip.
Where to Stay:
There is a wide variety of hotel options in Rothenburg, and I highly suggest staying within the walls. It was so convenient to be able to pop in and out of the hotel for a rest or to charge phones, and not waste any time getting back to the main attractions.
Hotel Eisenhut was our choice for a two night stay. It’s a four-star hotel made up of four converted 16th century mansions. No room is like the other, and it is furnished with beautiful antique furniture. The atmosphere perfectly matched the town outside, making you feel like you really have gone back in time.
What to Do:
The Night Watchman’s Tour
I’ll begin with the best thing I did in Rothenburg: the Night Watchman’s Tour. The tour meets nightly at 8:00 PM in the Market Square in front of the Town Hall and is held in English. You can’t miss the man in the long black robes holding a multi-purpose weapon with a lantern hanging from it. I wondered if the same man could possibly run the tour nightly, but his face is all over the internet and I dare say he does. This is a lucky thing for you, because he is PHENOMENAL. You’ll get to experience the town at night, and wander the dimly lit streets while listening to the Night Watchman’s fascinating stories about Medieval life in Rothenburg, the Thirty Years' War, WWII, and the present. At €8 per person for an hour-long tour, I can’t recommend it enough. No reservation needed, and you pay at the end. Just meet in the square!
Walk the City Walls
If you fancy a nice stroll with amazing views, walk the city walls. It’s completely free, self-guided and the best way to see Rothenburg. To walk the entire perimeter is roughly 2.5 miles, however there are many points at which you can exit (or enter!) the wall. I wouldn’t even recommend any particular route, just hop on, hop off for a beer or a bite, hop back on, and so on! Something you’ll notice as you walk are the many plaques along the wall with names, dates, and a number (1 M, 5 M, etc.) During WWII, American bombs destroyed a large chunk of the wall. Left with no money, Rothenburg turned to the world asking for help and donations. People sponsored 1 meter-long sections of the wall, and now you can see their names alongside the number of sections they bought.
Climb the Röder Tower
For one of the best views of the city, pay €2 to climb to the top of the Röder Tower, one of only two accessible towers in Rothenburg. The tower at the top of the Röder has small windows on three sides that look out over the fairytale streets, country landscapes, and church. Here’s an example of the view you can expect to see.
Climb the Rathausturm (Town Hall Tower)
For more views of Rothenburg, visit the second accessible tower belonging to the Town Hall. You’ll make your way up 220 steps starting from the Town Hall’s main door to a viewing platform overlooking the Market Square and all of Rothenburg.
Interested in Medieval means of torture and punishment? You can check out Rothenburg’s Medieval Crime and Justice Museum. On a sunny day, we opted for walking around vs. going into the museum, but I will say it was a real lifesaver when I was looking for a postcard and EVERY souvenir shop was closed on Sunday. Time your souvenir shopping wisely!
Käthe Wohlfahrt – Weihnachtsdorf (Christmas Shop)
Conveniently enough, this festive establishment was located right next door to our hotel. If you want to celebrate Christmas anytime of year, this is your spot. It’s a magical place to just wander around- you’ll find cute displays, traditionally dressed staff members, and a massive rotating Christmas tree that you’re unfortunately not permitted to take photos of. Pick up an ornament or two for your own tree while you’re there!
St. Jakobs Kirche (St. James's Church)
Built between 1311 and 1485, this beautiful church (more like a cathedral, really) is the main church in Rothenburg, and lies along the pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. For €2.50, you can stop in and have a look around, and much to my delight, you’ll even walk out with a postcard!
Take a Hike!
There are many great trails to explore just outside of the city walls, and I suggest you do! Find the castle gardens and you’ll find a trail departing from the left side that winds down a steep hill to meet the Tauber Valley. From here you can visit Töppler Castle, a funny little building that looks like a tiny blue house stacked onto a concrete block. It was home to mayor Heinrich Töppler in the 1400s. You can also walk along the river and explore the scenic countryside.
Where to Eat
Rothenburg is full of inviting restaurants and cafes, but here are the few that I can speak for:
If you’re looking for breakfast or brunch, this cozy café might be the best choice in town, and will likely be very busy if you’re visiting on a weekend. Its vintage décor gives it a warm atmosphere, and their tea mugs are massive- just how I like them!
This Italian restaurant was located directly across the street from our hotel, and while it wasn’t the best Italian food I’ve ever had, it did an acceptable job of satisfying my pizza/pasta cravings.
Alter Keller was my favorite restaurant of all. The country décor is super charming, and the food was delicious. Go for a jaeger schnitzel, please!
Located right in the town’s main square, this restaurant has some decent traditional food, including one of the best apple strudels I’ve ever had. You might even find some men in fun costumes chilling outside.
Rated as the #1 restaurant in Rothenburg, this Italian spot is a little more on the formal side, but as far as I could tell was very deserving of its rave reviews. I opted for a tasty lasagna.
And that is all! I hope you find Rothenburg as magical and charming as I did! Questions? Comments? Leave them below!