Our 16 day road trip through Germany began amongst the vineyards and castles of the Mosel Valley, which I wrote about here. Afterwards, we drove East across the country to start the famous drive down Germany’s Romantic Road. Technically, the Romantic Road starts in a place called Würzburg and ends in Füssen, but after doing my research on all the different stops along the Romantic Road and surrounding areas, I decided that Bamberg was actually a more beautiful town I wanted to visit, so we started there. After Bamberg we went to Rothenburg, Dinkelsbühl, and Augsburg before finishing in Fussen.
Bamberg is a disarmingly good-looking city. The entire Altstadt (Old Town) is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated on several rivers, Bamberg pretty much has it all in terms of European charm. This was our first time in Bamberg and I fell in love with it.
Tip: As you wander through Bamberg, keep an eye out for the 6 pointed Brewer’s Star, which you might think is the Jewish Star of David (at least we did). The star is usually displayed outside Breweries and has its roots in alchemy. It symbolizes the balance of the masculine, the feminine, and the four elements of fire, air, water, and earth.
What to do:
Visit Altes Rathaus. The old town hall and arguably the most famous landmark in Bamberg. Beautiful murals are painted on both sides of the building, and keep an eye out for the 3D cherub. Also, there’s a cool story about its origin. The legend goes that the bishop of Bamberg did not grant the citizens any land for the construction of a town hall. So the townsfolk created an artificial island in the river Regntiz. There they built the town hall that they so badly wanted.
Visit Grüner Markt. An outdoor farmers market that takes place every Monday-Saturday, rain or shine. Situated in a large market square in front of an old cathedral, it’s a wonderful place to walk around and grab a crepe or shop the various stalls.
Visit Klein Venedigt. This former fishermen’s district is endearingly known as Little Venice. It is characterised by half-timbered and tiny, pretty gardens. The half-timbered buildings were mainly built in the Middle Ages, and are squashed together along the riverbank, creating a quaint and picturesque scene, with boats floating in the moorings by the front gardens.
Visit Neue Residenz Bamberg. A 17th century palace with a lovely rose garden. We didn’t get a chance to go inside, but I loved walking through the rose garden and the wonderful panoramic view it offered over the city.
Visit Altenburg Castle. About a 30 minute walk from the Altstadt, Altenburg castle is perched on top of Bamberg’s highest hill and is one of Bamberg’s major landmarks. We enjoyed the exercise on the walk up to the castle and the views once there. There is a lovely, simple restaurant within the castle walls that we tucked into for a glass of Franconian wine.
Eat at Die Küche. We stopped in here for lunch and oh my goodness, it was one of the best meals we had on our trip. A small, seasonal menu with fresh ingredients and the most creative, interesting dishes. It’s a small place, so try to make a reservation before going, but it’s not to be missed!
Eat at Das Eckerts. Traditional German fair but very, very good. We ate here for dinner and really enjoyed it.
Drink at Schlenkerla. You can’t leave Bamberg without trying their famous smoky beer. Schlenkerla is known as having the smokiest, and it is also one of the oldest, dating back to 1405. While we were there they had a seasonal fish specialty on their menu which was absolutely phenomenal.
Drink at Klosterbräu. If you’re going to try Bamberg’s allegedly smokiest beer at Schlenkerla, you might as well try another one at a competing brewery, just to compare. We actually slightly preferred the taste of the beer Klosterbräu.
Drink at Das Schwarze Schaf. If you’re tired of beer and looking for something a little stronger and exciting, this is a really great cocktail bar. And trust me, after living in Hong Kong (cocktail bar capital of the world I’m pretty sure) we are very picky when it comes to cocktail bars. This one met our unusually high expectations.
Stay at Hotel Nepomuk. Not a fancy hotel by any means, but it was perfect for us. A short walk to the Altstadt, the hotel had nice clean rooms, friendly and helpful staff and also umbrellas for us to use when it was raining.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Our second stop on the Romantic Road was Rothenburg ob der Tauber. We actually visited Rothenburg last year, when we decided to spend a weekend there before flying home for our wedding. Well, while we were there we found out we were going to have to postpone our wedding, indefinitely…. so it wasn’t exactly the happiest trip. I really wanted to go back to Rothenburg and have a happier experience so we decided to spend a night here and do it again.
Rothenburg is a perfectly preserved medieval town, and I do mean perfect. It seems more like a Disney set than an actual town where people live, and there is a reason for this. During the end of World War 2, Hitler instructed his Nazis not to surrender, to fight to the end. The U.S Army had Rothenburg surrounded, but the U.S General knew the historical importance of Rothenburg. He sent two of his soldiers, who also spoke fluent German, into Rothenburg holding a white flag. They went up to the Nazis and said, “We will spare this city from shelling and bombing if you surrender. If not, the town will be bombed to the ground”. Well, the Nazis listened to the Americans and surrendered, saving the town from destruction.
What to do:
Rothenburg is a very small town, and one of my favourite things to do is simply walk around the town and take in its beauty. This colorful town is surrounded by a massive stone wall with 42 towers, which you can walk along and take in the different perspectives it offers of the town and countryside. There are a lot of shops and bakeries to pop into, and narrow cobblestone streets to get lost wandering through.
If you’re lucky and are able to visit in the Fall or Winter, you may see a glühwein stall. Also known as Mulled Wine, I am crazy for the German glühwein, because you can sweeten it up with a bit of rum or amaretto. I was ecstatic when we saw a glühwein window, and we got to enjoy our first glühwein’s of the season while roaming the romantic streets of Rothenburg. It was perfect!
Stay at Hotel Reichsküchenmeister. We stayed here our first time around and it was so lovely that we decided to book it again. A charming and old hotel, right in the heart of Rothenburg. It has beautiful and spacious rooms, with a small spa, restaurant and bar.
Drink at Glocke. A great place to do wine tastings in town, but if you book ahead of time you can also reserve a tasting at their wine cellar on their vineyard, about 25 minutes outside of town. We also had lunch at their restaurant the last time we were there and really enjoyed it.
Eat at Restaurant Alter Keller or Zur Hoell. From our experience, all the restaurants in Rothenburg are more or less the same. Very traditional German food and all good. The two restaurants we’ve eaten at for dinner were Alter Keller and Zur Hoell. Both have very authentic German atmospheres and traditional German food, I may have liked the food at Alter Keller slightly more than Zur Hoell.
Dinkelsbuhl & Augsburg
The other two towns we stopped in on the Romantic Road were Dinkelsbühl and Augsburg. We only stopped in Dinkelsbühl to have lunch and walk around for a few hours to break up the drive to Augsburg, but it is a lovely little town and felt similar to Rothenburg. It’s truly a picture perfect Bavarian town, and one of my favourite parts was the old moat that wraps around the town which you can walk in.
After spending so much time in small medieval towns, Augsburg felt much more like a city to me. We had the most interesting restaurant experience of both our lives here at Restaurant August. A two star Michelin, Chef Christian Grünwald definitely has his own style and isn’t afraid to push the boundaries both with the food and experience. If you are a foodie, this is a gastronomic experience not to be missed.
My favourite part of Augsburg was visiting the Fuggerei, which is the world’s oldest social housing complex still in use, founded in 1516. The Fuggerei is open to the public during the day, with a few small museums inside so you can learn more about its history, including its importance during World War 2. The conditions to live here remain the same as they were 500 years ago: one must have lived at least two years in Augsburg, be of the Catholic faith and be living in poverty without debt. The rent to live here is less than 1 euro / year. There are various rules residents must follow, and the gates are still locked every day at 10 PM. The Fuggerei is considered a huge success, but hasn’t been able to be recreated successfully anywhere else. I’ve never seen or known of anything like it and I found our visit to be really eye opening and just so interesting.
After Augsburg, we drove to Füssen, which is the last stop on the Romantic Road. But I will save that for next time, because the four days we spent in the Alps were so beautiful and special, I think Füssen deserves its own post!