Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Rothenburg “on the Tauber River”) is a tiny medieval town in Germany, situated at the top of the “Romantic Road”. It took us several connections from Switzerland to get there, and when we finally did we arrived late at night straight from our 3 day stop in Switzerland (because of course we would), and once again, found ourselves trekking in the dark to get to our lodging. Thankfully, Rothenburg is just as much of an adorable town at night as it is during the day, and we were able to catch a little preview while making our way to our BNB.
We were staying across the river, which the website sneakily described as a “short, easy walk”, playing it pretty fast and loose with the words “short” and “easy”. The roughly 3/4 of a mile path from Rothenburg to the hotel was through a forest, which means were were dragging our luggage down a steep, completely black, woodland path. Using our cellphones as flashlights, we cursed our luggage and joked about how great it would be not to get murdered here. Luckily, we got to our hotel in one piece.
We made that walk everyday on the way to Rothenburg, and in all honesty, it really is a gorgeous walk (just not so much at night). The trails twists and turns through a scenic meadow of wildflowers, over a covered, timber bridge, and through a tranquil collection of budding trees, ending at a large garden at one of the main entrances to the city.
See, Rothenburg was once one of Germany largest cities, but fell into despair after the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century. Going almost completely broke, it’s residents couldn’t afford to remodel or build new anything, leaving them to wait for better times in their medieval, half-timbered homes. The rest of Germany updated, but Rothenburg stayed stuck in time. It wasn’t until their traditional German structures were recognized as somewhat of a novelty in the 19th century that tourists once again started filling the streets.
Life was good until World War II hit, and over 1/3 of the city was lost to bombings. It was almost completely lost, but an off-chance deal made by – true story – an American commander whose mother had visited and loved Rothenburg years ago, offered the Germans an option to spare the city. They accepted and the city has lived on ever since.
People had described it to me as “Disneyland” and I figured they meant the large crowds, but it turns out they really meant it quite literally. Rothenburg really does resemble a magical place that would be in a Disneyland theme park. The buildings are centuries old, maintained impressively well. It’s just like stepping back in time!
I’d heard horror stories of huge crowds, but they never played a factor in our visit. It was only barely crowded one day, and even that was easy to escape by just walking in another direction. Due to the slow moving nature and wonderfully odd museums and town history, it’s a great place to visit with children. We skipped the Medieval Torture Museum (Leila was frightened enough by the gargoyles in Paris, so I wasn’t about to risk scarring her for life in a torture museum), but she loved the toy shops and the constant undercurrent of Christmas. The Night Watch Tour was particularly interesting, and led us on a one-hour walk around the town. We’d already seen many of the sites on our own, but hearing the history behind them was fascinating! Did you know the mayor once saved the entire town from the emperor’s army of over 60,000 men by winning a bet and drinking a 3.25 liter tankard of wine in one sitting? Yeah. I didn’t either.
We’d often start our day with a sweet treat in town, our favorite being hot amazing apple strudel and delightful strawberry shortcake at Cafe Bar. Our favorite lunch was at Garden, where we had a tall pint of beer and some spicy soup to warm us up for the chilly breeze outside. By the time we were finished the sun was out and it felt like spring had just turned into summer!
Leila particularly loved the street with the second story teddy bear that blows bubbles out side a little toy shop. In fact, it reminded us that we brought our own! We spent a good bit of time blowing bubbles so Leila could chase them; she even made a little friend!
I didn’t make a walking guide for Rothenburg ob der Tauber because you really don’t need one. The point here isn’t to go by a map, but to just amble along in any direction you like. Old Town is small enough to explore, yet still have an idea of exactly where you are. It’s perfect for the kids because around every corner is a toy store, a bakery or a Christmas themed shop. Leila was constantly entertained, whether by the enormous stuffed teddy bear in the middle of town, or just the countless little walking paths where she could run freely.
Even as the temperature drops and the sun begins disappearing from the sky, don’t worry about hurrying back to your hotel. The lights come on and the whole city becomes a twinkly fairytale. What’s even better: night doesn’t bring even a hint of danger. The town feels just as warm and lovely and safe as it does in the daytime. Even Leila wasn’t ready to go back!
One of our favorite parts of Rothenburg wasn’t even the city itself; it was the surrounding valley! We were able to take a walk along the street by our hotel. It was quiet, calm, and so incredibly scenic.
If you do get the chance to visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber, do it. It’ll be well worth your time, especially if you’re bringing kids along and could use a nice break to slow things down. This little town has the perfect way of taking away all the stress and chaos of the real world. Just take a walk, have some apple strudel, and spend some time with the ones you love most.
Tips for visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber:
Visit the right Rothenburg: There are a few different “Rothenburgs”throughout Germany, and you want to make sure you’re going to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. It seems like a common sense thing but trust me, it’s a lot easier than you think to book the wrong train ticket!
Walk the wall. The 1.5 mile walk around the surrounded wall is a fantastic experience! There’s a railing to make sure no one (read, crazy kids) fall off, but the gaps are big enough for little ones to sleep through, so keep ahold of their hand if you’re taking a young children. Sunrise and sunset are the best times to go!
Explore the Tauber valley. The surrounding valley is beautiful all times of year, and it’s just a quick walk from the center of town. The flowers, greenery and rolling meadows add to the already charming feel of Rothenburg.
Visit during Easter or Christmas. During Christmas this town goes ALL OUT. There’s already a Christmas museum, but during the holidays the entire town turns into a Christmas wonderland! Easter is another great time, as Spring Awakening hits Rothenburg every year and the fountains are adorned with garland and ornately decorated eggs!
Have some beer. You’re in Germany, after all! Ask a local for their favorite recommendation, then visit the brewery instead the huge white tower.