24 hours in Weimar Germany: what to do in the birth city of Bauhaus, Weimar Classicism and German democracy
Pretty Weimar packs a greater cultural punch than many bigger cities and hosts a dizzying array of UNESCO World Heritage landmarks
The saying “great things come in small packages” could have been coined for Weimar. This compact city saw the flourishing of two seminal creative movements, Weimar Classicism and Bauhaus, and boasts over a dozen World Heritage sites as a consequence.
A brief history of the art and politics of Weimar
Inspired by ideas from Romanticism and the Enlightenment, Weimar Classicism – so called because leading writers like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller lived in Weimar – transformed Germany’s cultural landscape in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Its legacy is an abundance of UNESCO landmarks ranging from authors’ homes to grand palaces and enchanting parks. Fast forward to 1919 and the city saw architect Walter Gropius found Bauhaus, a radical art school that blended fine art with functionality. Along with the school’s subsequent locations, Dessau and Bernau, Weimar now has UNESCO recognition for its Bauhaus sites.
Bauhaus coincided with another ground-breaking period launched in Weimar: Germany’s first democracy, the so-called Weimar Republic. Sadly both met their end with the rise of the Nazis in 1933, when Hitler formed a dictatorship and denounced “degenerate art”. Situated on the site of one of Germany’s first and biggest concentration camps, the Buchenwald memorial (across from which the new Bauhaus museum was built in 2019) reminds visitors that Weimar has witnessed some of humanity’s most progressive ideals but also their demise.
A small but mighty city in Thuringia, Germany’s “green heart”
Have more than 24 hours to discover the area? Weimar is located in the underrated state of Thuringia, across which you’ll find yet more charming places shaped by iconic figures – from a Luther-themed trail, inspired by the priest who sparked the Protestant Reformation, to the Eisenach house of composer Johann Sebastian Bach (celebrated in many Thuringian destinations, including Weimar). Perhaps take advantage of Germany’s new €49-a-month public transport pass; it’s only available on subscription but you can cancel before the 10th day of each month so may still be a worthwhile investment for a longer trip.
Because you could easily spend more than a day in Weimar, we focused on some of its main central attractions but there are plenty more venues that reflect its intellectual prowess; these span the house where musician Franz Liszt gave piano lessons, to the palace-library founded by Duchess Anna Amalia and the residence of architect Henry van de Velde, whose other work includes the Nietzsche archive and Bauhaus University Buildings. Those with just 24 hours to spare, though, can still visit many of the most important sights and get a nice overview.
Weather in Germany can be unpredictable but generally late spring and late summer are good bets for pleasant temperatures and some sunshine.
How to spend 24 hours in Weimar
Weimar has a well-developed bus system but, as the city centre is so tiny, walking is the best option forgetting around. That way you’ll also get to appreciate its pretty historic nexus: a tangle of cobblestoned streets lined with eggshell-hued buildings, dotted with indie shops and little workshop-galleries.
Legendary landmarks and a bratwurst lunch
Among the most significant central attractions are the homes where two classical literary giants lived and died; Goethe, best known for his tragic play Faust: and playwright Schiller, acclaimed for works such as The Robbers and Ode to Joy. Now museums, both feature a range of original furnishings and other objects, as well as guided tours and displays on their famous former residents. The Schiller house offers related workshops too, like writing with quill and ink. Adult tickets are €13 and €8respectively – or you could consider numerous discount options, including combo packages that take in many sights mentioned in this guide.
On Theaterplatz (Theatre Square), across from the monument to Goethe and Schiller, you’ll find the Haus der Weimarer Republik (House of the Weimar Republic) – a worthwhile stop at €6 for those interested in Germany’s first but ill-fated democracy.
For lunch, peckish carnivores should head to Weimar’s lively market square for Thuringia’s famous bratwursts, served up from an eye-catching stand complete with giant plastic sausage and bun. Enjoy while admiring notable buildings like the neo-Gothic city hall and Cranach-Haus. This was once home to artists Lucas Cranach the Elder and his son, whose imposing three-winged altarpiece in Herderkirche features the former and his close friend Martin Luther (incidentally, Goethe was distantly related to the Cranachs – it’s a small world in Weimar). The intricate Renaissance edifice now houses a theatre in its vault.
Modernism and Bauhaus
Just beyond Weimar’s immediate old town, you’ll find two complementary art museums. Situated in one of Germany’s first purpose-built venues of its kind, the Museum Neues Weimar or New Weimar Museum charts the blossoming Modernist movement that ultimately inspired Bauhaus. Important works of realism, impressionism and Jugendstil – from Claude Monet to Max Beckmann – are displayed in the striking neo-Renaissance building, opened in 1869 and a masterpiece in itself (entry €8). Visitors can try various workshops too: including bookbinding with machines once used by Otto Dorfner, who worked for van de Velde and the Bauhaus.
Only two minutes’ walk away sits the Bauhaus-Museum Weimar, entry €10. Opened in 2019, a century after the iconic art school was founded, this minimalist cuboid structure houses a significant collection of Bauhaus workshop objects: from furniture by Ludwig Miesvan der Rohe to graphic artworks by Paul Klee and Wilhelm Wagenfeld's ubiquitous table lamp. Displays also detail milestones like the 1923 Bauhaus exhibition, whose Haus am Horn show home is situated just beyond Park an der Ilm.
A leisurely stroll and local dining
Consider a stroll around Park an der Ilm, named after the small river that meanders through it, before dinner. Comprising 48 hectares of landscaped grounds, this lovely green lung contains monuments such as Goethe’s garden house.
Hungry after all that culture? Nestled in the Baroque palace of the former Countess von Bernstorff (now a hotel), the Erbenhof restaurant offers quality dishes featuring local, seasonal produce; think beef roulade with homemade dumpling, roasted halibut and potato gnocchi. Most starters and puds are under €12 (we especially enjoyed our wild garlic cream soup), while main dishes largely hover between €20 and €30.
For those who fancy a tipple afterwards, Weimar has plenty of choice. Visit Gasthof Luise for a traditional pub experience or Weinbar Weimar if you prefer a trendy wine bar. And with younger crowds and modest prices, Salon Konetzny is popular with the city’s university students.
Getting there: Leipzig is the nearest relevant airport, just over an hour and half away by train. Berlin Brandenburg Airport is further, at around three hours with two changes, but has a greater choice of UK flights.