Regensburg & the Danube
The sparsely populated eastern reaches of Bavaria may live in the shadow of Bavaria’s big-hitting attractions, but they hold many historical treasures to rival their neighbours. Top billing goes to Regensburg, a former capital, and one of Germany’s prettiest and liveliest cities. From here the Danube gently winds its way to the Italianate city of Passau.
Stretching west from Germany’s remote southeastern corner to the Allgäu region near Lake Constance, the Bavarian Alps (Bayerische Alpen) form a stunningly beautiful natural divide along the Austrian border. Ranges further south may be higher, but these mountains shoot up from the foothills so abruptly that the impact is all the more dramatic.
Nuremberg (Nürnberg), Bavaria’s second-largest city and the unofficial capital of Franconia, is an energetic place where the nightlife is intense and the beer is as dark as coffee. As one of Bavaria’s biggest draws it is alive with visitors year-round, but especially during the spectacular Christmas market.
A Roman settlement completed under Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Regensburg was the first capital of Bavaria, the residence of dukes, kings and bishops, and for 600 years a Free Imperial City. Two millennia of history bequeathed the city some of the region’s finest architectural heritage, a fact recognised by Unesco in 2006.
‘If I could choose my place of birth, I would consider Würzburg’, wrote author Hermann Hesse, and it’s not difficult to see why. This scenic town straddles the Main River and is renowned for its art, architecture and delicate wines. A large student population guarantees a lively scene, and plenty of hip nightlife pulsates through its cobbled streets.
The largest city on the Romantic Road (and Bavaria's third largest), Augsburg is also one of Germany’s oldest, founded by the stepchildren of Roman emperor Augustus over 2000 years ago. As an independent city state from the 13th century, it was also one of its wealthiest, free to raise its own taxes, with public coffers bulging on the proceeds of the textile trade.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
A medieval gem, Rothenburg ob der Tauber (meaning ‘above the Tauber River’) is top tourist stop along the Romantic Road. With its web of cobbled lanes, higgledy-piggledy houses and towered walls, the town is fairy-tale Germany the hordes of Japanese and Korean tourists came to see.
Even by Bavaria’s elevated standards, Danube-straddling Ingolstadt is astonishingly affluent. Auto manufacturer Audi has its headquarters here, flanked by a clutch of oil refineries on the outskirts, but industry has left few marks on the medieval centre, with its cobblestone streets and historic, if slightly over-renovated, buildings.
Nestled at the foot of the Alps, tourist-busy Füssen is the southern climax of the Romantic Road, with the nearby castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau the highlight of many a southern Germany trip. But having 'done' the country's most popular tourist route and seen Ludwig II's fantasy palaces, there are other reasons to linger longer in the area.