A former trade route, Germany's Romantic Road is a 220-mile (350km) portion of highway stretching from central Germany to the southern border with Austria. A popular route for holidays in Germany, the Romantic Road is actually a modern concept meant to encapsulate the typically Bavarian atmosphere and culture of the villages and towns along the way.
Easy to follow, with brown signs posted in several languages, the Romantic Road is an ideal route for seeing fairy-tale castles and charming, quintessentially German towns. Travellers should note, however, that the route is so popular now that the best sites tend to be overrun with tourists in the peak summer months (June to August). Spring and autumn are good alternatives for those who prefer to skip the crowds.
The Romantic Road starts in Wurzburg, a town famous for its wineries and gourmet restaurants. Visitors should be sure to see the Residence Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From there the road goes to Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Dinkelsbuhl, two of the best-preserved medieval towns in Germany, and the 1,000-year-old Castle Hotel Colmberg. The 2,000-year-old town of Augsburg, an old Roman trading centre, features beautiful buildings and traditional Bavarian restaurants.
Pfaffenwinkel and Neuschwanstein are key stops on the route, famous for their churches, castles, and pretty rolling countryside.
There are many ways to travel the Romantic Road: by train, bus tour, car, or even bicycle. Hop-on, hop-off bus tickets are available from Frankfurt, and you can also hire bicycles at any train station for only a few euros if you have a valid train ticket.
The fairy-tale castle built by King Ludwig II (known as 'Mad King Ludwig' until his death in 1886) has become the trademark of the German state of Bavaria, with its Gothic wedding-cake tiers and towers. Day tours to the castle are available from Munich, or self-drive via Garmisch. From the parking lot there is a steep half-mile (1km) climb to the castle, but one can ride in a horse-drawn carriage. The interior of the castle is as extravagant as its outer aspect, particularly the King's apartments, which are decorated entirely with hand-embroidered silk, elaborate wall and ceiling paintings, and carvings. The rooms can only be visited as part of a guided tour and no photography or filming is allowed in the castle.
A popular starting point for the Romantic Road, Würzburg is nestled in a picturesque location in the heart of the Franconian wine region, with rolling hills, pretty vineyards, and many beautiful buildings. The town is famous for its '100 churches', and the Residential Palace (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Other attractions include the Alte Mainbrucke, an old pedestrian bridge which provides great views of the river, the castle and the cityscape in general, a wonderful vantage point from which to take photographs and also a spot where you can hire a boat to take a cruise down the river. The castle, called the Marienburg Fortress, dates back to the 12th century and boasts lovely gardens as well as housing a museum and restaurant. The Saint Kilian Cathedral, one of the largest Romanesque churches in Germany, is also worth a visit.
Far from being a sleepy historical town, Würzburg is home to some 50,000 students who keep the nightlife jumping. A number of excellent German restaurants and colourful wine festivals add to the appeal. Located at the very northern tip of Bavaria on the Main River, Würzburg is linked to cities like Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich by train and makes an excellent excursion or weekend trip, even if you don't take the Romantic Road south.
Known as the best-preserved medieval town in Germany, Rothenburg ob der Tauber (or just Rothenburg) is an absolute must-see for anyone travelling on the Romantic Road. The 13th-century fortified walls are undamaged, and encircle a quaint city centre with a number of interesting buildings and museums. For the best view of the city, head to the top of the tower at the historic Town Hall. You can also walk along the old walls which is a great way to first orientate yourself in the city and see many of the most attractive buildings. There is a Medieval Crime Museum in Rothenburg which is very popular with visitors and one of the top activities is the Night Watchman's Tour which is a fun way to explore. St Jacob's Church is also a must for those interested in medieval art and architecture. The wood carvings and stained glass in this wonderful old church date back to between 1300 and 1500 and are truly remarkable. The town's walled garden, the Burggarten, is a lovely place to stroll, relax or picnic and affords stunning views of the cityscape as well.
Rothenburg's only negative is its popularity, which sees it often completely overrun by Romantic Road tourists, particularly during the peak tourist season.
A less-crowded alternative to Rothenburg, Dinkelsbühl is another scenic medieval town on the Romantic Road. Surrounded by 16 towers along its fortified 10th-century walls, the town centre is lined with picturesque 16th-century houses and churches and a few good historical museums. A lovely way to see the city is on an evening tour led by the town's night watchman. The cobbled streets are a delight to explore and another great way to familiarise yourself with the place is by taking a stroll along the perimeter of the fortified old town. There is a nice little park to relax in if the weather is good, and bicycles can be hired.
The town museum in the town hall (which also happens to be the tourist bureau) gives a good overview of the town's long history. One of the main highlights of a visit to Dinkelsbühl is the massive 15th-century St George Church where entry is free and a quick climb up the tower will afford amazing views over the town. In fact, the whole village is a photographer's dream. No visit to Dinkelsbühl is complete without sampling the locally-made gingerbread, a town specialty.
The largest city along the Romantic Road, Augsburg is also among the oldest cities in Germany with a history stretching back 2,000 years. It was established as a Roman trading post and garrison camp in 15 BC and the city has been an important site for religion, politics and the military throughout its life. Augsburg has many interesting buildings, including several ornately decorated churches and Baroque houses. Some of the city's most impressive old architecture includes the 9th-century cathedral, the Town Hall built in 1620, the Perlachturm bell tower built in 989, and the Schaezlerpalais which is a mansion dating back to 1765.
Other popular tourist attractions in Augsburg include the Augsburger Puppet Theatre and Museum, the Augsburg Zoo, and the botanical garden. Augsburg is also known for its traditional German restaurants, and is a popular stop both on the Romantic Road and on journeys to the Bavarian Alps in the south. This ancient city is picturesque and atmospheric and its popularity with visitors seeking out Germany's ancient history and bygone folk traditions never wanes; it is also a modern city with all the desired amenities and some good shopping opportunities and great hotels.
The Romantic Road was a trade route during the middle ages and has retained its historic appeal. The well-trodden tourist track winds through lovely countryside, fortified medieval towns and picturesque old villages. Attractions along the Romantic Road include the ancient walls, gates and guard towers of the villages, Gothic cathedrals and fairy-tale castles, half-timbered houses, historic hotels and even medieval festivals.
There are many famous places to visit along the Romantic Road. Augsburg, the route's largest city and one of the oldest in Germany, offers visitors the chance to explore 2,000 years of history. Dinkelsbuhl, still protected by 16 towers and 10th-century walls, is full of cobbled streets and 16th-century houses. Rothenburg, known to be the best-preserved medieval town in Germany, has fortifications and many other buildings dating back to the 13th century. Wurzburg is a lively little town with a hundred churches and a UNESCO-listed Residential Palace.
There are also a number of delightful castles and fortresses to be discovered along the route, which is often simply called the German Castle Road. Some of the highlights for castle enthusiasts are the Burg Harburg Castle; the 1,000-year-old Castle Hotel of Colmberg, where you can spend the night; the Heidelberg Castle, in the charming town of the same name; the three castle ruins of Eberbach; Langenburg Castle; and the famous Neuschwanstein. Neuschwanstein is one of the most famous castles in the world and for many marks the end goal of the Romantic Road. The interiors are as rich and magical as the facade and definitely worth investigating.
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