Dotted with medieval churches, laced together with half-timbered buildings, and punctuated by a castle from the early days of the Holy Roman Empire, Nuremberg, Germany, is bursting at the seams with history. Walking around the old town, every few steps, there’s something new to see from the 13th century or the Renaissance or some other prosperous period in the past. For lovers of art and architecture, there are so many interesting things to do in Nuremberg and so many sites to see.
And, yet, it’s a miracle that the old town exists at all.
Nuremberg’s modern history is less glorious than its ancient history. As a weapons manufacturing hub, a hotbed of Nazi activity, and the location of the annual Nazi Party rally for 15 years, the city became a target for Allied bombing during World War II. Most of old town Nuremberg was destroyed. The pieces that stand today are lucky survivors or carefully preserved and reconstructed remains.
Today Nuremberg is a complex city. It’s full of beautiful buildings, ancient artworks, and endless stories of emperors and kings. It’s also a city that’s acknowledged its past and built monuments to justice and peace. Plus, it’s the home to one of the most festive Christmas markets in the world. We’ve visited five times and are still uncovering new things to do in Nuremberg and new aspects to love about the city. Here’s a look at some of our favorites.
- Shop at Handwerkerhof
- Gaze at St. Lawrence Church
- Visit The Hospital of the Holy Spirit
- See the sites of the Hauptmarkt
- Visit the Weinstadel wine depot
- See the colors of the medieval tanners’ lane
- Walk through the Nuremberg Imperial Castle
- Immerse yourself in art at Albrecht Durer’s House
- See the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds
- Get cultured at the German National Museum
- Walk the Way of Human Rights
- Step back in history in Courtroom 600
- See St. Sebald Church
- Take a ride to the White Tower
- Contemplate romance at the Ehekarussell Fountain
- Visit the Toy Museum
- Try the city’s famous sausage
- Don’t miss the Christmas market
Shop at Handwerkerhof
Walking from the train station to the center of historic Nuremberg, the first attraction you see is Handwerkerhof, a small craftsman’s court. The large, round tower with its “welcome” flags and the ancient city gate let you know you’re headed in the right direction.
The gate and the old city wall mark the entrance to this area that was the former weapons yard of the imperial city of Nuremberg. In this small corner, you’ll find elaborate wrought-iron signs and half-timbered buildings housing a variety of businesses.
There are craftsmen selling leather goods, jewelry, wooden toys, and souvenirs. You’ll find a handful of cafes and bars offering coffee, pastries, and the heartier food of Germany like Franconian beer and the city’s namesake Nuremberger bratwurst sausages. Visitors can also watch potters, metalworkers, glass grinders, and other craftsmen at work in their workshops. The outside of the rustic businesses give you a glimpse of what walking through the streets of Nuremberg might have felt like 300 years ago.
Gaze at St. Lawrence Church
With its twin towers reaching over 260 feet in the air, it’s impossible to miss St. Lawrence Church (Lorenzkirche) along Konigstrasse, now the main shopping street in Nuremberg. Originally built as a Catholic Church, it became Lutheran after the Reformation started by Martin Luther in the early 16th century.
Construction began about 1250 on this church built in the high Gothic style and continued well into the 1400s, making it one of the oldest buildings in the city. St. Lawrence was damaged in the Allied bombings during World War II and was reconstructed, but its ornate western façade with the rose window remained largely intact.
The interior of the church is free to visit. You’ll see the carved choir and ornate pulpit along with elaborately designed stained glass.
Visit The Hospital of the Holy Spirit
Most people admire one of the main sites in Nuremberg—The Hospital of the Holy Spirit (Heilig-Geist-Spital)—from the outside without knowing its purpose. With its arches and the Pegnitz River flowing underneath, it’s easy to see why this historical place attracts so much attention.
The Hospital of the Holy Spirit was established in the 1330s to care for the elderly and the needy. For nearly 200 years, it remained the largest private endowment in the Holy Roman Empire. Today, it’s a retirement home, and the hospital’s former dining room is a top restaurant in Nuremberg.
See the sites of the Hauptmarkt
There is a lot going on in the Hauptmarkt, so it’s an area you shouldn’t miss. In the center of the historic old town, the square hosts regular markets and is the location of the city’s most iconic church and an opulent fountain.
The Hauptmarkt plaza is the site of daily markets. The square fills with vendors selling fresh produce, flowers, pastries, and more. There is also a group of food trucks where you can get German, Lebanese, and other international cuisines for a quick, inexpensive lunch.
At Christmas, the Hauptmarkt is the center of the Christkindlesmarkt. Every inch is occupied by craft vendors and food sellers. At the foot of the Frauenkirche (the Church of Our Lady), choirs and bands perform Christmas carols for the thousands that flow through the market, which is not only one of the top places to visit in Nuremberg but one of the top markets in all of Germany and Europe.
Every day at noon, the clock of the Gothic Frauenkirche is one of the top things to see in Nuremberg because the clock’s figurines come to life. A parade circles the Holy Roman Emperor, and trumpeters and a drummer perform on the face of the 16th-century clock. Step inside the church to see the sculptures and artwork from the Middle Ages.
Don’t miss the fountain on the corner of the Hauptmarkt, the Schöner Brunnen (Beautiful Fountain). The fountain dates from the 1380s and it’s adorned with 40 colorful figurines. Touch the golden ring for good luck.
Visit the Weinstadel wine depot
As soon as I read that the Weinstadel is the largest half-timbered building in Germany, it was added to our list of what to see in Nuremberg. (I have a small obsession with half-timbered towns.) At over 150 feet long, it is impressive not just because of its size but because it has withstood nearly 600 years of changes in the city of Nuremberg.
Built 1446-1448, the Weinstadel (“wine depot”) originally served a unique purpose. Each year at Easter, citizens with leprosy were allowed into town for three days to receive food, clothing, and medical attention in the building.
Needs changed over time, and it ultimately became a wine warehouse in 1571. Hence the current name. It later became a workhouse, a hospital, and a home for poor families over the centuries. Today, it provides student housing.
Take a stroll on the bridge, admire the architecture, and keep a look out for the gargoyles.
See the colors of the medieval tanners’ lane
Not far from the Weinstadel, the medieval tanners’ lane, Weissgerbergasse, is the best-preserved street in the old town and a must-see when you visit Nuremberg. With half-timbered construction and colorful facades, the lane echoes similarly preserved streets of the same era such as the tanners’ lane in Colmar, France (once a free imperial city like Nuremberg and also once part of Germany.)
In the Middle Ages, these houses with their own gardens and wells belonged to the white tanners of the city. Today, these 20 houses show what the remaining artisan quarters looked like pre-war and are a testament to the middle-class wealth that arose from leather-making. Instead of busy tanneries and workshops, Weissgerbergasse is now a pedestrian area with cafés, bars, and boutiques.
Walk through the Nuremberg Imperial Castle
The Imperial Castle has been the symbol of Nuremberg for over 1000 years. In the Middle Ages, its grandeur was a testament to the power and importance of the Holy Roman Empire and the critical role of the imperial city of Nuremberg. As a favorite stopping place for rulers on their trips across the Empire, the castle in Nuremberg was a key location for court assemblies, Imperial Diets, and meetings of the most important people in the realm.
Over the centuries, portions of the castle complex have been built, re-built, and added to according to the style and needs of the time. Though it lost its importance for a time after the Thirty Years War in the 1600s, the castle continued to be used on and off by heads of state and dignitaries through the 20th century.
Some parts of the castle were in ruins after the War, but other parts—like the famous Sinwell Tower and the Double Chapel in the center of the castle—were nearly untouched. Restored to its original state, the castle is one of the highlights of sightseeing in Nuremberg.
The Imperial Castle Museum contains an array of artifacts, including weapons, official documents, and artwork. There are interesting exhibits about the function of the castle and Nuremberg’s place in the Holy Roman Empire. Visitors can also climb the Sinwell Tower and take a tour of the “Deep Well,” the castle’s medieval water source.
Immerse yourself in art at Albrecht Durer’s House
Albrecht Durer is Nuremberg’s most famous son and Germany’s most famous artist. The German Renaissance artist was a painter, engraver, and printmaker credited with helping to bring the ideas of the Renaissance to Northern Europe thanks to his communication with other masters including Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci.
For nearly 20 years—beginning in 1509 until his death—he lived and worked in the 5-story, red half-timbered house near the castle. One of the few such buildings to survive the war, his home and studio is now a museum about his life and work.
The Durer House, the only surviving 15th century artist’s house in Northern Europe, was purchased by the city in 1826. It has been preserved and restored, though none of Durer’s possessions remain.
The museum features valuable copies of his most famous works and furnishings of the type Durer would have owned along with a recreation of his workshop. Rotating exhibits also feature items from Nuremberg’s art collections. Visitors can watch copper plate engravings on site for a glimpse into Durer’s techniques and work and can take a tour with an actress playing Agnes Durer, the wife of the artist.
See the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds
The unfortunate reality of Nuremberg’s history is that it is closely tied to the Nazi Party, in large part because of the annual rallies held here. The Nazi Party Rally Grounds—about 2.5 miles (4km) from the center of town—have been preserved so that Germany will never forget what happened and the world can focus on never allowing it to happen again.
For 15 years, the 7-square-mile site of the Rally Grounds (Reichsparteitagsgelände) hosted massive rallies where hordes of Nazi faithful engaged in sports, built friendships, and grew in their allegiance to Hitler and their hatred of non-Aryans. One of the spectacles was featured in Leni Riefenstahl’s controversial film the Triumph of the Will.
Walking around the grounds today is eerie. You can see the famous Zeppelin Field (now used as football pitches) and the Tribune Stand from which Hitler addressed the masses as well as the Congress Hall, the party’s central meeting place. The Rally Grounds also has a Documentation Center, the site’s museum and a center for studying of the Nazi period. Anyone interested in history will find this site intriguing.
Get cultured at the German National Museum
The German National Museum (Germanisches Nationalmuseum) is the premier collection of German art and artifacts in Europe. Founded in 1852, the museum houses items relating to German culture and art from prehistoric times through to the present day.
One of the largest museums in Europe, the collection of the German National Museum includes more than one million items. There are Neolithic tools, ancient statues and carvings, and items belonging to emperors and royals. Among the museum’s greatest treasures are works by Albrecht Durer and the world’s oldest globe.
Walk the Way of Human Rights
Next to the German National Museum is an artwork known as the Way of Human Rights. Unveiled in 1993, the installation is a response to the city’s past role in the Nazi Party movement and the need for overall awareness of human rights.
Walking from the Kornmarkt past the museum, visitors pass 27 large concrete columns. On each one, there is an article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a different language (plus German). The work is even more relevant in today’s political climate than it was when it was created as parts of Europe, the US, and other countries continue to move to the political right.
Step back in history in Courtroom 600
We have been to numerous Holocaust sites. We’ve seen the barracks at Dachau and the items people left behind at Auschwitz. We’ve seen Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam and walked the Jewish ghetto in Budapest. None of those places prepared me for the feeling of utter disgust I had sitting in Courtroom 600 in Nuremberg.
For four years following World War II, Courtroom 600 at Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice was the location where the worst of the worst were put on trial. The first Nuremberg Trial was the most notorious. From November 1945 to October 1946, 24 of the primary perpetrators of the Holocaust, including Nazi Party leaders like Rudolf Hess and Hermann Goring, had to answer for their roles in the Final Solution. Knowing I was walking where they walked and sitting where they sat hit me unexpectedly hard.
In Courtroom 600, visitors learn about why Nuremberg was chosen for the trials, how the prisoners were held, and all the modifications made to the courtroom to accommodate the prisoners, media, and numerous interested parties.
Other exhibits in the courthouse go into detail about the lives of the prisoners and how the trials were conducted. They also outline the role of the Nuremberg Trials as important precedents for how international law is now administered, particularly as related to genocide and other crimes against humanity. Despite my visceral feelings about the people involved, Courtroom 600 is one of the best places to visit in Nuremberg.
See St. Sebald Church
The oldest church in Nuremberg, St. Sebald Church was consecrated in 1273. Part Gothic and part Romanesque, it takes its name from Sebaldus, an 8th-century hermit and missionary who became the city’s patron saint.
The Baroque interior of the church is the site of the tomb of St. Sebald, an imposing brass monument ringed with saints and sitting atop a group of snails. The bones of Sebaldus are presumed to be in the silver embossed box in the center.
Like many of the other buildings in Nuremberg, St. Sebald Church was partially destroyed during the War. It was rebuilt and re-consecrated in the 1950s. With its beautiful carvings, statues, and frescoes from the Middle Ages, you would never know the extent of the damage it suffered.
Take a ride to the White Tower
The White Tower (Weisser Turm) is one of the oldest structures in Nuremberg. Originally built around 1250, the tower and gate originally served as a tollbooth and were formerly part of the second city wall. It is one of the few remaining such towers in the city of Nuremberg.
The tower was named after the white plaster that originally covered its exterior, but that was removed as part of restoration efforts following the War. Since 1978, the tower has been the above-ground part of the Weisser Turm subway stop, making it even easier for people to visit.
Contemplate romance at the Ehekarussell Fountain
Just behind Weisser Turm is one of the few Nuremberg attractions without a medieval pedigree or roots in World War II. The Ehekarussell Fountain (loosely translated, the Marriage-Merry-Go-Round) was completed in 1981 based on a verse by Hans Sachs, a 16th-century German poet.
The controversial bronze fountain depicts—sometimes grotesquely—the stages of courtship and marriage. Pairs of men and women with the odd animal thrown in show life from dating through death. There’s love, gluttony, nudity, and seemingly murder, which combine into a sculpture that is both loved and hated, depending on who you ask.
Visit the Toy Museum
Nuremberg’s Toy Museum has one of the largest and most wide-ranging collections of toys in the world with more than 85,000 objects. The collection spans the time from antiquity to the modern day. Permanent exhibits include wooden toys, dollhouses, and movable toys like toy trains, cars, and more technologically advanced items. There are also classics like Barbie and Lego.
In addition to exhibits, visitors can play games, experiment with crafts, and read books. In the summer months, you can linger in the outdoor café and watch the model train.
Try the city’s famous sausage
Germany and sausage go hand in hand. One of our favorites are the Nurembergers, Nuremberg’s namesake sausage that the city is famous for. You can’t leave without trying them.
Nurembergers, or rostbratwurst, are small marjoram-flavored pork sausages, about the size of a breakfast link sausage. According to legend (these sausages have been around at least 500 years), they had to be small to fit through the key holes of the city gates and, after closing time, through the key holes of pub doors.
Traditionally, Nurembergers are grilled over a beechwood fire, though it’s also common to find them reheated on a flat-top grill, especially at street food stands. At the stands, they are often sold as Drei im Weckla (three in a bun). In restaurants, they’re served as a main dish of six sausages on a pewter plate with sauerkraut or potato salad with a healthy dose of horseradish or mustard.
Don’t miss the Christmas market
We cannot say enough about our all-consuming love for Christkindlesmarkt, the Christmas market in Nuremberg. With the smells of traditional foods, the sounds of choirs, and the sights of the stunning nutcrackers and ornaments for sale, the market is one of the most famous Christmas markets in Germany for good reason.
The section of the market in the Hauptmarkt holds the most vendors. There, you’ll find the “prune people” that are traditional in the city alongside gingerbread (lebkuchen), Christmas cakes, and more mulled wine (gluhwein) than you can ever drink. The festivity is infectious.
There is also a section of the market just for children, and–on the opposite end of the celebration spectrum–a place to drink from the world’s largest feuerzangenbowle, a concoction of mulled wine and rum-soaked sugar. Horses clomp through the streets carrying visitors on carriage rides, and there are numerous parades. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get to see the Christkind, and angel (a teenage girl) who brings children their Christmas gifts. If you have the chance to visit Nuremberg at Christmas, do not hesitate.
Where to Stay
Le Meridien Grand Hotel: Centrally located with comfortable beds, elaborate breakfast, and a bubbly happy hour
NH Collection Nurnberg City: Four-star hotel offering rooms with views over a summer terrace and herb garden
Where to Eat
Cocoon: Sushi, stir fry, and savory Asian flavors
Burgerheart: Excellent burgers and fried in old town
Der Nassauer Keller: Traditional German food in a Bavarian cellar