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Weimar is a mere 30-minute drive from Erfurt and boasts a whole range of unmissable sights which easily fill a day in the city. Both Goethe and Schiller are known to have spent a significant amount of time here, and drew inspiration from the enchanting city. Goethe’s former home now houses a museum which allows you to peek into his writer’s room and library. Speaking of libraries, the stunning Duchess Anna Amalia Library should also go on your list, along with the City Castle’s museum which exhibits art from the medieval times through to the 18th century.
Gotha often falls under the radar when visitors plan their itinerary through Thuringia, but this small town some 30 km (18.6 miles) west of Erfurt boasts a number of fascinating historical attractions. If you decide to head out here for a day, make sure you make a tour of Friedenstein Palace and the English garden – the oldest in continental Europe – your top priority. The lavishly decorated rooms and apartments are well preserved with their original Baroque, Rococo and neoclassical elements, and adorned with intricate stucco elements and wood carvings. Other noteworthy sights are the old town hall and the Herzlöglichliches Museum, which displays the art collection of the Dukes of Saxe-Gotha.
When the former alum mine in Saalfeld, 70 km (43.5 miles) south of Erfurt, was rediscovered in 1910, a fascinating world of caves and underground pools was unearthed. When people first climbed down into this magical world, they imagined seeing rock formations in the shape of fairies, ultimately giving the cave system its name. While there may be no fairies living in the grottoes, the dazzling hues of beige, brown, red and grey and the stalagmites and stalactites which formed over centuries are still fascinating to see.
Fairy Grottoes – Feengrottenweg 2, Saalfeld, Germany
The Saale-Unstrut wine region stretches all the way from Brandenburg, through Lower Saxony to Bad Sulza in Thuringia, the focal point of winemaking in the region. Local vineyards put on a range of events throughout the season, from the Bad Sulza wine festival in mid-August to vineyard and cellar tours, wine tastings, yoga classes, picnics and guided walks of the estates. Weingut Zahn is fantastic for food paired with local wines, and if you want to add a cultural experience to the day trip, you can take a detour via the three Dornburg Castles just south of the wine town.
Perched on a hilltop outside of Eisenach, 70 km (43.5 miles) west of Erfurt, Wartburg Castle stands as the epitome of a medieval fortress. The castle has withstood more than 900 years of turbulent history and is considered one of the best preserved and most significant medieval castles in the country. In the 1520s, the thick castle walls sheltered the figurehead of the Protestant Reformation movement, Martin Luther who allegedly used his time here to translate the New Testament from Ancient Greek to German. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site draws people from all across the world.
Wartburg Castle – Auf der Wartburg 1, Eisenach, Germany
Jena lies approximately 50 km (31 miles) from Erfurt, and is first and foremost known for its prestigious university which has produced a number of literary, philosophical and scientific giants, including Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Ernst Haeckel, Goethe, Schiller and Nietzsche. If you decide to venture out to Jena for a day, make sure you do one thing: visit the world’s oldest operating planetarium. They host a number of daily events from talks and workshops to mesmerising 360-degree video sequences which are projected onto the cupola and synchronised to classic rock music.
The Hainich National Park is Germany’s green heart. For miles and miles, the untouched primaeval beech forest sprawls across Thuringia, only 45 minutes west of Erfurt. Several hiking trails and cycling routes traverse the thick woodlands and offer a fantastic opportunity to spot some of Germany’s elusive wildlife, including birds, bugs, several bat species and the European wildcat. If you want to get a different perspective, you can head up to a canopy walk for bird’s-eye views of the UNESCO site.
Hainich National Park – Thiemsburg 1, Schönstedt, Germany