Half-timbered houses were first built in Northern Europe where the forests were thick and the people hearty. They show up mostly famously in France and Germany, but you can find them elsewhere like in England and Switzerland. The first half-timbered houses were built in Germany around the 1300s, with the style really becoming popular from the 1400s-1600s.
When looking at the geographic location of half-timbered houses you have to factor in the historical context that these villages were built in. At the time the majority of these houses were being built there was no real “France” or “Germany” as we know it today. So we look at borders and think, huh, wonder how there are so many architectural similarities between two pretty different countries.
Well, that is because there was a fair amount of knowledge and best practices transferred between cities in Germany and more of Northern France. And, at the time, building a half-timbered house was more economical and practical, thus their prevalence.
But, this doesn’t mean that everyone picked up on it or that all villages were created equal. As villages grew many ended up replacing a lot of these houses with more Baroque style architecture a la Paris, Vienna, etc, or just new versions of village architecture. That means that the places we find the highest concentration of half-timbered houses are in more remote areas or areas that have been purposely preserved, like in Germany.
Germany, the half-timbered master
Do a quick Google search for half-timbered homes and you will think that only Germany has these types of houses. That isn’t true, but what Germany does do is present their half-timbered villages in an easy to follow route called the Deutsche Fachwerk Straße or German Half-Timbered House Road.
This road pretty much runs from south to north, right along the red parts of the map above. This is where Germany has the most villages with the most half-timbered houses. But, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other places to find half-timbered homes, this is just a sure fire way to make sure you don’t miss them.
I first came to Germany in 2003 with my family and I was 15 at the time. I don’t have a lot of memories from the trip that are truly mine (not influenced by seeing photos afterwards I mean), but one thing I do remember was driving along the Rhine and going into eat schnitzel at a restaurant in a half-timbered house.
This memory has stuck with me and led me to visit places such as Rouen and Colmar in France, as well as other cities like Cochem, Monschau, Quedlinburg, Wernigerode, Braunschweig, and Coburg in Germany. I also am going to Rothenburg ob der Tauber in a week and have so many other villages I want to visit because of their half-timbered houses.
This love of these houses has pushed me onwards, and I want to share that love with you. So, with that introduction, I want to focus on some of my favorite half-timbered houses from my favorite little villages!
Since the majority of my favorite places reside in Germany, I will start there.
Quedlinburg: is at the top of my already visited list so far and I have been there twice now and can’t even express how much I love this little slice of heaven. There is a Romanesque church on the a hill, a UNESCO world heritage site in the old town, and some of the best alleys that I have ever wandered through.
I have even been here in January and loved it in the cold, gray, and dark weather, so I can only imagine what it is like in Summer. My favorite places to explore are without a doubt the town square facing the church, the Stiftskirche St. Servatius on top the hill, and then Finkenherd which is right by the cathedral (and in the first pic on this post). This little island of half-timbered houses is so quaint. Don’t miss it!
Wernigerode: There are so many half-timbered houses here, it is quite mind blowing. With that said, the best part of the city is definitely the town hall and the castle. It is quite close to Quedlinburg and deserves the other half of your day trip to the Harz.
Monschau: I went here on a whim one day after seeing some photos on Instagram and boy was I not disappointed. My phone pretty much thought I was in Belgium — just so you know that is the direction you are heading in. The surrounding area was beyond incredible as well, so the city wasn’t the only high point.
What I loved about Monschau was actually that it seemed to be a mix of UK and German architecture. There were these slate/rock bottoms on the houses typical of more England (especially Cornwall) and the half-timbered tops that I have come to love. Factor in the river and castle, and this is absolutely worth a stop.
I will move on to France just to keep things progressing here. There are two places that I absolutely love in France when it comes to half-timbered houses. Interestingly enough they are actually on opposite sides of the country — Normandy and Alsace.
Rouen: When we chose this place as part of a 2 day trip out of Paris I was thinking more of the cathedral and historical importance of the city — Joan of Arc, English Kings, Monet, just to name a few. When we got there I felt like I had stumbled into half-timbered heaven. Not what I was expecting from this part of France!
There were quaint little alleyways, massive cathedrals surrounded by half-timbered houses, plus all of the history and everything that I came for in the first place. When it comes to chasing down half-timbered houses, Rouen has to be up there on your list!
Colmar: Probably one of the most well known towns for its half-timbered houses, Colmar and the Alsace region have some of the best villages in France. There is a reason that Instagram loves it so much!
When I was there it was after Christmas and still a lot of the Christmas decorations were up, so if you can I would recommend visiting this area over the holidays. One thing to note is that when I was there I almost missed the best part of the city, this little area called “Little Venice”. A cute little stream winds its way through “Little Venice”, but this part isn’t actually in the heart of the city.
When you get to Colmar, plug Le Petit Venice into your phone and then wander over there. This is the most photographed spot. What I liked more actually was wandering a little bit further to find the Le Comptoir de Georges (just a place to give you some direction) and standing over a small bridge looking down another canal that was truly stunning. So don’t miss that!
More places to see
Those are definitely my favorite places I have been so far, but there are so many more to see! In that spirit, I wanted to list some of the other places that reside on that list. If you have been to any of them I would love to hear your thoughts.
- Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
- Bamberg, Germany
- Celle, Germany
- Esslingen am Neckar, Germany
- Strasbourg, France
- Rennes, France
That should do it for me, if there is anything I missed or should absolutely see, let me know in the comments!