Erfurt is one of the oldest German settlements and it dates back to the prehistoric area. Traces of human remains have been found in the city dating back to 100,000 BC. It’s the capital of the Thuringia region and has a colorful history having experienced being a part of the French Empire, the Prussian Empire, and the Electorate of Mainz.
Erfurt is the city closest to the geographical heart of modern Germany, enjoying a location on rolling plains. Whilst the city itself is decisively urban, the surroundings retain a charming and rustic identity where traditional rural life is evident. In the Middle Ages, the city was a highly important trading town, and many of the old buildings and market areas are still standing and in use today. A mark of its antique significance is its university which was founded in 1379, and where Martin Luther was a student.
Map of Erfurt
Table of Contents
Best Time to go to Erfurt
Temperatures range widely in Erfurt. For those who love the harsh, cold winters of Germany visit Erfurt in January or December as the temperatures drop below freezing. Bargain breaks in winter are attractive to those that love the crispness in the air and the lack of tourists. If there happens to be snow, the forests of Thuringia, outside the city, are certainly a very pretty sight.
In the summer, temperatures generally hover around the 70 degrees Fahrenheit mark, at their height. It’s never unbearably hot and wandering the pretty streets and parks of Erfurt is very pleasurable.
As the capital of the region, driving into Erfurt is a viable option if you are travelling around Germany. It lies on two large federal motorways in the north and the east, so there are four main ways into the city. It’s strongly recommended you avoid the city centre. Not only is it difficult to get directly to your destination, it’s almost impossible to find a parking space.
A large train station sits close to the centre of the city, with direct lines to other major cities like Dresden and Berlin. It’s possible to use Erfurt as a base to explore some of the other major cities in the area – Leipzig is an hour away, Weimar just about 15 minutes and Halle, the birthplace of Handel and the home of some lovely castles, can be reached in about 45 minutes. The Erfurt Hauptbahnhof offers local trains going to the smaller towns in the Thuringia region.
The Erfurt-Weimar Airport services the region and offers daily flights around Germany, as well as to prominent holiday destinations around Europe. If you are just flying into the city there are trams offering a direct connection to the train station and city center. Take tram number 4.
Unlike many tourist destinations, it’s unwise to opt for transport around the city centre. Since the centre of the city is the oldest part, the streets are naturally extremely narrow. Walking is definitely the best way to get around central Erfurt
The tram lines are amongst the most advanced in Europe. Erfurt has had a long time to make their tram system one of the best in the world as it’s been in place since 1883. Trolleybuses act as a supplement to the tram system and enable you to get where you need to go quickly and easily.
Transport generally grinds to a relative halt after midnight, but there are night buses every hour for people who need to get to the train station, or the center of the city. If this isn’t ideal, the only other option is to take advantage of a taxi, which visitors say are quite expensive.
Cycling is perfectly acceptable in Erfurt’s narrow streets. Expect to see a lot of cyclists around the city center as it’s generally the fastest way to get around.
Major Attractions and Sights
Find your way around the city with a guidebook from the tourist office which is located on Benediktsplatz in the city center. Erfurt’s romantic Old Quarter is Germany’s largest heritage site so lovers of history and architecture will find much of interest here.
The city’s narrow streets are an attraction all their own, harkening back to Erfurt’s historical past. Many central streets are open to pedestrians only, and are lined by delightful old merchant’s houses, many of them tall with brightly colored facades. A number of green areas with charming little bridges crossing the Gera River complete the distinctive northern European look and flavor.
The Erfurt Cathedral is an old 13th century Catholic church built by St. Boniface. It evolved into a church in the gothic style and now possesses beautiful stained-glass windows, a candelabrum shaped in the form of a bronze man, and choir stalls dating back to the 14th century. If you visit the city in August you can witness the Domstufen-Festspiele classical music festival which takes place in the square in front of the cathedral.
Severikirche, a huge 5-naved church known to date back to before the 12th century stands next door to the cathedral and together the two dominate the cityscape, making them the most well known attractions of Erfurt.
The Alte Synagoge is another exciting attraction for history buffs. Its roots date back to the 12th century, which makes it perhaps the oldest Jewish synagogue in Europe. In the 14th century, it was converted into a storehouse before being left to ruin for many years. It was eventually refurbished and now stands as a museum. Learn about the history of this exciting monument and the people who worshipped here with a visit to the museum. One of its exciting exhibits is the 600 pieces of jewelry unearthed in the Jewish quarter, including a Jewish marriage ring dating back to the early 1300s.
The Zitadelle Petersberg sits on the hill north of the Dom, and is the most well preserved town baroque fortress in central Europe. It is a unique example of European fortress construction built on the site of a former Benedictine monastery. Guided tours of the underground passages are always popular.
Another of the significant and actually quite remarkable sights of Erfurt is the Krämerbrücke. This medieval bridge sits across the River Breitstrom and originally had a church at each end. Today the Agidienkirche still functions as a church. The bridge was built in 1325 and is covered with 32 buildings, all of which are still inhabited.
Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, studied in Erfurt as a student and lived there as a monk in the early 16th century. If you want to learn more about Martin Luther – one of the most important figures in European religious history – the must-visits are the old university buildings, the Augustinekloster (monastery), Georgenburse (student’s living quarters), and the Luther Stone. Guided tours of the city always include much reference to him and his associations with Erfurt.
Other buildings that might be included on an itinerary are the impressive Town Hall, the Former Governors Residence (dating from 1711) which is now the Thuringia Chancellery, St. Barthelomew’s Tower, and the Woad Storehouse, where once the blue dye was made.
The Egapark is a place to take a break from the busyness of the city center. The large botanical gardens are a romantic location and there are greenhouses featuring beautiful little plants, a Japanese rock garden, and even a horticultural museum with fantastic views of the whole garden from the top floor.
The Erfurt Theatre has recently been renovated and plays host to a variety of exciting operas and plays. Look at the official website of the theatre for more information on what’s on. Remember to book in advance to view some of the more popular shows to avoid disappointment as they tend to sell out quickly.
Shopping in Erfurt
Anger 1 is in the city centre and is a grand shopping mall spanning four floors. Expect to find many common chains inside Anger 1, including clothing stores, electronics chains, and groceries.
Thüringenpark, Nordhäuser Straße is open every day from 10am to 8pm, except Sunday. This is another shopping centre just outside the city centre. It contains a post office, drug store, and even a German bank. It’s always worth a visit during the city’s holidays as special events and themes are always held here.
Within the city itself there are plenty of local stores to take advantage of. The Krämerbrücke is the main place to purchase souvenirs as local artists and craftspeople sell their wares on small stalls and in small shop windows. It’s a small sanctuary away from the massive apparel corporations dominating Erfurt’s shopping scene.
The best time for shopping is definitely in December, when Wenigemarkt is taken over by the Christmas Market. Enjoy traditional crafts, street entertainment, wonderfully intricate Christmas decorations and plenty of warming drinks and snacks.
Eating out in Erfurt
Erfurt is a great place to sample some of Germany’s national foods. The famous Thuringia Bratwurst is sold throughout the city.
Before embarking on a trip to a local restaurant in Erfurt, take note tipping isn’t a mandatory practice. If you can’t spare an extra few Euros don’t worry about it. Most servers are more than happy if their customers simply round-up their meal to the nearest Euro. Of course, if the service and the meal were particularly scrumptious don’t be afraid to give them a larger tip.
Lovers of traditional Thuringia foods should visit Feuerkugel in the centre of Erfurt where the menu is eminently affordable. Visitors report how the restaurant has an extremely friendly atmosphere with helpful and welcoming servers. Expect to find potato casserole, bratwurst, and of course, German beer to wash your meal down with.
Übersee is a small café and bar located on the banks of the Gera River. It’s the perfect location for a bite to eat during a long day of sightseeing. As well as traditional German drinks, the café offers a different special every day.
FAM (Feines am Markt) is the ideal option if you want good food without any of the fuss. On the outside it looks like an unremarkable location, but the food more than makes up for it. The breakfasts have been reported as a marvel to behold.
A large number of Asian Restaurants are in the city center of Erfurt including Kebab and Arabic restaurants.
Nightlife in Erfurt
Erfurt offers plenty of evening entertainment with small bars and loud clubs, mostly located in the city center.
Engelsburg is an interesting venue as there are so many sides of it to experience. Relax with a beer in the Steinhaus pub, dance in the medieval cellar or visit the Café DuckDich upstairs, where avid culture lovers discuss the latest developments in the art world.
Musikpark deserves a visit purely on the basis of its special offers. It normally plays rock and house music, but on Thursdays, there’s free entry until midnight and if you pay 6 Euros you can drink as much as you like. Weekends are themes, changing every week and the ti me to enjoy an extensive list of cocktails.
A visit to Hemingway adds a touch of sophistication to a night out in Erfurt. Personal drawers with cigar humidors are given to each visitor. There are 148 types of rum and an unbeatable range of 30 daiquiri cocktails. In the Africa Lounge there are stuffed elephants and other animals. Feel as if you’ve just stopped off from a safari at a local inn with some authentic African music to go along with it. This is truly an atmosphere like no other!
Of local Interest
You might notice that there are a lot of steeples in Erfurt with no churches? This is because they were demolished to build the dominating Zitadelle Petersberg.
Erfurt is such a historically rich city because the bombing campaigns of World War II largely avoided the city. It’s meant where many historical attractions from the middle ages were destroyed elsewhere in Germany, Erfurt remained relatively untouched.
Erfurt holds quite a grizzly reputation as being the place where the JA Topf & Sons crematoria manufacturer created special ovens for use by the Nazis in death camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau. A memorial and museum to the victims of the Holocaust now stands in the place of the company’s former headquarters.