This summer I’ll be spending a few months driving around Europe and one of the routes I’ll be taking is the Romantic Road in Germany.
I came across this route while looking for the best driving routes in Central Europe and apart from all the Swiss, Austrian and Italian mountain passes this is the route that kept popping up.
It was perfect – a calm, laid-back and meandering journey through the heart of Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg is the ideal break from the hectic narrow, alpine roads that I’ll be driving on for the first part of my road trip.
In this post I want to talk about the Romantic Road in Germany, including:
- Its history
- The route
- The cities on the route and which ones to visit
- Where to stay along the way
- Tips for traveling the route
The Romantic Road in Germany
It was all the way back when Germany was part of the Roman Empire that the Romans decided that a road needed to be built between the Alps and the River Main.
It was needed for both commercial and military purposes because otherwise it was very difficult to transport soldiers and goods through the heavily forested regions of Southern Germany.
The Romans cleared the land along the River Lech and built an area suitable for horses and caravans that followed the river starting in Fussen and finishing in Augsburg. Later on, around 47 AD, the Romans extended the road even further through two different mountain passes and it was made to reach the Danube River.
The road was called Via Claudia Augusta and it connected Italy with Germany.
Although todays Romantic Route doesn’t follow the original road exactly there are many parts of it which do in fact follow along with Via Claudia Augusta.
It remained a quiet, lesser-known route for nearly all of its history until the 1950s when cars were becoming very popular and affordable and authorities were looking for a way to boost tourism in the Southern German region.
Launched as one of the first tourist routes in Germany, the Romantic Road and its corresponding towns were chosen as a way to bring in more tourists from the USA and abroad and to show the world that Germany was well on its way towards rebuilding itself after World War 2.
Over the years it became more and more popular and today there aren’t only people driving on it with their own cars but there are coach bus tours, guided trips and even bicycling touring excursions along the whole route.
Today, the Romantic Road connects the medieval towns of Wurzburg with Fussen.
Wurzburg is the official starting point and is easily accessed from Frankfurt, Heidelberg and Stuttgart.
It officially ends in Fussen but from there you can easily reach Oberbayern and Munich.
Along the way the Romantic Road visits more than two dozen different picturesque, medieval towns and villages.
It’s not a straight line, not even close, and if you’re travelling along the route you’ll be doing some backtracking and zig-zagging across the entire region.
However, the route is well-marked with plenty of signs telling you that you’re where you’re supposed to be and the tourist offices in each of the towns along the way will have plenty of maps and other helpful information to help you out with your journey,
The Cities Along the Way
When you’re driving or going on a tour along the Romantic Road you’ll have the opportunity to visit a lot of different towns and villages.
And when I say a lot, I mean that there are nearly 30 places you could stop and explore.
For a 350km route that’s a lot stops!
Going from North to South the towns, villages and points of interest along the way include:
- Bad Mergentheim
- Rothenburg ob der Tauber
- Landsberg am Lech
- Schwangau (Neuschwanstein)
Keep in mind that these aren’t just towns and villages. Some of the places listed above include a specific site like a castle or church that are worth visiting along the way.
If you’re short on time or you just don’t want to get out and explore so many different places there are a few highlights of the route that are most popular and that I’d recommend checking out.
Würzburg and Augsburg are the most historically important and interesting cities that I’d suggest.
Along with those two cities, the three medieval and beautifully preserved cities of Nordlingen, Dinkelsbuhl and Rothenburg ob der Tauber are also quite picturesque and worth checking out as well.
As you near the end of the route, close to Munich, I suggest checking out Neuschwanstein Castle and the nearby town of Fussen.
The starting point of the Romantic Road, Wurzburg was once the center of the Franconian kingdom and is also where you’ll find one of the oldest churches in all of Germany.
There is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the city, the Wurzburger Residence, which is said to be on of the loveliest palaces in Europe and a prime example of Baroque art and architecture.
The city center is quite small so it’s possible to walk around the old town area and reach the Wurzburger Residence on foot without having to use public transportation.
If you’re driving there is plenty of paid parking throughout the city.
The sights include:
- Wurzburger Residence
- Wurzburger Gardens (free entrance)
- The Marienburg Fortress
- The Old Town
Augsburg is the third biggest and oldest city in Bavaria.
It was founded in 15 BC by the Romans and currently there are around 265,000 people living in the city.
This lovely, small German town is the birthplace of Mozarts father and an important cultural and historical center for people exploring the region of Bavaria.
Some of the best things to do in Augsburg include:
- The Fuggerei (the oldest social settlement in Europe)
- Mozart Museum
- A beautiful town hall
- The Church of St.Anna
- A picturesque Old Town lined with canals
One of the smaller towns you’ll come across on your drive through Bavaria is Nordlingen.
With only 24,000 people, Nordlingen is a very small town but during the summer it fills up completely with tourists.
It’s a great stop because it’s one of the only walled medieval towns that still exists in Germany and even it’s location in the region is very interesting.
The town was actually built in an impact crater left behind by a meteorite and even more interesting is the fact that the tower in the center of town was built using the rock that was formed during that impact.
The town was built originally near a Roman settlement on the original Via Claudia Augusta and was first mentioned in 898.
Over the years it became a popular town because it was a free city and trade was able to flourish because of that. At one point the entire city was covered with markets, store-houses and other relics from a time when regional trade played an important role in the towns development .
Some of the things to check out in Nordlingen include:
- The town walls and fortifications
- National Geopark Ries to learn more about the meteorite impact
- The Town Hall
- The Old Town
Similar to Nordlingen, Dinkelsbuhl is another one of the walled medieval towns that still exist today in Germany.
It’s a small town and should only take a few hours to walk through and check out all of the different buildings and other sights.
It started out as an important junction of trade routes between Germany, Italy and Eastern Europe and has been around since the 8th century although it wasn’t mentioned until the 12th century when a market was finally built.
The town flourished with trade in the weaving and cloth industries and even today you can see some leftover examples of the buildings and other features that remain from that time.
Some of the things to see in Dinkelsbuhl include:
- St.George’s Minster (church)
- The timber and wooden buildings in the Old Town
- The Childrens Festival in July
- Wornitz Tor (Gate)
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the final of the three remaining medieval walled cities in Germany.
It’s also one of the most historically important and oldest towns along the entire Romantic Road so it’s definitely worth checking. Rothenburg ob der Tauber was first mentioned sometime during the 10th-century and with only around 10,000 people living there today it’s a quiet and laid back town.
Some of the things to check out in Rothenburg ob der Tauber include:
- The Old Town
- Market Square
- The Christmas Festival in December
- The White Tower
Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the most well-known and popular tourist destinations in all of Germany.
Every year 1.5 million people visit the castle, which was only opened to the public in 1886 after the death of King Ludwig II. The castle was actually built as a place for the king to hide away from the public and enjoy some privacy but today thousands of people walk through the rooms every day.
Standing high up on a rugged hill and dominating the surrounding landscape Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the most picturesque and interesting places to visit in all of Bavaria.
The Romantic Road ends nearby to Neuschwanstein and it’s also a quick drive from Munich so I definitely recommend checking it out if you get the chance.
Where to Stay Along the Way
The Romantic Road covers a distance of nearly 400 km but many of the towns and other points of interest along the way are very close to one another.
Since everything is so close and all of it is easily accessible by car I recommend spending just one or two nights in a single area before heading further down the road.
From where you stay you can explore the surrounding cities or just slowly make your way along the route stopping anywhere that’s interesting to you.
I recommend starting the trip in Wurzburg. From here I’d recommend making your way too Bad Mergentheim and spending the night in that area.
Then I suggest travelling further down the road and stopping near Nordlingen. Next, I’d suggest continuing on and spending a night or two in Augsburg.
From here you can either continue down the road, explore the rest of the a few stops remaining and then head to Munich for the night.
Alternatively, you can spend the night in Fussen and explore the southern portion of the route on your final day.
Tips for Traveling the Route
- Rent your car as far in advance as you can.
- July and August will be the busiest time to visit
- Drive slowly and pull over to check your map or smartphone
- When in doubt, visit the tourist or local information office
- Book accommodation early for the best rates and availability
- Plan ahead the towns and other points of interest you want to visit
- Take your time exploring. It’s better to visit one or two places than to see everything in a rush