We had heard of the mystical Romantic Road Route through Bavaria (Romantic Strasse) about a year ago and I’d immediately added it to the bucketlist. This was particularly so after we learned that it hooks up perfectly with a trip to Neuschwantsein Castle – a place I’d been captivated by ever since I’d seen it in an ageing German textbook at school. After a little research, and discovering that the Romantic Strasse is a surprisingly easy route to complete, using either public transport or hiring a car, we therefore booked our trip for February.
A wintery Bavarian adventure awaited.
The Romantic Strasse is a 400km route, straddling Austria and Switzerland, that runs from Würzburg right down to the Bavarian Alps. This ‘themed’ route takes in southern Germany’s most picturesque towns, cities and famous castles. It was a route cleverly dreamed up in the 1950s, after WW11 to encourage tourism back to the country, and is now a booming tourist route. Although some towns do certainly play up to the ‘kitsch’ theme, there is culture, history and scandal galore along this route and well worth a trip.
Deciding when to travel the Romantic Strasse is key.
We specifically decided to visit in low season (February) instead of the summer months, as the summer will bring endless amounts of tour buses and crowds. It seems to be a particularly popular route with the Japanese, who arrive in their thousands during high season; note the Japanese road signs and abundance of Chinese and Japanese restaurants in sleepy Bavarian town. Although we knew that certain attractions and hotels/restaurants were likely to be closed, however, we decided that we’d rather have the streets of Bavaria relatively tourist free and I think we made the right decision. The snow and frosty landscapes as we drove between the towns making the Romantic Strasse even more romantic.
To help plan your own romantic getaway to Bavaria, I’ve outlined the itinerary that we followed below. We opted to hire our own car from Frankfurt airport, which was an incredibly easy process. In fact, we found driving the whole route stress-free, as the average distance between most towns was just under an hour. The northern part of the Romantic Strasse is also mainly based around Germany’s famous autobahns, making driving fast and traffic-free.
After an ultra early flight out of London (we flew British Airways from Heathrow), we landed in Frankfurt, grabbed our car and were straight onto the autobahn heading for our first stop. I should note here that we chose to miss out Würzburg, a suggested stop on the romantic road, simply due to time limitations. If you choose to stay a little longer, we recommend you take some time to explore this lively town.
Our first stop on the Romantic Strasse route was Rothenburg ob der Tauber; a town from the Middle Ages, famous for its Schneeballen. In fact, if you google ‘Romantic Road’ photos, Rothenburg will likely be at the top of the list, thanks to its picture-perfect buildings and cobbled streets. The first thing we noted on arriving here, however, was how eerily quiet the place was; it was almost like we were visiting an abandoned medieval theme park.
After eventually finding an open restaurant, we found out that this town shuts up shop outside of the tourist season. We have no idea where its citizens go for the rest of the year, or what they do, but we must have seen only a handful of people the afternoon we were there. The lack of people, however, didn’t spoil our visit and it was handy to be able to take so many pictures of this beautiful little place without fighting for a space on the pavement. An occurrence I imagine is commonplace during the summer months.
A (festively) fun place to visit whilst you’re here is the Christmas shop, Käthe Wohlfahrt Weihnachtsdorf, which is open all year round. Bursting with decorations, festive displays and loud Christmas music, it leaves you feeling warm and in the Christmas spirit. There are also a number of interesting historic sites to see in this town too, including Jakobskirche and Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum: a museum that showcases gruesome weapons for punishment and torture during medieval times. Unfortunately, for us, the museum was closed. Perhaps a reason to consider visiting during the summer months if you’d really like to make the most of the town’s offerings.
After our slightly surreal walk around Rothenburg and having successfully eaten our delicious schneballens (you won’t struggle to find these here), we headed off to Dinklesbühl, in an increasingly desperate hope to discover human life.
Dinkelsbühl is another picture-perfect town on the Romantic Strasse and, much to our relief, appeared to still have people frequenting it. By the time we arrived in late afternoon, and after getting up at 3am, I must admit that we promptly fell asleep until dinner time. Walking around the town in the evening, however, we could appreciate the more authentic medieval quality of this town over Rothenburg; the only town to survive bombings during WWII. The paranoia that perhaps we were in some kind of German version of the Truman Show only hit again at dinner, when we were the only people in an almost too perfect restaurant. Again, although generally busy, this will be another town that comes alive during the warmer months.
Accommodation: Hotel Deutsches Haus – this is a highly recommended hotel. Cosy, big spacious rooms and a delicious breakfast.
We woke up early to a very snowy start in Dinkelsbühl, and after loading ourselves up on as much eggs, ham and cheese as we could cram into our bellies, we headed off on a wintry walk around the town. The town, with its cobbled streets and brightly coloured timbered houses, was incredibly magical, especially around its lake. Looking out over the frozen, frosty water at the mulicoloured houses, felt like we could have been in a little fairytale town.
Our first stop of the day on the Romantic Strasse route after leaving Dinkelsbühl was Nördlingen. A great way to see this town is to walk the town’s 14th century walls. Interestingly, the walls form a perfect circle having followed the line of crater in which the town sits, created by a meteorite over 15 million years ago. Walking along the walls on a snowy but sunny morning offered a beautiful panoramic view of the city, as the town’s houses busily chugged out smoke from their chimneys on the frosty morning.
Now, if we thought Rothenburg was eerily quiet, it had nothing on Harburg. We decided to visit this sleepy place after seeing photographs of its resident castle; Schloss Harburg that overlooks the town. Unsurprisingly, the castle was closed, as appeared to be the town itself. Again, the town had shops, cafes and hotels but all were closed, we presume, due to low season.
We decided to venture up to the castle anyway to see the views, which was well worth the trip. We suspect, again, this little town is full of life in the summer, indeed, there were signs for beer gardens over the river, so well worth a visit perhaps in warmer weather.
Getting increasingly anxious to make human contact again, we set off for Augsburg on the Romantic Strasse route and arrived late afternoon.
Augsburg is the largest city on the Romantic road, which for us, meant open restaurants, bustling cafes and a general buzz to the city that we hadn’t found elsewhere. On arrival, we headed straight to an intriguing part of town called Fuggerei. This is Augsburg’s Catholic welfare settlement and the oldest in existence. Fuggerei was founded by Jakob Fugger in 1516, where the needy citizens of Augsburg could live. Today, quite crazily, the rent remains at 1 Rhenish guilder (approximately €0.88) per year! Citizens are expected to pray three times daily. Today, there’s around 200 citizens living here, mostly the elderly although there are some students and young families. The houses are beautifully neat and tidy, and you can visit both a modern apartment and a “traditional” apartment to see how residents of Fuggereri originally lived. Large parts of the Fuggerei were bombed during WW11, and you can still visit the underground bunker used by the residents during this time.
Accommodation: Hotel am Rathaus
After another early start and another hearty breakfast, we headed out of Augsburg to the snowier parts of Bavaria. We should note here that the drive from Augsburg down to Füssen on the Romantic Strasse is beautiful. As you travel further south towards the Bavarian alps, the roads become smaller and slower as they wind through sleepy (and in our case very snowy) villages; the Alps steadily rising up in front of you. The drive probably took us longer than it should have, simply because we couldn’t stop getting out the car to take photos.
On our journey down to Füssen on the Romantic Strasse, we made a stop at a tiny village called Wies, which houses a very special church. Wieskirche (White Church) is a Unesco-listed heritage site and one of Bavaria’s most admired baroque churches. Quite amazingly, for such a small town, around a million visitors a year visit Wieskirche. This church was commissioned to house the statue of Christ belonging to a farmer in the area who saw the statue shedding tears. It is a particularly magnificent church, especially the ceiling. An unmissable stop on this drive.
Just a few minutes drive from the Austrian borders, Füssen sits nestled between the Bavarian Alps and has a cosy and welcoming feel. We arrived on a particularly sunny day; blue skies against pure white snow and breathtaking mountains. After dumping our bags at the hotel and a quick lunch, we headed straight to the Teglebergbahn to take in views on top of the mountains. If you’re on the claustrophobic side and don’t like heights, like me, then going up in the tegleberg (cable car), crammed with skiers isn’t the nicest experience. If you can survive the five minute journey up however, the view from the top is simply breathtaking. After taking in the panoramic views over the Alps, we joined a German brass band at the bar at the top of the mountain and relaxed in some deck chairs with a delicious Bavarian beer for the afternoon.
It was a perfect afternoon.
Accommodation: Alstadt-Hotel zum Hechten
On the fourth day of our Romantic Strasse route, we dedicated the full day to ticking off a big bucket list wish; a visit to Neuschwanstein castle; the full blog post on our visit to this magical castle can be read here. After a full day exploring the breathtaking castle and its surroundings, we made the hour long journey to our final stop: Munich.
For our overnight stay, we stayed at Hotel Cortiina; a boutique hotel that comes highly recommended.
Although we had less than 24 hours to explore Munich, we managed to squeeze in a surprising amount of sight-seeing before our flight back home. Our guide to 24 hours in Munich provides all the information on our whistle-stop tour. A city small enough to see in a day, this is the ideal place to end your Romantic Strasse.