Imagine yourself sipping a chilled glass of wine on a sunny vineyard terrace, finding a Cinderella slipper on the steps of a fairytale palace, or wandering ancient cobbled streets with stunning views over the River Elbe. You can try all these and more in Saxony, formerly part of East Germany, if you base yourself in the cosmopolitan city of Dresden.
While we loved exploring the history and culture of Dresden, we also took some fabulous day trips from Dresden on our road trip through the Cultural Heart of Germany. Read on to discover the pretty Schloss Wackerbarth winery, the fairytale Schloss Moritzburg set on a lake and the charms of picturesque Meissen with its famous porcelain factory.
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Schloss Wackerbarth Winery
The charming Schloss Wackerbarth, just a 30 minute drive from Dresden, is a popular spot to visit, especially at the weekend. If you enjoy a glass of chilled white as we do, you’ll be pleased to know you can also get there by train, just in case you plan to enjoy the wine tasting opportunities to the full!
The tradition of wine growing in the Elbe valley of Saxony stretches back for 850 years, with the sunny south facing terraces creating a microclimate that’s a balmy 5 degrees warmer than the surrounding region.
In 1730 Count Wackerbarth, who was minister and best buddies with the pleasure loving Elector Augustus the Strong, built the pretty manor house that’s named after him, set amid the vineyards. The picturesque watch tower on the hill dates back to that time, perfectly placed to keep an eye out for thieves who could be deterred from stealing the grapes by throwing stones (ouch!).
Wine making in this area is all about quality rather than quantity and the 92 hectares of vineyards at Schloss Wackerbarth produce aromatic “cold climate” white wines, especially the elegant sparkling wines that appear at many a local wedding.
The winery is now owned and run by the state of Saxony as a happy blend of heritage attraction and gourmet destination. You can take a winery tour, wander around the grounds or just install yourself in the gasthaus restaurant for a pleasurable lunch with some wine tasting thrown in. We did all three and enjoyed it immensely!
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The weekend is a great time to visit Schloss Wackerbarth and we started our Sunday morning visit with a tour of the winery and gardens. Next to the herb garden, we saw the different grape varieties planted as a display, carefully trained on wires, with the bunches of grapes already starting to swell in anticipation of the harvest.
When it comes to vine growing, the stony volcanic soil around Schloss Wackerbarth is unexpectedly perfect. As guide Marjana explained,”Wine is like an athlete needs to be trained – if you treat it too well it will get lazy“.
Less is more when it comes to producing the best wines, so the vines are carefully pruned, leaving only 1-2 bunches of grapes to ripen. Fewer grapes concentrates the flavour and produces the top quality of wine for Schloss Wackerbarth.
At the weekend all was quiet in the state of the art winery, where presses that use an air pillow “no more than a handshake“, are used to press the grapes, without crushing the pips that could give a bitter flavour.
The wine is fermented in stainless steel vats and sometimes matured in oak barrels too, with different levels of toasting on the inside of the barrel to add a depth of flavour as the wine matures.
In the tasting room we sipped our way through a few of the wines; the 2018 Grau & Weissburgunder made from a Pinot Gris blend that had been stored in oak barrels for plum and pear flavours, and the single grape Kerner which is light, fruity and delicious to drink with Asian food.
Emerging into the sunshine from the winery, we took the opportunity to stroll around the vineyard and gardens before lunch. The terraced slopes lead up to a pretty pavillion, set out with tables for you to purchase a glass of wine and enjoy it amid the gorgeous scenery. There seemed to be plenty of locals who had made the trip from Dresden to do just that!
The Manor House at Schloss Wackerbarth is a popular venue for weddings and on Sundays you can book for the rather special buffet brunch (cost €40). From its first floor salon, you get a prime view to sip your wine from the balcony overlooking the vineyard terraces.
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We settled into the separate Gasthaus restaurant, which in summer offers delightful shady terraces to try the local Saxon dishes, with recommendations of the best Schloss Wackerbarth wine to accompany them.
I ordered the light quiche with courgette, tomato, feta cheese and a creamy olive dip while Guy tried the iced vegetable soup. Since we’d already thoroughly enjoyed our wine tasting and were driving, we stuck to grape juice and looked on rather enviously at those around us ordering glasses of pink iced rosé wine.
The winery is equally popular with locals, individual travellers and tour groups, and if you can’t resist buying a case or two of their wines, it can be shipped all over the world to greet you when you arrive home from your trip.
Information to visit Schloss Wackerbarth Winery
Schloss Wackerbarth Website | Shop open daily 10am – 6pm Restaurant open most days (check website before visiting) | Check out their seasonal events on the website | Free entry to shop with tasting bar and restaurant | Tours of Winery including wine tasting available on Sundays or by arrangement €12 | Vineyard hiking tours including wine tasting on Saturdays €26 | Address: Wackerbarthstr. 1 , Radebeul, Saxony, Germany
By Car: Schloss Wackerbarth is a 30 minute drive from Dresden. By Train: Take the S1 train from Dresden central station to Radebeul-Kötzschenbroda station and from there it’s a 15-20 minute walk to Schloss Wackerbarth. By Tram: Take Line 4 from Dresden Altmarkt to Radebeul Ost then change to line EV4 to Radebeul Schloss Wackerbarth
Visiting Schloss Moritzburg – the fairy tale palace on the lake
The fairy tale palace of Schloss Moritzburg set on a lake, is only 30 minutes drive from Dresden. It makes a great day trip if you want to enjoy the castle’s history, gardens and beautiful setting surrounded by water.
The palace was originally built as a hunting lodge by Duke Maurice (Moritz) of Saxony in the 16th century, but was rebuilt after 1723 by Elector Augustus the Strong (you’ll hear his name a lot in this area) as the Baroque palace we see today. The aim was not so much to build a residence to live in, but to create a pleasure palace that could be used for entertaining, banquets and lavish events.
The hunting lodge was built on a mound in the forest, but the fish ponds in the area were later extended to create the lake that surrounds the castle, giving it a fairytale look with the castle reflected in the water.
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The palace allowed Elector Augustus II the Strong to indulge his three passions of women, hunting and porcelain, with the opulent interiors and crystal chandeliers in the palace dating back to his era. Several times a year, hunting parties took place at Schloss Moritzburg, with hundreds of animals herded through a fenced area so that up to 600 deer might be shot in a single day – animal sensibilities in those days were clearly not what they are today!
Some of those deer probably ended up on the walls of the palace’s airy and open dining hall, decorated with 71 stag heads and other trophies, the largest of which has antlers with a span of 2 metres.
Augustus II was also an avid collector of the expensive porcelain that was imported from China, until a group of chemists and alchemists sponsored by the Elector discovered how to manufacture the porcelain and established the factory at nearby Meissen. Part of the porcelain collection of Elector Augustus II is on display at Schloss Moritzburg, with more on show in the Porcelain museum of the Zwinger palace in Dresden.
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The coloured leather wallcoverings that you’ll see throughout the palace, were the height of fashion in the 18th century and had to be imported from Italy and the Netherlands. These luxurious wall coverings were coated in silver leaf, burnished to create a metallic sheen, then stamped with patterns and painted, before being applied in squares to the walls.
The restoration of the leather wall coverings has shown that the leather was originally brightly coloured, in eye popping colours of bright yellow, turquoise blue and purple. In the time of Augustus the Strong it probably looked more like a Versace fashion atelier than the faded antique look we see today.
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Another extravagance of Augustus II was the feather bed which is on display at Schloss Moritzburg. Not, as I first thought, a mattress filled with feathers, but a four poster bed with canopy and curtains woven with a pattern of millions of coloured feathers. I know that sensibilities were different in those days, but I just couldn’t help feeling sorry for the all the birds!
The bed took 9 years to make and 19 years to restore as the feathers had to be cleaned in a water bath and individually blow dried. At that time the Elector’s bedchamber was a semi-public place, so the bed was designed to reflect wealth and prestige as the courtiers passed in and out of these rooms, rather than as a bed that Augustus II actually slept in.
The last member of the Saxon ruling house of Wettin to live at Schloss Moritzburg, was Prince Ernst Heinrich of Saxony. He was forced to flee the palace in 1945 as the Russian Red Army advanced and together with his sons, he buried 44 crates of the family treasure in the nearby forest.
Unfortunately it was found by the Russian Army, taken to Russia as spoils of war and is now on display in St Petersburg. The remaining three crates of treasure were buried more secretly, the disadvantage of this approach being that they were only found with metal detectors in 1996, but some of this silver is now on display at Schloss Moritzburg.
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After our tour of the state rooms of the palace, we strolled over the terraces overlooking the formal gardens behind the palace. Moritzburg castle was used as the setting in 1972 for a Czechoslovak/German film version of Cinderella and we found her metal slipper on the steps of the palace, just where it slipped from her foot as she rushed from the ball at the stroke of midnight. You might like to try it on yourself and see if you can win your handsome prince!
Our visit to Schloss Moritzburg took a couple of hours and finished just in time for a wonderful lunch in the palace restaurant, with a menu of Saxon Specialties and a delectable display of cakes. You should allow around half a day to see Schloss Moritzburg, the gardens and grounds, and it could easily be combined with half a day visiting the Schloss Wackerbarth winery, only 15 minutes drive away.
Information to visit Schloss Moritzburg
Schloss Moritzburg Website | Open daily 10am – 6pm (check website before visiting) | Adults €8 | Tours available in German with English Audioguide.
We found it was easiest to use a hire car for our day trips from Dresden, although you don’t need one in the city of Dresden itself. If using public transport, you can catch the Number 477 bus from Dresden Neustadt Station to Radeburg, stopping at Schloss Moritzburg. Check your public transport options from Dresden on the VVO Website.
You can also visit Schloss Moritzburg as part of an excursion on the narrow gauge steam locomotive Lößnitzgrundbahn which runs from Radebeul to Moritzburg several times a day.
Meissen town and Porcelain museum
Things to do in Meissen old town
Overlooking the River Elbe, the pretty Medieval town of Meissen sits on the hill with the cathedral and Albrechtsburg castle dominating the scene. It makes an ideal day trip from Dresden where you might spend half a day to look around the old town and another half a day to see the famous Meissen porcelain factory and museum, which is in the new town area.
Meissen grew up on the medieval trade routes at a crossing point of the river, and is known as “The cradle of Saxony” since it was the seat of the bishop and the capital of Saxony until 1464 when the capital moved to Dresden.
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We walked up through the cobbled streets to the pretty main square with its cafés and horse-drawn carriages, lined with houses with steeply pitched roofs that provided storage space for the merchants who lived there.
Just off the square, we passed the historic restaurant Vincenz Richter which is set in a Medieval guild house and is an atmospheric place to taste the local wines and dishes of Saxony.
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Our walk continued up the hill on a narrow cobbled street, past old houses with high walled gardens and intriguing archways, with glimpses down the hill towards the river.
Suddenly the square opened out and we came face to face with the twin spires of the Gothic Meissen Cathedral. Built in the 13th century, although the spires were added later in 1903, the cathedral sits alongside Albrechtsburg castle, its size restricted by the lack of space on the hilltop.
Highlights of the cathedral include the magnificent altarpiece of Lucas Cranach the elder, the painted rood screen that was preserved even when the cathedral became Lutheran and the lofty Prince’s chapel that houses the tombs of 13th century Saxon rulers. There’s also a curious baptismal font and pulpit, with cloven feet as if they were of the Devil himself.
When you are ready for a break after visiting the cathedral, you may like to investigate some of the café courtyards along one side of the square. With terraces overlooking the river they make a nice viewpoint to sit outside in fine weather.
Also on the hilltop is Albrechtsburg Castle, built in the 15th century by the Wettin family who ruled as Electors of Saxony, its vaulted stone roofs and architectural style considered innovations of its time. Look out for the large spiral staircase with curved steps around a filigree of central stonework that leads up and down through the castle, which is built on the steep side of the cliff.
Inside the castle, colourful murals on the wall tell the story of the rulers of Saxony. Sadly they are not original, but date back to the 19th century when anything Medieval was considered deeply romantic and fashionable.
Played out in these paintings you’ll see the life story of the two brothers Ernst and Albrecht of the Wettin family, who built the castle and jointly ruled over Saxony following the death of their father. They decided to divide their lands in 1485 under the Treaty of Leipzig, with Albrecht III receiving Meissen as part of his share – hence Albrechtsburg castle is named after him.
Albrechtsburg was also where Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony, established the Meissen Porcelain factory in 1710. The castle’s location by the river enabled easy transport of the raw materials, as well as secrecy for the process of manufacture of the luxurious and expensive porcelain, known as “white gold“.
In 1863 the porcelain manufacture was moved out of the castle rooms to the current location on the edge of town, and the castle rooms were restored to their current painted appearance.
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It seems a shame that so many people making a whistle stop tour of the region, only visit the Meissen Porcelain museum, without seeing the old town of Meissen. We’d highly recommend spending a few hours here and perhaps having lunch in one of the cafés with fine views before going on to see the porcelain museum.
Information to visit Meissen
By Car: Meissen is 40 minutes drive from Dresden. The old town on the hill is largely pedestrianised, so it’s best to find one of the car parks by the river or at the foot of the hill and then walk up into the old town. By Train: It’s around 40 mins by train from Dresden to Meissen Altstadt station then you can walk up the hill into the old town. More information on the Deutsche Bahn website By Bike: There’s a scenic bike ride along the river from Dresden to Meissen on the Elbe cycle path which takes around 1.5 hours each way. By Boat: You can take a full day tour from Dresden to Meissen on this Elbe river cruise.
Visiting the Meissen Porcelain Museum
The porcelain factory and museum is what brings most people to Meissen, the name Meissen being synonymous with luxury hand painted porcelain, the “white gold” that’s more of an artwork than an everyday object.
In the museum, we learned how the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger, under the sponsorship of Augustus the Strong, discovered the process of manufacturing the porcelain, which had previously been imported at huge expense from China.
Once perfected, the process of mixing the blend of kaolin and the high temperatures of firing, brought huge wealth to Meissen. In the 18th century, porcelain was highly sought after by the fashionable and wealthy, to use while consuming the exotic luxuries of tea, coffee and hot chocolate.
On show in the museum are all the variations of the famous blue cross swords that mark an original piece of Meissen, although they have been so much copied that you may need to be an expert to tell the real thing from the fake.
The displays throughout the museum trace the changing fashions of Meissen porcelain, from chinoiserie designs to the delicate hand painted florals and more recent collaborations with leading artists.
The tiny snowball blossoms used in one of the most popular designs are entirely pressed and finished by hand and you’ll see 8000 of them on the Meissen lady that greets you at the entrance, the tallest free standing sculpture of the Meissen Porcelain that’s been made.
While the working factory is not on view, you can take a fascinating tour through a series of workshops that demonstrate the process of making the porcelain.
We watched as the clay was turned on the potter’s wheel and then pressed into a mould to make an ornate fluted teacup, saw the blossoms being shaped individually by hand and the painting of the delicate designs on plates and cups that would go on to make a priceless dinner service.
After seeing such skill and artistry we understood why the Meissen porcelain is so sought after and expensive!
Even to become an apprentice in this work is competitive and it takes ten years to become truly skilled in the craft of moulding or painting the porcelain. The production continued through the time when Meissen was part of East Germany, when the luxury goods provided useful hard currency for the GDR and the employees could use the porcelain to boost their income. It’s always been considered a great honour locally to work at the Meissen porcelain factory.
The Meissen gift shop feels like walking through a museum, with all the famous designs on display, such as the popular blue onion pattern. I suspected that the lustrous and costly golden cups and coffee pots would be destined for the living room of some Middle Eastern princess. If your budget doesn’t stretch to the thousands of euros for some of these pieces, take a look at the outlet section of the gift shop, where you may find some more affordable souvenirs to take home, for your own little piece of Meissen luxury.
Information to visit the Meissen Porcelain Museum
Meissen Porcelain Museum website | Address: Talstraße 9, 01662 Meißen| Parking is available at the museum (cost a few euros) and it’s a 10 minute walk from the Meissen Altstadt station | Tickets: €10 – you can also book in advance here | Open daily except Christmas | Audio tours are available in 14 languages as well as guided tours by arrangement | There is a cafe at the museum
Where to stay in Dresden
As a base for our day trips from Dresden, we stayed at the modern and centrally located Innside by Melia hotel in Dresden, which is just a short distance from the Brühl Terrace and Frauenkirche.
Behind the unassuming facade, the 4 star hotel is built around an internal courtyard bringing light to the ground floor reception, bar and restaurant and providing an outdoor terrace to sit out in warm weather. You can also get some fabulous night time views of the Frauenkirche dome from the Twist Skybar on the 6th floor.
Our room was spacious and sleek, with neutral colours and touches of red in the modern furnishings and a great bathroom with shower. The buffet breakfast is served on the ground floor restaurant with a wide selection of dishes including some regional produce and Asian dishes.
There is an underground car park below the hotel which is quite small but places cannot be reserved, the cost is €24 per day. If there’s no space in the hotel’s car park, you can use a public underground car park right opposite the hotel, with a similar cost.
We liked the bustling, cosmopolitan air of this hotel which is a great base for both business and leisure and ideal if you are taking a short break in Dresden.
Visitor Information for your trip to Saxony in Germany
Guided Tours: Check out some of the fun tours available like this day trip to Moritzburg and Meissen for larger groups or this scavenger hunt of Moritzburg castle. You can take a day tour by boat from Dresden to Meissen on this Elbe River cruise.
Where is Saxony in Germany?
Saxony is one of the federal states of Germany, which between 1949 and re-unification in 1990, was part of the former GDR (East Germany). Saxony sits in the heart of Europe, with the states of Thuringia to the west, Bavaria to the south, Lower Saxony to the north and the Czech Republic to the east. With so many historic and cultural attractions in this part of Germany, Saxony and neighbouring Thuringia have become known as the Cultural Heart of Germany. You can see all the places we visited on the map below.
Getting to Saxony in Germany
The closest airport for international flights to Dresden are Dresden airport and Leipzig airport, with larger international airports being Prague, Berlin or Munich. We recommend Skyscanner to easily identify the best connections and cheapest deals.
A hire car is an excellent option for visiting places close to Dresden, giving you the option to easily reach all the main towns and attractions of Saxony. However, if you do not wish to drive, you can also use the efficient German train and bus network to get around. More information for train travel on the Deutsche Bahn website and for public transport options around Dresden on the VVO Website.
This article was sponsored* by The Cultural Heart of Germany, Thuringia Tourism and Visit Saxony who provided the 4 day trip and experiences mentioned.
* More info on my policies page