From the endless green of the Thuringian Forest to the natural wonderland of Saxon Switzerland – discover the great outdoors of Saxony and Thuringia and embrace landscapes like no others.
Thuringia’s sea of green
Thuringia is often called “the green heart of Germany” which is in no small part due to the Thuringian Forest low mountain range as the largest contiguous forest area in Germany. All of it is protected in the Thuringian Forest Nature Park and can best be explored on the Rennsteig, which also happens to be Germany’s oldest and best-known long-distance hiking trail. Covering a good 105 miles (you don’t have to do all of them!), it reaches into the Thuringian slate mountains and takes hikers through wonderfully dense woodlands, broken up by moors and streams. If hiking is not your thing, there’s also a corresponding Rennsteig cycle route plus more great cycling options along rivers and through the valleys of the Thuringian Forest. And for your culture fix, make sure to pencil in some time for the UNESCO-listed Wartburg Castle towering above Eisenach, breath-taking views of the Thuringian Forest included!
Hainich National Park: of ancient woodlands and exciting treetop trails
Not far from Eisenach, Thuringia has another natural treasure in store: Hainich National Park is an ancient woodland including a spectacular beech forest which became a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in 2011. Here, nature has really been left to its own devices, providing space for rare fauna and flora, including wildcats. You can roam the woods with rangers, indulge in forest bathing and – for some best of all – enjoy everything from the heights of the park’s splendid treetop trail. It rises up to 24 metres, where you’ll find yourself among the treetops and there’s even a viewing platform 44 metres above ground to be conquered. Tip: The treetop trail is accessible as is a great “forest promenade” covering 0.75 miles for comfortable exploration.
Saxon Switzerland: one-of-a-kind scenery at Dresden’s doorstep
It’s an overused term but Saxon Switzerland National Park really is stunning. Just outside Dresden lies a unique landscape of bizarrely shaped rock fingers, sandstone mountains and gorges stretching from the picturesque town of Pirna on the Elbe river up to the Czech border. We are biased but would say with some conviction that it is one of Europe’s most surprising landscapes. Saxon Switzerland, which is also Germany’s only “rock national park”, is a haven for hikers, with hundreds of miles of hiking trails. Among those, the “Painters’ Way” is considered to be one of Germany’s most beautiful hiking routes. Its name references Romanic painters, such as Caspar David Friedrich, who were among the first to discover the Elbe Sandstone Mountains’ inspirational beauty, capturing it in their work. Follow in the footsteps of artists and find your very own perfect spot! And if you’re looking for accommodation with a difference, try Schmilka, a village of sustainably built hotels and eco-restaurants on the edge of Saxon Switzerland National Park.
Full on nature immersion in the Ore Mountains/Vogtland Nature Park
For an off-the-grid experience, head to the south-west of Saxony and the 178-mile Ore Mountains-Vogtland Ridgeway panoramic trail. Checking your mobile phone every five minutes is not order of the day there. Instead, fully immerse yourself in the beautiful nature of the Ore Mountains/Vogtland Nature Park with mountain meadows, shady forests and refreshing streams. One of the trail’s highlights – literally – is the view from the Fichtelberg mountain (1,215m). At its foot, you’ll also find Germany’s highest town, the spa resort of Oberwiesenthal at 915m above sea level. Tip: The Ore Mountains are home to some great mountain biking trails, including the family friendly Blockline. Plus, the region’s mining heritage, which is UNESCO-listed, adds some special visitor attractions such as show mines and picturesque historic mining towns.
For more outdoor adventure ideas, see the Cultural Heart of Germany’s dedicated hiking and cycling website section.