Culturally as much as geographically Thuringia (Thüringen) is the heartland of Germany. When the Iron Curtain pulled back, West Germans were relieved to find the nation’s “green heart” was spared the social realism of which the GDR was so fond. It remains the sort of place Germans have in mind when they talk of Früher, a time past when things were less complicated – a bucolic state where slow travel rules, and no city is over 200,000 people. The surprise, then, is that were there a competition to decide Germany’s cultural big-hitter, flyweight Thuringia would be a finalist. This is a state of Martin Luther, Bach and Schiller. More than anyone else it is the state of Goethe. With nowhere more than a couple of hours’ drive away, Thuringia is touring country par excellence. Factor in scenic backroads that slalom through valleys and you have a bucolic state that is all about a finger on the steering wheel, sunshine-sounds on the stereo and the gentle art of pottering about, whether in small towns or on trails. Slow travel has never been so much fun.

As ever, the reason Thuringia punches far above its weight is historical. As the ruling Saxon House of Wettin bequeathed land equally between male heirs, an area that was far from large to begin with fragmented into a mosaic of small duchies – Saxe-Weimar and Saxe-Gotha, for example, or Saxe-Coburg, better known in Britain as the House of Windsor. An upshot of these tin-pot fiefdoms was an arts race that saw the area’s dukes woo the finest musicians, painters, poets and philosophers to their courts as testament to their learning and magnificence.

Nowhere expresses this better than Weimar, a Thuringia-in-microcosm that lobbed the intellectual atom-bomb of the German Enlightenment, whose shockwaves were felt throughout Europe. Most cities would struggle to make such an impact, let alone a small, courtly town. Adjacent Jena has maintained its academic tradition and the student nightlife that goes with it, while Gotha and especially Eisenach have a cultural weight far above their modest size. The state capital is Erfurt, Luther’s university city and perhaps the most underrated capital in Germany thanks to its marriage of historic looks and university dynamism.

The Thuringian Forest to the south could not be more different. This is the state’s rural core, whose sleepy villages are tucked into the folds of an upland blessed by good walking and cycling trails. You can lose a happy week crisscrossing the area by bike on labelled routes or journey through its heart on the well-marked 168km Rennsteig, which traverses it. The state’s many green landscapes also include the Saale Valley at the eastern fringe of the forest region, and the Kyffhäuser uplands to the north, site of the sixteenth-century Peasants’ War sparked in the overlooked historic town of Mühlhausen.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Germany features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Video: is Leipzig the new Berlin?

Video: is Leipzig the new Berlin?

There's been a lot of hype about Leipzig lately, with many dubbing Saxony's capital "the new Berlin". But can little Leipzig honestly compete with Germany's la…

11 Jul 2018 • Colt St. George videocam Video
Leipzig reborn: discovering the city by Trabant

Leipzig reborn: discovering the city by Trabant

Leipzig, more markedly than most cities in eastern Germany, has experienced an upswing in recent years. It's now a dynamic university city with a colourful, wel…

05 Jul 2018 • Stuart Forster local_activity Special feature
The 10 best Baltic beach resorts

The 10 best Baltic beach resorts

European beach holidays haven’t always been just about the Mediterranean. A century ago, the resorts along the Baltic Sea were just as likely to attract the E…

16 Mar 2018 • Jonathan Bousfield insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs