Top 10 Things To Do in Rothenburg:
Rothenburg Germany is one of our favorite towns in Europe because it is packed with so much Medieval beauty, amazing attractions, and tons of festive events. With an abundance of options, narrowing down the top 10 things to do in Rothenburg was a lot tougher than we expected. The village may be small, but there is a great diversity among Rothenburg’s best sights. The fact that the city is compact is actually a huge advantage as a tourist since you can visit many of the best sights one after another all in a single day.
To get the full experience, you will really need to stay overnight as Rothenburg really becomes magical after the hoards of tourist leave. There are a few of our favorite things to do that don’t even start until after dinner time. The Night Watchman Tour isn’t until 8pm, Hell Restaurant doesn’t open until 6pm, and the Christmas market is way better after dark, so staying overnight is really important. We hope you fall in love with Rothenburg and its sights as much as we have!
1. Night Watchman Tour:
About The Night Watchman Tour: The Night Watchman Tour is by far the most memorable experience while visiting Rothenburg. Every night a couple dozen people meet in the Old Town Square to hear the Night Watchman’s tales about Medieval life in the village. Equipped with a lantern, a horn for altering residents of trouble, and a battle called a halberd, you’ll stroll the old streets and dim alleyways together. The tours are quite humorous and very insightful. In Medieval Rothenburg, there were 6 night watchmen patrolling different parts of town, lighting the street lamps, making sure the homes doors were locked, and signalling for danger or fire. While the tours have been going on since 1990, the original Night Watchmen were still on duty all the way until 1920. Make sure to stay overnight in Rothenburg at least one day and go on this tour. You’ll quickly see why it is number 1 on our list of the top ten things to do in Rothenburg!
Tour Hours: 60 Minute Tours Daily at 8pm Mid-March Through December. Tour Cost: Adults 7€; Students 4€; Kids 12 & Under Free. Watchman Website: (HERE).
About The City Wall Walking Tour: Stretching 2.5 miles around Rothenburg and guarded by 70 towers, walking around the covered ramparts of the Medieval City Wall is magical. After the castle was built in Rothenburg in 1142, the village naturally followed and soon required a protective wall. Starting with 4 major gates, the wall grew bolder by the century. Following the earthquake of 1356 that ruined the castle, the wall was expanded and mighty watchtowers were super-sized. Rothenburg grew to be the 2nd largest city in Germany with 6,000 residents in 1400 and the wall grew with it. At its peak, the 70 watchtowers warned of danger and the 20 foot tall covered walkways provided shelter from sieges while villagers lived off their stockpiles of food. Several breaches and occupations during the 30 Years War in the 1600s ultimately lead to the downward slide of Rothenburg and tourism didn’t recover for 200 years.
In WW2, Allied bombs damage 2000 feet of the wall and 9 watchtowers, but the beautiful of the village spared it from being leveled by artillery. Generous donations lead to the restoration of the wall with people buying plaques to sponsor 1 meter sections of the ramparts. In 1950, each meter of sponsorship as roughly $40 and is over $2000 today. As you walk the wall you can see the names of people from all over the World who have contributed to the preservation.
Wall Walk Hours: Daily from dawn to dusk. Wall Walk Cost: Free. City Wall Walking Tour: (HERE).
About Plönlein Corner: With colorful fairy tale homes, Plönlein Corner is the most iconic imagine of Rothenburg. The square is centered on a bright yellow, half-timber home and flowered water well. The picturesque corner is extremely beautiful no matter what time of day or year it is. As the path splits into a low road and high road you are lead to one of two gorgeous medieval watch towers. The high road leads to Infirmary Quarter is protected by Sieve Maker’s Tower Gate, added in 1385. The lower road leads to the Tauber River used to funnel visitors in through 4 gates and the Kobolzeller Tower.
4. Attend The Christmas Market or A Festival:
About Rothenburg’s Festivals: With over a dozen annual festivals, there seems to always be somethings great going on in Rothenburg. The beauty of the village it an attraction in itself, but during a festival is when everything really comes to life. Usually held in Market Square (Marktplatz) Green Market (Grüner Markt), the events range from historic reenactments to Medieval celebrations. Our favorite events are the Franconian Wine Festival, Imperial City Days, and of course the world-famous Christmas Market. Rothenburg’s Christmas Market (Reiterlesmarkt) is special not just because of the perfect setting, but also it has been run since the 1400s. At the time, Rotheburg was one of the Holy Roman Empire’s largest cities and on the cross roads of two major trade routes which brought in pilgrims and the best goods. Throw in the that Rothenburg was deeply religious, rich in textiles, had fertile land, plus great wine, and you have the making for an great holiday celebration. Today the market still runs the entire Advent season and is one of the busiest times of year. You will be able sample authentic German food, warm mulled wine served added spices called Glühwein (pronounced Glue-Vine), and shop for souvenirs from nutcrackers to Christmas ornaments.
5. Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas Store:
About Käthe Wohlfahrt: From the early days of its Advent Market, Rothenburg has been known as Christmas Town. Thanks to Käthe Wohlfahrt, holiday season now lasts all year long. With 5 stores in Rothenburg and a global online presence, they are world-renowned for the the quality of their ornaments and Christmas wears.
The best location to visit is Käthe Wohlfahrt’s flagship store and headquarters right in the middle of town. It is easy to spot with the delivery truck outfit topped with gifts. The multi-level Christmas dream is so vast that it contains largest collection of ornaments in Germany. The interior is designed to look you are walking in a Christmas village with houses as displays cases while a painted starry sky ceiling hangs above you. 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.
6. Medieval Crime Museum:
About The Medieval Crime Museum: Housed in the seminary building of the former monastery complex of the Monks of Saint John, this is the only law museum in Europe! The Medieval Crime Museum covers over 1000 years Medieval law history, sensational criminal cases, including the persecution of witches and witchcraft in Bavaria. Our favorite items are the the instruments used for torture, shaming, and punishment. The torture devices were use 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).
7. Climb Town Hall Tower:
About Town Hall Tower: The large central tower at Rothenburg’s Town Hall has been a very important part of the cities defenses over the centuries. The main purpose of the tower was to watch for fires and provide a quick way to communicate with the city wall watch towers circling the city. When the original Town Hall burned down in 1240, a double fronted Gothic-style building was built here to replace it. In 1501, the front half of the building facing Market Square burned and was replaced with the large yellow Renaissance section you see today. The white back half of the Town Hall was largely spared from the fire but received a slight Renaissance makeover and upgrade to its tower. The tower, which access from Market Square, is 170 feet tall and takes 222 zigzag steps to climb. The last stretch is a steep ladder that gets you to the outdoor observation galley. The views of the city, the surrounding Tauber River Valley, and the lively Market Square below you are amazing. With a birds eye view, you’ll quickly see how much of an advantage the tower was in the Middle Ages.
Town Hall 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).
8. Castle Hohenstaufen Garden (Burggarten):
About Burggarten: Because of the cheap and fertile land in the Tauber River Valley, King Conrad III decided to build Castle Hohenstaufen here in 1142. The King had been the King of Italy before becoming the King of Germany and would have been Holy Roman Emperor it it were not for his death. The presence of the castle of power of the king lead to the quick development of Rothenburg. After the death of the King and also of the Duke who followed him, the castle sat largely vacant, but the city grew strong.
In 1356, a large earthquake ruined the castle along with damaging the city walls. The stone from the castle was used to enforce the wall and to add new watch towers. In 1400 Mayor Toppler decided to rebuild the castle’s Upper Ducal House into what is now the Chapel of St. Blaise. Originally the castle didn’t have chapel and the Ducal House was actually where the king received his guests. Today the chapel holds a memorial for WW1 & WW2 inside have outside has a memorial for 250 Jewish residents killed in 1258.
Our favorite part of the ruins are is the Castle Garden (Burggarten) which was added toward the end of the 1700s and was not originally part of the complex. The Castle Garden has beautiful geometric flower beds with 8 sandstone statues representing the 4 seasons and 4 elements. It is one of the best places in Rothenburg to relax, offering great views of the Infirmary Quarter to the South, the town vineyards and the Tauber River Valley below.
9. Saint Jacob’s Church:
About Saint Jacob’s Church: Saint Jacob’s is the most important church in Rothenburg and was finished in 1485 after 170 years of building. The top attraction is the wooden Altar of the Holy Blood which was carved by Tilman Riemenschneider from 1499-1505 and is considered one of his best works. The main altar, carved by Friedrich Herlin, is dedicated to the Twelve Apostles and is the oldest representation of the town of Rothenburg. We love the huge Medieval stained glass windows which let amazing light in against the nave’s light colored interior. The oldest window dates back to 1350. The stained glass windows along the East choir as especially colorful in the morning sun.
Church Website: (HERE).
10. To Hell Tavern (Zur Höll):
About To Hell Tavern: One of the best things to do in Rothenburg is to eat some authentic German food while sipping on local Franconian wine. Our favorite place to do this is the small To Hell Tavern (Zur Höll) on Castle Alley (Burggasse). It is housed inside a the oldest home in Rothenburg with a foundation dating back to 970. The small, yellow, half-timber cottage will bring you right back to the middle ages. While any table in the candle lit establishment are great, we really to the one in the far back cellar which was stone walls. In the Middle Age, this section of Castle Alley was part of Saint John’s Monastery and the lane was covered with a wooden roof to shelter the monks from the public. Because the roof made the lane quick dark it got the nickname Hell which carried over the restaurant when it opened. One of the best things is that the Tavern doesn’t open until 6pm long after the hoards of tourist buses are gone.
Another popular Medieval place to eat is the Altfraenkische Weinstube (website) located near the Imperial City Museum. The decor is very cozy and the food is great, however, they tend to give German speaking customers much better service than non-German speakers.
Hell Tavern Hours: Opens daily at 6pm. Hell Tavern Website: (HERE).
11. Imperial City Museum:
About The Imperial City Museum: Opened in 1936, The Imperial City Museum is housed inside the dorms of Rothenburg’s former Dominican Convent. A lot of the museum’s exhibits center around the Convent (started in 1258 and dissolved in 1544), but cover much more. Other sections include City History, Medieval weapons, Paintings, Jewish History, and the 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.
Museum Hours: April-October Daily 9:30am-5.30pm; November-March Daily 1-4pm. Museum Website: (HERE). Museum Cost: Adults 4.50€; Kids Free.
12. Hot Air Ballooning:
About Happy Hot Air Ballooning: For an entirely unique view of the Medieval village and Rothenburg’s countryside, take to the sky with Happy Hot Air Ballooning. Gliding in an open basket above the valley is about as Romantic as it gets. The company has it down to an art and does all of its tours to line up with either sunrise or sunset so you get two experiences in one ride. The ride lasts around 90 minutes and can hold up to 5 guests. You really will feel like you are gliding as you are moving above the dew filled grass with the wind instead of it blowing against you.
Happy Ballooning Hours: Balloons launch daily April-October at sunrise and again 2 hours before sunrise. They also have service in the Winter which is more dependent on the weather conditions. The rides do not operate in heavy winds, rain or fog. Happy Ballooning Website: (HERE).