Wedged between the Pegnitz and Rednitz rivers, the city of Fürth is just a few kilometres away from Nuremberg in Middle Franconia. And while Fürth’s bigger neighbour may get all the headlines there’s a lot to love about this historic city.
For one thing, Fürth was only partly damaged in the Second World War, leaving whole streets like the charming Gustavstraße and the cultivated Hornschuchpromenade with rows of listed sandstone properties.
As it happens, the city has more than 1,100 listed historical monuments, one of which is the town hall, which looks an awful lot like the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Here and there in Fürth you may catch sight of a trefoil cloverleaf. This is the symbol for three powers that jointly governed the city in the Middle Ages: The Bishop of Bamberg, the city of Nuremberg and the Count of Ansbach.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Fürth:
1. Judisches Museum Franken
For hundreds of years Fürth was a spiritual centre for Franconia’s Jewish community and once had synagogues, Talmud schools and Hebrew printing houses.
The main location for the Jewish Museum is an imposing 17th-century house joined to a modern annexe.
The house was owned by Jewish families continuously from the 1600s to the 1900s.
The museum uncovers the vibrant Jewish heritage of a region that at one time was home to 400 individual Jewish communities.
Franconia’s Jewish’s population had its own everyday customs, religious rituals and noted scholars.
The Jewish ceremonial art and everyday objects in the galleries date from the Middle Ages to today.
You’ll find a historic sukkah booth for the Sukkot holiday, and in the basement excavations have revealed a 17th-century Mikveh bath.
2. Playmobil FunPark
Established in 1974, Playmobil is headquartered in Zirndorf, which is in the Fürth district.
Zirndorf has a theme park all about this much-loved line of toys.
The park differs from many toy-themed attractions because instead of rides that children would sit on passively there are active game stations that require exercise and interaction.
These are in a series of “game worlds” (Spielwelten) where kids can run wild in a police station, western town, farm pirate world, quarry, Medieval-style castle and dinosaur park.
Beyond those are adventure playgrounds that all encourage little ones to be active, climbing on rope courses and developing their sense of balance on a safe balancing course.
For centuries this picturesque street in the Altstadt has been Fürth’s go-to dining district and is full of taverns and restaurants serving typical Franconian cuisine.
When the sun’s out there’s a continuous strip of terraces, almost transforming the street into a single beer garden.
The sandstone houses lining Gustavstraße are from the 1700s and 1800s and received only superficial damage during the war.
The name of the street comes from the Swedish King Gustav II Adolf, who is said to have dined at the Grüner Baum (Green Tree) inn during the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century.
Some of the houses, like the sweet Altes Rentamt tavern at no. 61 have half-timbered upper floors.
Where the houses on Gustavstraße are homey and traditional, Hornschuchpromenade’s Neoclassical mansions make a grander impression.
Just along from the Fürther Freiheit square, the Hornschuchpromenade and its parallel opposing street, Königswarterstraße, were built either side of Germany’s first railway, the Ludwigeisenbahn.
Where the tracks used to be there’s now a refined garden, with symmetrical lawns, hedges and trees.
From here you can feast your eyes on a long twin row of Historicist and Art Nouveau mansion blocks erected from 1886 to 1911 for Fürth’s rich industrialists and merchants.
5. Fürth Stadtpark
If you need a moment to catch your breath the city’s park is a gentle green haven next to the Pegnitz River.
For more than a century this was partly the site of Fürth’s main cemetery, which was eventually cleared at the start of the 20th century.
You’ll know that you’re in historic parkland from the size of some of the trees, which are massive and go back at least 100 years.
When summer comes the park bustles with activity and is packed with minor joys like a mini-golf course, cafe, rose garden, orchard and botanical nursery.
You can follow the river down to its flooded water meadows, and if you can’t start the day without a morning job there are kilometres of trails to follow.
6. Fürther Freiheit
When Germany’s first railway, the Adler, arrived in Fürth in 1835 this spot became the new centre of the city.
The main station, the Ludwigsbahnhof shut down in 1922 and was then demolished under the Nazi regime in 1938 to make way for a big new parade ground.
Now the Fürther Freiheit is a long square that is the go-to site for the city’s top public events.
One of these is the Michaeliskirchweih, a 12-day festival, normally around the start of October, with live music, fairground rides and a thanksgiving procession that attracts more than 100,000 spectators.
In the advent season you can catch the Christmas market, while May is time for the Jazz-themed New Orleans Festival.
7. St. Michael
One of Fürth’s big landmarks and the ecclesiastical centre of life in the city for hundreds of years, St. Michael s a church dating back to the 1000s.
It is the oldest standing church in the city, and over the last millennium has been reworked and renovated a few times.
A major renewal in the 19th century gave the church its Neo-Gothic altarpiece and the sculptures in the galleries.
The table that the altar sits on was carved in 1497 and the star vault in the chancel ceiling above dates from 1480. The tabernacle meanwhile is 6.8 metres high, is fashioned from sandstone from Fürth’s Vach district and dates to around the middle of the 16th century.
Fürth’s town hall went up from 1840 to 1844 and was designed by Georg Friedrich Christian Bürklein.
If you’ve been to Florence you may need a double take, as the Rathaus clearly took inspiration from Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio from 1314. The resemblance is clearest in the tower, which has the same square shape and machicolations beneath the uppermost floors.
Every day at 12:04 if you’re in the city centre you may hear a familiar tune, as the glockenspiel in the town hall’s tower plays a few bars from Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven.
These bells were cast in 2007, replacing the carillon from 1849, which was melted down during the war.
Inaugurated in 1993, the broadcasting museum has had an apt location since 2001 in the former headquarters of the German electronics brand Grundig.
The museum’s collection is arranged chronologically over several floors, and handles the evolution of broadcasting, from the earliest years of telegraphs to state-of-the-art technology.
There are scores of vintage radios, together with tape recorders and televisions from different periods.
The museum also has measuring instruments like oscilloscopes, audio engineering technology and even a 100kw medium-wave transmitter.
The second floor has a cafe, while the fourth floor was taken up by the amateur radio station DL0RFM until 2014.
10. Stadtmuseum Fürth
The municipal museum has a collection first assembled in the 19th century by the local merchant and politician Conrad Gebhardt.
The museum itself was set up in 1937 and since 2007 has had a new home in a former school building at Ottostraße 2. Accompanied by interactive displays and multimedia the galleries cover around 5,000 years of Fürth’s past from the Bronze Age to the 21st century.
As well as perusing Bronze Age ceramics and medieval tools, you can also find out about Fürth’s traditional trade and some of the city’s famous figures.
The local brewing and toy-making industries are well-represented, and there’s an exhibition about Ludwig Erhard, the Fürth native who served as German chancellor from 1963-1966.
11. Comödie Fürth
On Comödien-Platz 1, a stone’s throw from the central train station (Hauptbahnhof) is a folk theatre in a listed building from 1906. The Comödie Fürth has a fabulous Art Nouveau design, with curved gables at each end.
If you have a good handle on German and especially Bavarian colloquialisms you could get a seat for one of the theatre’s 300 annual performances.
The shows are mostly comedy, cabaret and boulevard theatre, but the theatre also hosts some of the city’s other top events.
In 2012 for instance the Comödie Fürth was at the centre of the celebrations when the local team Greuther Fürth won promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time.
But even if you’re not up for a show, the theatre’s wood-panelled restaurant is a good shout, pouring beer from the local Tucher Bräu brewery founded in 1672.
12. Alte Veste
On the eastern cusp of the Fürther Stadtwald (City Forest) is a lookout tower at the summit of the Rosenberg hill.
The current square tower dates to 1832, and was raised to commemorate the 200th anniversary of a battle during the Thirty Years’ War between Sweden and the Holy Roman Empire, ending with an Imperial victory at a cost of 2,400 men on both sides.
There has been a lookout here since the 1200s, and the old Medieval ruins were used by the Swedes in the battle to defend their position.
The 19th-century tower now functions as a relay station for the fire department and has a restaurant and terrace at its base, in the verdant folds of the Stadtwald.
Also hiding in the Stadtwald is a small animal park dedicated completely to wild boars.
You can view the boars in a generous wooden enclosure, and if you bring some dried spaghetti or bread, you’ll be able to feed them through the fence.
In autumn the boars also eat acorns from the forest’s oak trees.
The best season to be here is in spring when there’s a new litter of piglets.
14. Tennenloher Forst
East of Fürth is a 934-hectare nature reserve where families come for walks on the weekends.
The Tennenloher Forst is one of the largest sand ecosystems in southern Germany.
For thousands of years this was mostly uncultivated land, but in 1935 almost 200 hectares were cleared by the army for shooting ranges, and used after the war by the Americans up to 1993. Since then nature has been allowed to take over once more.
Herds of wild Przewalski’s horses have been introduced.
This species is native to the Mongolian steppe and grazes in the open sandy spaces to help keep invasive tree species at bay.
There are information boards along the trails informing you about this ecosystem and you’re also warned not to stray from the trails because of unexploded ordnance.
There’s a lot to keep you occupied in and around Fürth so it can be easy to forget that Nuremberg is little more than five minutes away by train.
You’ll have another old town to discover, one that the Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer lived and worked in.
You can even step inside the artist’s restored half-timbered house.
Not to forget Nuremberg Castle, which has vast historical importance as the scene of the Holy Roman Empire’s Imperial Diets (assemblies) and courts.
That significance wasn’t lost on the Nazis, who had their rallies in the city and whose decision-makers were put on trial at Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice after the war.
On the rallying grounds there’s a world-class museum about National Socialism, while courtroom 600 where the likes of Hermann Göring were tried is still open on weekends.