No other improvement can equal in utility the railroads.
-Abraham Lincoln, March 6, 1832 (seen on a model train station at the Toy Museum)
There's unfortunately no separating Nuremberg from its recent history with the Nazi party rallies and trials, so fortunately the city has protected these historic sites so people may visit them, understand them, and (hopefully) learn from them. But Nuremberg's top attractions aren't all dark and depressing, so a toy museum, imperial castle, and famous artist's house act to soothe the Nazi-weary souls of visitors. I found the entrance prices to be extremely reasonable and the city oversees all 5 of these sites, so they have a scheme where it's $5 for a ticket to visit the first and about $1 to visit subsequent sites the same day. All-in-all, Nuremberg is a fascinating place to visit to better understand key historic events in Germany (and Europe) from the Middle Ages to the 1940s.
PS - Be sure to check out Nuremberg's Historical Mile.
Let's start things off on a light note. Germany is known for its toys: Playmobil, Steiff, model trains, anything wooden. Nuremberg's toy museum showcases this fact well, especially for dollhouse-lovers such as myself. (Of course, there are plenty of trains, cars, dolls, and more on display.) Every floor of this world-renowned toy museum is packed with more than 87,000 objects, and it's fun for young and old visitors. It was fascinating to see toys from the 1500s or earlier, and note toy trends over time. Most fascinating, I found, was a display on toys as social clues for children, such as the elaborately-decorated play kitchens given to little girls to get them accustomed to life as homemakers; it makes one see G.I. Joe in a whole new light.
Dürer is best known for his woodcutting series, The Revelation of St John (Apocalypse) (1497-98). However, this famous printmaker was also a popular and respected painter. (Sadly, none of the paintings on site are originals, but they are very good reproductions.) Dürer and his wife had no children and lived together in the large house until the artist's death, suggesting that the couple was financially well-off. Another indicator of the artist's financial stability is seen in the unusually high number of windows in the house, meaning that Dürer could afford as much heat as he pleased. One of the floors was used as his workshop, a workshop that is still active today with visiting artists doing live demonstrations.
For the best views of the city, put on some sturdy shoes for a hike up to Nuremberg’s castle south of the Pegnitz river. Built in the 1100s, the sandstone rock imperial castle felt more sparse and cold than opulent and cozy like more recently-built castles. According to the castle’s website, “since the Middle Ages its silhouette has represented the power and importance of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and the outstanding role of the imperial city of Nuremberg.” And interestingly enough, Nuremberg’s role with the Holy Roman Empire is rumored to be one of the reasons Hitler selected the city to host the Nazi rally party grounds, which brings us to…
For a relaxing yet sobering walk amongst nature and Nazi ruins, the party's former rally grounds are a great place to start. From 1933 to 1938, the Nazi party held huge annual rallies ("Nuremberg Rallies") here. The large scale of the buildings and expansiveness of the grounds were done on purpose to demonstrate Nazi power to the world, so allow plenty of time to get around if you visit (something I didn't do). Hitler chose Nuremberg as the host city of these grand rallies for practical reasons (central location), historic reasons (Holy Roman Empire), and nationalistic reasons (he liked the traditional "German-ness" of the city). Most of the buildings remain intact from 1930s, with some overgrowth of course, although the large swastika at the Zeppelin Field grandstand was unfortunately blown up in a rather spectacular fashion by the US after the war. The site's Wikipedia page has some great images of the site, and more details.
To wrap everything up, a trip to Nuremberg wouldn't be complete without visiting the city's notorious Palace of Justice where the Nuremberg trials, or military tribunals, took place between 1945 and 1946. This was a pretty sensational event at the time and people all over the world watched as 24 former big whigs of the Nazi party were punished. So, the courtroom was significantly enlarged to allow a bigger audience of people and press, a complex system for translating four languages was developed, and the large windows were covered for protection. (After the trials, the room was renovated back to its original state.) Courtroom 600 is still in use today for criminal cases and there is a prison on site, but visitors are still welcome to view the courtroom and trial exhibit, where the the groundbreaking, state-of-the-art interpretation machines are on display (the US, UK, Soviet Union, and France led the tribunals in Germany, so that's four languages to bridge). Nuremberg's Justizpalast was chosen because it was one of the few remaining buildings after Allied bombings (with a prison in the rear) and it was home to the notorious Nuremberg Rallies.