Fans of old-time trains will be in their element on any of the three narrow-gauge railways crossing the Harz. This 140km integrated network – the largest in Europe – is served by 25 steam and 10 diesel locomotives, which tackle gradients of up to 1:25 (40%) and curves as tight as 60m in radius. Most locomotives date from the 1950s, but eight historic models, some from as early as 1897, are proudly rolled out for special occasions.
The network, a legacy of the GDR, consists of three lines.
The Harzquerbahn runs 60km on a north–south route between Wernigerode and Nordhausen. The serpentine 14km between Wernigerode and Drei Annen Hohne includes 72 bends; you’ll get dropped off on the edge of Harz National Park.
From the junction at Drei Annen Hohne, the Brockenbahn begins the steep climb to Schierke and the Brocken. Trains to the Brocken (via Drei Annen Hohne) can be picked up from Wernigerode and Nordhausen; single/return tickets cost €24/12 from all stations. Many visitors take the train to Schierke and then follow a trail on foot to the Brocken summit (1142m).
The third service is the Selketalbahn, which begins in Quedlinburg and runs to Eisfelder Talmühle or Hasselfelde. At Eisfelder Tal, you can change trains for other lines. The picturesque Selketalbahn crosses the plain to Gernrode and follows Wellbach, a creek with a couple of good swimming holes, through deciduous forest to Mägdesprung, before joining the Selke Valley and climbing past Alexisbad to high plains around Friedrichshöhe, Stiege and beyond.
Passes for three/five days on all three lines cost €86/129 per adult (children half-price). Check in with the folks at Harzer Schmalspurbahnen for timetables, or hit the website.