Your 2021 Local-Approved Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas Guide
A Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas season isn’t one you can easily forget. Imagine half-timbered houses covered in a dusting of snow, holiday cheer exuding from the world-famous Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas Village and Glühwein stands popping up throughout the charming old quarter. A wander through Rothenburg is enough to get anyone in the holiday spirit – even in 2021 with the Christmas market cancelled.
I was fortunate enough to be invited by Rothenburg Tourism to experience this medieval city’s seasonal cheer. After three days of wandering around town, constantly dazzled, I’ve come up with a list of 19 memorable Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas activities. Read on to plan your perfect winter escape!
History of Rothenburg: Rise, Fall and Rise to Riches
Upon entering through one of the city’s fortified gates, you’ll immediately get a sense of just how many generations have trodden along the same cobblestone roads. Some of Rothenburg’s oldest houses date back to the 13th century (and locals have a friendly rivalry going on as to whose home is actually the oldest).
Indeed, Rothenburg grew into wealth during the Middle Ages, being at the intersection of major European trade and pilgrim routes. Today’s visitors can still get a sense of that wealth by strolling past the stately buildings around Market Square.
During the devastating 30 Years War, the city was occupied by General Tilly’s army and left in shambles. Bankrupt Rothenburg descended into poverty for a couple of centuries. Without funds to modernize, Rothenburg continued to look exactly as it did in the Middle Ages well into the 18th century.
At this point, Rothenburg was one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval towns and struck the imagination of romantic period writers and painters, who helped put the city back on the map by sharing its beauty with the world. Thus began the era of tourism for Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Fast forward to World War II. 30% of the town was destroyed in March of 1945 by bombings. But Rothenburg’s historic significance – of which the Americans were well aware – saved it from complete annihilation. After initial air raids, the US army sent a delegation of 6 soldiers into the city on foot to negotiate its surrender and thus spare it from further damage.
After World War II, donors from around the planet sent considerable funds to help restore Rothenburg to its pre-war state.
The Most Entertaining Crash Course on Rothenburg History
I learned a lot about the history of Rothenburg on the iconic Night Watchman Tour. Local guide Hans-Georg, dressed as a medieval watchman, shares what life was like for Rothenburg residents of yesteryear.
Anecdotes, humour and human interest stories collide as he takes you through the lit-up alleys of the Old Town. This isn’t your typical tour with facts drilled in – rather, you get bite-sized historic info as part of a theatrical performance.
The Night Watchman tour takes place daily in English at 8 pm and the group congregates at Market Square (no pre-booking necessary). Please note that dates, times and conditions may vary due to Corona restrictions.
The Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas Connection
For over 500 years, the city has hosted the Reiterlesmarkt, one of Germany’s most beautiful Christmas markets. But Rothenburg’s link to the holiday is in no way limited to the Weihnachtsmarkt.
Indeed, it is Christmas every day of the year in Rothenburg thanks to the Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas Museum, the only one in the world of its kind. Then there’s the adjacent Christmas Village, which could be a museum on its own, with 16,000 square feet of hand-made Christmas decorations and artifacts, including limited edition and collector’s pieces.
So you see, a Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas is taken seriously. As you wander the streets of the Old Quarter, you’ll discover beautiful decorations, trees decked with ornaments made by local school children and little pop-up Glühwein stands operated by local cafes.
In fact, I challenge anyone who visits Rothenburg in December not to get into the Christmas spirit!
Where to Stay in Rothenburg
An important element to any Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas getaway is accommodation. I would definitely recommend staying in the Old Quarter, as you’ll be within walking distance of all the major wintery sights.
I was very happy with my stay at Klosterstüble – a lovely historic hotel within a 16th-century half-timbered property. They also have a delicious restaurant serving Franconian and Bavarian classics – more on that in the food section!
I had a spacious yet cosy room with – important for winter visits – ample heating. Tucked away down a quiet road but just steps from bustling Herrngasse, I felt right at home. I could also just duck back into my hotel between activities to recharge my phone or camera, as my appointments were all only 5 minutes away on foot!
So, if you’re planning a Rothenburg ob der Tauber winter holiday, I can only recommend the 4-star Hotel Klosterstüble!
19 Unmissable Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas Activities
Alright, let’s get to the Christmassy goodness! Here are 19 things to see, do and eat in Rothenburg that really got me in the holiday spirit, even if the Reiterlesmarkt is not taking place in 2021.
Rothenburg Christmas Museum
The aforementioned Christmas museum deserves its own section in this article because, well, it is the epitome of Christmas cheer with a dose of culture.
This is the perfect place to learn about the history of Christmas and Germany’s role in turning the holiday into a cultural – and not just religious – event.
Discover Germany’s many Christmas traditions which have taken the world by storm. Did you know that advent calendars were first seen in Germany? Learn all about Santa Claus and some of his (surprisingly devilish) helpers. Take a look at how Christmas trees have evolved over the centuries. And much more!
This museum is fun for people of all ages.
Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas Village
The Christmas Village existed before the Christmas Museum. In fact, it has been around for over 40 years, welcoming millions of German and international guests.
Calling the Christmas Village a shop would be a major understatement. As you wander amidst joyful decorations and installations, you’ll get serious Christmas market vibes as you discover some of the key features of the store – notably, the giant Christmas tree and Christmas pyramid, as large as those in many outdoor locations.
During the holiday season, you can also purchase ornaments and have them engraved onsite!
If a Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas visit isn’t in the cards this year, note that there is a Käthe Wohlfahrt Shop right in Berlin. You can also purchase many items from the online shop.
Artisanal Gift Shopping in the Old Quarter
If you’re looking to purchase unique gifts – or items for yourself – while supporting local artisans, go for a stroll along Obere Schmiedgasse and the lanes parallel to it. This is where you’ll find several shops where the owners produce and sell hand-made goods. You might even be able to catch local artisans at work creating their next pieces!
It is now more important than ever to support small businesses on your Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas getaway, as they have been hit the hardest by the pandemic.
Allegra: Bavarian Twist to Swiss Chocolate
Picture this: Swiss-inspired chocolate with a Bavarian twist. This is exactly what you get at Allegra. The master chocolatier Alex learned his craft in Graubünden, Switzerland, the canton I visited on a scenic train ride a couple of months ago!
Anyway, Alex’s chocolates are absolutely delicious. If nothing else, make sure to try his signature beer-infused bars, featuring local Altfränkisches dark beer. If there are any beer and chocolate fans in your life, Allegra’s milk or dark offerings make for the perfect Christmas stocking filler!
Leyk: Miniature Rothenburg for Your Living Room
If you’d like to bring a small part of Rothenburg home with you, make sure to stop by Leyk. Local couple Ursula and Bernt design candle-lit ceramics houses painted to look like the half-timbered structures of the Old Town. Purchase a single lighthouse representing your favourite Rothenburg building – or an entire village scene!
Rothenburger Bonbonmanufaktur: Candyland in Wonderland
What is a Christmas town without its very own Candyland? For anyone with a sweet tooth and a penchant for the whimsical, a visit to the Rothenburger Bonbonmanufaktur is a must. This candy shop offers handmade lollies and hard candies of all kinds, sure to awaken your inner child.
Wood Art: Personalized Engravings By a Local Artist
Artist Loretta of Wood Art uses Franconian wood to create beautiful pieces for the home, from welcome signs to kitchenware. Every artifact can be engraved with the wording of your choice, quickly and on-site, right at purchase. Alternatively, choose from the many artful hand-made items already on the shelves of her boutique.
It was particularly fascinating to watch Loretta at work, engraving text on a new sign as I stopped by her shop.
Christmas Cheer & Old Town Strolls
The best way to capture the essence of the Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas spirit is to go for a walk through the Old Quarter, Glühwein or hot chocolate in hand. Shop windows are decorated to bring holiday cheer to all passersby.
The streets are especially beautiful with a dusting of snow and after dark, when all the Christmas lights are on! For the most holiday ambiance, head to Market Square and Herrngasse (where the Christmas Museum and Village are).
Snowy Walks Around the Fortifications
I lucked out! My Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas visit coincided with the first snow of the season. On my last morning in town, I woke up early and went for a walk along the fortifications that surround the Old Quarter to take in the winter scenery.
On one side, I had sweeping views of the Tauber Valley. On the other, I could gaze up at medieval ramparts, freshly covered in a white coat. This was a simply magical experience!
Warm Up at a Museum
After all of these outdoor activities, it might be time for a break indoors. During my Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas stay, I visited two of the city’s most famous museums.
Medieval Crime and Justice Museum
Rothenburg’s Medieval Crime and Justice Museum is ranked among the top 100 attractions in Germany.
Here, you can step back through the centuries and dive into the evolution of crime and punishment during the Middle Ages. While you’re at it, you’ll be able to learn about some of the world’s most famous criminals and understand the psyche of people living in medieval times.
While you’re here, don’t forget to peek out the windows for sensational views over Rothenburg and the Tauber Valley.
To find out more about Rothenburg through the ages, head to the eponymous museum of the city, housed within a 13th-century convent. An undeniable highlight is the convent kitchen: the oldest, best-preserved of its kind in Europe.
As you wander the halls of this converted monastery, you’ll learn about Rothenburg’s influence on international architectural trends and see that this little German city has wielded much influence over the years, even inspiring housing developments as far away as in the UK.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas Food & Drinks
At some point, you’ll need to refuel, so why not experience some of Rothenburg’s finest Christmas food and drinks?
Visit Rothenburg’s Outdoor Glühwein Bars
Beyond the Christmas market, some of Rothenburg’s cafes and bars keep their outdoor terraces open during the holiday season, where they serve beverages like Glühwein and hot chocolate, among many other alcoholic and non-alcoholic options.
By the way, while you’re on your Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas tour, make sure to sample both the red and white Glühwein. While white Glühwein is definitely more of a regional specialty, red glühwein is an absolute classic.
I was able to visit 3 Glühwein gardens during my stay, which all had a very unique atmosphere.
Go to Reichsküchenmeister for the Glühwein or hot chocolate – and stay for the Flammkuchen (wood-oven baked, thin-crusted bread layered with cheese, sausages, and cream). There’s even a merry-go-round outside for the kids.
Tucked away in a quiet courtyard, Cafe Lebenslust provides a cosy outdoor setting where locals and visitors mingle and enjoy classic winter beverages.
Landwehrbräu am Turm
Decked out in Christmas lights and surrounded by pine trees, this Rothenburg outdoor bar oozes holiday cheer. Adding to the festive atmosphere, you’ll even be ordering drinks from a little wooden hut.
Try an Iconic Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas Sweet: the Schneeball
With a name like “snowball”, this Rothenburg ob der Tauber holiday specialty immediately evokes Christmas and winter festivities. Indeed, it is a must while you are in town – and there are 18 flavours to choose from at Rothenburg’s original Schneeball bakery.
Bäckerei Konditorei Walter Friedel has been around since 1882 and is still owned by the 4th generation of the founding family. When I stopped by, I was able to sample both the original Schneeball (tasting a bit like a thicker fortune cookie covered in powdered sugar) and the modernized nougat-covered version (which is seriously addictive).
I soon learned that you don’t eat these apple-sized desserts like the fruit they resemble or cut into them with a knife. Rather, you crack them open with your hands.
Interestingly, there are 15th-century town records that mention Schneeball being ordered for an official banquet, so it would seem that this Rothenburg specialty has stood the test of time!
Enjoy Hearty Seasonal Dishes
There really is no better time to enjoy hearty Bavarian cuisine than when the mercury drops. Below are a few of the restaurants I was able to visit during my stay.
As you may remember from the top of this post, I stayed at Hotel Klosterstüble, which also hosts a full-service restaurant serving Franconian and greater Bavarian specialties.
As this was my first night in the region, I opted for a total classic: Käsespätzle. This dish consists of oven-baked thick noodles and cheese layers, topped with fried onions. The dream on a cold day!
Alter Keller isn’t one of those restaurants you can waltz into and expect to get a table at without a reservation, because it is just that popular with locals!
Alter Keller is a must for meat lovers, with locally-sourced game and steaks featuring prominently on the menu.
Landwehrbräu am Turm
Prefer vegan options on your Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas getaway? Make sure to check out Landwehrbräu am Turm. This restaurant has a vegan menu that changes weekly and gives visitors a chance to discover another take on traditional Bavarian dishes.
Cosy Up in a Cute Cafe
You didn’t think I would finish a blog post without an oh-so Instagrammable cafe recommendation, did you?
Well, I’m super thrilled to introduce you to a local must while you’re in Rothenburg. Cafe Einzigartig is set within a vintage home decor shop and serves sumptuous breakfast spreads (with several vegetarian and vegan options). The coffee is delicious, too, with Christmas and seasonal beverages to choose from.
Funnily enough, this Rothenburg institution began as an Etsy shop. When the owner realized that she had too much inventory, she enlisted her husband’s help and the couple set up a brick and mortar shop within a refurbished half-timbered house. The onsite cafe followed suit. Patrons can now both eat and shop for homeware in the same place.
Final Thoughts: A Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas Is Sure to Be Memorable
It is easy to see why Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the most visited destinations in Germany – and why the Bavarian town wields a special kind of holiday charm. Whether you’d like to soak up the medieval magic on snowy strolls, purchase handmade gifts for everyone on your Christmas list or treat your tastebuds to seasonal specialties, Rothenburg is a fabulous place to spend a few days and get into the Christmas spirit!
P.S. If you enjoyed reading this Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas guide, you might also like these articles: