Quizzical looks, or perhaps a nod of general acceptance; this is the kind of response you might well receive when heading off for a weekend in Nuremberg. To be fair to my detractors, the Bavarian city is neither associated with the metropolitan hedonism of Berlin nor the boozy renown of Munich with its Octoberfest infamy.
No, truth be told this city is best known by Jeremy Clarkson-like petrol heads (because of the motoring nirvana of the Nuremberg Ring) or by history buffs as the place of the Nuremberg Trials. However, there’s a lot more to this royal Franconian city than meets the eye. Nuremberg has accepted that history will always be a part of its story, but it’s also embraced its artistic heritage, clung to its traditions and invested in its image. It’s the city equivalent of a wizened old man full of stories who’s just brought a new suit in a fashionable cut.
Discover Germany’s Renaissance Man
One of the most famous residents in the city’s history is the great artist Albrecht Dürer. His stunning half-timbered house still overlooks a lively square in the Old Town and serves as a museum to his life and his work. You’ll be given an audio guide to explore at your own pace. Of his many masterpieces, you’ll most likely know Dürer’s Rhinoceros, an awe-inspiring piece that’s particularly impressive when you learn he’d never seen one in real life. However, it’s his captivating self-portrait that really stands out – especially when you learn that he essentially invented the self-portrait; paving the way for Instagrammers and selfies.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Dürer didn’t struggle financially – his clever idea to take advantage of the latest printing technology allowed him to dispense his work to the masses and get rich in the progress. If you get lucky, on the top floor you might even be able to see one of his engravings being printed; a perfect souvenir to take home.
It’s a Nirvana for Meat Eaters
As part of the Franconian region, the cuisine of Nuremberg traditionally consists of hunks of meat, cooked for days until it falls off the bone; and sausages, lots of sausages. Nuremberg doesn’t disappoint on the banger front, with its must-try delicacy being the Nuremberg sausage. These finger-sized rostbratwurst are unique to the city and even gained protection from the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) that specifies each sausage can be no longer than 9cm and weigh no more than 25g.
We headed to the hallowed Bratwursthäusle that stands in the shadow of the Sebaldus church; a place where wursts have been grilled in beechwood fires since 1313. Served up on a traditional tin plate, you can choose 6, 8, 10 or 12 of these moreish sausages – but an absolute must is to choose a decent side to accompany it. We opted for the incredible potato salad and a few fresh pretzels, but sauerkraut or horseradish also marry perfectly well. These sausages are perfect for lunch, just make sure to order enough to go around; they go fast!
If you have an exceptionally hearty appetite, another dish you must try in Nuremberg is a true Bavarian speciality; the pork knuckle. Head to Bratwurst Röslein where this monster meat feast is served as a 500g half knuckle or a gut-busting 1kg full knuckle. I’m ashamed to say I was peer pressured into getting the later by the waiter who simply said:
“If you are hungry, and a man, get the full knuckle.”
Obviously, I conceded. Though my waistline took some punishment that day, I’ve never tasted a more perfectly cooked piece of meat. The pork slid off the bone, the crackling audibly crunched and the dark beer sauce has forever ruined gravy for me – the mediocrity of Bisto has devastated the enjoyment of roasts ever since.
It’s an Authentic German Experience
Nuremberg was once the (unofficial) capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and many German kings have hung their hats in the Imperial Castle that overlooks the city. For me, exploring Nuremberg felt like I’d stumbled onto an archetypal German city; half-timbered houses, flowing canals and quiet cathedrals make the old town feel almost timeless.
Walking around, you’ll pass shops selling traditional lederhosen and eat at pretzel vendors and beer halls that date back hundreds of years. This place looks exactly as you’d expect Germany ought to look – something I struggled to find in the buzzing metropolis of Berlin. Despite being the second largest city in the southeastern state of Bavaria, Nuremberg has retained a sense of authenticity that’s hard to find in a city of its size. My favourite spot is outside the Albrecht Dürer House (pic above) where locals and visitors drinking at the Wanderer Cafe spill out onto the terrace to soak up the sun with a golden beer in hand.
See the Whole City for €25
Whenever I travel to a new city, I always want to cut down costs and get the best deal. With Nuremberg, this couldn’t have been easier. The SUPER handy 2-day Nuremberg Card covers admission to all museums, attractions and even public transport. 40 museums and as much travel as you want, for €25. From the modest amount of museums we managed to see, it would have cost €31.50, not including the transport costs to and from the Documentation Centre. If you’re looking for value and simplicity; this is your solution.
- Imperial Castle €7
- Germanisches Nationalmuseum €8
- Albrecht-Duerer’s-House Museum €5
- Documentation Centre Nazi Party Museum €5
- Rock cut cellars tour €6.50
Learn What Really Happened
It’s an inescapable truth that Germany’s history will always be linked to the events of the First and Second World Wars. Unfortunately, this is especially so in the case of Nuremberg. Hitler chose this city to host his Nazi rally marches which went on to become huge sources of propaganda – you can actually see these grounds just across the pond from the Documentation Museum where they have become a hot spot for rollerbladers. Another evil that stained the city’s name as the infamous Nuremberg Laws that revoked German citizenship for Jews and other non-Aryans; a terrifying precursor to the Holocaust.
The city was also devastated by Allied bombing in the Second World War, with over 90% of the medieval city centre flattened – though thanks to the huge rock-cut cellars under the city (former beer cellars you can also visit on a guided tour) casualties were greatly reduced. Furthermore, once the war was over, the Nuremberg Trials meant the city was chosen as the place where the Nazi leaders were sentenced for crimes against humanity, notably including Hermann Göring who cowardly committed suicide by cyanide capsule before his execution. The Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds are the best place to learn more, the exhibition is unflinching and gives an honest account of how the ‘Hitler Cult’ cast a horrifying spell over so many people.
Dark tourism aside, Nuremberg is fun and vibrant place to visit. In the two days we were there, we visited a city beach pop-up for cocktails and the cultural Blue Night saw incredible light projection tell a story across the castle façade and the cathedral face. Yes, Berlin has the action, but you have to explore further to find the soul.