Explore the maze of Regensburg’s small streets and you’ll be lost in perpetual time travel.
The narrow – sometimes dark – alleyways are a legacy of the medieval city on this site. But there’s evidence of much more before and after.
The history of Regensburg
Romans first built up Regensburg, using it as a fortification and trading city from 179AD, until it was abandoned about 300 years later. The city was surrounded by stone walls and the large temple erected in within it started the series of grand religious buildings that were to come.
In the early Middle Ages, Regensburg grew and prospered. Many of the Roman buildings were not destroyed but expanded and renovated to accommodate its role as the main centre for the Bavarians.
The original Roman fortifications were adapted and it because the earliest post-Roman defence wall built north of the Alps. This security attracted merchants and craftspeople and Regensburg grew – not in a planned way, but organically.
In several centuries of prosperity at the crossroads of trade routes, the residents of Regensburg built merchant halls, homes for wealthy families, churches, and public buildings. These constant additions at different times by different people have left an intriguing mix of Roman, Romanesque and Gothic buildings.
More recently, Regensburg has become known as a bit of a digital hub with companies like Siemens, Toshiba and Amazon setting up base in the area, continuing the tradition of attracting skilled workers. A BMW production plant in Regensburg is also a large employer of residents here.
Why is the Old Town of Regensburg a World Heritage Site?
It’s the architecture from the 11th to 13th century that really defines how the city looks today, and the main reason that Regensburg was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2006.
The market, the city hall, and the cathedral seem not like out-of-place landmarks but like the joints that keep everything together. Seeing each of them are among the highlights of the top things to do in Regensburg.
The small streets and alleys, winding around to new discoveries of public squares and churches, come to an abrupt end at the Danube River. This is the northernmost point of the river and it flows wide and strong here.
From the centre of the historic town, you can cross the river on the famous Roman Bridge that was constructed from stone in the 12th century and still stands today, connecting more modern parts of Regensburg.
In the middle of the river is the island of Stadtamhof, which is also part of the World Heritage Site. Once a separate medieval village, it is full of historic buildings, although some of them have been taken over by artists for their studios.
But there is no sense of the modern developments that you’ll find in other parts of the city within the Old Town of Regensburg, most of which survived the bombing of the Second World War.
To get the most out of a visit, one of the best things to do in Regensburg is just walk through its streets. Even the buildings of no particular note that line the alleyways all come together to create the sense of medieval city.
Regensburg is popular with tour groups that move in large mobs but they tend to stick to the main streets.
Getting away from the obvious paths and exploring the alleyways will not just give you a bit more peace, it will also show you how small businesses and residences of today have been incorporated into the original buildings.
But there are still a few key landmarks worth visiting in the Old Town of Regensburg
Old Town of Regensburg
The Old Town is not particularly large and these highlights are all within a very easy walking distance of each other.
Top of the list of things to do in Regensburg should be the city’s cathedral. Regensburg Cathedral is one of the most important pieces of Gothic architecture in Bavaria, a soaring monument that you’ll be able to spot from across the city, with an impressive facade and a beautifully decorated interior.
Inside the cathedral, you’ll find the world’s largest hanging organ, as well as an impressive collection of stained glass. The silver high altar is also worth taking note of.
The Old Chapel
There are quite a few churches in Regensburg that are part of the World Heritage Site in the Old Town. Each of them offers an interesting visit, if you have time. But I want to make particular mention of The Old Chapel, also known as the Basilica of the Nativity of our Lady.
It was founded in the 9th century, making it the oldest Catholic church in Bavaria, although the building that is here now is from the 11th century. The interior was renovated in the 18th century to create a beautiful rococo interior that truly dazzles!
Old Town Hall
An important element in the history of Regensburg is that it was ruled by its own council, rather than lords or the church, for much of its time. That’s why the Old Town Hall, built in the 1200s, is so important. Its striking yellow facade also make it quite the sight!
You can visit the Old Town Hall with a guided tour to see the Imperial Assembly Hall, as well as a torture chamber where interrogators were able to get the ‘truth’ out of accused criminals.
Thurn and Taxis Palace
What started as St Emmeram’s Abbey back in 739 grew into a magnificent compound over the centuries, with libraries, halls, and chapels – and it was eventually bought in 1810 by the royal house of Thurn and Taxis to turn it into a permanent residence.
The palace now has magnificently furnished chambers, but there are still lots of elements remaining from its monastic history, including the wonderful cloisters.
Throughout the Old Town of Regensburg as quite a few wonderful plazas, and I would suggest spending some time in one or two of them to get a sense of life in the medieval times. One of my favourites is Haidplatz.
Haidplatz is the oldest and most traditional square in the Old Town, and most of the buildings around its edge were once the palaces for wealthy merchant families. The statue in the centre of the plaza is the Fountain of Justice, built in the Baroque style in 1656.
Another impressive square that I want to mention is Neupfarrplatz, which looks spectacular today but had a sad beginning. It was built over the old Jewish Quarter which was demolished with the Jewish population was expelled from the city in 1519.
In the centre of the square is the Neupfarrkirche church, designed in the Renaissance style, which is relatively plain inside. Much more interesting is the information centre called Document Neupfarrplatz, which has stories about the 2000-year history of the square.
Back in the Middle Ages, there was some rivalry between the noble families of Regensburg. To show off their wealth, they built tall towers, with the idea that the most powerful family must have the tallest.
They’re called Patrician Towers and you’ll see them as you walk through town. One of the most striking is the Goliathhaus, which was built in 1260 and has an enormous mural of David and Goliath on its exterior (painted in 1573).
The tallest of the Patrician Towers is Goldener Turm, at 50 metres, and you’ll be able to see it from the outside.
Old Stone Bridge
The Old Stone Bridge that crosses the Danube River is more than just a pathway. When it was built in the 12th century, its 300 metre length made it an engineering marvel, and it’s said to have been the inspiration for bridges across Europe.
Walking across it is interesting, and the neighbourhood on the other side of the Old Town is quite picturesque. But one of the main reasons you might want to cross the Old Stone Bridge is to get a fantastic view (for photos) back across the medieval skyline.
With all this heritage, it should be no surprise that there are some excellent museums in Regensburg. They tell not just the fascinating history of the city, but of things related to the region more broadly.
Regensburg Museum of History
Although it’s quite small, the Regensburg Museum of History might be a good place to start, if you want to learn more about the city. Set in a former 13th-century Minorite monastery, the museum has artefacts from prehistoric days, through the Roman times, right up to the 1800s.
Part of the museum’s appeal is the building itself, which has been well preserved and has a lovely Gothic cloister, but it’s also quite enlightening to see how many stages of development Regensburg has had.
Museum of Bavarian History
The Museum of Bavarian History was opened in Regensburg in 2018 to celebrate the bicentennial of Bavaria’s constitution. The large modern building on the Danube has multimedia exhibitions and has spaces for to host temporary shows.
The stories at the museum focus on the past few centuries, telling the history of how modern Bavaria was created and the important cultural aspects that have defined it ever since.
Natural History Museum of Eastern Bavaria
As well as the culture of the region, you may be interested in some of the nature, which is where the Natural History Museum of Eastern Bavaria comes in.
It’s just a small museum in an old palace in Herzogspark, with the exhibitions focusing on the fauna of the area and the geological heritage.
Regensburg Museum of Danube Shipping
The development of Regensburg is intrinsically linked with its position on the Danube, which has been an important commercial route for more than two millennia. The city’s relationship to the water is examined at the Regensburg Museum of Danube Shipping.
It has an art collection and artefacts about the industry, but the main exhibits are the tugboats moored on the side of the river.
Art Forum East German Gallery
And for a bit of artistic inspiration, how about a visit to the Art Forum East German Gallery. It’s a wonderful little gallery dedicated to artists from parts of Eastern Europe that have cultural links to Germany.
There are more than 2000 paintings and 500 sculptures, plus plenty of other works spread across 15 rooms, covering various periods of modern art.
It’s certainly easy enough to explore the city by yourself and most of the things to do in Regensburg will be quite obvious as you wander through the Old Town. But, having said that, there are a few guided experiences that are certainly worth considering.
Private city tour
There is so much history within the World Heritage Site of Regensburg that there’s no way you’ll be able to discover it all by yourself. That’s where having a guide will come in handy – not just to show you the best Regensburg sights, but to give them the necessary context.
If you would like to make the most of your visit, there’s this excellent private tour that can be done in English or German, and can be tailored to any particular interests that you may have.
It won’t be quite as detailed as the private guided tour, but a fun way to see the city is on board the cute sightseeing train.
Starting from the cathedral, it heads along the Danube, past the Thurn and Taxis Palace and through some other picturesque parts of Regensburg. An audio guide in six languages is included.
Cruise to Walhalla
About 12 kilometres along the river from Regensburg is a rather striking monument perched up on one of the banks – the enormous neoclassical temple called Walhalla. It was built in the 19th century by King Ludwig I to honour distinguished people in Germany history (including politicians, scientists, and artists).
A nice way to get there is by boat, and there are cruises from Regensburg to Walhalla that you can join. The boat trips can also be extended to the small wine-growing region of Bach, if you like.
Where is Regensburg?
Regensburg is in Bavaria, about halfway between Munich and Nuremberg.
You can see it on a map here.
How do you get to Regensburg?
To get to the city, you can take the train to Regensburg station. The old town is about a ten minute walk from there.
How much does it cost to visit Regensburg?
Entry to most public buildings in the city is free.
There are English language guided tours of the city at 1:30pm on Wednesday and Saturday from the tourist information office. The tour costs €8 for an adult and €5 for concession.
You can find out more information at the official website for Regensburg.
But, if you’re not in a rush, why not spend the night here so you’ll have more time for all the things to do in Regensburg.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN REGENSBURG
You’ll be able to find some great accommodation right in the historic centre of Regensburg, near the river and the main sights.
For a good budget option, I would suggest the Microverse Hostel near the city centre.
For a nice and affordable hotel, Katholische Akademie is in the Old Town district.
If you’re looking for a modern and very nicely-done hotel, you may like the Ibis Styles Regensburg.
Andfor a funky design in an old chapel, Hotel David offers something a bit special.