The Scenic South in 1 Week
This itinerary highlights a clutch of towns and cities along and just off the Romantic Road, a scenic route the rambles through much of rural Bavaria, past meadows and forests to medieval towns and cities before ascending into the Alps. Give yourself an unhurried day and night in each place. You can easily do this trip by train in a week.
Day 1: Würzburg
For many Germans, the south begins in this small, lively city stretching along the River Main. University students add life to the narrow lanes and bright squares and lend a German version of joie de vivre. Würzburg’s appreciation of the good life become clear as soon as you notice the town is swathed in vineyards that climb the surrounding hillsides above its gabled rooftops and produce a dry, fruity white wine. On an easy walk through the Altstadt you’ll come upon the Residenz, one of the largest and most impressive Baroque palaces in Germany; the 10th-century Dom St. Kilian and the Rathaus (Town Hall), a 13th-century building with a 16th-century painted facade. The nearly 500-year-old Alte Mainbrücke (Old Main Bridge) crosses the Main River to a path that climbs the vineyard-covered slopes to Festung Marienberg (Marienberg Fortress), the hilltop stronghold where the prince-bishops lived and now home to the Mainfränkisches Museum (Franconian Museum of the Main), worth visiting primarily to see the collection of remarkably expressive wood sculptures by Tilman Riemenschneider, a 16th-century master woodcarver.
Day 2: Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber
For sheer historical panache, no other city in Germany can match Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, a little over an hour from Würzburg by train. For an introduction to this walled medieval city located on a high promontory above the Tauber River, take a walk on a portion of the town ramparts from the massive 16th-century Spitalbastei (a medieval tower-gate) to the Klingenbastei (another tower-gate). Down at street level, there are plenty of picturesque nooks and crannies to explore, as well as the Gothic St.-Jakobskirche (Church of St. James), with a masterful altarpiece created by the Würzburg sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider. As you’re walking, look for a Rothenburg specialty called Schneeballen (snowballs), crisp, round pastries covered with powdered sugar. You can buy them in bakeries all across town.
Day 3: Nürnberg (Nuremberg)
This fascinating city of half a million residents is about 70 minutes by train from Rothenburg. It’s large enough to offer several worthwhile attractions, small enough so that you can see everything in a day, and has a nice urban buzz. As you wander through the streets of this ancient capital of the Holy Roman Empire, you’ll find reminders of Nuremberg’s brightest period—the Renaissance, when it bloomed as an artistic powerhouse—and its darkest, when it was the site of massive Nazi rallies.
Looming over the city is the Kaiserburg (Imperial Castle), the official residence of German kings and emperors from 1050 to 1571. The city’s one must-see museum is the Germanisches Nationalmuseum (Germanic National Museum), with collections that include works by Renaissance greats Veit Stoss and Albrecht Dürer, who lived in Nürnberg from 1509 to 1528. The colorful, cobblestoned Hauptmarkt (Market Square) is filled with stalls selling fruit, flowers, vegetables, and Lebkuchen, the delicious honey-and-spice cakes first created in Nuremberg over 500 years ago. On the square’s eastern side is the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), whose 16th-century mechanical clock chimes the noontime hours as figures appear and pay homage to Emperor Karl IV. Just off the Hauptmarkt is the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall), and nearby are the twin-towered St. Lorenz-Kirche (Church of St. Lawrence), the largest and most beautiful Gothic church in Nuremberg, and the 13th-century St. Sebaldus Kirche (St. Sebald Church), dedicated to Nuremberg’s patron saint. Nuremberg’s wartime history comes chillingly alive in the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände (Nazi Rally Grounds Documentation Center), housed in the former Nazi Congress Hall and providing a chronological overview of the rise of Nazism.
Day 4: Regensburg
With some 1,400 medieval buildings, Regensburg (about an hour by train from Nurnberg with good connections) is the largest medieval city in Germany and the only one to survive World War II completely intact. Situated at the northernmost point of the Danube River, it’s a lovely little city slightly removed from the restless hustle of modern life. Your explorations inevitably lead to the 12th-century Steinerne Brücke (Stone Bridge), spanning the Danube and providing panoramic views of the Altstadt (Old Town).
Day 5: Augsburg
A stroll through Augsburg, 2 1/2 hours by train from Regensburg, reveals an attractive urban landscape loaded with historic buildings, charming corners, and the lively ambience of a university town. Rathausplatz, the city’s main square, is dominated by the 17th-century Rathaus (Town Hall) and adjacent Perlachturm (Perlach Tower), capped by a distinctive dome called an “Augsburg onion.” The Fuggerei, the world’s first almshouse-complex, was built in 1523 and still in use today. Dom St. Maria, Augsburg’s cathedral, displays paintings by Hans Holbein the Elder and contains some of the oldest stained glass in Germany.
Day 6: Füssen
By train, you can get from Augsburg to Füssen in about 2 hours. The town has lovely squares and narrow cobblestone streets, and is a place to headquarter while exploring the nearby fairy-tale castle of Neuschwanstein, built by King Ludwig II. You can easily make the 6.5km (4-mile) trip from Füssen to the castle by bus. Tours of Germany’s most popular attraction take about 1 hour. If you’re still in a “royal” mood, visit adjacent Hohenschwangau Castle, Ludwig’s childhood home.
Day 7: Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Your final stop are the two side-by-side villages of Garmisch-Partenkirchen that make up Germany’s top Alpine resort to ski, to hike, to climb, or simply to gaze at some spectacular mountain scenery. Unless you plan on strapping on a pair of skis to test your mettle on a high-altitude run, the biggest thrill you’re likely to have is ascending the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain, via cog railway and cable car.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.