Nuremberg, the second largest city in Bavaria (after Munich), was our final port of call on our week-long cruise down the Danube. A beautiful medieval town situated along the Pegnitz River and the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, Nuremberg is probably most well known for its place in history as the site of the Nazi Party rally grounds and later, where the Nuremberg Trials were held after the war.
Walking through Nuremberg today, it’s difficult to imagine that the city was almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing during the war. It took 38 years, but Nuremberg’s medieval city center was slowly rebuilt piece by piece and landmark by landmark back to its pre-war appearance, even using the original stone where possible. The remnants of Nuremberg’s darker past were, of course, not rebuilt, but some portions still standing have been turned into a Documentation Center, chronicling the history of the Nazi Party and exposing the propaganda techniques the Nazis used to gain their power.
The guidebooks will tell you that the best time to visit Nuremberg is Christmas, but that really depends on your tolerance for crowds. I’ve visited a lot of cities commonly characterized as crowded, and even lived in one for a few years, but none of them ever felt as crowded as Nuremberg two weeks before Christmas. That being said, Nuremberg truly is the best at Christmas, which I suppose is to be expected from a city known for its gingerbread cookies, handmade toys, and nutcrackers. (I mean, that basically makes Nuremberg the North Pole of Germany, right?)
Thankfully, the worst of the congestion during the holidays all seems to pretty much center around the Christmas markets, so if you do a quick round through those and then spend your time elsewhere in the city, you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience. And there is certainly no lack of things to keep you busy in Nuremberg, no matter what time of year you visit!
We began our day in Nuremberg on a historical tour through the city. The first stop was a visit to what remains of the Zeppelintribüne. Located in Zeppelin Field, a part of the Nazi Party rally grounds where the Nazis held six of their largest and most significant rallies (known as the Nuremberg Rallies), you might recognize the Zeppelintribüne as the site where Hitler famously stood when speaking at the rallies. After Germany fell, American troops blew up the giant swastika that had adorned the top of the Zeppelintribüne and later the columned galleries were removed, so all that remains today of the Zeppelintribüne is the grandstand. Zeppelin Field itself is now a racetrack and collection of sports fields.
Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds
Near Zeppelin Field is the site of Kongresshalle, the largest remaining Nazi monument building. It was never completed, but was intended to be a congress center for rallies and would have seated 50,000 people. Today, it is preserved as part of the Documentation Center on the Nazi Party rally grounds. This museum provides an in-depth look at the history of the Nazi Party and the rallies held in the city, as well as shedding some light on the propaganda techniques the Nazis were notorious for using to brainwash their followers. We spent about an hour in the museum, but easily could have stayed longer. There is a lot of information provided here and, as expected, it takes a little while to digest it all given the subject.
Read more about the Documentation Center on their website.
Heading into the city center (and into some lighter subject matter), we paid a visit to Nuremberg Castle, which is actually three castles in one – the Imperial Castle, Burgraves’ Castle, and the Imperial City buildings. Back in its medieval days, due to the five kilometers of walls that once surrounded the city, Nuremberg Castle was one of the best fortified castles in Europe. Fast forward a few centuries, several wars, and many years of neglect later, the castle has since been through various stages of disrepair and reconstruction. Today, a large part of the castle complex has been restored to its former grandeur and tours are available if you want to visit the Imperial Apartments, the chapel, and Sinwell Tower (pictured above). Or you can simply walk through the castle grounds, admiring the half-timbered palaces and cobblestone courtyards for free like we did.
The View from Nuremberg Castle
Another reason to make the hike up to Nuremberg Castle is to visit its popular lookout point. The castle sits high on a ridge overlooking the historical center of the city, so the views from here are absolutely outstanding. A handy guide on the ledge will help you get a better idea of where things are in the greater scale of the city. Among the many prominent sights you can see from here, the twin towers of St Sebaldus Church are the easiest to pick out, and just a little further in the distance, are the spires of St Lorenz. Thanks to the overcast day and the cold weather prompting everyone to throw a few extra logs on the fire, thus creating wispy clouds of smoke rising over the rooftops, we had one gloriously moody view of Nuremberg when we visited, and it was breathtaking.
St Sebaldus Church
Like most old European cities, Nuremberg is chock full of churches and cathedrals, of which we only saw one – St Sebaldus Church. One of the oldest in Nuremberg, St Sebaldus is named after an 8th century hermit who was made a patron saint. (Too bad they don’t do that for bloggers who spend extraordinary amounts of time holed up in their offices alone in front of a computer!) Like everything else in Nuremberg, St Sebaldus was seriously damaged in the war. However, a few key pieces of the original interior of the church still remain – most notably the Shrine of St Sebaldus and the church’s beautiful stained glass windows. A Christmas service was going on when we visited, so we couldn’t walk around freely, but at least we got a small peek inside this 13th century beauty!
Try saying that one three times fast! (I can’t even get it right on one.) Weissgerbergasse is the only place in Nuremberg that I think makes for better pictures than the lookout point by Nuremberg Castle. Yes, it’s just a street, but my gosh, it’s a beautiful one. The curving cobbled path, colorful half-timbered houses, and continuous stream of horse-drawn carriages trotting down the street pretty much make for German photographic perfection. Weissgerbergasse features the largest collection of old artisan houses in Nuremberg. The people who used to live and work in these homes were wealthy members of the leathermaking trade. Today, they house all sorts of shops and cafes. For the best pictures with less people around, either go early or just after sunset. (If you go after sunset, stick around until the street lamps come on. It’s harder to take pictures after dark, but the warm ambiance the lamps create is pretty magical!)
Essigbrätlein: A Two Michelin Star Restaurant
If you’re visiting Nuremberg, a meal at a two star Michelin restaurant will probably not be something on your to-do list, but it was on our agenda for the day, and since I may never again eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant, I thought I’d go ahead and share a little about it anyway. To be perfectly honest, I am more of a heavily glazed doughnut kind of girl than a creme brulee one, and I tend to question the sanity of anyone who thinks spending a significant amount of money on tiny food is a good idea, but that being said, this experience wasn’t entirely wasted on me.
Essigbrätlein is located in a cozy townhouse near St Sebaldus Church in Nuremberg’s Old Town. There are several rooms in the restaurant, but most are not particularly large, making for a more intimate dining experience. As for the food itself, we were served three regular courses alongside several bite-size courses ranging from the usual (bread and flavored butter) to the more unusual (a spoonful of a radish and horseradish mixture). I think the correct word to describe pretty much everything we ate here would be inventive. Not necessarily delicious, but certainly creative. The highlights for me were trying lamb for the first time (didn’t feel as guilty about it as I thought I would) and the melt-in-your-mouth honeycomb chocolates we had for our second dessert course. (The first dessert course of red cabbage ice cream received a firm no from my tastebuds.)
For more information or to make a booking at Essigbrätlein, visit their website.
After dark, we made our way to Nuremberg’s famous Christmas market in Hauptmarkt, the Old Town’s main square. With the Frauenkirche looming behind and row after row of brightly lit wooden stalls filling the square and even spilling out into the adjoining streets, the Christkindlesmarkt is impressive to say the least. Over two million people visit Nuremberg’s Christmas market every year, and at least one million were there the evening we visited. (Kidding, but only slightly.) To get away from the crowds for a bit, we popped into the Frauenkirche, not to see the church itself, but to go up to the balcony that overlooks the market scene below. Lo and behold, it was busy up there, too, so after a few pictures, back to the Christmas markets we went. I suppose when you’re visiting one of the largest and most famous Christmas markets in the world, crowds are something you’re just not going to be able to escape, especially at night. For a slightly less packed environment, I recommend going much earlier in the day!
Click here for 8 Festive Christmas Markets To Visit In Austria & Germany!
Pegnitz River & Chain Bridge
We ended our day in Nuremberg with a walk along the Pegnitz River. This area is lovely by both day and night, but I loved how pretty the buildings and bridges along the river looked illuminated at evening. A couple sights not to miss are the Kettensteg (Chain Bridge) featured above and Hangman’s Tower and Bridge nearby. The Chain Bridge is actually the oldest iron chain suspension bridge on the European continent, and Hangman’s Tower is exactly what it sounds like it is – the former home of Nuremberg’s hang man. Since an executioner was considered an “unchristian” trade, the hang man had to live alone in the tower without any contact with people in the city. It’s not nearly as dismal a place to visit as it sounds, though, I promise.
After leaving Nuremberg, we headed back to the ship for our final night on the Danube where we enjoyed a farewell dinner featuring five delicious courses (we ate a lot of food this day) and a concert performance. It was a fitting end to one incredibly epic trip!
This post is part of a series. If you’d like to read more about cruising the Danube with Viking River Cruises, just follow the link!
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