Bordered by Castle Nuremberg and encompassing medieval churches, beautifully restored streets, the home of Germany’s most famous artist, and more, Nuremberg Old Town offers abundant sights to fill any day – or several. However, if you are willing to journey just a little farther afield, Nuremberg Rally Grounds and other top WWII sites are also within easy reach of the city’s tramway system. Read on to explore all the things to do in Nuremberg!
Things to do in Nuremberg Old Town:
Around 1000 AD the first fortified buildings appeared on the site of Castle Nuremberg. The Castle complex continued to be built up during the time of the Salian Kings from 1027-1125, under the Hohenstaufen emperors from 1138-1254, and further reconstruction and additions continued into late medieval times.
The castle became a popular stopping place for rulers, being at the junction of imperial highways. With those regular visits Nuremberg’s status in the realm increased. In 1356, Emperor Charles IV issued a “Golden Bull” which decreed Castle Nuremberg would be the place every newly elected ruler would hold his first Imperial Diet (highest representative assembly). This decree cemented Nuremberg’s preeminence until this decree was broken in the early 1500s.
The castle’s importance waned for a time, but was rebuilt and restored during the Nazi rise in Germany, with the idea of hosting important guests of the Reich. Indeed the castle hosted a number of important Nazi events. But, then large parts were then again destroyed during WWII.
After the war, the castle was restored to its historical form under the eye of Rudolf Esterer and Julius Lincke.
Today, of particular interest in the complex is the Imperial Chapel with the double chapel built one on top of the other, with the upper Imperial Gallery keeping the head of state above and separated from the common people. The Sinwell Tower was one of my favorite parts. If you have vertigo at all, the climb can be a little nerve-racking, but the view of both old town Nuremberg and Castle Nuremberg from the top are amazing. The structure of the steps climbing the tower are also impressive, and I had to take a crazy number of photos.
Nuremberg Tiergärtnertor: City Gate and Walls
Nuremberg Old Town is one of the historic city centers in Europe that still has most of its city walls surrounding it. The walls were begun in the 12th century and were built up and strengthened up through the 16th century. Taken in conjunction with Castle Nuremberg, the defenses were among the strongest in Europe during medieval times.
Originally five kilometers in length, four kilometers of it still stands. You can get impressive view of the walls at the above shown Tiergärtnertor, a large city gate at the base of the castle and across from Albrecht Dürer House. At the Handwerkerhof there is also a footbridge that exits through a gate and over the (empty) moat to the main Nuremberg train station.
Rumor is there are places you are still allowed to enter and walk inside the walls, but I never located them while I was in Nuremberg. One guide I spoke to also said tourists have gotten stuck there because the entry areas are locked at night. So, if you go on the hunt for these spots (or know where they are) I’d love to hear about it – just don’t get locked in!
Albrecht Dürer House
Albrecht Durer is considered by many to be Germany’s most famous painter. From 1509, until his death in 1528, Albrecht Durer lived and worked in this Nuremberg home. As you are self-guided through the home, you can wander through a gallery of his works as well as a recreation of his workshop and living areas.
Interesting tidbit about the Albrecht Durer house pertains to the indoor toilet. First – this is an indoor toilet from the early 1500s! Secondly, apparently Durer having this modern contraption in his home created quite the stir and upset the powers that be in town. It’s a great little insight into the struggle for power in 16th century Nuremberg.
Hauptmarkt and Schoner Brunnen
If you’ve read other posts here at Wandertoes, you know I LOVE food markets and especially like to write about historic markets like Venice’s Rialto Market, Madrid’s Mercado San Miguel and La Boqueria Market in Barcelona. Well, here in Nuremberg, we have the Hauptmarkt.
Old town Nuremberg’s Hauptmarkt, or primary market, is right in the center of the action. The Hauptmarkt has been the heart of Nuremberg’s history through the ages. This square was originally the sight of the Jewish Quarter, and then the awful Pogrom of Emperor Karl IV. This was where the Nuremberg Stock Exchange was founded. While the Nazi Party rally grounds are outside the Nuremberg old town area, party Parades were held here and photos from the time show Hitler being cheered as he rides through the square.
Today, the square is surrounded by a number of key sites of the old town Nuremberg. On the northern side of the square is the Visitors Center, which can get you in and started in Nuremberg. The Church of Our Lady is the focal point of the square, and if you are the square at noon you can watch the Mӓnnleinlaufen, the mechanical clock. To the northwest is the Town Hall, and to the west is the Meat Bridge.
Today, one of the big draws of the Hauptmarkt is the market itself. Open weekdays (with individual stalls setting their own hours), you can find flowers, fresh fruits and vegetables, and my personal favorites: local prepared foods. Great stop to pick up a treat before you continue on your way through old town.
Schӧner Brunnen translates literally to “nice fountain” or “beautiful fountain” which is definitely fitting. The fountain was installed in the Hauptmarkt in the 14th century, and stands prominently in the square, only possibly second to the Church of Our Lady as a focal point.
The Gothic spire styled fountain is golden and intricate, giving you a lot to study as you visit it. But, keep an eye out for the golden ring installed on the ornate protective gate that surrounds it. They say it is a seamless ring that was installed mysteriously after construction, and if you make a wish while turning it, it just might come true.
Churches in Nuremberg
Church of St. Lorenz
If you are walking into Nuremberg from the train station, the Church of St. Lorenz is the first of the prominent historic churches you will come to. It is a medieval church dedicated to (you guessed it) St. Lawrence.
The historic architecture is notable, with the nave completed approximately 1400, and the Gothic choir in 1477. The Gothic façade and twin, tall towers make for an impressive first sight of the church, and the vaulted interior is truly impressive. Be sure the check out the main organ which is one of the world’s largest.
Church of St. Sebald
With construction begun in 1225, and completed around 1273-1275, the church St. Sebald is one of the oldest in the city. It is named for St. Sebaldus, patron saint of Nuremberg. Initially the church was built in the Romanesque style, but through construction and changes, the final interior ended up Baroque. St. Sebald was long known for it’s Heinrich Traxdorf organ built in 1440-1441 because into the 20th century it was one of the oldest playable organs in the world. This organ was destroyed in WWII and wasn’t replaced until 1975 with a new organ designed by Peter of Kӧln.
Frauenkirche: Church of Our Lady
The Church of Our Lady in stands right on the square of the Hauptmarkt in the heart of Nuremberg Old Town. It was the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV who initiated the building in 1352-1362AD on the sight of the former Jewish synagogue. The church was to be built in its place to hold imperial ceremonies. One of the first such events was the baptism of Charles IV’s son Wenceslas in 1361.
Of particular note is the Mӓnnleinlaufen, the mechanical clock installed above the main doors to commemorate the Golden Bull of 1356. Be sure to stand in the Hauptmarkt at noon to see it play.
A quick walk across the street from the Nuremberg train station, and just inside the old city walls, is the Handwerkerhof. Founded in 1971, the area was designed in conjunction with the authority responsible for the preservation of historical monuments. The space was initially supposed to be temporary, and demolished in 1972, but the great popularity of the shops and area led to its preservation.
The Handwekerhof is a small but adorable little area where artisans who practice traditional craftmanship and specialty shops make and display their wares for purchase. My favorite shop was a pottery shop where the artist worked in an area upstairs that you could see while you browsed. The area also has Nuremberg gingerbread, old fashioned toys, and Franconian beer and wine.
Weiβgerbergasse is a beautiful stretch of Nuremberg street that has been restored to preserve it as an architectural monument. The name, Weiβgerbergasse, comes from the term for the white tanners who were located here in the middle ages. The road may have been a lot less pleasant at that time than now, since the processing of the white leather created a rather unpleasant smell.
As of the 1970s, the half-timber homes were still under plaster. An organization called the Nuremberg Old Town Friends, and the owners of a number of the homes, teamed up to begin a restoration process on those homes. Restoration efforts continued into the early 2000s to bring this beautiful road to its current status. Today, street is primarily apartments, and small businesses such as shops, hairdresser, and art gallery, and gives you a quaint glimpse into Nuremberg as it once was.
Weiβgerbergasse is easily reached by foot, and is close to the Plӓrrer stop of the metro.
Fleischbrucke: Meat Bridge
The Fleischbrucke, or Meat Bridge, is located near the center of Nuremberg Old Town. At first glance, or even crossing the bridge, you may not even think twice about it. But it is actually know for innovative building techniques for the time it was constructed. Built between 1596 and 1598, the bridge is known for technical features quite advanced for that time. It was the largest masonry bridge arch in Germany when it was built, and was unusually wide. It also is a very flat bridge that required abutments built onto 2000 wooden piles to support it.
Most interestingly, this bridge has been virtually unchanged since 1599. Even WWII did no significant damage, which is pretty incredible given how much damage was done to Nuremberg through the war. Check out the inscription on the bridge: Omnia habent ortus suaque in crementa sed ecce quem cernis nunquam bos fuit hic Vitulus. The first part sounds really nice: “All things have a beginning and grow…” Gotcha, I’m with you. The second part leaves me a little confused: “but the ox upon whom you now look was never a calf.” Um. Ok.
I also could not find any reference to why this bridge was named the “Meat Bridge”. I’m guessing, given the inscription, it may have been the route cattle were brought into town/market? If anyone finds out for sure, I’d love to know!
Germany National Museum
The Germany National Museum is Germany’s largest museum of Cultural history. This museum was established with the goal of documenting and educating the public on the shared culture of German-speaking areas, free from exaggeration or chauvinism. To this end, 1.3 million objects related to German history, literature, and art have been collected, of which about 25,000 are exhibited.
In addition to the objects within the museum, the structure of the museum itself is an architectural monument. It includes the former Nuremberg Charterhouse, Neo-Gothic extensions, and the Old Entrance and Gallery building designed by Bestelmeyer. Parts of the halls and galleries have been preserved and adapted by Sep Ruf after the destruction of WWII, and the New Entrance Hall designed by Jan Stormer. Most recently the St. Lorenz parish children’s home was also added to the museum, and now displays children’s toys.
Bonus! Three must-see things to do in Nuremberg
… that are NOT in Old Town Nuremberg
There is so much more to Nuremberg than its past Nazi prominence. However, visitors are understandably still drawn to see the places that played such a big part in that history. You may want to step out of Nuremberg Old Town to see these historic spots.
Nazi Party Rally Grounds
The Nazi Party Rally Grounds were intended to be the location of the largest rallys and parties of the Nazi party, to demonstrate the power and excellence of the party to the people and the world. Most of the buildings were never built, and after WWII the much of the land was designated as a park and public space. Pictured above is the Ehrenhalle, Hall of Honor. The Hall of Honor was built during the Weimer Republic as a memorial to the Nuremberg soldiers lost in WWI, but the Nazi party used it for their own ceremonies and as a memorial to the “Martyrs of the NS Movement”. It is one of the best preserved buildings from the Rally Grounds.
A short walk from the Ehrenhalle is the Documetation Center and the adjacent Congress Hall. The Congress Hall was intended to be an enclosed Congress Center seating 50,000, inspired by the Colosseum in Rome. While much of the structure stands and was used as it, the Hall was never fully completed. There is dramatic footage of Nazi symbols being destroyed as Allied forces took the space.
The Documentation Center is home to the permanent exhibit “Fascination and Terror.” The purpose of the exhibit is to explain both the causes and consequences of the evil of the Nazi state. You can walk through the Center and see most of the key exhibits in two to three hours, and it gives a thorough and honest look at a dark time in the history of the German people.
The Nazi Party Rally Grounds, Congress Hall, and Documentation Center can all be reached from the Dutzendteich stop on line 6 of the Tramway which is directly outside the Documentation Center.
Nuremberg Trial Courtroom 600
If you are interested in the history of WWII, or the Nazi era specifically, visiting Courtroom 600 is a powerful site in Nuremberg. This is where the series of 13 Nuremberg Trials were held to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. Upstairs from Courtroom 600 is a museum display that details the crimes committed, the criminals involved, the key players in the court cases, and the outcome.
Know that Courtroom 600 is still an active and used courtroom, so it is possible the room may be in use during business hours, and not not open for tours. However the upstairs museum will still be open and it does have small windows so you can look down into Courtroom 600.
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