Thuringia (German: Thüringen) is one of the least known German states amongst foreign travellers but enjoys a good reputation with local holidaymakers. A predominantly mountainous and forested region, Thuringia is also known for a quartet of beautiful ancient cities and the Wartburg Castle - a UNESCO world heritage site and erstwhile refuge of Martin Luther that is regarded by Germans as one of the most important castles in the country. Thuringia's boundaries are Bavaria (specifically Franconia) to the south, Hesse to the west, Lower Saxony to the northwest, Saxony-Anhalt to the north and Saxony to the east. The border with Franconia, Hesse and Lower Saxony used to be the "inner-German" border and you can sometimes still see traces of that. Of particular note is the tiny village of Mödlareuth, nicknamed "little Berlin" by American soldiers as it was divided between Cold War Europe's East and West.
- 1 Erfurt. — state capital with medieval old town, biggest city and main travel hub
- 2 Eisenach. — home of Wartburg castle where Martin Luther translated the Bible into German; Johann Sebastian Bach's birthplace
- 3 Gera. — once an important regional industrial centre, still retaining architectural monuments to its former glory
- 4 Gotha. – erstwhile capital of an independent principality, early centre of natural sciences
- 5 Jena. — Thuringia's main university city, site of research and optical goods industries, and temporary home to Goethe and Schiller, too
- 6 Mühlhausen. — temporary home of Johann Sebastian Bach, John A. Roebling (builder of the Brooklyn Bridge) and of Thomas Müntzer, leader of the peasants' revolution
- 7 Nordhausen. – on the southern slopes of the Harz mountains, famous for its Doppelkorn schnapps
- 8 Rudolstadt. — site of Germany's largest folk music festival
- 9 Saalfeld. — former seat of what is now the British royal family
- 10 Sonneberg. — a centre of toy making and location of the German toy museum
- 11 Suhl. — chief town of the Thuringian Forest skiing and hiking region
- 12 Weimar. — town of Goethe and Schiller, site of the 1919 constitutional convention and birthplace of the Bauhaus movement, which was the most influential artistic and architectural movement of the early 20th century.
- The Hainich Forest - Germany's thirteenth national park with its magnificent tree-top walk
- The Thuringian Forest - national park and winter sport centre
- The Buchenwald Forest - Infamous site of one of the largest Nazi concentration camps
Thuringia as an entity has existed only since 1920. Before that it was a patchwork of small and miniature duchies, margraviates and other petty territories in ever shifting alliance. Both of its "big power" neighbors, Saxony and Brandenburg/Prussia at various times controlled several pieces of what is now Thuringia and in fact many of the reigning houses were branch lines of the reigning house of Saxony and consequently named Saxe-something. This situation, that is fittingly described by the German term Kleinstaaterei was severely impending progress and made life for the people of the time harder, as they had to cross several borders in a day's march and the rulers could force them to change religion along with them (cuius regio eius religio). On the other hand, it is serendipitous for today's visitors, as one of the ways rulers tried to one-up one another was by investing in palaces, residences and culture. The theater in Weimar and in fact the presence of Goethe (who was born in Frankfurt) and Schiller (who hailed from Württemberg) is due mostly to the search for prestige of the rulers of Saxe-Weimar and both got high paying government sinecure jobs that left them free to pursue their various interests, including literature.
Several of Thuringia's most important cities, including Erfurt, the largest and state capital, lie in a pretty straight east-west line with much of the rest of Thuringia nearly bereft of anything larger than small towns.
The most common language in Thuringia is German with its slight regional accent. English proficiency has traditionally been lower than in the west, but is slowly getting better, especially among younger people. While East German education put a focus on Russian, there's no real predominant second foreign language these days, as none really presents itself for geographic reasons.
There are airports in this part of the country, but the biggest of them, Erfurt - Weimar ERF IATA, sees almost only flights to and from Mediterranean holiday destinations. Unless you have money to burn or own a private airplane, chances are you will be arriving at one of the major international airports out of state and then taking the train or bus or rent a car from there. Depending on where in Thuringia you are aiming for, Leipzig/Halle Airport (LEJ IATA); Nuremberg Airport (NUE IATA) and Frankfurt Airport (FRA IATA) are relatively close and well connected internationally. An ICE train will get you from Frankfurt airport to Erfurt main station in roughly 2½ hours (2020), but travel times are planned to become shorter soon. Erfurt is also a stop on the new ICE Sprinter line between Munich and Berlin, which cuts journey times between Munich and Berlin below 4 hours. It may make sense to get rail and fly. For more on that issue see rail air alliances
Thuringia is surprisingly well connected on the railway network and thanks to the quirky nature of German federalism the new Berlin-Munich high speed mainline has passed through Erfurt since 2017, thus making a wide variety of connections in all cardinal directions available. Erfurt main station is hub for both "regular" ICEs from Frankfurt eastward and between Munich and Berlin and for the Sprinter (an ICE with only limited stops) from Frankfurt to Berlin and from Berlin to Munich. For some smaller towns connections are not as good and you might find yourself in a bus after all if you do not own a car. The southern part of the state, around Sonneberg, is culturally Franconian and has better train services to Nuremberg and Erlangen than to Erfurt.
Long distance bus travel in Germany is a relatively new phenomenon as it was legalized only at the beginning of the 2010s and thus the market is still evolving. There are however a number of routes already available and prices routinely beat all other modes of transport, especially when booked well in advance. Comfort and speed of travel tend to be lacking, though.
The A4 crosses the middle of the state east-west providing access from Dresden and Gießen. The A9 runs north-south, roughly parallel to the Saale river on its west, bisecting Jena and Gera and providing quick access to Leipzig and Berlin to the north and Bayreuth, Nuremberg and Munich to the south.
Public transport is for the most part good, fast and reliable. If you plan to do a day trip the "Thüringen-Ticket" might just be what you are looking for. It costs €23 for one person plus €4 for each additional person up to five and covers all regional trains in Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony plus public transport in Erfurt, Gera, Weimar, Jena, also Halle Dresden and Leipzig. Validity is from 09:00 on working days (all day on weekends) until 03:00 the following morning.
Bicycles are transported free of charge in any local trains and some other public transport within Thuringia (though not in some neighboring states, so watch out in trains, which cross).
For literature, history and theater buffs, Weimar is certainly a must visit, as it was the place where Johan Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, two of the most famous authors writing in German, met and had their most prolific writing phase. Furthermore, the "Weimar Republic" was named for the town, because its constitution was written in Weimar's national theater (Berlin being embroiled in out and out revolution and political violence at the time).
Other towns in Thuringia are also not to be missed and some, like for example Erfurt, the capital, have superb old towns.
The Wartburg Castle near Eisenach is well worth a visit as an excellent castle with good condition interior rooms, as well as the connection to Martin Luther, who spent a year here under the assumed name "Junker Jörg" hiding from his enemies and translating the Bible. The Wartburg was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2000.
One of the main activities visitors engage in is hiking through the Thüringer Wald. Other than that the various theaters (most notably that in Weimar) are still in use as such and if you speak German, it can be the highlight of your trip to see Goethe played "like it was meant to be seen". Even if you don't speak German or struggle with the language the sound of the words can be impressive.
Thuringia is home and origin to the renowned (at least in Germany) Thüringer Klöße (dumplings) as well as Thüringer Rostbratwürste (or Roster for short), a type of Bratwurst. While they are available almost anywhere in Germany, as is often said, the best fare stays stateside.
Nordhausen is or at least was the liquor capital of Germany. If you pass by Thuringia without visiting once you are either a teetotaler or underage (legal drinking age is 16 for beer and wine 18 for spirits, just so you know)
The state of Thuringia is generally safe. While there is a legal requirement for high ranking police officers to speak English, and English is now required in school for everybody, you might still meet police that don't speak English. That being said, police is usually helpful and fair, if a bit strict at times. Sadly, as elsewhere in Germany, racial profiling does occur, especially on trains or near stations, so if you look "foreign" be prepared to show ID more often than white people. Violent crime is rare and almost unheard of, though pickpocketing and the likes do occur in crowds. Try to stay well clear of political rallies where right-wing forces and Antifa collide as violence by either side or the police does occur during those events.
As this is more or less smack dab in the middle of Germany, the options to go from here are next to limitless.
- Franconia with its wine and beer culture, picturesque churches and pristine mountains is just a short hop away from Sonneberg, a town some consider to be basically Franconia already
- Saxony is right next door and included in your "Thüringen-Ticket" for the regional trains
- If you haven't flown in from Frankfurt already, Hesse is also worth a visit
- Saxony-Anhalt is another lesser-known German federal state right next to Thuringia its regional trains are also included in your "Thüringen-Ticket"