Some cities celebrate Christmas, others really celebrate Christmas, and then there’s Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Located in Bavaria, Germany, this small town oozes holiday spirit. Each holiday season, the well-preserved medieval town is packed full of cozy half-timbered homes, the bustling Rothenburg Christmas Market (one of the best Christmas markets in Germany), twinkly lights, and a splendid church dominating the skyline. In the snow, it becomes the perfect winter wonderland. Let’s explore all that Christmas in Rothenburg ob der Tauber has to offer.
The town square is where the real Christmas magic begins. The Reiterlesmarkt (rider’s market) has a tradition of at least 500 years. The Christmas spirit is almost tangible as you walk past glittering stalls selling Glüwein, bratwurst, christmasy knick knacks, and ornaments.
With lights dripping off every surface and cheery stall owners selling their wares, the Reiterlesmarkt is a far cry from the commercialized markets of big cities like nearby Nuremberg. And while the Rothenburg Christmas Market is crowded, there is still plenty of space to stop and sip your Glüwein while enjoying some quality people watching.
If you’re lucky enough to make it to opening day, you’ll witness why it’s called the rider’s market. Rothenburg ob der Tauber tradition includes a man in medieval traveling garb riding a horse into town. Why? No one really knows, but it’s been going on for 500 years so… why stop now?
Other regular events include personalized ornaments and chocolate figurine-making and plenty of musical concerts. A brass band takes the Rothenburg Christmas Market stage every day in the square and floods the area with sounds of the holidays.
If the atmosphere alone isn’t enough to get you into the Christmas mood, the Glüwein certainly will. A type of mulled wine, Glüwein is served in a souvenir cup that you can choose to keep or return for a deposit. One sip of the hot, spiced wine will warm you up instantly. If you’re feeling adventurous, try a mug of Feuerganzenbowle. This drink is Glüwein with rum poured over a cube of sugar. After two cups, you’ll feel warm for the entire night!
Germany doesn’t have open container laws, so you can carry your Glüwein or beer around the Rothenburg Christmas Market with ease— with the exception of some shops that might ask you to please not spill on their merchandise.
And of course, alcohol free Glüwein (Kinderpunsch) and hot cocoa are readily available if you don’t want alcohol— or if you’ve already had a bit too much.
The lighting of the advent calendar is especially important in Germany, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber certainly doesn’t disappoint. Each year, the Rothenburg town hall transforms its windows into the the town’s advent calendar. Every night of advent another window is lit up, displaying its unique decorations that are created by local school groups.
But just having a Christmas atmosphere is not good enough for Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Rothenburg also has the home base of Käthe Wohlfahrt: the premier seller of Christmas ornaments, decorations, and keepsakes. Käthe Wohlfahrt has not one, but two shops in the small town; walking into either store is an overwhelming sensory experience. Every inch of wall and table space is covered in some sort of shiny object for you to enjoy. The products here are mostly handmade right in Rothenburg and are very traditional. There are even huge displays of Erzgebirge pyramids, handmade wooden tiered fixtures that display Christmas stories.
Lucky for us, Käthe Wohlfahrt doesn’t stop there. It also houses the world’s only Christmas village museum. Come here to learn about the history of Christmas and how the Christmas tree came into popularity. They even have decorations that are around 100 years old. This cheerily lit sparkly museum will bring you a newfound appreciation for the holiday season and its history. If you can’t visit during the annual Rothenburg christmas market, this should be your first stop when in town.
Check out the Aktion Hexenhaus, a gingerbread house that’s about 15lg. It’s only on stage for a little while, though, before it’s distributed to waiting children, along with around 200 smaller gingerbread houses that the Rothenburg bakers have lovingly created throughout the season. If you’ve already eaten your fill of gingerbread, don’t lose hope. Rothenburg offers plenty of delicious holiday fare.
For another sweet treat, try the Schneeball: a Rothenburg ob der Tauber specialty. Translating directly to snowball, this pastry is traditionally fried and dusted with sugar, but other variations, including chocolate covered and marzipan filled, are available as well. You can find Schneeball
If you prefer something savory, traditional German sausages and bread are easy to find in the market. You can also tuck into comfort foods like pot roast, pork sirloin, and mashed potatoes or try the German specialties of roast pork shoulder, schnitzel, or spätzle.