Welcome to Rothenburg. Again.
The first time we came to Rothenburg (formally Rothenburg ob der Tauber) we fell in love with it. It snowed (which makes everything feel a little more magical). The town was empty. We had this 1000 year old hotel room with windows on 3 sides that overlooked the entire town. It was surreal.
So when we come back to Germany with new friends, students or family, we tend to want to share that magic with them. Hence here we are in Rothenburg, again.
Having a car is the best way to see Bavaria. The beauty is in the small towns, that are most easily accessed by car. But once you are there, it’s all about exploring on foot – which is easy to do in Rothenburg. We stayed at Hotel BurgGartenpalais, one of the only places in the town with Air Conditioning. It was July, and I don’t do well if I can’t escape the heat. Our hotel was located a 2-minute walk from the centre of town, and as with most great one-of-a-kind Bavarian hotels, included a wonderful frühstück.
Checking in was a quick process of throwing suitcases in our room, and making sure we had excellent shoes on for hitting the town. Life advice: When walking around on old uneven cobble stone, opt for a shoe that will help ward off a rolled ankle.
There is much to do and experience in Rothenburg, and no rush to do them. The town is meant to be enjoyed an a leisurely pace. Doesn’t matter what you start with, or in what order you tackle the experience. Just go, and go slow. So here are 10 Things to do in Rothenburg (in no particular order):
- Wander. Aimlessly. It’s literally impossible to get lost. The whole town is surrounded by a giant wall. Every alley is basically cobblestone surrounded by adorable colourful buildings. Loop around past towers and churches and little bakeries. Flip a coin at every intersection. Easily enjoyed by one and all, but a bonus experience if photography is your jam.
- Go shopping. Even if you buy nothing. So many stores full of handmade ornaments and art, medieval dresses (this is an old medieval town after all), hand carved wooden toys and more. I recommend The Friese Shop. Use to be run by Annaliese, who passed away a few years back. Whenever we would go in she would show us pictures of her motorbike trips across the world. Imagine photos of a loved 80+ year old lady on a very large motorbike running through the centre of Montana. Her family continue to run the shop (it’s been in the family for many generations). Each time we go here we buy a smoking Santa for our Christmas decorations.
- Celebrate Christmas! Käthe Wolfhart’s original store (and Christmas museum) are in Rothenburg. So if you share my love of the season (and I do!), this is a must. (And if you don’t, skip the store, but not the town.) I try to limit to only a few new ornaments every time I go, but the hour long process of deciding which one I love the most brings me a great deal of joy. You’ll find the store by looking for the 7-foot tall nutcracker standing out front.
- Try a Schneeballen. But set your standards low. The tradition goes back to the Middle Ages, and I’ve heard a few different origin stories, from a wedding delicacy to the treat make from leftovers when the people were too poor for real desserts. Imagine extra pastry crust dough, squished together like a snowball being formed in your hand, then covered with various toppings such as lemon, coconut, almond liquor or chocolate. They are everywhere. Have one, and then check it off your bucket list.
- Check out the Plönlein. This is the iconic little yellow house with a road going on either side of it (see photo above at night with the light trails). It’s just another house (regular people live there), but it is SUPER adorable, and a photo of it, or with it, is a Rothenburg right of passage.
- Walk the Wall. This is my second favourite thing to do in town. The wall goes all the way around the town, with various entrance and exit points. depending on your dedication, this can take anywhere from 1 hour to 2.5 hours, though you can abandon ship and head back to town at numerous points along the walk. From up on the wall you have beautiful and always changing views of the town and the valley. You will also see names from those who sponsored the rebuilding of the wall after it took some damage in WWII and in storms in the years to follow. As you follow the wall you will eventually end up in the…
- Burggarten. This is the town garden, which is positioned like a peninsula jutting our from the town into the river valley below. While the views have always been stunning, this was my first summer time visit, and the oh the GREEN – be still my heart! The river is harder to see, but the lush landscape is in ample supply! There are forest and gardens and vineyards every which way you look. And from the burggarten, you can look back towards the town – a perfect photo spot!
- Crime and Punishment Museum. We didn’t go this time, but did the first two times. Rothenburg is an old medieval down with a history that dates +/- a millennia. The museum gives great insight into that it was like during those medieval times. But the only thing better than the museum at helping you understand the towns medieval history is…
- The Night Watchman! No question that this is the best thing to do in town. Every night at 8:00 PM an English language tour of the town is offered by the notorious Night Watchman, who takes his guests on a tour of the town while telling stories of what life “is” like for him, as he completes his nightly responsibilities in the town. For the low cost of €9 per adult (less for kids and students), and no reservations required, if you were to do prioritize any one thing in town, it should be this. Also, he’s hilarious.
If you get up at 7:00 AM, the town is quiet. You can watch the sun rise over the valley from the wall, or wander down empty alleyways with ease. By 9:30 AM the buses arrive. Tour buses full of cruise passengers and visitors from Munich and Frankfurt, looking for a quick visit – a selfie or two, maybe a Christmas ornament, and then back again. And by dinner time the town is empty again. Just those to more fully savour the town are left behind. With the Night Watchman of course. Stores close. Sun lowers. Town quiets. This is the best part of the day. It is always my recommendation to spend 2 nights in Rothenburg. Give yourself a full day to enjoy the town, but 2 evenings – one for the Night Watchman, and one to wander freely without the tourist crowds. You’ll be grateful you did.
After our 2 nights in town it was time to move on. We packed up our car – which was a game of Tetris we had mastered by day 11 of our trip. First put in Dad. Then pack the suitcases around him. Then the rest of us. (European car rentals are rarely this large – this vehicle was giant by local standards.)