A journey along the Romantische Strasse, ”romantic road”, is one of Germany's most popular destinations for a driving holiday. Romantische Strasse is a 35-mile stretch of road filled with ring walls, half-timbered houses, churches, towers and castles. The road goes between Würzburg and Fussen and although the distance is not far, the journey takes several days. This is road made for enjoyment.
Now you may be wondering if this is only a path for romantic, newly in love couples? Is it not suitable for a family with children? Well, Romantische strasse is definitely for the whole family! Romantische strasse was invented as a concept after World War II, when Germany wanted to rebuild its tourism industry. Loosely based on an ancient Roman trade route, the historical romance concept was created in the 1950s. And the tourists flowed in. Today, almost 25 million tourists visit the medieval villages every year. Most visitors pass by here during July and August, which means that the hotels are fully booked months in advance. So don't take a chance on finding accommodation if you don't book in advance.
We have done the Romantische Strasse in 3 days each time, but it is easy to extend the trip considering all the cozy little towns and villages along the way. Whatever you do, promise not to rush through the stretch in one day - then you might as well drive the motorway instead.
DAY 1: Würzburg to Rothenburg ob der Tauber (10 miles)
Start the journey early in the morning in Würzburg and its old fortress Marienberg. The fortress was plundered by the Swedes during the Thirty Years' War in the 17th century and after several reconstructions the fortress is today a museum that is well worth a visit.
Turn off the autobahn onto Romantische strasse. The road is well signposted, so just follow the brown signs between the villages. Here in the Franconian wine country, there are plenty of vineyards, so stop at a farm when you need a break. One of the most famous wine towns in this area is Lauda-Konigshofen, with the majority of plantations following the slopes of the Tauber.
I Weikersheim you stop at the large Renaissance castle Weikersheim Palace and stroll through the fantastic baroque garden.
Now you are right at the most famous city along the Romantische Strasse – Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Here, behind the city's ring wall, you'll find perfect cobbled streets, beautiful carved signs and pastel-colored half-timbered houses.
In Rothenburg, all buildings are regulated so that nothing spoils the medieval feel – even McDonalds has been given a specially carved sign to blend in. Visit Medieval Crime Museum, shop for Christmas items all year round i Käthe Wohlfart, buy a sugar-drenched Rothenburger Schneeball at Walter Friedel and try not to touch the playing cuckoo clocks in any of the many shops.
Stay in one of the small hotels inside Rothenburg ob der Tauber and enjoy an evening of cozy walks in a unique small town.
DAY 2: Rothenburg ob der Tauber to Schwangau/Füssen (22 miles)
After an early breakfast at your small hotel, you continue south. You will arrive quite quickly Dinkelsbuhl, which has become our personal favorite along the way. If you cannot find accommodation in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, I recommend that you instead stay in Dinkelsbühl in charming hotels Weisse's Ross. We stayed here when we last went Romantische strasse (when we couldn't find accommodation in Rothenburg).
Dinkelsbuhl is one of Germany's best-preserved late medieval towns with grand churches, old watchtowers and beautiful half-timbered houses. The Swedes also ravaged here during the Thirty Years' War, but the Swedish commander spared the city from looting thanks to the fact that the tower keeper's daughter, together with a singing crowd of children, met the commander and begged for mercy. However, the condition of the commander to spare the city was that every year the city would remember this day. So every year is played Die Kinderzeche with, among other things, a parade with soldiers and children singing and begging the Swedes for mercy.
The next stop on the journey is Nordlingen, a city built in a meteorite crater. Here it is at least as nice as in Dinkelsbuhl, but not nearly as many tourists. Don't miss walking a lap around the city on the well-preserved city wall.
I Harburg you find the nice one bail Harburg which oversees the city from a hill. When we visited the castle, there was a children's festival, with children dressed as princes and princesses dancing in the courtyard. Tulle and pink skirts fluttered around to medieval flute music inside the castle walls, a refreshing (and sweet) breeze of history.
Now we have arrived in Augsburg – one of Germany's oldest cities. Augsburg was one of the most important trading cities in the Middle Ages and is today Bavaria's third largest city. It can feel boring to enter a bigger city after all the cozy little towns you've passed along the way, but if you have time for a stop, it should be at I would run away. Fuggerei was created 500 years ago to help socially vulnerable families with safe housing. For a small penny and 3 prayers per day, the families got a home. Unique for its time, but what is even more unique is that after 500 years the area is still helping poor families to find good housing. An idyll right in the center of Augsburg.
When you leave the big city behind you can soon see the German Alps on the horizon, but first you have to drive through the "Pfaffenwinkel" - an area along the Romantische strasse with many pilgrim churches and monasteries. One of the most famous monasteries after the road is located in Rottenbuch.
Well arrived in schwangau or Fussen, you check into a cozy hotel, eat well and enjoy the view of the snow-capped Alps. Two popular hotels in the area that may be worth checking out are Hotel Das Rübezahl and Hotel Muller.
DAY 3: Neuchschwanstein and Hohenschwangau (2 miles)
Today will be a full day in the footsteps of the mad King Louis II of Bavaria. The forerunner of Sleeping Beauty's Castle, Neuschwanstein, is one of the biggest boast buildings of our time. Neuschwanstein was built by Ludwig II, but was much more expensive and took much longer to build than originally planned. Only 14 rooms out of the planned 360 rooms were completed before the king was arrested for his overspending of the city treasury and construction was stopped.
Pre-order tickets for the shows well in advance and make sure you join the 'pre-paid' queue to collect your tickets. Take the bus up to the castle, admire the view of the castle from the Marienbrucke suspension bridge, go on your booked tour and then walk down to the village. Make sure you don't miss your viewing time, you won't get a new one!
Visiting Neuschwanstein easily takes half a day and if you also add a visit to Schloss Hohenschwangau, which is located down in the village, you can easily spend a whole day here. Hohenschwangau was the summer residence of the Bavarian royal family and it was here that King Ludwig II saw the dream of building a new castle on the rocks above the village grow. Unlike Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau is a fully built castle, with beautiful floors and furniture.
You have now reached the end of Romantische Strasse and the Austrian border is only a stone's throw away. A road full of the Middle Ages, crazy dreams and cozy dinners merges into the dramatic landscape of the Alps. You're probably thinking that next time you should drive Romantische Strasse a little more slowly. I think they sound like a really excellent idea 🙂
Want to see more from Romantische Strasse? Check out my well stocked Photo album from Romantische Strasse.