Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a frozen-in-time picture perfect little town that is located in northern Bavaria in Southern Germany. This incredibly well-preserved medieval city has half-timbered houses and cobbled streets all surrounded by a 14th century medieval town walls.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber (population 11,000) is famous for its medieval architecture and was the inspiration for the Walt Disney classic movie Pinocchio. It’s higgledy-piggledy little streets and gingerbread perfect buildings could certainly have inspired endless tales from Jacob and Wilhelm, the brothers Grimm.
This magical town will transport you back in time to a day when fairy tales and real life were not so easily distinguished. It’s simply a must for your Germany travel itinerary!
(Not much of a planner? I’ve got you covered with this 3 day Rothenburg itinerary!)
Likely the most iconic sight in Rothenburg is the Plönlein, one of the first things you see as you walk down Spitalgasse. It is often associated with the 1940’s Disney version of Pinocchio.
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Table of Contents
History of Rothenburg ob der tauber
How old is Rothenburg Germany?
Rothenburg was a free imperial city under the Holy Roman Empire from the late middle ages until 1803 but was most likely inhabited by Celts before the 1st Century A.D. The current town of was founded in 1274. In the 19th century laws were created to prevent major changes and preserve the current old world state that visitors enjoy in this wonderfully historic city today.
attractions map of Rothenburg
Click on the link to be redirected to an interactive Google Map of Rothenburg ob der Tauber:
The best things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Some of the best fun things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber Germany include:
- take an organized tour
- museums (there are several very good museums in town)
- walk the historic old town (including the medieval wall walk)
- experience Christmas, year round!
- visit the historic churches and cathedrals
- visit the marketplace with town hall and famous clock
- visit the castle garden
Unless otherwise noted, everything listed here is contained within the city walls. The longest distance between points is only about half a mile long so everything is walkable within a short distance. I’d say nothing inside the walls is more than a 10 minute walk away.
Rothenburg Tourism hosts some very good organized walking tours.
#1 Night Watchman Tour: Learn about the city’s fascinating history.
On the 45-minute Night Watchman’s tour you’ll learn how the enchantment and charm of this little village literally saved it from total destruction during World War II. The tour begins at Marktplatz. The English tour starts at 8 pm daily (limited tours holidays and January thru March.) Cost €9 (cash only) for adults and kids under 12 are free. Reservations are not required.
get more information: Nightwatchman Tour
Fun fact from The Night Watchman tour: you’ll be shown tiny doors in the city wall. The large city doors were closed at night. If someone happened to find themselves outside of the city walls after closing time they would have to climb through those tiny doors in the town wall.
#2 Take a Guided Tour of Old Town.
This 90-minute walking tour offers an overview of the history of the walled city with its Old Town quarter, romantic alleyways, and picturesque squares. Cost €9 (cash only) for adults, children under 12 are free. English tour: Daily 2 pm April-October, and in the month of December.
Get more information: Old Town Guided Tour
#3 Get your fright on with a Ghost tour with the executioner.
On this historically based tour, the “hangman tells his tales of Devil’s work and witches’ magic…(and will) show you enchanted sights” around the village. -Rothenburg Tourism. Daytime tours are suitable for children 8 and up.
Get more information: Tourism site.
There are several very good museums in town. Let’s explore the best ones: (get the complete list of Museums here)
#4 visit the macabre Medieval Crime Museum
One of my favorite things to do while in town is visit the Medieval Crime and Justice Museum. They have eerie displays and genuine artifacts (almost everything on display is an actual medieval artifact!) relating to criminal trial, torture, death penalties, executioners, public humiliation, witches and robbers, etc. They even have a real Iron Maiden!
The Museum often has a special exhibition. Last check: (Martin) Luther and the Witches.
location: Burggasse 3-5
get more information: Medieval Crime Museum
#5 The Historical Vault- Museum above Rothenburg’s dungeon
Rothenburg Museum, located in the former jail, has an authentic dungeon that is open to visitors. In the dungeon you’ll find a guard room, torture room, and three prison cells. The prison cells give an impression of the prison conditions at the time of Germany’s thirty years’ war.
Above the dungeon the exhibition explains the events during the 30-Years War. This is also the location of the historic festival “Der Meistertrunk.”
Location: Marktplatz 1
Get more information: Historical Vault Museum
#6 Imperial City Museum for history buffs
is located in a former 13th century Dominican convent which was in use from 1258 to the 16th century (1554.) The monastery kitchen, circa 1260, is one of the oldest of its kind in Germany. There’s a minimal fee for entry, and may be a small extra charge if you want to take photos.
Location: Klosterhof 5
Get more information: Imperial City Museum
Walks around town
#7 Walk the City Walls
In Medieval Rothenburg the entire town was fortified with a wall that circled the city centre. You can walk on the same wall that has stood here for hundreds of years. Walking the city walls is the best way to get your bearings around town. The wall stretches about 2.5 miles and is the perfect place for a stroll.
Interesting fact: Rothenburg Germany is one of only 3 towns in the entire country that still have completely intact walls, the other two being Nördlingen and Dinkelsbühl, which are also on the Romantic Road route.
The wall is covered, so makes for a good rainy day activity. As you walk along the wall you’ll see gate houses and towers.
Opening times and fees: free! And open around the clock so makes for a great evening stroll
Location: You can access the wall from several spots within the city walls. You’ll find the map in this brochure from the Tourism bureau.
here are a few things you can see while walking the City Wall:
#8 explore the countryside outside the walls
There are walking paths (also depicted on the town map pictured above) that lead from inside the walls out into the countryside and are a great place to escape some of the madness of the midday crowds.
There are 6 castle gates and accessible towers in the Rothenburg wall so it’s easy to sneak out for a walk through the country.
Cost and opening times: around the clock and free!
#9 Explore the historic town core
One of the main attractions in Rothenburg is the cute little village contained within the old town walls. Most attractions are just a short stroll from wherever you may be.
Explore the side streets, nooks, crannies, and recesses while you enjoy the quaintness of the town. A good time to explore the less trafficked areas of town is midday when crowds in the town center are the worst.
Opening times and fees: 24 hours and it’s free!
# 10 It’s Christmas year round at Käthe Wohlfahrt
Did you know that Christmas can be found year round in Rothenburg?
Käthe Wohlfahrt’s has thousands of traditional Christmas decorations on display for your viewing (and purchasing!) enjoyment. It’s a red, green, silver, and gold feast for the eyes! The store is so big you may find yourself a little lost (I get a little lost in there…ha!) Be sure to ask about the “made in Germany” section.
For an extra cost you can also tour the German Christmas Museum located in the upper floors of the store, worth visiting if you want to catch a bit of the Christmas spirit any time of year!
Location: the main store is located and Herrngasse 1
get more information: open daily: Käthe Wohlfahrt
Even if you are not a religious person the churches, cathedrals, and abbeys throughout Europe are architectural wonders. They are historical structures and quite often their opulence outpaces that of some of the castles and palaces in Europe! I like to visit them to take in their architectural beauty and to feel like I’ve taken a trip back in time.
There are a couple of churches worth checking out:
#11 The St. Jakobskirche
(St. James Church / St. Jacob) This Evangelical Lutheran church contains a very important relic. In the 15-century A.D. Tilman Riemenschneider, one of the most famous Gothic German sculptors, was paid a small commission to create the “altar of the holy blood” (Heilig-Blut-Alta.)
Atop this wooden altar, which depicts the Last Supper, is a rock crystal set into the cross. The rock crystal is held aloft by two carved angels and is supposed to contain a small sample of Christ’s blood (the Holy Blood)
get more information: St. Jacob’s Church
fun fact: Notice that the central figure in this depiction of The Last Supper is not Jesus but Judas:
#12 St. Wolfgang evangelical church
was built in 1475 and today can be seen in its original unspoiled condition. This church is small but picture perfect. If it’s open take a peek inside. (this one is my favorite! I keep trying to visit the inside but haven’t been able to catch it open yet!)
Location: Klingentorbastei 1
get more information: St. Wolfgang
The market square is flanked by shops, restaurants, the clock tower, and town hall.
#13 Climb the town hall tower
For a small entrance fee you can climb the 220 steps up the Gothic town hall tower for panoramic views of the whole town.
Location: Markt 1
get more information: City Hall
#14 watch the show at the Clock tower.
When your facing the town hall look to your right and you’ll see the clock tower which was build in 1683. In 1910 a mechanical scene depicting the well known (if not wholly accurate) tale of town Mayor Nusch who it is said drank over 3 liters at once to save the town.
Clock performances are at 11 am, noon, 1, 2, 3, 5, 9 and 10 pm.
#15 Castle Garden (Burggarten Rothenburg ob der Tauber)
The Rothenburg Imperial Castle was located in what is today called the Castle Garden. The gardens at the location of the former Stauferburg Castle, which was destroyed in the 14th century, are free and open all day!
Location: Alte Burg
“Where is the castle (or “Burg”) in Rothenburg ob der Tauber? You often hear this question and just as often get disappointed faces in return. Because there hasn’t been a castle in (here) for a long time….however, the disappointment soon vanishes, because in the castle’s location is (a) green oasis, the Castle Garden.”-Rothenburg Tourism
festivals and special events
#16 Imperial City Festival
If you are really into medieval life be sure to check out Rothenburg’s Imperial City Festival which is held every September! What a treat! Historical groups from different eras, including medieval times flood the town. The entire town turns into a medieval encampment with thousands of Germans wearing traditional costumes. Also on tap: fireworks! and be sure to visit the camp after dark where groups clad in medieval garb dine around long tables while they sing old world songs by both candle and firelight. The Knights’ Camp, just outside the eastern city walls( near the Woodsman Gate (Rödertorof)) is magical! On Friday night thousands carrying torches parade through town!
I was pleasantly surprised to find that most attendees were German!
#17 Rothenburg Germany Christmas time
The winter months can be quiet but each year between the end of November and the end of December Rothenburg turns into a dreamy Christmas Village, with one of Germany’s prettiest Christmas markets.
Imagine Rothenburg at Christmastime when snow dusts the cobblestones and Christmas trees, when the smell of gingerbread, mulled wine, and roasted nuts from the Christmas market delight the senses….be still my heart, it’s a real winter wonderland! Consider a planning a trip to attend the Rothenburg Christmas Market.
#18 Sore from all the sightseeing? get a massage!
Ok I know this one seems a little odd but massages are a recurring theme in our travels, and one of my top travel tips… we stumbled across a Thai massage parlor and had them work us over pretty good. Sore achy travel muscles be gone!
Free things to do in Rothenburg
Let’s recap the free things to do in town:
- The Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas store, no need to pay for the museum to get your Christmas fix!
- The wall walk
- Walks through the countryside
- Exploring town
- The clock tower show
- The castle garden
- many of the other activities are a minimal cost!
Food in Rothenburg:
The food in Germany is always delicious. Here are my tops picks for where you should eat:
(see my article on the best German food that you need to try!)
Zur Holl Restaurant:
If I had to recommend just one place to eat in town, I would steer you straight away to Zur Holl Restaurant (translates to “to hell,” in English.) What a find! How about dinner in a 1,000 year old building??? simply amazing! If they are busy inside the restaurant and the weather is nice you can dine al fresco. Delicious food!
In Germany, it is common practice to share tables. We had a lovely conversation with the couple that shared our table. Conversation between table mates is not required, but if they seem receptive you’ll get a chance to get to know the locals.
The pork steaks with a creamy Chanterelle mushroom sauce were delicious, and the waitress came by and offered us a second helping!
If you sit outside, be sure to take a peek at the basement where the bathrooms are. It looks positively ancient down there! as if it hasn’t been changed in the last 1,000 years, oh my heart!
Note: reservations are recommended which can be done ahead of time through their website.
location: Burggasse 8
get more information: Zur Holl
Ratsstube Cafe, is located on the main town square and a great place to eat outside when weather permits. On our plates: Bratwurst with kraut and German mustard, and Wiener schnitzel with German potato salad. Isn’t German food the best???
Get more information: Ratsstube Cafe
Baumeisterhaus Restaurant: a treat for the taste buds, and for the eye!
At Baumeisterhaus Restaurant, built in 1596, you can dine in an indoor multi-story courtyard while you admire the beautiful murals on the surrounding walls. On our plates: Sweet Treats! strawberry torte and apple strudel with cream and ice cream. Germans make THE BEST desserts!
get more information: Baumeisterhaus Restaurant
At Altfrankische Weinstube you can dine in a cozy 650-year-old building that’s tucked away from the crowds of the main square. This adorable “oh so cozy” little place looks like it was made for hobbits! Reservation required, NO CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED (but confirm when you make your reservation,) closed on Tuesday at last check. To make a reservation call 09861-6404 or contact them through their website
location: Klosterhof 7
Looking for the best places to get a late-night snack? (late night is 9 pm closing time here) Check out the Doner Kebab place just off of the main square.
Doners are Turkish food, now very popular street food in Europe. Seasoned meat (usually lamb, beef, or chicken) is spit roasted until it is incredibly juicy, and then shaved and stuffed into the most delicious flatbread, which is often grilled right in front of you. Popular toppings: lettuce, tomato, onion, and a delicious tzatziki type sauce.
They really are the best thing ever, and once you have tried them, you will crave them for life!
Tobingo Döner is located at Hafengasse 2 (open lunch till late, closed Monday)
Scheeballs are a specialty in Rothenburg, one I have tried to avoid. However, some seem to think that a no trip to Rothenburg is complete without trying one. So here we go…Literally balls of fried dough, the traditional Schneeballen are dusted in sno….powdered sugar. Most often I follow the advice of my favorite travel guru, Ricks Steves, who writes the absolute best European travel guides on the market.
To quote him verbatim “Skip the bad-tasting Rothenberger Schneeballen…bland pie crust crumpled into ball…” He recommends if you must try one to get off of the tourist core and get one at a local bakery, or at the Criminal Museum gift shop where they are at least edible and your purchase benefits the museum. Next time, I intend to try one and report back to you!
Rothenburg Germany hotels
There is no shortage of places to stay in town, but there are 3 that really stand out in the crowd.
Gotisches Haus Hotel
Gotisches Haus (The Gothic House) hotel, is located in the historic center. Emperors and crown princes stayed in this 700-year-old building along the way. As an added bonus, it is right in the middle of everything.
Location: Herrngasse 13, 91541 Rothenburg
Your in luck becasue Altfrankische Weinstube that cozy 650-year-old-building that’s tucked away from the crowds rents rooms to overnight guests!
location: Klosterhof 7
I really like this one! It’s tucked back away from the crowds and has a great old world atmosphere! This 12th century building spa services and views overlooking the Tauber Valley. guest rating: 9.3
Looking for something different? If you use this link to book hotels at booking.com I get a small commission that helps me fund this website!
Getting to Rothenburg
Rothenburg is a handy and worthwhile day trip from the largest cities in the area.
Nuremberg: 80 km (1 hour 15 minutes)
Stuttgart Airport: 168 km (2 hours)
Frankfurt International: 182 km (2-2.5 hours)
Munich: 236 km (2.5 hours)
For drivers: Rothenburg is a popular stop on the Romantic Road in the Tauber Valley.
The Romantic Road (Romantische Straße) is a picturesque 350 km route that winds through forests and mountains from Fussen, home to Neuschwanstein Castle, all the way to Wurzburg.
Romantic Road map, if you are interested in exploring the entire route.
driving in the city centre
Unless you must don’t try to drive into the old town city centre. At certain times of the day it is seriously congested with tourists who are walking in the middle of the road and seem to have no idea that they are walking in the road or that the road is made for driving and not walking. It can be a frustrating situation to say the least.
There are 5 parking lots that surround the old town. See the tourism site parking lot locations, full details and restrictions.
Note: looking for Rothenberg Germany? “Rothenberg Germany” spelled with an “e” rather than a “u” is an altogether different village found in Hesse Germany so take caution when navigating so that you end up in the right spot! In German a “burg” is a castle, a “berg” is a mountain. Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s name means “Red castle above the Tauber” due to its red roofs and location above the Tauber River.
By using the DB app/website you can: purchase European train tickets for DB trains, book advance tickets, search for the cheapest train ticket prices
New to navigating public transit? you may find my Public Transportation for beginners article helpful.
The tiny train station is located within walking distance of the old town City Center (approximately 1 kilometer or .7 miles.) If you have heavy luggage a taxi will take you to your hotel.
Location: Bahnhofstr. 12, Rothenburg O.D.
Rothenburg is serviced by frequent bus service.
Bus tours to Rothenburg can be booked through places like Get Your Guide.
When to visit Rothenburg
The little square in the historic centre, known as Market Square, becomes quite congested with crowds midday. The best time to visit this area of the old town is early or late in the day. There are plenty of other things listed here that you can do to wait out the crowds.
High season is both during the summer months and during the Christmas market season. Spring and fall are considered shoulder seasons and present fewer crowds. Winter months, outside of Christmas market season, are off season in Germany.
Logistics can be a pain. Use this Free 3-day Rothenburg Itinerary to make planning a breeze!
What a fantastic little village! Come see Bavaria Rothenburg for yourself, let it transport you back to medieval times and you may just leave a little piece of your heart behind. Use this ultimate guide to plan a whole trip to this beautiful place. You won’t be disappointed!
If I’m anywhere near I ALWAYS add the magic that is Rothenburg ob der Tauber Germany to my itinerary!
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is Rothenburg Germany?
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a frozen-in-time picture perfect little town that is located in northern Bavaria in Southern Germany.
What is Rothenburg Germany known for? and why do tourists go to Rothenburg?
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is known for its medieval architecture and was the inspiration for the Walt Disney classic movie Pinocchio.
How much time should I spend in Rothenburg?
For such a small place there are a lot of worthwhile activities. Give it a minimum of 3 days to do it right but if your in a hurry you can get a lot done in 2 days.
Is Rothenburg worth it?
100% yes! 10/10! The town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is simply magical! It is the most beautiful and best preserved of all of Germany’s wonderful medieval towns, as well as Germany’s best example of a fairy tale town. No trip to Germany is complete without a stop at Germany’s best town!
Was Rothenburg a filming location for Harry Potter movies?
Many people think that some of the Harry Potter movies were filmed in Rothenburg but that is not the case. Rothenburg appears in the credits of Deathly Hollows Part 1, but it was actually just areal footage that was used in the film. (source: Wikipedia and Harry Potter Places)
Can’t make it to Germany just yet? Check out the ridiculously cute Bavarian town surrounded by mountains in Leavenworth Washington USA!
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