I am certainly not the only one with cancelled travel plans this season. Travel bans, lockdown, and unstable financial situation pushed me to put my travel highlight of this year, which I have been planning for a long time, on hold. But neither of these could ever kill my wanderlust so I was really excited to discover that there is a very charming town surrounded by mountains and forests less than four hours away from Berlin. The Harz is a national park located in Saxony- Anhalt which makes it a perfect Berlin weekend getaway. It has some easily accessible paths, mountains are quite low and suit all fitness levels, the place is absolutely charming, well connected by public transport and most importantly- the trip can be done on a budget! Read this post, to see how much did the trip cost me and some tips for making your trip as budget-friendly as possible.
Where to stay in Harz?
If you don’t have hiking in plans, choose any city in the area like Quedlinburg, Wernigerode, Goslar, or Bad Harzburg. I decided the best place for me would be Wernigerode because of its easy access to hiking trails and the availability of cheap accommodation. We stayed in Harz Hostel that cost 21€ per night per person. It was the cheapest accommodation I could find in this area. The hostel was quite basic but clean, had a kitchen as well as lockers big enough to fit the 40l backpack, and was located in the center. Even though it lacked this hostel atmosphere, it is still more than you can expect for this price, especially in Germany.
How to get there?
Flixbus offers direct connection with Wernigerode from Berlin and the ride takes 3h40. . If you book your tickets in advance, one way ticket can cost you as little as 14€ one way. You can also get there by Deutsche Bahn within 3h10 with one transfer.
Day 1: Ride the old school train and hike the highest peak in the area
Length: around 12km
Fitness level: easy to moderate
Harz still operates a few lines of a 70-year-old steam railway that looks exactly like in old movies. It is one of the major attractions in this region and it is well worth the hype. The route is picturesque and the train gives you this ‘good old times’ vibe. The train runs regularly and connects some of the popular points in the area.
Check the timetable at the station or ask in the tourist center because the schedule on Google is outdated.
If you stay in Wernigerode, go to the main station located at Bahnhofsplatz 6 to take the train. You don’t need to buy tickets in advance. One way ticket from Wernigerode to Schierke costs 12€ and the ride takes one hour.
Once you get out of the train, you will have to follow the signs to Schierke. It is worth to go to the tourist information which is going to be on your way anyway and get a map. From there you will have few possibilities of hiking up to Brocken. One of them is Goetheweg (have you ever read “Faust” at school? In the book the devil took Faust to the Brocken on Walpurgis Night. A must-see for all literature lovers!) but in the tourist information, I was recommended Eckerlochstieg as the most scenic route. It was pretty indeed but I don’t recommend this route on a sunny day cause there is not much shadow. All the nature lovers must be aware that a big part of the trees in Harz National Park is dead and dry. The view looks very unique and the forest authorities inform that this is not a reason to be worried as this is a natural cycle of forest life and they actually have a lot of vegetation in the forest. On the other hand, you can see banners from activists stating that the forest died because of climate change. I am not a biologist so it is not my place to judge, but I feel like this is important information to know before going. It is a nice hike worth your time but do not expect lush green forest.
Once you get on top, there is a circular trail, it is a short walk but gives you a very broad view on the whole area and if you are lucky you can see a steam train climbing up. Going down we chose a way leading to Bobbahn which is paved and not crowded but the signs can be very misleading so make sure you also use a map to navigate. Even if you get lost though, in worst case scenario you will just have to walk a bit longer.
When you get back to Schierke, go to the tourist information again from where you can catch the bus going directly to Wernigerode. The trip takes around 20 minutes and is free if you stay in the Harz for the night (more about that in this article).
The hike will take a big part of your day so depending on what time you start you will probably have afternoon or evening left. Perfect time for taking a seat on the main square and chilling or drinking well deserved Bier.
Day two: Visit the XII- century Wernigerode castle and stroll along the charming streets
Medieval castle overlooking the town and the view of hundreds of half-timbered houses is one of the most stereotypically European pictures you can ever see. Even to me, a native European who travelled quite a lot in Europe, it was an impressive and charming view. The castle comes from XII century but was reconstructed in later years. It is well worth visiting and seeing the interior. The ticket costs 7€. At the moment, because of the virus, they do not give audioguides but they have leaflets in English available to buy for less than 2€. I highly recommend buying the leaflet because there are not many descriptions in English inside the castle. It contains a lot of information about the family who lived there, furniture, style and the history of the area.
Once you finish your visit to the castle, take a stroll along the streets with beautifully restored houses, many of them even 400 years old. The old town is quite big and you don’t really need any plan to follow, because everywhere you go is so pretty. Some of the points worth seeing though are Breitestrasse with a lot of cafes and restaurants, and Rathaus. Breitestrasse besides being a vibrant area with beautiful buildings, is also very crowded so if you are looking for a more peaceful place offering similar views, just walk few streets away.
Day three: Spend some time in Quedlinburg
How to get there: It is possible even without a car. Just take a direct bus from Wernigerode’s main station. The trip takes around an hour. There is a direct bus between Quedlinburg and Berlin and the trip takes 3 hours.
If you still have half a day available you can squeeze Quedlinburg in your itinerary. It is another town worth visiting in this area. Houses here seem even older than in Wernigerode, there are a few churches and the place has even more medieval atmosphere. With only a few hours available, it is another city just to walk around and soak up the atmosphere. If you feel like you need something more organized, drop by the tourist information and pick up a map- there is a circular path with 15 most important buildings marked on it. It is about a 4km walk. For me, the must see points in the city were:
Klopstock house- you don’t have to visit the museum itself but there little square in front of a building worth seeing.
Right next to it you can climb a bit to the Münzenberg which offers a beautiful view at the town.
Rathaus and main square- full of lush green ivy if you go in the right season. Good place to listen to some live music too.
The oldest house in Quedlinburg- it was built around 1300. Crazy, isn’t it?
Narrow house at Finkenherd 1. The house and streets around it look like from fairytale!
Even though the area of the Harz Mountains is not as popular as other places in Germany, it is still well worth visiting for its architecture and nature. It is a great place especially for history and nature lovers. If you always wanted to visit a cute town where you can feel as if it’s the medieval period, Wernigerode is a place for you! If you want to plan the trip but are not sure how much does it cost, check out my post with budget tips for Harz Mountains.