Thuringia in Germany is a seriously underrated state but that just means you can avoid tourist crowds while climbing beautiful mountains, visiting stunning lakes and roaming historical castles and palaces.
The city of Jena in particular is nestled in a valley and comes with a rich history. So if you are visiting, here are the best 50 things to do in Jena.
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Table of Contents
- 1 9 Hikes
- 2 8 Museums
- 3 7 Wonders
- 4 6 Castles
- 5 5 Green Spaces
- 6 5 Historical Sites
- 7 4 Swimming Sites
- 8 3 Shopping Destinations
- 9 2 Christmas Markets
- 10 1 Skyscraper
- 11 5 Activities
If you attended school in Jena, you will have undoubtedly been forced to go on a hiking trip to the Fürstenbrunnen (“Prince Spring”).
It is a fresh spring coming right out of the mountain and flowing through the beautiful valley called Pennickental. You can easily reach it via a trail from village Wöllnitz or coming down from the Johannisberg mountain.
The name was given after the Electoral Prince Johann Friedrich I. had a little rest at the spring in September 1552. There is still a stone with an engraving to remind visitors of this.
To the North of Jena, on the way to Weimar you gotta stop at the old Paper Mill (“Papiermühle”), which has been a restaurant and brewery for ages. Martin Luther sat beneath the historical (and still alive) sommer linden tree to drink a sip of fresh ale.
Just follow the trail up from there and you’re on your way into the woods and up the mountain. You can get to the Napoleon Stone from here as well.
The stone is a small rectangular monument that was erected as a memorial for the battle of Jena and Auerstedt. You can get there by heading up to the Landgraf restaurant and then follow the signs across the top of the mountain.
Starting from Jenzig mountain and leading all the way to the Kunitzburg is a hike locally referred to as the Horseshoe (“Hufeeisen”). The name comes from the fact of the mountains stretching in a half circle around the valley.
If you were to go on a serious hike in Jena, this one is it. The horizontal trails along the east of Jena’s valley offers amazing views and a good challenge. It’s not super hard but very narrow.
Also, every year there is an official run on this trail with around 1000 participants. You can start the trail from the Lobdeburg across the Pennickental and over to the Devils Holes (“Teufelslöcher”).
Another path away from the Lobdeburg is towards the summer linden tree (“Sommerlinde”). It also promises great views over the valleys of Drackendorf. You can see as far as the Leuchtenburg in the next town.
It’s a great spot to rest on a hot summer’s day. Grab a picnic blanket and have a nice relaxed snack with friends.
One of the most sought after spots for wild orchids is the Leutra Valley (“Valley”). In spring, there are quite a lot of the rare lady’s slipper orchid (“Frauenschuh”). Know that the valley is protected and you are not allowed to stray from the path or touch the flowers.
A little outside of Winzerla lies the village of Ammerbach. From there, you follow the river and get to see wonderful, wild meadows. In spring, wild orchids bloom here as well.
It’s a nice country getaway if you don’t want to drive too far out of town. There are local buses going here as well.
From Lobeda, head past Rutha and towards Maua to see the Raven Bowl (“Rabenschüssel”). It’s an easy hike and you get to see the lower Saale valleys and bridge of the autobahn in the distance.
The actual site is mostly agricultural fields on top of a small rocky hill around which the trail leads. It doesn’t go all the way though but at the end, locals use it to practice rock climbing.
Hiking tips: Where to find wild orchids in Jena
Did you know that the planetarium is the oldest continuously operating one in the world? It was officially opened in 1926 and still offers regular shows. They not only incorporate star constellations in educational shows but also mixes light installations with music.
Garden House Schiller
Schiller was a famous playwright and owned a small house with garden in the city centre. It really is one of the prettiest places in Jena you can visit. The museum offers insights into his life and life back in his time. Getting into the garden is free.
This is a teensy museum and is all about rare stones. This is no wonder as it belongs to the institute for Geo Sciences. The mineralogical collection was founded nearly 240 years ago and is constantly being added to.
You can look at minerals and stones from the triad excavated from the area as well as finds from all over Thuringia. Then, there is also information on meteorites and tektites. On top of that, there are regular special exhibitions and during holidays, there are events for kids as well.
The building itself is interesting to look at thanks to its curves and art nouveau details. The Phyletic Museum is dedicated to phylogenetic history and was founded by zoologist Ernst Haeckel.
It covers topics of evolution and hosts special exhibitions as well. In total, there are at least 500,000 pieces and series, including insects, extinct species and fossils.
The Optical Museum features a collection of objects surrounding the science of optics, such as microscopes, telescopes and seeing glasses.
Only a fraction of what is stored is on display but it’s interesting already. Some of the exhibits are interactive and over the coming years will become even more so.
Locals call the city museum the “Göhre”, which was the building’s original name. You can find it at the northern side of the medieval city square. It is the late Gothic white and red one. Inside, you will find details and prints about the city’s history.
This unique museum is set in a former factory hall and is an experience for all senses. Visitors can experiment at different stations, challenge their perceptions and play. If you time it right, you can attend Imaginata workshops, concerts and special exhibitions.
The green house next to the Red Tower is all about literature. It’s known as the Romantics House as that literary era is at its core. It used to belong to the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte and served as a hub for intellectuals around 1800. Regular readings, exhibitions and workshops are held here, too.
Jena is very proud to have “7 Wonders” and even though not all of them exist anymore (or have in the first place – mythology is mixed in there),they are some of the most prominent things to see in Jena.
Ara – Secret Underpass
The old city church St Michael (“Stadtkirche St. Michael”) can hardly be overlooked. For over 750 years it has been the centre of the city and remains the main church. Fun fact: Martin Luther himself gave quite a few sermons in the church.
The official building date is unclear but the oldest parts of the building were dated back to the 11th century and there seems to have been a cemetery already in the 7th century.
Mostly, the church has Romanic features and its most important part is one of Jena’s Wonders: the passage under the altar of the city church. It used to be a procession underpass (“Prozessionskavate“) for the nuns of the cloister to get from the city to the choir.
Caput – The Joker
If you look closely at the clock of the medieval city hall, you will spot three figures. There is an angel with golden hair and halo to the right. To the left, there is a pilgrim holding out a stick with a golden ball attached to it.
Then, there is the head of the Hans von Jena (“Schnapphans”). In Latin, caput means head, which is where the official name for this Wonder of Jena comes from. The original Hans can be seen up close in the City Museum, which is only a few metres away.
As soon as the bell strikes every hour, Hans will try to snatch the golden ball. The story goes that if he ever were successful, the city would be destroyed. The golden ball represents a Thuringian dumpling (“Thüringer Kloß”). So I totally get why he would try to take a bite. (My fave food!)
Did you know? You can visit a German dumpling museum!
Draco – the seven-headed dragon
Jena’s coat of arms shows the saint Michael (to whom the main church is dedicated) slaying a mean dragon (Latin: draco). But that’s not actually the dragon that is referred to in this Jena Wonder. While there are no actual stories of dragons roaming about town, the city has had some prankster students.
In the 17th century, a bunch of local students created a small statue made from bones, wire and papier-mâché. They gave it seven heads, four tails and two arms, which is a nod to the depiction of the devil.
Then, they went around, knocking on people’s doors and scaring the citizens quite a bit. The small statue is nowadays safe and sound behind glass in the City Museum.
Mons – the Jenzig mountain
Another popular hiking spot – especially if you have a dog and live in East Jena – is the mountain Jenzig. The mountain is made from shell limestone and has a height of 385.3 metres, making it one of the highest mountains in the area.
The trail up there is pretty easy (though very steep!) and you can actually drive, too. At the top, you can rest at the restaurant Jenzig House. It offers pretty spectacular views over the valley and city.
The Jenzig is also a good starting point for the Horseshoe (“Hufeeisen”) hike. Alternatively, you can walk back south along the limestone mountain ridges back to the city districts of Burgau or Lobeda.
Pons – the old Camsdorf Bridge
The city centre of Jena and Jena East is separated by the river Saale but connected via the old Camsdorf Bridge (“Camsdorfer Brücke”). However, the bridge you see today, albeit carrying the same name, is no longer the original one.
The former bridge was made from solid stone arranged into nine stone arches. On it, there was a small chapel as well. When it was built around 1480, it was one of the largest bridges in Germany.
It was replaced in 1912 and then bombed by German troops in 1945 to prevent even more American troops from crossing the river. A year later, it became the first Jena building that was rebuilt under Sovjet occupation and was called Bridge of German Sovjet Friendship.
Vulpecula Turris – The Fox Tower
Belonging to the Castle Kirchberg, the Fox Tower (“Fuchsturm”) is still one of the most striking architectura pieces in Jena. It is 30 metres (98.42 ft) in height and can be seen from afar.
There is a local legend surrounding the tower. It is said that once there was a mean giant who beat his mother. Karma retaliated instantly, and the mountain crumbled, burying him in the process. Only his index finger poked out and turned into stone and the tower over time.
The name Fox Tower comes from another legend according to which a master thief was caught and caged at the castle. However, there are other theories regarding the name.
One says that students used to be called foxes (and Jena has been a university town for centuries). Another says that there were indeed a lot of foxes around.
Weigeliana Domus – the Weigel House
Last but not least among the Seven Wonders of Jena is the Weigel House. It doesn’t exist anymore but was demolished to make way for a new street in 1898. The house belonged to the local inventor and professor of mathematics Erhard Weigel.
During his residency in the 17th century, he installed plenty of then unusual innovations in his house. There were pipes to the wine cellar, a pulley lift and periscope pipes all over the house to watch the stars. Back in his day, the house was quite the attraction and a must see in Jena.
Fun fact: There are actually three castles that are called Lobdeburg. One and a half of them still exist between Lobeda and Drackendorf. However, what locals refer to when they talk about the castle are the ruins with the big tower.
Restorations were complete in December 2018 and you can easily hike up there. Multiple paths lead up to and away from the castle. Plus, you can drive a car up to the restaurant and then walk up a few stairs for five minutes if you’re feeling lazy.
The castle used to be the most impressive Romanic castle in Thuringia but nowadays it’s left in ruins. You can enter the tower, which hosted the living quarters. There is a small glass platform from which you can gaze all the way to the bottom and top.
Walk down from the castle and into the little district of Old Lobeda. It has an old market square, town hall and church. Just a little further, you can find the town palace, called Lobeda Castle. This one also belonged to the Princes of Lobdeburg.
The original castle dates back to the 15th century but it was later turned into a brewery and then fell into disrepair. In 1922, it even became a youth hostel and nursing home. Only in the 90s was it finally restored and sold in 2011. Nowadays, it is used for housing purposes.
Besides the historical keep Fox Tower, you should also take a look at the actual castle, called Castle Kirchberg. It stands on the old backyard mountain. It was first mentioned in 1145 and fell in 1304.
Most of the castle grounds have been demolished but the main structures have been preserved since the 16th century. Especially the tower became important, for instance for astronomical observations.
Today, there is a castle restaurant, a couple hotel rooms and you can head up the tower. The view from the castle is great and there are a few hiking trails around.
The Castle Burgau can be found northwest of Lobeda and the Lobdeburg. It’s basically a 30 minute walk away though you can’t actually visit it. It’s private property. However, there are regular Open Days in Jena and it is often open during that time.
The castle was mentioned first in 1305 and was founded by the Princes of Lobdeburg as well. What remains of the former castle area few ruins of former walls to the east and west. In its stead now stands a new building dating from the start of the 20th century.
Professor Adolph Binder erected it and called it “Binderburg”. It was sold in 2003 and is occasionally used for events. You can clearly see it from the nearest tram stop or the upper floor of the supermarket in the shopping mall Burgaupark.
This castle might be the one with the fewest remains. There isn’t much to see other than a fraction of a wall with two arched windows and a forlorn tower between two narrow walls. There are hiking trails up from the village Kunitz and it’s part of the hike called “Hufeisen”.
Castle Kunitz is 300 metres above sea level and originally was given another name, namely that of Burg Gleißberg. It was constructed around 1100. There was a lot of confusion and back and forth regarding ownership.
Quickly, it fell into disrepair. It was partly restored in the mid 15th century but then was stormed and destroyed a few years later. Nobody bothered with it after that. But it’s nonetheless a nice spot to rest during a hike.
Just a little heads up: this smaller castle has been left derelect and cannot be entered anymore. Its below mount Jenzig, near the “Erlkönig” statue. You can spot it from the road when the trees are bare and it really looks intriguing. You can almost imagine its beauty during the height of its time.
It is believed to have been created at the start of the 15th century by Albrecht Tümpling. It was mostly used for agricultural purposes and to manage a nearby vineyard but turned into a factory for wooden pens.
In 1960, it was turned into a holiday home and then left abandoned and sold after the German Union. Nothing has happened since then apart from the embarrassing award of the “Black Sheep of Historic Preservation”.
5 Green Spaces
Paradies in German means “paradise” and it is the heart of Jena. In summer, there are tons of jogger, picnic blankets and cyclists everywhere. There is a small café, a half pipe, a “beach” bar, and a sport centre.
It is a great place to stroll through nature. Just know that when you want to step on the grass in summer, that you need to wear special insect repellent and long clothes.
There are seriously a lot of ticks in the park. And ticks in Germany can give you lyme disease. So always wear special insect repellent (you can use this one on blankets and tents as well) and check your skin after a walk in nature.
The botanical garden Jena belongs to the university of Jena and for a small fee you can enter its grounds and greenhouses. It’s open every day of the year except on Christmas and New Years Eve.
It was founded in 1586 and was intended for academical and research purposes. Poet, writer and Renaissance man Goethe as well as Duke Carl August of Saxony-Weimar-Eisenach themselves were in charge for a while.
In total, there are over 10.000 different types of plants from all over the world. The most impressive are the Victoria amazonica plants that are floating on the fish pond. Technically, they could easily carry a baby or toddler but nobody wants to try that. There are real piranhas in the pond, after all.
After only a five minute walk from the main campus of Friedrich Schiller University Jena, you can reach the Peace Church (“Friedenskirche”) and the surrounding cemetery.
The former site still features weathered and moss covered tombstones. Some are from historical figures, such as Otto Schott.
The cemetery is open to the public and serves mostly as an enchanting park. Not many people actually go here and it’s therefore a hidden gem but well worth a visit. It’s crazy how silent it is once you step into the cemetery.
Below the Lobdeburg and next to the district of Drackendorf is a small landscape park. It was named after the important historical figure Goethe, who is one of the most important authors in German history. He visited his friends in the then village a couple of times.
The park is under historical protection and is being restored to its former glory. In it are grand oaks throwing shade on a small pond, iron wrought bridge and a tiny pavilion. Occasionally, smaller events, readings and concerts are held here.
If you arrive in Jena coming from the South, you will instantly frown. It’s ugly. Lobeda is made up from Soviet apartment blocks and even the pastel coloured exterior paint will not make it pretty. But don’t worry, the centre of Jena is much better.
However, if you are staying around here, such as Maxx Hotel, there are still nice nooks to discover before you run to the tram into town. You can follow the shady walk along the river Saale from the hotel and towards Göschwitz. It’s nice for jogging.
If you take the opposite direction you will end up on top of the autobahn. To protect the wild orchids in the nearby Leutra Valley, a tunnel was created. Earth was heaped onto it and now there are a few trails meandering over meadows and past a few new trees. You can get a great view of both the Lobdeburg and Leuchtenburg castles from here.
5 Historical Sites
Old City Gate & Pulverturm
Are you a student? Then avoid walking through the city gate. A local superstition predicts failed tests if you don’t listen. I’ve personally never tested my luck and stayed clear of it. But it’s still a pretty site and should be part of your sightseeing in Jena.
Jena used to have multiple city gates but only this one remains. Attached to it is an original part of the city wall with an outside walk, which can be visited during Open Days in Jena. They lead to the attached historical city tower, called Pulverturm (“power tower”).
The University of Jena has various sites all over town. That sucks if you study multiple disciplines but shouldn’t be of much concern to the regular tourist. The main university building (locally referred to as “UHG”) is worthy of a short stop though.
It has its own tram stop (“Universität”) and is opposite the state library ThULB and the Botanical Garden. The building is from 1908 and has beautiful details and ornaments.
There are a few statues and the main hall shows a mural of the students headed for the war of 1813 by famous artist Ferdinand Hodler.
This historical tower in Jena isn’t accessible but you can walk all around it. Its ruins have been preserved as it has historical significance.
Here, Goethe discovered the premaxillary bone. (you know, that dude was quite multi-passionate, dabbling in literature, arts, medicine, colour theory and travelled heaps.)
This tower was preserved as well but sadly it collapsed in 1995, killing 8 people. Only the base was left and a new construction, resembling the former tower, was built on top.
It belonged to the old city walls, which fully encompassed Jena by 1300. In 1995, archeological diggings procured findings from the 11th, 12th century and the bronze era.
Arbeiter- und Bauern-Fakultät
This monument might not be in most guides to Jena but it’s one of my . The university has acquired the building and therefore you can’t just walk into the building but its grounds are open, so you can get a peek.
In the GDR, it was referred to as the Workers and Farmers Faculty (“Arbeiter- und Bauern-Fakultät”/ ABF) as it served to provide training for the offspring of workers and farmers as well as former soldiers and refugees so they could study.
This way, it was believed, a class system could be dismantled and education provided more freely and fairly. But of course, that was easier said than done and not all professors were lenient in their practices and expected quite the advance knowledge. It wasn’t a huge success.
4 Swimming Sites
Jena has its own small waterpark. There are indoor and outdoor pool areas as well as a sauna area with little huts on the grass.
There are two waterslides, a wave imitating pool and a pool restaurant. No fun pool bar I’m afraid. You can pay per hour or get day rates or memberships if you are keen on returning multiple times.
The most popular spot to bathe outside during summer season is the lake Schleicher, also known as South Pool (“Südbad”). It sits at the southwestern end of the Paradies Park and can be accessed by passing or walking through the sports centre.
There is a small entrance fee and you can stay as long as you want. If you arrive at 5PM, you get 1 EUR discount. You can also buy a reduced ticket for ten visits. There are sections for nonswimmers and swimmers as well as a kiosk to grab a bite or drink.
The lake used to be surface mine and now is used for swimming. There is a sandy shore, where you can spread your beach towel. If you love going in the nude, there is a short stretch reserved for that as well.
In Jena East is another bathing opportunity. This one isn’t natural but a typical outdoor pool area. It has meadows for hanging out as well as a non swimmer and sports pool. Prices are the same as at the lake.
For a low key swimming experience, i.e. if you really just want to exercise, try this local pool. It’s mainly used by school classes and pensioners. However, it’s open to the public as well on the weekends.
3 Shopping Destinations
Let’s be honest here, Jena isn’t a good place to go shopping. You get most of the mainstream fashion as anywhere else in Germany. But it’s not necessarily the latest batch. And most people will already wear it. (Unless you look at the local neo hippie hipster culture.)
At the mall Goethe Galerie (locals call it “Göga”), you can shop electronics, fashion, groceries, eat ice cream or grab a cake and coffee here. Moreover, there are regular exhibitions, such as photography, gardening (yes, there will be gardens and ponds here!) or Christmas market stalls.
Just a two minute walk away from the Goethe Galerie, is Neue Mitte, another mall beneath the big city tower. Again, it’s mostly fashion, but there is a food court and discount supermarket here as well.
From here, you can get the lift up to the top floors of the tower and the tower restaurant and hotel Scala.
If you are roaming around Burgau or Lobeda, the closest place for shopping is Burgaupark. Again, nothing spectacular but it has a two floor supermarket, hair dressers, stationary shops and some fashion stores.
2 Christmas Markets
The Jena Christmas Market takes place on both the old market square and the adjacent parking lot. Little wooden Christmas huts are lined up along the streets and around the tall Christmas tree. There are a few theme park attractions, such as a ferris wheel, hall or mirrors and bumper cars.
The Medieval Christmas Market is only a stone’s throw away. Beneath the old city walls by the gate and tower, you will find a more rustic Christmas entertainment. There is live music, freshly barbecued food and fire dancing. It’s only for a short duration, so it’s good to look up the opening times.
More Tips: Your Guide to Jena’s Christmas Markets
The JenTower is a 144,5 metre tall skyscraper in Jena and the highest office building in the newly formed German states. In total, there are 31 floors and it is 33 metres in diametre.
Mostly, it is used for office purposes but there is a fancy restaurant and hotel at the top. You don’t have to visit either to get up to the observation platform. It offers the best views over the city centre.
The original idea behind creating the tower was socialist in nature. The historic city centre was given a new look and overshadow especially the churches. Fun fact: locals (used to) call the tower Prinzenrolle (which is a German cookie brand that comes in a roll of multiple cookies).
During warm sunny days, you can see a few of them floating over the mountains: air balloons. They usually start in Paradies Park and then make their way down south.
The summer festival has become an annual major celebration, attracting international performers and guests from all over Europe. Check schedules here.
The annual summer festival is held in the botanical garden and hosted by the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena. It takes place in June and there are performances, beautiful illuminations and fireworks involved. Check details here.
There are quite a few local festivals happening throughout the year. Check the event calendar here. A major one is the City Festival and then there are Open Days, such as for historical buildings and private gardens.
Besides the many hiking opportunities in Jena, you can also conquer the water. There are local canoeing clubs and you can rent one too. Choose between kayaks, canoes and paddle boats.