Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a picture perfect German town famous for its well preserved medieval old town looking like a place straight out of a fairy tale. It was part of our one week road trip in Bavaria and we would like to share how to visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber – a fairy tale town in Germany – and what’s there to see and do. We stayed in Rothenburg for two nights and would recommend you to spend at least a full day in this beautiful town to enjoy it at a leisurely pace.
A bit of history
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is more than 700 years old. It was founded in the 12th century by Konrad von Hohenstaufen, who built the Stauffer Castle Rothenburg there. The city of Rothenburg has started to grow and expand, with building St. James’ Church, city walls and towers. In the 13th century it became one of largest cities in the Holy Roman Empire.
Name of the city translates from German as “Red castle above the Tauber” because of all of its red roofs and overlooking the Tauber river.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber continued to grow and develop up to the 17th century when the Thirty Years War happened in Central Europe depleting the town of its wealth. Most of the old town we see nowadays looks the same as it was since the 17th century.
In the 19th century Rothenburg ob der Tauber became part of Bavaria.
WW2 period and Nazi
During Nazi period Rothenburg ob der Tauber was a special city representing an ideal German town. It was promoted as “the most German of German towns”. Nazis even organized regular day trips to Rothenburg from all across the Reich. As you can see it was a popular tourist destination even before our days 🙂
At the end of World War 2 in 1945 the Allied forces bombed Rothenburg ob der Tauber destroying about 40% of the old town (later, in the post-war period parts of the old town were rebuilt). However, Rothenburg ob der Tauber was spared from further destruction by artillery by negotiating surrender of German soldiers to Allied forces in exchange of preserving the town by the latter. Thanks to those negotiations we can admire the old town of Rothenburg in the modern days.
Walk in the old town
The main attraction when you visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany is the old town itself. Make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to walk along the old streets, admire wood framed houses and historical landmarks. Stroll on the city wall and count all the city gates and towers.
Old town walls
We stayed in a bed and breakfast just outside the old town walls and started our introduction with the old town from the Röder city gate (Rodertor) and tower (Roderturm).
If you enter via Rodertor you will find the entrance to get up to the city wall. You can walk in either direction on the city wall. There are really nice views to the old town opening from the different points of the walls.
Old town gates and towers
There are many gates and towers around the old town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Make sure to walk around and find all of them.
Besides Rodertor, there are Galgentor – Gallows Gate, Klingentor at the northern entrance to the town, Burgtor – Castle Gate, Kobolzeller – gate and tower, and Spitaltor – Spital Gate. Most of the towers are connected with each other by the old city wall that goes around the town for about 4 kilometers.
Spitaltor, also known as Hospital gate, features the 16th century bastion with inner courtyards and its own gates. We wandered around and found a wooden bridge over a dry moat and some old cannons inside the bastion. We also saw a latin inscription on the gate – “Pax intrantibus, salus exeuntibus”. Later I found the translation in the Internet – “Peace to those who enter, Hail to those who go out”.
Don’t miss the old towers of The Markusturm and Weisserturm. They were built in the early 13th century and were part of the first fortification of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Burggarten and the viewpoint
Burggarten (garden) and Burgtor (city gate) are standing in the same place where the old castle used to be, from which the foundation of the city began. Earthquake destroyed the castle in 1356. In its place the Castle Gate (Burgtor) with its tower and Castle Garden (Burggarten) were built.
Burggarten is a nice place to relax and take a break from walking. It’s also a great place with a viewpoint overlooking the valley below and the roofs and towers of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. From this point it’s clear where the name of the town came from – “Red castle above the Tauber”.
Marktplatz (Market Square)
The Marktplatz was the main square in Rothenburg ob der Tauber since the Middle Ages and remains so to this day.
There are few historical landmarks on Marktplatz. A water fountain built in 1446 with a statue of St. George killing a dragon. The Rathaus (Town Hall) with its rear Gothic part dating back to the 13th century. Its front Renaissance facade built in the 16th century and its Baroque style arcade added later in the 17th century. Former butcher’s and dance hall (St. Mary’s Pharmacy these days), beautiful Renaissance-style Baumeisterhaus (with a restaurant inside) and other historical buildings.
Ratstrinkstube Clock Tower
Next to the Rathaus is Ratstrinkstube (or Councilor’s Tavern) Clock Tower. The clock on the tower goes on every hour between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. Its doors open and accompanied by music two figures of a legendary mayor and count appear.
The legend has it that in 1631, during the Thirty Years War, the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber was seized and going to be destroyed by the imperial army led by Count Tilly. In the Ratstrinkstube tavern local people offered Count Tilly a huge jug of local wine trying to bribe him. The count decided to offer a challenge to the locals – if anyone could drink the entire jug of wine in one go without stopping, he would spare the town from destruction. The jug was actually called a ‘tankard’ and had a 3.5 liters capacity. The mayor of the town – Bürgermeister Nusch – agreed to the challenge. He drunk the entire jug in one drink and therefore saved the town! Count Tilly, true to his word, left the town with his army and the mayor became the local legend.
So, now when you see two figures at the Ratstrinkstube Clock you know what’s this about – Count Tilly and Bürgermeister Nusch drinking the wine.
We overheard this story when walking in the evening on the Marktplatz from a guide telling it to a group of tourists. Later I found out that it was a Night Watchman tour (you can book it via GetYourGuide with free cancellation option).
Plönlein is perhaps the most photographed place in Rothenburg ob der Tauber (also featuring at the main photo of this post). Plonlein translates from German as “small square at a fountain” and it is exactly that. Small square in the front of a yellow timber-framed house with a small fountain. Together with two old towers in the background and cobbled streets leading to the towers it makes a perfect setting for a postcard-like picture of Rothenburg ob der Tauber – a fairy tale town in Germany.
When we visited, unfortunately, there was some repairing going on and our pictures were spoiled by red cones – so much for a fairy tale picture 🙂
There are several museums you can visit in Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany. Some of them are:
Medieval Crime and Justice Museum, which I would rather call a torture museum. Lots of its exhibitions are about punishment and different instruments of tortures from medieval times. We were travelling with kids and decided against visiting it. However, it’s quite popular with tourists as it’s very informative and is Europe’s largest museum on legal rights. Check their web-site for more information.
Rothenburg Museum (also known as Imperial Town Museum) is the place to go if you want to learn more about the history of Rothenburg. To see exhibitions of old weapons, art and other historical items. (Including that legendary 3.5 litre tankard, which allegedly was used by the mayor to drink the wine and save the city). Check their web-site for more information.
Christmas Museum is open all year around and features many old and rare Christmas decorations. As well as information on Christmas-related traditions such as advent calendars, Christmas pyramids, nutcrackers and others. Check their web-site for more information.
Next to the Christmas Museum is Kathe Wohlfahrt’s Christmas Shop that is also open all year round and has a huge collection of Christmas decorations on sale. If you are into Christmas festivities and decorations you can easily spend an hour just admiring the toys and browsing through the store.
I must admit we spent almost an hour in the shop and left over two hundred euros for the unique and beautiful German Christmas decorations. Now decorating the house on Christmas with the toys we bought in Kathe Wohlfahrt’s Christmas Shop reminds us every time about our holidays in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber at night
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a popular tourist destination and it’s usually busy with people during the day. But that changes in the evening when day-visitors leave the town and the streets become more quiet. We recommend spending a night in Rothenburg to enjoy the old town after dark. Less crowded and more quiet, with illuminated old houses and streets the experience of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is even more magical than during a day.
We spent two nights in Rothenburg ob der Tauber and continued with our Bavarian road trip afterwards. Rothenburg ob der Tauber is now on our list of cities to visit again. Perhaps, next time we go there around Christmas time and enjoy the city in winter.
Read next my post about another fairy-tale town – Hallstatt in Austria.