10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Rothenburg
One of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe, the old Bavarian Imperial City of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a delightful place to spend time. Widely considered one of the most attractive towns in Germany, it's also one of the most popular stopovers on the country's excellent Romantic Road tourist route. Picturesquely positioned on the steep banks of the River Tauber, its walls and towers have remained untouched since the Thirty Years War of 1618. Adding to the experience are the many excellent museums dealing with the town's rich history, along with countless architectural splendors such as the 13th-century Town Hall (Rathaus), the 14th-century Council Tavern with its old clock and mechanical figures, and its many fine old churches. As you explore the town's splendid old streets and buildings, you'll easily be transported to another time and place.
See also: Where to Stay in Rothenburg
1 The Town Hall
Dominating the Marktplatz of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the imposing Town Hall (Rathaus), one of the finest in southern Germany. The oldest part of this majestic building, constructed in the 13th century, faces Herrngasse, with a later addition being the 16th-century 50-meter-high tower (a must visit for its views over the Old Town). The section facing the market was constructed in 1578 and includes the fine Imperial Hall, still used for theatrical performances and concerts. Also of interest are the former Council Tavern (Ratstrinkstube), added in 1466, and the old clock with its quaint mechanical figures.
Address: Marktplatz, 91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
2 St. Jacob's Church
Just a short stroll from the Town Hall is St. Jacob's Church (Kirchengemeinde St. Jakob). Completed in 1485, it's widely considered to be one of the finest such churches in Germany and is well worth exploring. Another highlight is the Altar of the Holy Blood, a superb wood carving dating from 1505 with a representation of the Last Supper. Also of importance is the Twelve Apostles Altar, notable for having the oldest representation of Rothenburg, along with the 700-year-old stained glass in the East Choir. (English language guided and audio tours are available.)
Address: Klostergasse 15, 91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
3 The Little Square: Plönlein
Undoubtedly the most picturesque spot in an extremely pretty town, Plönlein looks like something right out of a fairytale book. Literally translated as "Little Square," it's really nothing more than an intersection: stand facing the tall, skinny half-timbered building dividing the two streets, and you'll see one of them heads up through the Siebers Tower, while the other slopes down to the Kobolzeller Tower (both towers date from the early 13th century).
4 Editor's Pick The Old Town Walls
A must-do while in Rothenburg is to take the half hour or so walk around the Old Town Walls. This fascinating and attractive walk is best started from the Spitaltor, a massive gatehouse built in the 1500s, then heading toward the equally stunning Rödertor, stopping along the way to enjoy the views. The next leg leads to the Klingentor and the 15th-century St. Wolfgang's Church. All told, the town boasts 42 gatehouses and towers, so be sure to allow enough time to see as many as possible along your walking tour. (English language guided tours of the Town Walls and other historic landmarks are available from the town's Visitor Center.)
5 Medieval Crime Museum
The fascinating Medieval Crime Museum (Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum) deals with more than 1,000 years of crime and punishment in Europe, with a particular focus on the medieval period. Highlights include artifacts used to extract confessions and inflict punishment, many of them extremely gruesome, along with fascinating documentation and details pertaining to the often-flawed logic behind their use. Numerous notorious criminal cases are depicted in woodcuts and copper etchings, while another exhibit deals specifically with the terrible witch-hunts that once gripped Bavaria.
Address: Burggasse 3, 91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
6 The Castle Gardens (Burggarten)
In addition to its fine old architecture, Rothenburg boasts many lovely parks and gardens. One of the most popular is the spectacular Castle Gardens (Burggarten). Laid out on the site of a castle destroyed in an earthquake in 1356, this superb attraction also boasts wonderful views of the Old Town and the famous Double Bridge further down the Tauber Valley. Of special interest are its geometric flower beds, laid out in the 17th and 18th century with eight fine sculptures representing the four seasons and the four elements. Other monuments of note are one dedicated to the 14th-century Mayor Toppler and the lords of the old castle, the once dominant Hohenstaufen dynasty.
7 The Christmas Museum
Rothenburg not only hosts one of Germany's most popular Christmas markets - a tradition that can be traced to medieval times - it's also where you'll find the fun Christmas Museum (Deutsches Weihnachtsmuseum). Boasting that it's "Christmas all year round," this surprisingly fun tourist attraction contains numerous displays of old artifacts and seasonal materials through the ages, with a focus on the traditions that make Christmas so special in towns like Rothenburg. Highlights include tree ornaments, nativity scenes, and numerous old figurines, including 150 figures of Father Christmas himself. If you can, visit during the lead up to Christmas when the town is festooned with more than 80,000 candles and four kilometers of decorations and lights.
Address: Herrngasse 1, 91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
8 The Master Builder's House (Baumeisterhaus)
Strolling along the Schmiedgasse, a fine old street running south from the Marktplatz that boasts numerous old townhomes, you'll eventually come to No. 3, the Master Builder's House (Baumeisterhaus). This fine old building with its spectacular façade from 1596 is widely considered to be one of the finest Renaissance houses in Bavaria, and was where Rothenburg's Master Builder, Leonard Weidmann, lived and worked. A testament to his skills, the house is famous for its carvings of the seven virtues along with the seven deadly sins.
9 Spitaltor (Spital Gate)
In the picturesque Spitalhof are a number of interesting buildings worth visiting. In addition to the Hegereiterhäuschen, a fine old home built in 1591, there's the massive 16th-century Spital Gate (Spitaltor), both built by Master Builder Leonhard Weidmann. The last of the town's many fortifications to be constructed, Spitaltor bears the Latin inscription, Pax intrantibus, salus exeuntibus, meaning "Peace to those who enter in, good health to those who leave again." Constructed in the shape of a figure eight, these intimidating fortifications include seven gates, a drawbridge, a portcullis, and a parapet.
10 The Imperial Town Museum
In a former Dominican nunnery, Rothenburg's Imperial Town Museum (Reichsstadtmuseum) is worth visiting for a better understanding of the importance of this beautiful old town. Established in 1936, its displays and artifacts detail life in the convent (it was dissolved in the 16th-century), including a glimpse at the historic living quarters. Other features are the well-preserved 13th-century kitchen, the oldest of its kind, and the 14th-century panels of the Rothenburg Passion. Highlights include a display of European weaponry from the Stone Age to the 19th century, including hunting weapons once used by Frederick the Great, and the Judaica Department with its artifacts showcasing the town's Jewish heritage.
Address: Klosterhof, 91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Where to Stay in Rothenburg for Sightseeing
All this delightful town's attractions are inside or right along the old town walls, within a few minutes' walk of each other. Several are within sight of the Marktplatz, where a surprising number of hotels also cluster. Rarely are there so many opportunities to stay in historic half-timbered buildings right in the center of a walled medieval town. Here are some highly-rated hotels in Rothenburg:
- Luxury Hotels: A few steps from the Christmas Museum and Burg Garden, Hotel Herrnschloesschen offers guests free breakfast. So does the Hotel Gotisches Haus, a beautifully decorated historic building in the same location. Built into town walls nearby, the Burghotel overlooks the Tauber Valley with spectacular views from its terrace and well-furnished rooms.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Just outside the walls at the entrance to the old city, Hotel-Garni Hornburg is a beautiful and hospitable manor house with large, nicely furnished rooms. The family-run Hotel Reichsküchenmeister, in a half-timbered house just off the market square in the center of town, has a good traditional restaurant and includes breakfast. In the newer part of town, only a few blocks from Marktplatz on the way from the rail station, the chef-owned Mittermeier Restaurant & Hotel offers guests free parking. The old-fashioned Hotel Eisenhut is in a historic building next to the Christmas Museum and just off Marktplatz.
- Budget Hotels: Between the Christmas Museum and Burg Garden, Hotel Klosterstueble is in a traditional building with a cozy courtyard and quirky rooms. Antiques furnish the Hotel Spitzweg, on a small quiet street a block off Marktplatz, where hospitable hosts offer free parking, an unusual feature right in the center of town. Near the town gate, a five-minute walk from Marktplatz, Hotel-Gasthof Klingentor has spacious rooms and also includes free parking, along with breakfast.