Nuremberg had been on my short list for a long time already. We’ve first wanted to visit it about two years ago in summer, but the plans changed back then. Everything was for the better and in the end we got to see it in December, full of decorations and merry Christmassy mood. Nuremberg raised some mixed feelings in me. While I did want to see it for a long time, I realized that this was for the wrong reasons. I thought it was close to Neuschwanstein castle, which it is not, and I thought that it was an untouched medieval city, which is not even remotely close to the truth. However, Nuremberg did not disappoint me, I just got to like it for other reasons than I had imagined. What you will find in Nuremberg is a lot of history and a city that succeeded to recover after a dark episode in its past. As everywhere in Bavaria, food is great and beer is awesome.
Nuremberg was in medieval times an imperial city and the “unofficial capital” of the Holy Roman Empire between 1050 and 1571. After coronation by the pope, the emperors did not have a permanent residence and traveled from one castle to another. This way, in the castle of Nuremberg, lived for a shorter or longer period of time most of the emperors. It was also used for celebrations and had great commercial importance due to its strategic position.
Nuremberg was the favorite city of Hitler who considered it “the most German of the German cities” and chose it to host the congresses of the Nazi party and his speeches. For all this love, the city and its inhabitants paid a terrible price as the city was massively bombed during the second world war and more than 6000 lives were lost, as well as the majority of the gingerbread medieval buildings. Nuremberg was the place where the laws denying German citizenship for Jewish people were passed and where the Nazi trials took place at the end of the war. After everything was over, some of the buildings were reconstructed. However, I could not feel its medieval atmosphere, even if I had read that some people were charmed by it. What I did see was a city deeply hurt by this gloomy history episode, that managed to get up and move forward in an honest way, without hiding its history.
Today Nuremberg is the second Bavarian city in size, after München, and the unofficial capital of Franconia.
Top things to do and see in Nuremberg
- Nuremberg had a strong line of walls and watching towers and some of them can still be seen at the castle and across the train station.
- Enter the old city center through Königstor, next to which you will see the Frauentorturm. Stroll along Königstrasse and you will get to see an open-air market, St. Lawrence, one of the 3 most important churches in Nuremberg, and the Heilig-Geist-Spital, one of the largest middle age hospitals. At the end of it, you will get into the main square.
- The main square is the heart of the city. There you will find The Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche), a pretty gothic church since 1352. On its facade, you will be able to see the Männleinlaufen, a beautiful old clock with mechanical figures that starts playing every day at noon. In another corner of the square stand the Beautiful Fountains, a 19 meters long gothic steeple, that I could hardly identify with a fountain, but its indeed beautiful. On its fence, try to find a golden circle. If you turn it left three times, it is said that any wish will come true. Unlucky me, as I visited during the Christmas market I could not get close to any side of it, nonetheless the circle.
- Wander around the city center. Part of it has been rebuilt after the war. If you are into half-timbered houses, make sure to look for Weissgerbergasse. In my opinion, Nuremberg has unfortunately lost most of its medieval charm, but this street is as good as it can get if you are still looking for it.
- St. Sebaldus is the saint patron of Nuremberg. His medieval church was heavily damaged during the war, but now it has been renovated and you can admire this huge building in gothic and romanesque styles. There is also an 1.5 hours tour of the church that you can take on Wednesday and Saturday at 5 pm. It will introduce you into the history of the town and you will get a nice view of the city from the tower.
- Go on a tour of the house of Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)’s, a painter that lived in the city famous for being one of the first artists to do a self-portrait. The tour is conducted by his wife, Agnes, an actress, of course. His house survived the war and you will not only get an insight into the life of the person that practically invented the selfie but also into the architecture of the time.
- An underground tour of the rock-cut beer cellars is a highlight of any trip to Nuremberg. The four levels of sandstone caves extend almost as much as the city and have been used for the ripening and storage of beer in medieval times. In fact, each brewery, in order to function, had to have a deposit underground. Pickels were also stored there. Later, the cellars were used for keeping people and art safe during WWII. Today, there is only one brewery left that stores its beer here, the one where the tour starts, Altstadthof brewery. You will not only learn something about the city’s history on this tour, but also about beer and whisky. At the end you can have a red beer, specific to Nuremberg, under a nice floral arrangement of hops.
- As any medieval city that respects itself, Nuremberg has its own 1000 years old castle. Climb the stairs to get there and admire a panoramic view of the city. Afterwards, take a tour and notice the Sinwell tower and the Deel Well, the only source of water of the castle in medieval times.
- Nuremberg Documentation Center and the Nazi Party Rally grounds will give you an insight into the darkest side of the city, as this is the place were Hitler’s speeches were held. The history lesson can be completed with a visit of the Palace of Justice and room 600 where 21 nazis were tried and convicted. Combined with the Christmassy mood, it just did not feel right to visit any of them. We saved this for our next visit.
- Walk The Way of Human Rights, a huge outdoor sculpture with thirty 8 meters high pillars. On each of them, one article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is engraved.
- The German National Museum where the oldest surviving globe of the world is kept. What would the world look like without America? Who was thought to own the biggest ruby? What people wandered around naked? These are only some of the questions that this globe will answer.
- If you still have time, a visit to The Toy Museum or The Transport Museum could be a good way to spend it.
- In Nuremberg, you will also find one of the oldest and largest Zoos in Europe, with over 300 species. A pleasant visit for children and adults alike.
- There are many statues in Nuremberg, but if there is one that you should not miss, that would be the Ehekarussell. This is a merry-go-round with scenes from one’s married life, starting with the engagement and ending with death. For some a parody, for others maybe reality, but still impressive.
Tips & tricks for your trip to Nuremberg
- Try local Bavarian and Franconian specialties: the small Nuremberg sausage (not thicker than your index finger, as it had to fit a keyhole in medieval times), the franconian Schäuferle (pork shoulder), lebkuchen (a kind of gingerbread), brezels and red beer, specific to Nuremberg.
- You can find the Nuremberg sausage everywhere as street food, three in a bun. If you aim for the best one in town, try Bratwursthäusle. It is also well-priced.
- For red beer go to Altstadthof, where the underground tour starts. They also serve food, in case you are hungry.
- Parking in Nuremberg is expensive, around 2-2.5 euro/hour. We parked at the theatre for 1.5 euro/hour. Opposite the theatre there is a bridge under which you can park for free, but only if you find a free spot :).
- Free walking tours start on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 11:30 am from the Beautiful Fountains and last 2.5 hours.
- The city is compact and easily walkable. If you are only staying for a day, you should not need public transport. If you are staying longer and want to visit museums or go to Fürth, your best bet is the Nuremberg card that includes entrance to all the museums mentioned above, including the zoo and public transport in Nuremberg and Fürth for 48 hours. Its price is 28 euro.
- To get to the city from the airport, you can use U2 train that will get you to the main train station in 12 minutes. It runs from 4 am to past midnight up to 6 times an hour. You will need a Zone A ticket. This currently costs 3 euro.
- We’ve stayed at Five Reasons Hostel & Hotel. The private rooms are clean and big. The bathroom is shared, but fine. If you need a cheap accommodation in the city center, you can go for it, just don’t count on parking place. We were told it was not available two days in a row and in fact we could not even see it.
- The tour of the underground cellars starts at the Altstadthof brewery. It is free with the Nuremberg card, or 8 euro without it. The ticket also includes an 1 euro voucher that you can use for tasting at the and of the tour or in the bar, as a discount. We attended a German guided tour with English audio guide, but there are also English tours on Saturdays and Sundays at 11.15 a.m. Check all the tours and their schedule here.
Nuremberg in December
We were lucky to visit Nuremberg in December and check the Christmas markets for which it is famous worldwide. If you get the chance, don’t miss the opportunity to visit them and see the city covered in lights and Christmas decorations. The holiday season is opened by a young girl during a decades old ceremony with a prologue on the last Friday before the Advent. The tradition appeals to the fact that in Germany Christkind, not Santa Claus, brings presents to the children. Thousand of people gather to see and listen to the “angel” and wander the stalls of the three markets.
Christkindlemarkt is the largest Christmas market in and around Nuremberg. It spreads in front of the Frauenkirche and around the Schöner Brunnen (Beautiful Fountains). This only adds to its charm and brings more color. You can also see the market from the tower of the church for 3.5 euro between 17:00 and 21:00. The locals take this market very seriously. You can even find a map of the wooden stalls here. You can find traditional products like the Nuremberg bratwurst, gingerbread and Feuerzangenbowle, which is mulled wine with caramelized rum. The most typical souvenir is a Zwetschgenmaennla, a handmade little man from dried plums and nuts.
Kinderweihnacht is a smaller Christmas market, linked to the main one, specially designed for children. There you will find carousels and a train to entertain the small children while the parents can take a break and sip some mulled wine. Every stall in this small market has on its top a scene from a story loved by children: Hansel and Gretel, Snow white and the 7 dwarfs etc.
The market of the sister cities is the one that is supposed to add an international flair. Every sister city of Nuremberg has a stall Antalya (Turkey), Kharkiv (Ukraine), Glasgow (Scotland), Gera (Thuringia), Krakow (Poland), Nice (France), Prague (Czech Republic), San Carlos (Nicaragua), Shenzhen (China), Kavala (Greece), Skopje (Macedonia), Atlanta (USA), as well as some partner communities – Bar (Montenegro), Brasov (Romania), Santiago de Cuba (Cuba), Kalkudah (Sri Lanka) and Verona (Italy). I had great expectations from this market and thought of it as the main attraction. I was a little disappointed in it, but you should still check it and make an opinion for yourself.
Martin Luther once said that “Nuremberg shines throughout Germany like a sun among the moon and stars”. Although this might not be exactly correct, I think the city has done a good job confronting the past and learning from the mistakes made. Do your best to visit Nuremberg, but go with an open mind and be aware of its great historical importance, both good and bad.