Just arrived in Nuremberg and not sure where to start?
Only popping in for a day or two and have limited time?
Kein Problem. The Nuremberg Altstadt (old city) is a very manageable size and is well-worth the visit even if you only have a few hours to spend exploring. To help you discover some of the highlights, I've put together a little Nuermberg self-guided walking tour.
As you can see from the map, the Nuremberg old town is shaped a bit like a slouchy sack of Kartoffeln. The city, which dates back to 1050, is surrounded by a defensive wall. Construction on the wall spanned from the 12th to the 16th century, and about four kilometers remain standing today.
I do want to pause here and implore you to consider the fact that over 90% of Nuremberg's historic center was destroyed during World War II, between August 1943 and January 1945. The most severe attack took place on 2 January 1945, when 795 Allied bombers made a final effort to dismantle the city that Hitler had praised as, "the most German of all German cities." The results were devastating, effectively wiping out centuries of history and culture in a matter of minutes. Walking the city streets today, it's difficult to believe that Nuremberg is a living restoration project, but bearing this in mind certainly adds a layer of appreciation to one's perspective.
So, let's begin our walking tour. The numbers on the map above correspond with the order of my list. We'll essentially be making a loop, so you're free to begin with whichever point of interest is closest to your own starting point for the day.
1) Nuremberg Hauptmarkt
The heart of the city since the beginning, Hauptmarkt quite literally means "main market." This is the site of Nuremberg's infamous Christmas market (Christkindlesmarkt), the annual Easter market (Ostermarkt), as well as myriad events throughout the year. When the Hauptmarkt's event schedule is clear, it hosts daily vendors of various crafts, fresh produce, cheese, specialty foods, and delicious street eats. Perhaps most notably, Nuremberg's Hauptmarkt is home to the Frauenkirche and the Schöner Brunnen.
The Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) was built from 1352 - 1362, and serves as a lovely example of Gothic architecture. Remarkably, the mechanical clock (Männleinlaufen) at the front of the church, installed in 1506 to commemorate the Golden Bull decree of 1356, still plays each day at 12:00. You'll see passersby pausing in the Hauptmarkt to watch as the procession of seven electors emerges to circle the the emperor. If you'd like to take a peek inside the church, the side door is generally open for visitor access.
Schöner Brunnen translates to "beautiful fountain," which is appropriate because this is a rather ornate structure. Although what we see today is a 20th-century replica, the original fountain was created in the late 14th century. Standing 19 meters high, the figures surrounding the fountain are meant to represent the worldview of the Holy Roman Empire. You'll undoubtedly notice visitors clinging to the fence in search of a brass ringto spin the ring is said to bring good luck/grant your wish/ensure your return to Nuremberg, depending upon which version of the legend you believe. FYI, there are two rings and the one closest to the building next to the fountain (yes, the souvenir shop) is alleged to be the real one. The other, more obvious ring is "for the tourists." Choose accordingly, my friends.
If you're facing the Frauenkirche, turn to your right and walk straight ahead, and you'll make your way to Lorenzkirche. Dedicated to Saint Lorenz (or Lawrence), this medieval church is of the Evangelical Lutheran persuasion. Groundbreaking took place in 1250, and it would be more than 100 years later before the first phase of construction was completed. Like so much of Nuremberg, Lorenzkirche was badly damaged in WWII, but careful restoration efforts have brought it back to its former glory. The facade is especially majestic on sunny days, when the spires seem more piercing than ever against a blue sky. If Nuremberg has a landmark building other than the castle, it's probably this church.
(As with Frauenkirche, you can often enter Lorenzkirche through the side door.)
3) Ludwigsplatz - Ehekarussell
If you turn your back to Lorenzkirche, you'll be looking down Karolinenstrasse, a wide street serving as a main pedestrian thoroughfare in Nuremberg's shopping district. As you stroll along checking out the shops, you'll eventually come to Ludwigsplatz and a curious fountain called the Ehekarussell, or "carousel of marriage." Almost more of an art installation than a water fixture, Ehekarussell is the creative (albeit rather grim) work of Jürgen Weber, who completed the fountain in 1981. The series of statues form a large circle and are supposed to represent the phases of marriage. You'll see a jovial couple in the early throes of romance, then watch the unfortunate progression of the relationship (interspersed with various animals that you're free to interpret the meaning of however you wish) as you walk around the fountain. The whole thing is quite a conversation-starter, encompassing everything from obesity to nudity to death, and it's fascinating.
Hang a right at Der Beck near the Ehekarussell and stroll for about 10 minutes, and you'll find yourself at Kettensteg, which is a very literal name as this is indeed a "chain bridge." The oldest one in Europe, at that. Kettensteg crosses the Pegnitz, right where the river exits the Altstadt through the surrounding wall, and has been in place since its construction in 1824. This pedestrian bridge spans 68 meters and yields picturesque views of Nuremberg as you gaze over the river.
The bridge you'll see as you stand on Kettensteg is Maxbrücke, which I also suggest walking over to for the enjoyment of one of Nuremberg's most quintessential views:
Just a stone's throw from Kettensteg and a must-see in Nuremberg, Weißgerbergasse is a true "postcard" street. Lined with a small collection of medieval half-timbered houses that managed to survive the WWII air raids, you'll find a nary a Gasse quite as charming as this one. Today, the street is mostly comprised of cafes, bars, and a handful of small businesses, but during the Middle Ages, Weißgerbergasse was the tanners' quarter. Leathermakers worked close to the Pegnitz, which provided much-needed water for the tanning process and a convenient place to dump the smelly cast-off as the river exits the confines of town.
Weißgerbergasse spills out onto Weinmarkt. From here, take a left onto Albrecht-Dürer-Straße and walk about five minutes up the hill, where the street will end at Tiergärtnerplatz. This scenic, cozy platz is not only the site of the Albrecht Dürer House musuem, it's also a popular spot for enjoying a beverage. If the weather is nice, I would encourage you to have a sit at either Töpferei am Dürerhaus or Café Wanderer for a spritz or an espresso as you sit back and admire the Fachwerk (more of that half-timbered charm) and Tiergärtnertor. This impressive wall tower and gate dates back to the 13th century, and you'll notice that the tunnel is still used as a main point of entrance to the Altstadt today. Walk through the tunnel and you'll be on the other side of the city wall, but be sure to come back before straying too far, as we've yet to make it to the castle.
7) Kaiserburg - The Imperial Castle of Nuremberg
From Tiergärtnerplatz you can look up and see the castle, so I trust you'll be able to find your way from there to Nuremberg's most magnificent of structures. Built to convey the great power of the Holy Roman Empire, construction on the castle began in the early 11th century, with additions and expansions continuing through the 17th century. Thanks to its prominent location along trade routes, Nuremberg was vastly powerful, hosting numerous kings and emperors through the centuries as they traveled from one imperial city to the next.
Given its long and storied history, I can't possibly relay the whole tale of Kaiserburg, but if you'd like to learn more, clicking here is a great start.
Exploring the castle grounds is largely possible as a self-guided endeavor. You can visit the Kaiserburg Museum, the Palas, and even the imposing Sinwell Tower on your own during opening hours. To access the 14th-century Deep Well and its 50-meter depth, however, you'll have to take a guided tour. (Info on opening hours, admissions, and guided tours here.)
The panoramic view from the outlook below Sinwell Tower is probably my favorite spot in Nuremberg. I've been up there more times than I can count and it never gets old!
When you're finished with the castle, you can head back down the hill and continue on to wherever you'd like.
Of course, this list is just a small selection of the many beautiful things to see around Nuremberg, so do continue meandering around if time permits. There's lots more to discover, but these are some of the key areas I make sure to take my own friends and family to whenever someone makes their first visit to the city.