More than a dozen bike paths run through Thuringia. They cross impressive landscapes, meander along rivers and connect culturally diverse cities. Here we introduce you to five bike paths in Thuringia.
Sometimes you'll ride past fairytale castles, sometimes you'll have to pedal hard on climbs: For around 400 kilometers, the Saale Cycle Route the river from its source in the Fichtelgebirge mountains to its mouth in the Elbe. In total, there are almost 3,700 meters of altitude to be climbed. About half of the route (180 kilometers) leads through Thuringia.
It starts in Sparnberg near the former inner-German border at the foot of the Thuringian Slate Mountains. Over the next 100 kilometers, you'll pass through a forested and unspoiled landscape. Short but challenging climbs and descents alternate along the river loops. In Saalburg, we recommend a round trip over the Bleilochstausee, Germany's largest dam. At the romantic Burgk Castle you descend steeply to the Saale. The path leads past numerous half-timbered houses, offers wide views over plateaus and crosses the fjord-like landscape of the Hohenwarte reservoir. After your efforts in the low mountain range, a visit to the most colorful show caves in the world is worthwhile in Saalfeld.
You will reach Rudolstadt with its old town and Heidecksburg Castle without any major climbs. In the rafting museum in Uhlstädt, you will discover how floatable rafts were made from spruce wood for centuries. Near the porcelain town of Kahla is the 13th-century medieval Leuchtenburg Castle, known as the "Queen of the Saale Valley. From here it is about 20 kilometers to the university town of Jena, famous for the Zeiss Planetarium. Three castles rise up on the shell limestone cliffs near Dornburg. Goethe resided in one of them during a summer. The Saale Cycle Path now leads through the vineyards of the Saale-Unstrut region to the state border at Kaatschen-Weichau. Here you have a direct connection to the Ilmtal cycle path.
And this is how you get to Sparnberg by bus and train: Plan arrival.
The Ilmtal cycle path connects the Thuringian Forest with the Saale-Unstrut region over 123 kilometers. The family-friendly bike path (mostly on asphalt roads, just under 700 meters of elevation gain in total) is one of the most popular tours in Germany and has been awarded four stars by the ADFC.
From the starting point in Allzunah, the route goes downhill via the spa town of Stützerbach with its Goethe Museum to the university town of Ilmenau, 16 kilometers away. Here, the GoetheStadtMuseum is dedicated to the life of the famous poet. The best view of Ilmenau is from the lookout tower on the 861-meter-high Kickelhahn mountain, about an hour's hike from the town.
Now you follow the Ilm through the varied landscape of the Middle Ilm Valley and the Weimarer Land. At Langewiesen, you will pass under the Ilmtal Bridge, which carries the ICE train line to Nuremberg. At 1,681 meters, it is the longest bridge in Thuringia. In Stadtilm, you will encounter the next superlative of the Free State: the largest marketplace, one of the "seven wonders" in the picturesque small town. Afterwards, you'll cycle leisurely toward Kranichfeld with its two castles and the spa town of Bad Berka.
Weimar is one of the cultural highlights along the Ilm Valley Cycle Route with the eleven UNESCO World Heritage Sites "Classical Weimar" and the Bauhaus World Heritage Site. Among other things, the homes of the poets Goethe, Schiller and Herder are located here. You can stroll leisurely along the magnificent avenues around Belvedere Palace.
Following the visit to the Wielandgut in Oßmannstedt, it is worth taking a short detour to the bell town of Apolda. Plan time here for the Kunsthaus, where modern art - from Marc Chagall to Pop Art - can be seen regularly. Shortly before you reach your destination, you can relax at the Toskana Therme in Bad Sulza. At the end point in Kaatschen-Weichau, just a few kilometers away, you have a direct connection to the Saale Cycle Path.
And this is how you get to Allzunah by bus and train: Plan arrival.
Flat and comfortable, full of wide panoramas over fields and small towns: This is the Unstrut cycle path. For 152 kilometers, it follows the river from its source in the Eichsfeld region near Kefferhausen to the state border near Wiehe. Since there are no steep climbs on the Unstrut Cycle Path, it is ideal for touring with the family.
The first attractive distant view is just a few minutes away by bike at the railroad viaduct over the Reisersche Tal valley behind Dingelstädt. You should plan some time to linger in the old imperial town of Mühlhausen to take a leisurely look at the town walls, medieval churches and museums. The reformer Thomas Müntzer preached in St. Mary's Church during Luther's time, and Johann Sebastian Bach was organist at the Divi Blasii Church for a time. After about 20 kilometers you will reach Bad Langensalza. With ten gardens, it is considered the most flowering city in Europe. The old town also boasts colorful half-timbered facades and an impressive town hall with its own carillon.
The route continues through the dreamy landscape and tranquility of the Unstruttal nature reserve to Großvargula. After a short stretch together on the Gera cycle path, the route passes the St. Wigberti monastery in Werningshausen, where cyclists can also spend the night. Sömmerda has a town wall, a Renaissance town hall, the late Gothic town church of St. Boniface and the Historical-Technical Museum dedicated to the inventor of the firing pin rifle, Nicolaus von Dreyse.
The final stage leads through the Thuringian Gate, the impressive breakthrough of the Unstrut near Sachsenburg. From here it's not far to Heldrungen with its mighty moated castle. On the Unstrut bridge before Artern you can have a good look at the town from above. It's only a few more kilometers to Roßleben with its former monastery worth seeing and to the final point at Wiehe.
And this is how you get to Kefferhausen by bus and train: Plan arrival.
The Harzrundweg runs for a total of 310 kilometers around Germany's northernmost low mountain range. 37 kilometers of it run through the Südharz Nature Park in Thuringia. On the tour through the north of the Free State, you will have to master several challenging climbs. There are 600 meters of altitude difference between the start in Stempeda and the finish in Ellrich.
The first stage destination is the climatic spa town of Neustadt. The town of 1,000 inhabitants lies beneath one of the oldest castle ruins in the Harz Mountains. The more than three-meter-high statue of Roland the knight at the Ratskeller is one of the last five surviving wooden Roland figures in Europe. In Niedersachswerfen, we recommend taking the seven-kilometer detour south to the traditional distillery in Nordhausen.
Back on the Harz circular route, we continue to Ilfeld. Situated in a mountain valley, Goethe visited the resort with its listed half-timbered houses during his first trip to the Harz Mountains. In the visitor mines "Rabensteiner Stollen" and "Lange Wand" you can learn more about the life of the miners who once mined hard coal and copper slate here. Cyclists with a particular interest in geology should stop shortly after Appenrode at the Kelle karst cave. The natural monument is considered a vivid example of the slow decay of a gypsum karst cave. The final point of the Thuringian Harz circular route is the small town of Ellrich.
And this is how you get to Stempeda by bus and train: Plan arrival.
The 54-kilometer section of the Elster cycle path in Thuringia begins in Greiz. The park and castle town is characterized by its contrast between magnificent architecture and the quiet nature of the Elster valley. Above the old town is the medieval Upper Castle, and directly on the banks of the White Elster River is the classicist Lower Castle. You can stroll around the summer palace in the Greizer Park.
With a few steeper climbs in the Vogtland region behind Greiz, you overcome most of the total of about 500 meters in altitude. After that, the bike path winds mostly flat along the river to the state border at Crossen. A few kilometers before Gera, Wünschendorf with the Mildenfurth monastery and the fairytale forest is located directly on the trail.
In the university town of Gera, those interested in nature will wander through the Museum of Natural History and then through its cellar, called the "Höhler": In the underground labyrinth of tunnels and passages, beer was once stored; today, minerals can be seen here. Architecture enthusiasts head for the town hall and town pharmacy, both with Renaissance elements, and Haus Schulenburg, designed by Belgian architect Henry van de Velde. In the house where Otto Dix was born, important works by the painter are on permanent display.
Passing under some hills, the Elster cycle path follows the river to Bad Köstritz. The town of 3,500 inhabitants is known for its long tradition of black beer brewing and the first cultivation of dahlias in Germany. The early baroque composer Heinrich Schütz, a predecessor of Bach, was also born in Bad Köstritz. After the Elsterauen, the bike path reaches its Thuringian endpoint of Crossen.
And this is how you get to Greiz: Plan arrival.
Cover photo: Nature meets culture on the cycle paths in Thuringia, as here not far from the Dornburg castles © CMR/Joachim Negwer
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