Three Great Stops Along the Romantic Road in Germany

The Romantic Road, which winds its way through scenic old towns from central to southern Germany, covers a distance of almost 400 km (250 miles). It was a medieval trade route and several towns were at crossroads on that route.

This post will cover two of those scenic towns and the world famous Neuschwanstein Castle.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Rothenburg (located on the Tauber river and hence its name) is definitely one of the most interesting (and popular) small towns in Germany. It was saved from destruction during World War II by an American general, who, knowing of its historical significance, agreed not to bombard the town if it surrendered, which it did. Thank goodness. It retains its medieval feel, and there are lots of quaint buildings; most of which were built before 1400.


Every street is a postcard view in Rothenburg.


One of the most famous street scenes in Rothenburg.

The most popular time to visit Rothenburg is December. It has a famous Christmas festival and market. With a little snow it would a picture-perfect Christmas village. We visited during the summer and had no complaints.


Another view of Rothenburg. There was an older inner section of the medieval town and hence why there are so many gates.


A timbered house, tower and section of the medieval wall in Rothenburg.

There are several “don’t miss” things to do in Rothenburg:

  1. Walk the town’s surrounding medieval walls on an old boardwalk.
  2. Visit Medieval Crime and Punishment Museum, which contains all kinds of creative medieval torture instruments.
  3. Take the Night Watchman’s tour. Hans Georg Baumgartner has been doing these tours for years, and they are a blast. He tells a bit about the history of Rothenburg with lots of humor as he walks you around the old town at dusk. He conducts tours in English and German at different times.
  4. Visit St. Jakob’s Church, which houses the Riemenschneider wood carving (Altar of the Holy Blood, 500 years old and 35 feet high).

Hans Georg Baumgartner starting his Night Watchman’s tour in Rothenburg.


The famous Altar of the Holy Blood by Tilman Riemenschneider. The carving took 5 years (1499-1504) to create. It’s located in the 14th century St. Jakob’s church in Rothenburg.

Dinkelsbühl. This great town is considered Rothenburg’s “little sister” and is only 49 km (30 miles) south of Rothenburg.


Street scene in Dinkelsbühl.

It has a moat, towers, gates, timbered buildings and a medieval wall surrounding the town (which, in addition to Rothenburg, is one of the few remaining in Germany). We found Dinkelsbühl a bit less touristy than Rothenburg. Amazingly it also miraculously escaped damage in World War II, except for a broken window in St. George’s Minster.


A tower, moat, and wall surrounding Dinkelsbühl.


One more scenic view outside the walls of Dinkelsbühl.

Don’t miss climbing the tower connected to the 15th century St.George’s Minster. The tower was originally a 12th century free standing structure, but later became part of the church structure.


The tower of St. George’s Minster is in the distance.

Neuschwanstein Castle. Just about everyone has seen a picture of this castle, nestled against the Bavarian Alps. This well-known castle marks the southern end of the Romantic Road, near the town of Füssen.


This image of Neuschwanstein was taken from Mary’s Bridge, a short hike to the south of the castle.

It’s been said that this castle was the inspiration for Cinderella’s castle at Walt Disney World. The castle was constructed by King Ludwig II, King of Bavaria in the late 1800’s.


Interior courtyard view of Neuschwanstein Castle.

He died at age 41 in 1886, having lived in his dream castle (a 17 year project) only 172 days! Only about one third of the interior was finished at the time of his death, it remains unfinished to this day.


Interior view of Neuschwanstein castle. The two figures represent the story of Tristan and Isolde, a romantic 12th century story, inspired by Celtic legend.


Looking up at Neuschwanstein Castle from the road you hike up (or take by carriage) to get you to the entrance.

While I prefer older, “real” castles, Neuschwanstein is a beauty and was built on the site of an older medieval castle. To get the best postcard view of this castle nestled in the mountains, you really have to be in a low flying airplane or helicopter. Also in the same area is the older Hohenschwangau Castle, which you see first as you arrive, but we did not take the time to visit it. Be forewarned – this area is mobbed by tourists, so plan your visit well in advance and ensure you get your tours and tickets set before arriving.



Heidelberg, Germany – A Great Day Trip from Frankfurt

On our way from the U.S. to Morocco we had an eight hour layover at the Frankfurt airport. Rather than just wait the entire time at the airport, we decided to take a train to Heidelberg, an interesting town about 90 km (56 miles) south of Frankfurt. While there are several ways to get there, including an airport (Lufthansa) shuttle, we opted for the train.

Heidelberg is a university town (Heidelberg University, founded in 1386) nestled in a narrow valley along the Neckar River. It has a quaint old section (called Altstadt), with some walls, gates, historical buildings including a castle and market squares. The origins of Heidelberg go back at least to Roman times.

A view of Alstadt (Old Town) from the Castle grounds.

A view of Alstadt (Old Town) from the Castle grounds.

Things to See

We are fortunate that Heidelberg escaped serious damage in World War II. It was not bombed by the Allies and the retreating German army destroyed part of the Old Bridge, but that was about all.

Castle (Heidelberger Schloss). The castle is a bit of a mish mash of several different building eras. The original castle dates back to the mid 1100’s, but was destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries. It sits on the steep hillside over looking the old town and the river.

A view of Heidelberg Castle from Altstadt.

A view of Heidelberg Castle from Altstadt.

Another view of Heidelberg Castle from the gardens.

Another view of Heidelberg Castle from the gardens.

There are some lovely gardens surrounding the castle that provide good views. Having been in many castles, and given our short stay, we did not go inside.

A clock tower on the castle grounds.

A clock tower on the castle grounds.

Old Bridge (Alte Bruecke). This 18th century bridge provides a great view of the town, just walk underneath the Bridge Gate and onto the bridge for excellent photo opportunities.

A view of the Neckar River and the Old Bridge from the Castle Gardens.

A view of the Neckar River and the Old Bridge from the Castle Gardens.

The Bridge Gate.

The Bridge Gate.

Church of the Holy Spirit. In the Marktplatz (square) the church dominates the setting. Lots of great restaurants around the square. We ate a good traditional meal at a restaurant on the square, just across from this church.

The Church of the Holy Spirit sits in the middle of the Marktplatz surrounded by shops and restaurants.

The Church of the Holy Spirit sits in the middle of the Marktplatz surrounded by shops and restaurants.

Hauptstraße. This is the main shopping thoroughfare that connects Altstadt with the modern city. Lots of quaint shops selling trinkets, gelato, and German baked goods.

Tasty schneeballen (snowballs), a German pastry.

Tasty schneeballen (snowballs), a German pastry.

Looking west down the Hauptstraße.

Looking west down the Hauptstraße.

There are a number of other old historical buildings to see, including the Rathaus (Town Hall), stables, students prison, other old university buildings (most of the university is now on the other side of the river), and a Witch’s Tower.

Old Heidelberg's Rathaus is behind me.

Old Heidelberg’s Rathaus is behind me.

We love quaint European towns and Heidelberg is another great one to visit, even if just for a few hours.

Logistics. The train was about 50 euro ($65 at the time) per ticket. You have to transfer trains once (in the nearby city of Mannheim). The whole trip takes about 75 minutes each way, depending on the connection time in Mannheim. Go to the train information and ticket office located below the arrivals terminal at the Frankfurt airport. They can provide you with an itinerary, timing and your tickets. Don’t get off the train in Heidelberg until you arrive at the main (Hauptbahnhof) station.

The historic center is a long walk or a short bus ride east of the train station. We took the bus (#3) to the Old Town from the train station and then walked back (which took about 25 minutes). We did the whole round trip from Frankfurt airport, including dinner, in about 5 hours.

Aachen, Germany – The Ancient Capital of the Holy Roman Empire

Aachen is near Belgium and the Netherlands on the western border of Germany.

On a recent business trip to Eindhoven, the Netherlands, I had an extra day and drove southeast to Aachen, Germany, about 105 km from Eindhoven.  Aachen is located in western Germany, near the border with the Netherlands and Belgium. It is an ancient city, dating back to Roman times (1stcentury AD) when it was known as a spa town for its warm mineral springs. As geographical boundaries have changed over the years, Aachen has been part of France and the former country of Prussia in addition to modern-day Germany.

Aachen town square with a fountain and statue of Charlemagne.

The great Charlemagne (known as “King of the Franks” and the Carolingian Empire) chose Aachen as the site for his palace because of the hot springs. He was a highly educated king who spoke several languages and was also a great military leader. He was crowned “Emperor of the Romans” in Rome by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day in 800 AD. Thus began the long history of what is known as the Holy Roman Empire which lasted in some fashion for 700 years. The Palace Chapel, which is now part of the Aachen Cathedral, was built in the early 790’s. The kings of the Holy Roman Empire were crowned here from 813 to 1531.

The unique Aachen Cathedral. The round middle structure is the Palace Chapel and immediately to the left is the Gothic medieval choir (14th and 15th centuries).

The Palace Chapel (also called the “Oktogon”) is where Holy Roman Empire kings were crowned for 700 years. Charlemagne’s throne is displayed on a upper floor.

The Choir of Aachen Cathedral, Charlemagne’s tomb is in the distance below the stained glass windows.

If your time in Aachen is limited, I suggest visiting the unique cathedral and the nearby historic Town Hall, which provide a good overview of the history of Aachen. The Town Hall was built in the mid 1300’s on the ruins of Charlemagne’s palace and contains the Coronation Hall and numerous other rooms. The Aachen town council still meets in the Council Hall of this building. The cathedral houses Charlemagne’s throne and tomb and also has a treasury with beautiful religious artifacts. The old town around these two impressive buildings is also enjoyable.

The medieval Town Hall in Aachen, Germany. This structure was built in the 1300’s on the grounds of Charlemagne’s Palace. There are remnants of his palace incorporated into this structure.

The Coronation Hall in the Town Hall. Completed in 1349, it was the largest secular hall in the Holy Roman Empire. Used for coronation banquets throughout the Middle Ages.

Given the importance of Aachen to the history of Europe, I find it surprising that Rick Steves barely mentions this town in his Germany & Austria guidebook.  It is well worth a stop for a few hours at least.

Sources: Tour pamphlets from Aachen, Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia 1986, Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval Europe 1986.