If you are wondering what to do in Jena during every month of the year, depending on what season you visit, here’s the breakdown from a local insider. After all, each month is different and there are events, natural sights and ever changing things to experience – and miss out on if you don’t know about it.
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Where is Jena?
The city of Jena is the second largest in Thuringia, a state in Central Germany. The river Saale runs through it and shaped the landscape so that essentially Jena stretches along its valley. As a result, there are many hiking opportunities and vantage points as well as castles, to list just a few sights in Jena.
Fun Fact: Jena has Seven Wonders. (You can read about them when clicking the link in the previous sentence.)
You can easily reach Jena by train. For nearby cities like Erfurt, Weimar and Gera, you can take the local Hopper Ticket (one way or day return). You can get it online, via the app or from machines at train station). If you choose the latter, look for VMT tickets as you will not see this ticket pop up if you only type in your destination.
You can get the machine ticket in advance and when you want to use it, you must validate it at the green ticket machines on the platform or at the stairs below the platforms. Do not forget! You cannot do it on the train.
With the Hopper ticket it doesn’t matter if you buy it on the day or in advance. The price is the same. If you travel by train in Germany, I have more tips for you.
Jena in January
If you are lucky, you may experience one of the few days it snows in Jena (and actually stays on the ground). If you want to see what that’s like, check out my video about the Lobdeburg in the snow here and here.
The best thing to do in Jena when it’s just not that nice outside is stay inside – and January in Jena isn’t really that exciting. The weather is dreary, cold and wet.
Luckily, Jena has quite a few museums worth checking out. First is the Göhre (it has been renamed into the generic “Stadtmuseum Jena”, but locals don’t care and will continue to call it its original name). It’s the local city museum, which you find right a the old market square. You cannot miss it with its pretty half-timbered façade.
Inside you can find more about key elements of the city, its history as well as insights into the Seven Wonders of Jena, including the original seven-headed dragon. (Ha, I don’t want to spoilt anything here, so I’m not gonna show you a picture. :P )
Next, you might want to check out the Optical Museum. Jena is well known for being world leading in optics and innovation in the field. Heck, the glass on your stove, your nose, your microscope, etc is likely from Zeiss. Check it, let me know if I’m right. (Doesn’t count for the cheapest products, tho.)
During our own Industrialisation in Germany, we had a lot of factories in Jena. The companies Zeiss and Schott really grew into worldwide players since then. They still are employing a lot of locals.
(Fun Fact: I was once asked to gift one of my paintings to one of the CEOs and they supposedly hung it in their office. I never saw the office, so I don’t know. But that’s what I was told lol)
Anyway, the museum is interactive too and your inner child will have fun playing with optical gadgets and illusions. It’s really quite fascinating.
Another popular museum for school trips (but truthfully not really a must see) is the Phyletic Museum. It was founded by famous scientist Ernst Haeckel to show evolution in all its forms. It’s not a regular history, science or biology museum and therefore unique.
It merges different scientific fields to show the development through the ages through exhibits such as rocks and taxidermized animals. (I’m not selling this well, am I? Guess who had to go here often as a school kid.) I do love the museum, however, for its Art nouveau façade. Very pretty!
Jena in February
One thing that you MUST do when you visit Jena in February is to go see the winter aconites in the Rautal valley. Over 6 million yellow spring flowers cover the forest floor atop Jena’s mountains entirely and draw locals on the weekends.
The best time to visit is at the end of the month as it’s never quite sure when they bloom due to changing weather conditions.
My tip is to check the status of the winter aconites you see blooming in front of people’s houses in town (such as in the quarter Damenviertel). Then add 2 weeks from first bloom and you get a rough idea of when to expect them. Or ask in the tourism information or Jena facebook groups.
While you’re here, I recommend hiking over to the Napoleonstein, which commemorates the battle of Jena-Auerstedt in which the French army won over Prussia in 1806. You’ll have amazing views too. Sunset is nice. (But don’t wait too long as you have to hike back down via the Landgraf into the city centre.)
Some more winter aconites you can also find at the edge of town, by the entrance to the community Ammerbach. It’s right by the sign, you cannot miss it. It also has nice scenery to hike around in.
Jena in March
Ok, this one is technically not IN town. But if you do spend March in Jena, take the car out to Großschwabhausen. That’s a little community about 15 minutes away and it has a little forest in which you can find a sea of spring snowflakes.
Those spring flowers rarely grow this large in number and it’s a true sight to see! Ask Google for “Großschwabhausener Hain” and walk into the centre of the forest. You will not miss them. They are everywhere!
An alternative spot to see lots of spring snowflakes is the Tal der Märzenbecher in Neuengönna, close to the three Castles of Dornburg (definitely check those out too, no matter the season). They bloom in the centre of the valley around a dried up stream. (Don’t trust google when it tells you there is a waterfall. It’s dry.)
Jena in April
Well into spring in Jena, you can finally see the cherry blossoms all over town in full bloom. Granted, it’s nothing like cherry blossoms in Japan but still gorgeous.
The thing is, it seems like they’re taken for granted mostly and people aren’t actively visiting them like they do the orchids, for instance. (Those come in May.)
But good thing I scouted the best locations for cherry blossoms in Jena just for you. The first you can find on the mountain Jägerberg. There is a parking lot right there so you can easily stroll around the orchard and take in the sweeping gaze over the North of Jena.
Next is the foot of the mountain Lobdeburg. You can find a good stretch of now wild cherry trees blooming. The best light is in the afternoon as they face westwards. Do check out the castle further up the road if you haven’t been. There’s a restaurant as well, where you can have some beer and traditional German cuisine.
My new find is the cherry tree plantation hidden in the middle of the forest atop the district of Winzerla. You have to hike up quite a bit to get there, so wear comfy shoes and avoid muddy days. Get off at the tram stop “Winzerla” and just take the straightest path up the mountain and into the woods. You can find the plantation by the TV tower.
Also, if Easter falls in April, check out the Easter fountains around town, such as in Wöllnitz and Ziegenhain and It is a typical German tradition to decorate historic fountains with flower garlands and Easter eggs. They can get quite elaborate.
Jena in May
A must see in Jena in May are the wild orchids growing near the forest edges. The most popular one is a little outside in the nature reserve Leutratal and Cospoth. There are guided walks (in German) but you can easily find them yourself.
Take the car or bus out to Leutra, then walk up the hills behind the church. The meadows are full of all kinds of wild and rare orchids, such as lady’s slippers.
Alternatively, you can check out the Kleinertal. It has the same orchids but not as many and it doesn’t get as busy with hikers here.
If you are culturally inclined, you gotta attend the Lange Nacht der Museen! This translates to “long night of museums” and means you get special access to usually off-limits areas and buildings in Jena.
On this night, you can freely pick and choose between the many places that allow you to look at museum archives, research rooms, insides of historic buildings, etc. It’s really fascinating. Just know that there may be long lines because half the town gets tickets.
Jena in June
The weather is getting warm and it’s time to enjoy the outdoors. But you can still make your inner scientist kid happy by visiting the Imaginata. Hosted on a former factory site in industrial buildings, an array of 100 cool installations from the fields of mathematics, physics, tech and biology begs to be interacted with and explored. It’s fun for adults too. They also host occasional workshops.
Another thing to see in Jena in June are the botanical gardens. They belong to the university and are used for research but can be visited for a small entrance fee. The highlight are the greenhouses with basins full of actual piranha (keep your hands to yourself!) and giant Victoria amazonica, the world’s largest water lily. A baby could sit on them. But I wouldn’t recommend that because, well … piranhas.
Jena in July
Visit Jena’s biggest music and theatre festival, the Kulturarena. People from all over Europe come here to see both indie and well-known artists and watch iconic movies. For instance, I went to see Boy (German-Austrian), Marit Larsen (Norwegian) and Agnes Obel (Danish).
Fun Fact: For a school project I once did a bunch of interviews and research on the Kulturarena.
If the days get too hot for your taste (over the past summer we were in the high 30°Cs for some reason), head into the woods. I always like the hike to the Fürstenbrunnen, a spring in the forest from which the city gets fresh water.
The valley Pennickental in which it is located is very pretty and particularly fascinating if you are interested in geology.
Jena in August
The weather is finally really nice and warm. The days are sunny. So get yourself outside! Take a long stroll through the biggest park along the Saale, called the Paradies (translates to “paradise”). Many people are having picnics here, though I don’t necessarily recommend it because of the potential to get ticks on you. (I hate those!)
Not-so-fun fact: Speaking of ticks – they are common in Thuringia and can carry lyme disease. Always search your body for them after a day in nature and have a tick tweezer at the ready. I recommend this* kind. It works the best.
Go for a swim in the natural lake Schleichersee, also called Südbad. There is a beach and an FKK (nudist beach) area at the edge. It’s very popular but can get full really quick. You only pay 4€ (check for current rates and to reserve time slots here).
There also is another open air pool in the North, but that’s not as great as this one. If you prefer indoor swimming and sauna, visit the GalaxSea. (Here’s a 360° tour.)
Jena in September
Temperatures are still nice and warm but not as sweltering and the trees are still green. So time for a hike! (There’s always time for hiking in Jena^^)
You could walk along the mittlere Saalehorizontale (middle Saale horizontal trail). For this, you can start at the Lobdeburg and follow the trails along the face of the mountains all the way to the Jenzig and Kunitzzburg if you want a longer hike. It can take 3-4 hours but the views are great, there’s plenty of shadow from the trees and there are occasional benches for resting.
Along the way you will find signages and the trees have trail markers. You cannot get lost. Most likely you’ll encounter other hikers who you can ask for directions if you need.
Another hike you can do is around the Mönchsberg. You can walk up here from Göschwitz (it’s behind the nature reserve Leutratal), which has its own train station, or take the car up to the barrier.
During the GDR, the area was used for military purposes and you can still see fences and a bunker entrance in the face of the cliff. The Mönchsberg was used for mining rock, which is why there’s now this huge gaping area from where you can enjoy an amazing view over Jena.
And where people have assembled rocks into rock circles and all kinds of shapes. Those are best viewed from further up the mountain, where you can look straight down the edge. (Basically, you’re on top of the bunker.)
There are more hiking trails around in case you want to explore some more.
Jena in October
Most of the trees are starting to loose their leaves and colours but the smoke bushes in the Sonnenberge (“sun mountains”) are now as vibrant as ever.
These unique plants are pink in summer and bright red come autumn – ranging from burnt orange to deep reds. The hike itself is very pleasant and offers fantastic views over the valley and back to the city centre of Jena.
Make your way to the Papiermühle (“paper mill”) and then take the path behind it up to the forest. Again, there are signs you can follow. The Papiermühle is also a great place for refreshments, serves really nice German food and local specialty beer. You can take some home too.
Jena in November
I told you Jena is a vanguard in optics and guess what, it’s a world leader in another specific thing: having the very first ever planetarium. That’s a globe-shaped building in which you have a special device that projects light onto the inside, creating an indoor sky and moving light installations.
The Zeiss Planetarium resembles an observatory that’s not opened to look at the outside sky. Be prepared to half sit half lay down in your tilted seats and crook your neck quite a bit every now and then if you want to take it all in. It’s a 360° show!
With this planetarium, you can see a variety of shows throughout the year. The most popular one is about the galaxy, its planets and stars. You will feel like flying through space, get close ups of the planets and it’s kinda a mind trip.
Then there is a “time travel” show where you get to see earth through the ages as well as musical shows that match popular bands’ music, such as Queen, to light animations.
I can totally recommend it. It’s best to get your tickets in advance via online reservation (and then collect at the booth) or at the local tourism information by the marketplace as shows can easily be sold out.
Jena in December
Christmas markets, baby!! And Jena has two Christmas markets you can and should visit. You cannot miss them, they’re right in the centre of the city. (If they don’t get cancelled for you-know-what-pandemonium-reasons.)
The main one takes place on the historic market square around the giant live Christmas tree and spills out over the alley between the townhall and Eichplatz parking lot. The latter is then transformed into a little winter theme park with rides and a ferris wheel.
A little further, behind the Jentower and along the historic city wall you will find the Medievial Christmas market. It doesn’t run as long as the regular Christmas market, so do check the times and enjoy the fire dance performances and hearty meals made on open fire.
Have you ever been to Jena before? Would love to hear your opinion on what you’d like to visit or did visit.