The Romantic Road. Those three words conjure up images of fairy tales and charming little villages. For years, despite numerous trips to Germany, I’ve avoided what is arguably the best known holiday route in the world. I had a lot of preconceptions about the Romantic Road – some were true and some were just legends. One thing is for certain, The Romantic Road in Germany was a complete surprise.
At the outset, let’s be clear about one thing–I have heard all the stories of the giant motor coach buses packed with 50 people all tumbling into towns and tripping on each other’s feet. Many German guidebooks no longer even mention the Romantic Road, or it is relegated to small side trip from either Frankfurt or Munich. If you believe the hype, the Romantic Road was a slick 1950’s marketing initiative that is hanging on for dear life. And the Internet would have you believe that the Romantic Road tour is dead.
Rumors of the Romantic Road’s demise are not well founded. Sure, there are still tons of tour companies offering the trips, mostly to older folks. And, after German, the second language on the Romantic Road is quickly becoming Japanese instead of English. But The Romantic Road can still hold a tremendous amount of appeal if you rent your own car and see the sites on your own (if you decide to rent a car, we recommend getting a copy of our book, The Essential Guide to Driving Abroad, before you go). Striking out on Germany’s beautiful road system, you can cover the 255 mile (410km) route in a nice 4-5 days. Even better, while on your own, you can miss much of the congestion of the Romantic Road coach tours.
Highlights from a Romantic Road self-drive trip:
Wurzburg: Wurzburg is the start of the Romantic Road in the north. Located half way between Frankfurt and Nuremberg on the banks of the Main River – an important trade route – Wurzburg is the heart of the Franconia wine district. The city’s compact center makes for an ideal self-guided walking tour seeing everything from the Marienberg Fortress to the Prince Bishop’s Palace (Residenz) in a half-day. I’d recommend seeing Wurzburg in the afternoon before setting off on your Romantic Road itinerary the next day.
Lauda-Konigshofen: This was the one actual disappointment. From our perspective, there’s not much to see here and the time is better spent in Wurzburg or one of the other Romantic Road towns.
Bad Mergentheim: For Romantic Road visitors, Bad Mergentheim is a big hit. I’d never heard of this town until I stumbled into it. For centuries, the healing mineral waters of the town have helped restore health to visitors. The town is also known for being the home base of the Order of Teutonic Knights. Since the 12th Century, this German-Catholic organization was part crusade machine, part charity. The castle and museum are exceptional, and the half-timbered houses rival any we’ve seen in Germany.
Weikersheim: This small village is defined by the Weikersheim Palace, a grand Renaissance-style palace currently used for summer concerts and other artistic performances. The entire village is surrounded by vineyards and has a large market square. It’s also skipped on a lot of Romantic Road tours, so if you make the effort, you can have the town to yourself.
Creglingen: There’s not much in tiny little Creglingen except for a handful of half-timbered houses and a beautiful church. The church in Creglingen also has an altar by German-master Tilman Riemenschneider. If you don’t want to deal with the crowds in Rothenburg o.d. Tauber, you can have the chapel in Creglingen to yourself. We also found the small shops in town to be the perfect place to do a little grocery shopping and get something to eat – all in a completely local ambiance. Creglingen doesn’t get the same number of tourists as other cities on Germany’s Romantic Road.
Rothenburg o.d. Tauber: Over two million visitors pack the streets of Rothenburg ob der Tauber every year to see one of Europe’s best preserved medieval cities. Despite being on the wrong side of the 30 Years War, the city escaped damage, but was driven into poverty. And since there was no money for development, the town was preserved. Rothenberg is a great spot to over-night on the Romantic Road with a number of great inns and B&Bs. The town has a number of great museums, the views from the city’s walls are magnificent, and the tasty Schneeballen pastries are a delight.
Schwangau/Neuschwanstein: The most iconic image of romantic Germany comes from tiny little Schwangau of the towering Neuschwanstein Castle above. This is Mad King Ludwig II’s unfinished masterpiece that inspired Walt Disney and also housed stolen art from France during the Nazi period. This is the quintessential “Romantic” building in Germany!
Füssen: The Romantic Road ends in tiny little Füssen, Germany. One of my fondest memories of my first trip to Europe over 20 years ago was coming to Füssen late one night in a terrible rain storm. I’d heard about this town and its famous violin industry. I left with an appreciation of Germany’s small towns and villages – a love affair that continues to this day. Many visitors to Southern Bavaria rush through Füssen en route to Neuschwanstein, but this little village captures the heart of all who stop. Füssen has a number of hotels and B&Bs, making it a great place to stay at the southern end of the Romantic Road.
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Also on Germany’s Romantic Road:
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