Discover Fascinating Heritage, Stunning Landscapes, and More in Luther’s Germany
From lush forests and timber-framed houses to castles and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the enchanting, off-the-beaten-path region known as LutherLand is rich in history and natural beauty to explore. Here’s how to step back in time to the Reformation.
Traveling deep into the heart of Germany, where red-tiled roofs and steepled villages rise out of the rolling hills of the Harz Mountains, can feel like time-traveling to the Middle Ages. Five centuries after Martin Luther transformed Christianity, you can still see the imprint he left in the historic villages and university towns he once called home. And the culturally rich region called LutherLand has an abundance of natural wonders including verdant gardens, well-manicured vineyards, and sprawling national parks filled with hiking trails and scenic overlooks for plenty of ways to refresh your mind, as well as your spirit and body.
In the “Cradle of the Reformation”
Tracing Luther’s legacy and exploring the roots of the Reformation will take you on an inspiring path through Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt in the heart of Germany. Begin your pilgrimage in Wittenberg, the birthplace of the Reformation, a charming university town where Luther spent much of his adult life, and where his original 95 Theses took shape.
Here, his theology came into sharper focus while living at The Black Cloister, a monastery so named for the robes the order wore. Your spine may tingle when you visit the Castle Church where, on October 31, 1517, he posted his groundbreaking theses. A visit to the nearby City Church of St. Mary will help you imagine what it was like in 1521 when the first Protestant Christmas service was held there.
Learn more about the father of the Reformation in the permanent exhibition at The Luther House, a museum dedicated to his life and work inside the former monastery and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside, you’ll find his Bible, pulpit and monk’s habit along with famous portraits by Lucas Cranach the Elder, another famous Wittenberg resident.
Cranach, whose Renaissance paintings captured the nobility and religious figures of the period alike, kept a studio in the city and you can view his Ten Commandments here. To see more of Cranach’s work, travel further afield to Gotha, where the Ducal Museum features Cranach’s paintings of Luther along with other inspiring sites, like the Baroque Friedenstein Castle and Gothic Augustinian Monastery and church.
From Wittenberg, head southwest toward the small mining town of Eisleben, close to the Harz Mountains and where Luther was born in 1483. He left at a young age for the nearby town of Mansfeld, the “Gateway to the Harz,” which makes a delightful stop, too, with thickly wooded highlands known for hiking trails and jaw-dropping overlooks. Plus, locals here have turned the family home into a museum and re-enact Luther’s first day of school every year on the first Saturday after Easter, one of many festivals inspired by the Father of the Reformation.
Luther returned to Eisleben frequently and later died there. Today, the Lutherstadt (German for “Luther city”) with its UNESCO-recognized cultural sites (including the Birth Place and Death House) is a wonderful introduction to Luther’s life and influence. Along the way, plan to stop over in Dessau-Wörlitz, located within the Middle Elbe Biosphere Reserve, to take in another of the region’s many UNESCO-recognized World Heritage Sites, the Garden Kingdom. There you’ll get a glimpse of the influence of landscape architecture from the Age of the Enlightenment.
The Saale-Unstrut wine-growing region likewise makes for a lovely interlude while traveling LutherLand. Take a winding route through the terraces carved by the Saale and Unstrut rivers just south of Eisleben and take in the colorful vineyards on your way to Erfurt. Or plan for an overnight stay to savor any one of the 70 vintages grown by small vintners in the region.
The monk’s life
Young Luther completed his university studies in Erfurt, the medieval town that served as a stopover on the Via Regia during the Roman Empire. After an epiphany during a lightning storm, he entered the Augustinian Monastery, where today you can take a guided tour, visit the simple rooms in which he lived, and take in the colorful rose windows in the attached church.
Ordained several years later in the Erfurt Cathedral, Luther’s presence can still be felt as you tour the cathedral. In summer, enjoy an open-air drama or opera performed against the magnificent backdrop of Gothic architecture in the Cathedral Steps Festival.
Carry on to nearby Weimar, a busy town filled with castles and gardens that’s perhaps best known for the Bauhaus architecture movement. One of the first to adopt the Reformation, Weimar was a favorite stop for Luther on his travels and you can walk in his footsteps throughout the city, home to multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Included among the 11 places in UNESCO’s “Classical Weimar” collection, Church of St. Peter and St. Paul pays homage to the Father of the Reformation, who often preached there, with a splendid triptych completed by Cranach the Younger after his father’s death. View more of Cranach the Younger’s works inside the Rococo Hall at the UNESCO-recognized Anna Amalia Library, formerly the opulent Reniassance Castle. An ongoing exhibition, Cranach’s torrent of images, displays many of the younger painter’s works alongside the Luther Bible.
The birthplace of the modern German language
Despite Weimar’s prominent role in Luther’s life, in a town west of Erfurt the founder of Protestantism made his most significant mark. After being charged with heresy, the ex-communicated monk sought refuge at the imposing Wartburg Castle, just outside Eisenach.
In an austere cell inside the castle, he spent his days translating the New Testament of the Bible from Greek to German, a move that would reform the German language along with the Christian religion. Visitors today can see a rendition of the room in which he resided and learn more about the conditions he endured there. Every year, during summer season, you can catch Wagner’s Tannhäuser when it’s performed in the setting that inspired the renowned opera.
The town of Eisenach also pays homage to its history with the beautiful timber-framed Luther House museum, along with a Bach House dedicated to the classical musician who, two centuries after Luther’s death, spent half of his life in Thuringia. In nearby Arnstadt, where Bach held his first post as an organist and home to Bach’s Wedding church, a new 31-mile cycle path takes you through the stunning natural environment while introducing you to the region’s other native son. Each year, Thuringia Bach Weeks in April also pays tribute to Bach, who set Luther’s words to music and whose works were often inspired by the Reformation.
When to go
Though it’s been more than 500 years since Martin Luther first posted his ideas for reform to a church bulletin board, you can immerse yourself in his legacy in the region where he lived and worked. With future anniversary celebrations in the works for 2024 and 2025, now’s the time to plan a trip to LutherLand to learn more about the Reformation and its leader’s rebellious spirit up close.
A particularly special time to discover LutherLand and Germany is during the festive Advent season. The Weihnachtsland am Rennsteig holds the distinction of being the home of the original bauble, or glass ornaments that have come to be ubiquitous during Christmas. Germany’s famous Christmas markets in Erfurt, Weimar, and Wittenberg, or the unique historic market at Wartburg Castle, are also well worth a visit, as are the Festival of Light in Magdeburg and Advent lights at Erfurt’s Augustinian Monastery.
Luther left his mark on so many places—including the picturesque villages of Quedlinburg and Schmalkalden, famed for their timber-framed construction—where his long-lasting influence can inspire you. Along with a wealth of natural beauty and cultural offerings, a trip to LutherLand is as enlightening as it is rejuvenating.