Why Everyone Should Visit Görlitz, Germany At Least Once
This post was written in collaboration with the City of Görlitz, whom I reached out to after a fabulous trip planned independently. As always, all opinions are my own.
When I heard about a city on the German-Polish border that wasn’t bombed during World War II, leaving beautifully intact buildings used as sets for international blockbusters, I knew I had to check it out ASAP.
I’m referring to Görlitz, nestled on the banks of the Neiße River, some 200 km from Berlin and Wroclaw.
If you’ve watched films like The Book Thief or The Grand Budapest Hotel, you might think that some streets and scenes look familiar when you visit Görlitz – and with good reason, as both of these movies were shot here.
However, in spite of frequent A-List appearances, the name Görlitz remains unfamiliar to many. Therefore, I still count it as a best-kept secret for a weekend or day trip out of Berlin!
Top Reasons to Visit Görlitz, Germany
If you love history, photography, or Hollywood classics, you may already be convinced enough to visit Görlitz! But the appeal of this little city goes way beyond the above-mentioned highlights.
Maybe you fancy walking over a bridge into another country? Yes, crossing the border between Germany and Poland is as simple – and picturesque – as strolling along the Old Town or John Paul II Bridges.
Indeed, Görlitz and its twin Polish city, Zgorzelec, used to be a single unit, split after World War II. Still today, locals go about their business hopping from the German to the Polish shore and vice versa on a daily basis. So Görlitz/Zgorzelec definitely also ticks off that multi-cultural element!
What’s more, Görlitz is surrounded by greenery. From scenic river paths to lush parks and old neighbourhoods with tall trees, you’ll never be far from nature.
If you’d like a city break that combines heritage, culture and nature, make sure to book yourself a little Görlitz getaway. And for tips on unmissable things to do in Görlitz, read on!
11 Unmissable Things to Do in Görlitz
Admire Perfectly Preserved Architecture
As Görlitz was virtually spared from World War II destruction (one of the only cities in Germany, in fact), today’s visitors will discover a wide range of architectural styles spanning at least 9 centuries. Testifying to this fact, there are around 4,000 protected buildings and monuments in Görlitz!
Of course, like all parts of East Germany, Görlitz’s buildings suffered during the communist era, but since the fall of the wall, these have regained their original splendor.
In fact, restoration was made possible so quickly by a generous benefactor whose identity remains unknown to the public. Since 1995, Görlitz’s mysterious saviour has been donating millions of euros to renovation efforts each year.
Visit a Baroque Mansion: Glimpse at the Wealth of Yesteryear
Step inside Görlitz’s Barockhaus and escape to the 17th century. This beautiful mansion is at the heart of the Old Town and belonged to one of Görlitz’s most successful merchants.
The elaborate home testifies to Görlitz’s wealthy past, as a town at the crossroads of several important Eastern European trading routes. Sail through lavishly decorated rooms and imagine what daily life was like for members of the Ameiss family.
Before you leave Barockhaus, make sure to stop at the crown jewel of this stately home: the Upper Lusatian Library of Sciences. This is such a wonderful feature that it deserves its own section in this post!
Wonder at the Upper Lusatian Library of Sciences
Book lovers, you need to stop at the Upper Lusatian Library of Sciences when you visit Görlitz! Set within Barockhaus, it is home to over 140,000 books and is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful libraries on the planet.
You’ll most likely want to get a picture of the famous Historic Library Hall with its wooden, quadruple arches, so make sure that you purchase a ticket that includes photo rights!
This costs 5 € on top of the regular 5 € entrance fee to the Barockhaus. (Be sure to bring cash, as when I visited I had to run to an ATM because cards weren’t accepted.)
Discover Görlitz’s Fortified Towers
As were many cities in Europe, Görlitz was once protected by a wall. Three out of 4 original fortified towers remain, watching over Görlitz for 900 years.
The tallest one is the Reichenbach Tower, most likely built back in the 13th century, although the exact date is unknown. Today, the 51-metre tower is a viewing platform.
Then there’s the Thick Tower (or Dicke Turm in German). While Reichenbach was modified over the centuries to suit current trends and needs, the Thick Tower remains today roughly as it was back in the 1250s, minor restorations aside. Travelers can visit the inside of the tower, as it holds a small museum.
Fun fact: during the Communist era, students at the nearby university liked to party inside the Dicke Turm!
Görlitz’s third watchtower is called Nikolai. Historians estimate that it was built before 1250, making it the oldest remaining tower in Görlitz. Today, it is also a museum – and makes for a great central element when photographing street scenes, like below.
Step Into Movie Scenes
Görlitz is sometimes also referred to as Görliwood, and it indeed is the German Hollywood, granted the title of European Film Location of the Decade from 2007 to 2017.
Interestingly, GDR rulers started this filming tradition in the 1950s to produce propaganda reels. Since then, over 100 movies and TV series have come to life in the streets of Görlitz. There are many ways that visitors can experience the world of film while in town.
One very popular option is to do a guided tour of the stately Brauner Hirsch mansion, in which 8 movies of different genres – including the Grand Budapest Hotel – were shot.
Visitors can also sit back and relax aboard the double-decker Görliwood Entdecker bus, taking them to Görlitz’s many, varied filming locations. (Please note that both the Brauner Hirsch and Görliwood Entecker tours are currently only offered in German.)
Through a self-guided Walk of Görliwood, movie buffs can explore the Filmstadt on their own as well.
Since the end of February 2020, themed display windows outside the Brauner Hirsch and in Görlitz’s Untermarkt showcase artifacts, props and sets used in popular films. All stations are illuminated and can be visited at any time.
Don’t Neglect Görlitz’s Arches and Doors
One thing that struck me while visiting Görlitz was just how unique and varied the entrances and archways were. Indeed, doors in Görlitz know how to make a statement!
Many of these entrances have been around for centuries, so I’d definitely recommend fans of history or achitecture to pay attention to doorway details as they wander around the Altstadt.
Cross a Modern-Day Pilgrim Route
As you wander through Görlitz, you can’t miss the twin white spires belonging to the Parish Church of St. Peter and Paul, a defining feature of the city’s landscape.
On top of being Görlitz’s most prominent landmark, this 15th-century protestant church is an important stop along a pilgrim route that connects the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany.
Visitors can walk a few steps along the pilgrim route as they make their way up to the church, admiring views over the Neiße River and Polish shore on the way. The interior is also free to visit.
Legend also has it that one of the master builders back in the day fell to his death while working on the church after getting distracted by a pretty girl walking by. Whether or not this is true is still disputed by scholars!
Stroll Across the German-Polish Border
As someone obsessed with travel, I definitely got a thrill out of walking from Germany to Poland, simply by crossing the Old Town Bridge. This is one of the features that makes Görlitz truly unique.
What’s more, this is a very scenic border, as you’re walking across the Neiße River, with Görlitz’s Old Town on one side and the colourful buildings of Zgorzelec, Poland, on the other.
Zgorzelec is also worth exploring – and a great spot to grab a quick lunch if you’re craving pierogis or other Polish specialties!
Pro tip: the best way to get a panoramic shot of Görlitz’s Old Town is to cross the border bridge and snap away from the Polish bank of the Neiße River.
Please note that, given the current situation, Covid regulations apply. Make sure you have read the latest rules before crossing the board.
Walk Along the Shores of the Neiße River
For a break from city sightseeing, wander along the riverside path flanking both the Polish and German banks of the Neiße.
You’ll be able to follow the river as it meanders through Görlitz, leading out of the city and into the surrounding countryside.
This is a lovely, soothing walk, especially in autumn when the ivy clinging to the sides of the path turns red.
Experience Görlitz in the Fall
This leads straight to the next thing to do, which is more of a recommendation: if you can choose when to visit Görlitz, I would definitely suggest planning an autumn trip.
Many of the Old Town’s buildings are covered in ivy, creating quite the photo ops as you make your way around. To experience beautiful fall foliage, head straight for Görlitz’s parks and gardens, located on both the German and Polish sides.
Have Coffee in Lower Market Square
After all of that sightseeing, you’ll probably want a break. There’s no better place to soak up Görlitz’s coffee culture than by sitting in a lovely cafe in Lower Market Square (in German: Untermarkt).
This is Görlitz’s main square, home to the city’s administration since the 1350s. Here, you’ll find the Old Town Hall, New Town Hall, and several 16th-century Renaissance-style buildings, as well as an array of stylish eateries.
Conclusion: Görlitz Should Be on Everyone’s Germany Itinerary
As you have read, there are so many reasons to visit Görlitz! You can discover the Upper Lusatian Library of Sciences with its perfectly preserved architecture, marvel at over 9 centuries of architecture in the Old Town, or simply soak up the multicultural atmosphere in an idyllic natural setting. There is something for everyone who chooses to visit Görlitz!
P.S. If you enjoyed finding out about Görlitz, you may also like these articles:
- 19 Top Day Trips from Berlin: Hidden Gems & Popular Routes
- 21 Local Tips for Visiting Szczecin, Poland
- Discover Oderbruch: Cycling, Coffee and Castles on the German-Polish Border