A ROAD TRIP THROUGH THURINGIA, GERMANY
You know that feeling you get when feel instantly connected to a place? That was my experience in the state of Thuringia, Germany. As I roamed the region, every stop I made there was another surprise around the corner. Thuringia is known as the Green Heart of Germany. It’s the perfect place to get outside into nature, explore Germany’s past and present, immerse yourself in local culture, learn about locally made goods and also dive into regional German cuisine.
This article is in partnership with Travel Mindset and The German National Tourist Office. All writing and opinions are my own.
THURINGIA: A PLACE WHERE CONSERVATION + HISTORY MEET
There are now 763 km of protected area in Thuringia – part of the German Green Belt, a project started in 1989 by a local environmental group to convert a darker past into a region filled with nature and conservation efforts for current and future generations to enjoy.
The German Green Belt is the longest ecological network in the country, where you can find rare animal and plant species thriving. I started my trip with a drive out to the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Rhön and climbed to the top of Noah’s Segel (Noah’s Sail). Designed by German architect Matthias Leicht, the structure was built in 2017. From the top you can see the sprawling views that make up Thuringia and also neighboring Hesse and Bavaria.
Nearby, Arche Rhön is another beautiful example of conservation efforts in the region. It’s a great way to explore from walks in the woods to interactive exhibits and a perfect stop off before heading to Point Alpha for a dose of history. The Point Alpha Memorial will give you a look into Germany’s past, where a border once stood dividing East and West Germany during the Cold War. You can walk through this preserved time-capsule-like memorial and hear stories of those who lived through it all.
SMALL TOWN STOP OFFS
Thuringia is full of charming small towns connecting the bigger cities; many feel as though they were plucked from a storybook. As I road tripped through the region, I found myself constantly slowing down and stopping off for photos of the many Accidentally Wes Anderson moments along the route.
One of my favorite small villages was Urshausen, a quaint town of only 120 residents where I spent a night at the Landhotel Zur Grünen Kutte. This family-owned and run property also has one of the most delicious restaurants I experienced on this particular trip. I’d make a return trip alone for one of my favorite German dishes, Rostbrätel, which is pork steak smothered in onions with potatoes! Just five minutes up the road from the hotel, there’s a horse farm you can go riding and a five-minute walk down the road you end up at a beautiful lake where you can enjoy an evening swim.
MONUMENTS + CASTLES + HIKING IN EISENACH
Just below the Burschenschaftsdenkmal, the students society monument dedicated to the students who lost their lives in the anti-Napoleonic wars of liberation, you can grab lunch at Berghotel Eisenach. This lunch spot offers great service and healthy options with a view looking back on Germany’s first castle to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wartburg Castle. You don’t want to leave this region of Germany without visiting a castle and Wartburg should be at the top of your list. Built in the middle ages, you’ll find over a 1000 years of Germany history as you wind your way through the interior – they have impressive art collection and it’s also where the famous Martin Luther stayed for 300 days and translated the New Testament into German.
You can also see panoramic views of the Thuringian Forest, which is great for hiking. I checked out Dragons Gorge. The variety of trails in this part are covered making for a great way to cool down in the warmer months.
THE FAIRYTALE TOWN OF ERFURT
Like it was plucked from a pop-up storybook, Erfurt is one of the most quaint towns I’ve visited in all of my travels. And it’s filled with local boutiques and businesses and also many bridges. One of the places you must not miss is Merchants Bridge (Krämerbrücke).Climb to the top of Ägidienkirche, the historic church with gothic architecture, to get the best view of the longest bridge in Europe with inhabited buildings.
If you’re into shopping local, you’ll want to stroll Merchants Bridge and peek into all of the little shops. Erfurter Blau was one of my faves. They use a local plant in the cabbage family called Woad, similar to indigo, to create blue dye used in the fabrics for their products. For local tastes you can take home with you, Thüringer Spezialitätenmarkt has everything from mustard to Thuringian bratwurst in a can and local beer and liquor tea.
If you like getting active, rent a bike and head over to an edgier area of town and check out Zughafen Erfurt. This strip near the rail lines is lined with local businesses and a brewery too! You can walk in and do a tasting at Heimathafen Bier with one of the two owners behind the brewery. Grab a six pack, bike back into town, and dip your feet in water that runs straight down from the Thuringian mountains, the Gera River, and taste a bit more of town.
For all of your pastry and bread needs fill up at Backstube where you can watch everything be made in house in the tiny little bakery. They have great espresso, too! The homemade ice cream at Goldhelm Manufaktur is binge-worthy.
A MELD OF PAST + PRESENT WITH A TOUCH OF CULTURE + NATURE IN JENA
History and literature lovers you’ll love this town. A great blend of the present and the past, the town of Jena is one of those romanticize the past but embrace the now kind of places. If you’re one of those historian nerds but love a dose of getting out on the water, then Jena is a stop you certainly want to make.
Even the architecture mixes in past and present. The ecommerce agency Dot.source is a great example of this. Their office still exposes the wooden beams that once held the Carl Zeiss Factory, an important part of Jena’s past and present.
Jena is also a very diverse city in terms of types of people you’ll meet, the interests they hold and also in the food. In Jena, you can find anything from local German Cuisine — one of my favorite spots with live music is Theatercafé— to global cuisine created with local ingredients at places like the ramen restaurant, Jen.
Get out in nature on the Saale River that runs alongside the town. Take an afternoon or even a few days to unwind and float down the river via canoe, raft or SUP with Saalestrand Kanu. You are even likely to float past a castle or two, like the Dornburg Castles. There’s no other area in Europe that’s quite like this experience.
Cap off your visit checking out the nightlife. There’s quite a bit of it and Der Strand22 is a great place to do it. You’ll find locals hang out here and enjoy picnicking on the grass by the river.
ARCHITECTURE + DESIGN LOVERS FLOCK TO WEIMER
If you’re an architecture and design lover like me, drive thirty minutes west of Jena, and explore the city of Weimar. It’s most famous for Bauhaus, a German art school from 1919-1933 where the general idea was to combine art and craftsmanship. Bauhaus was all about collaboration. Founded by German architect Walter Gropius, every Bauhaus workshop that was held, an artist and a craftsman led the workshop together.
This year is the 100th anniversary and is the perfect time to check out the newly opened Bauhaus Museum to learn more about the city’s architecturally cool past that has inspired today’s design around the world.
I loved seeing how the Bauhaus inspiration lives on through the current generation locally as I met up with womenswear designer Anne Gorke. The first incredibly designed fashion label under her name is full of the most thoughtfully crafted and structured dresses. She describes them as mini houses you can wear. In her newest line, Bauhaus Made, she collaborates with artists and graphic designers to create comfy sweaters and sweatshirts, scarves and beach towels.
YOUR NEXT ROAD TRIP
Thuringia is a less known region in Germany where you can jaunt around getting a fulfilling experience that literally has something for everyone. The perfect mix of history, nature, culture and adventure, a road trip through the region of Thuringia is one not to be missed on your next visit to Germany.