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Rothenburg or ???

We're currently planning for our trip to Germany in early September. We've read a lot of comments about how Rothenburg is too "touristy" with all of the day trippers and tour busses, and that quite a bit of the town's commerce is set up to cater to those visitors.
But what about after day trippers have left? Is there any small town charm that remains? Or does it remain a largely tourist centered town and economy?
We are considering spending 2 nights in Rothenburg but are concerned that we may find it too commercialized.
With that said, in what towns might we find the same architectural charm, enough interest to keep our evenings occupied, and be able to visit nearby places? Or can Rothenburg be that place?
On a somewhat similar note, we have identified some towns that would appear to have that "architectural charm" and quaintness that we find appealing, and thought we might attempt to visit some of them as we travel, or visit as a day trip from which ever town we choose to spend 2 nights. We will arrive in Ludwigsburg by train and pick up our rental car the next day.
Our list of towns include:
the Altstadt in Bietigheim
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Realizing that we can't possibly see them all, the question I'll ask is this:
Are these towns going to be very similar in appearance, and if so, which of them should we add to a short list?
Any thoughts or suggestions are appreciated.

Posted by
6781 posts

Rothenburg is certainly touristy, especially during the day. It's been a few years since I've been there, but I didn't find it that off-putting. Like so many other places being loved-to-death, once the day-trippers clear out, it's quite pleasant. I'm not sure that it's worth 2 nights, if you time it right you could manage with one night there. Opinions will vary on that.

Posted by
850 posts

I really don't think you're grasping the distances and travel time for some of the places you've listed. From RodT Ansbach, Bad Windsheim, and Dinkelbuhl are 30 minutes drive. Nuremberg and Wurzburg are about an hour, Bamberg an hour and a half, etc. And that's if you know the roads. If you're using trains or buses add a half an hour easy, each way and plan on running by a much stricter timetable.

Rothenburg is touristy, but it's also a really pretty place, and I have many fond memories of the years I lived near there. Ansbach is often overlooked by crowds and other than by the Americans and Germans who live and work there it's not often crowded. But it was once the seat of Bavaria, and has some really nice places to walk around. Dinkelbuhl is often mentioned here as an alternative to RodT, and it too is a very good place to spend a day. Bad Windsheim is another place that draws more German tourists than any other nationality, mainly to the excellent open air museum that's open in the summer. There's also a couple excellent spas in this town (hence the name).

A day in RodT is not too long, and two nights is a fair amount of time to dedicate, especially if you want to walk around and sample some of the gasthauses or jazzcellars in the evening. But if you think it's too small, or you plan on just running from one "attraction" to the next, you might be better served basing out of Nuremberg.

Posted by
4667 posts

We were just in Rothenburg in December, our second visit. It's the best preserved [partially rebuilt ] Medieval town in Germany. I think you need two nights so that you can have a beautiful, peaceful morning to walk the town walls, just explore, and do the Night Watchman Tour in the evening. When we were there for the xmas markets, the town square was very crowded, but two blocks away it was very peaceful. I also found the local shopkeepers to be very personable and charming.
I feel it is a magical place and will return.
Safe travels!

Posted by
1479 posts

We lived near Rothenburg twice and have visited there several times since. It is touristy, especially in the midday near the town square. It has a wealth of hotels and restaurants, which we find handy. I enjoy walks through the town in the evening or in the off season. I like walks outside the wall during the day. The countryside is scenic as the city is perched above the Tauber River. If you have a car it is handy as there is so much parking just outside the wall. I consider it my vacation within a vacation for all the walks and enjoyable low keyed restaurants and cafes. It does not suit everyone and I am glad for that.

Posted by
6609 posts

The off-putting thing about Rothenburg isn't just the number of daytime visitors - it's that the whole town is overly dependent on tourism, its only purpose for existence these days, really. I prefer places where real everyday Germans live and go about their everyday German lives - and places where you don't have to sneak out in the wee hours to avoid crowds.

UNESCO's World Heritage list for Germany includes towns like Bamberg and Regensburg which, unlike Rothenburg, have been singled out using a number of criteria for their authentic medieval centers. On top of that, these towns have universities as well as private enterprise of all kinds, and a solid local culture that doesn't bend over backwards just because the tour buses have shown up. The menus and the merchants still do German.

Iphofen is no UNESCO town but it's in the general neighborhood, and I found it wonderful for short visit - an old town wall, towers, half-timbered buildings, Riemenschneider works, a famous church, wine centers... and a passion for art:

Posted by
19078 posts

On my 2007 Romantic Road trip, I spent a night in Nördlingen; Nördlingen is one the Romantic Road, about I arrived there in the late afternoon and left at noon the following day, and to tell the truth, i wished I could have stayed longer. My next stop was Dinkelsbühl, and after Nördlingen, there was no comparison.

Like Rothenburg, Nördlingen has fachwerk houses and a complete wall with a Wehrgang you can walk on. I also has a tall church tower you can climb for a great view of the town and surrounding countryside. I would call it the non-touristy version of Rothenburg. It does lack a Christmas shop and a Crime & Punishment museum, but those are some of the thing that make it less touristy.

If you spend several days in Nördlingen, you can take a side trip, about 15 minutes south by train to the town of Harburg, with its intact castle.

Another nice thing about Nördlingen is that it is on a rail line, so you don't need a car to get there.

Posted by
2386 posts

I spent 3 nights in Rothenburg the first week last October. I didn’t think it crowded at all, especially off the main drag. When I went to the castle gardens, there was only one other person there. Walking the wall, I saw only a few. Kathe Wohlfahrt’s was a little crowded - we go there every visit to pick up a couple of ornaments. St. Jakob’s was well populated, but not crowded. There are more organized tours roaming the streets than you see in other places, but they were no problem.

Posted by
12040 posts

I'll comment on the town's I've visited. What all of them have in common in is that tourism is a side-business, unlike the Rothenburg odT, which increasingly feels like Epcot's Germany pavilion:

Dinkelsbühl: This is a beautiful alternative to Rothenburg that gets almost completely overlooked. The specific style of Fachwerk building style of this town very unique, and I haven't seen it quite replicated elsewhere. It also maintains a nearly complete defensive wall, although you can't walk along it.

Würzburg is a fairly large city. It's quite attractive, but a lot of modern intermingles with the old here.

Bamberg is also a decent sized city, although its historic core maintains more architectural unity. The main reason most people visit is to sample the local specialty Rauchbier, which is surprisingly hard to find anywhere else, even in grocery stores. Bamberg can also serve as a gateway to the scenic Fränkische Schweitz (Franconian Switzerland) region, which is filled with castles, attractive villages and scenic rock formations.

Miltenberg is a nice little town on a scenic stretch of the Main River. The old town itself doesn't take particularly long to explore, but the main attraction here (for me) are the Roman ruins from the Limes Germanicus in the hills and mountains above the town. They're not well advertised, and you'll need to be a equipped for a fairly rigorous hike to explore them.

Michelstadt might be my favorite of the list, because to get to it, you'll need to drive deep into one of my favorite regions of Germany, the Odenwald mountains, which are filled with well-preserved towns, castles and hiking trails. Once again, the town itself doesn't take too long to explore, but the region is filled with hiking trails. If you drive here, you'll probably want to stop off several times to explore and take pictures before you actually reach Michelstadt. The highlight is the town hall, which you've probably seen pictures of.

Rothenburg odT is very attractive, and well preserved (although despite what you read, it's more early modern than medieval), but other than the tourist hordes that descend on it daily and an economy that primarily consists of trinket shops, it isn't unique enough to justify all the attention it receives. When you travel around Germany, you start to quickly start to appreciate the tremendous effort the various levels of German government have invested in preserving and maintaining the traditional look of the country's smaller towns (and even some of its cities). Rothenburg really is one of many, not the singular outlier. It makes sense to give it a look if you're in the area anyway, but for most travelers, its a long detour to see more of the same (a lot more of the same, with regards to souvenir shops).

Posted by
1284 posts

I will never forget the bus load of International tourists I saw in Rothenberg ob der Tauber several years ago all in chartreuse green baseball caps. Anyway they were having a good time. For perspective, about 10k from Rothenburg ob der Tauber across the Tauber River is the site of the Keltisches Oppidum Finsterlohr Burgstall (Celtic Hillfort, II-I Cent. BC).

An alternative with a car you could drive around the Fränkische Schweiz for two days. It's southerly between Bamberg and Bayreuth. Timber frame houses, castles and castle ruine, churches, limestone cliffed valleys, great food and beer etc.|en) Also the Franken Wein Region on and around the Main River, Prichsenstadt, Iphofen, Volkoch etc. nearby Miltenberg and Würzburg.

Posted by
49 posts

Thanks everyone for your input.
We get the sense that, at least for us, Rothenburg's intense tourism popularity may overshadow its' charm.
We're hoping to spend time someplace more authentic and not, as Tom states, someplace that "increasingly feels like Epcot's Germany pavilion".
We'll continue to search for a base town that looks interesting, and likely post questions in another thread.

Posted by
8938 posts

Another vote for Michelstadt. If you go, make sure you visit their restored Synagogue.

Take a look at the Half-Timbered route to find towns that appeal to you. There are 100's of towns in Germany that preserve their quaintness, and you don't have to wait until evening to enjoy the atmosphere. Many of them still have their walls, and also weren't bombed in the war like Rothenburg was.

Posted by
7621 posts

Don't skip Rothenburg ob der Tauber, because it is popular. It is a must see in my opinion.
In fact, I recommend doing the Romantic Road from Wurzburg to Fussen/Garmisch.

Some of the other towns on the Road are less full of tourists.The three medieval walled towns of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Dinkelsbühl and Nördlingen offer a lot to see. Dinkelsbuhl is a lot like Rothenburg, but it is more a town where people live. That makes it attractive.

Also, I have been to Rothenburg twice, with different people. I did not see the need to stay overnight. You can see the town in one full day.

Posted by
4684 posts

I found Noerdlingen very attractive when I visited a few years ago, I haven't been to Dinkelsbuhl.

Posted by
1991 posts

We absolutely loved Rothenburg! We stayed for 3 nights, which we felt was just right. We were there in mid September two years ago. I had also read about the hoards of tourists, but we did not encounter that at all. During the days the town had people milling about, but no crowds at all. The most people we saw was for the Night Watchman Tour, which is excellent BTW. We really enjoyed walking the walls of the city. The criminal museum is excellent. This is a place that I had wanted to visit ever since I saw a print that my grandparents purchased there in 1970. We stumbled upon a small print shop and I mentioned this to the owner and I had a photo of the print on my phone and showed it to her. Ironically she had the last prints from that artist, who had just died several years earlier. She closed her shop for an hour or so and had us come back later, and she went and got the remaining prints and I purchased one to match. So yes, I have a soft spot for this town:) Even without this incident, the town is beautiful and there is a lot to explore. It is popular for a reason. We stayed at the Hotel Spitzweg, which I highly recommend! The hotel itself is wonderful. Small, lots character, very well maintained, and a host that is amazing! He also makes fantastic breakfasts and is very engaging.

Posted by
8 posts

I will be in Rothenburg this September. It will be Laundry Day while I'm there. I have heard there is a laundry listed in Rich Steves guidebook. I have the 2020 edition and I cannot find any mention of it. Can someone give me the name or address of this laundry please.

Posted by
1479 posts

I used the laundry years ago and roughly remember it’s location but can not find on Google Maps or with a Google Search.

Now we stay at Gasthaus Greifen which will do a load if you are there 2 nights.

Posted by
1231 posts

We spent 2 nights there and loved it! Did not notice hordes of tourists (this was in May). Also highly recommend the Night Watchman tour!