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Half-timbered houses, medieval towers and pastel buildings, all in the walled city of Rothenburg along the Romantic Road

Rothenburg city wall

Offering half-timbered houses, pastel-painted stone buildings and a fortified ring wall enveloping the city, Rothenburg is a highlight along the pastoral panoramas of the Romantic Road in the Bavarian countryside.

The city boasts a thousand years of intact history packed among its cobblestones. During World War II, the US Assistant Secretary of War knew about the beauty and historic importance of the town, and instructed US troops to negotiate the town’s surrender, rather than destroy it with air raids. Because of this, the town remained intact and looks largely the same today as it did during the Middle Ages.

Overlooking the Tauber River, the town is officially named Rothenburg ob der Tauber, but it's commonly just called Rothenburg. Today, you can stroll along the cobbled streets, explore the many shops, or stop and watch the town’s glockenspiel, which re-enacts the story of the brave mayor who drank nearly a gallon of wine to save the city.

Things to see and do in Rothenburg

Medieval history

To get to know Rothenburg, a place defined by its long history, we suggest you begin at the city wall. Surrounding the city, it’s believed to have been erected in 1142, and you can stroll on top along the covered walkways and admire the intact towers. Rödertor, one of the wall's five gates, lets you cross the moat and climb a tower for panoramic vistas of the town.

Part Gothic and part Renaissance, Rothenburg’s Rathaus, or town hall, is softened by the long row of flowers planted on the balcony of the building and the delicate arches of the entryways along the street. The Rathaus was built in 1240, and then expanded in 1572, explaining its mismatched architecture. You can climb to the top of the 60m (200 ft) tower and view the sea of terracotta rooftops.

Built between 1311 and 1484, Saint-James’ Cathedral is home to the renowned Holy Blood altarpiece, carved between 1500 and 1505. The piece depicts scenes of the entry into Jerusalem, the Lord’s Supper and the Mount of Olives. With details like three-dimensional curly hair and the soft lay of tunics, the work is incredibly intricate.

Shopping and dining

Stroll along the Schmiedgasse, one of the main streets in Rothenburg. Sloping ever downwards, it starts at Market Square and ends at Plönlein, a postcard-worthy fork in the road featuring medieval towers and a half-timbered gabled house. Schmeidgasse boasts brightly painted houses full of restaurants and shops.

Museums

Rothenburg has a variety of museums, ranging from the morbid to the historical to the light-hearted. The Rothenburg Kriminalmuseum features exhibits of medieval torture devices, though also educates on the justice system and police aspects of medieval times.

The Imperial Town Museum takes you on a journey through the centuries of history of Rothenburg, from its time as a Free Imperial City up to the loss of the town’s Jewish culture during the Holocaust. Or you can visit the Christmas Museum, where you’ll learn about the evolution of Christmas customs.

Christmas market

A 500-year-old tradition, the Rothenburg Christmas Market looks like a Christmas card come to life. Stalls line squares and streets selling gifts, sweets and ornaments, and buildings strung with lights emit a warm glow over it all. If you’re lucky, a light snowfall will add a seasonal touch.

Best time to visit Rothenburg

Rothenburg is great to visit year-round, though we find it particularly lovely in December, when you can explore the Christmas market.

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Map of Rothenburg

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    Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Rothenburg, and which use the best local guides.

    • Rothenburg city

      The Romantic Road

      Rothenburg

      See authentic Bavarian towns in the German countryside as you ride along the Romantic Road. Pass forests, mountains and timbered towns as you make your way toward the castles and walled-in medieval cities waiting to be explored.