Regensburg, Germany is the oldest city on the Danube River and one of the best-preserved medieval towns in all of Europe, both of which have earned it a well-deserved spot on UNESCO’s prestigious world heritage list. The city somehow escaped with almost no damage from Allied bombing during the war and so what remains today is a fairly accurate architectural reflection of life on the Danube from the 11th to 13th centuries. With medieval houses and towers lining narrow cobblestone lanes, a colorful historic Old Town, and several ancient cathedrals and palaces scattered across the landscape, Regensburg is easily one of Bavaria’s most picturesque cities.
Regensburg was the second to last stop on our Viking River Cruise down the Danube. Although I’d like to think of myself as one of those unstoppable, Energizer bunny-like travelers, the truth is, by day six of the trip exhaustion was starting to kick in, big time. For the first time on the trip, a full day of sight-seeing and running from place to place to try and see it all just didn’t sound like fun. Thankfully, my lovely travel partner felt the same.
We rolled into Regensburg fairly early in the morning, but instead of joining the organized tour for the day, we slept in and then headed out to do a little Regensburg exploring on our own at a much slower pace than we had previously been going. Luckily, while it is a big city with a lot of things to see, Regensburg is still a pretty laid-back place. Whereas in a place like Vienna, I would have felt bad taking it slow, I didn’t at all in Regensburg.
Since we were visiting just a couple weeks before Christmas, we decided to spend our time in Regensburg checking out some of the city’s Christmasy things to do, of which there are many. The following are six things you won’t want to miss if you’re visiting Regensburg during the holidays!
Christmas Shopping in Old Town
Regensburg’s Old Town is full of classic European city charm all throughout the year, but it jumps up a few extra notches on the perfection scale over the holidays when the streets are bedecked with glittering snowballs and snowflakes and the shopfronts are trimmed in holly. The narrow cobblestone lanes of the historic town center are lined with boutique shops selling all sorts of unique gifts from Bavarian treats for the foodies on your list to candles and non-traditional Christmas decor. While there might be a few tacky tourist shops scattered here and there, the majority of shops you’ll discover in Old Town are selling beautiful, high quality, often handmade items.
Alternatively, you can take care of all your Christmas shopping in one of Regensburg’s lovely Christmas markets. Keep scrolling for more on those later!
Go to Church
You will find no shortage of churches in Regensburg to visit should you feel inclined to spend some time in one of Jesus’ houses over the holidays. St Peter’s Cathedral with its towering Gothic spires, the simple yet iconic Neupfarrkirche in Neupfarrplatz, the basilica inside what used to be Saint Emmeram’s Abbey, and Old Town’s Baroque Alte Kapelle (the oldest Catholic church in Bavaria) are all good choices, but there are many, many more.
My favorite of the churches we peeked into was St Peter’s Cathedral, pictured above. Known by many names (Dom St Peter, the Dom, Regensburg Cathedral), St Peter’s is the most important example of Gothic architecture in Bavaria and is easy to spot from anywhere in Old Town due to the height of its two towers. Originally built in 700AD, the church suffered damage from several fires over the years and so the current cathedral dates to 1320. It’s a truly beautiful place to visit and, outside of mass, is a perfect spot to find a little peace and quiet.
Wander the Medieval City Center
Visit a couple of the churches, the Old Town Hall, and the 12th century Old Stone Bridge, but then take some time to wander through the old medieval city and discover its many quiet courtyards and secret places. They are all exceptionally beautiful this time of year. If it’s too chilly, grab a hot drink from one of the Christmas markets and carry it with you, because a little stroll through the car-free cobblestone streets of Old Town Regensburg is pure Christmas magic!
Visit Thurn und Taxis Palace
Originally Saint Emmeram’s Abbey, a Benedictine monastery, Thurn und Taxis Palace is now home to the Princely House of Thurn and Taxis (aka the William and Kate of Bavaria). The abbey was converted to a royal residence in 1812 and, grounds not included, is even larger than Buckingham Palace. Tours of Thurn und Taxis Palace can be arranged any time of year, but it’s especially pretty to see at Christmas with the markets set up outside and the interior of the castle decorated for the holidays. (Photographs, unfortunately, are not allowed inside the castle rooms.)
For more information on tours through Thurn und Taxis, check out their website.
Enjoy the View with a Hot Cocoa on the Galeria Rooftop
Is there anything more relaxing than enjoying a drink with friends on a rooftop terrace overlooking a beautiful city below? Okay, so it might be a little more comfortable if it’s warmer than 25°F outside and the winter winds aren’t trying to blow you off the roof, but still. With a hot enough cup of cocoa and a warm enough scarf, you’ll be just fine.
If you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you’ll know I like to find spots where I can get up high and see a city from above. The Galeria Kaufhof’s rooftop in Neupfarrplatz is the perfect place to do just that, and for free! (Or, well, the cost of a hot cocoa anyway.) From here you’ll have a fantastic view of many of the old sights in the city as well as the Christmas markets that have set up shop in the square below. Handy guides on the glass surrounding the rooftop even tell you what you’re looking at as you make your way around the terrace.
Visit Regensburg’s Christmas Markets
Speaking of Christmas markets, Regensburg has plenty of them! There are four main ones in the city center, of which we saw the three largest. (Info on each below.)
Click here for 8 Festive Christmas Markets To Visit In Austria & Germany!
The Christkindlmarkt in Neupfarrplatz is Regensburg’s oldest Christmas market. If you decide to check out the view from the Galeria, this is the Christmas market you’ll be looking down on beside the Neupfarrkirche. It’s situated right in the center of the city, making it easy to reach and also pretty busy, so if you’re looking to avoid crowds, try to visit in the daytime.
While it also has plenty of food stands and gift vendors, the Neupfarrplatz Christkindlmarkt is most well known for its 40 different varieties of glühwein offered in all sorts of unusual flavors. For those shopping earlier in the day, kinderpunsch and hot chocolate are available, too.
Thurn und Taxis Romantischer Weihnachtsmarkt
The award for most beautiful Christmas market in Regensburg goes to Thurn und Taxis Romantischer Weihnachtsmarkt, hands down, and not just because it’s located on the grounds of a gorgeous royal palace, although that doesn’t hurt. These markets practically radiate Christmas spirit. The Weihnachtsmarkt looks like a real Christmas village with campfires burning amid stalls where traditional craftsmen demonstrate their trades to a captive audience. The shops in the brightly lit wooden huts, tidily arranged along the pathways in front of the palace, offer some of the most unique handmade gifts for sale that we saw anywhere on the trip. Even I, the person who never buys anything other than food at Christmas markets, came home with two different gifts I bought here. (That’s saying something, I swear.)
There is an entrance fee to get into the Weihnachtsmarkt, which usually would irritate me enough to recommend you not go, but in this case, it’s worth it. Not only do you get to see the Christmas markets with your ticket, but also wander a bit on the palace grounds. Plus, because they charge an entrance fee, it keeps the crowds down a bit, so it’s a more enjoyable experience all around.
And finally, if you cross the Danube over to Stadtamhof, you’ll find the Spitalgarten Adventsmarkt. This one has sheep. If that doesn’t convince you to go, then we could probably never hang out.
Located in what is usually a biergarten during the summer months, the Adventsmarkt is a small, but lively riverside Christmas market with an iconic view of St Peter’s across the water. There are rides for kids, well-priced food and gifts for sale, a cozy campfire, and most importantly, a churros and chocolate stand. (One guess what I spoiled my dinner with here.) The Spitalgarten stays open late so it’s a good option if you’re looking to get in the Christmas spirit a little later at night!
We ended our day of Christmasy exploring in Regensburg with a true German feast back on our cruise ship. With live entertainment, more meat and cheese than any human should ever consume in one sitting, and a table filled with friends, we said goodbye to Regensburg and began cruising the final leg of our 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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