Jena was founded quite late, compared to its near neighbour villages, in the early 2nd millennium. Part of the State of Thuringia from its foundation in 1920 on, it was incorporated into the German Democratic Republic in 1949 and its district of Gera in 1952. Since 1990, the city of Jena has been a part of the Free State of Thuringia which is itself part of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Jena has one of the biggest universities in Germany and its ratio of students to the total of inhabitants may belong to the greatest in Germany, as there are 20,000 students at the university which was founded in 1558 and named after Friedrich Schiller in 1934. Additionally, there are some 4,500 students at the university of applied sciences (Fachhochschule), making one out of four citizens of Jena a student.
Goethe and Schiller, probably the two greatest German writers, lived in Jena as well as for example the biologist Ernst Haeckel, the physicians Ernst Abbe and Erwin Schrödinger and the philosopher Karl Marx.
Jena is also famous of its Carl Zeiss optics and the Schott glass factories. Still important to Jena, the number of workers drastically declined after Jena became part of capitalistic Germany.
There are two small airports in Altenburg (east of Jena) and Erfurt (west of Jena). Coming from far away you will probably arrive in Frankfurt. In any case coming from the west you can either take the train to Weimar by the Intercity Express and then get to the regional train to Jena or you can go by car via the highway straight towards Jena.
Jena is located directly at the north-south connection between Munich and Berlin with a stop in the Paradies-Bahnhof (literally paradise station, as the park it is located in is called Paradies). On the other hand you can jump on the west-east connection between Frankfurt and Leipzig in Weimar which is some kilometres away.
Jena is not far from the Hermsdorfer Kreuz where the A9 (E49/E51) from Berlin to Munich and the A4 (E40) from Frankfurt to Dresden cross. Just take the way towards Erfurt/Frankfurt and you'll reach Jena within minutes.
You can reach all important destinations by going. You can also use public transport (buses and tram) but public transport is not cheap in Jena. Look at the public transport company's homepage.
Holzmarkt (literally wood market) is a good point to start your tour through Jena. Go up Löbdergraben and turn towards Engelplatz (Post office). You'll see the Kulturhaus. Right next to it there is a small street in which you can find Schiller's garden house with an exhibition in it. By the way, Kulturhaus has great theatre. Leaving again towards Engelplatz and going straight towards Johannisplatz on the left you'll find GoetheGalerie, one of the greatest shopping malls in Jena. On the right the Anatomy Tower is on the right. Some metres ahead there is Ernst-Abbe-Platz which is meant to be the Campus of the university as the Mathematics, Law, Economy and some other departments (faculties) are located around the place. If you are on Johannisplatz, you'll see Johannisturm (John's Tower). Right next to it there is the Intershop Tower which is owned by a new economy company. At its bottom there is Neue Mitte, another great shopping mall. If you turn around you see Wagnergasse. Wagnergasse is the best location to have a rest in a restaurant. "Stilbruch" is known to be among the best restaurants in Jena. You can now go some metres up to Fürstengraben. If you go along Fürstengraben, after some metres you will see the Botanic Garden. It is absolutely worth going there. After passing the Thuringian University and State Library (on the left) you will see University Main Building (Universitätshauptgebäude) on the right. Turn right to the Schlossgasse and left towards Oberlauengasse. Go some metres through Oberlauengasse and then turn right towards Markt. On the great square you can see the old city hall. Eating here is not the worst idea. Take now the way towards Kollegiengasse. Here you can find where the university was actually founded. On the right there is Eichplatz. Now turn left towards Holzmarkt and your at the place where you started.
Take a look at GoetheGalerie or Neue Mitte. Here you can find almost anything you need.
Thuringian specialties are: Thüringer Rostbratwurst (Thuringian roaster sausage), Rostbrätel (roasted meat). You'll find more on the menu in Noll (Oberlauengasse), Stilbruch (Wagnergasse) and most other restaurants. As Jena is a student town and a town in the east of Germany prices are slightly lower than in West Germany.
There is a youth hostel (Jugendgästehaus) at Am Herrenberge 3.
Mid-range and splurge
There are lots of good hotels with reasonable prices. You will probably find something in the old town.
Although Germany's east is considered to be a bit more dangerous for people "looking foreign" this is not problem in Jena in general due to the high number of foreigners, especially foreign students, in Jena. Jena is among the towns with the highest ratio of foreigners in eastern Germany. So just take those measures you would normally take in the town you come from. Though, when using the tram in the night, the risk of encountering people you didn't want to encounter rises.
You have lots of possibilities to leave and see other towns like Weimar and Erfurt. Some more time away there are Dresden or Leipzig. People who like hiking or biking will enjoy travelling through Thuringia.
The city's homepage is http://www.jena.de.