The medieval city of Regensburg is a little wonderland where Hansel and Gretel would feel right at home.
NESTLED ON the banks of the River Danube, the medieval city of Regensburg in Bavaria, Germany, resembles a little wonderland one could expect to find only inside a child’s snow globe. There are pointy church steeples and frosty windows adorned with jewels of stained glass, and building fronts painted in an array of candy-like pastel hues. Hansel and Gretel would feel right at home here. The pride of this small but bustling city is its preservation efforts. The cobblestone streets and cityscapes of Regensburg’s historic centre – a Unesco World Heritage Site – are protected by über strict laws, and the state’s conservation team oversees everything from a token façade repair to principal construction projects. As the area was largely untouched by Allied bombs in the second World War, retaining the city’s architectural heritage is vital for Regensburg residents and the city’s growing tourism industry.
It is a city of extraordinary cathedrals and ancient landmarks, which makes it an ideal destination for those who enjoy taking in art from outside – literally. While Regensburg does have its share of museums (including the famed Historisches Museum, considered to be one of the most notable in east Bavaria) there are so many distinguished architectural structures and natural monuments that it’s perfectly acceptable to skip the museums all together.
A fine example is the 850-year-old Stone Bridge, a medieval masterpiece of engineering that was for many years the only bridge spanning the Danube between Ulm and Vienna. A simple stroll across the bridge offers breathtaking views of the river and the city’s low-lying rooftops.
The crème of the cathedral crop is the Regensburg Cathedral or Regensburger Dom, a towering monument made of limestone and green sandstone (which have the tendency to turn black, meaning the building is seemingly always under restoration). The building has two massive spires and impressive stained-glass windows.
The Benedictine abbey of St James, known as Scots Monastery or Schottenkirche St Jakob, was founded by Celtic missionaries from Ireland around 1150 and boasts the “Schottenportal”, an elaborately carved north portal that is now protected by a large glass enclosure. Initially a small abbey, the building was expanded to accommodate the influx of Irish monks making their way to the city. For structural design and construction buffs, both are must-sees.
THOSE WHO HAVE no inkling of interest in architecture will still enjoy a walk through the historic city centre if for nothing other than its energetic vibe. The maze of stone streets is brimming with cafes, shops and food stalls, all pristinely organised and meticulously kept – this is Germany, after all!
It seems with every turn of a corner, another microcosm of the city – complete with its own distinguishing characteristics – emerges. There are corners straddled by fashionable coffee shops frequented by alarmingly tall and fit twentysomethings who prefer a Tom Waits tune with their cup of impeccably-brewed espresso.
Across the street is a gourmet wine and cheese shop offering 20 different varieties of sea salt and favoured by foodie-types and yuppie mums. And just a stone’s throw away a New Age gift shop attracts modern hippie types looking for the latest in amber jewellery and fragrant incense.
While summer is the high season for Regensburg tourism, there’s really no bad time to visit. Winter can be an especially beautiful season for the city, with white powder adorning the treetops and sheets of ice floating down the Danube.
Major attractions during that time are the Christmas markets, which run from November 25th to December 23rd. There is the main market in the city centre as well as the “romantic” Christmas market in the Thurn and Taxis Castle, which features holiday choirs and music ensembles as well as a variety of handcrafted gifts and wares.
In both May and September, the city hosts a number of open-air festivals where patrons can shop, drink, listen to music and enjoy an array of local culinary treats.
Good food is easy to find in Regensburg, from the traditional to modern takes on the classics. This being Bavaria, sausages are king and it’d be easy to feel sorry for vegetarians after sampling the local meaty fare.
Right at the end of the Old Stone Bridge is the city’s most famous sausage tavern, the 500-year-old Wurstkuchl. There is no menu; line cooks turn homemade bratwurst on a charcoal grill and serve it with sauerkraut that’s been fermented in the tavern’s own cellar.
The only accompaniment is a basket of sturdy German bread and a side of mustard that’s been made using a secret recipe passed down for centuries. It is the epitome of good, simple Bavarian food and is especially satisfying during the winter months.
CAFE CULTURE is alive and well in Regensburg and great coffee is the standard in the city. To go with coffee (or tea) many cafes offer a selection of traditional German sweet treats such as apple strudel and dampfnudeln mit vanillesauce, a steamed dumpling that sits in a pool of silky vanilla cream.
For non-teetotalers, there are plenty of local beers and many pubs and breweries in which to taste them. The most popular brewery in the city is Kneitinger, which offers tours and will grant visitors a “beer diploma” after a quick and fun educational run-down of its selection of brews.
The area has a diverse assortment of accommodation to suit any taste. While Regensburg is known for its historic quality there are a number of modern structures making their way into the antique city. The Hotel Goliath features a contemporary style and an expansive rooftop terrace perfect for a glass of champagne and a magnificent view of the city.
Another nod to mod is the Sorat Hotel, situated right on the Danube. With its clean, minimalist decor and sleek cocktail lounge, guests must be confused to look out the window and see the ancient buildings all around.
Of course, there are plenty of castle-like, traditional Bavarian inns and hotels for those who prefer not to break the medieval mood.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Regensburg is its combination of Old World and modern sensibilities; it’s easy to travel between completely different eras or merge them all for a totally unique experience. Here, you can enjoy a hipster cocktail under a stone arch older than some countries and somehow it doesn’t seem contrived. It just feels right.
5 places to stay
Hotel Goliath. Goliathstrasse 10, 00-49-941-2000-90-0, hotel-goliath.de. This five-star modern hotel caters to a high-end clientele and offers all the amenities. Car rental, round-the-clock room service and a well-stocked fitness centre are just some of the perks of this celebrity favourite. Rates start at €145 per night.
Hotel Karmeliten. Dachauplatz 1, 00-49-941-6984-91-0, karmeliten-hotel.de. Right in the heart of the city centre, this casual hotel is well priced but nicely decorated and appointed. There is a bar and a club on the property, so stumbling home is easy when staying here. In the summertime the hotel features a lush, outdoor lounge. Rooms from €79 per night.
Sorat Insel-Hotel. Mueller Strasse 7, 00-49-941-8104-0, sorat-hotels.com/de. Located on the Danube River, this design hotel is sleek, stylish and very modern. A sauna and gym are available for guests and there is a restaurant (with a much-lauded breakfast) in-house. Within walking distance to the city centre. Rates start at €118 per night.
Hotel Bischofshof. Krauterermarkt 3, 00-49-941-5846-0, hotel-bischofshof.de. Beautiful Bavarian-style hotel located close to the Regensburg Cathedral (so beware of the church bells!). Country-style decor but with modern amenities including wireless internet and flat-screen TVs. Restaurant on site featuring traditional, local fare. Rates start at €79 per night.
Hotel Orphee. Untere Bachgasse 8, 00-49-941-5960-20, hotel-orphee.de. This adorable and romantic hotel right in the middle of the city is perfect for a couple’s holiday in Regensburg. Recently renovated, the hotel has 34 cosy rooms and houses a quaint French cafe downstairs that’s popular with local writers. Rooms from €130 per night.
5 places to eat
Wurstkuchl Tavern. Thundorferstrasse 3, 00-49-941-4662-10, wurstkuchl.de. The place to eat bratwurst in Regensburg, but be prepared to wait for your supper. Even in the dead of winter, dozens of locals and tourists alike line up for the simple but delicious sausages with bread and homemade mustard at this legendary landmark. Cheap and cheerful.
Restaurant Biergarten Pruefeninger Schlosssgarten. Pruefeninger Schloss-Strasse 75, 00-49-941-3078-59-14, mein-schlossgarten.de. This very traditional Bavarian restaurant in a wonderful historical building has what many consider the most beautiful beer garden in Regensburg. The best part? Some patrons even wear lederhosen! Reservations are absolutely necessary.
Landgasthof Schwoegler. Stinkelbrunnstrabe 18, 00-49-940-5962-30-0, schwoegler.de. Chef Helmut Schwogler is known as much for his flair for dramatic plating as he is for his impressive culinary skills, so every meal at this local favourite is guaranteed to be eye-catching and delicious. For a main course you may just get a little dash of savory foam on top of your meat, or a cream-filled syringe for your dessert donuts.
Brauerei Kneitinger. Kreuzgasse 7, 00-49-941-5930-20, kneitinger.de. This popular local brewery also has its own cafe, so you can nosh on some traditional Bavarian eats with your Regensburg brew. Before you eat make sure to take a tour of the brewery and get your “beer diploma”.
Dampfnudel Uli. Watmarkt 4, 00-49-941-5329-7, dampfnudel-uli.de. Though only open until 6pm, if you want a traditional Bavarian dumpling, this is the place to get it. Try their signature “dampfnudel” with sweet vanilla sauce for a real taste of old-world Bavaria. There may be a wait as the cafe is hugely popular with the locals.
5 places to go
Regensburg Cathedral. Frauenbergl 2, 00-49-941-5357-7, regensburger-dom.de. This striking stone cathedral – here since AD 700 – towers over
the main city centre and is considered to be the main example of Gothic architecture in Bavaria. Visiting the church is free but there are guided tours for a small fee. Schottenkirche St Jakob (Church of St James). Jakobstrasse 3, 00-49-941-2983-0. Spectacular 12th-century Romanesque church known for its intricately carved north portal. Founded by Celtic missionaries from Ireland and a standing example of the work of Irish monks in the area.
Schloss Thurn and Taxis Castle. Emmeramsplatz 5, 00-49-941-5048-0, thurnundtaxis.de. Known previously as St Emmeram’s Abbey, this cluster of ancient abbey buildings is owned by the Thurn and Taxis family, who were key players in the postal services in Europe in the 16th century. Guided tours are available in English with a reservation and cost €10 per adult and €25 for families.
Historisches Museum Regensburg. Dachauplatz 2-4, 00-49-941-5072-44-8, regensburg.de. Housing an impressive collection reflective of local history and folklore, the museum is a prime stop for history fanatics. From models and maps to paintings of the city and local crafts, there’s enough here to occupy a good portion of the day, so go only if you have a chunk of time.
The Stone Bridge. regensburg.de. As it is the undisputed highlight of medieval bridge building, a visit to Regensburg without seeing the Stone Bridge would be unthinkable. Knights crossed the bridge on their way to the Holy Land, merchants saw it a vital artery for trading goods and it is the pride of the locals. Don’t miss it.
With two large dance floors, three bars and a VIP lounge, Suite15 (St-Peters-Weg 15, suite15.de) is one of the most popular nightclubs in the area and attracts a slew of well-known DJs spinning everything from techno and house to new metal and slam. Dress to impress.
The prime shopping area is right in the middle of the medieval historic city centre. Highlights include the Parfuemerie Miller (parfuemerie-miller.de), a perfume shop established in 1879 and famous for its signature creations. For trendy outdoor fashion with a Bavarian touch, To Be Fan (tobefan.de) carries brands such as UGG and Fire and Ice by Bogner and if Fairtrade is your thing, hit Ludwig 3 (ludwig3.de), a boutique that carries “green” clothing, cosmetics and books. Foodies can find lovely teas, wine, antipasti and salts at Genuss Galerie (genuss-galerie.de) and for handcrafted toys (for those little tots in your life) try Selmair (selmair.de).
When to go
May and June is the time for outdoor festivals and the favourite months for locals to hit the biergartens. Next June is also the month for the bi-annual town party called Buergerfest. July brings warm temperatures and the annual Jazz Weekend (bayerisches-jazzweekend.de), and in the spring and autumn Regensburg has its own version of Oktoberfest called Dult (dult-regensburg.de).
Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies from Dublin and Cork to Munich Airport, which provides a shuttle service (airportliner. com) to Regensburg with individual, family and group rates, and a journey time of about one and a half hours.