It is difficult to find an end to the list of Saxony-Anhalt sights. Even if many people abroad won’t think of much at first, there is a lot to see between the Altmark in the north and Saale-Unstrut wine region in the south. Because in addition to plenty of UNESCO World Heritage, this German state offers beautiful cities, natural landscapes to fall in love with, good food and friendly people. Our list of Saxony-Anhalt destinations has therefore become quite a bit longer than planned.
Sights in the Harz Mountains
The Harz is the northernmost mountain range in Germany and was partly a restricted area in GDR times. Today you can explore the Mount Brocken without any problems – either on foot or by train with the steam locomotives of the Harz Narrow Gauge Railways (Harzer Schmalspurbahnen).
Brocken with Harz Narrow Gauge Railways
A hike to the Brocken is an absolute must for a visit to the Harz Mountains. From here you have a magnificent view, which in good weather reaches as far as Leipzig, which is 100km (60 miles) away. However, the upper part of the top is closed to car traffic. For whom the climb to the Brocken (about 3 hours from Schierke) is too arduous, the Brockenbahn railway offers a stress-free solution to get to the top. The ride is not cheap (31 euros one way, 47 euros round trip) but at least you can go to one of the highest train stations in Germany with a fantastic view.
According to a legend, which was already recorded by the Brothers Grimm, the Devil and God quarreled and wanted to divide the world. To separate the kingdoms, the Devil built a wall for this purpose, which he destroyed again out of anger. Well, whether it was the Devil, we don’t know, but the bizarre rock formation stretches about 20 kilometers through the Harz Mountains. It offers great scenery for photos. Take the best pictures of the Devil’s Wall near Weddersleben and Thale.
Witches’ Dancing Square (Hexentanzplatz) and Horseshoe Rock (Roßtrappe) in Thale
The Witches’ Dancing Square (Hexentanzplatz) is also shrouded in legend. Because in pre-Christian times, witches are said to have gathered here every year on April 30th for Walpurgis Night. This is still celebrated every year. In fact, the witch cult plays a certain role in the Harz Mountains and people dress up as witches to attend. Don’t worry though, they are not worshippers of Satan though and just enjoy a fun dance dressed up around a bonfire – or are they?
You can also get a good view from the Horseshoe Rock (Roßtrappe). Here, a beautiful princess is said to have jumped off the cliff on a white steed. Her pursuer Bodo fell into the river, which is therefore called Bode. As a hellhound, he now guards the princess’s crown. Whether it is true, who knows. But there is indeed a hoof-like imprint in the rock. If you want, you can take a cable car to the Hexentanzplatz (round trip 7 euros) or a chairlift to the Roßtrappe (round trip 4.50 euros).
Halberstadt Cathedral and Treasury
One of the most beautiful churches in the region is undoubtedly the Halberstadt Cathedral. It looks French, because in fact the builders probably took the cathedral of Reims in France as their model. The bell ringing, with 13 bells of various sizes, is one of the best in Germany. The cathedral is itself one of the underrated sights of Saxony-Anhalt. And the cathedral treasury (admission 8 euros) is one of the best preserved treasures and dates back to the Fourth Crusade in the 13th century.
The largest dam in the Harz Mountains and in Germany is a child of socialism. It was built during the times of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) from 1952 to 1959 for the production of drinking water and electricity. It’s 106 meters (347 feet) tall and the view over the whole facility is quite impressive. It gets a little dizzier, however, from the newly built Titan RT suspension bridge (6 euros admission) right next to it.
Falkenstein Castle is one of the most beautiful medieval castles in Eastern Germany. It is located in the middle of the forests of the Harz Mountains. With its thick walls and half-timbered architecture, it looks like a real castle from the Romanesque period. In the Falkenburg you can book a meal with medieval representations and there are often medieval markets. But the most beautiful thing is the view of the surrounding foothills of the Harz from the tower of the Falkenburg.
Wernigerode is not only the best base for exploring the Harz Mountains. The city itself is well worth seeing. The town hall is one of the most beautiful in Germany and has to serve for many postcards and Instagram photos. The surrounding old town boasts, among other things, the smallest house in Germany. There are 11 people said to have lived there – at the same time. You won’t believe it when you see it. The steam trains run from the Wernigerode station of the Harz Narrow-Gauge Railways to Nordhausen and the Brocken. In the Miniaturland, there are models of the most important sights in the Harz region. And the Aviation Museum offers a collection of impressive aircraft and flying machines. Many of them come from the times of the GDR. Others are even from the early days of aviation.
The old town of Quedlinburg with its hundreds of half-timbered houses can easily compete with other medieval towns in Germany like Rothenburg ob der Tauber. From the collegiate church, whose first buildings were built under German king Heinrich I in the 9th century, you have a beautiful view of the Harz Mountains and the surrounding old town. Incidentally, it was here that the state of Lithuania was first mentioned. This UNESCO World Heritage Site should not be missed on any tour of eastern Germany.
Sights in Anhalt
Anhalt is something like the heartland of Saxony-Anhalt, which is quite obvious from the name. Because even though Saxony-Anhalt is an artificially created state, parts of the state like Anhalt have a long history of their own. Accordingly, there are also many historical places to discover here.
Bernburg is one of the cities in Saxony-Anhalt and even in Eastern Germany, which should deserve much more attention. Because besides the impressive castle, there is a beautiful and cozy old town to see here. One of the highlights of the city is the Capitol cinema in Bernburg. It is one of the best preserved art deco cinemas in Germany. It is run by a Dutch family on their own.
But Bernburg also has its dark sides. In GDR times, it was considered the epitome of psychiatry because of the clinic there, but during the Nazi era it was home to the infamous Bernburg Euthanasia Center. Thousands of handicapped people were murdered here as part of Aktion T4, also known as the euthanasia program. In this murderous plan the nazis wanted to eliminate handicapped people in the “Aryan” state. Aktion T4 was also the final rehearsal for the Holocaust. At the Bernburg Memorial you can learn more about this sad chapter of German history. The website is only in German but the exhibition is bilingual.
The Bauhaus is considered the cradle of modernism and a place where artists could really try their hand. Some of the best creations can still be admired today in Dessau. Because the Bauhaus had its home in Dessau from 1925 to 1932. Not only was the school’s building built here, which is considered an icon of modernism. The Master Houses (Meisterhäuser) were also built here, in which the famous Bauhaus teachers such as Walter Gropius and László Moholy-Nagy lived. The Törten Housing Estate and the old employment office were also model experiments of the Bauhaus artists.
Wörlitz Park is one of the most beautiful attractions in the East. The Dessau-Wörlitz Garden Realm is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park offers a real oasis of peace with artificial lakes, many different types of plants and beautiful buildings from the time of the Anhalter principality. Here you can easily imagine how the princes of Anhalt once walked through the park and talked animatedly. The Wörlitz Palace or the Gothic House definitely make beautiful backdrops for your photos.
Expo 2000 made waves as far away as Saxony-Anhalt. What was originally a student’s thesis became reality as an industrial museum. Ferropolis – City of Iron, that’s the name of this work of art created from an open pit mine. Located near Bitterfeld, the open pit mine is flooded and the huge excavators and other machines were combined on a peninsula in the lake to form a festival site with a museum and many other small attractions. Ferropolis is especially worth seeing when festivals like Melt take place here, but it’s also worth exploring otherwise.
Also a flooded open pit mine, the Goitzsche is now one of the most popular lakescapes in the East. Thousands of people flock to the beaches in summer. You can also explore the area by bike on well-maintained paths. And the Water Level Tower offers a beautiful view of this huge renaturation project. It’s hard to believe that the Bitterfeld region was once considered the dirtiest place in eastern Germany before the unification.
Wittenberg is best known as the city of Luther. It is here that the reformator Martin Luther is said to have nailed the 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in 1517. Whether this is what really happened this way has not been clarified to this day. But it is undeniable that the Reformation was unstoppable after that. And the city is beautiful in any case.
Not only the Castle Church, but also the Castle, the Cranach House, the Luther House, the Melanchton House and the City Church of St. Martin belong on the visit program for the best Saxony-Anhalt things to do. Wittenberg is also home to a building created by artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser: He transformed a typical GDR panel-building school into a real work of art. And the Piesteritz factory housing estate is a real masterpiece of post-World War I architecture.
Sights in Halle
Especially in the post-reunification years, Halle was considered by many to be a bad place. Mocked by some residents as Hölle (Saale), meaning hell on the Saale river, the city has now changed extremely. For me, it is one of the real insider tips among the city trips in eastern Germany. Halle has a problem, however, and that is Leipzig. Unfortunately, the city on the Saale is always overshadowed by its Saxon neighbor – unjustly so. And even for guests who would like to visit Leipzig, accommodation in Halle is not a bad choice, because there is an S-Bahn and other fast train connections between the main stations of both cities (travel time: 40 min).
The ensemble of the market place of Halle (Saale), also simply called Hallmarkt, is one of the most beautiful in Saxony-Anhalt. The Red Tower and the two towers of the Market Church characterize the square. The best view you have from the towers of the market church. There is even a small bridge between the towers, over which you can walk on a guided tour (admission: 9 euros, booking in tourist information). The Händel monument, the town house and the Marktschlößchen are also beautiful.
The Francke Foundations are something like the Fuggerei for charity. August Hermann Francke created them to provide education, especially for poorer children. For this purpose, he was allowed to open a printing press, a pharmacy and a bookstore, which financed the work of the charitable institutions. Later, Francke’s idea of mission was implemented in orphanages all over the world. The premises were converted in GDR times. Today, the buildings house the Federal Cultural Foundation, the Federal Youth Institute and offices of the University of Halle. The Francke Foundations are also on the candidate list for a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Halle without salt would probably be just a small village. Because the white gold has helped the city to rise. In the Saline, you can see how salt was extracted in Halle in the past. The Saline Museum for touching and tasting is currently being renovated and should be better than ever in 2022.
Nebra sky disc
The Nebra Sky Disk is not exhibited in the Nebra Ark, but a copy of the work can be seen in the State Museum of Prehistory. Since the importance of the sky disk can hardly be overestimated, you should not miss it. 5 Euro entrance fee is not much money for the comprehensive exhibition. So it’s a nobrainer, as they say.
For people from Halle, it is probably surprising why we put Halle-Neustadt on this list of the best sights in Saxony-Anhalt. However, we have a focus on Socialist Modernism and for this Ha-Neu, by locals pronounced like the Vietnames capital Hanoi, is one of the best examples in East Germany. As a model city, there is showcase architecture of the GDR here in a concentrated area. Particularly interesting: The high-rise slices and the underground S-Bahn station built during the construction of Halle-Neustadt as a connection to the chemical plants Buna and Leuna.
Sights on the Saale and Unstrut
“An der Saale hellem Strande” (On the bright beaches of the Saale River) is the name of a well-known folk song. If it had to be continued, then some hymns of praise about the multitude of sights in the Saale-Unstrut region would probably be appropriate. Because there is no shortage of them around the Saale and Unstrut.
Saxony-Anhalt has some of the most beautiful churches in eastern Germany to offer. Magdeburg Cathedral or Halberstadt Cathedral are beautiful, but have not yet been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Therefore, I can highlight Naumburg Cathedral at this point, which definitely belongs on any list of sights in Germany with its founder figure Uta. Incidentally, this is also where a Protestant bishop was first installed. Nikolaus von Amsdorf was a close companion of Martin Luther.
Freyburg may be a small town, but it has a lot to show for its size. Besides the churches and the impressive Neuenburg castle next door, there is a real gymnasium here. That’s because Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, who is considered the father of gymnastics in Germany had a gymnasium built here according to his ideas when he lived in the town. The Rotkäppchen sparkling wine cellars are also located here. And in the surrounding vineyards there are wonderful wines, for example at the Frölich-Hake winery.
Palatinate and Memleben Monastery
With its round arches in the crypt, Memleben Monastery is one of the most photogenic places in Saxony-Anhalt. The monastery church was donated by German king Otto I, who is said to have died here just like one of his predecessors Heinrich I. The exact location, however, remains a mystery to researchers to this day.
The famous Nebra Sky Disk was discovered in Nebra and is considered one of the most important archaeological finds of the millennium. Even though the disk itself is now on display in Halle, the context of its creation is shown here and numerous myths surrounding the disk are uncovered. Was the sky disk really a star map? Here you will find an answer to this question.
Solar Observatory Goseck
In Goseck you can see that some kind of science seems to have played a role even in the Stone Age. Because even though archaeologists have found a circular tomb in Goseck, they believe that this is the oldest solar observatory in the world. We think it’s definitely worth a stop, and if you compare it to Stonehenge, it’s also quite a bit cheaper (information center 2 euros, observatory even free).
Merseburg Castle is shrouded in legend, like so much else in Saxony-Anhalt. In the 15th century, the bishop Thilo von Trotha is said to have accused his servant of stealing a ring. The servant was executed. The ring, however, was later found in a raven’s nest. Out of remorse, the raven with the ring became the city’s heraldic animal. Ravens live in Merseburg Castle to this day. Merseburg Cathedral is also a beautiful building on the Romanesque Road of Saxony-Anhalt that you should not miss.
Bad Lauchstädt with Goethe Theater
A healing spring was discovered in Lauchstädt in the 17th century, which encouraged the Saxon nobility to flock to this far-flung corner of Saxony to be cured. Later, Goethe also stayed here, who had a theater built here by order of the Saxon electors for the fine society of the time. It has been preserved to this day and is the only theater from the classical period still in existence in Germany. The town itself also still exudes the former charm, when the Saxons made it a cultural hotspot for a short time.
There are now several flooded open-cast mines in Saxony-Anhalt. The Geiseltalsee is the newest one so far and is quickly becoming a crowd puller. There is a boat marina in Mücheln and some bike paths. The water is a cool refreshment.
If you’ve been wondering what would be a perfect setting for a German version of Harry Potter, here’s a candidate for you. A movie was already filmed at Vitzenburg Castle anyways for the German teen witch series called Bibi Blocksberg. And you can guess the necessary creep factor. Because in GDR times until 1995, this was a mental institution for children. Sppoky!
While Vitzenburg has something rather classical about it, Querfurt Castle is what you would imagine a real medieval castle. Thick walls, round towers and old weapons bear witness to the times when real knights were still in charge here. Today, it is sometimes the East German Tv station MDR that has some scenes for medieval programs re-enacted here from time to time. A visit is definitely worthwhile and climbing the tower is a point of honor.
Sights in Mansfeld County
With its mining dumps, also known as the Mansfeld Pyramids, the Mansfeld County is visible from afar on the highway. But only a few people know that there are still many sights besides the remains of mining.
Eisleben is not only the birthplace of Martin Luther. It is also the town where he happened to die. Because he happened to be passing through, you will find in Eisleben not only the Luther birthplace but also the Luther death house. He made his last breath on this trip to the region – what a coincidence. In addition, there is also the baptismal church of St. Peter and the church of St. Andrew, where he held his last sermon. The market place with the Luther monument is a great photo motif. And if you’re Catholic (or not), you’ll also like the Helfta Monastery, where nuns live gain nowadays and which you can visit.
Stolberg in the Harz Mountains
With its half-timbered houses, Stolberg takes you on a journey back in time to the Middle Ages, when the town was still ruled by counts. Thomas Müntzer was born here and several battles of the German Peasants’ War took place near Stolberg. The castle of the Counts of Stolberg is one of the most beautiful in the Harz Mountains. And the coffee houses serve delicious cakes from the region.
In Sangerhausen there is something like the Encyclopædia Britannica of roses. Because the Europa-Rosarium is something like a museum for roses. Because rose varieties from all over the world are bred here and some of them have become very rare and are threatened with extinction. At least the mammoth in the Spengler Museum no longer has to fear this. After all, the prehistoric creatures have long disappeared from the face of the earth. However, a mammoth skeleton was found near Sangerhausen in 1931. It is one of the best preserved skeletons of these giants and is exhibited in the Spengler Museum.
Tilleda Imperial Palace
By a hair’s breadth, this sight would be in Thuringia, but German reunification cares little for this roughly thousand year old common. The Kyffhäuser with the monument of German Emperor Barbarossa (Red Beard) is therefore located in Thuringia and is thus represented in our list of sights in Thuringia. The imperial palace of Tilleda, however, scores in Saxony-Anhalt and makes the Saxony-Anhalt sights even more extensive.
The open-air museum Kaiserpfalz Tilleda now houses replicas of some of the buildings from the time when Tilleda was one of the most important places in the empire. The list of emperors who used Tilleda as a palace reads like a Who’s Who of the Middle Ages: Otto I, Otto II, Henry III, Frederick I Barbarossa, Henry VI. The only strange thing, therefore, is that the palace was completely deserted from the 13th century onwards and was only rediscovered in the 20th century.
Sights in Magdeburg
Magdeburg was severely destroyed in bombing raids during the Second World War. Fortunately, the most important buildings of the city have been preserved or reconstructed. And in the meantime, a few interesting novelties have been added.
Magdeburg’s landmark and defining building of the city skyline since the early 13th century is the Cathedral of Magdeburg St. Mauritius and Catherine. It is the first cathedral built in the Gothic style on German soil. For this Magdeburg Archbishop Albrecht I had brought inspiration to Magdeburg while studying in France. Since there were some problems during the construction, however, some elements of the Romanesque style can still be found in the Gothic cathedral. However, a visit to the cathedral is definitely impressive. The viewing platform of the south tower at a height of almost 82 meters offers a fantastic view over the Elbe and the city (guided tour 6 euros). Not far from the cathedral is also the former monastery of Our Lady, which now houses an art museum.
Green Citadel – Hundertwasser House Magdeburg
Before his death, Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser worked on the Green Citadel in Magdeburg. It was to be his last project. He died before it was completed. Today, the Hundertwasserhaus Magdeburg is one of the most visited sights in Magdeburg. It has the name Grüne Zitadelle (Green Citadel) because some trees grow on and around the building. He called these “tree dwellers.” Tenants in the complex take care of the plants. However, the property is not actually supposed to be painted and the plants are not supposed to be removed. They are supposed to age the building. In the meantime, however, the building has already been partially renovated. And at least Magdeburg remains so this unique landmark.
Millennium Tower in Elbauenpark
Another architectural feature is the Millennium Tower in the Elbauenpark. Built for the 1999 Federal Garden Show (which, by the way, I attended as a student on a day trip with my class at the time), the tower was only supposed to stand for the duration of the show. But the people of Magdeburg liked the tower and so they kept it. The Millennium Tower is with 60 meters (196 feet) the highest closed wooden building in the world. Inside you will find an exhibition about the scientific knowledge of human history.
Although Pömmelte is a bit outside of Magdeburg, the small village is home to another small Stonehenge. For archaeologists have discovered here another circular ditch. A solar observatory was therefore erected on the former cult site using wood. Since it’s painted in color, this place also makes for some good photos and is worth checking out, especially if you’re traveling by car anyway.
Sights in Altmark and Börde
The Altmark is considered the cradle of Prussia. But what it is particularly proud of is the history of the Hanseatic cities, of which there were a whole seven here within a short distance. At that time, these cities were rich, powerful, and strong. In the Altmark you can definitely get nostalgic with so much history. And you definitely don’t need to actually travel back in time here, because the Altmark will makle you feel that way anyways.
Stendal is the heart and the largest city of the Altmark. Stendal was once an important Hanseatic town. The impressive North German brick Gothic buildings also date from this time. Among the sights are:
- Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas
- St. Mary’s Church
- St. Jacob’s Church
- St. Peter
- St. Anne’s Church
- City Hall with Roland statue
- City gates (Uenglingen Gate and Tangermünde Gate)
The town is also home to the Ramelow department store, which was built in 1930 in the Bauhaus style and since reunification has once again housed a textile department store run by the original owner family.
At the mouth of the small river Tanger into the Elbe lies this charming small town where time has stood still since the Middle Ages. Tangermünde has preserved the charm of brick Gothic in detail. The views of the skyline from the banks of the Tanger River and the Elbe River make a very nice photo backdrop, especially in the morning. By the way, we are not the only ones who think that the city is one of the most beautiful small towns in Germany. In a vote conducted by a German travel magazine conducted among tourists from all over Germany, Tangermünde was voted into first place among the most beautiful small towns in Germany.
In a similar style to the buildings of Tangermünde, the Jerichow Monastery is also preserved. It was built in the late 12th century and shows elements of both Romanesque architecture and Nordic Brick Gothic. The monastery is one of the most beautiful stops on the Romanesque Road.
Biesebad in Osterburg
River baths are becoming increasingly rare in Germany and Europe. And with the Biesebad, the town of Osterburg in the Altmark region has preserved one of these rare baths. The people of Osterburg are also proud of this. And we think, for the entrance fee of 2 euros you can quietly contribute to the preservation of this cultural bath. The bath is usually quite empty, especially during the week. The water of the Biese is refreshing. If you prefer to stay dry, you can rent a canoe.
The Kalimandscharo is a spoil heap of the potash mine in Zielitz. Cultural events are often held here in the summer. There is also art to marvel at. By the way, the nearby open-air pool in Zielitz is the first outdoor pool to open its doors in the state. It is heated to 26 degrees and is therefore already chubby warm in April.
In GDR times, the Marienborn memorial was the border crossing point into the GDR on the transit route from Helmstedt to West Berlin. Motorists were questioned and frisked here. It is a symbol of the division of Germany. Today, the memorial site displays an exhibition about the division and border controls and commemorates the fate of those who died trying to escape to West Germany.
Booktips Saxony-Anhalt and Germany
Even if Saxony-Anhalt has been rather neglected so far, there are already some travel guides and books about the region. Here you can find a small overview of a few good titles.
The German Merian has covered Saxony-Anhalt in depth and it’s quite a good brochure to get an overview over this rather unknown German destination. We can therefore recommend it to get a better idea.
- Ernst-Otto Luthardt (Autor) (Author)
There is not much specific literature on Saxony-Anhalt for travlellers in English. This beautiful picture guide gives a nice overview over the area and will help you navigate better in the region.
The classic guide book also has a good edition about Germany. Although it’s not primarily focussed on the East of Germany, it still covers many regions and let’s you connect it with other parts of the country.
The Rough Guides are always a great alternative to other guide books. The Germany edition is no exception and covers part of Saxony-Anhalt as well.