If you want to star in your own fairytale then you need to head to Erfurt, the capital city of the Thuringia region. Medieval bridges, captivating cathedrals and colourful squares merge to create one of the cutest hidden gems in Europe I’ve ever visited.
But the region of Thuringia, an area I’ll admit I had never heard of until earlier this year, deserves more of your time than just a flying city visit to Erfurt. Combining visits to nearby Weimar and Gotha make for the perfect week vacation, especially for those who appreciate classical culture and the arts as this region, part of the cultural heart of Germany, is exploding with both.
My journey didn’t start in Erfurt, but being the place that captured my heart the most during my trip to Germany, it’s the base I think you should use as a temporary home to explore the region
The city of Erfurt is the largest in the region, but with a population just north of 200,000 it certainly doesn’t feel hectic or crowded like many city breaks. It may not have the edge of Berlin or the status of Frankfurt but it oozes charm and sophistication and the old-town has enough to keep you entertained for days.
Dating back to around 700 AD, the city slowly built up as an important trading destination in the Middle Ages and thanks to the old town surviving WWII you can still experience it very much as it once was. Home to Germany’s oldest university, the city has a young vibe and in the summer months when I visited beer-gardens were overflowing, and every street felt alive.
The city has a real mix of architecture to discover, and with Central Europe’s oldest surviving synagogue, which now plays home to the Erfurt Treasure and historical Hebrew manuscripts, it’s chasing for UNESCO World Heritage status due to its Jewish Heritage.
But while this is a city with countless attractions easily explored on foot, it’s also a city you can happily get lost in; slowly kicking about from beer gardens to bratwurst venues on the cobbled streets while taking way too many photos of the colourful, wooden beamed facades.
It’s rare I feel like I’m on ‘vacation’ when I’m on a photography assignment but in Erfurt I really did thanks to the laid-back vibes and excellent ice cream (don’t miss a scoop of chocolate from Eiskrämer on the Merchants bridge).
The Merchants Bridge is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the city and for a good reason. The medieval bridge is lined with timber built shops and houses and is one of the few bridges in the world that still has inhabitants living on it. A walk up St. Edgidius tower, the church at the foot of the bridge will provide incredible views of the city and the stone street running through the centre of the bridge.
While walking along the bridge is pretty as a postcard, some of the best views are from the gardens at the rear where on a sunny evening locals crowd around the waters with bottles of beer to enjoy the history and atmosphere of this relaxed city.
The architecture tour continues through the main churches and cathedrals within the city. In the main square, Erfurt Cathedral towers over everything and inside the gothic cathedral the giant ceilings and beautiful stain glassed windows are breathtaking.
A short stroll from here will take you to Petersberg Hill and Citadel, which looks down across the city from its prime vantage point. Constructed in 1665 the citadel has over two kilometres of stone walls and you can even walk through the hollowed out tunnels that were used to fire weapons and protect the city. The maze of underground tunnels aren’t all open to the public and restoration work continues at some of the buildings inside the citadel.
Another of the many attractions to note is the Augustinian Monastery, and those who are clued up on their Reformation history will know that part of Martin Luther’s journey began here as a novice monk. With so many churches and towers dotted throughout the city, you don’t need to visit them all, but this Monastery is undoubtedly one worth visiting before taking a stroll down one of the cutest streets in the city, the Kirchgasse.