We enjoyed a 2-week Grand European Tour on Viking River Cruises and the itinerary included a day in Bamberg.
When our ship departed from Nuremberg, the Danube part of our journey was over. Overnight, our cruise ship, Bragi, had crossed the continental divide. That’s the invisible border in the mountains that separates where raindrops will end up: The Black Sea or the North Sea. Now we were sailing the Main waterway (that’s pronounced MINE, by the way).
Bamberg river cruise options
We docked on time in Bamberg (9:00 am) and everyone got on the buses quickly.
Three excursion options were available today:
- Bamberg walking tour (the included tour), with free time to explore on your own
- Extended walking tour plus brewery visit
- Optional Franconian countryside tour, mostly on the bus plus a couple of short stops
We chose option #2 because Bamberg is famous for a smoky-tasting beer called rauchbier. Half of the fun of traveling is sampling local specialties. While we wouldn’t have any free time on this tour, we didn’t mind. We would have stopped at a tavern to sample their unique beer anyway. At least this way we’d have a guide and be taken to the best brewery in Bamberg!
Want to visit Bamberg on your own?
You can easily do a day trip to Bamberg from Nuremberg. The train ride takes about 40 minutes and trains depart / return hourly.
A Bamberg day trip from Munich is more difficult, as it’s about a 2-hour train ride each way. We recommend taking the fast trains and booking ahead, to ensure you don’t lose time waiting for the next train to Bamberg with a seat.
Better yet, stay for a couple of days and enjoy the ambiance. There are enough things to do in Bamberg to keep yourself entertained.
Things to see in Bamberg, Germany in one day
Our tour guide was an Adult Education student at the local university . With his perfect English and German accent, we never would have guessed he was actually Belarusian. He had been living in Bamberg for seven years and knew an awful lot about Bamberg’s history and architecture.
1. Bamberg Old Town
Bamberg has never had a railway lines or major industry, which turned out to be a blessing in the Second World War. Railways and industries are usually bombed during wartime in an effort to cut off the enemy’s supply chain. As Bamberg had nothing to offer the war effort, both sides left the city alone.
Thus, Bamberg still has an authentic medieval appearance, from its fountains to its skyline. This earned the old town UNESCO World Heritage status.
2. Bamberg Cathedral
Bamberg Cathedral was begun in the early 11th century and completed in 1237. Inside is the ornate tomb of Emperor Henry II and his wife, Kunigunde. Carved from Franconian limestone, the tomb is a must-see. It took the Renaissance master Tilman Riemenschneider 14 years to create.
Perhaps more notably, Pope Clement II is also buried here, albeit in a far plainer sarcophagus. Reform-minded Clement is best known for enacting prohibitions against indulgences, in other words selling church offices and roles.
He died less than a year after taking office. Coincidence?
3. Alte Hofhaltung
Located next to the Cathedral is the Old Imperial Court. Built in the 15th-century, Alte Hofhaltung once housed Bamberg’s Medieval episcopal court, and was the bishops’ residence during the 16th and 17th centuries.
The front is a neo-gothic stone facade, while the inside is a romantic half-timbered style courtyard that has been used as a movie site. It is also a favorite site for local festivals.
4. Historisches Museum
These days, Alte Hofhaltung is also home to Bamberg’s Historical Museum. The museum began almost 200 years ago, when a vicar bequeathed his large art collection to the city.
The Gemäldegalerie (painting gallery) contains dozens of works by masters, including Brueghel, Lucas Cranach the Elder, and the 19th-century landscape artist Otto Modersohn.
There is also a large collection of 19th-century items—everything from musical instruments to clothing and furniture. That should give you a good insight into what it was like to live in Bamberg 200 years ago.
Most recently, the museum has added a permanent exhibition about Bamberg’s Jewish community.
5. Neue Residenz
The bishops finally tired of their medieval digs around 1600 and moved to a new, renaissance palace across the square. I wish we had been able to take a guided tour of the Neue Residenz (“new residence”) before we left Bamberg.
The tour takes you through over 40 rooms preserved from the 17th and 18th centuries. The bishops’ residence was massive, with ornate furniture and upholstery, frescoes, chandeliers, paintings and artwork.
We did have the chance to see the rose garden in its inner courtyard, though. The bishops had the best of everything, that’s for sure. They even a fantastic view over the city of Bamberg, which you can see for yourself in our Bamberg photo gallery.
7. Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall)
The fresco-covered Old Town Hall is probably the most-photographed building in Bamberg. It was built some time before 1387, and the Baroque addition that hangs over the water was built in the middle of the 18th century.
As the story goes, the citizens wanted to build a town hall, but the bishop of Bamberg refused to grant them any land for it. The resourceful townsfolk figured out that if they built the town hall on the river, they wouldn’t be disobeying the edict. They created an artificial island right between the episcopal and merchant sides of the river.
The most amusing part of the building is not the two competing architectural styles, it’s the 3D sculpted cherub’s leg that pokes out of the mural on an outside wall. If you have the time, the building contains a splendid collection of fine porcelain (the “Ludwig Collection) as well as a remarkable Rococo Hall.
8. Michaelsburg Abbey
Michaelsburg Abbey began as a Benedictine monastery just after 1000 AD. The complex includes a 12th-century church, newer abbey buildings dating from around 1700, and an old baroque terraced garden.
It’s a shame we weren’t able to visit St. Michael’s Church. I would have liked to see the paintings of medicinal herbs on the ceiling. It would have been interesting to see what was being used to treat people back then. I like to imagine that that terraced garden had a physic section dedicated to those herbs. I don’t know if it does, so if you visit, please let us know.
9. Bamberg beer
While Bamberg is as known for its rauchbier (German smoked beer) as it is for being a UNESCO world heritage site. The famous beer gets its distinctive smoke flavor because they use malted barley that was roasted over a beechwood fire.
The final stop on our guided tour was to Schlenkerla, arguably the most famous of the seven breweries in Bamberg. It may be the oldest Bamberg brewery as well, because it was first mentioned in 1405.
Schlenkerla has been run by the same family for six generations. They still maintain the old tradition of tapping directly from the wooden barrel.
This made a perfect end to our tour, as much for the atmosphere as for the unique beer. We were happy to have reservations, because it is very busy in high season.
Our tasting included three beer varieties, and our waitress handed out pretzels and German mustard to help cleanse our palates between beers.
The first two, Urbock and Weizen, were made from the smoky barley. The final, Helles, is made from unsmoked barley but even so, it still had a smoky flavor due to it being brewed near the smoking operation. All three tasted like liquid smoke. Absolutely delicious.
ⓘ TIP: If you’d like to try Bamberg smoked beer in the U.S., it is available at Whole Foods and Total Wine and More. Check Schlenkerla’s website for other locations.
10. Bamberg Christmas markets
Every December, the shops and streets in Bamberg Old Town come alive as they are illuminated and decorated for Christmastime magic.
Germany is known for its fantastic Christmas markets, and Bamberg has four of them. Each has its own flavor, from the traditional at Maximiliansplatz, to the medieval at Geyerswörth Palace. There’s also an Advent Market in the Sand and an arts and crafts Christmas market on Jakobsplatz.
Tomorrow: Wurzburg and Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Plan your Bamberg visit
Here are some ideas to help you plan your own trip. If this article was useful, you can thank us by using these links to make your plans. Some of these companies will pay us a referral fee, at no extra cost to you.
- Find more tourist information on on Bamberg’s tourism site.
- Lodging: Check hotel prices on Booking.
- Transportation: This website shows how to get anywhere by plane, train, bus, ferry and car.
- Private tours: If you’d like someone to show you around, Get Your Guide is a reputable source for booking a wide variety of local tours, attractions and activities. Find a list of Bamberg tours here.
Want to see more of this destination?
- For more sightseeing, check out our Bamberg photo gallery.
- Get a bird’s eye view on Google Maps here. Zoom, scroll around and explore!
We have a whole series of river cruise articles here on As We Saw It, both tips and individual cruise stops, such as:
- Viking Grand European Tour River Cruise Itinerary
- What Is on a Rhine River Cruise Itinerary?
- 10 Reasons to Take a River Cruise
- Is the Viking Grand European Tour for You?
- How to See the Best of Amsterdam in One Day
Related guidebooks on Amazon: