Lots of people can say they have been in Nuremberg, but not many can say they have been underneath it. Franconia's largest city, home to 500,000 people, has a number of different ways to get below the surface.
The infamous "prison holes" are one option. When the town hall was built in 1322, the plans included cells for prisoners held on remand in the vaulted basement. Suspected criminals and defendants in trials were kept here until sentence was passed. Today, visitors can sign up for the daily visits to see the appalling conditions in the prison for themselves: cells were completely dark and just 2x2 m in size. The underground prison also contains the living quarters of the warder and the torture chamber. Implements of torture (stretching and strangulation) still hang on the walls, sending shivers down your spine: it's all too easy to imagine how prisoners were physically mistreated here in the past. For this reason, the underground cells are not necessarily suitable for children, and the site's staff recommend 10 as the minimum age so that the visit is not too upsetting.
A second underground attraction is located just 300 m from the prison cells: the rock passages. They have a history that is just as interesting as the cells but they're a lot less gruesome, so it's okay to bring children under 10 to see them. The passages are a system of narrow tunnels that run under the ground of Nuremberg's old town. This network was used for fermenting and storing beer in the 14th century, when there were about 40 breweries in the small city. There was a law that required everyone who wanted to make beer to have their own cellar. This is how the extensive system of passages, some with several different levels, came to be. Today, they measure more than 20,000 m2, making them the largest labyrinth of underground passages in southern Germany. During WWII, the tunnels served as a place of refuge for many citizens during the city's bombardments. Only a small section of the system of passages is currently in use for storing beer: guided tours are now the main activity in the huge labyrinth.
One tour that you should definitely try out has the German name of "Red beer in deep cellars". What's it about? Beer, naturally. Your guide will tell you the important facts about Nuremberg's tradition of underground brewing, and you'll get to try some beer in a basement as well. The tour ends at the Bierothek beer emporium, where tourists can have another taste of Nuremberg's red beer. If you like the sound of this, just make sure you eat enough before starting the tour. Children are also welcome to take part, and alcohol-free drinks are available for them as part of the package. Parents might prefer the treasure hunt for their children, when a guide takes a group on an exciting adventure in search for long-lost treasure. The option "Let's Meet for a Walk in the Dark" is even more thrilling – for adults as well. Equipped with a hardhat and torch, visitors make their way along the lightless passages, listening to the gripping stories and legends that have grown up around Nuremberg and its underground passages over the years.
If you can't get enough of all things medieval and don't mind being underground, a good place to finish the day is at the Raubritter restaurant, located just 120 m from the tunnels. The dining area is in a vaulted cellar from the 15th century, and the menu features medieval fare such as bread fresh from a wood-fired oven and lard with bacon bits. Modern Franconian dishes are also available, of course, and the prices are very reasonable.
News, prices and opening hours are all available here.
You need just 17 minutes to walk from Nuremberg's main station to your destination. Leave the station via the exit on its northern side. Cross Bahnhofsplatz and go right. After 180 m, go left at the Frauentor tower – you are now on Königstrasse. Walk along Königstrasse for 600 m, through the old town, past the St Lorenz church, until you get to the Museumsbrücke bridge. Cross the Pegnitz and go straight on to the town's main square, Hauptmarkt. Cross the square, and keep to the right when you pass the fountain so you walk up Hauptmarkt. The town hall square, Rathausplatz, is 140 m up Hauptmarkt. Your destination is on the right at door no. 2.