Resting in the north-western foothills of the Swabian Jura, Reutlingen is a likeable historic city and a jumping off point for people exploring the mountains. The main sights are in the compact pedestrian zone, where you’ll pass old gate towers, a half-timbered Medieval hospital from the 1300s and the Gothic Marienkirche, which is capped with a golden angel.
Much of the Medieval city was razed by a fire in 1726, but the rebuild earned Reutlingen its place in the record books as it gave us Spreuerhofstraße. This is the narrowest street in the world, at just 31 centimetres at its tightest point.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Reutlingen:
The Marienkirche was constructed from 1247 to 1343 and is one of Württemberg’s most beautiful Gothic churches.
Standing by the western portal, you’ll have to tilt your head back to spot the golden statue of an angel at the top of the 71-metre tower.
This 140cm sculpture has been in place since the church was completed in 1343, with only minor interruptions in all that time.
Also come around to the east side on Weibermarkt to check out the workmanship of the tracery on the facade of the choir, dating to the second half of the 13th century.
Go in for the decorative baptismal font, sculpted from sandstone in 1499 and with reliefs in its niches showing the baptism of Christ and the seven sacraments of the Catholic church.
2. Tübinger Tor
One of only two of Reutlingen’s seven city gates to survive to the 21st century, the Tübinger Tor is from 1235 and got its current design as early as 1330 when it was reinforced with a timber roof.
This tower was where one of Reutlingen’s four Türmer (night watchmen), would survey the city.
Their job was less about identifying enemies approaching the city than spotting fire as the city fell victim to a series of blazes, including that devastating fire in 1726. The name of course comes from the town of Tübingen, around 15 kilometres west of Reutlingen.
In the timber-framed upper floor of the tower is a meeting hall for special occasions.
As much a part of Reutlingen as the Marienkirche or Tübinger Tor, Achalm is a 707-metre mountain in the foothills of the Swabian Jura.
The rounded peak, shrouded by forest, is a fixture on the city’s eastern horizon, and at its crest are the faint traces of a Medieval castle from the 1000s.
The calf-shredding hike to the top isn’t an easy one, but after conquering Achalm you’ll be met by a sweeping view of Reutlingen and the Swabian Jura.
That stronghold at the top was abandoned as early as the 1400s, and its walls were demolished after the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century and used as building material in the city.
In 1838 the remaining material was used to build an 18-metre observation tower, which you can still climb today.
The name of this park is a reminder of its original purpose: The Pomologie was laid out in 1860 for a research institute on the subject of pomology (the study of fruits). The garden was a practical training ground for the institute’s students, and even though the institute is long gone, Pomologie is still laden with more than 65 types of fruit tree.
These were restructured in 2014 and count 52 types of apple tree, six pear varieties, three types of plum, three types of cherry and two different walnut trees.
Away from the orchards, the park was redesigned in 1984 for Reutlingen’s State Garden Show and has a rose garden, water features and lawns woven with walking paths.
Reutlingen has the narrowest street in the world.
Turning off the main road Metzgerstraße, Spreuerhofstraße is roughly 50 metres and has a fork halfway along with two parallel branches.
The average width is just 40 centimetres, and the narrowest point is at house number 9, when for 3.9 metres the gap tapers to just 31 centimetres across, little more than the height of a sheet of A4. The street came about following that fire in 1726, which claimed 80% of the buildings in Reutlingen, and among the famous figures to shimmy their way through the gap is former Chinese president Hu Jintao.
6. Echaz ufer pfad
It’s possible to leave the city streets behind for a few minutes and follow the idyllic course of the Echaz River, a small tributary of the Neckar flowing south of the centre of Reutlingen.
The trail starts just opposite the Rathaus and then guided you for roughly one kilometre to the corner of Lindachstraße and Lederstraße.
In Medieval times many of the properties by the water belonged to trades like tanning, as the name Lederstraße (Leather Street) hints.
On the path there are nine information boards, pointing out the river’s fish, plants, geology, waterfowl and historic waterside industry.
7. Reutlinger Heimatmuseum
The city’s local history museum is in the Königsbronner Klosterhof, one of the oldest secular buildings in Reutlingen.
The stone lower floor dates to 1278, while the timber framing on the floors above is from 1537. The museum’s artefacts were first assembled in the 1880s, and the exhibition tells you everything you need to know about Reutlingen down the centuries.
The 1500s were particularly interesting, and there’s a information about the prominent reformer Matthäus Alber’s time at the Marienkirche.
Between the 1500s and 1700s Reutlingen’s 12 craft guilds held sway in the city, and there’s an exhibit about their activities on the first floor.
The basement meanwhile holds a Second World War air raid shelter, and recounts life in Reutlingen under the Nazis, while outside is a walled garden with a lapdiarium that includes fragments from the city’s old walls.
While exploring Reutlingen you’re sure to come across the market square, central to daily life since 1180 when the city gained market privileges.
The square today is traced by cafes, a bakery, an ice cream parlour and has a few monuments to look out for.
On the upper corner is the Spitalhof, a former hospital going back to the 1300s.
On summer nights, the Spitalhof’s courtyard becomes an open-air cinema.
In front meanwhile is the Maximilianbrunnen, with a statue from 1570 honouring Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II. Something else to keep in mind is the cobblestone outline of the old town hall, remembering the building that was lost in the fire in 1726. And finally, there’s no better time to be on Martplatz than on Tuesday, Thursday (only in summer) or Saturday mornings when the market’s 80 stalls sell their wares.
9. Städtisches Kunstmuseum
One building that came through the fire of 1726 completely undamaged is the delightful Spendhaus from 1518. Up to the 1800s, this tall half-timbered building was a warehouse for donated agricultural goods, and since 1989 has housed Reutlingen’s municipal art museum.
The exhibition is mainly for local art from the 1900s and 2000s.
Two of the foremost Reutlingen artists from that period are Wilhelm Laage (1868-1930) and HAP Grieshaber (1909-1981), both of whom with woodcuts, bringing modern sensibilities to a traditional technique.
Grieshaber’s printing press can be found in the building’s vaulted cellar, and there are temporary shows in the galleries on the lower floor.
On the northern side of the Altstadt is another of the city’s old towers, stone-built and with a half-timbered top floor.
What’s interesting about Gartentor is that despite the name it wasn’t actually a gate until 1700 when a portal was opened underneath.
Before then the tower had been closed to traffic, and there was no way to even cross the ditch that used to encircle the old town.
Its main job was as another lookout spot for Reutlingen’s Türmer.
The tower also served as a prison throughout Reutlingen’s days as an Imperial City, up to the foundation of the Kingdom of Württemberg in the early 19th century.
11. Uracher Wasserfall
The first of a couple of worthwhile places inside a brief drive of Reutlingen is a magical waterfall outside Bad Urach.
You could start by following the course of Brühlbach spring, which surfaces from a depth of 37 metres and flows for a short way to the top of the waterfall.
Here it cascades down a mossy tufa cliff 50 metres in height, either in one column or several channels, depending on the volume of water.
When the snows melt on the Swabian Jura the volume can be as high as 420 litres a second, and less than 70 in the middle of summer.
12. Schloss Lichtenstein
On a craggy escarpment on the north-western edge of the Swabian Jura sits a fairytale Revival castle built for Wilhelm, Duke of Urach.
Schloss Lichtenstein may look like it’s from the Middle Ages, but was designed in the fashionable Gothic Revival style for in the early 1840s.
Its owner, Wilhelm was the son of the Duke of Württemberg, and as a Romantic and a historian, decided he wanted to live in a Medieval castle like the one in his favourite novel, Lichtenstein by Wilhelm Hauff . The castle was built and decorated in just two years and can only be accessed on its perch via a wooden footbridge.
The interior walls are embellished with frescoes, and you can also peruse the count’s collection of historic canons.
If you’re in Reutlingen for more than a day or two you have to get a loaf of Mutschel bread from a bakery.
There’s no way you’ll be able to miss them because they have a star shape with eight points.
Nobody’s quite sure why the bread has this shape: One theory says it mimics the shape the Achalm, another that the eight points represent each of the Medieval guilds, and may be the most likely explanation is that it mimics the Star of Bethlehem.
That’s because Mutscheltag (literally, Mutschel day) falls on the first Thursday after Epiphany.
And on this day people play dice games together, and the winner gets to eat parts of the Mutschel.
And as for the flavour, it’s generally savoury, but there are sweet versions with icing as well.
14. Reutlinger Weindorf
For 11 days in the second half of August there’s a wine fair at the foot of the Marienkirche.
At the Reutlinger Windorf you’ll meet men and women dressed in traditional Swabian costume, and will be able to try some regional specialities like Maultasche (filled pasta) and Spätzle, which are egg noodles, normally with lentils and sausage, sauerkraut or a beef stew.
There’s jazz music, alphorns, accordion orchestras and a barrel rolling competition.
But of course the wine takes centre stage, and at 13 stalls and two tents you can sample the best of the region’s wines.
There are more than 150, many made with the dominant red Trollinger grape, but also the German classic, Riesling.
15. Christmas Market
For a month from the end of November Reutlingen’s pedestrian zone is swept up in seasonal cheer.
The streets around the Marienkirche are traced with little huts selling all kinds of handmade items and typical Christmas treats.
The streets glimmer with light decorations, and if you come with children there’s lots for them to get up to.
The town sets up a skating rink, petting zoo, children’s bakery and a Mongolian yurt where fairytales are read out.
Parents could indulge in a cup of Glühwein, while a classic delicacy to sample in Swabia at Christmas is Hutzelbrot, baked with dried fruit and nuts.