Threading its way through the towns and villages of Bavaria’s medieval heartland, the Romantic Road is quintessential Germany. Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the most compelling town on this route and one that is easily reached by rail.
But what should you do if you have just one day in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany? As I visited Rothenburg as a day trip from Nuremberg, this is where I can help you.
Ready to plan your perfect Rothenburg day trip?
In this article, I spill the beans on why you should visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber, how to make the most of your time there and how to get there. There’s even a map and a Rothenburg free walking tour to kickstart your day.
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What is Rothenburg, Germany Known for?
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is famous as one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval towns, with wonky half-timbered houses, cobbled streets and an intact town wall with stone towers. This is a 14th Century town alive and kicking in the 21st Century.
Planning Your Day Trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber: A Free Walking Tour (+ Map)
It’s a breeze to explore Rothenburg in one day on foot. The main sights in town are no more than a 15-minute walk from each other or from the train station.
If you like to map it out, here’s one that I prepared earlier. For an interactive map, simply click here or on the image itself.
For a more structured itinerary, you can use this map as a framework for a Rothenburg self-guided walking tour. Excluding walking along the town wall, the distance between these Rothenburg landmarks is just over one mile (2 km).
One Day in Rothenburg: Top 10 Things to Do
1. Soak up the medieval splendour of Rothenburg Market Square (Marktplatz)
Rothenburg Market Square ((Marktplatz) is a one-stop shop of medieval marvels.
From the town’s heyday around the year 1300, this has been Rothenburg’s beating heart. Thanks to its strategic location on the route from Würzburg to the Alps – today’s Romantic Road – Rothenburg was an important trading town and Germany’s second-biggest city.
The 13th Century Old Town Hall dominates Marktplatz. Part Gothic, part Renaissance, it was partially rebuilt following a fire in 1501.
Your reward for scaling the 220 narrow steps to the viewing platform at the summit of the Old Town Hall’s tower is a bird’s eye view of Rothenburg and its surroundings. Check the seasonal opening hours here.
The clock crowning the neighbouring Councillor’s Tavern puts on a show at the top of the hour between 10 am and 10 pm when its little doors flip open and wooden figures re-enact the Meisertrunk (“Master Draught”) legend. It’s a big tourist draw but I found it underwhelming.
The Renaissance New Town Hall occupies the entire long side of the square.
Even in medieval times, it was location, location, location, and the town’s wealthiest citizens lived in and around Marktplatz. Some of the finest houses are on the square and in the neighbouring streets.
The townsfolk once drew their water from the colourful St. George’s Fountain, which dates from the early 1600s. Two typical half-timbered buildings tower above the fountain.
2. See a drop of Christ’s blood at St. James’s Church
For centuries, pilgrims have been following the Camino de Santiago or “Way of St. James.”
On their way to venerate the remains of St. James at Spain’s Santiago de Compostella, pilgrims had rest stops at important Christian sights. Rothenburg and St. James’s Church (St. Jakob’s Church) was one of these stops, for which they have to thank a drop of Christ’s blood.
Visiting this beautiful church is one of the unmissable things to do in Rothenburg, and its highlight is the carved wooden altarpiece that holds the Holy Blood. The relic itself is held in a rock-crystal capsule set in a cross in the centre of the shrine.
This wonderful work of art was created by Würzburg native Tilman Reimenschnieder between 1499 and 1504. He was known as the Michelangelo of German woodcarvers and sculpted this altarpiece around the same time as Michelangelo was liberating David from a block of marble from Carrara.
St. James’s High Altar has a magnificent altarpiece with painted panels by Friedrich Herlin and carved wooden statues. To the left of the main altarpiece is the stone Tabernacle of the Holy Eucharist, depicting Jesus overcoming death by standing on a skull.
As you leave the High Altar, take a look at the paintings on the rear of the altarpiece, especially the face of Christ painted on the veil of Veronica.
GOOD TO KNOW
Try to visit St. James Church in the morning when the sun shining through the windows in the east choir floods the church with colour.
3. Take time out in the Convent Garden
This former Dominican monastery garden is an oasis of tranquillity in Rothenburg.
Back in the day, nuns and monks cultivated this medicinal herb garden to concoct cures and disguise the rancid taste of rotting food. Today’s herb garden is flourishing and its plants are carefully labelled, with the number of crosses on the sign indicating how poisonous the herb is.
4. Enjoy the views from Castle Garden
Although the burg (castle) was taken out of Rothenburg in 1356, the location of the former Stauferburg is now the town’s Castle Garden. All that remains of the castle is the small Blasius Chapel, in front of which is a memorial to local Jews slaughtered in 1298.
From here, there are wonderful views of Rothenburg’s medieval skyline and across the Tauber Valley.
5. Visit Rothenburg’s Medieval Crime Museum
Rothenburg’s Medieval Crime Museum is the most unlikely tourist attraction but it weirdly works.
Stuffed with diabolical instruments of punishment and torture, this is Europe’s largest museum on legal rights. Shame masks, racks, thumbscrews – it has the lot.
Don’t miss the cage of the baker’s baptism behind the museum’s gateway.
If a baker was caught cheating with ingredients in the Middle Ages, he would be placed in this cage to be publicly scorned, Worse still, he would be plunged into icy water.
At the museum’s entrance, you’ll see the creepy Child Catcher Carriage from the 1968 movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which was filmed in Rothenburg.
6. Snack on a Schneeball
Don’t leave town before trying Rothenburg’s tasty pastry.
Schneeball or Schneeballen (snowball in English) is a heavenly cloud of sweetness made from layers of shortcrust pastry and dusted with sugar. They are widely sold in bakeries and cafes in town.
Thanks to their generous shelf-life – around eight weeks – schneeballen make good presents for the folks back home.
7. Snap a shot of one of Germany’s most photographed streets
Plölein is Rothenburg’s most famous landmark. Featuring a small fountain in front of a timber-framed house, flanked by the two towers of the old city wall, it is perfectly picturesque.
If it looks familiar, this may be because you recognise it from the 1940 Disney animation Pinocchio, which was inspired by Rothenburg.
8. Visit the shop where it is Christmas year-round
Jingle All The Way down to Rothenburg’s famous Christmas village. Founded in 1964, Käthe Wohlfahrt is the largest and most famous vendor of traditional German Christmas products.
This is truly a festive wonderland, with animations, Christmas music and a massive selection of high-quality toys and decorations.
If you are a lover of all things Christmas, visit the German Christmas Museum in Rothenburg. The town is also home to one of Germany’s most popular Christmas markets. In 2023, this will take place between 1st December and 23rd December.
9. Walk Rothenburg’s city wall
Time permitting, take a stroll along Rothenburg’s old city wall. Clocking in at just over a mile and a half, the complete walk will take you less than an hour.
You can enter or exit the ramparts at most of the city’s towers. I followed the wall for a short distance from Siebertstor.
10. Join the Night Watchman’s tour
Finally, to bring the ramparts to life with a cheeky wink, join the cheesy Night Watchman’s Tour. Described as a “Medieval John Cleese,” the Night Watchman makes his rounds of Rothenburg as he dishes out entertaining nuggets about the town’s history.
The Night Watchman tour sets off from Marktplatz at 8 pm every night (except for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve). From January to April, there are no tours on Sundays.
Day Tours to Rothenburg
It is perfectly feasible to visit Rothenburg as a day trip by train from Munich or Frankfurt, and I’ve included how to do this at the end of this post. But if you want to see the bits of the Romantic Road that are not reachable by rail or simply want someone else to take care of the arrangements, an organised day tour is worth considering.
You will also benefit from the knowledge of a guide and if you are a solo traveller, a day tour can be also an excellent way to meet other travellers.
Here are a few excellent options:
Rothenburg and Romantic Road day trip from Frankfurt
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK
Rothenburg and Romantic Road day trip from Munich
Highlights of this guided tour include Harburg and the scenery of the Nördlinger Ries, the giant depression left by an ancient meteor in the Swabian landscape.
>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK
How Long Do You Need in Rothenburg ob der Tauber?
You can see the best of Rothenburg in one day. I spent around four hours in the town and managed to see everything that I wanted.
However, there’s something to be said for staying overnight in this visitor honeypot to enjoy Rothenberg once the tour buses have departed.
How to Do a Rothenburg Day Trip by Train
Thanks to excellent train connections, it’s easy to visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber as a day trip from Nuremberg, or even Munich, Frankfurt or Stuttgart.
Germany has several towns called Rothenburg. Make sure that you don’t arrive in a nondescript Rothenburg by selecting “Rothenburg ob der Tauber” when planning your train journey.
You can check train times here.
READ THIS NEXT: 6 Magical Day Trips from Nuremberg by Train
Nuremberg to Rothenburg day trip by train
Rothenburg ob der Tauber was one of my day trips from Nuremberg. With its lovingly restored medieval buildings, a meandering river crisscrossed with historic bridges, a clutch of excellent museums and arguably the tastiest sausages in Germany, Nuremberg is an excellent base in Upper Bavaria.
There is no direct train from Nuremberg to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. You will need to change trains at Ansbach and again at Steinbach.
This is not as tricky as it may sound and the journey time is just a shade over one hour. Connecting trains operate every two hours.
READ THIS NEXT: One Day in Nuremberg Old Town, Germany
Rothenburg day trip by train from Munich, Frankfurt and Stuttgart
Although longer journeys, it is also possible to visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber as a day trip by train from Munich, Frankfurt and Stuttgart.
Munich to Rothenburg by train
- Fastest journey time: 2 hours 30 minutes
- Change trains at Nuremberg, Ansbach and Steinach
Frankfurt to Rothenburg by train
- Fastest journey time: 3 hours
- Change trains at Würzburg and Steinach
Stuttgart to Rothenburg by train
- Fastest journey time: 2 hours 40 minutes
- Change trains at Nuremberg, Ansbach and Steinach
Getting from Rothenburg Train Station to the Old Town
Rothenburg’s railway station is an easy 10-minute walk from the Marktplatz in the heart of the old town.
Turn left out of the railway station and follow the green-on-white signs for Aldstadt. This will bring you to Röder gate at the entrance to the old town.
The Romantic Road Bus
The Romantic Road bus is an alternative way of getting to Rothenburg and beyond.
From May to September, this service runs between Frankfurt and Munich, serving key destinations of the Romantic Road, including Rothenburg. It is not especially cheap and you may be better off getting to Rothenburg by train.
Is Rothenburg Worth Visiting for a Day?
Rothenburg will enchant you with its fairytale-like charm. In just one day you will be able to stroll its medieval streets, walk its town walls, eat its tasty pastry and step inside a place where it is Christmas 365 days a year.
Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.
Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.
To get in touch, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on social media.