Our latest family weekend getaway in Germany was quite spontaneous. I read a post about this destination in a local Facebook group for families and I got really excited about it right away. The author of the post had mentioned a few attractions that could fit perfectly with our son’s favorite things, so we checked out calendars for the first opportunity and booked a weekend away.
As anyone familiar with traveling as a young family will tell you, this was not a vacation. It was a great change of scenery and a break from our routine. I really enjoyed not having to clean, cook and do the rest of the day-to-day chores. But all of the regular challenges of the baby-toddler phases are still very present, and you are forced to deal with them outside of your comfort zone. Having said that, I can honestly say that I enjoyed our time there very much, and so did the kids.
We stayed at Wernigerode, a small town in the Harz district in Germany. Even though I saved on my designated Google map many sites, attractions and trails in other areas, we wound up spending the entire time in town. It offers many things to do, with a number of great attractions for the entire family. The town center is very lively with lots of shops, restaurants, cafes and gorgeous historical buildings. Every time we turned a corner I was amazed by the architectural details of the buildings.
After our first vacation as a family of four, I knew that choosing the right place to stay is very important. We chose the Schlossberg Hotel because of its perfect location and its impressive buildings. The room was lovely, the wonderful breakfast was included in the price and it’s located within walking distance from the old town center and a beautiful park. However, It was a bit unfortunate that we didn't have a kitchenette or even a coffee maker in the room. Having some of the meals and snack times in a private and more relaxed atmosphere could make a big difference when traveling with little ones. The other downside was that the room was a bit too small for us, and we didn’t really have a comfortable place to sit and relax after the kids went to sleep.
Speaking of sleep, it was more difficult for the kids this time around. We have spent quite a few nights away from home in the past, and this was the first time that sleeping became an issue. It did work itself out by the third and final night, but the first couple of nights were long and difficult. We thought that it could be related to the fact that both kids fell asleep in the car on the way from Berlin to Wernigerode, and a little too late in the day. So that is something to consider when you plan your trip.
#1 A coffee shop right outside the hotel and/or a coffee machine in the room is a must for us. The best time to relax with a good cup of coffee is when the kids are playing in the hotel room, and this felt like a missed opportunity for a little pick-me-up for us.
#2 Get in the car early. We wanted to have a quiet lunch at home before making the 2.5 hours trip from Berlin to Wernigerode while taking into consideration that the kids will nap on the way. That resulted in them falling asleep too late and then not being tired enough for their regular bedtime.
All aboard: Steam train ride
Our son Robin (3.5 years old at the time) is crazy about all things train! So this was the main attraction for us and we booked the tickets in advance. We got round-trip tickets that are for a specific train and time on the way up the mountains and can be used freely on the way back, without having to commit to a certain time or place to board the train.
We initially booked a ticket from Wernigerode to Brocken, which is the final stop of the line, but decided to get off one station before that, at Drei Annen Hohne because it seemed that the kids have had enough. I had a kid-friendly walking trail marked on the map, but we skipped it and just took another train back to town.
If seeing the steam trains is enough for you and you don’t feel the need to ride them, you can check out the list of stops and timetables on their website and catch a glimpse wherever and whenever it is convenient for you.
Mini-me: Miniature park
This wasn’t actually on my list of sites and attractions. We set out to drive to see the monkeys at the Affenwald Straußberg, but it was a bit far away and there was a high chance of rain so we were looking for an alternative. I caught a glimpse of the park in a brochure and it turned out to be a huge success.
It showcases miniature versions of local buildings and sights, including the famous steam trains, which naturally appealed to our young train fanatic. In addition, there are a small excavator for the kids to operate (for an additional cost), a labyrinth, swing sets and a small food stand.
Right outside is a public park that offers many more play and relaxation areas, including a few playgrounds, a water playground which is an amazing option for warmer days, animals like donkeys, goats and rabbits, an enlarged chess board, a wooden stable with wooden horses, a large lake to stroll around, many benches and hammocks to choose from, and more. We spent a few hours there, and if it hadn’t started to rain heavily then I think we would have spent the entire day there.
Uphill: Wernigerode castle
This is one of the most famous sights of Wernigerode. The castle is now a highly recommended museum but we didn’t go in, as I thought that the kids are a bit young for that. However, the beautiful terrace is open to the public and offers a gorgeous view of the town and mountains. We got some pastries on the way and took a small break there before heading back to Berlin. The kids loved the fountain, they climbed up and down the staircases and we really enjoyed the view.
You could climb up to the castle on foot, by car or by bike, we chose to ride one of the few train-like busses that drive from the town center up the hill and back. That in itself is a nice attraction for young kids, and Robin was super excited about it.
Freeplay: Local playgrounds
My husband and I always say that it took us a few times to discover the best travel rhythm for us. Some travelers need to check all the boxes in terms of attractions and sightseeing and some take it more slowly. When traveling with kids you need even more flexibility and offer them chances to play more freely. Discovering local playgrounds is a great way to do that. It falls somewhere in the middle between the new and the familiar and you can immediately tell how easy it is for them to blend in. You could “squeeze” that in at any time, there is no queuing involved and it’s free!
We got to three different playgrounds, and all of them are marked on my Google map. One of them is located in the middle of the Lustgarten park, which could double as a picnic locationת or just as a green and calming break in the middle of the day.
Mampfy BBQ & Burger Restaurant
We passed by this restaurant on our way to the town center, and couldn't help but notice the diverse menu and the amazing BBQ aroma. We ate here twice and sat both in the backyard and inside. The service was very friendly, the food was great (except for the regular schnitzel) and the atmosphere was really nice. The menu is American style with a few Mexican dishes and we tried a few different things that were delicious.
Italian food is always a good idea, especially with kids. We had to wait a bit for a table here for dinner, but the meal was definitely worth it. In general, you should make a reservation for restaurants during the weekend, but we preferred to keep our schedule flexible.
The cafes in town close up quite early, so we found ourselves here a couple of times, their hours are slightly longer and it was located close by to our hotel. While the coffee was okay and nothing special, what really stood out was the service and the little kiddy buggies up front, which are available for the kids to ride in the pedestrian-only street.
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