Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

Our favourite stop along Germany’s “Romantic Road” was Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Historic, enchanting and unchanged throughout the centuries, Rothenburg just might be the most beautiful medieval town in Germany.

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

About Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg is named in part after its location on a plateau overlooking the Tauber River. Rothenburg ob der Tauber means “Red fortress above the Tauber” in German.

During the middle ages, Rothenburg was a Free Imperial City and the second largest city in Germany with a population of 6,000 residents. Reduced to poverty during the 30 years war, Rothenburg was no longer a significant city and growth stalled, thus preserving its 17th-century state. Today Rothenburg is known world wide as being Germany’s best preserved medieval walled town.

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

Our Visit to Rothenburg

We only had one day in Rothenburg and when it came time to leave, we did not want to go. It’s one of those places where we felt like we didn’t really see or do anything specific, but enjoyed just walking around the town taking in the sights.

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

Our Hotel

We recommend you not visit Rothenburg on a day-trip and instead spend the night. The town is besieged with tour groups during the day, somewhat taking away from the town’s charms. Our favourite time to explore Rothenburg was at night and before 9:00 am, when the town is still sleepy and peaceful.

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

What to See and Do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Here’s a look at some of our favourite places to visit in Rothenburg, plus an experience that will make you feel like you are really living in medieval times!

Medieval Wall

The first thing we did after checking into our hotel was walk the town wall. At 1.5 miles, the medieval wall completely encircles the town’s historic centre, giving you a great view of Rothenburg’s half-timbered architecture. I felt like I had gone back in time while walking the wall and did not want to come down!

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

As you walk the wall you will see stones engraved with names of people from all over the world. These are people who “bought” a portion of the wall, as a way to raise money to help rebuild Rothenburg after World War II.

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

About 40% of the town was damaged in the war (a very small portion compared to other German towns). Nine of the watchtowers and over 2,000 feet (610 m) of the wall sustained damage. Amazingly, the centre of the Altstadt, or old town, went largely unscathed (more on this later).

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

Gerlachschmiede (Old Forge)

Looking down from the town wall near the Rödor Gate, you will see what I think is Rothenburg’s cutest building, the Gerlachschmiede. The house today is the 1951 reconstruction of the original building, destroyed in 1945 during the war.

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

An interesting detail on the house is the coat of arms. The crowned serpent was created by the legendary blacksmith, Georg Gerlach himself. The forge closed in 1967 and is now privately owned.

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

Plönlein (“Little Square”)

I am betting that this is the most photographed location in Rothenburg. It’s instantly recognizable from all the postcards in the souvenir shops. In fact, it’s a place that I had specifically searched out because I had seen so many photographs of it and wanted to capture one of my own.

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

The photogenic, narrow, half-timbered building is framed by the Kobolzell Gate and the higher Siebers Tower which secured entrance to Rothenburg.

Burg Gate and Garden

The Rothenburg Imperial Castle was located in what is today called the Castle Garden. An earthquake destroyed the castle in 1356 and the stones of the ruins were used to build the city walls.

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

The garden is very beautiful and the outer path along the garden wall offers outstanding views of the valley surrounding Rothenburg.

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

As you leave the gardens and enter under the gate to the Herrngasse, you will see a mask on the wall of the Burgtor gate, which was used to pour hot tar onto attackers.

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

Inside the gate is a small door within a door, known as the Eye of the Needle, which only afforded enough room for one person to pass through, preventing enemies from sneaking in.

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

Night Watchman’s Tour

This was by far our favourite walking tour we have ever been on! The guide, Hans Georg Baumgartner, is in character as Rothenburg’s Night Watchman, wearing a cape and carrying around a lantern. He takes you around town telling captivating stories about daily life in Rothenburg during the Middle Ages, how the town had escaped sieges, invasions and pillage throughout most its history, and its decline during the 30 Years War. He even sang us a watchman’s chant warning townspeople about the risk of fire.

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

Mike and the Night Watchman.

The Night Watchman’s job was not a popular, glorious job. In medieval Europe there was only one job that was looked upon as less desirable- the Executioner. As unpopular as the Night Watchman’s job was, it was also the most important. He protected the city by keeping out looters and other unwanted people and watching for fire.

The guide was not only incredibly knowledgeable about Rothenburg’s history, he was such a captivating storyteller and funny too. I was enthralled the entire time!

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

Surviving World War II

On the Night Watchman’s tour, we learned of an interesting story why Rothenburg was spared complete destruction during the second world war. The reason why the city was only 40% destroyed is a story so unlikely that one could easily misinterpret it as fiction.

Rothenburg was bombed by Allied forces on March 31, 1945. However, it was an overcast day and the entire medieval city was not visible from the air. The allied forces were able to destroy 40% of the city, including 306 houses, six public buildings, nine of the town’s ancient towers and more than 2,000 feet of the historic wall. Yet, much of the historic centre endured.

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

After the bombing campaign ended, the Allied Army was scheduled to invade and destroy the city. However, these plans were thwarted by Assistant Secretary of War, General John McCloy.

McCloy had a fondness for Rothenburg, because his mother had once visited the city. She brought back a painting of Rothenburg which hung in the living room and was always telling McCloy stories about how wonderful the city is. It was this love for Rothenburg that led McCloy to instruct General Jacob L. Devers to negotiate with the Germans rather than continue to bomb.

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

The night before the scheduled invasion, American General Devers met with the Nazi officer in charge of defending the city. They negotiated until it was agreed that German soldiers would leave the city in return for an American guarantee that the city would be spared further bombing. McCloy was later named a patron and honorary citizen of Rothenburg in gratitude.

travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

Final Thoughts on Our Visit to Rothenburg

Our visit to Rothenburg ob der Tauber was a definite highlight from our 5 week trip to Europe. I loved feeling like I had been transported to another time and place, so different than my life back home.

I am glad we spent the night, since that’s when I really felt the medieval atmosphere of the town come to life. Night or day, it was easy to see why Rothenburg is one of the top places to visit in Bavaria.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber was an absolute joy to visit and I would love to spend more time here if I’m ever back in Germany.

Tips for Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber

  • The Night Watchman’s tour begins at 8:00 pm everyday (mid-March to Christmas) and is one hour long. Meeting point is at the market square in front of the town hall. The cost is 7 Euro for adults, 4 Euro for students, kids under 12 years old are free. There is a tour in German at 9:30 pm.
  • There is another town in Germany called Rothenburg. I’ve heard of people going there by mistake, thinking it was Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the town featured in this post.
travelyesplease.com | Rothenburg, Germany- An Enchanting Medieval Town

Looking out the window of our hotel room.

Accommodations in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

For your convenience, here is a list of hotels in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Please consider booking your Rothenburg accommodations through the included link. It costs nothing extra and helps to support this website. Thank you!

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  • Shobha George - I so want to go to Rothenburg! Their Christmas market is supposed to have extra special ambience because of all the medieval architecture.December 16, 2013 – 6:04 pmReplyCancel

  • Laura - What a quaint town! The night watchman’s tour sounds really different and interesting. I love hearing little personal WWII stories about different areas but this one is one of the best I’ve heard!December 18, 2013 – 11:19 amReplyCancel

    • Rhonda Krause - We loved the Night Watchman’s tour and kept fighting our way to the front of the group like a bunch of excited little kids! My mind usually starts to wander during tours, but not this one. The guide was so engaging and told such interesting stories, like that WWII one.December 18, 2013 – 11:29 amReplyCancel

  • Marsha - I loved this little town and you’re right, I wish I had stayed overnight instead of taking a one day tour. I really enjoyed the Medieval Crime Museum (basically a museum of medieval torture devices – fantastic)! I wish I had taken the night watchman’s tour; that sounds fun! Next time I suppose….but great post, love the pictures. They bring back great memories!December 19, 2013 – 1:15 pmReplyCancel

    • Rhonda Krause - Glad I could bring back some good memories for you! For such a small little place, there sure is a lot to see and do! We never made it to the Crime Museum, but it sounds interesting. We saw some torture devices in Regensburg and it made me thankful we live in a gentler age!December 19, 2013 – 2:22 pmReplyCancel

  • Jdomb's Travels - We visited Rothenburg and their Christmas market last month. What a gorgeous little town! And isn’t the Christmas Store incredible? I just had to have a nutcracker as a souvenir. January 28, 2014 – 11:14 pmReplyCancel

  • Kelly - This is probably my favourite place in the whole of Germany; you feel like you have stepped into a little fairy tale!
    xMarch 12, 2014 – 6:26 amReplyCancel

    • Rhonda Krause - Very true! I felt like I had gone back in time, especially when we were walking on the old town wall. It’s such a cute place!March 12, 2014 – 6:53 amReplyCancel

  • Dennis Kopp - Thank you for sharing those great photos Rhonda! The whole town looks simply like a museum and the night watchman’s tour sounds really amazing. Luckily most of Rothenburg’s beautiful historic buildings could be preserved through the negotiations and probably a lot of lives as well. What a great town and what a great story… :)May 5, 2014 – 3:33 pmReplyCancel

    • Rhonda Krause - You’re welcome. Thank YOU for reading my post! Rothenburg is definitely a fabulous town. I think I would even say it was my favourite place in Germany!May 5, 2014 – 9:32 pmReplyCancel

  • Myriam J Long Garcia - a lot memories…wow Rothenburg,number,Bavaria,Bamberg …3 years live there was amazing esperienceAugust 27, 2014 – 4:52 pmReplyCancel

  • Elina Bystritskaya - I’m so torn while planning my vacation to Germany this summer. I want to see Rothenburg (as well as any other highly recommended small Bavarian towns), Salzburg, Vienna, Prague, and Dresden. What other small town should I see on the way from Frankfurt or on the way to Salzburg?March 11, 2016 – 5:27 pmReplyCancel

  • Sandy - Lovely pictures. I am likely to travel there in a couple of weeks but wanted to ask you how long did you stay to cover all of the above places that you’ve written about? I am toying with 2 nights but not sure if it should be longer.

    Am still trying to figure what is a safe/pretty area to stay in. Something that’s not too far from the some of the must-see places you’ve recommended esp. the Plonlein. This is so I can sneak out in the early hours to shoot when its crowd free and come back late too w/o a bother. Totally looking forward.February 19, 2017 – 7:17 amReplyCancel

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