Spared from devastation in the twentieth century's wars, timeless REGENSBURG (formerly known as Ratisbon in English, though the name is little used) preserves the appearance of an important medieval trading-city better than just about anywhere else in Central Europe. It's the only major medieval city in Germany to remain intact, and to a remarkable extent the Regensburg you see today preserves its fourteenth-century street layout and much of the architecture – secular and religious – that reflects how it must have looked during its medieval zenith. Straddling routes to Italy, Bohemia, Russia and Byzantium, Regensburg had trading links that stretched as far as the Silk Road. Trade brought cultural interchange too, and the mighty tower houses of the city's medieval merchants – so reminiscent of Italy – are found nowhere else north of the Alps. No wonder UNESCO added the city to its list of World Heritage Sites in 2006.
Glorious though its architectural heritage may be, this vibrant city is no museum piece. What makes it particularly special is the way its thousand or so historic monuments act as a backdrop for the very contemporary tastes and concerns of its modern citizens, who include large numbers of students. For visitors, Regensburg is a surprisingly multifaceted place: as trendy or timeless, classy or unpretentious as you could want it to be, and well worth a stay of a few days or so.
Finding your bearings in Regensburg is relatively simple. The Altstadt runs east– west along the south bank of the Danube. Within the Altstadt, the mercantile quarters of the medieval city are largely to the west of the Dom, while the eastern side of the Altstadt is both quieter and more ecclesiastical. The distinction between episcopal and mercantile Regensburg is remarkably sharp even to this day, and where the eastern Altstadt is placid to the point of colourlessness, the streets of the western Altstadt are bustling day and night. Schloss Emmeram is on the south side of the Altstadt, beyond which a belt of parkland separates the old town from the Hauptbahnhof. To the north of the Alstadt, and linked by the Steinerne Brücke, is the Stadtamhof on an island.