Rothenburg: A German fairy tale town

Viking includes so many “standard” tours with this Grand European Tour itinerary that we didn’t really feel the need to grab many “optional” (as in, ‘hey, no problem, you can charge it to your room’ optional-ness) tours. Except for the Rothenburg ob der Tauber. That one we didn’t want to miss.

Yes, I know it’s touristy. Yes, I know it takes all day leaving you only enough time in Wurzburg (where the ship is docked) to take in the Wurzburg Residenz and nothing else in the city. Yes, I also know it costs the most of any optional tour (except for the Vienna music evening one).

We did it anyway.

And really enjoyed it.

From Wurzburg to Rothenburg (let’s just shorten it to that since we’re among friends) it’s about a 50-minute drive. We liked the drive (although I spotted several others dozing off, even though it was only 9:30 am; we’re a very busy group of passengers, you know, and some of us need to squeeze that sleep in whenever/wherever we can). The bus left the Main River behind as we climbed up to the plateau above the river. Lots of greenery, lots of decidious trees, lots of hayfields and lots of fields of sugar beets (and a little one of gladiola)—all encircling small villages, each with a cluster of red-roofed homes and always with a church spire somewhere in the middle.

Mom thought it all looked a lot like Wisconsin (USA). I agree; mom’s family came from Germany a few generations’ back (Prussia to be precise) and, settling in Wisconsin, mom was guessing they felt quite at home with the geography and “feel” of the place.

Our guide, Gunther (pronounce that “t” as a hard consonant with no “h” sounding at all), explained what we were seeing as the bus dipped into and out of little valleys split by small, silvery streams.

Talk about picturesque—and we weren’t even to the “cute” town yet (Caspar’s initial one-word description of these cities may not have much variety; but I really can see what he means. They simply are “cute”).

The bus pulled into Rothenburg and we joined the carloads of visitors to this medieval town that is still surrounded by its protective stone walls. The walking tour began right at the bus with Gunther carrying his red Viking “lollipop” stick sign and the 20 or so of us stepping smartly behind him as we squeezed through a door in the city walls.

I looked around.

Cobblestone streets? Check.

Half-timbered facades? Check.

More than one old church? Check.

Three of the uber-popular Kathe Wolfhart Christmas stores? Check. Check. Check.

Yep, that confirms it; we’re in Rothenburg. But you can skip the tourist stores and still have a great time in this self-contained little town. There’s the view from the hilltop castle gate, and the remnants of the Jewish district, and a lovely town plaza as well as a museum of medieval crime, of course featuring torture methods and devices (certainly something cheerful that I want to take in while on vacation in a foreign land).


Gunther guided us through all of that and more; after experiencing several Viking-arranged tours at this point, I’m convinced they have some great off-ship tour itineraries. We almost always receive information that’s an overview of the city/attraction as well as an assortment of details which add to the visit.

The Rothenburg walking tour concluded with lunch at a small, half-timbered restaurant. The menu is set, but you can opt for your choice of beverage, including soft drinks, beer and wine. I chose apple juice made from local apples and it was well-chilled and a lovely combination of sweet and tart. An herb potato soup and bread began the hearty lunch, followed by two good-sized sausages (but I thought they were a little dry-ish), sauerkraut and a type of mashed potatoes I haven’t had before (golden in color and very smooth). The meal concluded with apfel streudel with vanilla sauce. Service was pretty quick   although not really personable. That’s okay, though; for personableness, we have Milo, Zuzanna and Constantine back on the Atla.

Afterwards it was free time until our 3 pm departure. Mom and I wandered those aforementioned tourist shops (now did you think we could really resist them entirely?). I found a truly lovely—and unique—sweater at a little store called AnRa. All their clothing and accessories are made right there at that tiny store in Rothenburg. I know I’ll remember this memorable trip every time I wear my sweater. Kinda like having a photo album—but cuter.

I wish I’d had more time to spend in St. Jacob’s Church. Begun in 1311, it’s older than the cathedral in Cologne but still gothic in style. Unlike the Cologne church, this one hasn’t been changed much since is initial construction and decoration. It’s not as fancy inside and, while large, has a more manageable scale. I enjoyed just sitting on one of the wooden pews and letting the silence and arching windows settle my soul. Don’t miss this one (two euros at this time for admission; audio tours available—but I just walked around and listened to my heart on this one). One thing puzzled me: it’s a Lutheran church, but it still had those little candles to light as well as lots of Virgin Mary symbolism; that’s certainly different than the Lutheran churches here in California…

Our group gathered again. I stepped out of the cluster of Atla passengers and snagged a Bavarian—or would it be Franconian?—pretzel and chewed on it for about 40 minutes as we boarded the bus again and headed back to Wurzburg (the pretzel was definitely a few hours’ past prime tenderness).

If you’ve ever imagined all those fairy tales of your childhood, don’t miss Rothenburg. I bet you’ll live happily ever after.


Categories: Uncategorized | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “Rothenburg: A German fairy tale town

  1. Linda Graessle

    This is one of the ship tours I was interested in. Was it very expensive. I haven’t seen any prices posted yet.


  2. Betty

    I was thinking that Rothenburg might be pretty much the same as the other towns the boat stops in, but it sounds like it was worth the bus ride


  3. Kathleen

    Ok so “Don’t miss Rothenburg” check πŸ™‚
    How are your feet holding up !


    • Our feet are doing great–a good tip, I think, is to switch out your touring shoes every day for the “other” pair. When you get back to the ship, put on different shoes than the ones you walked around in that day; use those for the next day’s touring so your feet don’t get weary of the same old soles. I did speak with one woman on our ship who brought her favorite shoes but discovered, at day 2, that they didn’t have enough support left to withstand all the walking throughout the day. She bought another pair of shoes in the city we were in (good shoes, too, Eccos), but she didn’t have a chance to really test them and break them in so she developed blisters from the new shoes. Ouch!


  4. Barbara Willis

    This is another tour included in our Vantage Christmas Markets on the Rhine & Main rivers on day 7 of our cruise. Can’t wait to visit it especially the church. Just beautiful!


  5. Karen Baker

    I cannot even imagine what it would feel like setting a church that has been there since 1311….it looks totally awesome! The bag is cute…..but I really wanted to see your new sweater πŸ˜€


  6. margaret

    did the bus take you back to the boat? or could you walk to the boat. do you have time to change before tea ? thanks


    • From Rothenburg, Margaret, it’s a 45 minute or so drive to the next stop on the tour, the Wurzburg Residenz. From there it’s about a 10 minute drive back to the boat. So, while there’s plenty of walking on the tours and in the city, it’s not a “walk back to the boat” stop.

      Dinner is almost always at 7 pm; we got back to the boat after the Wurzburg tour at about 6:20 pm or so. Most people freshened up and changed, some still had their “touring clothes” on for the 6:45 pm daily briefing. From there it’s directly to dinner. So, I guess it depends upon how fast you change!


  7. Dagmar

    Sounds like fun. I really appreciate your comments about the lunch. The apple juice sounds like such a good choice. I wonder if you could do your food lover readers a favor? Could you take pictures of a couple of evening menus on the boat? I’m interested in seeing what the evening choices are on the boat and whether they actually use any of the herbs they grow on the top deck. What’ s your take?


    • I thought folks might like that so a few days’ back I requested a copy of the dinner menus and the chef had them delivered to our room this afternoon. When I get back home I’ll be scanning them and putting them up on this site as PDFs. Will that help?

      I was up on the top deck the morning of the day they had to pull access down (too high of river levels for the low bridges on the Main). Two crew members were walking back to the herb “garden” from the kitchen below deck, carrying the portable herb pots (they’re a few feet long each). One was basil (I spoke with the crew member carrying that one and he said they needed to get some more basil because they were using it up) and the other was parsley. So it looks like they do use those herbs…


  8. Cheryl

    Yes I too would like to see pics of all meals on boat. You are so very good at writing and getting all your thoughts down. Thank you so much for doing this.


  9. Judy

    I visited Rothenburg last summer – I really enjoyed walking the old walls and getting great views of the town. Also passed on the Schneeballs. The church, by the way, originated as a Catholic church and became Lutheran later on, hence the Catholic symbolism and iconography.


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