Today’s post is for all of you who like underrated travel destinations and love exploring lesser known places. Gorlitz is where it’s at! Let me introduce you to Gorlitz – an authentic fairytale town in Germany. Compact in size but with a big international character.
Not only is Gorlitz one of the many beautiful towns in Saxony, it boasts interesting architecture which made the town Germany’s top filming location. Steeped in history and often used in top Hollywood productions, this town is packed to the brim with interesting activities. Walk over the river to its Polish part, discover architectural wealth or admire picture-perfect cobbled streets. You never know what you may find in this idyllic town.
Please Note: the original German spelling is “Görlitz”. However, to max out the best results for SEO I’ll use its original name and the English spelling “Gorlitz” without the Umlaut interchangeably throughout the post.
Table of Contents
6 Reasons to Visit Gorlitz
This post actually has more pictures of Gorlitz the fairytale town in Germany than text and for once, I managed to keep the word count under 6k words. So with that being said, I let the pictures do the talking and hope you’ll enjoy today’s post.
Historic Town Centre & Architectural Diversity
Gorlitz’s historic town centre is Germany’s largest heritage area. 4,000 properties including museums, cafes, villas and residences are more than 500 years old. The well-preserved buildings reflect an array of styles: gothic, renaissance, baroque, neoclassical, historicism and art nouveau – you name it and Gorlitz has it. The reason for this intact architectural wealth is that Gorlitz was largely spared during the Second World War.
Surprisingly, Gorlitz has not (yet) received a UNESCO title, but they have applied to be considered for a title for the past 30 years. In the running is a special architecture unique to Gorlitz: the so-called “hall buildings” – impressive merchant palaces and sleeping quarters with solid constructions compete for the UNESCO title. In total, there are approximately 35 of these merchant palaces, some dating back as far as 1500.
The Silesia Museum, Hotel Frenzelhof or the Biblical House are prime examples of typical hall buildings. Striking characteristics are the arcades with iconic cross vaults and a generous courtyard which allowed whole horse carriages to bring in goods; mostly textiles and cloth. The town runs a special hall building exhibition alongside their entry for UNESCO which allows visitors to tour the hall house in Brüderstraße 9 and learn more about these buildings, their significance and preservation.
The Filming Industry & Hollywood
Next to the former cloth & fabric trade, another industry developed and thrived in Gorlitz. This authentic fairytale town in Germany is a top address for Hollywood productions and the filming industry. Since the 1950s, more than 100 films have been shot here. The charming cobbled streets and wealth of historic buildings create an authentic atmosphere which location scouts love.
Gorlitz carried the title of European Film Location of the Decade (2007-2017) and has welcomed stars such as Emma Thompson and Ralph Fiennes. Since 2020, there’s been a designated route, the “Walk of Görliwood” which highlights important stations across town. Film fans can explore more of the glamorous Hollywood side on a self-guided tour. Each of the walkable 40 locations has signage in English and German.
Popular Filming Locations in Gorlitz are:
– The lower market square
– The arcades at the Brown Stag (Brauner Hirsch)
– The department store
– Nikolai Cemetery
– Train Station
– “Gründerzeit” (founders period) district
Selected Görlitz Film Trivia
Grand Budapest Hotel – shot at the department store at Demiani Square. Even though the store sits empty, it was still voted as Germany’s prettiest department store. The local Café CaRe produced all the cakes used in the film and several A-list actors signed the town book.
The Book Thief – Unterer Markt (lower market square) was the main filming site. Several German towns rejected the filmmaker’s proposal for some scenes e.g. large Nazi banners hanging from houses or a live-action stake of burning books was classed as too controversial – but not an issue for Gorlitz.
The Reader – For the film, the historic trams had to be brought into Gorlitz but they used the town’s original tram lines. Another filming location is the art nouveau house in Jakob Straße 5a. Built in 1912/13 by master builder Franz Grunert, it served as Hanna’s flat and for some of the court scenes. The building features delicate glass artwork, stucco and valuable wooden artwork adorning the salon on the first floor. Today, 5a is home to a restaurant, offices and seminar rooms.
Top Tip: Ride with the Görliwood Explorer Tour Bus
This is a special tour bus dedicated to showing you all the filming locations in the Old Town. The 1h tour guided by the German voice actor for Samuel L Jackson is informative and highly entertaining. I really enjoyed that there were no earphones required as speakers throughout the bus allowed for a great acoustic. The bus runs multiple times from the Reichenbacher Turm/Obermarkt. Tickets cost 13€ (information is correct as of 2023).
Via Regia & Ecumenical Pilgrimage Way
The Via Regia was first mentioned in the early 13th century. The “Royal Way” was used mostly by armies and led Augustus The Strong and Napoleon to Gorlitz. Its second function was to bring in the trade. Over the centuries, Gorlitz established itself as a centre for weaving, fabrics and woad.
A third group that is associated with the Via Regia are pilgrims. Next to the Via Imperii, the Via Regia is one of the oldest cultural routes across Europe. Starting in Moscow and ending in Santiago, it covers over 4500 km. The parts in Germany are also known as the ecumenical pilgrimage way which is 450 km long. Parts of the ecumenical pilgrimage way can be cycled easily e.g. from Leipzig to Naumburg. Even though the pilgrimage route is an extension of the Camino in Spain, the infrastructure isn’t as advanced and used these days.
One Settlement, Two Countries
Gorlitz is Germany’s most eastern town and lies on the border with Poland. Proclaimed as a double town in 1998, it shares its location with a Polish counterpart, Zgorzelec. Both towns have the same name origin. Derived from the Slavic language Sorbian, “Gorelic” or “Goreliz” means “burnt land” – the kind of burnt land that had to be cleared before it could be settled.
Separated by the river Lusatian Neisse, you can visit both sides casually via the Altstadtbrücke. This footbridge was restored in 2003/04. No border control is required.
Cafés & Coffee Culture
Gorlitz is one of these quaint German fairytale towns that invites you to sit, drink coffee and enjoy local food. As a rather small town, Gorlitz surprisingly has many eateries from a variety of cuisines and there’s of course, good old German “coffee and cake” culture.
Did You Know? One favourite ingredient in Gorlitz is poppy seeds. You’ll find several sweet treats such as the Silesian poppy dumplings (Mohnpiele) or poppy seed cake on the café menus.
Lucullus Coffee House – a coffee house not in the traditional Viennese style, but more a proper German place that serves coffee and cake. There’s a small yet intimate backyard with a garden – extremely delightful in the summer to sit here amongst locals and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.
Cafés in the labyrinth of the Old Town – Ratscafé, Café Flair all with al fresco seating
Café Central – on Berliner Straße towards the train station. Run by the local Saxonian bakery chain Schwerdtner, this is a very quaint bakery. The coffee to go is ok but it’s more about the building and little fountain outside for a perfect opportunity to capture that “authentic fairytale town in Germany” flair.
Bikini Görlitz– if you’re after a modern and trendy café to work at, check out Bikini at Theater Passage 21/22
Solid Base for Exploring the Lusatia Region
Whilst I hate including “the best bit about destination X is the train to Z”, I have to say Gorlitz would make a great base for a few days and explore the area further. Lots of attractive day trips from Gorlitz would include the Rakotz Bridge at Kromlau Park, the UNESCO castle and gardens in Bad Muskau, Herrnhut, Kamenz, Bautzen or the Dinosaur amusement park in Kleinwelka. Wroclaw is also a short train journey away, so there are lots of options.
Random Facts about Gorlitz
- The sun rises in the East: Gorlitz is the first German town to start the day
- A sweet treat, the nonpareils, was invented here by Rudolf Hoinkis at the end of the 19th century
- An anonymous benefactor donated half a million Euros annually to the town between 1995-2016. The generous fund has been used to restore and maintain the historic buildings
- The Silesia Museum located within the Schönhof complex is Germany’s oldest secular Renaissance building (1526)
- Birkenstock has its largest manufacturing outlet in Gorlitz and produces daily 50.000 pairs of shoes
- The clock of the Trinity Church on the Upper Market is always seven minutes ahead. This goes back to the clothmakers‘ uprising in 1527, when a traitor made the clock ring too early, so the conspirators holding one of their secret meetings bumped into the night guards
FAQs about Gorlitz fairytale town in Germany
I understand this is quite a lengthy post and you may have some quick questions about Gorlitz, an authentic fairytale town in Germany. You can, of course, always come back to any section of my post and read in more detail what you’d need for your trip. If you have questions or need help, please get in touch and I’m happy to assist.
Where is Gorlitz & How Do I Get There?
Gorlitz is in East Germany and lies on the border with Poland. By car it is just a tiny bit quicker than by train, but not that much. Overall it’ll require some efforts to get to Gorlitz. Here are the timings in comparison:
Berlin: by car 3h, by train 3 1/2h
Dresden: by car 70 minutes, by train 1 1/2h
Is Gorlitz solo travel friendly?
I loved visiting Gorlitz and had no issues as a solo traveller. Sometimes smaller towns in Germany with mostly local visitors tend to be hesitant of international guests, but not so Gorlitz. This quaint market town is very friendly and open to visitors. Its hospitality has been praised by the entire film crew of The Grand Budapest Hotel including Ralph Fiennes and Jeff Goldblum. As a Thank You, Gorlitz received a special preview of the movie and a video message by director Wes Anderson. Gorlitz responded with a counter Thank You and Congratulations wishes when the film received its Academy Awards.
Thanks so much for reading. If you’ve enjoyed my Gorlitz post and would like to support my blog & research, you can do so via Buy Me a Coffee.
Till next time,
You may also enjoy reading:
- 10 Leipzig Activities to make you feel like a Local
- Beautiful Bike Tour on the Ecumenical Pilgrimage Route in Germany
- What Happened to The Devil’s Bridge in Germany?
- Quality Hamburg Cafes You Can’t Miss On Your Next Visit
Cover picture & picture credit: Unterer Markt by (c) Martin Langhorst
20 Reasons To Visit Görlitz by Görlitz-Information Europastadt GörlitzZgorzelec GmbH
Görliwood: Oscar® award-winning Görlitz by Görlitz-Information Europastadt GörlitzZgorzelec GmbH