Trip Down Germany's Romantic Road
Back in the day, the Romantische Strasse (Romantic Road) was an old highway that stretched about 220 miles from the center of Germany to the south. It was a common trade route, lined with quaint, picturesque German towns. But with the new autobahn (freeway system), it sees less and less traffic, hurting the economies of these quaint little towns. So the German Tourism Board came up with a clever promotional plan to entice international travelers to experience the scenery and culture of quintessential Germany.
If there's one thing that I would change about our trip on the Romantic Road, I think we would have planned to spend more than 4 days along the route. We thought we could cover the majority of the road in 2 days, spend day 3 at Neuschwanstein Castle, and day 4 hiking in the Alps. That’s mostly what we did, but I think we missed a lot along the way. I guess we’ll just have to go back!
Here’s what we did get to see:
Würzburg is known as German wine country. And yea, it looked a lot like the Willamette Valley in the fall. Except with more historic architecture, obviously. We only stayed one night, but we explored the whole time. There’s a pedestrian bridge downtown called the Alte Mainbrücke I that is lined with statues and has a bar at the end. We quickly realized that that’s the cool place to hang out. Just get a beer and stand around on the bridge. It was packed with people!
Side note – We found the best guacamole in Germany at Joe’s. I mean, we didn’t move here for the Mexican food. Obviously. But we do miss it. Nothing brings more joy than GOOD guacamole.
We only made it about 20 minutes down the road from Wurzburg before we stumbled across castle ruins from the 13th Century. Burg Wertheim sits up on a hill, overlooking the little town. We ran around the castle exploring for a bit before we realized that there’s a restaurant inside. It took us a while to figure out how to get in, but then we were able to sit on the terrace and have a drink overlooking Wertheim. It was amazing!
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is famous for their celebrations at Christmas time. We had heard a lot about how beautiful it is, but I don’t think we were really ready for it. I mean, talk about quintessential Germany! This place was right out of a post card. Like many of these towns, Altstadt (the old town area) is built within the old city walls. Here, there is a walking trail around the outside of the city walls that has cute little parks and playgrounds all along the way.
As we walked through the archway into the old town, I was oohing, awing and taking pictures about every 5 steps. There are towers, colorful homes, and cobblestone streets. There’s ivy growing up the sides of the brick buildings, boutiques with welcome signs in the streets, and shopkeepers wearing traditional lederhosen. (I can’t make this stuff up!) Then, as we got to the other side of town, there’s an old park surrounded by the city wall, about waist high. From there, we had a view of the countryside at sunset. The orange in sky nearly matched the orange hues in the changing trees and we were completely in awe.
We made it about a quarter of the way down the route before dark. The whole point of the drive is sight-seeing and the signs are not always easy to follow, especially in the dark, so we fast tracked down to Nördlingen, where we were staying for the night. It’s a really rural town with walking paths all around. Plus, there is a HUGE sunflower field just outside of town! I have never seen such a large field of sunflowers and I had no idea that they bloom in the fall. We weren’t able to get a good picture because we only saw it through a bunch of trees, but it was amazing!
Landsberg am Lech
Okay you guys, this one was an awesome surprise! We were driving through a thick forested area and the road started to get pretty windy. We thought we were in the middle of nowhere, then we turn one big corner and BAM! a castle! Then BAM! another castle! We had been driving in silence then, at the exact same time, yelled, “Whoa. Whoa! WHOOOOAAA!!”
So Landsberg am Lech was obviously beautiful. But it was also very touristy, which we didn’t expect because neither of us had ever heard of it. It’s a very colorful little town nestled right into the mountainside with the river running right through. So it was a prime destination for the fall. We walked around the old town, taking pictures of the colorful buildings, the castle, and the waterfalls. We got a coffee, wandered the cobblestone streets, and took about a million pictures. (Then, on our drive away, I accidentally deleted all my pictures. Yes, I know. I suck!)
We tried going to Nueschwanstein Castle on Monday, but they were sold out by 10am. (They open at 9am, sell 8,000 – 10,000 tickets per day & they were sold out by 10am!!) So we decided to explore Füssen and the surrounding nature instead. The town is small and touristy. The traditional Bavarian restaurants and the boutiques that sell lederhosen make it clear that this town’s economy is maintained by the visitors who come to see the castles. About a 5 minute walk outside of town is Lechfall, a lake that pours down a cascade and into a little river. There’s a touristy bridge high above and some hiking trails beyond that. We spent most of the day playing by the lake and hiking around the trails. It felt so good to be out in the great outdoors for a change! With the fall weather, the changing trees, and the wet trails, it felt just like we were back home in Oregon.
Hohenschwangau Castle & Neuschwanstein Castle
The next day, we got to the castles at 8:30am to wait in line. We were not going to miss out on the famous Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castle Tours two days in a row! We went to Hohenschwangau first. Since the 12th Century it has housed knights and royal families. Most recently, it was the summer home of the Royal family and is still fully furnished with their original furnishings. Believe it or not, I liked this castle more than the infamous Neuschwanstein Castle because it holds so much more history. As you walk through the rooms, you can feel the memories that must have been made there. It feels lived in and like some kind of reality took place there, once upon a time. Neuschwanstein, on the other hand, was built in the 19th Century as a tribute to the 12th and 13th Centuries. While it’s incredibly ornate and way over the top, it was never lived in. It never housed knights or royal families and, in my opinion, felt more fake than Disneyland. Don’t get me wrong, the beauty is unrivaled. But tourist traps are one in the same- a clustery mess of people.
Overall, if I could recommend any vacation in Germany, I think I’d advise that you rent a car for a week on the Romantische Strasse…even if it means skipping more iconic places like Berlin or Munich.