Rothenburg ob der Tauber… It’s in all the guidebooks (even Rick Steeves!), often touted as the most charming city along the Romantic Road. Anything I’ve ever read about the place has made me want to go. right. now.
But, the flip side of all that press is the onslaught: tourists, buses, and hokey souvenir shops. Seeing as I’m crowd averse, I needed a way to visit Rothenburg and actually appreciate its magic.
So, how do you cut through all the hype and actually enjoy this town? On a Sunday, early in the morning… and, preferably, in bad weather.
You see, I wanted to make the most of our six hour drive home from Berchtesgaden. Sure, we could have driven directly home, but what fun is it to arrive at 10am with only dirty laundry to look forward to? Better to add a one-hour detour in your travel plans in order to knock out a long-standing member of your bucket list, right? Right!
We nabbed some free, off-street parking, loaded up the backpacks, and set out around 8am (which that means we left The Hölbinger Alm around 4… I told you we like to leave early). A blanket of fog settled in around us while a subtle, spit rain coated the streets. Needless to say, we had the city (mostly) to ourselves.
The Best Part of Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Hands down, the best thing about pretty little Rothenburg is her undamaged, 14th century city wall. What once served to protect now provides unique views for visitors. Climb up the steps at one of the many entrances, and walk for as little or as long as you’d like. You’ll be among the rooftops, gazing across the cityscape at half-timbered houses, turrets, gables, even two church towers.
My boys loved gallivanting around, looking down on the few souls we found here and there. With plenty of secure railing, I felt comfortable enough to let them run ahead while Doc Sci and I trailed behind, occasionally squeezing ourselves through a narrow passage.
Perhaps equally as exciting as the walls, the Spital Bastion is a little boy’s delight since it boasts a few (defunct) canons poking out from the cavernous interior.
When we’d had our fill of imaginary medieval adventure, we cautiously approached the center. I knew we’d find the most tourists here, and I dreaded it. Thankfully, the Sunday-morning-in-crappy-weather hordes only ended up being a few groups of about twenty. That, I can handle.
The Christmas Craze and Why Asians Love Rothenburg
One of the groups huddled around the entrance to the Weihnachtsmuseum (Christmas Museum). Christmas is a big deal, year round, in Rothenburg. While I didn’t see Santa, I did spot some fun, albeit expensive, holiday decor. Even if you give the shops a pass as we did, don’t miss the gigantic nutcracker.
Speaking of shops, I couldn’t help but notice that many signs were written in Asian languages. Then, I realized that most of the visitors who braved the morning’s conditions were.. Asian! Why Asians love this place is a mystery to me. Best guess? Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a quintessential, quaint old European city so vastly different from what they’re used to seeing at home.
Actually, our know-it-all friend Wikipedia helps out with an explanation: “This place has become a popular tourist destination for Japanese because of the animated film “Sugar a little snow fairy”, where the main character lives in Rothenburg.” Ahh, medieval manga… got it!
Chugging Coffee at Cafes and Where to Picnic
When your eyes have gone cross trying to read Chinese and your hands are numb from the damp fog, duck into one of the many cute cafes to relax and warm up. Try to find one away from the main square (Marktplatz) unless you particularly like parting with dozens of euros.
We spotted a few bakeries selling Schneebälle (snowballs) which are essentially tangled masses of dough strips that have been deep fried and dusted with powdered sugar. The European equivalent of funnel cakes, perhaps?
P.s. – These pastry creations are totally for the tourists and, in our experience, not very tasty.
On a nicer day, we would’ve brought along a picnic and sat in the castle garden (free, open to the public) to munch. The park has charm that changes with the seasons: new buds in spring, fully floral in summer, tinged with color in autumn, and a silent romanticism in the snow. Views from here across the neighboring valley are extraordinary, even in crummy weather.
While diehard Rothenburg ob der Tauber fans might argue that I missed most of the action by skipping the Criminal Museum, Train Museum, Toy Museum, churches, and the über-popular Christmas market, I beg to differ.
My Rothenburg was quiet, empty, peaceful… perfect. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience skipping along the walls and exploring the forsaken fortress. It is because of this Sunday morning serenity that Rothenburg surpassed all expectations and earned its place as the true jewel of the Romantic Road.Practical tips for families visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber:
- Reach Rothenburg by rail or by car. If by train, make sure to enter Rothenburg ob der Tauber as there are several Rothenburg stations throughout Germany.
- Parking is available outside the walls. All lots (P1-P5) charge 1 euro/hour or 5 euros/day. If you arrive early, you may be lucky enough to nab free off-street parking. We found ours on Kreuzerstr. near P5. Make sure to check for signs indicating that the area should only be used by residents.
- Use a backpack carrier if you want to take little legs up on the walls. Otherwise, the rest of the city is quite pram-friendly.
- Surprisingly, plenty of free bathrooms can be found at various points around town. I didn’t notice any baby changing tables in the public facilities, only inside cafe restrooms.
- Restaurant and cafe prices can be hefty, so bring a picnic. The only takeaway joints I noticed were pizza or bratwurst.
- If you want to shop for a sack lunch while visiting or pick up some German supermarket souvenirs, Rewe, Aldi, and Lidl all have locations outside the walls, but Edeka’s E-Aktiv Markt is the closest to the old town at Ansbacher Straße 15.
- Inside the walls, some streets are not pedestrianized, so keep an eye on kiddos in these areas (though it’s not nearly as awful as Italy). Everywhere else is mostly safe to allow roaming.
- Last, but not least, a great playground can be found outside the walls on the west side of the city along the path that leads from the Klingentor (bell tower) to the castle gardens.
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