See Photos of Germany's 'Romantic Road'
Soon after World War 2, Germany thought of ways to stimulate tourism in the country. One of those ways was to promote scenic routes for tourists and adventurers spread throughout, and sometimes beyond, its borders.
And so today, you can hop on a car and go on a road trip to follow these historic routes, such as the German Limes Route, named after the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes, or the former boundary of the Roman Empire. There are also food routes, such as the Baden Asparagus Route, which promises a gourmet experience for lovers of the humble vegetable. There’s even a sports-themed one, like the German Football Route, which covers 800 kilometers from Aachen to Bielefeld and traces sites of interest for diehard fans of “the beautiful game.”
I drove through three towns on Germany's Romantic Road onboard the 2015 Audi A4
But undoubtedly, the most famous out of all these themed routes is the so-called Romantische Strasse or “Romantic Road.” Stretching about 400 kilometers from the town of Würzburg to Füssen in the south near the border with Austria, it is a stretch of road that connects charming small towns steeped in history, culture and architectural wonders.
It’ll take weeks to visit and see all of the towns and sights in the Romantic Road from north to south—there are 31 towns in all in the route. But a few years ago, I was in Germany and was able to visit some of these small towns. Since I had only a limited time, I needed to choose the towns well. Luckily, it all worked out.
When we’re finally over the pandemic, and travel restrictions are eased, a road trip across these quintessentially German towns should definitely be on your bucket list.
Würzburg is the traditional starting point for many travelers making their way through the Romantic Road and so it made sense that I began my journey there as well.
The Alte Marienbrucke, or Old Main Bridge, is one of the most visited attractions in Würzburg
Like many other places in Germany, the newer part of Würzburg surrounds an Altstadt or “old town,” with the Marienberg Fortress, perhaps the city’s most prominent landmark, sitting on a hill overlooking it. The Dom or the Würzburg Cathedral, with its twin spires, sits on one end of a promenade, with shops and restaurants on either side.
Just before approaching the other end, which connects to the Alte Marienbrucke, or the Old Main Bridge, there was an accordionist playing for tips. Locals and not a few tourists enjoyed the music as they chatted lazily with glasses of wine or beer bottles in hand from a nearby restaurant.
The Dom, or Würzburg Cathedral
The Neumunsterkirche in Würzburg
If you’ve ever walked across Charles Bridge in Prague in the Czech Republic, the Alte Mainbrucke will seem more than a little familiar. The stone bridge that traverses the River Main was built over a period of 70 years in the 15thand 16th centuries. Similar to Prague’s iconic bridge, it has stone statues of saints that watch over those who walk upon it. Today the bridge is closed to vehicular traffic and is a strategic spot to take snapshots of the old town facing east, and the Marienberg Fortress facing west.
There are stone statues in the Alte Mainbrucke similar to Charles Bridge in Prague
Other sites of interest in Würzburg: the Neumunsterkirche, with its striking red façade serving as the final resting place of St Kilian; the Stift Haug with its distinctly Baroque features; and the Marienkapelle or St. Mary’s Chapel, located at the city’s Marktplatz or town plaza.
Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber
Passing through Germany’s autobahn, the next town, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, is less than an hour away. In many guidebooks and travel sites, this is the ultimate, must-see town to visit along the Romantic Road. A favorite of tourists from all over the world, it’s supposedly “the most German of German towns.”
The medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the most well-preserved walled town in Germany, with a history that stretches as far back as the first century. A paved road leads to a cobblestone path with a stone tower, which welcomes visitors to the old town that looks almost exactly as it did since the Middle Ages.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber's Altstadt
Tourists take a break in Rothenburg ob der Tauber's old town
There were half-timbered houses lined up side by side and a stone wall that went all the way around the town.
The town is also where the famous Plönlein is located. Although technically nothing more than a fork in the road, this “little square” (the literal translation of Plönlein) is said to be one of the most photographed spots in all of Germany. A yellow Fachwerkhaus (half-timbered house) sits in the middle of the intersection; on the left going slightly up is the Siebers Tower, while down to the right is the Kobolzeller Tower. Both towers go as far back as the early 13th century.
Plönlein is said to be one of the most photographed spots in all of Germany
Much of Rothenburg ob der Tauber has remained intact for centuries
After the crowds of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, it was a refreshing change of pace to wander through the almost deserted streets of Dinkelsbühl. During World War 2, Rothenburg ob der Tauber was slightly damaged by the bombing of Allied forces. In contrast, Dinkelsbühl was left unscathed.
A row of buildings in Dinkelsbühl
There was a line of parked cars along the town’s Nördlingen gate, which somehow shattered the illusion of time travel. The most imposing structure upon the approach to the town plaza was St. George’s Minster, which was completed in 1499. It faces a colorful row of houses and hotels leading towards the Weinmarkt. A sign across this street explains that this was where tradesmen’s houses and stores were located, and still stands to this day.
This striking red building is a hotel and restaurant in Dinkelsbühl's center
St. George's Minster towers above everything else in Dinkelsbühl
A red house in the corner is the former Aldermen’s Inn, now the Gustav Adolf Haus, where Emperor Karl V and King Gustav Adolf of Sweden once stayed.
At the other end of the street is Rothenburger Tor (Rothenburg Gate), which used to house prison cells and torture chambers. Further down is Segringer Strasse (Street), past more restaurants and now-closed souvenir shops, bakeries, and quiet houses. Up a short flight of steps on Segringer Tor, one can make out the lush greens of the Stadtpark just outside of the town walls.
Typical architecture in this part of Germany
A quiet street in Dinkelsbühl
Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein
A few years later, I found myself back in Germany, and this time, scheduled a quick visit to the town of Hohenschwangau, where one of the most famous attractions in all of Germany is located.
First glimpse of Neuschwanstein Castle
Neuschwanstein Castle is perhaps most famous for supposedly being the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle in the Disney film. Afte the bus drops people off in the small town, the approach up the hill takes strong legs and lungs. There’s more walking involved if you’d like to go to Marienbrücke, where you can see the castle in all its glory, but the view is well worth the hike.
A view of the Hohenschwagau valley from Neuschwanstein Castle
Neuschwanstein Castle from the Marienbrücke
The castle is a literal representation of many people’s childhood fantasies. Even though you have to fight your way with dozens, perhaps even hundreds of tourists, it’s an unforgettable view that will stay with you for years to come.