Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the highlights of Germany’s Romantic Road and an authentic medieval treasure. It’s located in the Ansbach district, in the Franconia region of Bavaria, about halfway between Frankfurt and Munich.
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HOW TO REACH ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER
This small, quaint, and picturesque town can be easily reached by train or by car. We truly recommend the latter as it makes it easier to explore this interesting thematic road and discover many beautiful towns along the way. The autobahn A7 is the fastest and shortest route to Rothenburg ob der Tauber but the fabulous Romantic Road is more scenic and ensures the chance of visiting fairytale castles and enjoying one of the most splendid natural views in central Europe.
American tourists interested in this car journey can buy car rental insurance online and enjoy a safe and nice drive. However, remember that parking here can be a bit trickier and that’s why you’re advised to leave the car outside the walls and walk your way through the city.
A FAIRYTALE DESTINATION
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, positioned on the steep banks of the River Tauber, looks much as it did in medieval times and thousands of tourists flock to this place attracted by its several fascinating points of interest that invite them to travel back in time. From the charming old town itself to the various historic buildings, cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses, and the stoned wall that surrounds the whole town, it’s a remarkable town to discover.
Even though it’s small in size, it’s packed with plenty of attractions and you’ll probably need more than a day to take in everything it has to offer. That said, you should stay overnight and, if possible, try to visit it off-season to avoid the crowds.
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Intrigued to find out what’s in for you in Rothenburg ob der Tauber? Go on reading to catch a glimpse of some of the fantastic attractions you can appreciate here.
The Plonlein: The Most Instagrammable Spot in Town
We start our list with the Plonlein, the most iconic spot in Rothenburg. Translated to English as “little square”, it’s actually a picturesque half-timbered yellow house with green windows settled in the intersection of a forked street; one lane leads to the Siebers Tower on the left and the other slopes to the Kobolzeller Tower on the right.
The Plonlein is probably the most photographed spot in town and in Germany. So you may find it hard to take a picture without somebody photobombing the shoot. As a piece of advice, early in the morning and late in the afternoon/early evening are the best times as tour groups haven’t arrived yet or have already left.
Stroll the Medieval City Walls
One of the unmissable things to do here is a stroll around the fortified medieval wall that surrounds the town. Together with the medieval towers, they are quite a spectacular view as Rothenburg ob der Tauber is surrounded by a town wall, 6 medieval gates, and 42 towers. Therefore, the Tower Trail is the best way to explore them all. It was built in the XIV century but it was partially destroyed during WWII. Fortunately, it was restored thanks to the contribution of thousands of donors from around the world.
What makes these medieval city walls so special is that they are 2.5 kilometers long and they are the only ones left intact in Germany. Even though it’s quite a long trail and you should devote two to three hours to the walk, but the views from the top are absolutely rewarding. Also, there are stairs to help you get up or down next to almost any tower.
The Tower Trail follows the perimeter of Rothenburg’s city wall. You’ll see information boards to tell you the history, significance, and features of a portion of the wall. The most interesting highlights along the way are: Klingentor (Klingen Gate), Rodentor (Roder Gate), Rossmuhle (Old Horse Mill), Galgentor (Gallows Gate), Burgtor (Castle Gate), Spitaltor (Hospital Tower and Gate Bastion) and Gerlachschmiede (Blacksmith’s Shop).
Walking along the medieval walls is an invitation to a trip back in time. So, it’s one of the must-dos while in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Although it’s fairly safe for families, it’s advisable to watch children carefully. Moreover, there is a side railing to protect from falls and plenty of openings for smaller children to peer out. However, the walking path is narrow and it may require squeezing by other visitors.
Explore the Medieval Gates and Towers
As we’ve already said, Rothenburg is home to many towers that date from medieval times. Here we’ll mention the most remarkable ones:
Built between 1395 and 1403, it’s one of the most intriguing towers from an architectural point of view. The gate forms an entrance to the town walls and the foot of St Wolfgang’s church. It is said that it was possible to climb the tower from inside the church. Thus allowing defenders to fire on the attackers who had already made it as far as the ramparts.
It’s not only a water towel but the copper tank inside it fed the town’s fountains when it was not in use. Moreover, you can climb to the top for a small fee and from there you can see across the town and the Tauber Valley.
Spitaltor is also known as the Hospital Gate. It features an XVI century bastion with inner courtyards and its own gates. There’s a Latin inscription on the gate that reads “Pax intrantibus, salus exeuntibus” which means “Peace to those who enter, Hail to those who go out”. Spitaltor is a great starting point for your exploration of the Old Town.
Spitaltor is unique due to its eight-figure. It has a cannon gallery. If you explore the bastion you’ll be able to appreciate medieval warfare. It’s the southernmost tip of Rothenburg’s fortifications. Near the Spital Quarters, there are three remarkable buildings that are worth visiting: Heregeiter House (the kitchen of the infirmary hospital; Stöberleinsturm, and Stöberlein’s State (an open mini-amphitheater facing the covered stair walkway).
The Rodertor was one of the old access roads into the city and seems to have been taken out directly from a fairy tale. They are actually tow gates: one was for horses and wagons and the other for pedestrian
The Rodertor is one of the five gates into the preserved medieval walled town and it’s the closest to the train station. After driving through the Rodertor you’ll enter the old city. However, there are stairs from which you can access the walkway of the town walls. This is the only tower along the wall that you can climb to the top and it houses a special exhibit about the tower to go along with the views. There are small windows on three sides of the tower that look out over the fairytale streets and the countryside.
The Burgtor or Castle Gate was built after the Castle of Rothenburg. It was destroyed in an earthquake in 1356. There are two round buildings at the entrance: one was the former guardhouse and the other was the customs house where foreigners had to pay a toll. The middle gate of the Burgtor bastion has a mask with a hole at the mouth which was used by the defenders to pour hot pitch on the heads of their enemies during attacks.
Therefore, Burgtor is the westernmost gate and it has the highest gate tower among the city’s fortification system.
Visit Rothernburg’s Castle Garden
Where there once stood a castle in Rothenburg ob der Tauber there’s now a beautiful garden. This is one of the most wonderful green spaces in town. Especially, at sunset, it’s a great place to relax, have a picnic and enjoy the lovely views of the Bavarian countryside. The garden boasts of geometrically designed flower beds depicting the XVIII and XIX century styles. Moreover, there are also eight sandstone figures that are set up to represent the four seasons and the four elements. Some of the monuments that can be admired here are the statue of Franz Joseph, the Mozart Statue, the Hercules Fountain, and the House of Butter.
Explore the Marktplatz
The Marktplatz or Market Square is another must-see place in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. It’s surrounded by stunning buildings such as the Rathaus or Town Hall and the Ratstrinkstube or Councilors’ Tavern. It’s also home to the annual Christmas Market. As you admire the Councilors’ Tavern, look up to the clock with the carillon that rings at 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, and 22 hours telling the story of Rothenburg’s salvation during the Thirty Years’ War when the Burgomaster Mayor Nusch was commanded to gulp down seven pints in one by Count Tilly and thus saved the town from total destruction.
The Clock Tower now immortalizes that historic moment with Count Tilly appearing in the left window on the hour and Mayor Nusch in the right window, lifting a tankard to its lips. Centrally located in the Old Town, there are many nice patrician houses nearby as well.
Climb up the Rathaus
The imposing building of the Rathaus is located at the heart of the Marktplatz and dominates the whole scene. Built-in the XIII century and rebuilt 300 years later after a fire, its Baroque-style arcade towers over the central Marktplatz. It’s perhaps the most notable building in town as it combines Gothic and Renaissance architecture with a quaint, fascinating array of skylight windows and an impressive large stone portico opening onto the square.
After exploring it for a bit, climb up the 220 twisting steps to the Town Hall Tower’s observation platform. From there, the panoramic views are truly spectacular and they comprise the town and the countryside as well. However, it’s not for the faint of heart on windy days! The climb itself is quite challenging.
Carefully walk down the steep steps and make your way to Rothenburg Historical Vaults that are located underneath the Town Hall. They bring back the era of the Thirty Years War. Also, the visitors can see 14 impressive vaults, objects, and scenes from the period including execution and torture instruments and prison cells that illustrate the dark side of medieval times. One of the twelve dungeons, the Imperial Dungeon, is considered Rothenburg’s oldest prison and it houses a guardhouse, a torture room, and 3 jail cells.
Visit the Rothenburg Medieval Crime and Justice Museum
The Rothenburg Medieval Crime and Justice Museum is the largest museum of legal rights in Europe and it has a unique focus on medieval criminal justice. In its expansive 3000 sqm exhibition space, it shows the legal development from the late Middle Ages to the XIX century.
Here you’ll see ancient instruments of torture, weapons and learn about some of the stranger laws that ruled the people of Rothenburg back in the day. Quirky, strange, and terrifying at times, is a must-do in Rothenburg. The whole lower level and a large part of the 2nd-floor area were devoted to implements that would turn stomachs. Also, it has the best display of criminal punishment devices in all of Europe.
Displays include an array of chastity belts, masks of disgrace for gossips, a cage for cheating bakers, a neck brace for quarrelsome women, and a beer-barrel pen for drunks. You can also find objects used to penalize anyone caught using witchcraft and sorcery. Probably, the most striking artifacts you’ll see are the Iron Maiden, the shame masks, and the Spiky Chair…. Items straight out of a horror movie!
An entire selection is dedicated to the treatment of women and to the terrible witch-hunt that took place in the region in the XVII century.
Visit St Jacob’s Church
St Jacob’s Church, erected between 1311 and 1484 is only a short walk from the Marktplatz. It’s an impressive building and the inside of the church offers an interesting assortment of religious art. Stained glass windows tell the story of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. With its stunning Gothic arches, towering spires, and imposing lancet windows, the church is an essential stop. Consecrated in 1484, it’s situated along with the Ways of St James to Santiago de Compostela and pilgrims arrive here each year as part of their pilgrimage.
St Jacob’s Church is the town’s spiritual home especially since it embraced Martin Luther’s Reformation and it became “the people’s church”.
Take your time to admire the inside of St Jacob’s. Amongst the highlights you can’t miss are:
- The Great Organ was built by Rieger Orgelbau with 69 organ stops, 108 ranks and 5500 pipes. It’s an elegant musical instrument and one of the largest in Bavaria.
- The Twelve Apostles Altar, which resembles a work of art
- The Altar of the Holy Blood: If you take the stairs that are behind the organ, you’ll find another chapel-like room. There is a carved wooden altarpiece up here and in the center of the piece is a drop of Jesus’ blood.
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