Ever dreamed of taking an old-time steam train? In the Harz Mountains in Germany, it is possible to fulfil that dream. A nostalgic trip with the Harz Narrow Gauge Railways will set you back to another time when travelling was different. Read on for everything you need to know about the Harz Mountain Railway and how you can make this happen.
Almost in the middle of Germany, you will find the Harz Mountains. Here you will not find rugged, alpine mountains like in the alps, but a more hilly and forested landscape. Brocken is with its 1142m the highest peak and is located in the Harz National Park (Nationalpark Harz). This is also the highest mountain in northern Germany. The lack of alpine landscapes is highly compensated with historical towns and villages. Expect cuteness overload. Here you are in fairytale Germany, surrounded by forests, history and beautiful German castles.
To top your experience in the Harz Mountains region, a journey with the Harz Mountain Railway, or Harz Narrow Gauge Railways, will add an extra dimension to your trip. It is definitely one of the coolest train journeys we have done so far.
What is the Harz Mountain Railway?
The Harz Mountian Railway or Trans-Harz Railway (Harzquerbahn) is a 140km narrow-gauge rail network, the largest in Germany, served by 25 steam trains at 10 diesel locomotives. While some of the networks date from 1897, other parts are a legacy of the GDR which extended it.
The railway connects the towns of Nordhausen, Wernigerode and Quedlinburg. The first is in the state of Thuringia, while the two others are in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. It consists of three main lines. Harz Railway (Harzquerbahn) connects Nordhausen to Wernigerode and the Selke Valley Railway (Selkebahn) branches off the Harz Railway to Quedlinburg. Finally, the Brocken Railway (Brockenbahn) also branches off the Harz Railway and runs to the summit of Brocken. The latter is the most popular train journey.
TIP: Read our post on Flamsbana in Norway. It is said to be one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world.
Map of starting points for the Harz Mountain Railway
How to travel with the Harz Mountains Railway
You can start your journey in the towns of Nordhausen, Quedlinburg or Wernigerode. If you are in visiting the Harz Mountains or the national park, you can also start your journey at one of the stations en route.
You should purchase your ticket before entering the train. There are no assigned seats on board and only one class of travel. The free seating on the train and it’s based on the first come first serve principle. Only groups of more than 10 people have the possibility to reserve seats via the webpage of the train company (German only). For most people, the best experience is to catch one of the steam trains and not the train with a diesel locomotive. It is marked in the time schedule (with a train symbol) if it is a diesel or steam train.
The best is of course if you can grab one of the window seats, but you will get good views from almost anywhere you sit. it is possible to go out on the small platforms between the train cars for a better view or for photos. Please note that when the train is in a tunnel you should stay inside. It is great to see the train from the outside, especially in one of the curves. Don’t be shocked by tiny black particles that will get on you and in your face. This is due to the smoke from the steam engine. After all, you are on a steam train.
You can combine different routes with each other, or stop on the way. The train goes through the Harz National Park, an area popular with hiking, biking, skiing and other outdoor activities. Should you wish to spend some hours or days outdoors, you can do so by travelling with the Harz Mountain Railway.
If you take eg the Brocken Railway, you can go for a hike or see the visitor centre, or even have lunch before catching a later train back to your destination. The total travel time from Wernigerode to Brocken is around 1,5h to 1h40min.
Best time to travel with Harz Mountain Railway
You can travel with the Harz Mountains Railway year-round. The train runs daily, but with less frequent departures in the winter. The summer season is from the beginning of April to the beginning of November. For the rest of the year, the winter schedule applies.
If you visit the Harz Mountains in the summer you have better chances for nice weather. Just be aware that if you visit Brocken peak, the weather can change quickly, and even in summer, it can get not only chill but cold. Therefore, always bring some extra clothes in your backpack. The summer is the most popular time to travel with the Harz Mountain Railway so purchase your ticket early in the day and be on the platform in good time before departure to secure a good seat.
If you travel in during the fall, you can expect beautiful foliage along the way. Harz National Park is popular for hikes in the autumn, and especially during the school fall break it can get busy, but normally it is a bit quieter this time of the year. Winter can come early if you visit Brocken Mountain in the fall. Bring warm clothes.
You can also travel with the Harz Mountain railway in the winter. The region is popular for skiing, so you could perfectly combine the steam train journey with some skiing. The area is often covered in snow for long periods during winter, so you can expect some winter wonderlands in Germany. The weather can be terrible, especially on Brocken it can be very windy. Dress accordingly.
If you want to visit in the spring, we would recommend late spring, so that most of the snow has melted, and nature has started to get out of its winter sleep.
How to buy tickets for the Harz Mountains Railway
There are two ways to buy your ticket. You can do it online or at the train stations or one of the partners that sell tickets.
The online shop is in German only but comes with an easy calendar and names of all the different routes so it is pretty straightforward.
You can also go to any nearby station (Bahnhof) or to one of the partners listed here to purchase your ticket. If you buy it the same day, we advise you to get to the station early to secure your ticket, especially in the summer or during school breaks.
How much does the Harz Mountain Railway cost?
Like many popular attractions, also the Harz Mountain Railway doesn’t come especially cheap. For the most popular route to Brocken, the price is the same for travel from all stations. It is cheaper to buy a return ticket than one way. The return ticket is valid for three days, so can stay a while in the Harz Mountains on the same ticket.
Ticket prices for the Harz Mountain Railway to Brocken (as of 2022):
- Adults one-way ticket: €34
- Adults return ticket: €51
- Children 6-14 one way: €20,50
- Children 6-14 return: €30,50
- Children under 6 years: free
- Online purchases give 2,5% discount
How to get to the Harz Mountains
You can get to the Harz Mountains from pretty much everywhere in Germany. If you plan on having remote accommodation, a rental car will be the best solution.
You can get to the towns of Quedlinburg and Wernigerode by train from all over. Depending on your route and where you travel from. From eg Berlin or Hamburg, you can choose between several daily departures, with 1-3 connecting trains. Check bahn.de for more info and train tickets.