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
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.