Romantic Route – the River Main to the foothills of the AlpsThe Romantic Route is the best-known and probably most spectacular scenic route in Germany. Cover over 400 kilometres of amazing scenic and cultural sights as you traverse Franconia, Hohenlohe, Swabia and the Allgäu region. Highlights include two UNESCO Heritage Sites, the Residenz Palace in Würzburg and the Wieskirche, the fairy-tale Neuschwanstein Castle and the old towns in Dinkelsbühl and Rothenburg ob der Tauber, both steeped in tradition.
Get in the car and explore verdant green scenery, medieval towns showcasing their baroque heritage and a region that has largely defined the image of Germany for the rest of the world.
It goes without saying, but any wine or beer stops detailed on this page are for the benefit of hire car passengers ... designated drivers must confine themselves to drinking in the scenery. Book a rental car now and explore Germany
Würzburg: Paradise foundA lively baroque city smack in the middle of the Frankenwein region and home to one of Germany’s oldest universities, Würzburg is the proud home of UNESCO Heritage Site the Residenz Palace.
This baroque gem houses the renowned fresco by the 18th century Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Make sure you take the time to peruse the stairway section, said to be the longest continuous ceiling fresco anywhere in the world. It’s an allegorical take on the world, depicting each of the continents known at that time in the shape of a woman.
To fully appreciate this heady mix of art, architecture and the local wine culture, you’ll need at least a full day. Enjoy a stroll through the old town before visiting the venerable Juliusspital, where you may conduct a quality control assessment of the local grape extract.
Travel tip: Drive along the River TauberGet your trip off on the right foot with a small detour to the pretty little town of Wertheim and shop till you drop in the Wertheim Village, an outlet full of high-end brands.
You are immediately rewarded by 90 kilometres of pure driving pleasure on the winding curves through the idyllic scenery of the Taubertal to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Without doubt, Schloss Weikersheim is the cultural highlight of this leg. The ornate palace gardens feature a gallery of quirky dwarf statues, which tells you something about their patron, Count Carl Ludwig (1674–1756). The statues were of the Count’s personal servants who, we may assume, were not amused by this dubious honour.
The gallery is just one of the many features of these outstanding baroque gardens. Schloss Weikersheim is a jem and has been aptly dubbed the “Hohenlohe Versailles”.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber: Romantic to the coreRothenburg is a true medieval gem. Stepping inside the still-intact city walls is stepping back in time into the narrow cobbled lanes of a fairy-tale medieval Germany. Prepare to be entranced as you walk past a jumbled collection of quaint half-timbered houses. Rothenburg could be used more or less as it is for any film set requiring an authentic medieval town.
Get your bearings by climbing the steps to the viewing platform of the Rathausturm and you will be rewarded with stellar views over the old town. The vistas from 52 metres up are truly outstanding. Stretch your legs with the 2.5-kilometre walk atop the city walls. Museum buffs will love visiting the Reichstadtmuseum for an update on the town’s history, but it all gets very gruesome very quickly when you see the torture implements in the Mittelalterlichen Kriminalmuseum.
It’s hard to say which image best captures the spirit of Rothenburg, but a strong contender would be the Fleisch und Tanzhaus [butcher’s and dancing house] or Feuerleinserker [Feuerlein house bay window].
Dinkelsbühl, Nördlingen, Harburg: Walls built to lastAnother leg of the Romantic Road that is a really pleasant drive is the B25 to Donauwörth. It’s dotted with one highlight after another so we don’t recommend roaring through the 100 kilometres without a couple of pit stops.
Make Dinkelsbühl one of them; the fairy-tale old town is completely encircled by the River Wörnitz and worth every minute you spend there. Don’t miss the grandiose houses with their superb half-timber gables, the equally impressive artisans’ dwellings, merchants’ townhouses, churches, and city walls.
The former Free Imperial City of Nördlingen also features an authentic town centre with fully intact circular city wall, a must-do walking experience and virtually impossible to find nowadays. The last stop on this leg, which takes you through the Ries basin Geopark, is the town of Harburg. Perched high above the town, Schloss Harburg keeps a watchful eye open; it is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Germany and well worth a visit.
Donauwörth: an island getawayWerd or Wörth means “the island in the river”. Donauwörth is another way of saying “dream location” and this geological twist of fate has defined the town’s history. It played a key role within the network of European trade routes and grew wealthy as a result. To understand just how wealthy it is take a walk along the main Reichstraße to the Fuggerhaus at the end.
Doll lovers will not want to miss the Käthe Kruse Doll Museum just outside the old town. The museum presents German craft traditions and has an amazing range of dolls on display portraying the development of the doll-making craft through the ages.
Augsburg: Roman Puppet TheatreIf all roads didn’t already lead to Rome, Augsburg would be the perfect starting point for any journey to the Eternal City. Originally christened Augusta Vindelicorum (after Trier, Augsburg is Germany’s oldest city), the Via Claudia Augusta linked the city to northern Italy.
In medieval times, the city was a major trading centre of the patrician Fugger family. Traces of their influence can still be found today in the Fuggerei; it’s essentially the oldest social housing project in history. The Rathaus is also another highlight Augsburg has awaiting you. A German renaissance jewel and one of the most significant secular buildings of the period, it is perhaps best known for the magnificent Goldener Saal [Golden Hall].
For your overnight stay in Augsburg, we recommend the romantic Augsburger Hof hotel, with a fine restaurant serving regional delicacies where you can round off your day with the tasty onion roast pork with Spätzle noodles.
Landsberg: on the wild waters of the LechLandsberg is, as so many of the towns along the Romantic Route, a beautifully-preserved old town. And right in the centre you will be suitably impressed by the Rathaus dating from 1700 and the Schmalzturm [Lard Gate]. This towering gate gets its name from olden days when market women selling perishable goods such as butter or lard would sit in the shade of the tower to keep them fresh. The tower is open to visitors at selected times.
The Mutterturm castle was built in 1884, the artist Hubert von Herkomer in memory of his mother and it now houses a museum. You can’t miss it on the west bank of the Lech outside the old town.
The Allgäu: castles, castles and more castlesAs you aim for the Alps you can see them towering majestically ahead of you. Just after Steingaden in the Pfaffenwinkel region, lies the Wieskirche; a baroque pearl and the second UNESCO Heritage Site on the Romantic Route.
Continue through the pretty countryside of the Allgäu to Schwangau on the B17, a scenic setting for A-list attractions: the neo-gothic masterpiece Schloss Hohenschwangau and the mother of all fairy-tale castles, Schloss Neuschwanstein. For Ludwig II this was the culmination of his life-long dream of a medieval knight’s castle combined with the epic visions of Richard Wagner. This makes Neuschwanstein the perfect place to end the Romantic Route as you relax and reflect whilst strolling through nearby Füssen.
Gazing down from the old town, the Hohes Schloss is a remarkable example of the late-gothic architectural style. The picturesque courtyard features amazing trompe l’œil [artistic visual illusion] that aren’t quite what they seem.