On the trail of dinosaurs in the Altmühltal valley
Prehistoric times come to life in the Altmühltal. Here you can not only discover the prehistoric world through countless fossils in museums, but also experience this bygone era up close in quarries. On your discovery tours, you will come across the fossilised remains of animals and plants that existed millions of years ago. Embark on an adventure and immerse yourself in the secrets of prehistoric times.
The Altmühl Valley, which stretches from Middle Franconia through Upper Bavaria, the Upper Palatinate and Lower Bavaria, is known for its lush nature and numerous hiking and cycling trails. As the name suggests, the valley follows the gentle curves of the Altmühl river, which meanders through a diverse landscape dotted with hills, forests and meadows. The Altmühltal Nature Park is one of the largest nature parks in Germany and is known for its rich variety of plants and animals, among other things.
Geological treasures in the Altmühltal
Not only is the natural beauty remarkable, the Altmühltal Nature Park is also an important site for geological and palaeontological finds. The special structure of the region's limestone has contributed to the preservation of fossils, which provide us with important insights into prehistoric life and have helped the park to become world-famous. In 2019, for example, a relative of the prehistoric bird Archaeopteryx, the Alcmonavis poeschli, was discovered in the Mühlheim fossil quarry in the Altmühltal.
The Altmühltal invites you to follow in the footsteps of the dinosaurs, track down prehistoric fossils and explore the wonders of prehistoric times at close quarters. Embark on a fascinating journey through time and discover the Altmühltal from a completely new perspective.
We would like to introduce you to two excursion destinations for your visit to the Altmühltal where you can immerse yourself in the prehistoric past: Solnhofen and Eichstätt. Both towns are located on the banks of the Altmühl and are only a 25-minute train journey through the Altmühltal. If you plan your trip well, you can visit both towns in one day.
Important stones in the Solnhofen Museum
Solnhofen is internationally recognised both as the first site where the prehistoric bird Archaeopteryx was found and as the only source of special stones needed for the lithography process (a flat printing process). Because of this unique role in both natural history and art history, the Solnhofen Museum, also known as the Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum, dedicates its exhibitions to both remarkable aspects. The museum is located opposite the railway station in Solnhofen at Bahnhofstraße 8.
The historical heritage of lithography is honoured by presenting the significance of the special stones from Solnhofen. At the same time, the PaläöZoo exhibition in the museum offers an in-depth exploration of the famous prehistoric bird Archaeopteryx and presents the fossils discovered in this region. The exhibition includes original fossils from the group of dinosaurs and reptiles, a variety of crustaceans, cephalopods and echinoderms. A particularly extensive collection is dedicated to the world of fish. Rare sea and land plants, jellyfish and medusae are also part of the exhibition.
Children's birthday party with fossil research
The museum offers younger visitors the opportunity to celebrate their birthday in the museum. A guided tour with experienced experts allows children to delve deeper into the secrets of fossils. This offer is available for a duration of around two hours and can be booked for groups of up to twelve children.
The Solnhofen hobby quarry is also located very close to the museum, where visitors can search for fossils themselves. A combined ticket for the museum and quarry is available and offers a comprehensive experience.
Discover fossils in the Solnhofen hobby quarry
In the hobby quarry near Solnhofen, you have the opportunity to search for fossils yourself. The fossil-rich limestone slabs of the so-called Mörnsheim layers are accessible there. These layers are similar to the underlying Solnhofen limestones, but are richer. The soft rock layers are easy to work with a hammer and chisel, making fossil collecting an experience for the whole family.
Here you can find the heraldic animal of the Altmühltal Nature Park, the fossilised ammonite, dig it up and take it home with you. There is also the opportunity to discover mussels, crabs, small fish and fossilised land plants. You can reach the Hobby Quarry via a 2 km long footpath to the south, which takes you up the Mühlberg. From the museum, simply follow the signs for "Hobbysteinbruch".
Well looked after when searching for fossils
The hobby quarry is run by contact persons from the municipality of Solnhofen, who also assess and evaluate the finds. Scientifically significant finds remain with the landowner, while other finds that are released by the operator may be taken away. Seating and toilets are available, and drinks are available at the quarry hut. The hobby quarry is open from March to October and the necessary tools can be borrowed on site.
Delicacies from the Benedictine monastery in Solnhofen
The museum café in Solnhofen serves fresh natural sourdough bread and pastries baked according to traditional recipes in the nearby former Benedictine monastery. Whether you take a break with a traditional Franconian snack or opt for coffee and cake - here you will be spoilt with regional specialities. The café is located not far from the railway station on the opposite side of the river.
If you still have time now, you could continue your prehistoric discovery tour in Eichstätt. In addition to the Jura Museum, another speciality of the Altmühltal awaits you there, which is also indirectly linked to the fossil finds of the region. Simply get on the regional railway 16 in Solnhofen and travel to Eichstätt station. Change there and continue to Eichstätt Stadt.
Eichstätt Jurassic Museum: a window into prehistoric times
The Jura Museum Eichstätt, which is located on the Willibaldsburg castle high above the Altmühltal valley, is the second largest natural history museum in Bavaria and one of the most beautifully situated in Germany. The museum offers an impressive view of the region. The museum's main exhibition focuses on the fossils of the Solnhofen limestones, which were brought to light by intensive quarrying activities in the region.
The fossils allow visitors to travel back in time to a tropical island, reef and lagoon landscape around 150 million years old, which was populated by fish dinosaurs and crocodiles, coral fish and crustaceans, insects and pterosaurs. Particularly impressive are the specimens of the predatory dinosaur Juravenator and the only completely preserved specimen of the prehistoric bird Archaeopteryx, both of which were found in the region. The exhibition is complemented by show aquariums with reef corals, colourful coral fish and "living fossils", which bring to life the colourful variety of marine life from the Jurassic period.
The museum offers special birthday programmes for children. These range from the discovery of hidden castle corners to a dinosaur-themed birthday party and a voyage of discovery into the underwater world of the Jurassic Sea.
You can get to Willibaldsburg Castle from Eichstätt Stadt railway station by simply following Burgstraße eastwards for around 15 minutes.
From the Jura Museum to the Jura House
Now that you have already gained a deeper insight into the Jura Museum and its impressive collection of fossils, let's turn our attention to another extraordinary museum in Eichstätt, which is also closely linked to the Jurassic period and its geological features - the museum "Das Jurahaus".
The Jura Houses: unique in the Altmühl Valley
The Jura houses are an important part of the region's architectural heritage and reflect the natural landscape and available building materials. They have many unique features, including the characteristic limestone slab roof, which is formed from fossil-rich limestone slabs from the region. The term "Jurassic house" is derived from the Franconian Jurassic geological zone in which these houses were typically built.
These houses are characterised by a limestone slab roof and solid construction with thick walls, either made of quarrystone or half-timbered. They often have relatively small, square window openings, which nevertheless allow the rooms to be well lit.
"The Jura House" in Eichstätt as a living monument
The museum "Das Jurahaus" is located in one such Jurahaus at Rot-Kreuz-Gasse 17 in Eichstätt. The building itself is an exhibit in which numerous testimonies to the building's history are visible and explained. The museum also provides information on the features and history of the Jura houses. It is dedicated to researching and presenting a specific type of house that can be found along the Altmühltal and the neighbouring plateaus and side valleys between Oettingen and Regensburg as well as Berching and Ingolstadt.
The museum "Das Jurahaus" is located in the east of Eichstätt. You can reach the museum in about 15 minutes from the city railway station by crossing the Herzogsteg and following Gabrielistraße and Luitpoldstraße from the market square. On the way to the museum you will already pass one or two Jura houses. If you want to take a closer look at the houses, we also recommend the Eichstätt Jura House Trail, which criss-crosses Eichstätt and takes you past several exhibits.
Culinary delights in Eichstätt
Your thirst for knowledge is now quenched. But are you still hungry? Then you will find the Zum Gutmann pub not far from the Jura House Museum. It serves local specialities and its own Gutmann beer, in summer also in the idyllic beer garden with seating for 70. The culinary offerings are complemented by regular cabaret, music and theatre events.
Experience the fascination of fossils in the Altmühltal
The Altmühltal is a real Eldorado for all those who are fascinated by the world of dinosaurs and prehistoric times. Whether you are a passionate fossil hunter or simply looking for a unique experience - an expedition to the Altmühltal allows you to walk along the paths of bygone eras and marvel at the wonders of prehistoric times at close quarters. This experience becomes even more exciting when you can take home some fossils you have found yourself as unique souvenirs. Plan a relaxing day trip by train to the Altmühltal and don't miss out on this unique opportunity to discover the fascinating world of fossils up close.
Our tip: Please make sure to check your train connection and the expected capacity before you start your journey.