Rothenburg ob der Tauber (literally Red Castle above the Tauber), a picturesque town nestled in the heart of Germany, is where history comes alive! With its well-preserved medieval architecture, rich cultural heritage, and association with popular culture, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a must-visit destination for travellers seeking to immerse themselves in the past.
Founded in the 10th century, Rothenburg ob der Tauber flourished during the Middle Ages as a trading hub along the Romantic Road, a major trade route in Europe. Today, the town is renowned for its exceptional preservation, with the historic centre being a treasure trove of architectural marvels. Walking through the cobblestone streets, visitors are greeted by towering fortified walls, magnificent gates, and half-timbered houses.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s allure extends beyond its historical significance, as it has also found a place in popular culture. The town’s picturesque beauty has been featured in films such as “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm” which showcased Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s distinctive charm, cementing its status as a beloved destination. The town also inspired the 1940 Disney animated film “Pinocchio” and was also the filming location for other movies such as “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” (both 1 and 2)!
Additionally, the town’s enchanting reputation as the Christmas capital of Germany evokes a magical atmosphere and draws visitors from near and far during the holiday season. But even if you don’t visit the town during the Christmas season, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a town where it’s Christmas all year round!
Brief history of Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s history stretches back to the Middle Ages when it flourished as an important trading hub. As part of the Roman Empire, the town prospered and built its iconic fortifications, including walls and towers that protected it from enemy attacks.
However, the town’s fate took a dark turn during the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century. Rothenburg ob der Tauber was besieged and suffered extensive damage. The war resulted in a decline in population and economic growth, leaving the town in a state of disrepair.
In the 19th century, Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s unique medieval charm drew the attention of artists and scholars who sought to preserve its architectural heritage. Efforts were made to restore the town, both physically and culturally.
Tragically, during World War II, Rothenburg ob der Tauber was again impacted. Allied bombing raids damaged parts of the town, including the town hall and several buildings along the main street. However, the heart of the town remained intact, thanks to the quick actions of its residents.
Today, Rothenburg ob der Tauber stands as a perfectly preserved medieval town, enchanting visitors with its narrow cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses, and well-preserved city walls.
To delve deeper into its history, we highly recommend taking one of the engaging and informative walking tours. The Night Watchman, the Craftsman’s Widow Walburga, and the Executioner walking tours provide not just knowledge but also an entertaining experience, allowing visitors to thoroughly enjoy and understand the town’s fascinating past.
How to Visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber?
Your trip down the Romantic Road would be incomplete without a visit to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Most visitors take a day trip to this charming medieval town either from Munich or Frankfurt. Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a 2.5-hour drive from Munich or a 2-hour drive from Frankfurt.
The best car rental options in Frankfurt
There are car parks located just outside the walled city, next to the gates, making it easy to park and access on foot.
You can also reach Rothenburg ob der Tauber via train, and the train station is a 15-minute walk from the old walled town.
However, we highly recommend spending a night or two in the town. It’s the best way to explore the old town and appreciate all that it has to offer. Not only that but once the day trippers leave, you practically have the town to yourself.
Hotels inside the walled city
If we’ve convinced you to stay in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, then here are our recommendations for accommodation inside the walled city.
Gästehaus am Plönlein is where we spent two magical nights inside the fortified town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
The guesthouse is located on the Plönlein, right beside the Kobolzeller Tower.
If the location doesn’t excite you, well then the view of the Tauber Valley from the room should! Our hosts were extremely welcoming and gracious and gave us some amazing tips for the city.
Having personally stayed at Gästehaus am Plönlein, we rank it as our top pick.Book Gästehaus am Plönlein
If you’re looking for something a bit more luxurious, then look no further than Hotel Herrnschloesschen.
Located next to the Castle Garden, this hotel is inside one of Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s oldest buildings and stands directly opposite the Franciscan Monastery. The property also has its own Baroque Garden and private parking for guests (most hotels ask guests to park in the public spaces outside the walled city).Book Hotel Herrnschloesschen
Situated on the other side of the Plönlein, next to the Siebersturm, is another well-known establishment in Rothenburg ob der Tauber – Glocke Winery and Hotel.
Primarily known for its Franconian wine and food (see below for our restaurant recommendations), Glocke also has a small hotel above the restaurant.Book Glocke Weingut und Hotel
Located just behind the Church of St. James, in a historic building is Altfraenkische Weinstube. The hotel is known for its quaint charm and interior wooden decor.Book Altfraenkische Weinstube
Located on one of the most colourful streets in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Gästehaus Alter Keller is a family-run establishment that is an easy recommendation. The hotel also has a highly-rated restaurant.Book Gästehaus Alter Keller
More hotels in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Rothenburg ob der Tauber – Unveiling Hidden Marvels and Must-Do Activities
There is another reason why we highly recommend spending the night in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Despite its small size, the walled city offers an abundance of sights, attractions, restaurants, shops, and museums that cannot be fully experienced during a day trip.
Therefore, to ensure you have ample time to explore, here are our top recommendations for things to do and see while visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
1. Discover The Plönlein
Search for pictures of Rothenburg ob der Tauber and they will invariably be of The Plönlein. And it isn’t without reason.
The Plönlein in Rothenburg ob der Tauber encapsulates the town’s fairy tale charm and transports visitors to a romanticized medieval world. It is Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s most famous landmark as it has come to serve as a template for medieval architecture in Europe.
The Plönlein consists of a tilted and crooked yellow half-timbered house, with a small fountain in front of it, surrounded by half-timbered houses and two watchtowers on either side. This collection of structures has inspired artists and designers over the years, starting with Walt Disney’s classic “Pinocchio” from 1940.
The Plönlein, meaning “Little Square,” is not only a visual delight but also an embodiment of the town’s cultural identity, making it an essential stop for anyone visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
2. Wander around the Market Square (Marktplatz) and Town Hall
A short walk from the Plönlein is Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s centre, the Market Square and Town Hall Tower. Stand at the centre and you’ll be enamoured by all the history and architecture that surrounds you.
The most prominent structure is the Town Hall with its grand stairs and Renaissance facade. Attached to the Town Hall is its tower. You can take the 220 steps to the viewing platform at the top of the Town Hall Tower for incredible views of Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s walled city and surrounding area.
Surrounding the Marktplatz are colourful half-timbered houses. Don’t miss the famous Fountain of St. George next to Marien-Apotheke (St. Mary’s Pharmacy, aka Jagstheimer House).
On the other side is the Ratstrinkstube Clock Tower (Uhr der Ratstrinkstube), which is not your ordinary clock tower. When the clock chimes, the doors open to reenact the legendary story of a brave mayor who drank nearly a gallon of wine to save his city.
3. Marvel At The German Christmas Museum, Christmas Village, and Christmas Market
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is often regarded as Germany’s Christmas capital. The annual Christmas Market in the Market Square is one of the old town’s top attractions in the winter.
But you can still experience the magic of winter wonderland in Rothenburg ob der Tauber any time of the year by visiting the German Christmas Museum and Christmas Village at Käthe Wohlfahrt on Herrngasse (look for the red gift car).
The German Christmas Museum is a fascinating journey through time that explains how Christmas was once celebrated in Germany and how certain customs developed in various regions of the country.
It is an eye-opening experience to learn about Christmas traditions from trees to tree ornaments and the origins of many modern-day celebrations.
The museum has on display historic Christmas trees, ornaments and candle arches. And at the bottom of the museum is the Christmas Village – a Christmas shopping paradise with thousands and thousands of Christmas decorations and ornaments!
And if that wasn’t enough, there is a Christmas Market (Christkindlmarkt, by Käthe Wohlfahrt) opposite the German Christmas Museum where you can buy thousands of Christmas decorations and ornaments.
4. Hunt For Wooden Toys & Cuckoo Clocks
And there’s another thing that Rothenburg ob der Tauber is famous for – traditional German wooden toys.
Walk around the old town and you’ll notice beautiful window displays of handcrafted wooden toys that make you want to enter the shops and buy everything.
And it’s not just wooden toys, but also cuckoo clocks. If you’re looking to purchase a genuine, hand-made cuckoo clock, save it for when you visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
5. Experience The Night Watchman Tour
There is no better way to learn the history of a place than to experience it. And that’s what the Night Watchman Tour at Rothenburg ob der Tauber aim to achieve.
There are a couple of historical town tours that are available to anyone in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, but none are as famous or entertaining as the Night Watchman Tour.
The Night Watchman Tour was perhaps the highlight of our trip because it made learning about the history of the city fun, engaging, and interactive.
There is so much history (and fun historical facts) in Rothenburg ob der Tauber and reading about it just doesn’t cut it when you can be out there experiencing it, with a bit of dramatic flair!
The tour is available from the 1st of April to the 30th of December (except for December 24) and requires no reservation. Just show up at the Market Square in front of the Town Hall at 8 PM. It costs 9 Euros for adults, 4.50 Euros for students, and kids under 12 years old are free of charge. Visit the Night Watchman Tour website to learn more.
However, if you’re unable to attend the Nightwatchman Tour, you can also book a private walking tour of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
6. Tour The Church of St. James
The St. James Church (St.Jakobs Kirche) is a Lutheran church which serves as a church on the pilgrimage route to St. James Church in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
Don’t miss the statue dedicated to the pilgrimage and a sculpture outside the church.
But the highlight of the church is the Holy Blood Altar by Tilman Riemenschneider. The church also showcases stunning architecture, intricate detailing, and awe-inspiring stained glass windows.
Walk around to the back of the church to admire the Jugendheim, another beautiful building in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
7. Tread The Tower Trail Through The City Wall & Gates
Rothenburg ob der Tauber boasts a captivating fortification that has safeguarded it throughout history.
The city is protected by a wall and a valley (only on one side) that have protected it from enemy attacks. Six main gates allow access to the old town and each gate has a tower above it. The gates and towers are connected via a passageway built into the wall, known as the Tower Trail, which presents an exceptional opportunity to explore the town.
This walking path, accessible through steps within the main city gates, provides a unique perspective to appreciate the medieval beauty of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
The six gates of Rothenburg ob der Tauber are:
- Rödertor (Röder Gate) on the north-east side of the wall
- Galgentor (Gallows Gate) on the eastern side of the wall
- Klingentor (Klingen Gate) on the northern side of the wall
- Burgtor (Castle Gate) on the western side of the wall
- Kobolzeller Tor (Kobollzell Gate) on the south-west side of the wall
- Spitaltor (Spital Gate) on the south side of the wall
Unless you plan to spend more than a day in Rothenburg ob der Tauber or cover the Tower Trail, it might not be possible to visit all gates. But some gates are easier to visit than others.
The entrance to the Castle Garden is through the Burgtor. The Burgtor is a unique gate in that it is the only gate that has a small opening for a single person to squeeze through. The history behind the smaller gate is if a resident of Rothenburg ob der Tauber had to enter the city after the other gates had closed for the night, they could only enter through the Burgtor, after proving their identity.
Apart from the Burgtor, the Spitaltor is another gate worth visiting. Here you can climb above into the armoury, where the cannons were once kept facing out through the windows.
And, if you head down to the valley, be sure to make your way back up the Kobolzeller Tor.
And finally, as you’re walking around the town, look out for Markusturm and Weisser Turm, two gateways of the first fortification of Rothenburg ob der Tauber around 1200.
8. Head Down To The Tauber Valley and Double Bridge (Doppelbrücke)
Up till now, I’ve mentioned all the interesting vantage points that you can climb up to get an amazing view of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. But how about a much lower viewing point?
The Tauber River flows to the west of Rothenburg ob der Tauber and there are plenty of trails that lead you down into the valley. Once you’re able to locate one, make your way down to the Tauber River, where there are a couple of points of interest.
One is a quaint little church known as the Unsere liebe Frau zu Kobolzell situated along the banks of the river. And next to the church is the famous Double Bridge (Doppelbrücke) on the Eselsbrücke, an old trade route.
The Double Bridge is famous for its double arches that are reminiscent of Roman architecture. The story behind the arches is that the original bridge turned out to be too short, so they just built another bridge across the Tauber River.
And for the best views of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, stand on top of the Double Bridge and look up from the valley.
There are more attractions along the river, including the famous Toppler Castle (which we unfortunately missed). And once you’re done exploring the Tauber Valley, remember to return to the old town via the Kobolzeller Tor.
9. Embark on a picturesque Panorama Walk
If you want to admire the Tauber Valley from above, there is a panorama trail that runs just outside the city wall.
From here, you can admire the vineyards and look down on the valley and river.
The panorama trail is accessible from other smaller pedestrian gates along the wall.
10. Unwind At The Castle Garden
Here’s a fun fact. There’s a Castle Garden in Rothenburg ob der Tauber but no castle!
The castle was destroyed a long time ago (some of its bricks were reused in many parts of the old city) and in its place today is a beautiful garden.
The Castle Garden offers splendid views of the Tauber Valley and of Rothenburg ob der Tauber itself from its various viewing platforms.
The grounds are a perfect place to sit down and take it easy. Inside the Castle Garden are a few sights too, such as a small baroque-styled garden and the Blasius chapel.
On your way out, be sure to inspect the Burgator and the mini-gate built into it.
11. Appreciate The Half Timbered Houses and Cobblestone Streets
Perhaps it’s the history or the association with popular culture. After all, this is the town that inspired “Pinocchio” and has been featured in several Hollywood movies.
We spent most of our days simply walking around the town, admiring its immaculately preserved history and architecture.
12. Step Back in Time at The Medieval Crime Museum
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a city of many museums. And if you need help deciding which ones to visit, we recommend the Medieval Crime Museum.
The museum has over 50,000 exhibits that trace the history of European and German law, trials and torture, sentencing and punishment, public shaming and much more.
Many of the exhibits are fascinating, and depending on how old you are and which part of the world you’re from, you might relate to some of them personally. Yikes!
The Medieval Crime Museum traces the history of laws, crime, torture, punishment, and more to tell a compelling story and captivate its audience.
13. Savour Local Delicacies at The Best Restaurants in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
As food lovers, the first question we asked our host at Gästehaus am Plönlein was, “Which are the restaurants we must eat at while in Rothenburg ob der Tauber?”
These was her top 3:
To be fair, we knew about Zur Höll long before arriving in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Zur Höll, literally “To Hell”, is one of the oldest buildings in the old town, dating back to AD 900, and one of the oldest taverns in the world!
The restaurant is known for its extensive selection of Franconian wine and house beer, local delicacies and a cosy environment.
Don’t miss out on their pork knuckle and kaiserschmarrn!
This wine bar is in the oldest house in Rothenburg ob der Tauber and should not be missed by anyone visiting the town.
Due to extremely high demand, especially during peak tourist season, we highly recommend that you reserve your table well in advance. And during the summer months, you can even reserve a table in their beer garden.
FYI, we made our dinner reservation 2 months prior.
D-91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Opening hours: Daily from 5 p.m., Sunday is a day off
Located at the Plönlein, Glocke Restaurant (part of the Glocke Hotel) is another fine family restaurant in Rothenburg ob der Tauber that’s been in business since 1898.
The name Glocke, literally “bell”, pays tribute to the St. John the Baptist Hospital that once stood in its place.
Prime location aside, the Glocke restaurant serves up some of the finest Franconian delicacies, made from the freshest local ingredients.
Much like Zur Höll, Glocke also produces its own wine. And I must admit, I don’t think I’ve had a better red in my life!
And speaking of wine, you must try their Wine Cream. It is truly divine!
91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Phone: +49 9861 958990
Although we didn’t get a chance to personally visit Am Platzl, everyone in the town spoke highly about it.
From its patio dining and selection of dishes, you must consider visiting Am Platzl.
91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Phone: +49 1523 1633294
Eiscafé Dolce Vita
Although technically not a restaurant, Eiscafé Dolce Vita is an ice cream shop located next to the Medieval Crime Museum.
Every time I crossed it during our stay, I saw a long line of customers waiting their turn.
On our last morning, before the crowds arrived, I went to the cafe, and unsurprisingly, there was no line. I ordered a scoop of ice cream and needless to say, it was delectable!
Ob. Schmiedgasse 23,
91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
14. Devour a Schneeball
While we’re on the subject of food, another must-try dessert in Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the Schneeball.
A Schneeball or Schneeballen (literally “snowball” in English), is a pastry made from shortcrust pastry. And it happens to be especially popular in the area of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Practically every cafe in the old town has a variety of Schneeballen on display.
Biting into one of these pastries feels like biting into a spherical, soft cookie that gently crumbles in your mouth. Just writing about it is making me drool!
Rothenburg ob der Tauber – Germany’s Medieval Fairy Tale Town
We hope that this post was able to help you plan your visit to this enchanting town!
With its rich history, immaculate preservation, and influence in popular culture, Rothenburg ob der Tauber has rightfully earned its reputation as one of Germany’s most captivating destinations. Whether strolling along the town’s narrow lanes, exploring its historical sites, or immersing oneself in its fairy-tale ambience, Rothenburg ob der Tauber promises an unforgettable journey back in time.
And if you enjoyed this post, please be sure to check out our Rothenburg ob der Tauber photo gallery for more pictures of the town.