There is no such thing as "must see's". You cannot do everything in one trip, you have to decide among hundreds of options and miss at least 90% of them anyway.
How much time do you have? Are you planning to do this all in one day?
What I would do is Naumburg (cathedral), then drive via Unstrut valley (wine region), the Rosarium in Sangerhausen if you want something romantic, and through the Eastern part of the Harz mountains.
On the direct route (A14) isn't much to see, except Meißen, Leipzig, Halle and Bernburg. Meißen is clearly the best of them. Leipzig has no real highlights, but the compact old town is quite nice, the zoo is very popular, and the places connected to Bach deserve a visit. Halle is underrated. The old town is more diverse than the one of Leipzig, which was mostly rebuilt in the 19th century for the trade fairs. But Halle is also poorer, and that's visible. Bernburg is a small town with a beautiful Renaissance castle above the Saale river.
But as Blandine said, it would help to know how much time you have. You could also easily spend a week in the region if you don't follow the direct route.Edited: 4:02 am, July 06, 2013
If you had a week, I'd send you from Naumburg along the Saale, then over to the Elbe via Torgau, Wittenberg, Wörlitz Garden Realm.
And I agree about Halle. That city is full of treasures, although it takes a bit of 'digging' to find them.
Thanks everyone. We will be in Germany from early September to Early October. Have a campervan for 31 days. We will be kept on the move to take in as much of the unbelievable scenery as possible- we have some tough choices to make as every town we look up is a picture postcard.
Too many places, too little time - the usual problem. But with a full month to play with, you can fit in a lot.
If you follow Blandines advice and drive to Naumburg (highly recommended) you first cross a region (between Altenburg, Chemnitz and the A14) with several interesting castles, all a bit in the middle of nowhere and thus not overly crowded. The one you should definitely visit is Kriebstein castle, one of the best preserved and picturesque in Germany.
But I disagree with Naumburg followed by Torgau. That's a bit to much zigzagging if you ask me. Instead I would recommend either a Southern or Northern route. The Northern route would follow the Elbe: Meissen, Torgau, Wittenberg, Dessau-Wörlitz Garden Realm, Bernburg. A southern route could look this this: Freiberg, Kriebstein castle, Naumburg, maybe Weimar and Erfurt if you don't want to see them anyway, Southern part of the Harz mountains (Stolberg <- you will love this cute little town).
On the Southern end of the Harz mountains, in Bad Frankenhausen, is also the Peasants' War panorama (1722 m²!), a very unique panoramic painting. It was commissioned by the German Commies in the 70s to commemorate the Peasants' War. The Commies probably expected to get something in Socialist realism, instead they received a "theatrum mundi" of the era in a style more related to the Italian masters of the Renaissance or Dürer (click on the pic at the bottom):
I loved Meissen, a friend we stayed with in Chemnitz took us on a variety of day trips, and that was one of the many highlights, walking up the hill from the river there is a lovely old town, heading up to the amazing castle with a great history of porcelain ( who knew that would be so fascinating ?) , nice church, and of course, a lovely beer garden to relax overlooking those steep roofs. Beautiful.
Colditz - well maintained, deserted, arrange a tour guide for best experience; Dessau for the Bauhaus architecture - makes a change from romanesque cathedrals - and told the Junkers museum was good but did not see it; Leipzig was good too, especially if you like music as awesome and quiet museum there with loads of instruments. Halle also said to be good. We did not have enough time and intend to go back
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