Ever dreamed of taking a steam train in a winter snowy white wonderland? In the Harz Mountains in Germany, it is possible to fulfill that dream. A nostalgic trip with the Harz Narrow Gauge Railways will set you back to another time when traveling was different.
In the Harz mountains, a mountain range in northern Germany, steam trains still puff daily over a network of narrow-gauge tracks. Today, 25 steam locomotives are still in operation on the network of the ‘Harzer Schmalspurbahnen’, of which the oldest dates back to 1897! There are three possible routes on the network: the Harzquerbahn, Selketalbahn, and the Brockenbahn. This last one lets you experience a magical train ride to the summit of Brocken mountain. The Brocken is the highest peak in the Harz region and even in northern Germany. According to the legends, it’s a place where witches come together at night. Well, I’m in for a thrilling train trip.
The Brockenbahn runs from Drei Annen Hohne (540 m) through Schierke (685 m) to the top of the Brocken mountain (1141 m). It’s also possible to depart from Wernigerode. If you stay in the center of Wernigerode, you can walk to the station. I advise coming to the station on time. That way, you can start your day trip in a relaxed way and you have plenty of time to watch the train getting ready for departure. From Wernigerode, you reach the Brocken summit in about 1 hour and 40 minutes.
If you don't want a long train ride you can also depart from Schierke which we did the train ride will then take about an hour and you see all the highlights as from this part the train will go up the mountain and in winter it's really beautiful with the white snowy landscape.
Be aware that Schierke is a small train station and the parking is always full, so if you come by car try to take one of the first trains as otherwise, the parking will be full. If you want to avoid the crowd it's definitely recommended to get on the first train up to the mountain and walk down by yourself in the beautiful winter wonderland.
When we walked back we saw about 3 trains on the way down, you just have to listen to the sound of the train and you will know it's coming. You can also take a timetable from the train station and you will know the time it will pass by.
Shortly after departure, the Brockenbahn enters the majestic forests of the Harz. In Schierke, the train usually stops for about 10 minutes because the locomotive has to take extra water there. This gives you the possibility to get off the train and take some pictures. The steam train then continues through a winter wonderland and gets more and more surrounded by fog. And apparently, that’s not an exception. The mysterious Brocken summit is surrounded by fog for at least 300 days a year.
Cost of tickets
As an adult, you pay about 33 euros for a one-way ticket and 49 return tickets from Wernigerode. This price is standard, regardless of which station you depart from. You can find more information about prices and tickets on the HSB website. The Brockenbahn runs both in summer and winter.
It’s quite expensive day trip, but in my opinion, it’s worth every euro.
The jewel in the Harz Railway's crown is the line to the top of the Brocken, completed in 1899. The Brocken is the highest peak in the Harz mountains, 1,141m (3,743 feet) above sea level. In fact, it's the highest peak in northern Germany, and the next highest point to the east is in the Ural mountains in Russia. The Brocken is shrouded in mist for up to 300 days a year and frequently snow-capped from September to May, hardly surprising it's been the subject of myth and legend for centuries. After WW2 it was off-limits to foreigners, garrisoned by Soviet troops and bristling with Soviet & East German espionage and surveillance equipment. Today it's a major tourist hotspot, the television tower is now a hotel & restaurant, and there are several cafes with open-air benches, a shop, a botanic garden, and various walks. There are several daily direct trains between Nordhausen & Brocken and between Wernigerode & Brocken.
How to visit the Harz Railway
By all means, explore the whole 140 km HSB network if you've time, but if you've only a day or two I'd stick with the Harz main line between Nordhausen & Wernigerode and the line up the Brocken. Here are 4 options that work any day of the week almost all year round:
Option 1, stay in Nordhausen and take the Harz Railway to the Brocken as a day trip. Nordhausen is a pleasant enough city, although not especially picturesque. Its main draw is a visit to the Nordhausen concentration camp memorial at Mittelbau-Dora, Nordhausen to the Brocken takes around 3h10, as the fare is the same as from Wernigerode, you could argue you get more for your money! The place to stay in Nordhausen is the excellent Nordhäuser Fürstenhof, located on Bahnhofsplatz (station square) directly opposite the mainline DB station (plain Nordhausen) and HSB Harz Railway station (Nordhausen Nord). It's a 10-minute walk to the town center.
Option 2, stay in Wernigerode and take the Harz Railway to the Brocken as a day trip. Wernigerode is a lovely picturesque town and a great place to stay, a nicer option than staying in Nordhausen. Wernigerode to the Brocken takes around 2h05, so it's significantly quicker than going from Nordhausen, although it's the same price. The place to stay in Wernigerode is the Altora Eisenbahn Themenhotel, 3 minute's walk from the station, 5 minute's walk from the town center, and directly opposite the Harz Railway steam depot, another option is the Ringhotel Weißer Hirsch is a 4-star hotel right on the town's main square opposite Wernigerode's distinctive town.
Option 3 Stay in Schierke and take the first train up to the mountain in the morning as we did. If you like to Photograph this is a great option as if you have another day it's also just a great walk from the train station to about halfway through the mountain and enjoys the scenery of passing steam trains. Other than the hike there is not much to do in Schierke, we had dinner at a Thai restaurant and it was ok. Stay at the Regio hotel am Brocken
Option 4 An alternative train station is Drei Annen Hohen where the parking spot is a bit bigger and you can enjoy the train ride for the same price for a longer ride. If you only want to walk, I advise you to depart from Schierke there is a path all the way up to Brocken mountain. Stay at the Hotel Der Kräuterhof
Things to do in the Harz Mountains
The Harz Mountains are the highest mountains in northern Germany and still quite unknown to foreign travellers. Local people know about the beauty of this region. There are hundreds of walking and hiking trails, beautiful old villages and other attractions that shouldn’t be missed
Best places to visit in the Harz Mountains
In the Harz region, there are numerous sights well worth visiting. I made a small selection of the best things to see and do. It has become a combination of culture, nature, and adventure, making it a very diverse destination.
The quaint little town of Quedlinburg
Quedlinburg is a medieval city located in the foothills of the northern Harz area. The old town center is the perfect place to stroll around for a couple of hours. Quedlinburg is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list for its amazing half-timbered houses and its phenomenal architecture. You will find more than 2.000 half-timbered houses in Quedlinburg, most of them in near-perfect condition. The St. Servatii church and the Quedlinburg Castle are worth visiting as well.
Visit the longest suspension bridge in Harz
The biggest suspension bridge in Germany, the bridge has a length of 458 meters and is built at a high altitude of 100 meters above the Rappbodetal and attracts a lot of visitors. Around this spectacular bridge are lots of possibilities to spend an alternating day in nature.
A ride with the Brockenbahn the famous Harz railway
The Brockenbahn is a 19-kilometer narrow gauge railway between Wernigerode and Brocken, the highest mountain in the Harz. The journey will take place with an old steam train and take some 1.5 hours one way. It’s one of the most scenic railways in Germany. Along the way, there are stops in Drei Annen Hohne and Schierke. The Brockenbahn has several departures each day but also has a summer and winter schedule. Times can be found here. The fare for a one-way journey in 2022 is € 33 and for a return ticket, it was € 49. It’s advised to book ahead or be at the ticket office in time as it’s a popular attraction and can be very busy. TIP: take the first train from Wernigerode (departure at 08.55 am in 2021) as this will be the most quiet ride. Most people will still be having breakfast in their hotel during that time of the day.
Hiking the Brockenberg
The Brocken is a popular destination for hikers and mountain bikers. Real sports enthusiasts choose to walk or cycle to the top. Many hikers then naturally opt for a ride through the Brocken Bahn. On the other hand, many more walkers go up by train and then descend on foot via well-groomed paths to one of the pick-up points. Here you will also find sufficient parking spaces. Those looking for more adventure can also opt for more adapted routes through beautiful nature.
Wernigerode was first mentioned in official records in 1121. Wandering through its picturesque alleys, visitors can gaze at the examples of traditional architecture; a spectacular town hall with a timber facade, the ‘crooked house’ with a tilted foundation, and the city’s smallest house, which is only three meters wide and just over four meters tall. High above the city, and visible from afar, Castle Wernigerode lures you into a fairy tale of its own.
Where to stay
The Ringhotel "Weißer Hirsch" is not just one of the most beautiful hotels in Wernigerode, but also the oldest preserved hotel in Saxony-Anhalt!
The long history of this hotel is visible wherever you look – the facade of the hotel in Wernigerode was restored according to historical standards and with plenty of attention to detail. Rooms are around 120 Eur a night including breakfast. Book Now
3-minute's walk from the train station, 5 minutes walk from the town center, and directly opposite the Harz Railway steam depot. Rooms are around 90 Eur a night including breakfast. Book Now
A basic hotel where we stayed during our trip but with a good breakfast and decent prices.
Rooms are around 75 Eur a night Book Now
Here are some resources to help you get your trip going:
Travel Essentials what's in my bag: To help you get started on packing, here are my essential travel and photography gear
Flights: WayAway to start looking for cheap flights and great deals from your home country.
Accommodation: Hostelworld, Booking.com, and Agoda.com are the ultimate go-to platforms to search for amazing hostels and hotels at affordable prices.
Car Rental: DiscoverCars.com is a great and reliable platform to find rental cars all over the world.
Internet: Airalo is the best way to get a sim card and has reliable internet access for your trip. All you need is an Esim-compatible smartphone, install it on your phone prior to your trip, and you are all set.
Day Trips & Tours: Viator, and GetYourGuide, are great platforms to search for activities to do
Tickets & Deals: Tiqets is always my go-to website when I want to find cheaper deals for entrance tickets to tourist attractions
Klook to find the best deals for trips in Asia, somehow they are 30% cheaper than when you buy them at a local agency
Train, buses, and ferries 12Go to find your travel route for local buses, and ferries, we use them all the time as you can easily see the reviews, and the vouchers are everywhere accepted. tickets are sold for more than 5,000 destinations in 100+ countries worldwide.