Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of Germany’s most beautiful small towns and therefore is a major highlight along the country’s “Romantic Road” (Romantische Straße). In particular, visitors love its perfectly-preserved medieval architecture, such as the half-timbered houses and cobblestone lanes. Although this destination looks fairytale-like, it’s actually filled with remnants of a long and storied history. For example, Rothenburg was a free imperial city beginning in the late Middle Ages, subordinate only to the Holy Roman Emperor. Moreover, it was the second-largest city in Germany and among the 20 largest cities in the Holy Roman Empire during this era–all with only 6,000 residents!
Due to its location in northern Bavaria, Rothenburg ob der Tauber makes an ideal day trip from Munich or Frankfurt. Therefore, we’ve created this guide to help you make the most out of one day in this charming medieval town! Keep reading to discover 12 activities and top-rated tourist attractions that you shouldn’t miss when traveling to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Additionally, we’ll review how to get to Rothenburg and the best hotels in the Old Town!
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Table of Contents
The best things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Pro tip: When pronouncing “Rothenburg,” you don’t say the “h,” so it sounds more like “Rotenburg.”
Wander Rothenburg’s Old Town.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is best known for its Old Town, or “Altstadt” in German, featuring well-preserved medieval architecture. In fact, you may feel like you’re in a Disney movie, thanks to the colorful half-timbered homes. When you first arrive, we recommend spending some time exploring the area on foot! After all, the top attraction in Rothenburg is really the Old Town itself.
You’ll find all of the most popular places to visit in Rothenburg in this section, including Plönlein, the Marktplatz (Market Square), Rathaus (Town Hall), the Burggarten (Castle Garden), RothenburgMuseum, and the old city fortifications. The great news is that the Old Town is highly walkable, with all major attractions within a 15-20 minute stretch. So, once you make it into the city walls, you don’t have to worry about driving or using public transportation.
Take a photo at Plönlein.
If you’re deciding what to see in Rothenburg, you really can’t miss the Plönlein! Although Plönlein literally translates to “little square,” it’s actually a picturesque split in the road on Untere Schmiedgasse. If you stand facing the fork, you can spot two historic gates from the early 13th-century. Siebersturm (Siebers Tower) is on the left, while Kobolzellerturm (Kobolzeller Tower) sits to the right. Additionally, you’ll be able to see the iconic yellow timber-frame house positioned in the center. Many believe that this historic site was an inspiration for the creators of Walt Disney’s classic Pinocchio (1940).
Since the Plönelin is the top place to take pictures in Rothenburg, it’s usually bustling with people. So, you may have to be patient to snap your dream photo! However, if you’re looking for a fun way to pass the time while you wait, we suggest purchasing a glass of wine from Glocke Weinladen am Plönlein. This store uses the barrels in front of the yellow house as tables, so it’s a fun spot to relax, and people watch!
Address: Untere Schmiedgasse 16-25, 91541, Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Visit the Medieval Crime Museum (Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum).
The Medieval Crime and Justice Museum covers over 1,000 years of crime and punishment history in Europe, beginning in the late Middle Ages and ending in the 19th-century. Thanks to its location in Rothenburg, there’s a particular focus on medieval times. Due to the subject matter, visiting this museum is not for the faint of heart; nonetheless, it’s a fantastic educational experience!
On your self-guided tour, you’ll begin in the vaulted cellar, where you can find gruesome torture devices, such as racks and thumbscrews. From there, you’ll continue to learn about the church and the law, public humiliation (don’t miss the collection of shame masks), inquisition proceedings, and even a special exhibit on witch hunts. Additionally, one big highlight is the authentic iron maiden on the first floor. Most of the museum’s placards are in both German and English, so you’ll be able to read short tidbits about each of the artifacts.
The Medieval Crime Museum’s opening hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. during April through October and from 1 to 4 p.m. during November through March. Regarding tickets, the price is €8 for adults, €5 for students, €4 for children ages 6+, and free for children under 6. For more information, visit the official website here.
Address: Burggasse 3-5, 91541, Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Take the night watchman tour.
If you’re wondering what to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, one of my best travel tips is to stay overnight and attend the night watchman tour. This unique walking tour happens every Friday and Saturday from April 4th through December 30th at 8 p.m. If you’d like to join this activity, you don’t need a reservation. Just make sure to show up on time to the meeting point in Market Square! Moreover, there’s a German-language version of the tour at 9:30 p.m.
What makes this tour so unique is the guide, Hans Georg Baumgartner, who happens to be a humorous watchman carrying a lantern. As you walk around Old Town, he’ll spend the hour pointing out important landmarks and telling enthralling stories of the city’s past. The actor who plays Hans is incredibly animated, making this activity ideal for the whole family. You can even reserve a private 1-hour night watchman tour for your group here.
Get into the Christmas spirit.
Even if your trip doesn’t coincide with the Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas market, there’s still one way to experience the holidays year-round! Luckily for you, the German Christmas Museum (Deutsches Weihnachtsmuseum) and the Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas Village are just around the corner from Marktplatz. From the second you walk in the door, you’ll be greeted with an explosion of Christmas decorations, including ornaments, nutcrackers, and even a 16-foot tall revolving Christmas tree.
If you choose to visit the German Christmas Museum, admission costs €5 for adults and €2 for children (6-11 years old). Here, you’ll learn about the history of Christmas traditions in Germany through Christmas decorations from the 19th and 20th centuries. Opening hours are from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays through Saturdays and on Sundays and holidays from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Note that entry to the store is free, so you can see some decorations without having to pay! Both the museum and the Christmas village are located in the same building.
Address: Herrngasse 1, 91541, Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Pro tip: If you’re looking for the perfect souvenir from Rothenburg, we recommend buying ornaments for your loved ones here. These gifts won’t take up much room in your suitcase!
Discover the Marktplatz and Rathaus.
Marktplatz is Rothenburg’s historic Market Square, where you can find some of the most important buildings in Old Town. For example, it’s home to the Town Hall and the Rothenurg Tourist Office! If you take the time to admire the Town Hall (Rathaus), you may notice a mix of 13th century Gothic and 16th century Renaissance style. Interestingly enough, this blend is due to reconstruction efforts after a fire destroyed part of the building.
If you’d like to see an impressive view of the Tauber Valley, we suggest venturing to the top of the Rothenburg Town Hall Tower. The cost is €2.50 per person, and there are 220 steps from the bottom to the top! Note that this attraction is currently closed due to restrictions, but we hope it will be open again soon. In the meantime, you can check for updates here.
It would be remiss to discuss Marktplatz without mentioning Christmas festivities! In fact, from the end of November to the beginning of the holidays, you’ll find one of Germany’s most famous Christmas markets in this square (Reiterlesmarkt).
Address: Marktplatz, 91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Pro tip: If you’re looking for an English map of Rothenburg or other information, stop by the Rothenburg Tourism Office in Marktplatz.
Attend a festival in Rothenburg
Besides the Christmas Market, Rothenburg hosts plenty of other exciting events. For a full list of festivals in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, click here. Nonetheless, the most popular occasions are likely the Master Draught Festival (Der Meistertrunk) and the Imperial City Festival (Reichsstadt-Festtage).
The Master Draught festival takes place every summer, generally around the end of May or early June. This city-wide celebration commemorates a famous legend from the Thirty Years’ War in which Rothenburg’s Mayor Nusch downed 3.25 liters of wine in one go. As the story goes, this act impressed the invading General Tilly immensely, leading him to spare the town.
Meanwhile, the Imperial City Festival is similar to what you might know as a “Renaissance Fair.” Each year, Rothenburg becomes a medieval town again on the first weekend of September, hosting crowds of historical re-enactment groups. On Friday evening, there’s even a torchlight procession accompanied by fireworks! Either of these fun events is ideal for adults as well as families visiting with young children.
Check out St. James’s Church (St.Jakobskirche).
St. James Church is a historic Lutheran Church in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, consecrated in 1485. In German, it’s called St.-Jakobs-Kirche; so, people also refer to this building as St. Jacob’s Church. From the name, you may be able to guess that it sits along the Way of St. James. This famous network of pilgrimages, also called the Camino de Santiago, leads to the Santiago de Compostela Archcathedral Basilica in northwestern Spain.
On your visit to St. James, don’t miss the stained glass windows in the east chancel, dating back to 1350-1400. Most tourists drop by to see Tilman Riemenschneider’s famous Holy Blood altarpiece from the early 16th century, often considered his best piece of work. This historic relic features scenes from The Last Supper and sits in the western high choir. In addition to the Holy Blood Altar, St. James is also home to the Twelve Apostles Altar, completed in 1466 by Friedrich Herlin. Note that there is a small entrance fee of €2.50 per person and that photos are allowed.
Address: Klostergasse 15, 91541, Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Try a Schneeball (snowball).
Especially if it’s your first time in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, you can’t leave without trying a “schneeball” (“snowball” in English). This cookie-like pastry is the town’s specialty, and you can find all sorts of varieties as you walk around. For example, the classic schneeball is dusted with confectioner’s sugar. However, you can also buy these sweet treats coated in cinnamon, chocolate, or with marzipan filling.
Visitors typically either love or hate these crunchy treats. Nonetheless, the schneeball has existed in Rothenburg and the Franconia Region for over 400 years. So, we think it’s definitely worth a taste! There are even mini schneeballen if you just want to try a small one. Just remember to grab napkins before you start to eat because the coating tends to make a mess!
Pro tip: Make sure to bring cash on your visit to Rothenburg, as many small businesses do not accept cards. You’ll find that when traveling in Bavaria in general, it’s always a good idea to have some cash on hand.
Walk the city walls.
Rothenburg is home to some of the best-preserved city fortifications in Germany, with 42 out of the 70 original towers still standing. One of the best ways to experience the town walls is to walk the Tower Trail. This route covers about 2.5 miles (4 km) and takes about 2-3 hours to complete. However, you’ll find stairs throughout Old Town that serve as both entrances and exits from the Tower Trail. So, most people just walk a small section!
Note that there is no fee to walk the walls, and they’re open around the clock. That’s right, unlike other European destinations, Rothenburg makes its city walls completely free and accessible to the public! As you make your way along the Tower Trail, you’ll notice names of important donors on plaques. Of course, preservation has played an important role when it comes to these fortifications. In fact, after World War II, individuals from all over the world donated to reconstruct the eastern section of Old Town.
Take a walk through the Burggarten (Castle Garden).
Although Burggarten translates to “Castle Garden,” the Stauferburg Castle that once stood here has been gone for many years. Nonetheless, the Burggarten is still one of the most beautiful places to visit in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. If you enter through the Burgtor (Castle Gate) and turn to the left, you’ll find a stunning view of the Old Town and the Tauber Valley. We recommend bringing a snack and sitting on one of the benches to relax and fully take in the outlook.
One of the highlights at the Burggarten is the formal 17th and 18th-century gardens, featuring eight sandstone sculptures that represent the four seasons and the four elements. Note that the Castle Garden is public and completely free to visit! Therefore, it’s open all day long every day, with only one exception. The Burggarten closes for one day during the Imperial City Festival since it’s used for the fireworks show.
Address: Alte Burg, 91541, Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Learn more about the city’s history at RothenburgMuseum.
The RothenburgMuseum, previously called the Imperial City Museum, is located in a former Dominican convent in the Old Town. This museum covers eight centuries of history pertaining to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, featuring paintings, antique weaponry, home decor, and more. However, one of the biggest attractions has to be the preserved Dominican monastery kitchen. As a matter of fact, this room is the oldest of its kind in Germany, dating back to 1260!
Opening hours for the RothenburgMuseum are currently limited. So, make sure to check the official website for up-to-date information. Entrance fees are €5 for adults, €4 for students, free for children under 6, and €3 for children 6-18.
Address: Klosterhof 5, 91541, Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
How to get to Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, located in northern Bavaria, is a popular day trip from Munich and Frankfurt. Although this medieval town is often bustling with other tourists, we still think it’s 100% worth a visit. You truly won’t find another travel destination like Rothenburg in the rest of Germany! Therefore, we’ll cover how to travel by car, by train, or on a private tour from Munich or Frankfurt to the small and charming Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
If you choose to drive to Rothenburg, it’s important to note that most public parking is outside the city walls. However, you can always go into the Old Town to drop off your luggage first and then park the car a short walk from your hotel. For more information on where to park, click here for details from the Rothenburg Tourism Office.
Pro tip: Rothenburg ob der Tauber isn’t the only “Rothenburg” in Germany. So, before you click start on Google Maps, double-check that you have the correct “Rothenburg” selected!
How to get to Rothenburg ob der Tauber from Munich
By car, it takes approximately 2.5 hours to travel from Munich to Rothenburg. One significant advantage to this option is that you can drive part of Germany’s Romantic Road (between Augsburg and Rothenburg). However, there are multiple driving routes between these two destinations. So, we recommend using Google Maps to see which path you prefer before leaving Munich! Remember that, unless your hotel in Rothenburg offers parking, you’ll probably need to park your car outside the city walls.
Taking the train from Munich to Rothenburg ob der Tauber takes about 3-3.5 hours and is much easier than it may first appear! We highly suggest downloading the “DB Navigator” app from Deutsche Bahn to view up-to-date train times and transfers. Since you’ll have to change trains 2-3 times, the most budget-friendly way to travel to Rothenburg from Munich is to purchase a Bayern ticket for the day. This type of day ticket will cover all of your transfers on regional trains. Just make sure to choose “regional transport only” on the app to see possible routes that will accept the Bayern ticket.
Note that Bayern tickets are valid on Mondays to Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. or on weekends and public holidays, beginning at midnight. So, if you’re traveling on a weekday, the earliest train you can take is at 9 a.m. Once you arrive at the Rothenburg ob der Tauber train station, the Old Town is only a short walk away.
If you’d prefer to take a guided tour, we suggest this Romantic Road and Rothenburg from Munich day trip. On this outing, you’ll discover Harburg Castle and then travel via Dinkelsbühl to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. For those who want a relaxing and hands-off trip, a guided tour is a great option.
How to get to Rothenburg ob der Tauber from Frankfurt
The drive from Frankfurt to Rothenburg od der Tauber covers approximately 112 miles (180 km), taking about two hours from start to finish. Plus, having a car gives you the flexibility to make stops along the way. However, keep in mind that most parking in Rothenburg is outside of the city walls.
If you choose to take the train from Frankfurt to Rothenburg, the journey should take about 2.5-3 hours. Additionally, we suggest downloading the “DB Navigator” app from Deutsche Bahn to keep up to date with the train schedules and platforms. You’ll need to make two changes along this route: one at Würzburg Hbf and the other at Steinach.
For those who prefer to take a guided tour, here is an option for a day trip to Rothenburg from Frankfurt. Moreover, we found a full-day tour from Frankfurt that takes you to both Rothenburg and Heidelberg! This day trip is an ideal option if you don’t have much time in Germany and want to cover a lot of ground.
Where to stay in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Although many tourists in Germany take a Rothenburg day trip, we think there’s something special about spending at least one night in this medieval town! Here are the top six hotels we recommend if you’d like more than one day in Rothenburg ob der Tauber:
- Romantik Hotel Markusturm is a historic hotel in the heart of Old Town, located in the Markusturm tower. Moreover, it features a traditional restaurant, wifi, and a beautiful courtyard in the summer months.
- Hotel Herrnschloesschen is situated in one of Rothenburg’s oldest buildings, featuring gorgeous views of the garden and Herrngasse alley. The property has numerous amenities, including free wifi, a sauna, and private parking for guests.
- Historik Hotel Gotisches Haus garni can be found in a restored 13th-century building, just a short walk from Market Square (Marktplatz). Moreover, this property offers a free breakfast buffet and snacks in the library throughout the day.
- Burghotel is located in a 12th-Century building that looks like it’s from a storybook! Plus, the hotel offers stunning views of the Tauber Valley, thanks to its position next to Burggarten. This property also has a modern spa and restaurant on site.
- Hotel-Gasthof Goldener Greifen is situated on Marktplatz, with all of the main Rothenburg attractions within walking distance. One big plus to staying at this property is the free private parking! Furthermore, this hotel features an on-site restaurant that serves traditional Franconian food.
- Tilman Riemenschneider occupies a 16th-century building and sits a quick two-minute walk from St.Jakobskirche. The property features Franconian food, a fitness area (with a sauna), country-style rooms, and free wifi. Guests love the continental breakfast here!
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