Often overlooked by bigger neighbors, the town of Wurzburg, Germany doesn’t receive nearly the number of travelers that it should. The city is the start of the Romantic Road tourism route and the center of one the country’s most important wine regions. In the past, I had extensively explored Nuremberg, Munich and even Regensburg on previous trips to Germany. This time, I turned my attention to the northwest of Bavaria for a Wurzburg day trip. With only a single day, I wanted to squeeze in as many of the top things to do in Wurzburg as possible on a one-day walking tour.
Wurzburg is the capital of Lower Franconia, an administrative district in the German state of Bavaria. It is located half way between Frankfurt and Nuremberg on the banks of the Main River – an important trade route. The city is also the capital of one of Germany’s most important wine producing districts and vineyards dot the landscape as far as the eye can see. With a population of only 120,000 and hemmed in by hills on all sides, the city seems much smaller and more compact.
During World War II, the city was an important stronghold for the Nazi German machine. In the middle ages, the city had previously massacred its Jewish population in both the 12th and 13th centuries. So, Wurzburg was one of the first cities to fully embrace Nazi ideology as far back as 1933 and organized anti-Jewish boycotts and riots. In March 1945, British bombers almost completely destroyed the city to push out the German military. After the war, the U.S. military left a military presence here for over 60 years.
Today, no signs of those trouble times remain. The city has painstakingly rebuilt its cherished monuments and historical buildings. The only “bombs” falling from the sky was the bird that pooped on my chair at a sidewalk café. The citizens are friendly, the wine is refreshing and the sausage is delicious! With so many great things to do in Wurzburg, it is absolutely worth a visit!
Most visitors come on a Wurzburg day tour from either Frankfurt or Nuremberg, or on the start of a multi-day bus tour of the Romantic Road. With so much to see and do on the banks of the Main River, we’ve laid out our Wurzburg walking tour to take in all of the city’s top sites. We’ve organized this with a “save the best for last” approach, so make sure you pace yourself and save time later in the day. This has two benefits, first you don’t have to hike up the monster hill to the Fortress and secondly, the tour buses arrive at the Residenz earlier in the day, so you have fewer people to contend with at the best sites. Here is our walking tour of top attractions in Wurzburg:
1) Marienberg Fortress – When you arrive in the city, have a taxi take you up to the Marienberg Fortress, which sits atop the hill across from the old town. Having a taxi take you up will save you a significant walk! The core of the Marienberg Fortress is the Marienberg castle and church – dating from the early 13th century. Around this, a massive fortification was built after Sweden invaded Germany and sacked the castle. Like much of the town below, this complex was almost entirely destroyed during World War II, however, it has been beautifully restored. Today, the fortress houses the Franconian Museum. Before leaving the Fortress, be sure to walk over to the walls and take in the view of Wurzburg below.
2) The Fortress Wine Trail – While Wurzburg is capital of the Franconian appellation and you can see vineyards as far as the eye can see, the only vineyard within the city proper is along the steep hillside leading up to the Fortress. If you are pressed for time in Wurzburg and without a private car to get out into the countryside to visit wineries, walking down to the old city along the winding Wine Trail will give you an experience of being in a vineyard (albeit a small one).
The Franconian appellation is a small region. While a range of grapes are grown and various wines are produced, the standouts are from the Silvaner and Riesling grapes. Franconia is renowned for its astringently dry white wines with heavy minerality and clean finishes. You’ll be able to sample the wine later (see #3 below).
3) Alte Mainbrucke – This is the Old Main Bridge across the Main River through the center of Wurzburg. Dating from the 16th century, the bridge is adorned with statues of saints and is architecturally similar to the Charles Bridge in Prague. At the far end of the bridge, just before entering the old town is a wine bar on the left side. On a fine summer day, locals will purchase a glass of wine from the bar and stand on the bridge taking in views of the city and the fortress above. If sampling the local wine is a priority, this is the perfect spot!
4) Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus) – The old town hall sits right on Domstrasse between the old bridge on the Residenz. Take note of the building, the fresco painted on the front and the fountain across the street. The tower dates from the early 1200s and a number of architectural styles are visible.
5) Market Square (Marktplatz) – Just past the town hall, turn left and walk two blocks to market square. A bustling food and flower market happens here daily. Along the east side of the square, more permanent stands sell food and drink, including bratwurst. While each city or region in Germany has its own unique form of bratwurst (i.e., the small, slender Nurembergers; the fat, bulging Regensburger cut in half, etc.), Wurzburg actually specializes in two different kind of bratwurst. The Fränkische is the traditional Franconian bratwurst about six inches in length and of uniform thickness. It is popular across the whole region. But Wurzburg is best known for the Winzerbratwurst – about the same size as the Fränkische, but has some of the local wine mixed into the spicier meat, wood grilled and then served with bread and mustard. I had the opportunity to sample both!
6) Marienkapelle – Right on the market square is the giant red and white Mary’s Church (or Marienkapelle). In a city known for baroque architecture, the gothic Marienkapelle with its vaulted ceiling stands out as being unique.
7) The Old Town Pedestrian Zone – Most of Wurzburg’s old city is a car-free pedestrian zone. One of the great things to do in Wurzburg is stopping into the stores or pulling up a chair at a sidewalk café for some people watching.
8) The Residenz – The Royal Residenz in Wurzburg is one of the finest royal palaces in all of Europe. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was extensively damaged during World War II, but has painstakingly restored to its former glory. Contemporary to the palaces in Vienna, many of the same themes and decorating styles flow through (including the obligatory Asian-inspired green lacquer room). The Residenz can be visited on a self-guided walking tour, or with a guided walking tour which allows access to some of the other apartments (including the blue drawing room, the yellow living room and the corner chamber – all highlights of my visit). The massive “four continents” fresco is one of the largest ever created.
One of the Residenz’s great claims to fame is that Napoleon slept here for one night in May 1812 en route to his unsuccessful invasion of Russia. This is absolutely the top attraction in Wurzburg and should not be missed!
9) The Court Gardens (hof gardens) – Behind the Residenz is the Hof Gardens – a series of palace gardens tiered on a hillside. Infinitely smaller than the gardens are Versailles in France or the Schönbrunn in Vienna, they are equally elaborate and even better maintained. After a long day walking, it is nice to find a quiet bench under a yew tree and take in the beautiful scenery.
10) The Court Church (hofkirche) – This small chapel, a popular wedding venue today, is arguably the most important example of baroque architecture in all of Germany. While baroque architecture and the plethora of gold leaf accent really isn’t my thing, even I had to admit this small chapel is absolutely beautiful.
While I didn’t have a lot of time, a Wurzburg day trip provide to be enough time to see the major attractions in the city. There are many great things to do in Wurzburg, but a self-guided walking tour taking in all the main sites has got to be one!
Wurzburg Visitor Information
Marienberg Fortress: Hours are March-October on Tuesday-Sunday 9:00am-18:00; closed Mondays. Closed November to mid-March. Only occasional tours in English, but ask and they should be able to accommodate. Website: Marienberg Fortress
The Residenz: Hours are April-October from 9:00am-18:00 with guided tours in English at 11:00am, 15:00 and 16:30; November-March 10:00am-16:00 with guided tours in English at 11:00am and 15:00. Admission is €7.50 for adults. Website: Wurzburg Residenz
The Court Gardens: Hours are daily until dusk (always closed at 20:00).
Have you been to Wurzburg? What did you like most there?