ROTHENBURG ob der TAUBER, Germany — Sing with me:
O little town of Rothenburg, how much we like Glühwein ...
Christmas markets are in full swing in Germany, and if you want to combine your last-minute shopping with a picturesque amble through one of Germany’s most beautiful places, this is the place. And this is the time: The Reiterlesmarkt at Rothenburg ob der Tauber will be open through Dec. 23.
Step back in time to the Middle Ages, where, nearly a millennium ago, settlers built the first castle overlooking the Tauber River. The name translates as “red fortress above the Tauber,” and visitors can still view the river far below from atop the town’s old walls.
It’s odd to walk the Schmiedgasse, or Smithy Lane, and see daylight, rather than cityscape, down the alleys that shoot off from it; a mere 100 yards down these little pathways one reaches the town walls.
Rothenburg is one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval cities; visitors will love the half-timbered houses, the old towers and the castle walls that are free to wander, if you’re willing to endure a lot of up-and-down. This is not recommended if you’re carrying a 1-year-old, as we discovered.
But the main attraction this time of year is, of course, the market. Sprawling through most of the old town, it offers stalls filled with Christmas ornaments, local crafts, sweets, and, of course, refreshments to keep you going and to keep you warm.
Many will recognize the Schneeball or snowball, made from strips of fried sweet dough covered with powdered sugar, nuts, marzipan or chocolate. They appear throughout Germany, but Rothenburg claims them as its own; the region’s bakers have been making them for 300 years.
There are rides and other activities for children. When we visited, Saint Nick himself was handing out candies and posing for quick photos suitable for your Facebook page.
The market runs through Dec. 23, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Know & Go
Directions: Rothenburg is easy to get to. Most people will be coming off autobahn A6; look for signs saying A7 to Würzburg/Rothenburg o.d.T. Take exit 108-Rothenburg o.d.T. toward Colmberg/Schrozberg/Neusitz and follow the ample signs.
Street parking is limited, but visitors will find signs directing them to the public parking lots as they enter Rothenburg:
• P1 - Am Friedrich-Hörner-Weg (buses and cars)
• P2 - Nördlinger Strasse (buses and cars)
• P3 - Schweinsdorfer Strasse (buses and cars)
• P4 - Am Hornburgweg (cars only)
• P5 - Bezoldweg (cars only)
Food: Eat at the market. There are numerous booths selling food and drinks.
Costs: There is a fee on all parking lots (except P5 and the southern part of P4). Cars: 1 euro per hour, or day pass 5 euros. The market is free.