The belltower of Dom St. Peter (St. Peter's Cathedral) in Regensburg, Germany

Europe’s Forgotten Capital – Regensburg, Germany

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Athens to Zagreb – we all feel like we know the capitals of Europe. Yet we don’t know that Regensburg, Germany was once such a capital city. This often overlooked town on the Danube River made a big impression on me.

We’re passionate about visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites and Regensburg received this designation in 2006. The city is recognized by UNESCO for its perfectly preserved old town (and the medieval architecture located therein) and for its cultural importance from the High Middle Ages right through the Holy Roman Empire.

Check current hotel prices here.

Fresco inside Dom St. Peter (St. Peter's Cathedral)

This is Europe’s forgotten capital city. During the Middle Ages, the Imperial Diets (General Assembly) met for nearly 1,000 years in the city of Regensburg (called Ratisbon). From 1663-1803, Regensburg was the Parliamentary seat of the entire Holy Roman Empire. So, from 788 to 1806, Regensburg was one of the most important cities in Europe and essentially the (ancient) old capital of Germany.

The exterior of St. Peter's Cathedral Regensburg
The cathedral is one of the most significant Gothic buildings in Bavaria

Yet today, the city is practically bucolic – a quiet town frequented by river cruise tourists in the summer and largely ignored in the colder months. In all of my many trips to Germany, I’ve always wanted to visit this UNESCO World Heritage city. Finally, after 10 years, I made the trip to Regensburg. And it poured rain. And it was cold. Yet the weather could not dampen my spirits as I fulfilled my dream.

Seeing the main square while visiting Regensburg, Germany in the rain
The main square in the rain

Things to do in Regensburg

The Regensburg Cathedral

Given the pouring rain, I spent a lot of time in churches – and this city has many of those. Visiting churches is one of the top things to do in Regensburg. The city’s skyline is dominated by the twin, gray cross-topped spires of Dom St. Peter (St. Peter’s Cathedral). First begun in late 8th century, the church was rebuilt after a fire in 1273, and the current cathedral was completed in 1520.

In the late 1880s, this once-baroque church was refashioned into a Gothic cathedral by King Ludwig I of Bavaria. The Regensburg Cathedral is the finest such example of Gothic architecture in southern Germany.

The vaulting of the ceiling inside St. Peter's Cathedral in Regensburg

The Porta Praetoria

However, what I found most fascinating is that the cathedral was atop the hill just above the Porta Praetoria, a stone gateway and tower dating from 179 A.D. The city of Regensburg was actually a Roman military outpost called Castra Regina, and this was the northern gate of the fortifications. The fortifications in Regensburg were ordered constructed by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius to house his Legio III Italica (the Italian Third Legion of the Imperial Roman Army).

Bicyclist riding by the Porta Praetoria from the Roman military outpost Castra Regina in Regensburg
Porta Praetoria

The Roman Walls

All over town, you’ll see remnants of the Roman walls that have been incorporated into other buildings. This is because the city is actually one of Germany’s oldest cities. Even before the Romans, the Celts had a city named Rabasbona along the banks of the Danube here. Each great power to establish rule over this area has recognized the strategic importance of this area: this is the most northern point on the Danube River.

Old Roman fortifications along the Danube have been  incorporated into modern city walls
The Roman Wall

The Old Chapel

By the far, the most intriguing building in the city is the Alte Kapelle (The Collegiate Church of Our Lady, the Old Chapel). This is a rococo church (with a little early baroque in the mix). The defining characteristic of the Old Chapel is the gold leaf – everywhere. It’s like someone vomited gold leaf, but it makes it one of the most intriguing of all the Regensburg churches.

Originally built in the mid-800s, it was rebuilt by Emperor Henry II and overseen by the diocese of Bamberg (also a UNESCO World Heritage city). The pews are closed off by an imposing iron gate, but I was able to stand at the back and take in this golden beauty while listening to the pouring rain outside. For me, the Alte Kapelle is the highlight of the churches in Regensburg and not to be missed. A final notable church is St. Emmeram’s Basilica, part of the old Benedictine monastery.

The rococo interior of The Collegiate Church of Our Lady at the Alte Kapelle (Old Chapel)
The Alte Kapelle

The Boats on the Danube River

One of the best things to do in Regensburg is actually walk along the banks of the Danube River and take in the sights. Rows of river cruise boats are lined up here waiting for the busier summer months, but nobody was sailing in the cool early spring. Despite the weather, the bratwurst and sausage vendors were out in force – it made a cheap and quick lunch. The ducks on the Danube were hoping I’d throw them a bite!

The Danube is one of Europe’s most important rivers (and its second longest), and one of the most popular river cruising destinations. Starting in southwest Germany, the Danube snakes it’s way over 1,770 miles across southern Germany before traveling through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, and Ukraine before emptying in the Black Sea. Historically, this city joined Vienna, and Budapest as some of the most important cities along the Danube River.

The Danube River is crossed by the Steinerne Brucke (Old Stone Bridge) in Regensburg
Steinerne Brucke Crossing the Danube

The Old Stone Bridge

It seems that all roads in town lead to the Steinerne Brucke (Stone Bridge). This bridge dating from 1146 was the only bridge crossing on the Danube between Ulm and Vienna for over 800 years. The bridge was so well constructed that it served as the model for other bridges in Europe, including the London Bridge and the Pont d’Avignon.

I encountered a bridge covered in scaffolding and undergoing repairs, however, it did not diminish the views of the Regensburg skyline that could be seen from it.

The skyline of Regensburg as viewed from the Old Bridge
The skyline from the Steinerne Brucke

The Bridge Tower Museum and the Regensburg UNESCO World Heritage Visitor Centre

At one end of the Old Stone Bridge, The Bridge Tower Museum has an excellent exhibit that tells the story of the famous Old Stone Bridge and the development of the town. The museum has some good artifacts relating to the construction of this strategically important bridge.

The museum also serves as the Regensburg UNESCO World Heritage Visitor Centre. The visitor center explains why the city is honored with a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

An interactive exhibit inside The UNESCO World Heritage Visitor Centre
The UNESCO World Heritage Visitor Centre

The Brückturm Clock Tower

However, the other reason to visit the Regensburg Bridge Tower Museum is to climb to the top of the Brückturm clock tower. This is the last of the surviving bridge towers in Regensburg (historically there were at least three towers along the bridge). The views from the tower are spectacular!

The Bridge Tower Museum located inside the Brückturm clock tower
The Brückturm and Bridge Tower Museum

Regensburg Sausage Kitchen

On the banks of the Danube is the Regensburg Sausage Kitchen. This restaurant lays claim to being the oldest restaurant in Germany, and also the oldest continuously open to the public restaurant in the world. The restaurant on this location has been open since the year 1146.

These days, this sausage kitchen serves up about 6,000 bratwursts to visiting tourists and locals. The sausages are served in even-numbered combinations with six, eight, or 10 being the most common. Sauerkraut and their own famous Regensburg Sausage Kitchen Mustard come included.

There are a lot of things to do in Regensburg. I was easily able to fill a whole day exploring the city. Had it been better weather, just sitting on the banks of the Danube with a picnic would have been a delight.

A prayer candle being lit inside St. Peter's Cathedral

Best Hotels in Regensburg, Germany

We recommend the following Regensburg hotels:

Bohemian Hotel – Our top pick for where to stay in Regensburg. It’s a beautiful blend of antiques and modern facilities while being located in one of our favorite parts of the city. There’s a large public parking lot nearby if you are coming by car. Many of the rooms are tastefully themed to coincide with a period of the city’s history.

Hotel Goliath am Dom – The Hotel Goliath is arguably the finest hotel in the city. Rooms are elegantly decorated and there is a room terrace for breakfast with views of the cathedral. The hotel is located in the heart of the old city and just oozes charm and romance.

Altstadthotel Am Pach – This hotel has a great location in the heart of the old city. The hotel building is over 1,000 years old. The rooms have been remodeled to provide comfort, although they lack some charm for a building so old. This is a great location in the city.

Check other hotel prices here.

Have you ever been? We’d love to hear your favorite things to do in Regensburg!

Graffiti on city wall saying We Are Fucking Angry! next to a yellow moped

5 thoughts on “Europe’s Forgotten Capital – Regensburg, Germany”

  1. Regensburg was not destroyed during the WWII, the city is one of the best preserved in Germany. Very nice and attractive city. And thank you for your post!!!

  2. The Alte Kapelle looks so unreal! Absolutely gorgeous!
    I haven’t heard of this place before but definitely on my radar now.
    I am planning a trip to German in 2016 (I know it’s pretty far out) for my boyfriend’s 30th. He’s fascinated by the history of WWII while I am interested in the food and art.
    Regensburg looks and sounds like a perfect place to get our fill of history, architecture and art.

    1. Murissa, a trip to Germany in 2016? My, you really plan ahead. Laura and I are still trying to figure out where to go this fall. So many places in the world to pick! Germany is great and I find myself going back over and over again.

  3. Travel Underwriters

    I’m glad that you shared this post with us! It sounds like such a beautiful city steeped in heritage and history.

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