Rothenburg Old Town Walking Tour - Map
Rothenburg Old Town Walking Tour - Map

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour:


Walking Tour Location: Old Town Rothenburg
Cost: Free, Self-Guided (Museum and funicular/lift costs below)
Style: Do-It-Yourself Walking Tour (Self Guided
Start:
 Market Square (Marktplatz)
End: Plönlein Corner
Walking Distance: 1.1 miles (+0.6 miles for Infirmary Quarter; +0.6 miles for short wall walk)
Time Required: 60 Minutes for Walk (2-3 hours with sights; +1 hour for each of the 3 museums; +0.5 hours for Infirmary Quarter)
Fun Scale: 10 out of 10

Overview of Old Town Rothenburg:

Spending a day in Old Town Rothenburg (Row-tin-burg, with a rolled R) is like stepping 400 years into the past.  This time capsule of a village is packed with colorful half-timber homes, old-world sights, cobblestone lanes, and surrounded by a Medieval City Wall.  The pure beauty of Old Town is Rothenburg’s main attraction.  When you mix in the Night Watchman tour, the Christmas market, and great year-round shopping you have the makings for an unbelievable visit.

We highly suggest spending at least one night in Rothenburg as it feels truly magical in the evening after the tour buses have left.  Our self-guided walking tour covers all the must-see attractions with plenty of opportunities to get away from the mid-day crowds.  If you have extra time you can also the along the City Wall (Turmweg) or bike down to the river which gives the city it’s full name Rothenburg ob der Tauber (meaning Red Castle over the Tauber River).  Rothenburg is definitely a place to take your time, relax, and enjoy.  Hope you enjoy our Old Town Rothenburg walking tour!


Rothenburg Walking Tour:

1. Market Square (Marktplatz):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Market Square
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Market Square Christmas

About Market Square: Shortly after King Conrad III built his castle in Rothenburg in 1142, traders already started selling their goods and produce in Market Square.  The square quickly became the center the center of both trade and social life in town.

Since Rothenburg sat on two major Medieval trade routes, it gained Free Imperial City status in 1274 by Rudolf I King of Germany (Habsburg Dynasty).  The village quickly grew to be the 2nd largest city in Germany in the year 1400 behind Cologne, and Market Square blossomed.  The square became home to Rothenburg’s biggest festivals along with some of the best colorful mansions and half-timber houses.  If you are looking for a bite to eat, we recommend the Ratstube whose tables spill out onto the square during nice weather.

In 1474, Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich III had a massive feast in Rothenburg’s Market Square, where he symbolically gave King Christian of Denmark the German state of Holstein to pledge an alliance.  A more gruesome event happened in the square in 1525 when Count Casimir von Ansbach had 17 leaders of the recently defeated Peasants’ Revolt publicly beheaded here and left to lay in the street all day.  During the 30 Years War in the 1600s, Market Square harbored enemy troops each of the 7 times the city was occupied.  During one of the occupations in 1632, King of Sweden Gustav-Adolf himself stayed here and slept in the Town Hall.







2. Council Drinking Hall (Ratstrinkstube):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Council Drinking Hall Ratstrinkstube clock
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Council Drinking Hall Ratstrinkstube clock

About The Council Drinking Hall: Built in 1446, the huge hall was once a very exclusive tavern that could only be entered by city council members. Today, all the action happens on the outside of the building’s beautiful facade.  The large central clock was installed in 1638 and a sundial was added above the Rothenburg coat of arms in 1768.

Flanking the clock is the real attraction with mechanical figures reenacting scenes from the legendary Master Draught every hour from 10am-10pm.  Folklore says that in 1631 Mayor Nusch (Nu-sh) saved the Protestant town from destruction at the hands of the troops of Catholic General Tilly during the 30 Years War.  The legend is that the famous mayor won a wager for Rothenburg’s fate by drinking over 3 liters of Franconian wine in one gulp known as the Master Draught.  The truth of the story is that General Tilly and his 40,000 troops occupied the village for the entire Winter before leaving, badly depleting Rothenburg of its food reserves.  Today the former tavern building holds the local tourism office and one of the only ATMs on our Rothenburg walking tour.

3. Town Hall (Rathaus):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Gothic Town Hall Renaissance Rathaus
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Gothic Town Hall Renaissance Rathaus

About The Town Hall: After the Old Town Hall at the site of today’s Meat & Dance Hall burned in 1240, a new huge Gothic-style Town Hall (Rathaus, pronounced Rat-house) was built here in 1250.  The new building was designed in the double fronted-style with two wings and a central entrance facing Market Square.  In 1408, beloved Mayor Toppler died in the dungeon below the Gothic Town Hall while being imprisoned.  After a long run, the Gothic Town Hall also had a brush with fire in 1501 when the front half of the building facing Market Square burned down.  Luckily, the back half of the building and the vaults survived the fire.  You can see a painting of the town hall from 1466 before the fire Here.

Since it had been 250 years since the Gothic Town Hall was built, they decided to rebuild the damaged front in the more modern Renaissance-style instead.  The new yellow front half of Town Hall was so impressive for its day, that when it was finished in 1572, it was the most imposing example of Renaissance architecture North of the Alps for almost a decade.  In 1632, during the 30 Years War, King of Sweden Gustav-Adolf stayed the new half of the Town Hall while his army occupied the city.

The baroque-style street-level arcade porch further expanded the front of the Town Hall in 1681 and the coat of arms for the seven Electoral Princes decorate the arches.  Notice how the left side of the gallery has 13 steps, but as you look to the right the steps gradually disappear into the pavement?  This is because Market Square is actually quite slopped and the new stairs needed to account for the angle.

If you look up at the angles of the windows in the short center tower on the front of the Town Hall you can follow the path of the staircase spiraling inside it.  We will visit the much taller belltower on the white back half of Town Hall next on their free walking tour of Rothenburg.  The entrance to climb the to the top of the bell tower is on the front of Town Hall facing Market Square.

4. Town Hall Tower (Rathausturm):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Renaissance Rathaus Gothic Town Hall Tower
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Renaissance Rathaus Gothic Town Hall Tower

About The Town Hall Tower:  The surviving back part of the Gothic Town Hall remained white, but got a Renaissance upgrade to its bell tower.  The 170-foot-tall tower provided better communication with the city watchtowers, and today you can still climb the 220 steps for the best views in Rothenburg.  The entrance to the bell tower is on the front of the building.

Tower Hours: January-March & November Saturday & Sunday Noon-3pm; April-October Daily 9:30am-12:30pm & 1-5pm; During the Christmas Market 10:30am-2pm & 2-6pm (8pm Friday & Saturday).  Cost: Adults 3€; Kids 1.50€.

5. Fountain of Saint George (Sankt Georgsbrunnen):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Renaissance Dragon Fountain of Saint George Knight Sankt Georgsbrunnen
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Renaissance Dragon Fountain of Saint George Knight Sankt Georgsbrunnen

About The Fountain of Saint George:  Sitting over the 8-foot-deep Herterich’s Well is the beautiful Fountain of Saint George.  Water wasn’t always easy to come by in Rothenburg, even though it is by the Tauber River because it sits up on a rocky ridge.  An underground canal system was built in 1418 to keep the Rothenburg’s various wells stocked with outside water in case of drought or war.  The new stable water table system provided allowed 300 of Rothenburg’s roughly 800 homes to get their own private well and also enhanced the capacity of the public wells.

By 1446, a free-flowing fountain was added over Herterich’s Well to give some elegance to Market Square’s main communal water source.  The Renaissance-style central column, added to the fountain in 1608, is capped by a figure of an armored Saint George on horseback famously slaying a dragon.  The addition of Saint George ultimately changed the name as the fountain was officially dedicated to him.  This image of the victorious knight defeating darkness is a very common scene in Medieval art.

6. Meat & Dance House (Fleisch und Tanzhaus):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Market Square Meat and Dance House
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Market Square Meat and Dance House

About The Meat & Dance House:  This was the location of Rothenburg’s original town hall which burned down in 1240.  Using the foundation from the Old Town Hall, the magnificent half-timbered building you see today was built in 1270.  With tall vaulted ceilings, the upper level was used as a dance hall for parties and celebrations.  The first floor was an open shop for local butchers to sell their meats.  Today, the upper level of the house is used to store colorful costumes that the city uses in annual festivals and historic reenactments.  The lower level is now home to the Artist Union which sets up various art galleries.  Prior to 2014, the house was a painted in dull tan colored tones and we love that they brought back the bright red and white.

7. Mayor Jagstheimer’s House (Jagstheimerhaus):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Mayor Jagstheimer House Marian Pharmacy Marienapotheke
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Mayor Jagstheimer House Marian Pharmacy Marienapotheke

About Mayor Jagstheimer’s House:  As one of the most beautiful historic homes you’ll see in Europe, this huge half-timber mansion was built in 1448 by the Mayor Jagstheimer (yags-time-ahr).  One of the coolest features is the detailed 2nd story bay window sticking out of the corner of the mansion.

In 1531, Emperor Maximilian I stayed here as the neighboring Meat & Dance Hall entertained many prominent visitors.  Rothenburg’s Mayor Nusch, who was legendary for the folklore of the Master Draught in 1631, also lived here for a while.   The 1st floor of the building has been home to the Saint Mary’s Pharmacy (Marienapotheke) since 1812.



8. Imperial Dungeons:

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Gothic Town Hall Renaissance Rathaus Imperial Dungeons
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Gothic Town Hall Renaissance Rathaus Imperial Dungeons

About The Imperial Dungeons:  You can also visit 8 of the vaults of the historic Imperial Dungeons to get an idea of the prison conditions in the 1500-1600s including The Thirty Years War.  Exhibits include a guardhouse, a torture room, and three jail cells.  Heinrich Toppler, Rothenburg’s most famous Mayor, was once imprisoned in the dungeon here.  Prior to the Town Hall vaults being used as a prison, criminals were kept is other smaller jails inside some of the city walls including the Rotten Tower which was built in 1385-1400 to house serious criminals.  The entrance to the Imperial Dungeons is inside the gothic city hall atrium hallway and is accessible on the South side of the building along Herngasse.

Dungeon Hours: June-October Daily 9:30am-5:30pm; November-May Open Daily with times posts on a board at the entrance roughly 11am-4pm most days; Closed most of January.  Cost: Adults 3.50€; Kids 2€.  Dungeon Website: Here.

9. Käthe Wohlfahrt Store & Christmas Museum:

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas Store Truck
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas Store Inside

About Käthe Wohlfahrt:  In a town famous for its Christmas Markets, Käthe Wohlfahrt (Kay-ta Vul-fhot) makes the holiday season last all year long.  While they have 5 stores in Rothenburg, it is their headquarters that is the most impressive.  Käthe Wohlfahrt is world-renowned for the quality of their ornaments and Christmas wears.  The multi-level store is a full-on Christmas village with a teddy bear town and the largest collection of ornaments in Germany.  Visiting really is special and will have you in the Christmas spirit the second you enter.

The 2,700 square foot German Christmas Museum  (Deutsches Weihnachtsmuseum) sits above the store and covers hundreds of years of holiday history.  The interesting exhibits have everything from Christmas trees, ornaments, holiday pyramids, Christmas cards and more.

Käthe Wohlfahrt Website: (HERE).  Christmas Museum Website: (HERE).

10. Lords Alley & Fountain (Herrngasse & Brunnen):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - InsideHerrngasse Fountain Lords Alley Street
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - InsideHerrngasse Fountain Lords Alley Street

About Herrngasse:  Connecting the Market Square to the former royal castle is the prestigious street called Lords Alley (Herrngasse).  The name Lords (Herrn) comes from the rich merchants who lived along the street.  Because the lane is rather wide for a small Medieval village, it helped preserve the buildings as fires couldn’t spread as easily.  Today Herrngasse is still home to some of Rothenburg’s most stately homes and fancy shops.

Right in the middle of the street was the old cattle market which is marked today by the Lord Alley Fountain (Herrnbrunnen).  Added in 1595, the fountain’s column got a Renaissance makeover with a merman that has two fish tails, a golden crown on his head, and golden scepter in his hand.  The base of the column has blonde pig-tailed maiden spitting the water back into the fountain.

11. Staudt House & Courtyard (Staudthof):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Staudt House & Courtyard Staudthof Gardens
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Staudt House & Courtyard Staudthof Horse Carriage Doorbell Chimes

About The Staudt House & Courtyard:  The original home and large inner courtyard were laid out in the 1100s.  Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Ferdinand I both visited here.  The Czech Staudt family has lived here since 1644.  The beautiful courtyard is not open to the public, but has former servants’ apartments and a beautiful garden.  The hedge in the garden was planted in 1678.  Outside the home, make sure to check out the wide door which is big enough for a carriage to fit through.  We also love the old chain doorbells hanging out front with 4 different chains to ring different parts of the home.  The baroque window bars are from the year 1772.  You can get a glimpse of courtyard life at the neighboring Kleines Cafe which is part of the Herrnschlösschen Hotel Restaurant Garden.

Website: Here.

12. Herring Washing Street (Heringsbronnengäßchen):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - IHerring Washing Street Heringsbronnengasschen Ivy Vine Covered Mansion
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - IHerring Washing Street Heringsbronnengasschen Ivy Vine Covered Mansion

About Herring Washing Street:  As you stroll down Lord’s Allery you pass the Franciscan Church (Franziskanerkirche) which is the oldest church in Rothenburg.  It was built in 1285 (consecrated in 1309) as part of a monastery for the Knights of the Hinterland, a friary dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The small fountain outside of the church was where traveling tradesmen in Medieval times would wash the sea salt off of their barrels and herring fish which led to the name of the cross street, Herring Washing Street (Heringsbronnengäßchen).  The current stone fountain from 1784 has motifs of Rothburg’s Imperial City Crest and the lion emblem for the Counts of Comburg.

The Counts of Comburg may seem obscure today as they died out in 1116, but they built the small Vinegar Jug Castle in Rothenburg’s Infirmary Quarter in 1070.  One year before the last Count of Comburg died, his daughter married the soon-to-be Duke of Franconia, Conrad III.  The influential Conrad would later go on to be crowned the King of Germany (1138) and built his Hohenstaufen Castle in Rothenburg (1142) which sparked the development of the town (1170).

Further down Herring Washing Street (Heringsbronnengäßchen #2) is a massive ivy-covered mansion which is one of our favorite homes in Rothenburg.  The vines not only cover most of the property’s large inner courtyard, but also spill out over the outer wall.  The building used to house the grammar school and housing for the Franciscan Church Monastery.  As you reach Castle Street (Burggasse) at the bottom of the hill, the ivy on the outer wall of the vine mansion is breathtakingly beautiful.

13. Castle Road (Burggasse):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Castle Road Burgstrasse Barn Gate
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Castle Road Burgstrasse Barn Gate

About Castle Road:  As you hit Castle Road you get your first view of the Tauber River Valley over the city wall.  While we will be turning right to see the royal castle ruins beyond the Barn Gate, we will also visit the other end of Castle Road at the end of this free Rothenburg walking tour.

A large part of Castle Road in Rothenburg was part of the Saint John’s Monastery in the Middle Ages, which was established in 1200.  Since the monks wanted to be separated from the general public to avoid temptation, a large part of the alley was covered with a wooden roof and was closed to non-monks.  The roof made the alley very dark, so it gained the nickname Hell Alley.

Playing off the nickname, our favorite restaurant in Rothenburg is To Hell Tavern (Zur Höll).  The restaurant sits in the oldest home in Rothenburg with a foundation dating back to 970.  While small, the tavern has an authentic Medieval feel and the widest selection of Franconian wines in town.

From Rothenburg, Castle Road was actually part of 1200km trade route connecting over 70 castles that helped the early city prosper.  In the East, the route extended through Nuremberg and Bamberg all the way to Prague.  In the West, it went through Schwäbisch Hall and Heidelberg and its way to the French border in Alsace.  Known as the Thuringian Castle Road, it was the middle route of the Saint James Way to France and brought an influx of pilgrims who called Rothenburg the Franconian Jerusalem.

Zur Höll Hours: Daily 5-11pm.  Restaurant Website: (HERE).

14. King Conrad Hohenstaufen’s Castle:

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - King Conrad III Hohenstaufen Castle Ruins Royal King of Germany Rothenburg
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - King Conrad III Hohenstaufen Castle Ruins Royal King of Germany Rothenburg

About King Conrad’s Castle: The appendix-like park on the West side of Old Town Rothenburg was where Conrad III, King of Germany (House Hohenstaufen) built his royal castle in 1142.  This castle led to the development of the surrounding town by 1170 and gave it the name Rothenburg ob der Tauber, meaning Red Castle over the River Tauber.  As you walk through the Fürbringer Barn Gate (Burgtor), you enter what was formerly the walled farmyard (wirtschaftshof) which then connected to the fort-like castle by a bridge (see image).  Conrad chose the location because the fertile land was cheaper than administrative centers like Bamberg or Würzburg, and also because he had close ties to the area.

In 1115, Conard III (House Hohenstaufen) married Gertrude, the daughter of Count Heinrich II von Comburg-Rothenburg who founded Berchtesgaden in 1102.  The Counts of Comburg (died out in 1116) oversaw parts of Franconia at the time from their court in Schwäbisch Hall and built the small fort known as the Vinegar Jug Castle (now gone) on the hill of Rothenburg’s Infirmary Quarter in 1080.  Conrad also came from a powerhouse family as his dad was the Duke of Swabia (followed by his brother), his mom’s dad was Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, his mom’s second husband was Margrave of Austria Leopold the Good (House Babenberg) who developed Kerms & Vienna, and his maternal uncle was Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV.  Through his bloodlines, Conrad was directly related to all previous 18 Holy Roman Emperors going back to Charlemagne the Great and was destined for the throne himself.

Just one year after the wedding Conrad III was named Duke of Franconia by uncle Emperor Henry IV.  Conrad was also named Prince-Regent for Germany along with his older brother Frederick I (Duke of Swabia).  HERE is a map of the territories at the time to understand how much land the brothers were put in charge of.  When Conrad’s uncle Henry IV died in 1125, his brother lost the appointment for King of Germany in surprise fashion to a distant cousin Lothair III (Duke of Saxony, House Welf) who leveraged Papal support.  This was the start of the feud between the Guelphs (House Welf) versus Ghibellines (House Hohenstaufen) which would later spread in Tuscany and last over 100 years.  After huge military defeats and the election of Lothair as Holy Roman Emperor in 1133, the brothers eventually had to acknowledge as their ruler.

Gertrude of Comburg had died in 1131 after giving Conrad three daughters so he re-married to Gertrude of Sulzbach in 1136, whose dad Count Berengar II of Sulzbach had founded Berchtesgaden in 1102.  Conrad’s powerful brother-in-laws through the Berengar sisters gave him important allies including Prince Vladislav II of Bohemia (later King), Prince of Polish Ladislaus the Exile, and Byzantine Emperor Manuel I.  With his bloodlines and new alliances, Conrad III was quickly elected King of Germany in Coblenz (March 1138) after Lothair died (December 1137), snubbing Lothair’s son-in-law and heir, Henry The Proud (Duke of Bavaria & Saxony, House Welf).  Because Henry the Proud didn’t support him, Conrad striped Henry of the Bavarian duchy and gave it to his half-brother Leopold Leopold the Generous (House Babenberg) who also control the Margrave of Austria.

The newly crowned King Conrad III grew to be one of the most powerful men in Europe over the next 14 years and seemed destined for the Holy Roman Empire Crown which had sat vacant since Lothair’s death.  Before leaving in 1147 with 20,000 troops to fight with Louis VII of France in the 2nd Crusade, Conrad III arranged for his two sons Henry Berengar (then 10 years old) and Fredrick IV (then 2) named Co-Kings of Germany (Prince Regent) with him in Regensburg to take over in case Conrad III died in battle.  Conrad went on to participate in the ill-fated Siege of Damascus (1148) and returned to Germany.

His son Henry Berengar, who was once betrothed to the Princess of Hungary, was the winning general at the Battle of Flochberg (1150), but died later that year.  Not long after, Conrad III also died on the 15th of February 1152 at Bamberg (buried at Bamberg Cathedral) of malaria.  The title King of Germany then went to Conrad’s nephew Frederick Barbarossa (Emperor 1155-1190) who had fought with him in the 1st Crusade instead of his own six-year-old surviving son Frederick IV (1145–1167).  The title transfer was a bit controversial as only Frederick Barbarossa and the prince-bishop of Bamberg were at Conrad’s deathbed to hear the order.  Frederick IV was given his dad’s castle in Rothenburg and named the Duke of Swabia, but the Duke of Franconia title went to the Bishop of Würzburg.

Frederick Barbarossa was named Holy Roman Emperor in 1155 and Frederick IV took part in his cousin’s campaigns in Italy where he died from disease after occupying Rome in 1167 at the age of 21 and with no heirs.  After Duke Frederick IV’s death in 1167, Conrad’s castle in Rothenburg was only lightly used.  Emperor Barbarossa’s heirs produced three more Holy Roman Emperors and several Kings of Germany before the Hohenstaufen line died out in 1254.  The last Hohenstaufen King of Germany (Conrad IV) only stayed at Rothenburg Castle seven times between 1238 and 1251, then it sat mostly vacant as Imperial Property, and was eventually ruined by an earthquake in 1356.

15. Castle Ruins & Garden (Burggarten):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Imperial Castle Garden House Burggarten Statues Ruins
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Imperial Castle Garden Ducal House Saint Blaise Chapel Jewish Memorial Burggarten

About Bruggarten: In 1356, Castle Hohenstaufen was ruined by a large earthquake (known as the Basel Quake) which also damaged sections of the old city wall.  In 1380, the Emperor sold the ruined castle to the city and allowed much of the stone to be quarried to repair and bolster a growing Rothenburg’s fortifications.  Quality stone was a precious commodity at the time and the 820 feet (250 meters) long and 130 feet (40 meters) wide fortress had a lot of it.

In 1400, Mayor Toppler decided to rebuild the former castle’s Upper Ducal House into what is now the Chapel of Saint Blaise.  As this royal castle didn’t have a chapel, the original Ducal House was connected to King Conrad’s private quarters and where he received guests during his visits.  At the time of Toppler’s work, Rothenburg was the 2nd largest city in Germany at 6,000 residents and one of the 10 largest in the Holy Roman Empire.

Against the North side of the Ducal House, look for the stone Jewish Memorial from the Rintfleisch Massacre of 1298.  At the time Rothenburg’s Jewish community lived along the outside of the original city wall, but had to seek refuge in the Hohenstaufen Castle for three days when a traveling mob arrived to kill them in a religious persecution.  With the help of local Christians, the mob burned and killed a majority of Rothenburg’s 500 Jewish residents including women and children.  Before being stopped, the mob had ravished 146 communities in Franconia killing over 20,000 Jews.  While parts of the old Jewish Quarter remain near the White Tower, the community was officially banned from Rothenburg in 1520.  In more recent time, a second memorial was added inside the chapel for German soldiers who died in WW1 & WW2.

Roaming further down the former castle grounds, you’ll run into the orange Garden House (Gartenhaus) cottage which was once the main entrance into Hohenstaufen Castle.  The cottage was built over the foundations of the ancient gatehouse in the 1600s and still incorporates the old Romanesque archway into its Eastern facing facade.  Although not castles in the 1100s didn’t have pleasure gardens, the Westwise of the cottage has a lovely Baroque Castle Garden (Burggarten) in what was the once the fortress’ main courtyard.  The garden has beautiful geometric flower beds with 8 sandstone statues representing the 4 seasons and 4 elements.  We love taking photos of the statues framed up with vines hanging from the wooden trellis tunnel.  The garden is one of the best places in Rotheburg to relax, offering great views of the Infirmary Quarter skyline and the Tauber River Valley below.

As you reach the Western end of the former castle grounds you will even get to look down at Mayor Toppler’s unique top-heavy home along the river.  This end of the castle had a watchtower and three story manor house.  A memorial stone was added in the Castle Park in 1908 honoring the 500 year anniversary of the death of the famous Mayor.

16. Castle Gate & Tower (Burgtor & Turm):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Imperial Castle Gate Tower
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Imperial Castle Gate Tower Manhole Door

About The Castle Gate:  While the Fürbringer Barn Gate was the original entrance into the castle grounds, traffic shifted to Castle Gate (Burgturm) which connected to the grounds to the Market Square.  After Castle Hohenstaufen was destroyed in the earthquake of 1356, they needed to enhance their defense on the West side of town.  They decided to super-size the Castle Gate (completed in 1460), adding the town’s tallest watchtower, a drawbridge, and other protective measures.  Two small gatehouses were built in front of the Castle Gate to help funnel in traffic and thwart would-be attackers.

Just inside the gatehouses, you’ll see a decorative mask which has a mouth hole the guards would use to pour hot tar on attackers.  On the sides of the mask, you’ll see two large slots where chains were fastened to raise the gate’s drawbridge.  In Medieval times, all of the city gates were locked at sundown so you would have to pay a fine at the gatehouse to get in after dark.  You would also have to enter a special Eye-of-the-Needle door with a small opening only big enough for one person at a time, known as the manhole.  The current wooden manhole door dates back to 1555.

17. Former Dominican Convent Garden (Klostergarten):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Former Dominican Convent Garden Klostergarten
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Former Dominican Convent Garden Klostergarten

About The Convent Garden:  The Imperial Kitchen Master, Lupold von Nordenberg, funded a move to bring the order of Dominican nuns here from the nearby village of Neusitz in 1258.  The nun’s complex had a large garden, a modest church, and dormitories.  The Dominican Convent gained their wealth through donations and from the wedding dowry money they received from women who joined.

Although the Convent was dissolved in 1544 and the church was torn down in 1813, the rest of the grounds have been preserved as part of the Imperial City Museum.  The gardens are free to visit, have 50 types of herbs, and a section of well-marked poisonous plants.  If you are looking to relax away from the hoards of mid-day tourists, this garden is one of the best green areas to do so inside the city walls.

Hours: April-October Daily 8am-7pm.  Cost: Free.

18. Imperial City Museum (Reichsstadtmuseum):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Imperial City Museum Kitchen
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Imperial City Museum Convent Hallway Statues

About The Imperial City Museum:  Inside of the dormitory building of the former Dominican Convent, the Imperial City Museum covers the history of Rothenburg from 1247 through 1802 when is served as a Free Imperial City.   The enjoyable museum, which opened in 1936, centers its attention around the Convent (started in 1258 and dissolved in 1544), but it also covers much more.

Exhibits in the Imperial City Museum display Medieval weapons, paintings, local Jewish history, and the impressive convent kitchen.  The kitchen, dating back to the late-1200s, is considered the oldest kitchen in Germany.  One of the coolest parts of the kitchen is the Lazy Susan the nuns would use to give food to the poor outside the convent without being seen.  The Medieval Crime Museum, which we cover later in this walking tour, is our favorite in town, but the Imperial City Museum is a very close second.

Museum Hours: April-October Daily 9:30am-5.30pm; November-March Daily 1-4pm.  Museum Website: (HERE).  Museum Cost: Adults 4.50€; Kids Free.

19. Feuerlein’s Oriel Window (Feuerleinserker):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Klostergarten Feuerlein Oriel Window corner balcony
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Klostergarten Feuerlein Oriel Window corner balcony

About The Oriel Window:  This picture-perfect home built in the 1600s is featured on many of Rothenburgs postcards.  The main draw is the 2nd story corner bay window with a pointy roof protruding out of the house.  It is considered to be an Oriel-style window because it is not supported by the ground below and sticks out like a balcony.

If you stand just up the road from the house and look back toward the city center, you’ll get the same view you see printed on plates and postcards around town.  If you look closely at the window, you’ll see a religious inscription in German that translates to “For food for the body, eat the bread from this house, but for food for the Soul God’s word is the choice“.

20. Saint Jacob’s Church (Sankt Jakobkirche):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Saint James Church Jacob Cathedral Jakcob
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Saint James Church Jacob Cathedral Jakcob altar

About Saint Jacob’s Church:  Saint Jacob’s Church is the most important church in Rothenburg and was finished in 1485 after 170 years of building.  The church is dedicated to Saint James who was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus and considered the first apostle.  After James was buried in Spain, pilgrims started traveling to his grave from as far away as Jerusalem and created numerous pilgrim routes across Medieval Europe.  Because the growing Rothenburg already sat on two important trade routes, the impressive church gave the city a new avenue to also attract hoards for pilgrims in route to Spain from the North and East.  The vaulted ceiling church was originally Catholic, but converted to Lutheran during the Reformation in 1544.

The top attraction at Saint Jacob’s is the wooden Altar of the Holy Blood, also called the Franciscan Altar, which sits upstairs on the West side of the church.  Carved by Tilman Riemenschneider from 1499-1505, the alter is considered one of the master artist’s best works.  The center panel of the altar shows a scene from the Last Supper, while the panel on the left shows Jesus entering Jerusalem, and the panel of the right side shows Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Above the 3 panels is the Relic of the Holy Blood which is crystal said to hold a drop of Jesus’s blood that was set into a wooden cross in 1270.  The entire Altar of the Holy Blood was originally housed in the Franciscan Church, Rothenburg’s oldest church, before being moved here.   Riemschneider was a Würzburg based artists considered one of the best wood carvers of his day.  One of the artist’s other works from 1490 called the Altar of Louis de Toulose also resided in Saint Jacob’s Church.  On the North side of the Church is an altar carved by of one of Riemenschneider’s in 1520 which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  The Virgin Mary Altar was first housed at the Holy Ghost Chapel in the Infirmary Quarter before being moved to Saint Jacob’s Church.

Carved by Swabian master artists in 1446, the High Altar on the East side of Saint Jacob’s Church is dedicated to the Twelve Apostles.  The central panel show 6 Saints under a crucified Jesus who is surrounded by 4 angels in incredible detail.  The scene and side panels were brilliantly painted by Friedrich Herlin and the carving on the back of the altar is the oldest known representation of Rothenburg. On the left side of the High Altar is a beautifully carved stone panel with a wooden tabernacle where the Communion wine jug is stored outside of services.  The stone panel was also painted by Friedrich Herlin in 1448 at the same time he worked on the High Altar.  We love the huge Medieval stained glass windows above the High Altar which let amazing colored light in against the nave’s pale interior.  The oldest stained glass window is the center one dating back to 1350 while others were finished about 40 years later.  For the best light go early in the morning.  Hidden nearby is Toppler’s Chapel which holds the gave of former Mayor Toppler who died in 1408.  The stone panel in the chapel shows hands hold up dice because the name Toppler in German means a cubed game.

21. Imperial Kitchen Master Restaurant (Reichs Küchenmeister):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Imperial Kitchen Master restaurant Reichs kuchenmeister beer garden
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Imperial Kitchen Master restaurant Reichs kuchenmeister beer garden

About The Restaurant: We love the amazing tree-lined patio at the restaurant overlooking Saint Jacob’s Church.  The restaurant is named after the Imperial Kitchen Master Lupold von Nordenberg, built the mansion as his own home in 1200, and was very influential in early day Rothenburg.  Converted into an Inn, the future Emperor Ferdinand I stayed here in 1540 followed by a visit by Emperor Charles V in 1546.

The Inn operated as Café Köppel in the 1800s, was one of the few buildings inside the original city walls to be damaged by WW2 bombings in 1945, and has served as restaurant & hotel since 1948.  The beer is cold and the food is very tasty.  They also have more formal dining inside, but we prefer the laid-back patio.

22. The Master Builder’s House (Baumeisterhaus):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Baumeisterhaus Restaurant Master Builder's House Statues
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Baumeisterhaus Restaurant Master Builder's House Inside

About The The Master Builder’s House: This amazing home is Rothenburg’s most beautiful Renaissance mansion.  It was built in 1596 for the local master builder and famous stonemason Leonard Weidmann.   The lavish interior of the mansion is now home to a restaurant and cafe.  While the inside of the Master Builder’s House is worth seeing, the main attraction is the facade which is highlighted with statues of the seven virtues and the seven vices.

The statues of the good and bad qualities are especially interesting as they are mixed together on purpose as a reminder that they occur mixed in life.  The lower row of statues from left to right has Kindheartedness (hand on heart), Gluttony (wine cup), Motherhood (children), Betrayal (weight counterfeiters), Gentleness (lamb), Wisdom (two snakes), Temperance/Moderation (one cup wine & one water).  The upper row has Stinginess (money bag), Courage (club), Unchastity (goat), Justice (sword), Pride/Vanity (mirror), Falsity (snake), Laziness (snail).  The original sandstone statues are on display at the Imperial City Museum and were replaced by replicas for preservation.

Before finishing the Master Builder’s House, Leonard Weidmann also built both the Spital Bastion (Spitalbastei) and Hegereiterhaus in the Infirmary Quarter which are two of the coolest structures in town.  He is often credited with finishing the green mansion next to his own home, but it has actually been run as the Golden Greifen Inn since at least 1274.  Mayor Toppler’s dad owned the Inn by 1309, and the famous mayor himself owned it when he died in 1408.  We love the tiny street-level doors here used to access the Medieval cellars.

23. Medieval Crime Museum (Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Medieval Crime Museum torture
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Medieval Crime Museum torture

About The Medieval Crime Museum:  Sitting in the former monastery complex of the Monks of Saint John is the only law museum in Europe!  The Medieval Crime Museum covers over 1000 years of Medieval law history, sensational criminal cases,  including the persecution of witches and witchcraft in Bavaria.  Our favorite items are the instruments used for torture, shaming, and punishment.  The devices were used for everything from stealing, people who cheated on their spouses and even those who gossiped too much.  It is by far one of the coolest things to do in Rothenburg and helps get you into the Medieval spirit.

Museum Website: (HERE).

24. Saint John’s Church & Fountain (Sankt Johannis Kirche):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Saint John’s Fountain & Fish Pond Johannisbrunnen
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Saint John’s Fountain & Fish Pond Johannisbrunnen

About Saint John’s Church: Originally built in 1200 as the gothic chapel for the nearby Saint John’s Hospital, this church also served as the headquarters of the Order of Saint John Monks.  The hospital was built just on the outside of the City Gate (Stadtturm) for the first city wall as to not spread infections in town.

As a small suburb started to spring up on the Southern end of Rothenburg, the city wall was expanded in 1385.  This expansion also gave the church space to be totally rebuilt in its current style from 1390-1410 including the addition of the City Watchtower (Stadttor) on the Eastern side (no longer exists).  Saint John’s was forced to switch to Protestant during the Reformation, but and since changed back and is now Rothenburg’s only Catholic church.  The interior is one of the blander in town, but it is still an important place to take note of.

The large Saint John’s Fountain (Johannisbrunnen) next to the church is the biggest well in town, able to hold over 25,000 gallons of water.  It was built in 1608, remodeled in 1716, and is decorated with a beautiful column capped with the zodiac sign Aquarius to bless the water.  Sitting right behind the fountain is a large stone fish pond that we find to be really cool, but is often overlooked.  The tank was the holding pond was the perfect way to make sure they always had plenty of fish on hand at the monastery.  The ponds were remodeled in 1856 and have held up great since then.  Just past the fish ponds, you can get great views of the Baroque garden and large vineyard sitting on the slope right below the city wall.

25. Plönlein Corner:

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Plonlein corner famous yellow house
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Plonlein corner famous yellow house

About Plönlein Corner: The postcard-perfect shot you were looking for, Plönlein Corner is the most iconic image of Rothenburg.  The bright yellow half-timbered house framed by two towers is almost jaw-dropping.  Get there before or after the tour buses roll in for the day to get great photos with the square free of tourists.  Also, make sure to check out the cool flower bed made out of a former well fountain in front of the home.  Plönlein means a small level area in Latin, but its the change in elevation in the split of the road that makes it cool.

Down the hill to the right of Plönlein Corner is  Kobolzeller Tower & Gate started in 1204.  Leading up from the Tauber River Valley, the tower checkpoint was a series of 4 gates built to kennel visitors in for extra layers of protection.  Following the 1356 earthquake, the watchtower near the gate was built.  If you take the steep path down to the River you can get an excellent photo back up the hill of the Kobolzeller Tower through the trees.

Up the hill, to the left of Plönlein Corner Sifter Maker’s Tower (Siebersturm) also has a gate from 1204 with the watchtower coming in 1385 as the Infirmary Quarter was fortified.  The new tower was originally called the Inner Gebsattler Tower, but was renamed for the Association of Flour Sifter (or Sieve) Makers.

Other Nearby Sites:

26. Infirmary Quarter:

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Infirmary Quarter Hospital Rossmuhle Youth Hostel Old Corn Mill
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - Infirmary Quarter Hospital

About Infirmary Quarter: While originally centered on the Parish of Detwang on the Tauber River, in 1080 the village of Rothenburg started to move up the hill.  One of the first buildings up the hill was a small fortress for the Counts of Komburg on the so-called “Vinegar Jug” near the Infirmary.

When the first city walls were built in the early-1200s, the neighborhood was left outside of the walls.  In 1280, a religious order called the Knights of the Hinterland established a hospital to help the sick and poor called the Holy Ghost Infirmary.  The Infirmary was eventually enclosed by the city wall from 1370-1385, but a large fire in the 1500s required most of the hospital complex except the Holy Ghost Church be rebuilt.

27. City Wall Walking Tour (Turmweg):

Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - City Wall Walk Turmweg
Free Rothenburg Walking Tour Map Old Town Guide Medieval City Center - City Wall Walk Turmweg

About The City Wall: With roughly 2.5 miles of Medieval ramparts and 70 towers surrounding Rothenburg, a stroll on top of the 20-foot-tall wall is one of the joys of any visit.  While we do have a complete walking tour available for anyone wanting to the complete circuit, the shorter version from Ruckesser Tower to Röder Tower will at least give you a taste.  Working your way up the steps and into the covered walkway on top of the wall is magical.  The ceiling only about 6 feet tall, and the path is single file, but you’ll really get the Medieval feel.  Slits in the wall provided lookouts and created vantage points for incoming attacks.

During WW2 Allied planes dropped bombs on the North side of Rothenburg, killing 37 people, destroying 306 houses, 6 public buildings, 9 watchtowers, and damaging over 2000 feet of the wall.  Luckily trough generous donations the damage was able to be restored close to its original state.  Many of the donations came from people sponsoring 1 meter long sections of the wall by buying plaques with their family names on them.  When is started in 1950, each sponsorship cost $40 per meter and are now over $2000 a meter.  As you walk the wall make note of the various plaques from sponsors by local and foreign.

Read More: Rothenburg City Wall Walking Tour.

28. Old House of Crafts (Alt-Rothenburger Handwerkerhaus):

AboutThe Old House of Crafts:  Built in 1270, it has glittered into the heart of the world. the everyday story of the barrel makers, shoemakers, and weavers who lived in this house over 500 years.  Was preserved because a hermit lived here in the early-1800s and never modernized it. 

Website: Here.