Why go now?
The second half of March sees Bavaria's beautiful second city emerging from winter: the last snows melt away from the elegant Altstadt (Old Town), and spring takes over in the leafy surroundings.Nuremberg is about to join the no-frills map, with Ryanair starting flights before Easter. And to complete the budget-break picture, Germany's greatest youth hostel reopens fully this weekend.
You can fly on any nationality of airline you like from the UK to Nuremberg – so long as it is Irish. CityJet (0871 221 2452; cityjet.com) operates "full-service" flights twice daily from London City; Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) starts flying from Stansted on 28 March and will go daily for the summer.
Nuremberg's compact airport is 7km north of the Altstadt, at the end of U-Bahn line 2. Buy a €2.50 ticket from the machine, board a driverless train (every 10 minutes) and you'll be at Hauptbahnhof (1) in 13 minutes.
Get your bearings
From the Hauptbahnhof (1), Königstrasse runs north-west into the city centre, passing the main tourist office (2) at number 93 (00 49 911 233 6132; tourismus.nuernberg.de; 9am-7pm daily, 10am-4pm Sun).
Two bridges, Museumsbrücke (3) and Fleischbrücke (4), cross the Pegnitz river to the Hauptmarket – location for another tourist office (5), open 9am-6pm (10am-4pm Sun). The main street north from here, Burgstrasse, runs up to the skirts of the castle (6) – the Burg.
If you plan to visit all the museums on this itinerary, buy the Nurnberg Card (bit.ly/NurnCard), price €23. It includes two days' of unlimited public transport plus entry to dozens of museums.
All room rates quoted here include a generous buffet breakfast.
Aesthetically, the best place to stay is the Youth Hostel (7) (00 49 911 230 9360; bit.ly/NurnHost) which fully reopens this week. It occupies the 15th-century Imperial Stables, with a dramatic interior (filled with elaborate arches and, usefully, Wi-Fi) with spectacular views – especially from the Tower rooms. Beds from €26.50, double and family rooms available.
Nuremberg is a convention destination, and hotel rates soar if a big event is in town; conversely, at quiet times you can pick up a bargain. For resurrected grandeur, the optimum location is the Hotel Deutscher Kaiser (8) – whose elaborate façade dominates Königstrasse at number 55 (00 49 911 242 660; deutscher-kaiser-hotel.de). The hotel dates from 1889, and in the 21st century its grandiose public rooms are being gradually renovated. Chic, modernised rooms with Wi-Fi typically cost €138 with breakfast – though weekend deals are often available.
The InterCity Hotel (9), almost next door to the main station at Eilgutstrasse 8 (00 49 911 24780; intercityhotel.com) is the modern alternative, with smart rooms typically at €120. The price includes unlimited use of local public transport; just ask for your free ticket at the front desk.
Take a view
The Castle (6) dominates the city, a symbol of the Imperial power of Nuremburg. It is undergoing a major renovation, but you can still wander through much of its grounds and take in the dramatic views from its walls.
Take a hike
To immerse yourself in the art and architecture of the Old Town, start just below the castle, at the cheerfully haphazard square at Beim Tiergärtnertor (10) – site for the spectacular half-timbered Albrecht Dürer House, the only surviving Renaissance artist's house outside Italy (00 49 911 231 2568; bit.ly/NurnArt; 10am-6pm weekends, to 5pm Tue-Fri, to 8pm Thu; €5). Exhibits include a powerful self-portrait.
Walk down the street named after Dürer; cross Weinmarkt (11), location for some eclectic shops, into Karlstrasse, then go right along Augustinerstrasse and left over the covered bridge, Maxbrucke (12). This leads to Unschlittplatz (13), home to an ornate fountain – one of several in the city. Go left to parallel the river, then head left again over Fleischbrücke (4) to the Hauptmarkt – location for the Schöner Brunnen (14) fountain), decorated by a pyramid of 40 figures. Arrive at noon to witness the theatrical chimes from the tower of Our Lady church (15).
Lunch on the run
The produce market in front of Our Lady church (15) sells delicious bread, spreads, veg and fruit, with which you can put together a fine picnic. Or you could lunch al fresco on the terrace of Bratwursthäusle (16), adjacent to St Sebald's church (00 49 911 22 76 95; bit.ly/NurnYum). The sausages here, served with sauerkraut and washed down with a beer, are so tasty you may want to take some home, vacuum packed.
Weisserturm (17), site of another fountain, marks the west end of the main shopping street, Breite Gasse. Just off the main drag, British Empire (18) at Krebsgasse 9 (00 49 911 240 3040; britishempire-shop.de) reveals how the UK look transfers to Germany.
Called "the most German of cities" by a Nazi-era mayor, Nuremberg was the scene of much fascist triumphalism. That grim recent past is confronted in the shape of the Way of Human Rights, a sequence of stone pillars engraved with the 30 articles of the UN declaration. It leads to the German National Museum (19) (00 49 911 13310; gnm.de; 10am-6pm daily except Mon, Wed to 9pm; €6) – a fascinating mix of anthropology, art and science (including the world's oldest surviving globe) involving the Germanic people.
Close by, the Neues Museum (20) (00 49 911 240 2069; nmn.de; 10am-6pm daily except Mon, Thu to 8pm; €4) is a startling modern art museum. The concave glass façade makes the visitor part of the show for an audience outside. Inside, the collection runs from typewriters to tapestries.
The Barfüsser Kleines Brauhaus (21) at Hallplatz 2 (00 49 911 20 42 42; barfuesser-nuernberg.de) is a big Bavarian cavern that houses its own microbrewery and is decorated with UK pub signs from the 1960s, such as The Claremont from West Byfleet. Half a litre of Barfüsser Blonde costs €3.30.
Dining with the locals
Across the Altstadt, the cosy Nürnberger Alm (22) at Burgstrasse 19 (00 49 911 50 71 69 42; nuernberger-alm.de) feels like a Bavarian Alpine chalet transplanted to the old city. Share a table, tuck into a pork and potato dish, and sip a Lindenbräu amber beer.
Sunday morning: Go to church
Nuremberg's claim to be a cultural heartland goes beyond Albrecht Dürer. Johann Pachelbel was born here 360 years ago, and became organist at St Sebaldus (23) and one of the strongest influences on J S Bach. The organ at St Sebaldus is not the original on which Pachelbel played his Canon in D, but the church is the city's oldest and most handsome with extravagant art, and the elaborate tomb of the hermit saint Sebaldus. The Catholic church of Our Lady (15) on Hauptmarkt is also worth a peek, but the Lorenzkirche (24) is more impressive; the Krell altar has the oldest known depiction of Nuremberg, from 1483.
Out to brunch
On a sunny day, head for the Café Wanderer (25), where the walls meet the castle. The tables spill out over the square (00 49 178 366 6334; cafe-wanderer.de; Sun from noon, from 10am in April onwards). During inclement weather, the Café am Trödelmarkt (26) on Liebesinsel (the island at the heart of the Altstadt) is ideal for coffee and cakes.Sunday hours are 10am-6pm.
Take a ride
Take S-Bahn line 2 from Hauptbahnhof (1) to Dutzendteich, close to the Reichsparteitagsgelände (27), the former Nazi Party rally grounds. Out of the station, follow the signs to reach Doku-Zentrum (00 49 911 231 5666; bit.ly/NurnDZ; 10am-6pm weekends, 9am-5pm weekdays; €5). A shard of glass and steel has been driven through the north wing of the former Nazi Congress Hall – and the interior filled with an unemotional account of the role the city played in Adolf Hitler's rise.
A walk in the park
Albert Speer, Hitler's architect-in-chief, designed grounds so monumental that the main avenue was later used as a runway by the Americans. The former rally grounds, chilling but fascinating, extend south across the parkland. Follow the information points from 1 to 9, and you will walk through history. The culmination is the opportunity to stand where the Führer addressed the crowds – where you may get an insight into collective madness.
The icing on the cake
The Deutsche Bahn Museum (28), just south of the walls at Lessingstrasse 6 (00 49 1804 44 22 33; bit.ly/NurnMus; 10am-6pm at weekends, from 9am Tue-Fri; €5), was born in 1899 as the Royal Bavarian Railway Museum. It explains the geopolitical strangeness of the Cold War. The premises are shared with the Communications Museum, which shows the progress of human contact from the Stone Age to the iPhone 5.