What would you say if I told you an authentic Medieval walled city still exists? One with roots as far back as the 10th century. One where ramparts of over a mile long still stand, poised to protect the village from an unexpected onslaught. One where a night watchman still roams the streets just after sunset, patrolling and sharing his stories of the town. One where ancient torture devices and executioners’ implements are still proudly displayed. And most importantly, one where the classical architecture that is the fingerprint of such a city is still as intact as the days each of the buildings were constructed. What would you say if I told you that Wendy and I had the good fortune to visit just such as city, and it was everything we’d hoped it would be? But before we get to that, let me fill you in on our how we experienced a journey that ultimately led to a crescendo of an amazing adventure.

As part of our whirlwind Bavarian adventure Wendy and I opted to drive a large part of the Romatiche Straße, or the Romantic Road. We actually started our journey at the “end” of the Romantic Road in Füssen, just a stone’s throw from our stop at Neuschwanstein Castle and only a few kilometers north of Germany’s border with Austria. There’s actually a small arch that marks the “official” end of the road said to mark the typical path of journey during the Roman Empire (but really created as a 1950's tourism marketing campaign).

This was a perfect approach to this journey, in our opinion, and I’ll tell you why at the end of the post.

The village of Füssen was our first foray into the picturesque view of Bavarian Medieval cities, and what an amazing first experience it was. The town, originally settled during Roman times with modern architecture dating back to the 8th century, is both a bustling tourist destination and is known for its violin making.

Füssen is situated on the Lech River, which affords beautiful views of the Alps along walking paths, streets, and cobbled sidewalks of this densely packed town. If you’re ever in the area, it is absolutely worth a stop.

By the time we were ready to head out, it was a little bittersweet since we loved the village so much, but we were quite excited to see what else Germany had in store for us.

Our trip on the Romantic Road took us north on the winding two lane road through the Bavarian countryside and through the middle of many small Bavarian villages along the way. We passed through countless Bavarian farming communities and quaint towns. Each one seemed to be the embodiment of the storybook views of the Bavarian countryside that included a centralized Church with homes clustered around the village center.

As we neared the end of the trip on the Romantic Road we made a quick stop in a town we had seen great reviews about, near the northern extent of the trip. The city of Dinkelsbühl was our stop, and what an amazing stop it was. 

Founded in 1083, the walled village represents what was typical of a 15th to 17th century Bavarian town.

The town escaped the entirety of World War II suffering only a single broken window as damage, and as such, is a beautiful example of historic architecture and charm that is quite rare to find in the world today.

The streets are lined with quintessential Bavarian style architecture with restaurants, shopping, and essential stores you’d find in any normal living town.

The thing to remember is that this is a real city, and like any real city, not everything is perfect. These imperfections are what make the experience authentic and the views spectacular.

We parked outside of the walls and wandered around the streets and alleys of Dinkelsbühl for several hours simply enjoying our surroundings.

We even found a narrow alley between a few houses that we couldn’t resist passing through to get from street to street.

We knew we’d be staying in a larger cities throughout the rest of our trip, so we wanted to appreciate just what this village was before the experience was over. As we walked to our car, we took it all in and just enjoyed what we were seeing.

As picturesque as the majority of the trip was, the ultimate goal was our final destination of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, or “Red fortress above the Tauber,” and we were nearing our final destination along the Romantic Road. 

Little did we know we were stumbling into what would easily be the absolute highlight stop on our entire German vacation!

Rothenburg is a Medieval walled city in north central Bavaria originally founded in 1170. It’s survived miraculously intact through multiple conflicts, including both the 30 Years War and World War II. Through various strokes of luck, both good and bad, the economy of the village allowed it to both prosper when necessary, and then flounder during the age of advancement, to reach a point in history where it is now a true and largely original Medieval city of significant size, which is about as rare as they come in modern times.

Today, Rothenburg is experiencing a massive economical resurgence thanks to the tourism its “frozen in time” look generates. To say that the tourists are on to something pretty special, well, that’s a significant understatement.

Wendy and I pulled into the city through one of the main tower gates. Where there now exists a road for cars, there was once a drawbridge over a moat to protect the walled city.

Though the city has been adapted for modern living, a must for the population of roughly 10,000, the streets are still cobblestone and architecture still looks as it once did, many hundreds of years ago, complete with hand painted and gilded signage for the specialty shops and locations.

We ended up staying in a hotel that only heightened our experience in the unique city. The hotel was called The Burg-Hotel, and it was spectacular.

Originally a 12th century “beggars” beadle, the hotel’s building is built right into the fortified walls of the city.

Our room had a simply spectacular view of the Tauber river, lower villages outside of the walls, and surrounding rolling hills. 

It was probably the nicest view we’ve ever had in any of our hotel stays on any of our vacations.

It was such a spectacular location, Wendy started contemplating ways we could somehow pick up and move to Rothenburg and make it our permanent residence. This was especially the case when she discovered a secret patio alcove where we were able to relax with pastries and the bottle of Champagne we bought in Munich.

It was picture perfect. We sat, chatted, enjoyed the surrounding view over the Tauber valley, and just soaked in one of those moments that represents exactly what vacation is supposed to embody.

As with all of our other stops on this trip, we made a point to do several extensive walking tours of the city. And given the fact the city walls covered many miles, there was quite a bit of walking to do and sights to take in!

As we wandered, mouths often hanging open, we marveled at the architecture and details. Everything from the streets and buildings as a whole…

…to the smallest details that adorned the fronts of shops and buildings.

There were homes with ancient doorbells where the same family has lived for over 300 years…

…and architectural details indicating ownership by or membership in the church (note the shell details).

There were quaint views…

…and spectacular views.

Every other alley, window, or door had some level of interest and uniqueness about it that we couldn't help but be drawn to.

It seemed everywhere we turned it was another moment where one or the other of us was pointing out something to ooh and ahh over.

And leave it to us to find an example of a great old building under extensive renovations that we could sit and gawk at.

Evidence of the city's advanced water delivery system from hundreds of years ago still exist just around many corners.

The city center is still a bustling area for tourists, shopping, and local businesses.

If you find yourself in Rothenburg, there are a few stores you absolutely must make a stop. The first is Käthe Wohlfahrt, which is essentially a Christmas wonderland! I really can't start to explain it. It's sort of like a labyrinth of Christmas, spanning multiple rooms, buildings, and levels. There's absolutely something to entertain everyone, and the truck parked out front can be considered this store's welcome wagon.

The second place is a small store just off of the main square that we learned about from the Rick Steves book. Anneliese Friese is a small shop selling German goods of many kinds, but it's run by the absolute nicest and friendlies little lady (I think she just celebrated her 85th birthday) we met in all of Germany. She was accommodating, helpful, and a spark plug, showing off her photos of when Rick Steves visited the shop on multiple occasions, and singing his praises for including her in his book. 

Personally, I don't think any trip is complete without finding a local cat or dog that's mugging for the camera.

If you'll notice, the only roofing material you see on all of our photos is that of red tiles. This was adopted as a city standard hundreds of years ago. Where many Medieval cities had homes with thatched roofs, fire was the enemy of these historic towns, and fire spreads rapidly through thatched house coverings. As a result, a standard and fire resistant roof covering was adopted and enforced throughout the city. Did it work? Well, the city still stands and never had a serious or significant fire sweep through the town since the standard was adopted.

One of the walking trips we enjoyed the most was the nearly two mile walk along the top of the city wall and ramparts. 

This walk spans about half of the circumference of the city and offered amazing views of both nearby buildings outside of the wall...

...and across the impressive roof lines of Rothenburg.

We ended up walking along the ramparts just before sunset and were able to get an awesome view that was truly a treat.

We also made sure to take a moment here or there to get the obligatory posed tourist shot or two.

I will tell you one thing. If you're making this trip and walk through the ramparts on your own, be sure to watch out for low hanging header stones near the end of the walk. Take Wendy's word for it, they aren't particularly forgiving.

On our final night in Rothenburg we did something that everyone who visits should absolutely make time for. Rothenburg is far more quiet when night falls, and there's a tour at 8:00 each evening that leaves from the city's main square. This tour is the night watchman's tour.

The night watchman appears out of nowhere under the dark sky and leads a gaggle of story happy tourists through the streets of Rothenburg, pausing at various locations to share bits and pieces of Rothenburg's history. The watchman himself is a very entertaining speaker, and his stories weave a wonderful image of both the prosperous and difficult times the city has experienced over the years.

I can't stress enough just how wonderful of a place Rothenburg turned out to be. It's a destination that is a must for anyone even mildly interested in Europe. The city offers a glimpse into the past of a time easily forgotten. As I said, it's rare to experience something so incredibly unique, and I'm willing to guess that this is one of the only places in the world were you can experience something that's actual the genuine artifact.

Earlier in the post I mentioned that we feel the route we took, starting at the end of the Romantic Road and moving north, was the right choice. Looking back on our journey it seemed we may have been let down if we had started in Rothenburg and then ended in Füssen. Instead, Füssen welcomed us to the trip and and eased us in with a smaller city and allowed us to slowly appreciate each stop a little more than the last. In our opinion, our itinerary to get to Rothenburg was almost ideal. We only wish we had stayed another two nights.

What do you think? Is Rothenburg a place you'd like to visit? Have you already been? If so we'd love to hear what you thought.

Comments 14

Comments

Lea Hendershot Andrews
10/11/2013 at 3:29 PM
My jealousy knows no bounds here. I posted almost this exact cover shot from another FB page (fascinating places) a few weeks before you ended up going there. And now here you have the same one in person! Great post and pics. :-)
LauraC
10/11/2013 at 4:38 PM
Awww, memories. We went there in 2006, but we only spent most of a day there, not several. But your pictures were very familiar! Hopefully we can go back someday, not sure when, but we hosted a German exchange student last year and fell in love with her, so we really hope to be able to visit her!
Moly
10/11/2013 at 11:21 PM
My husband and I spent several nights in Rothenburg while on our honeymoon. It was like being in a fairy tale - truly magical!
Thanks for sharing your journey - makes me want to take a trip exploring the Romantic Road!
JC
10/12/2013 at 1:31 PM
Wow, this place looks simply amazing. I'd definitely love to visit. I love all the stone buildings, the signage, and the overall architectural style of the buildings. I can almost picture it with the thatched roofs as well.
Kelly C.
10/12/2013 at 2:08 PM
I hope Wendy's noggin' is ok!

I'm beyond jealous. Thank you for these posts, I got to travel through y'all. It would be a dream come true to visit in person!

You should consider writing your own travel guide - your very good at it.
Kelly C.
10/12/2013 at 2:09 PM
you're - darn, I do that all the time! Why can't you catch typos before hitting submit??
Kim
10/12/2013 at 2:58 PM
I love Rothenburg! My family lived in Wurzburg for two years and we would always take visiting relatives to Rothenburg. Were you able to check out the Medieval Torture Museum? It is extremely grotesque how creative they were on their ways of torture, but also an amazing part of history. A very surreal place, where the viewer is constantly juggling the beauty/craftsmanship/creativity of the object with the negativity/pain/ violence that brought it into existence. If the museum is still there it is definitely worth a trip back.

Are you still in Germany? If so, where else are you planning to visit?
10/14/2013 at 12:27 PM
This town is definitely on my list.
Dave
10/20/2013 at 12:50 AM
Wow! I know where I want to go next! Thanks for giving us a glimpse.
Sara
10/23/2013 at 3:56 PM

Wow. What a beautiful town. I want to hop on a plane. I love your travel recaps. Your photos are lovely. Would you consider sharing at the end an itinerary of your trip and whether or not you'd change how long you stayed in a place? I find that valuable. I'm also a big fan of Rick Steve's travel books.

10/23/2013 at 6:01 PM

We lived in Germany when I was little, and this is one of the places that sticks out in my mind. We went there several times, but the one I remember was cold and rainy, and there were fireworks at night, and for some reason it sticks in my head that there were giant snails everywhere. I think we had schnecken at the restaurant that night ...

Dzvinka Hayda
12/20/2014 at 12:51 AM

Lived is this fairyland.....loved it then....love it more now---

Matt
2/15/2016 at 2:47 PM

Spent 4 days there last summer (during their Volkfest which added to the festivities) and 10 days the summer before. Love it. We also went to the Christmas markets one December and that was great.

I prefer the smaller towns I Europe to the big cities. This place is high on my list.

stephanie
8/10/2016 at 4:52 PM

I'm glad you liked my Hometown Rothenburg und seinem Burggarten.Than's for the pic's, I haven't been to Germany in many years.

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