What may be the most romantic stop on southern Germany’s Romantic Road, Dinkelsbühl is a town of Renaissance patrician houses encircled by Medieval walls and sky-scraping gatehouses.
After 1274 Dinkelsbühl was a Free Imperial City, and so was subject only to the Holy Roman Emperor. This was an economic boost and the wealthy merchants and aristocratic families built themselves tall, gabled houses.
The city might have been wiped out during the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century when Dinkelsbühl came under siege from the Swedes. But according to legend the children of the town came to its rescue by softening the hearts of the would-be invaders. This moment is acted out every July in the Kinderzeche, one of Germany’s most colourful folk festivals.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Dinkelsbühl:
Dinkelsbühl is a city made for exploring, and even if you get lost in the old town the city walls and their giant gates are useful landmarks to get you back on track.
The bulk of the architecture is from the city’s economic heyday off the back of the woollen cloth trade in the 15th and 16th century, and this goes for the magnificent Hezelhof, a half-timbered 16th-century patrician house enclosing a courtyard.
Something unusual about the street plan is that it grew organically and was never planned.
So no space was ever set aside for a market, which is why the Marktplatz is so small and the adjoining Weinmarkt has a long, rectangular shape.
The city’s minster is a Gothic hall church completed in the middle of the 15th century and taking the place of a Romanesque church that came before.
There’s a reminder of this building on the main facade, where the porch tower dates from the 1220s.
For €1.50 you can go to the top to look over the city and the Middle Franconian countryside.
Below, you have to stand at the entrance and feast your eyes on double row of 11 pillars supporting the dainty net vaulting.
St.-Georgs-Kirche is bursting with art, and has no fewer than six altars.
Four of these are from the 15th and 16th centuries, while at the northern end of the choir is the exceptionally intricate tabernacle (1480), which has statues of Moses and three prophets, as well as angels holding chalices.
Possibly the grandest image in Dinkelsbühl is the row of gabled houses on the west side of this square.
These went up at the start of the 17th century, and most striking of all is the old Ratstrinkstube, which is a little older and indentified by its cupola and spire.
This former inn had the appropriate magnitude for guests of the standing of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1546 and King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden in 1632 during the Thirty Years’ War.
4. Deutsches Haus
Also on Weinmarkt is the romantic 15th-century ancestral home of the Counts of Drechsel-Deufstetten.
The Deutsches Haus is another photo opportunity for its highly ornamented timber framing.
And while the house is from the 1400s, the Renaissance facade is from 1593-94. Even considering Dinkelsbühl’s strong competition, this may be the most handsome house in the city.
Carved into the timbers are images of the planets as gods, as well as Mary with Child and the Roman wine god Bacchus (this is the Wine Market after all).
5. Haus der Geschichte
The old town hall, a complex of buildings from the 14th century to the 16th century is a fitting home for Dinkelsbühl’s history museum.
Here, in modern, engaging galleries, you can get in touch with more than 800 years of history in what was once an Free Imperial City.
You’ll ponder portraits, armour, antique weapons, tools from the woollen cloth trade, religious sculpture and other liturgical treasures.
There are also details about the witch trials that took place in this building in the 17th century.
If your children have a good grasp of German they can take a kid-friendly tour with a cartoon Landsknecht (Renaissance-era mercenary) named Mathis, who makes it all more digestible for young minds.
6. Nördlinger Tor und Stadtmühle
Protecting the eastern entrance to the city, the Nördlinger Tor was erected around 1400 and was furnished with a Renaissance gable during the 16th century.
Not long before, the Emperor Charles IV had granted Dinkelsbühl the right to build two city mills in 1378. The one under Nördlinger Tor was built into the city wall and has resembles a fortress more than a quaint water mill.
Today the child-friendly 3D Museum is inside, with stereograms, 3D photographs, anaglyphs and a spectrum of optical illusions for visitors young and not so young.
7. Rothenberger Tor
For more than 600 years, travellers approaching Dinkelsbühl from the north have been greeted by this dominant tower.
The Rothenberger Tor controlled what was a busy highway in Medieval times, and it’s high enough that you’ll have to take a few steps back on the bridge over the moat to fully appreciate the barbican on the lower levels and the coats of arms and gable above.
On the outer side this gable is triangular, while facing the city it has a more ornate stepped outline.
8. Segringer Tor
You can walk up the slope to the southwest where at the angle of the old walls you’ll find yourself beneath Segringer Tor.
This corner of the city is away from the tourist trail, but there are still pretty gabled houses on Segringer Straße.
The street is broad, and looking back towards the city centre you’ll have a satisfying perspective of the St.-Georgs-Kirche at this elevation.
With an onion dome and cupola, the gate looks nothing like the others in Dinkelsbühl as it collapsed in 1648 following the siege by Swedish forces and was reconstructed with a Baroque design.
Dinkelsbühl put on the Bavarian State Garden Show (Landesgartenschau) in 1988, and regenerated its city park for the occasion.
There’s nothing ordinary about these gardens, which create a band of greenery and water where the moat used to be.
If you like you could do an almost complete tour of Dinkelsbühl’s defences, having to leave a garden for more than a few minutes.
The wall adapts to the intact city wall, through grassy ditches, along princely promenades watched by rows of trees and flowerbeds and past ponds.
Every Sunday from the end of May there are concerts at the park’s music pavilion, by jazz bands, Bavarian “Jagdhorn” ensembles and the town’s Knabenkapelle youth orchestra.
With its quoins, pediment and pilasters, this Baroque palace is in stark contrast to Dinkelsbühl’s quaint gabled houses.
The Deutschordensschloss (Palace of the Teutonic Order) has been at this location since 1390 and in the early 1760s took on its present appearance.
Check out the exuberant cartouche with the order’s coat of arms in the pediment, and you should be able to go through the passageway to view the Rococo chapel, which abounds with ebullient stuccowork.
The city’s Medieval almshouse is today an exhibition and concert venue.
The complex dates from 1280 and was dedicated to Mary and the Holy Ghost, while its church was consecrated in 1380. This was expanded around the start of the 16th century and then 200 years later was revamped with the Baroque decor and fittings still in place today, save for the choir, which retains its Gothic frescoes.
On one corner of the almshouse you can decipher the coat of arms of the Imperial City, while in the beautiful inner courtyard there’s a wooden box mangle from the almshouse’s old laundry, which was powered by a water mill.
During the Thirty Years’ War from 1618 to 1648 big swathes of Germany were levelled during a chaotic and bloody conflict.
But Dinkelsbühl came through without significant damage.
And for that you can thank the watchman’s daughter, who according to tradition led the children out of the gates to plead with the besieging Gustav II Adolf to spare the town in 1632. Almost 400 years later the children of Dinkelsbühl are rewarded with 10 days of celebrations beginning in mid-July.
There’s a re-enactment of the event, and a parade during which children dressed up in 17th-century outfits are given candy in colourful bags.
If you have the pleasure of seeing the Kindezeche in person, you’re sure to be impressed by the production values: The costumes, shoes and weapons look like the real thing, and these are stored at a small museum that you visit on Sundays.
The Zeughaus also goes into more detail about the legend of the Kinderzeche, and how this tale that had been passed down the generations was adapted for a folk festival in 1897. The celebration has a big cast of characters, from the Swedes to the city’s administrators and artisans; each level of society has the appropriate clothing and props, which are almost antiques in their own right.
Turn the corner from the Weinmarkt and you’ll be on the town’s cosy market square, delineated by the cathedral and dignified patrician houses.
There’s a memorial here to the 19th-century children’s author Christoph von Schmid, whose works are still widely read in German.
On Wednesday and Saturday mornings the square has even more charm, when it is taken over by stalls selling flowers, fruit and vegetables, cheese, pastries and cured meats.
15. Romantic Road
On the Romantic Road you’re only ever a short trip from the next spellbinding town or castle.
An interesting piece of trivia about this tourist trail is that it tallies with a Medieval trade route that once linked the south of Germany with territories to the north.
The neighbouring towns on the Romantic Road are Feuchtwangen to the north Wallerstein to the south.
The former has another lovable old centre with a gorgeous marketplace, and a former Benedictine monastery that has a preserved Romanesque cloister.
Wallerstein, at 20 minutes, is a little smaller, but is known for having one of only three Marian and Holy Trinity columns in Germany, raised in the 17th century following plague outbreak.