48 Hours In Nuremberg: Classic, Beautiful, Dark or Playful?
Nuremberg has all the delights you would expect of a city in Bavaria. Traditional architecture, an established cultural heritage and old fashioned hospitality with great beer, spicy gingerbread and famous bratwurst. Yet it is also a modern city; industrious, impressive and intent on moving on from a sometimes dark and sometimes playful past. We spent 48 hours in Nuremberg to soak up its curiosities and culture. In this advertising feature, supported by DJH Jugendherberge Hostels, we offer our suggestions for a Nuremberg itinerary to help you tap into four different sides to Nuremberg – the classic, beautiful, dark and playful…
Once upon a Toymaker’s Town
You might recognise Nuremberg from your history books rather than a bedtime story, but this medieval city in northern Bavaria has many fairy tale elements. Once world famous for its toymakers, it offers luck if you twist rings embedded in a gilded fountain. Shades of pink dominate the architecture, and towering above the edge of the Old Town is one of the most beautiful castles you could hope to visit, with Mayoral gardens to explore, a deep well to look into, and high towers and castle walls to climb. Here’s how we spent our 48 hours in Nuremberg, staying in the modern city Youth Hostel in the Old Stables of the Imperial Palace.
Day 1 – Classical, Beautiful Nuremberg
Day 1 of our 48 hours in Nuremberg is spent exploring its colourful, classical side – the Castle, fountain, market square and Old Town.
Castle of the Empire
The starting point for any tour of Nuremberg is the Imperial Castle or Kaiserberg. The castle dates back to the 11th century and was one of the most important of the Holy Roman Empire. Many of its guests were more grand than us – all of the Emperors checked in to the Kaiserberg over a period of 500 years. One of the most impressive rooms is the double chapel, built on two levels, where you feel the history locked into the tall walls and arches. There are interpretation boards throughout the buildings as well as cabinets filled with military equipment and royal artefacts. But if you have young kids who are unimpressed by pomp you may want to have a romp around the tower or the well instead…
The Sinwell Tower was built as a keep and the winding wooden staircase delivers one of the best views of the city, once you reach the top. In olde worlde German, Sinwell means ‘extremely round.’ And so it is. Stairs are wide so you can let the kids take them at their own pace and a timed entry system limits the crowds.
The well house has an old, deep well inside. I do mean old; documents date it to 1563, but it’s thought to go back further. And I do mean deep – the shaft plunges 47 metres down into the earth. Don’t miss the demonstration where a guide sends a candle down to illuminate the bottom and then pours a jug of water down after it. Time how long it takes to hear the water hit the bottom. If you can see the splash through the dizzy-making grill then you have better eyesight than me.
The Beautiful Fountain
If I told you about a ring that would bring you good fortune you may think I was proposing. But no. I’d just be proposing to take you to Nuremberg’s main market square or Hauptmarkt, where Schöner Brunnen (literally the beautiful fountain) is reported to host two of the luckiest bronze rings in all the land. The rings aren’t hard to find, they are more or less at eye level on the ornate 14th century fountain that stretches up around 19 metres and resembles a gothic spire.
What is acceptable ring etiquette I wondered as we patiently waited for our lucky break? Can you twist the ring together or is it a one in, one out system? If you do go together, do both of you have to twist? And do you have to share the luck? As it happens our youngest got there first and wished for an ice cream. As she enthusiastically twisted the ring (how many ice creams was she after?) I took in the gilded figures on the fountain. The decorations include Aristotle and 39 other figures that represent the world view of the Holy Roman Empire. See if you can name them all as they stand there in full colour, framed by curls and swirls of ironwork. Watch out for children firing the moveable water cannons to cool themselves off though.
Behind every magical ring there is often a tale of love and hope, and this one is no different. In short, an apprentice locksmith wanted to marry his Master’s daughter but hadn’t gone down all that well with his prospective in-laws. His master wasn’t even all that convinced of his skills in the metal shaping department! So to prove his love he fitted a golden ring into the ornamental lattice of Schöner Brunnen. It looked as if the ring had been made by magic as there was no join and the apprentice was welcomed into the family with open arms. Since then it is said that whoever turns the rings will be granted a spot of luck.
The Little Train
After the fountain, ice cream was definitely on our agenda, but the Stadtrundfahrt City Tour Train was just leaving from the market square so we hopped into one of its bright red carriages for a 40 minute circular city tour. Nuremberg Altstadt is a fair size so it was a good way of seeing the sights without wearing everyone out. The little train gave us a brief look at landmarks like Maxbrücke Bridge, St Lorenz Church. and the Hospital of the Holy Spirit on its way up to the castle. Second World War raids took their toll on this city; in one night alone in 1945 allied bombing displaced around 100,000 residents, and many landmark monuments were razed to the ground. But Nuremberg was carefully rebuilt over four decades, with many original building restored. A commentary talks you through what was there before and what still stands.
Our Tip: If you wait until it’s scheduled to leave, you may be able to negotiate a small discount. Headphones are free for the commentary and if you sit in a certain carriage you’ll get it in English. Look out for the voucher for a free cup of coffee.
A modern city hostel
And when you are tired of city hustle and bustle, you can follow a trail of gingerbread crumbs to the Nuremberg DJH hostel which lies immediately beneath the the Imperial Castle. The former castle stables make for high ceilings and lots of space. Canteen style meals are taken in the bistro where you can also chill out with a good German beer and nachos; if you are in the mood you can also order a cocktail. The giant square pillars, red brick arches and wooden beams contrast with modern furnishings like squiggly light fittings and spotlights. Long low wooden benches with square stools and tables set into arches provide gathering points and places to play boardgames. Arched windows lead out into a courtyard with tables and umbrellas. A spiral staircase mixes and matches with a grand wooden staircase. It all comes together to provide a modern city base that feels buzzy and alive. Facilities include 93 smart en-suite bedrooms, all with en-suite shower and toilet. There are lots of little children’s play areas and a lift. How we longed for one of those as we trundled backpacks up winding tower staircases elsewhere.
Check out our video to get a feel for the place.
Day 2 – Nuremberg’s Dark and Playful Past
After a good night’s sleep, our second day focuses on two contrasting aspects of Nuremberg’s history – as a centre of toy production and as a rallying ground for the Nazi party. We all also turn our attention to food, checking out the gingerbread and bratwurst specialities of the city.
City of Toys
Nuremberg is famous for hosting the biggest toy fair in the world. Held over several days in the early part of each year, the International Toy Fair entertains more than 73,000 visitors from 120 countries. You can’t visit unless you are trade, but a good place to trace the city’s extraordinary success in toymaking is the Toy Museum.
A Playful Museum
This is no dusty old attic full of trains and planes. The Nuremberg Toy Museum (or Spielzeugmuseum) is a charming museum packed with everything from porcelain dolls to Meccano, mostly collected over several decades by one couple. It’s believed there are over 70,000 objects in the collection, with only a fraction on display. The toy industry began in Nuremberg with ‘Dockenmachers’ in the year 1400; craftsmen that produced little, wooden dolls, trumpets and animals. In the 16th century, Nuremberg became the centre of tin and brass toys and the tin soldier was born. By the late 1800’s more than 240 toy companies worked out of the city; its central location in Germany making it an important trading route.
You can see many of the typical tin toys and model railways these on display as well as a wonderful collection of dolls’ houses and magic lanterns. Check out this video where Hannah gives a brief tour of this wood and tin wonderland.
Life in miniature
If you have children aged between three and eleven they’ll probably be your best friend if you take them to the Playmobil FunPark in Zirndorf to the west of the city. There are several activity worlds that spin you into the lands of pirates, knights, dinosaurs and fairies. There’s a Wild West too.
Playmobil was founded in the city and you can often buy limited edition minifigures from the Tourist information shops. But they do sell out fast. We went looking for a minifigure of the city’s most famous son, Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer, but the luck we’d amassed with the magic ring didn’t stretch to that.
We did find the Albrecht Dürer House though, a massive half-timbered house where the artist lived for nearly 20 years at the start of the 1500s. It is said to be the only surviving 15th century artist’s house in Europe and a good place to get a feel of old Nuremberg. You can even get a tours led by an actress playing Dürer’s wife Agnes and there are sometimes demonstrations of historical printing techniques in the workshop.
Fascination and Terror: Nuremberg’s History of War
In contrast to its playful past, the name of Nuremberg will also be forever associated with Nazi Party conventions, historic rallies and war trials. The city makes no attempt to escape its darker past but uses it as a focus for education and memorial. You can visit the huge unfinished Congress Hall, view a visually arresting exhibition that looks at the rise and fall of Nazism in the city and the country, and climb the grandstand that was purpose built to host the enormous rallies.
Documentation Centre and Congress Hall
The remains of Nazi buildings that formed the world stage for the Nazi Party cover eleven square kilometres in the southern districts of the city. The unfinished Congress Hall houses the Documentation Centre where an exhibition “Fascination and Terror” looks at causes and consequences of the regime. There are free audio guides for the exhibition in seven languages including English. Make use of them, even for the kids. As well as being informative and engaging they trigger the soundtrack to several of the videos in the exhibition.
Nazi Party Rally Grounds
The land designated for the huge Nuremberg Rallies now lies derelict although the enormous crumbling edifice still tops four miles of grounds. Even just a few minutes spent contemplating history on the steps of the grandstand impresses on you the scale of Hitler’s ambition and the sheer size of the crowds of supporters who attended the rallies. A visit to this monument costs nothing and it’ll stay with you for a long time.
Court of the War Trials
In the Palace of Justice a permanent exhibition covers the Nuremberg War Trials and repercussions. Depending on when you visit you may also be able to book a visit to Courtroom 600 where the trials took place.
Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice
Nuremberg prides itself on its food, specifically one or two foods that go back centuries in the city’s long history.
Secret Gingerbread Recipes
If you wander Nuremberg’s famous Christmas Market you’ll notice how many bakeries are producing gingerbread to their own secret gingerbread recipe. Nuremberg Lebkuchen has a Protected Designation of Origin and must be produced within the city. We headed to Wicklein Lebkuchen on Hauptmarkt, which claims to be the oldest gingerbread bakery in Nuremberg.
Wicklein gingerbread goes back to the 1600’s when an master baker in Auerbach came up with the spiced recipe. This was then handed down through six generations, with factories built and rebuilt, until it was taken over by Lebkuchen Schmidt. You can watch the shop assistants making it if you are lucky enough to pitch up at the right time. You can also buy one and ask for it to be iced on the spot with a special message. There are nine spices essential to a basic Wicklein Lebkuchen recipe: anise, fennel, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, mace, pimento, cloves and ginger. But while that’s no secret, the precise blend is.
The Nuremberg Sausage
Another food you’ll find at the famous Christmas Market and in many city centre restaurants is the Nuremberg sausage. The Nürnberger bratwurst must be no longer than 9cm and no heavier than 25g. Chefs have been making the sausage for the last 700 years and they’ve really got it right. We tried some in the Bratwursthausle, a traditional hostelry on Rathausplatz under the Sebaldus Church, where staff dress in traditional costume and seem to serve a hundred people at once. Food is simple and cheap – basically a little row of sausages on a tin plate with potato salad and bread. You can watch them being cooked on the beech wood fire and I can honestly say I have never tasted a more tender wurst. It was so good we went back for more.
For a morning snack you can’t beat a Nur Brat, a traditional Nuremberg sausage in a fresh bun, served on your way to somewhere else. They’re cheap and filling and great with tomato sauce for fussy kids.
Eating Your Way Around
Besides gingerbread and sausages here are some of our foodie highlights from our stay in this cosmopolitan Bavarian city.
What kid would say no to a menu solely consisting of burgers? Not one of ours that’s for sure, which is how we ended up at Auguste Premium Junkfood restaurant on Augustenstraße. The restaurant is proud of its bio, locally sourced ingredients and there’s lots of choice, even for the vegetarian amongst us, although the price felt a bit hefty for burgers and chips.
After an exhaustive tour of the castle, we stopped for a snack at Hexenhäusle a half timbered former gatehouse that was once the residence of a witch. It wasn’t just the view of the castle that was magical – the “burning and strong” Witches Schnapps was a little too fiery for us. But we did refresh ourselves with a dark blackcurrant brew. No toil and trouble, just plenty of bubble.
At Buonissimo, just off Hauptmarkt the lucky ring finally delivered. Kinder Egg ices, Nutella creations and a spaghetti bolognese made out of gelato all turned up at once and disappeared as quickly as they came.
Hauptmarkt is a great place for people watching. And not just humans. The gothic Frauenkirche church dominates the east side and if you are there are at midday you should watch out for the mechanical clock chiming and sending the Prince-Electors on a musical procession around the Holy Roman Emperor. A pizza with a view at the shiny Provenza Café Restaurant gave us a chance to take in all the action of the market square.
We travelled to Dunkirk with DFDS Seaways on a comfortable crossing in the Premium lounge which included free drinks and a great view. On our return leg we sailed from Ijmuiden to Newcastle on their overnight crossing. We took our own car and drove to the hostels.
A good value way of seeing the city is by investing in a Nuremberg Card. It gives you free entry into more than 40 museums and attractions and you can use it for unlimited travel in Zone A on 2 consecutive days.
The Nuremberg Youth Hostel has 93 modern rooms, all with en-suite shower and toilet. Bookings can be made online or contact the service centre on +49 911 230936-0 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Almost all floors and rooms are accessible by wheelchair. To get there coming from any motorway exit, follow the signs to the city centre, then to “Nördliche Altstadt” and then to the Youth Hostel. Nuremberg Youth Hostel does not have any parking spaces of its own. You can pull up in front of the Youth Hostel’s entrance to load or unload your luggage. You’ll probably need to budget for a city centre car park unless you want to go hunting around for a free parking place. To come by public transport, take an ICE, IC or regional train to Nuremberg. From Nuremberg Hauptbahnhof it’s a 20-minute walk through the city centre and up Burgberg to reach the hostel.
The Imperial Castle is open April to September: 9am-6pm, and October to March: 10am-4pm. Last entry is 30 minutes before closing time. For two euros you can rent an audio guide in one of seven languages that will give you more information on the exhibits. You need to do visit the deep well with a guide and tours run every half hour from 9.30 to 5.30. (In winter from 10.30 to 3.30.)
There are various price points depending on what you want to do. An Imperial Castle combination ticket which includes the Palace with Double Chapel + Deep Well + Sinwell Tower +Kaiserburg Museum is €7 while children under 18 are free. Our Nuremberg Pass covered our entry.
Between April and October you can visit the gardens from 8 am until nightfall (8 pm at the latest)
The Toy Museum is open from Tuesday to Friday 9am-5pm and weekends 9am-6pm. It is closed on Mondays apart from during the Christmas market. Adults cost €6, kids are €1.50 and a family ticket for two adults and three children is €12.50.
The Documentation Centre is open from 9am-6pm weekdays and 10am-6pm weekends. Adults cost €6, children €1.50 and a family ticket for two adults and three children is €12.50.
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- 48 Hours In Nuremberg: A Classic, Beautiful, Dark and Playful City
Disclosure Note: This post is part of a paid campaign for DJH, the German Youth Hostels Association (Jugendherberge), who provided our stay at DJH Nuremberg. All gingerbread and sausage eating, playing with toys and climbing high towers as well as words, photography and videography are entirely of our own making.