Both are accessible - Rothenburg takes a minimum of 2.5 hours each way and 3 trains - it's a smallish medieval town that attracts tourists and their tour buses like road apples attract flies, if that's what you're looking for. Heidelberg is a busy, overgrown university town/city of 150,000 that can be reached by direct high speed train in about one hour, a nice enough place, but quite different from Rothenburg. It's a more authentically German sort of place, but overall not terribly exceptional, IMO - lots of places in Germany resemble Heidelberg. Just depends on what you're looking for.
If you visit Heidelberg, Ladenburg is a good choice just 15 minutes from there by direct train:
If you are really interested in old-world towns like Rothenburg, you might enjoy the relatively lightly-touristed towns of Gelnhausen and Büdingen, which lie just a few minutes apart from each other to the northeast of Frankfurt. It's only 35 minutes or so by direct train from Frankfurt to Gelnhausen. Together, the two make for a very nice outing.
Gelnhausen brochure: www.gelnhausen.de/index.php…
Photos of Büdingen: stadtbild-deutschland.org/forum/index.php…
Thank you so much for all the wonderful recommendations. We might try Gelnhausen and Büdingen. Only 35 minutes by train allows us plenty of time to enjoy both towns. Appreciate your help!
Rothenburg by a wide margin.
"Only 35 minutes by train allows us plenty of time to enjoy both towns."
Just to be clear, it's about 35 train minutes to Gelnhausen, then 15 min. to Büdingen. But yes, very doable in a day.
Video tour of Büdingen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EX0yo8dtbEI
Gelnhausen video 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnwsKn1qCJYEdited: 8:28 pm, July 24, 2014
Would also recommend Büdingen. Medieval walled city, never been bombed, nor burned down, unlike Rothenburg. No tourist buses, no souvenir stores.
I do recommend booking a private tour with the BüdingenTourist Info. For a very small group, 4-5 people, it is only about 45 euro. The guide takes you inside of the city walls, up onto the massive towers, and into the Hexen Tower too. Going on a tour is the only way to do this. Email them to book the tour.
The train switch is easy and a group day ticket for up to 5 people only costs about 27 euro.
You can book your tour in Büdingen from their Tourist Info.
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