German Toy Route
Drive Germany's "Toy Route" through the Thuringian Forest and Fraconian SwitzerlandThe German Toy Route runs from Erfurt to Nuremberg, passing through the areas of traditional German toymaking. Even today Thuringia and Franconia manufacture toys and dolls that remain popular around the world. Numerous museums give insights into the history of toy manufacturing while brands such as Rolly Toys and Playmobil continue to sell these traditional German toys to many generations of fans.
Driving enthusiasts will relish the challenging sections they face on this route; away from the autobahns they can test their skills on the narrow, winding country roads which pass through remote mountainous and hilly terrain.
It goes without saying, but any wine stops detailed on this page are for the benefit of hire car passengers ... designated drivers must confine themselves to drinking in the scenery.
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Erfurt: City of towers and children’s media centreErfurt is the capital of Thuringia and home to the KiKA children's TV channel, which is well worth a visit. Children can tour the TV station and can actually see the programmes being produced live.
In the meantime, parents can explore the winding cobbled lanes of the Erfurt old town and chance upon many an interesting sight in the process: highlights include the Rathaus and cathedral hill which features the Erfurter Dom, the triple towers of the Severikirche and the famous Krämerbrücke where doll maker Martin Gobsch allows visitors to look around his exhibition workshop.
Calm has fallen on the hilltops ...Continue along the route through the Naturpark Steigerwald to Ilmenau, right in the middle of the Thuringian Forest. Ilmenau is home to the GDR Toy Museum which houses 5,500 toys, some of which visitors can play with.
The Ilmenau Stadtmuseum has a Goethe exhibit about his experiences in Ilmenau as a civil servant and student of nature. Goethe actually lived in these rooms during his tenure as a civil servant for the Saxony-Weimar administration and it is possible to retrace the famous author’s footsteps in the local forest. The Goethe hiking trail leads you to the reconstructed Goethe hut, where you can read the verses of his famous “Wanderer’s Nightsong” in 16 languages.
Age-old toymaking traditions: Sonneberg, former toy capital of the world
The next leg through the Schwarza Valley is pure driving pleasure. Feel the thrill of the L1112 and L1145 which wind their way along the rushing waters of the Schwarza as it surges through the lush green countryside.
In the shadow of the mountains of the southern Thuringian Forest, follow the L1149 and L1150 through valleys with traditional villages and the venerable glassmaking centre of Lauscha until you finally arrive in Sonneberg, former toy capital of the world. The German Toy Museum houses the oldest toy collection in Germany and showcases other toys from around the world.
In the German Teddy Bear Museum you instantly become a child again as you trace the production and development of these cuddly toys through many generations. You can even make your own souvenir teddy bear in the playroom but if you don’t have time for that you can always visit the Simba Dickie store.
Coburg region: Culture, natural beauty and toysA few kilometres after crossing the former East/West German border, you’ll arrive in the Coburg region. The philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder was a fan of this stunning landscape of mountains, valleys and rivers which is perfect for outdoor sports and good old-fashioned relaxing.
Your first stop is Neustadt near Coburg and the Villeneuve-sur-Lot recreation park, where they have perfected the art of outdoor adventures. Visit the German Toy Industry Museum for an insight on what happens behind the scenes and see how continuous innovation drives toy manufacturing.
If you’re in the mood for a leisurely stroll, follow the St2202 for about ten kilometres to Rödental where the mellow English country gardens await you in the beautiful setting of Schloss Rosenau. You’ll love the quiet charm of Coburg; be sure to visit the historic market square with its pleasant cafés and restaurant and soak up Coburg’s royal heritage in the local castles of Callenberg and Ehrenburg, where Britain’s Queen Victoria spent many happy times.
The art collection in the Veste Coburg fortress is also well worth a visit as is the Coburg Doll Museum which has over 2,000 dolls and accessories on display.
Travel tip: Burg Rabenstein and the Fränkische Schweiz regionThe exclusive hotel Burg Rabenstein towers impressively above the Naturpark Fränkische Schweiz. It has its own helicopter landing pad but if your helicopter isn’t available arriving at the wheel of a Porsche from the Avis Prestige Fleet is no less impressive.
Leave Coburg on the B4 to Untersiemau and from there make for the pretty town of Lichtenfels. Enjoy cruising through a series of small country roads leading to Stadelhofen then take the St2191 following the River Wiesent for part of the way, with the region's signature craggy outcrops and green hills, until the castle rises majestically ahead of you. With such stunning scenery it’s tempting to head off on a spur-of-the-moment trip.
For pure driving pleasure the roads of the Naturpark Fränkische Schweiz are hard to beat. The Autumn leaves are burnished yellow and gold as the castles and forts dot the valleys and keep watch over the hills. Descend into the stunning Sophienhöhle (Sophie's Cave) and Teufelshöhle (Devil's Cave) and marvel at these fascinating underground worlds.
Zirndorf: Old-world charm meets the modern world of PlaymobilGet ready for some autobahn action; join the A9 from Burg Rabenstein then take the A73 to Zirndorf. If you prefer a more scenic and leisurely route, take the St2185 to Gößweinstein and from there use the B470 via Forchheim. It would be remiss not to try the local Franconian delicacies, which include some fine beers. An ideal refuelling spot for the thirsty traveller is the Hebendanz brewery in Forchheim.
Zirndorf features a charming market square, a stone’s throw from the Municipal Museum, which nicely introduces the toy theme with a history of the local production of tin toys. Zirndorf is most notable as the home of the Playmobil brand and the Playmobil FunPark, a huge discovery centre for kids with playgrounds covering 90,000 sq. metres with, unsurprisingly, re-creations of the various Playmobil themes, such as the knight’s castle and wild west.
Nuremberg: Time travel to the Toy KingdomWhen you think of Nuremberg you probably think of the Christmas market, the Kaiserburg castle, the old town ... and toys. This traditional association with toys extends to the annual International Toy Fair and the Lydia Bayer Toy Museum. The main focus of the collection is the 19th and 20th centuries, but there are some items which go back to ancient times. People of all ages enjoy the “Experience your Senses” centre; part science, part sports but mostly just fun.
A stroll through the traditional craft shops and rustic restaurants in the lively Handwerkerhof is not just for toy lovers.
Christmas on the Toy RouteCome December many of the destinations along the Toy Route glitter with the sparkle of Christmas lights and, if you are lucky, a fresh dusting of snow.
To truly get into the festive spirit on your road trip through the Thuringian Forest and Fränkische Schweiz, don’t miss the magical Christmas markets of Erfurt and Nuremberg which are held in traditional fairy-tale settings. The aromas of mulled wine, gingerbread and bratwurst permeate the air while the lights and decorations are a feast for the eyes.
The Toy Town of Sonneberg is also transformed: outside the Town Hall a Christmas tree sparkles with 1,500 lights while the Town Hall itself becomes a giant Advent calendar - each window representing a day on the calendar.
In Coburg, the Christmas stalls make a picturesque scene between the venerable buildings around the market square while horse-drawn carriages add a rustic touch to the festive spirit as they take their passengers on a carriage ride around the city centre.
Other must-see sights along or close to the route:
- Fairy-Tale Park, spa town of Tabarz
- Schloss Ehrenstein, Ohrdruf
- Bach Exhibition and 'Mon Plaisir' figurine collection, Palace Museum, Arnstadt
- Ornamental glass manufacturer, Lauscha
Recommendations for hungry travellers:
- Restaurant Zum Wenigermarkt 13, Erfurt
- Schlossgartenpassage, Ohrdruf
- Pension Häfner, Sonneberg
- Burg Rabenstein, Ahorntal
- Brauhotel & Gasthof Der Grosch, Rödental
- Gasthaus Goldenes Kreuz, Coburg
- Brauereigasthof Rothenbach, Aufseß
- Brauereigasthof Hebendanz, Forchheim
- Hotel Victoria, Nuremberg
(1) Uwe Niklas; (2) Mark Michaelis; (3) Thüringen Tourismus; (4) Deutsches Spielzeugmuseum Sonneberg; (5) Tourismus und Stadtmarketing-Citymanagement Coburg; (6) Stefan Hundhammer; (7) Playmobil Funpark/geobra Brandstätter GmbH & Co. KG; (8) Timothep; (9) Erfurt Tourismus und Marketing GmbH/Barbara Neumann