Things to Do in Romantic Road
With its snow-white limestone facade and fanciful turrets peeking out from the forested mountain tops of the Hohenschwangau valley, Neuschwanstein Castle (Schloss Neuschwanstein) could easily have been lifted from the pages of a fairy tale. In a way, it has—the German castle famously inspired Disney'sSleeping Beauty castle.
Located on a hilltop over the Alpsee and Schwansee lakes, the Hohenschwangau Castle (Schloss Hohenschwangau) is a dramatic 19th-century fortress built by the king of Bavaria. Often overshadowed by its neighbor, the Neuschwanstein Castle, the Hohenschwangau is worth a visit for its dazzling interior decor and striking views of the Alpsee and surrounding mountains.
With exhibits ranging from grotesque shame masks to ominous looking iron torture cages, Rothenburg’s Medieval Crime Museum is surely one of Germany’s most unique sights. The gruesome array of punishment and torture devices on display is certainly the focal point of a visit, but it’s not all for shock value – the museum also offers a fascinating insight into medieval crime and punishment, from arrests and public trials, to the development of criminal law and the working of the European courts.
Delve into Germany’s murky past and learn about the legal use of torture, punishment and the death penalty, as well as hearing about some of Bavaria’s most notorious criminals, who dabbled in everything from treason to murder to witchcraft.
With the majestic Harburg Castle looming on a hilltop above the scenic River Wörnitz and a cluster of half-timbered buildings that appear plucked from medieval times, the sleepy town of Harburg entices many Romantic Road travelers to pull over. It’s impossible to miss the castle from the roadside, and with its backdrop of forested hillsides and fairytale turrets reflected in the waters below, it’s a magnificent photo opportunity.
Exploring the 11th-century castle is the main highlight of a visit and it’s possible to tour the castle house, chapel, ballroom and dungeons, as well as taking in the views from the guard towers. After visiting the castle, cross the old stone bridge into the small town of Harburg and wander around the maze of medieval lanes, stopping to admire the grand Town Hall on Rathausplatz, where the town’s annual Christmas market is held, or escape into the surrounding countryside, where there’s a network of hiking and biking trails.
Perched high on a hilltop above Würzburg, overlooking the River Main, the Marienberg Fortress is an unmistakable landmark and the mighty castle boasts a long history, first built over the remains of a Bronze Age fort. Rising to prominence as the seat of the Prince-Bishops in the mid-13th century, the fortress has seen battle numerous times throughout history, falling to the Swedes during Thirty Years’ War and suffering extensive damage during World War II air raids.
Today, the Marienberg Fortress has been painstakingly restored and has become a popular tourist attraction, with highlights including the 13th-century circular keep, the exquisite 16th-century Princes’ Garden and the Marienkirche, one of Germany’s oldest round churches. Inside the castle is the Baroque Armory, where the Mainfränkisches Museum houses an impressive collection of Franconian art; the opulent bishops' apartments, home to the Furstenbau Museum; and the Princes’ Bibra Apartment, filled with antique furnishings, notable paintings and elaborate tapestries.
A short stroll from Rothenburg’s main square, the striking St. Jacob's Church (St. Jakobskirche) is among Germany’s most impressive medieval churches, dating back to 1485. An important spiritual center and place of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages, St. Jacob's Church contains a number of significant relics, most notably the Altar of the Holy Blood, an early 16th-century wood carving by Tilman Riemenschneider, which represents the Last Supper and includes a glass vial, allegedly containing a drop of Christ’s blood.
St. Jacob's is also architecturally impressive, with its grand Gothic towers looming over the town and highlights including the striking Twelve Apostles Altar and the East Choir, where the dazzling stained glass windows date back more than 700 years.
One of the former Free Imperial Cities located along Bavaria’s Romantic Road, Donauwörth boasts an impressive location at the meeting point of the Wörnitz and Danube rivers. Today, the small town is best known for its eye-catching architecture, painstakingly restored after WWII and characterized by the rainbow of painted townhouses that line the Reichstrasse, Donauwörth’s main street.
Once you’ve finished snapping photos, be sure to pay a visit to the quirky Käthe-Kruse-Puppen-Museum, which pays homage to the town’s famous handcrafted dolls, then pass through the imposing city gate, Rieder Tor, and cross the bridge to the scenic Ried Island on the Wörnitz River.
It’s one of the most picturesque medieval villages along Germany’s Romantic Road, but Nördlingen’s history goes back much further than the Middle Ages. The unique settlement lies in a 25-km-wide crater (the Ries) created by a meteorite more than 15 million years ago, and it’s a striking sight, with the crater rim marked out by the still-intact 14th-century city walls. In fact, the historic town is so distinctive that it’s even been immortalized on film, and fans of the 1970s film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory will recognize it as the view from the famous glass elevator.
For most visitors, Nördlingen’s biggest draw is its characterful medieval buildings, with their gabled roofs and half-timbered facades, and with fewer crowds than nearby Dinkelsbühl and Rothenburg, it’s a quieter alternative. Be sure to climb the 90-meter-tall bell tower of the Saint George's Church for a view over the town, learn about the formation of the meteorite crater at the Rieskrater Museum and take a stroll around the remarkably preserved medieval walls.
Remarkably escaping damage throughout both the Thirty Years' War and WWII, Dinkelsbuhl has a historic presence that belies its small size and the walled town is renowned as one of Bavaria’s best-preserved medieval towns. An undeniable highlight of the Romantic Road, Dinkelsbuhl is endlessly photogenic, with cobblestone lanes snaking between rows of gabled townhouses, imposing medieval fortifications overlooked by 18 striking watchtowers and historic market squares towering with half-timbered buildings, painted in a rainbow of pastel shades.
The most atmospheric time to visit Dinkelsbuhl is during the summer Kinderzeche festival or the festive Christmas market, when the streets are buzzing with activity, but whenever you visit, there’s plenty to see and do. Pay a visit to the Gothic George's Minster, explore the old Stadtmühle mill, shop for unique gifts handmade by local craftsmen or join an evening Night Watchman's tour around the illuminated town.