Germany’s Harz Mountains are a playground of scenic walks, steam railways and Grimm fairy tales. Why not discover the area with us, as we take you through the sights and sounds of this often forgotten area of Germany.
A hidden gem in the heart of Germany, the Harz Mountains region is home to half-timbered medieval villages with castles and old mines. It is particularly famed for its scenic steam trains, which give travellers great views in return for minimal physical exertion. If you are looking for a peaceful, unspoilt spot that feels a world away from the modernity of Germany’s 21st century cities, then this is definitely a place for you to visit.
The Harz Mountains
These lush, green, rolling hills – about fifty miles southeast of Hanover – haven’t always been so quiet. First silver mining brought prosperity to the region, while later the area straddled the border between West and East Germany.
Harz National Park is criss-crossed by three narrow-gauge railways, predominantly driven by steam locomotives. They are popular with tourists but also as public transport by locals.
The Brocken Railway is an old-fashioned steam train that makes the scenic journey through spruce woodland and narrow valleys to the Brocken, the highest peak in the mountains, which was once an East German and Soviet Military surveillance past. First opened more than one hundred years ago, the railway was closed to the public during the Cold War.
The railway’s terminal is at Wenigerode, one of the most famous small towns in the region, known for the kaleidoscope of colours decorating its half-timbered houses. Sitting above the town is a medieval castle, with gargoyles guarding the approach.
The town of Gosiar and Quedlinburg are also incredibly well-preserved – many buildings date back to the Middle Ages and both are Unesco World Heritage Sites. Quedinburg is home to the oldest half-timbered house in Germany, and in Goslar tourists enjoy spotting the carvings of angels, demons, animals and mythological creatures that decorate the streets. Outside Goslar, the Rammelsberg Mine, which closed in 1988 after operating for more than one thousand years, is now a mine museum where visitors can tour the shafts.
The little village of Thale sits in a deep gorge by the Bode River, and there are miles of hiking trails from the town. A cable car runs up to the Hexentanzplatz, a plateau high above the town. Rumoured to once have been a site of pagan ceremonies – hence the name, which means “witches’ dancing place” – it’s now home to an open-air theatre, small zoo and gift shops.
Another popular walk is “Leibesbankweg” or Lovers Walk, near the village of Hahnenklee. The trail ascends and descends the Backsburg, and walkers can rest and admire the views at twenty five individually designed benches in stunning locations overlooking the beautiful scenery.
The Fairy Tale Route
To the west of the Harz Mountains, the Fairy tale Route runs for three hundred and seventy miles from Hanau up to Bremen, and sections of it can make great additions to a Harz itinerary. It is particularly in the spotlight this year as Germany celebrates the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of the famous book of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm.
The route traces associations of Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, from locations where they lived and worked (including Steinau, where tourists can visit the brothers’ childhood home, now a museum), to areas linked to fairy tales – the most famous being Hamelin, the setting for the Pied Piper story.
Other highlights include Kassel, where the first edition of Grimms’ Fairy Tales can be found; Alsfeld, home of the House of Little Red Riding Hood; the Snow White Museum in Bad Wildungen; and Sababurg Castle, also known as Sleeping Beauty Castle.
How To Get There……
The Harz region is centrally located, but not really near any major cities. Once you are there, it is easy to get from one village to another by train, bus or car.
Travel to the Harz By Air
The major airports closest to the Harz region are Berlin, Hamburg, Hannover, Frankfurt and Leipzig. From there, travel would be by train or rental car. The majority of these airports are served by carriers from many UK airports including British Airways and Lufthansa from London Heathrow and Low Cost Carriers like Easyjet, Germanwings and Ryanair from Gatwick and Stansted.
Travel To the Harz By Train
From the larger cities, the train routes usually go by way of Halberstadt coming from the east, Goettingen or Kassel from the west and south, Hannover from the north, then changing to a local line going to the town you are starting with. For details on the best route from your local station please contact us.
Travel to the Harz by Car
Get a good road map before you start out. The Harz region straddles three German states: Sachsen-Anhalt, Niedersachsen and Thuringia, so state maps aren’t as useful as a country map. For the best prices and details on either the Ferry services from the UK to Europe or Eurotunnel services from Folkstone to Calais please contact us.
Traveling Around in the Harz Mountains
As the towns are so closely clustered, it is possible to pick one of them and do day trips to the others. Wernigerode is the most central of the towns, so if you want to avoid changing hotels every night, you could stay there and see the others easily.
Or you could stay in Goslar, and do day trips to Wernigerode, the Brocken and the Rammelsberg mine outside Goslar, then stay in Thale and do a day trip to Quedlinburg (or vice-versa). That’s assuming you have time for or want to see all of them.
Which is the best town to visit?
If you can only see one or two, that’s a tough call! What would we recommend? Definitely Quedlinburg, then either Thale for great scenery and walks, or choose Wernigerode or Goslar for another dose of half-timbered charm.
For a quote or more information on Holidays in the Harz Mountains please contact the team at Twickenham based World of Transport Travel.