It’s hard to imagine anywhere more quintessentially German than the story book backdrop that accompanies the Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas markets. Rothenburg ob der Tauber was high on Tom’s list of places he wanted to go. When I read about it with my mom, she also wanted to go. I, however, oscillated between Rothenburg and Nuremberg for so long that we almost lost out on both. By the time I was ready to book a hotel, I couldn’t get two rooms for two nights in either city, so I decided that we would visit both! Learn from my hesitation: Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Nuremberg are known for their Christmas markets. These are small towns with fewer hotel rooms than Prague and Vienna. If you find a good deal, book your hotel immediately.
All that being said, this medieval town is magical From the colorful buildings, to the cobblestone streets, to the ancient walls, it’s easy to feel like you’ve entered the 15th century. Put it on your Bavarian itinerary. If you’re taking a river cruise, book an excursion to the town. If you have to choose between it and the Nuremberg Christmas markets… well, don’t do that. Definitely visit both. And, if you can’t make the trip for the Christmas markets, visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber anyway. We returned in March 2022 and it was just as lovely, though the vibe was different without the Christmas markets!
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About the Rothenburg Christmas Markets
Real talk: The Rothenburg Christmas markets are not my favorite Christmas markets in Europe. Yes, I loved them. And, yes, you should visit them – but they just aren’t my favorite Christmas markets. However, in the evenings, they epitomize gemütlichkeit; that is, the warmth and coziness of the Christmas season. That’s my favorite time to be there.
Between the Christmas museum and Kathe Wohlfahrt, there is no shortage of Christmas cheer in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Christmas trees and garlands decorate every nook and cranny of this city. The buildings are illuminated with Christmas lights. It’s just magical how it all reflects off the perfect cobblestone streets.
If your game plan is to visit the Rothenburg Christmas markets, plan on visiting between the end of November and December 23. The German Christmas markets close up shop by Christmas Eve and most don’t re-open after Christmas. The Rothenburg Tourismus Service will have the exact dates from year to year.
I do want to reaffirm that you can visit Rothenburg ob der Tauber at any time of the year and have an equally magical experience. Just make sure you stay overnight. You’ll have this extra magical place to yourself in the evenings and that’s just incredible.
Where are the Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas Markets
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is small, so there’s no reason to pick and choose between the Christmas markets throughout the city. I know a popular tour guide says that you can find all the same stuff at the different Christmas markets, but that has not been my experience at all. I had quite a bit of buyer’s remorse on my first Christmas market trip for not purchasing things that I liked because I thought I would find them at another market.
This Christmas market is impossible to miss. It’s right in the center of town – in front of the town hall and in the market square. (The Night Watchman’s Tour also leaves from here after the market closes. Highly recommend.)
This market had all the tasty treats, including mulled wine for when you need to warm up. (It also had cold weather gear, if you find that you need warmer gloves or a better scarf to keep you warm!)
It also had a nice selection of gift items, including traditional wooden Christmas ornaments. Prices were better at the Christmas market than in the local shops.
St. Jakobskirche (St. Jacob’s Church)
Right around the corner from the Reiterlesmarkt is a smaller Christmas market near St. Jacob’s church. It seemed to be a more family-friendly market and designed for hanging out and enjoying the evening. This one even offers a merry-go-round for kids.
The stalls on the opposite side of the market had a lot of neat gift ideas, including beautiful wine glasses, illuminated stars, and wooden toys for children.
Getting to the Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas Markets
This was the longest leg of our self-planned Christmas Market Itinerary, also referred to as the Great Winter Adventure. The drive from the Prague Christmas Markets took over four hours. We hit quite a bit of traffic near Nuremberg that slowed us considerably. (Use Google maps to check traffic!) It also snowed for part of the drive. The road were clear and safe though. (We only ran into white-out conditions on the drive between the Salzburg Christmas Markets and Vienna Christmas Markets, thank goodness.) Once we arrived in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, we found street parking a couple blocks from our hotel. They provided us a parking pass for 10 euro. This proved to be quite beneficial on the morning we were leaving because my mom and I did quite a bit of shopping at Käthe Wohlfahrt. (Next time I’ll ship it home. TSA did not treat it well.)
When we returned to Rothenburg ob der Tauber in March 2022, we flew into Frankfurt and picked up a rental car at Sixt. The drive took just under two hours. (I’m thinking that our 2022 Christmas market trip may start in Frankfurt – there are so many Christmas markets in Germany that we have not visited yet!)
I know a lot of people do Rothenburg ob der Tauber as a day trip from Munich by train or bus, but I don’t recommend that. It’s not a straightforward route, and I think you lose a lot of valuable time. If you do decide to do it as a day trip, make sure you rent a car. (We’ve had great experiences with Sixt and Hertz. Sixt has better pricing, though I love the convenience of Hertz. My status allows me to bypass the rental desk and just pick up a car.) Driving in Germany is easy and safe. You’ll be able to maximize your visit and experience the magic of the Rothenburg Christmas markets at night, which I think is especially jovial. One of my favorite ways to figure out transportation options is Rome2Rio.
Where to Stay near the Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas Markets
In both 2018 and 2022, we stayed at the delightful Hotel Klosterstuble. Built in the 1500s with every modern amenity, this hotel surpassed all of my expectations. I was truly sorry that we couldn’t stay longer. (I was also sorry that I didn’t get my mom’s room – she had huge windows that overlooked the town.) This hotel is located within the old city walls and is within walking distance of everything. It was cold and rainy while we were there, so we were glad to be in the middle of everything. While none of the hotels I looked at were that far, there are some that are further outside the city center. While that may work during spring, I think the Klosterstuble is ideal for winter travel.
In December, we booked the standard double room for my mom and the junior suite for us. While I didn’t snag any pictures of my mom’s room, I can tell you that both rooms are very nicely sized. Our junior suite included a kitchenette and a small sitting area. Furnishings are classic and traditional. Beds are comfortable with separate duvet covers, as well as an additional blanket in the winter. We found our room to be perfectly warm and cozy for the winter, and if we got too warm, we would just open the window. The bathroom is large with a stand up shower and a single large sink. Despite being on the top floor, the water pressure was very good. (Tom wants to start a hotel rating system based entirely on hotel water pressure. Maybe I should start that!)
When we returned in March 2022, we booked a standard double room. Our corner room (room 3!) overlooked a church, part of the city walls, and a bit of the countryside. It was absolutely perfect for the two of us.
Note: There are no elevators. The staff is helpful with navigating the stairs with your luggage. You can purchase a parking pass from them and park within the old city walls for 10 euro. They also offer breakfast for an additional 10 euro. We didn’t partake, but it gets great reviews.
Given how touristy Rothenburg ob der Tauber is, the staff is remarkably warm and kind. They provided great information about the parking so we knew exactly where to go when we arrived. In a town that is devoid of traditional luxury hotels, the Klosterstuble offers an incredibly comfortable stay at a great value.
Book the Hotel Klosterstuble for your trip to the Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas Markets!Other Hotels I would book: BURGHOTEL ROTHENBURG or HERRNSCHLOSSCHEN OR Reichskuechenmeister
Other Things to Do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
If you’re heading to the winter wonderland that is Rothenburg ob der Tauber in the winter, you’ll need a few ways to warm up. Here are a few of my favorite things to do when I need a break from the cold.
That’s also the benefit for staying at the Klosterstuble versus just taking a day trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber; you can easily pop in whenever you need a minute.
Enjoy a Traditional German Restaurant in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Depending on your schedule, make a reservations for lunch or dinner at the Restaurant Alter Keller. This traditional German restaurant is far from the tourist crowds and perfect for a regional meal. Dinner reservations offer an early seating (5:30) and a second seating (7:30). We opted for the 7:30 seating so we didn’t feel rushed. (You’ll want to do the 5:30 seating if you want to make the Night Watchman’s Tour. Our waitress was happy to translate the menu and answer any questions. In addition to the standard menu, they also have a list of daily specials (things do run out), including local beers and drinks. (I loved my mandarin spritz!)
We skipped an appetizer to save room for dessert and ordered the tomahawk steak (pork), as well as the pork schnitzel. Both were delicious. The cook and flavor of the tomahawk steak was perfect. (I find pork to be a hard thing to get right when cooking it at home.) Similarly, the schnitzel was one of my favorites. The breading was crisp and it was served with fresh lemon. The fries were also very good and served with ketchup and mayonnaise, if you wanted it.
For dessert, we opted for the traditional apple strudel with fresh cream and ice cream. Everything about it was delicious. The serving was huge and easy to share.
The food in Rothenburg ob der Tauber doesn’t disappoint and Alter Keller is one restaurant I would definitely put on my list!
Have a Pastry and Coffee
In between visiting the Rothenburg Christmas markets, you may notice signs advertising the “schneeballen.” These snowballs of pastry goodness are touristy and they are delicious. I’m a purist; I prefer the original schneeballen with powdered sugar, but they come in all flavors. Chocolate, chocolate with almonds, cinnamon, champagne – you name it, I saw it. I thought Diller Schneeballenträume offered the freshest schneeballen, and they had the widest variety of flavors. My mom and Tom really enjoyed the coffee as well.
If you’re looking for another place to take a break, Restaurant Burggartenpalais is another great option. We stopped in for a coffee break during the evening. Service was very friendly and the decor is very traditional. I recommend the hot chocolate with a shot of amaretto. (It’s my go-to drink at central European coffee houses. I learned of it at Cafe Central and I never want anything else.) Burggartenpalais is one of a few places that stays open late in the winter months, too.
Eat Delicious Italian Food
I know what you’re thinking. Italian food? In Germany? Hear me out: Profumo di Pasta da Guiseppe shouldn’t be missed. We at here in both 2018 and 2022 and it was just as incredible as I remembered.
I recommend going on a really cold and rainy day so you can enjoy its maximum effect. It’s warm. The wine is good (with heavy pours). The flavors are fresh. (I watched the cook cut the basil from the plant to garnish the bruschetta.) This is one of my favorite meals I’ve had in a long time. Everything is ridiculously tasty. Why, oh why, can’t we find food like this in the states?? I recommend the bruschetta and the arrabiata. (My recipe for arrabiata is nothing like Guiseppe’s – it manages to be both spicy and sweet with an incredibly complex flavor.)
This is a small restaurant, so you’ll probably want a reservation. We waited for a table when they opened and lucked out, but we definitely saw people turned away. When we went for dinner in March, we called in advance. It was busy, even though Rothenburg didn’t feel busy.
Trust me, you don’t want to miss this one.
Visit the Christmas Museum and Kathe Wohlfahrt
You can see the evolution of Christmas ornaments and holiday decor at the Christmas museum, which is right above the main location of Kathe Wohlfahrt. Once you’re done, head down to the expansive Kathe Wohlfahrt showroom to see all the holiday decor. I wish I had photos of this, but they only allow photos of their famous Christmas village in the entryway.
The Christmas ornaments are absolutely beautiful. I purchased several of the Poetry in Glass medallion ornaments and glass ornaments that aligned with places we visited on our trip. (I love our travel-themed Christmas tree!) They also have plenty of ornaments that would cover any theme you think of. My only regret is that I didn’t ship them home and TSA broke several of them. (I re-ordered them though.) If you love table linens, they have some of the most beautiful table clothes, napkins, etc. that I’ve ever seen. You could easily spend a fortune in here, but it’s all beautiful quality. (We hit up the after Christmas sales in Munich, and nothing even came close to the quality we saw in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.) If you miss out on something, there’s a smaller store in Nuremberg but it’s not the same. (My second favorite Kathe Wohlfahrt is at Feerie de Noel in Riquewihr, which is in the Alsace region of France. (I loved our trip to the Christmas markets in Alsace.)
Franconian Wine Tasting
My mom loves German rieslings, so we figured a wine tasting or two was in order during our short stay in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. While small, Glocke offers a wine tasting flight right in the middle of town. The Glocke wine shop is expansive with plenty to choose from. Whether you like red or white, you will likely find something that you enjoy. We were able to try two five-wine flights. We opted for the medium-dry white wines and the high end wines, which included ice wine. It was a really lovely experience and a great way to try a lot of different German wines. (They’ve also opened a wine bar overlooking the market square.)
If you want to escape the day trippers and/or crowds, head out to Meier Winery for tasting a red, a white, or a rose. You’ll want to bring your German skills (or Google Translate) because they don’t speak a lot of English. (My mom quickly found out that wine terms are not universal, but we came away with several bottles we enjoyed anyway.) I think the bottles used for the Franconian wines are especially neat; they aren’t your typical tall and slender wine bottles.
Learn about Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s History
There are two good ways to do this. The first, which I highly recommend, is by attending the Night Watchman’s Tour. He leads a captivating tour through the streets of Rothenburg almost every single night. It lasts for about an hour, so you’ll want to bundle up during the colder months. You pay at the end, so if it’s really not your cup of tea, you haven’t lost anything, but he’s really quite engaging and entertaining. The tour leaves from Market Square after the Christmas market has closed, so you won’t be missing out.
The second way to learn about Rothenburg’s history is through the Reichsstadtmuseum or the Town History Museum. This will be a self-guided tour of the Town Hall, which is right in front of the Market Square. You can see everything from the dungeons to the beautiful views of the countryside. It’s only open during the day, so it might be a good way to warm up on a cold or rainy day. It’s also an overlooked attraction, so it can be a good break from the crowds, too.
Tips for Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber Christmas Markets
While I know Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the THE destinations for river cruises, I definitely suggest trying to make more than a day of it. This travel guide to Germany provides a lot of information on other towns you can visit in the area. With so many of the UNESCO World Heritage sites suffering from the problems associated with over tourism, it doesn’t mean that you should miss them. It does, however, mean that you should think about how to responsibly visit these places.
For me, that means that we will spend at least one night in a hotel. By spending at least one night, we get to enjoy the “heart of the melon.” This means that we get to see the “real” city after everyone leaves for the day. It was especially obvious when we were at the Rothenburg Christmas markets in the evenings. Further, we visit restaurants, support local businesses and markets, and spend money in the places we visit. This allows the place to benefit from the tourism.
When you visit a place and bring your own food, only take pictures, and don’t participate in the local economy, there is no money being circulated to support public works. Tour guides preserve the history of a place. Otherwise, it’s at risk of becoming a living museum. Beautiful to look at without much substance behind it. Rothenburg ob der Tauber is beautiful with a long, complex history behind it. Don’t forget to enjoy that, too.