Best Things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Eran Fulson

By: Eran Fulson / Writer, Adventurer, New Dad, Wood & Metal Designer

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Nestled high above the Tauber Valley lies a picturesque city in northern Bavaria. We've put together some of the best things to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber (red castle above the Tauber). Holding lofty status as one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Germany, this is a must for the bucket list.

Medieval Rothenburg gate at sunsetRoeder Gate in the sunset

Within the 16th-century town walls, you’ll find plenty of good reasons to visit. Interesting museums with organized tours, cafés, and hotels with old-world architecture will have you stepping back in time.

And of course, you'll want to see this small town transformed into a beautiful Christmas village in the winter.

Buildings in Rothenburg, Germany lit up with Christmas lights in the evening.St Jakob's Church in the shadows of Christmas

Given free imperial city status by King Rudolf of Habsburg in 1274, this afforded Rothenburg o.d.T certain privileges, the results of which can still be seen today.

Answerable only to the Holy Roman Emperor, the local council laid the groundwork for cultural and economic growth. A thriving community gave home to poets, scholars, and artists, all of whom created a vibrant theater and music scene. 

Planning Your Trip

Getting There

Traveling by car offers flexibility and is the most direct route to Rothenburg. Though two days are recommended for the full experience, its close proximity makes Rothenburg an ideal day trip from Frankfurt and Munich.

Arriving via the Romantic Road or the equally popular Castles Road, one will pass by many historic castles and stunning natural panoramas on the way in.

There are several parking lots outside the Old Town, while parking is restricted in the Old Town from 7pm until 6am. 

Getting Around

Public transportation is available via buses and regional trains, and it is only a short walk to the old town center. It is worth noting that, due to Rothenburg being a little ways off the main transport lines, traveling by train may be slightly complicated.

However, after a couple of transfers, “Wie komme ich nach…” (How do I get to…) will be rolling off the tongue like a local.

We've partnered with Stay22 to help streamline your holiday booking experience. Using the interactive map below, find your next home away from home. Also added are points of interest that we cover in this post.

Things To See And Do

Tour the Tower Wall

Travel Tips

It’s all about timing. During peak season, try to get to the tower walls early in the morning before the crowds arrive.

Perhaps the ideal way to begin your foray into the best things to do in Rothenburg is to begin your visit from the outside before working your way inward. The Rothenburg Tower Trail encircles the town and offers no less than 42 towers along its 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) route. The majority are along the city wall, near the six gates into the city.

In the Old Quarter, you’ll find the towers from the first city wall, the Town Hall tower, and the Siebers Tower - an old entrance into the city along the Romantic Road. 

Old tower and wall in Rothenburg, GermanyPlenty of ways up to dodge the crowds

Night Watchman Tour

If you’re planning a day trip, I’d recommend staying the night for one reason alone: Hans Georg Baumgartner. His portrayal of a Night Watchman patrolling the streets makes this one of the best things to do in Rothenburg, and second to none. 

Through the winding streets of half-timbered houses and Gothic spires, you’ll find yourself fully immersed in 16th-century Germany.

The one-hour guided tour, available in English and German, runs from April to December, beginning at the market square. No reservations are needed. 

Half-timbered buildings in market square in Rothenburg, GermanyAlong the Night Watchmen Tour

St. Jakob's Kirche

The largest church within the old city walls of Rothenburg o.b.T, the St. Jakob's (St. James) Church is a great place to stop and admire the finest in Gothic craftsmanship.

The centerpiece is undoubtedly the Heilig-Blut-Altar (Holy Blood Altar), carved by Germany’s most famous woodcarver, Tilman Riemenschneider. The altar was commissioned to surround a small crystal purported to contain a holy relic: a drop of Christ’s blood.

Whether truth or fiction, there’s no denying the awe-inspiring detail and storytelling of the Last Supper carved into the glazed lime wood. 

Collage of St. Jakob's Church in Rothenburg, stone church with tall windows and cloudy skyAtmospheric views of St. Jakob's during our summer tour

Surprisingly, main altar in the eastern choir section is often first missed given the grandeur of the Holy Blood Altar. The main altar is otherwise known as the Twelve Apostles Altar, or the Herlin Altar, after its creator Friedrich Herlin.

It's display also contains the oldest representation of Rothenburg’s Marktplatz (Marketplace) and several other key sites around the year 1466. 

Visitors who arrive in the morning are greeted by a stunning array of colors shining through stained-glass windows surrounding the church. Various depictions include scenes of the life of the Virgin Mary, Christ’s life, and representations of Christ’s work of redemption and sacraments. 

Also noteworthy is the Rieger organ, which is one of the largest in Bavaria. Free organ concerts are held throughout the year—an auditory experience not to be missed if given the chance.

The Plönlein

Rarely does a fork in the road greet you with a reasonable excuse to stay and enjoy the view, but the Plönlein does just that. Quintessentially Rothenburg, and even more quintessentially German. If you've ever wondered, "What is Rothenburg known for?" this square is probably it.

Featuring one of the oldest houses in the city and still retaining its original features, you would be remiss not to grab a quick photo. 

The Plönlein, meaning ‘small square’, also has a fountain and two towers on the old city wall to its left and right. The famous house at the center was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s classic “Pinocchio” (1940) and also featured in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).

Black and white photo of the Plönlein square in Rothenburg, towers in the background. Second photo looking the other way down the street lined with old half-timbered housesStandard photo of the Plönlein and the seldom-seen view looking back the other way

Castle Garden

Most cities will feature a castle as its main attraction. However, it may come as a surprise that there is currently no castle in Rothenburg. King Conrad III had Rothenburg Castle built in 1142, yet sadly, it fell to an earthquake in 1356 and was never rebuilt.

The stones from the ruins went on to build the existing city walls. The original site now features well-manicured gardens, historical collections of trees, and extensive lawns.

Be sure to bring your camera, as behind the former gardener’s house lie geometric flowerbeds around a series of statues depicting the four seasons and four elements.

The surrounding views garnered attention from the German postal service, which created a double stamp in 2019 as part of “Germany’s most beautiful panoramas”.

Castle Gate leading to the Castle Gardens in RothenburgCastle Gate leading to the Castle Gardens

All in the Marketplatz

Not one to do away with tradition, the Marketplatz (Marketplace) is still a hub of activity these days. Locals and visitors alike gather on the Town Hall steps or café cobblestone patios, taking in the day or one of the various events throughout the year. Generally speaking, if you're on a tour, all the best things to do in Rothenburg typically begin here.

In the summer, the square is used as a stage for concerts or as the central location for the Master Draught festival. 

During the winter, the Rothenburg Christmas Market transforms the space into one of the top places in Germany to go. If you're on a walking tour, chances are this will be your meeting point, so best to give it a bit more time and have a little wander first.

If you’re not completely taken by the view on the ground, head on up the Town Hall tower for a whole new perspective. In a near-perfect central location in the old city, you’ll have an unparalleled view of the Tauber Valley and Rothenburg’s old quarter. 


Medieval Crime and Justice Museum

A stop by the Kriminalmuseum (Medieval Crime Museum) firmly puts to rest any thoughts that current crime and punishment laws are comparatively lax. I’d also wager the faint of heart might find the medieval methods of extracting the truth a little daunting. However, the overall experience of what life outside the law entailed is truly enlightening. 

From petty thieving to witch hunts, guided tours take you on a timeline walk of criminal proceedings from investigation to the final judgment.

Dogs on a leash with well-behaved humans are also allowed. Check the museum website for up-to-date information on opening times and entrance fees.

Rothenburg Kriminalmuseum front stone entrance and old torture cage in courtyardKriminalmuseum features an airy room-for-one (or a cozy two) outdoor cell

The Rothenburg Museum

Previously called the Imperial City Museum and located in a former Dominican convent, the Rothenburg Museum spans eight centuries of Rothenburg o.b.T history.

There is a permanent collection of European weaponry ranging from the Stone Age to the 19th century, paintings, a history of music, and more.  

Perhaps the most impressive draw is the monastery kitchen, where the Dominican nuns used to cook. Dated back to 1260, the kitchen is one of the oldest of its kind in Germany. The outer walls also contain the last remains of the oldest city wall from the 13th century. 

Food and Drink

Stop for a Break

As you would expect, there are plenty of options when it comes to experiencing the local fare. Try lunch in the quirky Cafe Einzigartig followed by one of their homemade cakes with fantastic coffee, or a weissbier (wheat beer).

Unwind from your day and enjoy dinner at Zur Hoell, one of the oldest houses in Rothenburg, consistently rated one of the best restaurants in town. 

Find a Schneeball (Snowball)

Deep-fried pastry. There is nothing more to add. Get some.

Nah, of course there’s more.

Also known as a Storchennest (stork’s nest), these Schneeballs have been around for at least four hundred years. The dough is rolled out, cut into strips, and arranged into a ball which is then deep-fried till golden brown. 

Originally wedding treats, they are now available throughout the year in bakeries and cafés all around Rothenburg.

Depending on where you go, you’ll find a variety of toppings to suit your taste: from the traditional dusting of confectioner’s sugar to a chocolate glaze with nuts or filled with marzipan. But I’m sure you’ll find many more on your wanderings.

Schneeball pastries in Rothenburg, GermanySchneeballs - Don't count the calories.

The Romantic Road

The famous Romantic Road in southern Germany is the ideal way to discover the best things to do in Rothenburg. For a more in-depth look at this famous road, check out Lydia's post here.

Beyond the well-preserved medieval architecture this old town is known for, the sprawling vineyards of the Tauber Valley and surrounding villages offer unmatched views one can spend days exploring. 

Should you choose to stay for the night (or two, or more), this is the perfect place to find some of the best hotels and B&B’s on your way. The top twenty-two hotels in this area on TripAdvisor have at least a 4/5 review rating, and most are 4.5/5. 

Road sign by bridge and river displaying the Romantic Road near RothenburgThe Romantic Road

There are plenty of offerings if you’re an avid cyclist. 273 miles (440 kilometers) of it. You can plan your own excursion or leave it to an organized tour with stops along the way over 9 days / 8 nights.

Regular and electric bikes are available for hire, with all bookings arranged. Beginning in Rothenburg o.d.T and finishing at Füssen, it’s a great way to experience the idyllic German countryside. 

Romantic Road winding through trees and meadow heading towards Rothenburg, GermanyThe Romantic Road heading into Rothenburg

If you’re driving in, you’ll find several parking lots outside the old town. From here, it’s only a short walk into the old town center. Public parking is also restricted in the old town from 7pm until 6am.

Public transportation is also available via buses and regional trains. The train station is roughly a ten-minute walk into the center of the city.


Though renowned for its history, Rothenburg has plenty of fun things that make it worth visiting as well. Festivals celebrate the best of past and present Bavarian culture throughout the year.


This one is for the ages—literally. Since 1881, the stage play Meistertrunk (Master Draught), has been performed by more than nine hundred actors in the town’s Imperial Hall.

A mix of history and legend goes back to 1631, when Rothenburg was besieged by sixty thousand soldiers. Renowned for his aggression, Catholic general Johann Tserclaes von Tilly savagely breached the walls of the Protestant town. 

The legend begins with General Tilly gathering the town councilors and offering a seemingly unattainable olive branch. He would spare Rothenburg if one of them consumes a 3.4-quart (3.25-liter) tankard of wine in one go. Town mayor Georg Nusch accepts and, through chance or skill, drains the goblet, and the town escapes its fate.

Though the lines between history and legend are somewhat blurry, there’s no denying the cultural significance of this event. During the four-day festival, colorful pageantry, market events, and re-enactments detailing the culmination of events during the Thirty Years’ War are brought to life.

So renowned is the festival that it was recognized by UNESCO for German Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2014. Festivities are held at the end of May. 

Imperial City Festival

The three-day Imperial City Festival highlights the very best things to do in Rothenburg. Twenty-seven different historical groups converge on the old walled city, making it a great way to experience medieval times as they were (minus all the plague, plundering, etc…). 

Not to miss is the Friday evening torchlight march. Setting off from the Doppelbrücke in the Tauber Valley through the old city and down to the market square, an amazing light show at city hall crowns the night. Held at the beginning of September.

Taubertal Festival

For those looking to break away from history, the Taubertal Festival will probably tick a few boxes for you. For twenty years, punk has been rocking Bavaria along with twenty-thousand fans on the banks of the Tauber River.

Previous headliners include Biffy Clyro, The Offspring, Billy Talent, Kraft Klub, and Folgt among many others.

Christmas Market

Sure, there’s summer, spring, autumn, and winter, but Christmastime in Bavaria is a season in itself. Towards the end of November, you’ll want to ensure your stay leaves you with enough time to soak up all the Christmas spirit on offer.

Of all the best things to do in Rothenburg, this time of year the town transforms into what many call Germany’s idyllic town. It isn’t hard to see why snow-dusted spires and fairy-tale alleyways turn every photo into a postcard.

Evening view of a street in Rothenburg at Christmas, buildings lit up by lightsChristmas in Rothenburg, heading in to the Marketplatz.

The Reiterlesmarkt may not challenge other markets in size, but its 15th-century origins place it firmly among Germany's oldest Christmas markets. The namesake, Reiterle (Little Horseback Rider), derives from a mystically ominous figure who would make a yearly winter appearance carrying recently deceased souls.

Though the Reiterle has become a little less fearsome over the centuries, visitors now look forward to his more earthly arrival through the market. The Reiterlesmarkt spans out from the Market Square through the surrounding winding lanes with a festive medieval charm.

It should equally come as no surprise when you stumble on the German Christmas Museum here as well. No other location could do justice. Enjoy the festive spirit year-round, surrounded by an army of nutcrackers.

Few would judge you not to get a photo in front of the central white Christmas tree covered in nearly 2,000 baubles and 12,500 lights. 

Learn how Christmas was celebrated in Germany and how regional customs were developed across the country. You will also discover intricate wood carvings and mouth-blown glass ornaments from master craftsmen across hundreds of years.

Green and Orange buildings housing the Rothenburg Christmas Museum and Käthe Wohlfahrt Chistmas shop.Rothenburg Christmas Museum on the left, Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas shop on the right.

Handmade in Rothenburg

Make sure to leave a little room in your luggage to bring a bit of Bavaria back home with you. Local manufacturers and artisans have formed a collective to give you a behind-the-scenes view of what goes into their craft. There’s something for everyone, from fashion to delicious regional food.

Take a tour of the Leyk factory, where the classical Bavarian ceramic lighthouses are made. From a lump of clay to iconic Christmas ornaments, these are shipped all over the world.

Or for the sweet tooth, Allegra Schokolade will personalize your confectionary with quality chocolate and homemade pralines.

A shop with Leyk mini lighthouses painted blue and whiteA little Bavarian charm (literally)

Final Thoughts

For all the best things to do in Rothenburg, it's a wonderful day trip excursion. Saying that, if given the chance, staying the night and having an evening wander is truly something special. For a typically medieval experience with a few mod cons thrown in, you can't go wrong with the romantic Rothenburg. 

When was Rothenburg o.d.T established?

950 - 1070 A.D.

What is the land area of Rothenburg o.d.T?

16.09 sq miles

What is the population of Rothenburg o.d.T?

11,238 (in 2021)

What is the GPS location of Rothenburg o.d.T?

49° 23′ 0″ N, 10° 11′ 0″ E

What are the closest major cities to Rothenburg o.d.T?

Nuremberg 65 mi

Stuttgart 93 mi

Frankfurt 110 mi

Munich 154 mi