Known best for a mix of odd things like canals, smoked beer and stuffed onions, Bamberg, Germany is a truly delightful city to visit.
As the former German capital of the Holy Roman Empire (albeit briefly), its beauty and epic air is unmatched, a fact I learned firsthand on my recent day trip from Nuremberg.
So what is there to do in this underrated gem of Bavaria? Here is a guide on the best things to do in Bamberg, from tasty smoked beer to fairytale film sets.
You might also like this full Bamberg city travel guide, which includes fun stuff like history, how to get to Bamberg and more practical tips.
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1. Go “on the cellar” and drink some delicious Bamberg Beer, specifically Rauschbier
I mean, all in the name of culture, right? Bamberg smoked beer is one of the most famous exports of the city and you can’t visit Bamberg without trying at least one.
Rauschbier is made with malt which has been dried over an open fire, hence the smoky smell and taste.
I’ve described this to many people as smelling like a sauna where people decided to spontaneously smoke a bunch of salmon and cigars.
My verdict? It’s weirdly delicious, although admittedly an acquired taste.
If that’s not something you fancy, there are plenty of other breweries and brews to choose from!
After all, Franconia has the highest density of breweries in the world. It’s a classic and popular recommendation, but I really enjoyed Schlenkerla Brewery, housed in a crooked and charming timbered building, although any place serving beer is probably not a bad place to be 😉
PS: The expression “on the cellar” is a funny one often used by locals. It’s a nod to the underground tunnels found in the hills of Bamberg, which once upon a time were discovered as an ideal place to store/ferment beer.
As the years went on, they began to cover these hills with gravel and trees to keep the tunnels cool, and well, it only made sense to turn these green spaces into beer gardens located “on” the cellars.
Drinking beer outdoors on the cellar is therefore, unsurprisingly, a favourite past time when the weather is right!
2. Wander around the lovely streets of Bamberg’s Old Town
It’s a cliche, but as you’ll soon discover, Bamberg is a place best enjoyed with a heavy dose of cliched, dreamy optimism.
All around Bamberg’s Old Town, you’ll find crooked and colourful half-timbered buildings that are basically made for Disney-esque twirls.
Be sure to save a few hours of your visit to Bamberg just for exploring. Especially as you cross the Obere Brücke bridge, to the west side of the town, Karolinenstrasse and Dominikanerstrasse are lovely.
And honestly, Bamberg sightseeing is easy to do – just start wandering and you’ll stumble upon some of the nicest, swoonworthy streets. Just make sure to have your camera ready.
3. Explore the Little Italy in Bamberg, AKA Little Venice
NOTE: If you are trying to find it on a map, be sure to type in Klein Venedig. Little Venice doesn’t actually bring you any results.
It’s a well-documented fact that the original vision of Bamberg was for it to become a “second Rome” of sorts, and with its seven scenic hills and boundless beauty, it’s possible to see the resemblance…
That’s not it for Bamberg’s “little Italy” vibes though! One of the other starring attractions of the city is known as Little Venice, AKA Klein Venedig.
This is the former fisherman’s district, packed with adorable half-timbered buildings from the Middle Ages which are so densely packed along the river, they seem like they’re dancing in a little architectural moshpit.
Your Bamberg tour definitely wouldn’t be complete without a quick stop here!
4. Marvel at the Bamberg Old Town Hall
This right here is the most famous of Bamberg Attractions: a gorgeous town hall built on an island in the middle of the river, connected by two bridges and decked out in wonderful almost 3D trompe d’oeil frescoes.
With its cutesy yellow timbered side and mystical location, it’s definitely one of the prettiest town halls you can visit in Germany.
And how did it end up there? Well, according to legend, this floating town hall in the middle of the Regnitz River was built on an artificial island created by super angry townspeople.
Yup, supposedly the bishop didn’t want to grant any new land for a town hall, so the citizens of Bamberg hulked out and began throwing stakes into the river to create an artificial island.
True or not, this story remains one of my favourite German anecdotes.
5. Visit the Bamberg Cathedral
No Bamberg tour would be complete without a stop at the beautiful Bamberg Cathedral.
Inside you’ll find a marble tomb belonging to Pope Clement II, the only pope in history to be buried north of the Alps.
Haven’t heard of him? That’s likely because he was only Pope for a year before his mysterious death by poison over 1000 years ago. *cue eerie music*
Inside, you’ll also find the carved tombs of Henry II and his wife Kunigunde, which took 14 years to complete, in addition to one of the city’s most famous sculptures, the Bamberger Reiter (Bamberg Horseman).
6. Venture out to Schloss Seehof
Once upon a time, the illustrious Schloss Seehof (on the outskirts of Bamberg in Memmelsdorf), acted as a summer crib and hunting lodge for Prince-bishop Marquard Sebastian von Schenk von Stauffenberg (say that ten times fast).
Dotted with rows of citrus trees and impressive fountains, this bite-sized piece of opulence is now (after extensive renovation works) available for your own royal visit. Click here for more info.
7. Tour the New Residenz
The New Residenz is an opulent little palace overlooking Bamberg, just steps away from the Bamberg Cathedral, with over 40 staterooms for you to explore.
From ceilings blinged out with stucco, larger-than-life paintings, and of course, its own perfect little rose garden, this is one place where you’ll have no problem witnessing the swishy lifestyle of Bamberg’s royals up-close.
8. Stop to smell the roses at the Rosengarten Bamberg (AKA the Bamberg Rose Garden)
Thousands of colourful roses adorn the famous Bamberg Rose Garden in the warm months, something I can only dreamily imagine as I went in the dead of winter.
Nonetheless, if you happen to be in town when roses are in bloom, don’t miss the Rosengarten Bamberg, one of the most serene and romantic sights in the city.
9. Walk into a movie set at Alte Hofhaltung
A short walk away from the Bamberg Cathedral, you’ll find the quaint courtyard of the Alte Hofhaltung (literally, the Old Courtyard), lined with half-timbered buildings that look straight out of a movie.
… Because they are!
The 2011 adaptation of the Three Muskateers (yes, the one with Orlando Bloom) filmed the famous fight scene right here, which you can catch in this video.
10. Cozy into a cafe in Bamberg and eat a lot of cake
Bamberg is a lovely little city teeming with cute cafes.
While this was a joyful revelation in the winter chill, I can imagine these cafes are equally bumpin’ in the summer, doling out ice creams and sorbets in lieu of hot chocolate.
That said, a little cafe time is a must when in Bamberg, even just to slow down and soak in the wonderful atmosphere of this beautiful city.
Riffelmacher Conditorei is a nice choice if you want something very very central – we stopped here for some hot chocolate and dessert before our train and it was a tad slow service-wise, but a nice place and the treats were delicious.
If you’re wanting something very dainty and adorable, just steps away from the Schlenkerla Brewery is the SpitzRein, a ridiculously cute cafe with incredible reviews. I wish I had known about it before my visit, but alas, you can check it out on my behalf!
11. Chow down on some regional Franconian specialties
Franconian cuisine, much like Bavarian cuisine or German cuisine is….. heavy.
If you’re a fan of meat and carbohydrates, you’ll settle into a happy food coma here, guaranteed.
While in town, I made sure to try the Bamberger Zwiebel, a baked onion stuffed with mince meat and topped with a strip of bacon, all slathered in beer gravy and served on mashed potatoes of course.
This was DELICIOUS at Schlenkerla and I would highly recommend it.
12. Visit the Bamberg Brewery Museum
The Bamberg museum scene may not have as many options as in other cities, but there are a few standouts that are unique and worth paying attention to.
The Brewery Museum for instance is is housed in a former Benedictine Brewery that traces back to the early 12th century.
This hill-top brewery turned museum contains over 1300 artifacts dedicated to beer and is a must for anyone interested in learning more about beer (besides glugging it down of course). Click here for more info.
13. Enjoy the view from Michaelsberg Abbey
After stumbling your way out of the Brewery Museum, don’t miss the incredible views from the Michaelsberg Abbey gardens.
While this beautiful abbey is currently closed for years to come due to renovation works, its garden is nonetheless open to the public, offering sweeping views over Bamberg that are pretty darn spectacular in their own right.
14. Stop by the ETA Hoffmann Haus
The name ETA Hoffmann might not be immediately recognizable to most, but this is the famous romantic writer who penned “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”, which later inspired the famous ballet with a theme song that I’m sure is now stuck in your head.
Hoffmann lived in Bamberg for about five years, and today, one of his apartments has been converted to a memorial and museum that you can visit.
It’s a tiny museum packed with various displays about Hoffmann’s life, so if you’re not a fan of his, you can probably skip it, but if you are interested, click here for more info (in German).
PS: You can also get free entry with a Bamberg Card.
15. Attend the first tapping of the Bockbier season
The bockbier season in Bamberg begins in October and runs until December.
They commemorate the start of this wonderful season with a first tapping at various breweries, but the best known one happens at the Schlenkerla Brewery.
It’s a truly local affair, with strong beer flowing like champagne. If you can plan your visit to coincide with the first Thursday of October, be sure to stop by for this fun, local event.
16. Attend the Sandkerwa
This is probably the most famous of all Bamberg festivals.
Every August, the Sandkerwa takes over the historic city center, creating a giant street festival that attracts over 300,000 visitors each year.
Think streets packed with beer and food vendors, locals wearing traditional outfits, and more.
While this wouldn’t be the quietest time to admire the quaint beauty of Bamberg, it’s a fun option if you’re up for a good party.
17. Visit the Bamberg Christmas market
German Christmas markets are in a league of their own, but when you combine traditional market culture with a scenic backdrop like Bamberg, that’s when some serious magic happens.
During the advent season, the Maximiliansplatz square is filled with festive stalls with all sorts of amazing goodies, so if you’re planning a winter visit, don’t miss it!
Want to learn more about German Christmas markets? Click here to read my roundup of the best Christmas markets in Germany.
18. Explore Bamberg from the water
Last but not least, in a city renowned for canals, I guess it’s not shocking that one of the best ways to explore Bamberg is from the water. Luckily, there’s a few ways to do this!
Gondola rides are offered during the summer on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. At only 15 euros per person, it’s way cheaper than a gondola ride in Venice! Click here for booking details.
Another awesome summer activity to try in Bamberg is doing a stand up paddleboarding tour. Board Nerds offer tours for this (including night ones!) and it looks awesome. Click here for more details.
Did I Miss Any of Your Favourite Things to do in Bamberg, Germany?
I hope you get to see the beauty of Bamberg for yourself sometime soon. Let me know in the comments if you have any other questions about this stunning Franconian gem!