There are so many things to do and see in Nuremberg’s Old Town! History buffs will especially love visiting the imperial castle, Albrecht Dürer’s house, and seeing the old city gates.
Unless you studied German history in school or are well versed in the country’s rebuilding efforts post-WWII, it’s very likely that you’re unfamiliar with Nuremberg and its crucial role in Germany’s past.
Although Nuremberg (Nürnberg in German) is one of the largest cities in Bavaria, it’s often overlooked in favor of Munich. However, Nuremberg and its Old Town should absolutely be on your bucket list!
Nuremberg’s history stretches back nearly 1,000 years. If you love castles, half-timbered houses, and pretty market squares, you’re going to love exploring Nuremberg’s Old Town!
This post will cover the top things to see and do in Nuremberg’s Old Town, the beating heart of the city. There are many more things to do in the city at large, but Old Town will keep you busy for at least two full days and it’s all walkable.
Table of Contents
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A Brief History of Nuremberg
Nuremberg is historically one of the most important cities in Germany.
The first recorded mention of the city of Nuremberg dates back to 1050. The city gradually expanded around the base of the Imperial Castle over the centuries, with the Middle Ages being Nuremberg’s most prosperous period.
Nuremberg was known throughout Europe as being a home for talented artisans and craftsmen, and it was also considered to be a center for learning.
In 1806, the city was absorbed into the Kingdom of Bavaria (of which Munich was the capital). Nuremberg’s prestige and power was lost gradually over time, with the final blow being its mountains of debt following the Thirty Years’ War.
However, Nuremberg played a pivotal role following the end of World War II. It was here that the Allied Forces put German war criminals to trial — these trials are now called the Nuremberg Trials.
Nuremberg Old Town Attractions
Note that some of these attractions in Nuremberg’s Old Town are technically in the Mitte neighborhood and not strictly in the Old Town. However, when you’re actually in the city it feels like everything between the main train station and the castle constitutes the Old Town.
You may also notice that many of Nuremberg’s WWII sites are not on this list of activities. That’s because the Nuremberg Trials memorial lies outside the Old town, but it is ABSOLUTELY worth visiting!
Nuremberg Imperial Castle (Kaiserburg)
If there’s just one attraction in the Old Town that you visit, let it be the Imperial Castle. This magnificent castle was built by the Hohenstaufen royal family and has been the most important structure in Nuremberg for centuries.
The Imperial Castle had special cultural and political significance in the Middle Ages. In his “Golden Bull,” Emperor Charles IV stated that every newly elected Holy Roman Emperor must hold his first Imperial Diet (i.e. session with the official legislative body of the empire) in Nuremberg. Subsequently, generations of emperors lived at the Kaiserburg for the first few months of their reign.
The Imperial Castle’s importance declined gradually over time, until finally the site of the first Imperial Diet was moved permanently to Regensburg following the Thirty Years’ War.
Like many medieval castles, the Kaiserburg has undergone quite a few changes since its conception. During WWII, the castle interiors were stripped bare and redecorated by the Nazis. Later it was all but destroyed in an Allied air raid.
Today Nuremberg’s castle is primarily a museum space. The rooms have been reconstructed to showcase what they would have looked like pre-WWII, but they are mostly devoted to explaining the castle’s history and the role of the Electors in the Holy Roman Empire.
Give yourself at least 3 hours to visit the castle.
Tip: If you don’t want to pay to enter or don’t have the time, still head up to the castle for an epic view from the courtyard!
The Hauptmarkt is the main square in Old Town Nuremberg. A daily market takes place here on weekdays, with stalls selling local produce, baked goods, flowers, and more.
There are two main attractions at the medieval Hauptmarkt: the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) and Schöner Brunnen (“Beautiful Fountain”).
In the winter, the square transforms into the world-famous Christkindlmarkt. It’s one of the most popular Christmas markets in the world and is absolutely worth visiting.
For all its stunning medieval grandeur, though, the Hauptmarkt has a dark past. This market space was once a swampy area where no Nuremberg residents wanted to live. The Jews that had been expelled from the Rheinland were allowed to settle on this spot, but were later forced out in a pogrom in 1349.
Schöner Brunnen (“Beautiful Fountain”)
The 19-meter-tall Schöner Brunnen at the Hauptmarkt dates back to the 1390’s and is covered in beautiful carvings that depict the Holy Roman Empire’s view of the world. 40 stone figures decorate the fountain, including the seven liberal arts, the four Evangelists, and the seven Electors who were responsible for electing the next Holy Roman Emperor.
The fountain you see today is a replica of the original, which was made of sandstone and became extremely worn down over time.
Look for the railing with the brass ring — you can turn it! Turn it once to receive three wishes, or turn thrice to be blessed with many children. So says the legend, at least!
Albrecht Dürer’s House
Albrecht Dürer was one of the most highly regarded and well-known Renaissance artists in all of Europe.You may think you’ve never heard his name before, but do a quick Google image search on him and you’ll quickly realize you’ve seen his work in at least one art museum before.
As the name suggests, Albrecht Dürer’s house is where the artist lived and worked from 1509 until his death in 1528. The house was miraculously never destroyed in any of the wars the area’s been embroiled in, so it’s a fantastic 16th century half-timbered house to visit even if you’re unfamiliar with Dürer’s work.
Unfortunately, there are very few original objects from his life still in the house. It’s mostly a museum space dedicated to educating visitors on his life and work.
You can go through the home with an audio guide or pay extra to be led by an actress who plays the role of Dürer’s wife, Agnes, for a more personal take on his life.
Give yourself an hour to 90 minutes for your visit.
Tucked away at the base of the Kaiserburg is a stunning — but small — street lined with half-timbered houses. The 20 or so houses somehow survived the air raids of WWII so know that you’re looking at the original facades!
The “white tanners” used to live on this street (hence the name Weißgerberstraße). These tanners made white leather, which was just very light colored leather.
A few cafes and restaurants are dotted along this tiny street, but it’s primarily a great photo spot. Be respectful when taking photos since people do live here!
Craftsmen’s Courtyard at Frauentor
The Handwerkerhof is one of the top places to visit in Nuremberg’s Old Town. This area by the Frauentor Tower was formerly a defensive courtyard, but it’s been redesigned to showcase local artisans. It’s the perfect spot to visit if you’re looking for a souvenir that’s more thoughtful than a branded mug or t-shirt!
While you’re wandering around the Craftsmen’s Courtyard, take a moment to admire the half-timbered houses and cobblestone streets. The medieval flair is still present in the buildings, which all have very low ceilings. You can also still see where the old city wall would have attached to this inner courtyard.
There are a few food options at the Handwerkerhof, but it’s mostly handicrafts like a gingerbread bakery, a glass painter, a potter, a leather maker, and a tin smith.
Churches in the Old Town
Like many cities in Germany, Nuremberg’s Old Town is peppered with churches. Below are the three most important in the city center.
Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady)
This stunning Gothic church is impossible to miss since it’s located just off of the main square (Hauptmarkt). The Frauenkirche is home to the oldest stained glass windows in the city.
Try to time your visit to the Frauenkirche so that it aligns with the chiming of the Männleinlaufen (glockenspiel and clock), which plays each day at noon. The Männleinlaufen recounts the story of the Golden Bull of 1356; as the clock chimes, you’ll see seven Electors paying homage to Emperor Karl IV on his throne.
On certain days, you can pay to ascend the bell tower for a view of Nuremberg from above. Be sure to ask at the front desk whether the tower is open during your visit.
Tip: During Advent season, the Christkind addresses the crowd at the Nuremberg Christmas market from the balcony of the Frauenkirche.
Sebalduskirche (Church of St. Sebald)
The Church of St. Sebald is so-named because it holds the relics of the city’s patron saint, St. Sebald. That in itself is an interesting fact because St. Sebald is a Catholic saint, but the relics are housed inside a Lutheran church!
The building itself was built in the early 1200’s in the Late Romanesque style. It’s the oldest parish church in Nuremberg and is located near the Kaiserburg.
Lorenzkirche (Church of St. Laurence)
Look for the “Star of St. Laurence” on the western facade of this church when you enter. It’s a stone rosette with the imperial coat of arms carved into it.
Inside the Church of St. Laurence you’ll find one of the largest organs in the world. It boasts more than 12,000 pipes and 165 registers!
The church tower has 16 bells, the oldest of which date back to the 14th century.
Nuremberg City Gates
As you explore Old Town Nuremberg, you’ll naturally come across what remains of the original 128 city gates. The few remaining gates to take note of are: Spitteltor, Neutor, Königstor, and Tiergärtnertor.
If you arrive to the city via the main train station (Hauptbahnhof), you’ll pass through the Frauentor on your way to the city center. That’s where the Craftsmen’s Courtyard is located as well!
Of the remaining city gates, the Tiergärtnertor is arguably the most impressive. It’s right by the Kaiserburg and you can walk through it. The thick walls give you a fantastic perspective of just how massive size of the city’s medieval fortifications were!
Nuremberg boats the largest pedestrian zone in all of Europe, making it a wonderful place to drop some cash on clothing, home goods, good food, and more.
The Old Town shopping options are mostly chain stores, but with a number of local cafes and restaurants that are perfect for refueling mid-shopping spree.
Shopping streets in Nuremberg to note include:
- Königstraße — The main shopping street that runs from the Handwerkerhof, past the Church of St. Laurence, over the river, and to to the Hauptmarkt (the name changes on the other side of the river, though).
- Breite Gasse — A smaller side street with more chain options. It’s less crowded than Königstraße.
- Karolinenstraße — The most popular shopping street in the Old Town. Start at the subway station Weißer Turm and make your way to the Church of St. Laurence as you shop.
Museums in the Old Town
Some of the top attractions in Nuremberg are its museums. The ones located in the Old Town are on the smaller side (you need maybe 90 minutes to go through each), but they’re really good!
I already mentioned Albrecht Dürer’s House in this post. It deserves its own special mention because he was such a key figure in German history.
Other museums in the Old Town include:
- Germanisches Nationalmuseum — The largest museum of cultural history in Germany, all about the art and culture of German-speaking regions.
- Toy Museum — The city’s toy making reputation stretches back 600 years!
- New Museum — An art and design that focuses on the 1950’s to the present day.
- Fembo House — This museum walks you through the city’s history, set in a surviving Late Renaissance merchant’s house.
Tip: If you want to visit more of the Municipal Museums (which include Albrecht Dürer’s House, the Toy Museum, and the Fembo House, among others) you can pay an extra 3 Euros to turn your ticket into a day ticket. You can then visit as many of the seven Municipal Museums in one day as you want!
Admittedly, this gorgeous place to see in Nuremberg lies just outside the boundaries of the Old Town. But seeing as how it’s right there next to the half-timbered houses along Weißgerbergasse, I had to include it!
The Schlayerturm is a 15th century square tower that was built on an island in the middle of the Pegnitz River. The tower and surrounding structure was meant to protect the city from overflow off of the river.
Nowadays it’s simply a picturesque tower on the river that’s worth tracking down for a photo. Get the full view from nearby Maxbrücke, or have a little adventure walking across the suspension bridge just in front of the tower!
WWII Art Bunker
As I mentioned in the introduction of this blog post, many of Nuremberg’s WWII historical sites are located outside of the Old Town, hence why this is the first to be mentioned!
The WWII Art Bunker is located in the bedrock cellars of Nuremberg’s castle — the bunker was originally for beer storage, as it turns out. Some portions of the cellars go as deep as 24 meters into the ground, which explains why this spot was chosen to house the city’s most previous works of art and religious artifacts during WWII.
What’s even more interesting is that the city created the art bunker in secret. The Nazi regime didn’t allow for cities to plan for anything other than victory — that would signal weakness, after all! — so the art had to be secreted away without a peep.
If you’re able to visit Nuremberg at Christmastime, count your blessings! Nuremberg’s Christmas market is called the Christkindlesmarkt, and it’s one of the oldest and best known in the world.
From the end of November until the New Year, the Hauptmarkt is overtaken by red and white striped tents selling goods ranging from handmade ornaments to teas and spices to art prints.
Each year on the first Friday before Advent the Christkind addresses the crowd from the balcony of the Frauenkirche. The address of the Christkind is well known throughout Germany, so if your timing allows I highly suggest planning your visit to the Christkindlesmarkt to coincide with it.
(As an aside, if you’re wondering just who or what a Christkind is, she’s essentially an angelic figure who was created by Martin Luther as an alternative to the Catholic Saint Nicolas. Instead of children receiving their Christmas gifts from Saint Nicholas on December 6th, Christkind was invented as the Lutheran alternative.)
What to Eat in Nuremberg
There are lots of yummy German foods to try while you’re in Old Town Nuremberg, but the two regional specialties you absolutely must eat are the special gingerbread and bratwurst.
Nürnberger Lebkuchen / Elisen Lebkuchen
Lebkuchen is the term for German gingerbread, which are typically softer and less spiced than crunchy American gingerbread.
Nuremberg’s unique variety of gingerbread bread is called Elisen Lebkuchen or Elise’s Gingerbread. This local gingerbread is incredibly soft, mildly spiced, and consists primarily of ground hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds.
Only gingerbread that’s been baked in the city of Nuremberg may receive the designation of being Nürnberger Lebkuchen. If you’re visiting outside of the Christmas season, you’ll want to stop by Lebkuchen Schmidt — the original maker of this special gingerbread — to try it for yourself.
Nuremberg Elisen Lebkuchen can be purchased iced, dipped in chocolate, or covered in nuts.
I know what you’re thinking — how very German of Nuremebrg to have its own sausage variety!
The Nuremberg Rostbratwurst is perhaps my favorite type of German sausage (and I’ve tried a lot!). The Nuremberg bratwurst has been made according to specific regulations since the Middle Ages.
The sausages are roughly 8 centimeters long (about the size of your finger) and must be grilled over beech logs.
You can order a plate of six, eight, 10, or 12 sausages with a side of sauerkraut or potato salad OR order the sausages in a roll (Brötchen) as three or five with mustard.
Auf Wiedersehen, Nuremberg!
If I haven’t yet convinced you to visit Nuremberg’s Old Town, well, I guess I stink as a travel blogger. I loved exploring the Old Town on foot and look forward to returning in the summer so I can see the city in bloom!
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