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Füssen, Munich, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber -- But in which order? And, to drive or not to drive?

Good evening, fellow travelers:

At some point in the next year, I intend to visit Germany again. My sister lives in the north, with her fiancé and my infant niece (who I have yet to meet), and has rolled out the proverbial welcome mat for whenever travel is possible again.

I will of course spend some time in her part of Allemagne, visiting with her and the rest of the crew, but when I consider Germany, my thoughts naturally turn south, to Bavaria.

Last time I was in the country, I got as far as Nuremberg before having to turn back. This time -- whenever it is -- I'd love to visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber and/or Nördlingen, and my partner wants to see Ludwig's castles so a trip to Füssen is in order. I'm assuming we'll stop in Munich on the way.

Much as I love trains, however, I'm not sure I want to spend six hours just getting from Füssen to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

So, would you recommend:

  1. Stopping in RodT first;
  2. Staying an extra day in Munich and doing Hohenschwangau as a day trip; or
  3. Renting a car and driving.

I'm beginning to lean in favor of Option 3 -- renting a car in Munich, driving to Füssen and then up to RodT (and hitting some villages along the way), returning the car in, say, Würzburg and then taking the train back north.

I've survived driving in Boston, Los Angeles, and Montreal (pre-COVID I'd go up there many times during the year for concerts and art exhibits and such), and took a rental from the Edinburgh airport up into the Highlands with no major problems, and am predisposed to be a stickler behind the wheel, so is a car advisable? Surely it can't be any hairier than those cities.

Thank you very much to any and all for your advice and expertise.

Posted by
2170 posts

I've survived driving in Boston, Los Angeles, and Montreal (pre-COVID
I'd go up there many times during the year for concerts and art
exhibits and such), and took a rental from the Edinburgh airport up
into the Highlands with no major problems, and am predisposed to be a
stickler behind the wheel, so is a car advisable? Surely it can't be
any hairier than those cities.

North American cities are built for cars, so you can't really compare those cities to Munich. European cities are not built the same way. Munich was founded in 1158 and the inner city was not destroyed to make space for cars. So, don't even think about having a car in Munich.

Inbetween however is another question and sort of depends your preferences. Füssen to Rothenburg o.d.T. is not 6 hours however. Are you planning an open jaw ticket to Munich and home from somewhere in the north?

Posted by
2933 posts

You don't mention where in the north of Germany your family lives, but it seems to me that since Rothenberg odT is north of both Munich and Fussen, it would make logistical sense to visit there on the way to Munich, if coming from your family visit. If you will start with flying into Munich, and end by flying out of a northern airport, you could pick up a rental car when you finish your Munich visit. Then drive to Fussen (about an hour and a half), drive to R. odT (less than 2 1/2hr), and drop off the car at the nearest place with good rail connections to your place up north.

Posted by
9 posts

Thank you, Badger and Jean. I appreciate it.

Anyway, my family is just outside of Hamburg.

We're flying into Hamburg and taking the train down to wherever. Not an open-jaw ticket; flying into and out of Hamburg.

I understand the cities aren't directly comparable, and wouldn't ever dream of driving in Munich. Feet and public transportation are enough for me. It's just the in-between stuff on the smaller routes, and the apparent time differential, that has me thinking car.

I wonder if COVID is playing havoc with the train schedules, as I could swear when I looked last week, Füssen to RodT was doable in 3-4 hours on DB. Now it's looking like 5:49 is standard, with some routes taking even longer. Could also be low season; I don't know.

Posted by
1053 posts

DB shows 5h 30m from Hamburg to RodT that requires two connections and Google shows 5h 45m by car. You may want to rent your car in RodT then drive to Füssen (2h 30m). From Füssen you can take a 10m train to Neuschwantstein then walk to Hohenschwangau (30m). If you want to see Linderhof then you’ll need a car. You can drop your car off in Füssen then take a direct train to Munich (2h).
Instead of taking a 5h 45m train back to Hamburg, consider flying. You can fly for less than $50 on a budget carrier which can be a good option if you don’t have much luggage, otherwise, you can fly on Lufthansa for $72.

Posted by
5164 posts

Rothenburg ob der Tauber and/or Nördlingen

If it's just Füssen to Nördlingen, you're looking at 3.5 hours by train.

If it's Füssen to Rothenburg by train, it's 4.75 hours (if you check normal travel times found further out in the future.)

Posted by
1358 posts

There is much discussion here on this site regarding Fussen.

Personally, I felt it was lot of work for a 20 minute tour of King Ludwig's Castle, [which was uninspired and with poor acoustics.] It was line up and wait for the timed ticket to Hohenschwangau Castle, rest, get in the long line for the bus up the hill, wait and get in line for your timed ticket to King Ludwig's Castle, 20 minute tour, and then get back down the hill. It was a long day of being on one's feet most of the day. Getting the timed tickets and coordinating those times between the two castles was another challenge for us.

But, if you must go, may I suggest the following:
Visit H'Castle, which is an interesting tour, and then hike up to Queen Mary's Bridge, from which many of those great Castle pix are taken. [Note that the best pix are taken from the air, which obviously can't be done by a tourist.] An alternative to hiking up are the horse-drawn carriages; I don't know the price, but another line. I don't know if you can take the bus up without a N'Castle ticket, but that's usually another long line. Then hike back down, about 45 min easy downhill.

The Queen Mary's Bridge is always crowded, and sways and wiggles when anyone moves, so be prepared.

So just my humble opinion.

I love Rothenburg, so I'd recommend staying overnight, and don't forget the evening Night Watchman's Tour.

Good wishes for a safe- and healthy- trip!

Posted by
773 posts

I'd drive. And I spent over 3 years driving around Bavaria and it was nice. I suggest doing RodT, then taking the road to Dinklesbuhl, Nordlingin, Donauworth, Augsburg, and so to Fussen. See the castles, and then to Munich.

You also might want to consider flying from Hamburg to Munich and then driving that same route in reverse.

Posted by
9 posts

I have looked at the Eurowings flights, but figured I'd have to add in an extra hour on both ends to get to and from the airports, plus another hour for security clearance, and am not sure of the net time savings. More relaxing just to hop on the train.

I'm not particularly wedded to seeing Neuschwanstein, but my partner really wants to see it someday, so I'd like to make that happen if I can. RodT is my indulgence.

Might make sense just to add an extra day or so onto our southern tour. My sister, niece, and presumptive brother-in-law would still get the majority of our time.

This is all hypothetical at this point, of course.

Posted by
292 posts

Absolutely drive. I've driven there since the late 70's. It's not Italy. It's easy to get around. Pay attention to the signs. Don't hog the left lane. Don't freak out if someone in a massive Mercedes passes so close that they clip your mirrors. Just go with the flow. Don't drink and drive.
As good as the available public transportation is in Germany, a car is (IMHO) essential (except in the big cities) if you want to enjoy all of the small off the beaten path places at your own pace. Driving is extremely easy there and all of these older cities have available public parking. All of the hotels and gasthaus's accommodate cars. It's how the locals get around.
Fly into Munich and go from there. Nothing is too far from there (by car). I would add Ulm as a quick stop and there are many other places to spend some time enjoying the region.
With a car these are easy stop and goes. With public transportation these are unnecessary logistic challenges. There's nothing quite like waiting for a cab to meet you next to a small bus stop in the countryside to make you appreciate having wheels. The time you spend waiting could be better used going from town to town enjoying the scenery.

Posted by
25778 posts

The problem with trains on this route is that both RodT and Füssen are at the ends of minor branch lines so joining up the dots takes time and connections.

Don’t use the current trains as indications because the schedules have been knocked way off kilter by the plague. But connecting those two towns by choo choo is a hassle even in the before times.

Driving on what is called the Romantic road isn’t a great deal of fun because it is a two lane road most of the way and although the road does not go through the villages and towns but through the countryside you do still have to slow down at most junctions of the roads and in their council it does go through unless the town main sign is green. A lot of fields and a few orchards is pretty much what you get most of the route but it is a relatively straight line. Going over to the Autobahn is generally quicker but do be aware of stau. I have run into a fair few along there.

Parking at Neuschwanstein can be quite the experience. Follow the advice to avoid driving in Munich. Driving elsewhere in the Bavarian countryside is generally a good experience.

The named roads are generally a marketing device by the various tourist boards. There are something like 25 or 30 different named roads and it is usually the case that the road it’s less interesting than the villages but they connect. My favourite for example is the Fachwerkstraße which connects villages and towns that are made with half timbered construction.

Posted by
5980 posts

Neu'stein can be done as a day trip from Munich, if its just the castles you want to see. Even by bus tour from Munich.

Posted by
9 posts

Yeah, we have a few named tourist routes like that here in Vermont (like the so-called Lake Champlain Byway). Usually they signify at least a handful of scenic vistas along the way, and some quaint villages to pass through. Many fields and orchards along those roads, too. The Fachwerkstraße sounds absolutely delightful.

Right now I'm thinking, hey, it might be nice to rent a car in Munich, drive down through Starnberg and then head over to Kloster Andechs (and buy some beer to go), then go to Füssen from there. Then, the next day, head up to Nördlingen by way of Augsburg and Donauwörth, and maybe drop into Dinkelsbühl before ending up in RodT. Spend a day or two in RodT and then return the car in Würzburg before catching the ICE back to Hamburg.

If I don't want to pick up the car in Munich itself, it looks like Sixt (are they any good?) has a place at the Oberpfaffenhofen airport. If I could get to there, that would cut out some of the urban driving.

As for staus, the last time I was in Cape Cod, it literally took me 47+ minutes to go less than half a mile trying to reach the Sagamore Bridge on a weekend. It's expected there; just part of the experience.

Posted by
1607 posts

I'd consider renting a car in Munich and drving to N'stein. Along the way stop at Linderhof to see another of Ludwig's palaces. Also stop at Wies church. Both these would otherwise require a bus ride. Several other places to see as you drive to Rothenburg - Landsberg and Dinkelsbuehl are just two. Also just north of R'burg is Creglingen which has another nice wooden carved altar in the church.

Posted by
773 posts

Since I have already recommended you driving, if you're going to pick up the car in Munich, what you want to do is head south down 95 like you're going to Garmisch. It's a great drive, but the first hour out of Munich is boring. Then you get to see the Alps rising up as you drive into them. Turn off and go to Ettal. You can buy beer anywhere, but the monks only sell their herbal liquors at the Monastery Then drive through the forest (fantastic drive) to Linderhoff (which is much nicer than Neuschwansein). They you just cut a corner of Austria and come into Fussen from the south (which is best).

Also, if you stop in Nordlingen or Dinklesbuhl you're going to be there for half the day. Minimum. They are really nice to walk around.

Yes the roads are mostly 2 lanes. But they drive fairly fast, even with going through the smaller towns. Frankly that's what I like about them. I always find a reason to stop in some place along the way. It should be noted that many of those little one horse places have their own local beers, so if that's what you like you really need to stop at the smaller Gasthaus.

Posted by
2933 posts

many of those little one horse places have their own local beers, so
if that's what you like you really need to stop at the smaller
Gasthaus

Few things are better than a good German beer. But be careful about this when driving. The allowable blood alcohol limit is lower than in the US. If you're driving, you may be wise to do your drinking after you reach your destination.

Posted by
9 posts

That sounds wonderful. Thanks again to all for your suggestions.

I think I need to add another day onto the southern excursion.

And to study up on the German road rules (my sister tells me to watch out for the bits on pedestrian traffic prioritization).

Posted by
25778 posts

One other thing to watch out very carefully for is the speed restrictions which don’t have a speed sign to warn you. Every time you cross into a village or town where the sign shows the name of the town, unless it is on a green background, the speed reduces to 50 KPH and stays at that speed until you get to the sign with the town name with a red line through it at which point you can return to the national speed limit unless posted otherwise. Passing the speed reduction sign does not mean to take your foot off the accelerator and wait for the car to slow down, it means that speed at that point and often there are cameras enforcing it.

Posted by
9 posts

Well, it might make sense to do that, yes, and we'll definitely do some day trips out of Hamburg (to Lübeck, for example), but I'm a sucker for mountains, lakes, mountain lakes, and castles, and half-timber construction, especially all together, and Hansa doesn't quite seem to have that combination (but, if they do, I'm all ears).

Posted by
5164 posts

"I'm a sucker for mountains, lakes, mountain lakes, and castles, and half-timber construction, especially all together, and Hansa doesn't quite seem to have that combination (but, if they do, I'm all ears)."

Some things scattered around in the north that may interest you at some point in your travels...

Half-timbered road from the Elbe to the Harz (Lüneburg makes a very easy outing from Hamburg.)

Schwerin

Celle

Goslar, Harz Mountains

Hannoversch Münden

There is very little in the way of old-world, half-timbered buildings in the German Alps.

Posted by
2170 posts

If I don't want to pick up the car in Munich itself, it looks like
Sixt (are they any good?) has a place at the Oberpfaffenhofen airport.
If I could get to there, that would cut out some of the urban driving.

Hertz also has a place just outside Füssen, so you could take the train to Füssen, visit Neuschwanstein and then when you are done there, pick up the car and head north.

And to study up on the German road rules (my sister tells me to watch
out for the bits on pedestrian traffic prioritization).

Yes, do that or it might be expensive. And make sure you are aware of the "unposted" speed limits mentioned earlier as well as parking rules and the concept of Rettungsgasse.

Posted by
269 posts

All good suggestions mentioned above. The church in Wies (Wieskirche) is a must see in IMO. It is between Munich and Fussen so whichever route you take you will pass by there. I too highly recommend the walk to the MarienBrucke at Neuschwanstein. I also recommend following the path across the bridge. It will take you higher than the bridge if you prefer a different vantage point. Since you are there you should also visit Hohenschwangau. Fussen is a quaint little town and there was a restaurant or pastry shop that Rick Steves recommended years ago that was not open when we were there (sorry, I don't remember the name). Having driven in that area a number of times over the years it is easy to get around even if leaving out of Munich as we did 1 year. We prefer to drive on the back roads as we enjoy passing through smaller towns and stopping when the urge hits us. We did take a train in December of 2019 to RodT as part of our trip. The train station is not that far of a walk to the walled section. However, I did not care to sit and wait for the train on the day we left so it would have been nice to have a car and just go.
In regards to driving, since you will be with your sister you can take the time and ask her about specific things you should know. For example, if parking discs (Parkscheibe) are still in use and how to use one. As previously mentioned, know the rules of the road and what the road signs mean. Also, how to read limited parking hour signs in parking lots. I got a ticket one morning when nothing was open and no-one was around. I parked in an empty lot to look at the hours of an information booth and came back to a parking ticket. It sounds like you will have a great trip and it makes me want to go back all the more. Enjoy!

Posted by
4889 posts

I lived in Augsburg for four years and have been all over Bavaria as well as other great areas of Germany.

I recommend doing the Romantic Road. https://www.romanticroadgermany.com
There are several great towns and cities to visit. I suggest spending 3 days in Munich and then head down to Garmisch/Fussen. Do the castles and go up the Zugspitze (highest mountain in German). Then rent a car (or rent a car in Munich earlier) and drive up the Romantic Road.

Don't miss Oberamergau, where the Passion Play is done every ten years. The spend half a day in Augsburg to see the Rathaus and Fuggeri. Then head north and west on the road and stop at the towns listed. At some point, of course, spend the night. Consider staying a night in Augsburg, then another along the way to Rothenburg. End up in Wurzberg ending your trip.

Check TripAdvisor for things to do in Munich, lots to do and see there.

Posted by
9 posts

What would the use of that logbook be, anyway?

Oberramergau would be amazing, but I don't know when our trip would be. We were hoping for 2021 but that seems less likely with each passing day.

Posted by
132 posts

We flew into Frankfurt and drove to Rothenburg ob der Tauber for two nights, Fussen for two nights, then Salzburg for one night and then Munich for two nights, where we flew home. As my husband says ... driving in Germany is easy because they know how to drive and they stay in the right lane unless they are passing ... but when they pass, they are really fast! We had a GPS and had no problem getting from town to town.

Loved Rothenburg ob der Tauber! It was one of my most favorite trips so far. The town is so quaint and walkable. Make sure to do the Night Watchman Tour!

The town of Fussen was another of my favorites. I loved seeing Neuschwanstein Castle - it is beautiful to see up on the hill and tour the grounds and castle. I think I liked the nearby town of Fussen just as well - it has shops and restaurants with outdoor seating, a beautiful church and monastery that are all within a few blocks of each other.

We did just park the car in Munich after a day trip to Dachau. We had absolutely no need for a car in Munich. By the way, Salzburg, Austria is a really nice stop, too! Beautiful city with so much to do. We should have allowed two nights there! We also did two nights in Cochem at the beginning of our trip out of Frankfort. Quaint little town with a castle on the hillside!

Posted by
5164 posts

We did take a train in December of 2019 to RodT as part of our trip.
The train station is not that far of a walk to the walled section.
However, I did not care to sit and wait for the train on the day we
left so it would have been nice to have a car and just go.

KN: I nearly always use the trains in Germany... so my eyes perk up when I think comments on train travel might be missing the mark on one level or another, or might give others the wrong impression.

Generally, I don't wait around for trains unless they are late (which would be pretty rare for the Rothenburg line.) All trains are scheduled, and schedules are available online. In Rothenburg, there are 18 hourly departures every day - and every one is going in the right direction since there's only one direction to go. No online access? Schedules that show your times, changes of train, and track numbers can be printed at any station that has ticket machines (virtually all of them); when you first arrive in Rothenburg (or wherever) you can print out 1 - 3 itineraries for the day of your departure so that you have a range of departure options. Then you just arrange to get to the station a few minutes early.

The problem with trains on this route is that both RodT and Füssen are
at the ends of minor branch lines so joining up the dots takes time
and connections.

Rothenburg does require a train connection in the small town of Steinach (with its small train station.) Let's say you are traveling to R'burg from Würzburg one morning. Steinach has only 5 tracks ("Gleise") on 3 platforms. Each track is clearly numbered. When you get off in a station this size, changing platforms and reboarding might take 2 minutes. And each morning connection allows 12-13 minutes for this. Piece of cake.

Steinach platforms and tracks - map
Steinach platforms and tracks - photo

(The letters help those with reserved seats find the right railcar)

Train to Füssen: If coming from Munich, half the daily departures are DIRECT trains - you can choose one of those if you wish. The direct trains alternate roughly hourly with departures that require one connection in Buchloe or Kaufbeuren. But these too are pretty simple changes of train. And whether direct or indirect, the travel time is the same.

More problematic changes of train are normally those that you must make in very large stations, where you have to walk longer distances and where there tend to be more delays as well as on-the-spot track changes made by the rail management team. So you might arrive at track 5 and then be hurrying to track 23, when in fact they've moved your next train to track 7! It's good to keep your eyes open as you pass by those other tracks. Frankfurt's main station is a good example:

http://karteplan.com/deutschland/stadt/frankfurt-am-main/frankfurt-am-main-hbf-plan.jpg

The route to Füssen is a scenic one:

https://vimeo.com/220958586