I’m not sure what I expected of Dresden, a city that’s packed with cultural gems, a city that’s a poster child for the Baroque, a city that was largely destroyed in the Second World War. I knew that after the terrible fire storm inflicted by the English and American bombers, the city had been largely rebuilt to recreate it as before and that it was part of East Germany until reunification in 1990.
But I think I’d been expecting somewhere a bit smaller and more quaint, rather than the large, lively and exuberant city I found when we visited this summer. Our visit was part of a 4 day trip to explore the Cultural Heart of Germany, a driving tour through Thuringia and Saxony and we certainly packed in a lot on that trip! You won’t be short of things to do in Dresden, but if you only have a day to spare as we did, here’s what you might want to explore first.
Brühl’s Terrace in Dresden – views over the River Elbe
Our 1 day in Dresden began at our hotel INNSIDE by Melia, a stylish, modern hotel that’s well located close to the River Elbe that runs through the city. Just a short stroll from the hotel took us to the promenade known as Brühl’s Terrace, which overlooks the river and is lined with gorgeous Baroque buildings.
Known as The Balcony of Europe, it’s a great place for a stroll, to people watch and see the paddle steamers on the river, that offer boat trips starting from the river level below. The terrace is named after Count Heinrich von Brühl, who was chief adviser and great friend to the King of Saxony Augustus III. The minister had a palace built in this area in the 1730s and was subsequently given the whole terrace by the king, in recognition of his services to the crown.
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In the 19th century the terrace became a public promenade, with fountains and ornate buildings, running towards the Augustus Bridge, where a flight of steps takes you down into Castle Square.
From the crowds of people waiting to take their photograph, we concluded that the view from the terrace down the narrow street towards the Frauenkirche, must be one of the most popular instagram spots of Dresden, so we duly stopped to take the photo too.
If you’d like a guided tour to the old town of Dresden check out this Historical Walking Tour, which will give you information about the main cultural and historic sites.
The Albertinum modern art gallery in Dresden
At one end of Brühl’s Terrace, we popped in for a quick look at the inner courtyard of the Albertinum, a modern art museum that was built in the 1880s. The museum covers art from the Romantic period of the 1800s to the present day, and is especially known for the sculpture hall which includes The Thinker by Auguste Rodin.
The collection of New Masters includes well known names such as Monet, Gauguin and Van Gogh and many German painters in the Romantic, Impressionist and Expressionist style. Nearby, look out for the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, with a ridged glass dome that has a nickname of The Lemon Squeezer. Entrance to the Albertinum collection is €12 but you can go into the inner atrium without charge.
Fun fact: In 2002 the River Elbe rose 9 metres, flooding the ground floor of the museum. Luckily all the sculptures and artworks were saved, but the museum’s archives are now housed in the roof to prevent any future damage.
The Frauenkirche Dresden – symbol of rebirth.
Continuing down the steps from Brühl’s Terrace, our walk took us to the Frauenkirche, the Church of Our Lady, which is a powerful symbol of the city’s rebirth and one of the top things to see in Dresden. The church holds so many stories from the terrible Allied bombing in Dresden of February 1945, when people ran to shelter there, in the stone crypt of the church. Fortunately the church stood long enough for those inside to escape, but the heat of the firestorm caused the dome and walls to shatter leaving just a pile of rubble.
Looking at the church today I’d assumed that the church had been restored immediately after the war, but in fact for many years the remains of the church were left as a war memorial. It was only after German Reunification that resources became available to rebuild the church, allowing it to be reconstructed as closely as possible to the original at a cost of €180 million, with reopening in 2005.
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Best known of the churches in Dresden, the Frauenkirche presides over a busy Neumarkt square surrounded by Baroque buildings. In reality, many of these have been constructed in the last ten years, and their 18th and 19th century facades are restorations or copies of the originals, hiding modern apartments and offices with underground car parks.
Fun Fact: Take a look at the Frauenkirche exterior and you’ll see both dark and light stones. The dark stones are the original and the light stones are the from the new reconstruction – as you can see there’s not much of the original that remained.
The QF passage for some designer shopping
The square of the Frauenkirche is a great place to stop in a café and watch the world go by, or indulge in a spot of shopping if you have a taste for luxury and designer brands. To get a feel for how the old style facades are backed by more modern buildings, you can take a walk through the QF Passage where there are lots of designer fashion brands and we also enjoyed the bronze sculptures by Dresden based artist, Małgorzata Chodakowska.
Looking for a place to stay in Dresden? You can compare prices and book for hotels in Dresden here.
Coffee and a slice of Eierschecke cake
If you’re ready for a coffee, the elegant cafés that surround the Neumarkt square are an excellent location to stop and you’ll be in good company, as the people of Saxony are well known for their addiction to coffee. To taste a sweet Dresden specialty, look out for the Eierschecke cake, a popular baked cheesecake that’s made with layers of curd cheese and eggs, sometimes also flavoured with ground almonds, apple or raisins. The cake is found in lots of bakeries and cafes, but we were told that the small cafe Dresdner Kaffeestübchen (Salzgasse 8) right by our hotel makes one of the best!
Fun Fact: As testament to the taste for coffee in Saxony, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the Coffee Cantata, a short comic opera set in nearby Leipzig, which features a coffee loving heroine and her father who tries to prevent her indulging her coffee addiction.
Lunch at Kurfürstenschänke – for hearty Saxon dishes
If instead you’re ready for lunch and wondering where to eat in Dresden, we can recommend the traditional Saxon dishes offered by the historic restaurant Kurfürstenschänke, which is just behind the Frauenkirche (An der Frauenkirche 13). We ate there when we were in Dresden on their sunny outdoor terrace, watching the world go by in the Neumarkt square. For colder months they also have a cosy interior, with an atmospheric bar on the ground floor and a traditional dining room on the upper floors.
You can choose from a menu that’s full of Saxon specialties such as river perch, roast venison or hearty stews with dumplings, accompanied by local wines from the Elbe valley. If you’re more of a beer drinker, look out for the local Radeberger pilsner which is brewed locally – they also do brewery tours.
If you want to taste more of the food of Dresden, take this Dresden Food Walk tour around the old town with 6 different food and drink stops.
Stallhof of the Residenzschloss Palace in Dresden
The next stop on our walk through the old quarter or Altstadt of Dresden was the Stallhof or Stable Yard of them Residenzschloss Palace, used in the Middle Ages for jousting and tournaments. The courtyard still hosts many events and festivals and a Medieval themed Christmas market is held here during Advent. It’s a beautiful part of the palace to walk through, although what we see today is an elegant reconstruction of the original that was destroyed during the bombing of 1945.
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The Fürstenzug or Procession of Princes in Dresden
On the outside wall of the Stallhof as you walk down Augustusstrasse towards the palace, look up at the Fürstenzug mural that covers the wall above your head. This Procession of Princes shows a succession through the centuries of the rulers of Saxony and was originally painted in the 1870s to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Wettin dynasty. In the early 1900s, the painting was replaced with mosaic Meissen tiles to make it weatherproof and it was fortunately spared during the bombing of Dresden during WW2. You can follow the mural to see the names and figures of all the Electors, Dukes and Kings of Saxony from the 12th century until George of Saxony in the 1900s.
The Semperoper in Dresden
After taking a look in the Stallhof courtyard, we continued into the Theaterplatz which was full of market stalls for the Canaletto festival, so we couldn’t get a really good look at the Semperoper, an opera house and concert hall that’s another of Dresden’s landmark buildings. It’s an example of the Italian Renaissance style that was popular in the 1840s when it was built, although this is another building that was largely destroyed in the Dresden WW2 bombings and was reconstructed in 1985.
Even if you’re not attending a performance, you can take a guided tours of the Semperoper in German, English and other languages, or you can combine this with a tour of Dresden’s old quarter – you can book a skip the line ticket and guided tour of the Semperoper here or buy a ticket for the Semperoper and Old town tour here.
The Zwinger Dresden – Palace and Gardens
We were, however, able to walk up the steps to the rooftop terrace that overlooks the courtyard of the Zwinger Palace, another beautiful example of Dresden’s Baroque architecture and one of the top attractions of Dresden. You can walk freely into the courtyard of the palace with topiary, grass parterres and fountains, in keeping with the original purpose as an orangery and pleasure garden for the Royal court.
Looking for a place to stay in Dresden? You can compare prices and book for hotels in Dresden here.
Built in the Baroque style for Augustus the Strong, inspired by his visit to King Louis at Versailles, the Zwinger was inaugurated in 1719 for the marriage of the elector’s son Frederick August to the Hapsburg Emperor’s daughter Maria Josepha. If you’d like to know more about the Zwinger palace and gardens, you can download the free smartphone app to guide you around.
Fun fact: Keep an eye on the clock above the Glockenspiel Pavilion (shown behind me in the photo) as the Meissen porcelain bells chime every 15 minutes, with longer tunes at 10.15am, 2.15pm and 5.15pm – the melodies change each season and it was playing Mozart’s Magic Flute when we were there.
The palace buildings around the courtyard now house museums, including the Porcelain Collection, Old Masters Picture Gallery and Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments – Entry to the museums is from €6 or €12 for a combined ticket.
A chocolate stop at Camondas in Dresden
With all this sightseeing you may be ready for an afternoon break and we discovered the Camondas chocolate shop and museum on Schloßstraße 20, which is just behind the Residenzschloss palace. In summer they have a kiosk selling their famous chocolate ice cream as a block on a stick or in small tubs to take away. In winter you may prefer a hot chocolate with whipped cream, or a look around their small chocolate museum to get your chocolate fix.
Museums in Dresden
Dresden truly is a city of culture with numerous museums that showcase the historic heritage and art treasures of the rulers of Saxony. While we didn’t have enough time to visit them, culture lovers may want to finish their day in Dresden with a visit to some of the following museums in Dresden.
Top Tip: If you plan to visit a lot of museums, a Dresden City Card is a great way to get discounts and free admission into many tourist attractions.
Museums in the Zwinger Palace
Each of the museums in the palace is €6 to visit or €12 for a joint ticket covering them all.
Porcelain Collection – housing the collection of Augustus the Strong who was mad on the exquisite and luxurious porcelain that was initially imported from China but later made in the factory he founded at nearby Meissen. The galleries designed by architect Peter Martino show the collections on the walls rather than behind glass, allowing a close up look at the delicate porcelain.
Old Masters Picture Gallery – The works of the European Old Masters reflect the taste of the Saxon electors and many were hung in the apartments of the electoral residence palace, before Augustus the Strong set up his first picture gallery in the palace in 1718.
Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments – This collection of Augustus the Strong with telescopes, pocket watches and globes were the high tech inventions of the age, allowing mathematicians and astronomers to explore the big questions of the universe.
Museums in the Residenzschloss
A ticket for the Residenzschloss is €12 and covers the state apartments and museums with a free audio guide.
The Green Vault – The Residenzschloss was almost completely destroyed during the Dresden bombings of WW2 but the historic Green Vault was one part of the palace that survived. Named after the green walls of some of the rooms, this part of the palace houses the treasures of silver, gold and jewels, and entry is normally by timed ticket. At the time of writing, the Historic Green Vault is currently closed, although the New Green Vault which also holds many treasures is open.
Münzkabinett of Coin Cabinet – holds a collection of 3000 coins, medals, banknotes, bonds, and minting technology, telling the story of making coins in Saxony as a political message as well as a source of wealth.
Rüstkammer – shines with ornate armours, firearms, swords and sabres decorated with valuable metals, as well as with magnificent garments and riding gear from the collections of the Saxon dukes and electors.
Looking for a place to stay in Dresden? You can compare prices and book for hotels in Dresden here.
A Paddle Steamer boat trip on the River Elbe
If museums aren’t your thing, why not take to the river for a different perspective on Dresden? Did you know that Dresden is known for its paddlesteamers that have been built here since the 1830s, to take passengers up and down the River Elbe? We were in Dresden during the Canaletto festival in August, which offers music and street-markets around Dresden, including a section on the quayside of the river Elbe celebrating all things relating to steam engines and paddle steamers. The Dampferparade was taking place over the weekend with all the paddlesteamers decorated with flags, to create a parade along the river.
You don’t have to visit Dresden during the festival time to take a paddle steamer trip on the river, as there are many boat trips taking place throughout the day and evening, especially in summer. You can buy tickets or get information on timetables from the kiosk on the quayside below Brühl’s Terrace.
Visit the Christmas Market in Dresden
While the paddlesteamers are a great option in the warmer summer months, as winter approaches everyone’s looking forward to the Christmas Markets set in the beautiful market squares and courtyards of Dresden. The Dresden Striezelmarkt is set up from 24 November to 24 December until 9pm each day, so you can end your day in Dresden as dusk falls with a drink of gluhwein and a snack from the food stands, while browsing for crafts and Christmas gifts.
There are themed markets in multiple locations throughout the old town, including the picturesque courtyards of the Stallhof, which hosts a Medieval market, and the Residenzschloss courtyard where there’s a Romantic Christmas market.
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Dinner at Felix Restaurant in Dresden
To complete your day in Dresden, we can recommend Restaurant Felix, where we had dinner in the old town. This modern restaurant offers something different from the traditional German fare, with more refined dishes that change with the seasons. The highlight is the roof terrace location, with an outdoor bar where you can sit on a deckchair in summer, looking out over the Zwinger palace and main square.
Inside the decor is an eclectic mix of techno coloured lights and vintage style furniture covered in old coffee sacks. The menu nods towards Asian flavours, and I tried the raw marinated beef fillet with grilled Thai asparagus, peanut mayonnaise and ginger sorbet, while Guy ordered the flank of beef with corn textures. It was adventurous cuisine, a refreshing change from the pork and dumplings, and moderately priced considering the level of cooking and the setting. You may like to check out their Felix suites and their other restaurant in Leipzig.
Exploring the Neustadt of Dresden
As we had only a day in Dresden, we stayed on the Altstadt (Old Town) side of the river, where most of the major landmarks and tourist attractions are located. If you have more time or are looking for something different, you should walk across the bridge to explore the Neustadt (New Town) side of the river, which is still pretty old but has a more arty and creative vibe.
The Elbe floodplain on this side of the river is purposely left undeveloped and natural, so in summer you can relax here with a picnic and get some great photos looking back at the skyline of the Altstadt.
This is probably the cheaper side of the river for hotels, bars and restaurants and off the broad boulevard of Konigstrasse with its smart shops are many more indie boutiques and interesting shops. If you enjoy streetart, you’ll find lots of great examples in the Neustadt and some quirky buildings in the Kunsthofpassage, which features cute cafes and shops hidden within a colourful courtyard. Street art lovers will enjoy this Dresden Mural tour to see the best street art and wall paintings in Dresden.
Some day trips from Dresden
Dresden makes a great base for exploring more of this fascinating and historic region of Saxony, so if you have more time, why not stay a few days here and visit some of the interesting places nearby.
You can read about some of the day trips from Dresden that we enjoyed, including our trip to nearby Meissen which is easily reached by train from Dresden, the fairytale Moritzburg castle set on a lake and the delightful winery of Schloss Wackerbarth where you can taste the wines over an excellent lunch.
Another place I’d have loved to have visited to go hiking, was the Saxon Switzerland National Park that’s south east of Dresden, with its photogenic rocky peaks. If you don’t have a car, you can book this guided day hike through Saxon Switzerland including transfers from Dresden.
Where to stay in Dresden – INNSIDE by Melia
We spent two nights at the stylish and modern hotel INNSIDE by Melia, which makes a great base for sightseeing in Dresden. It’s well located just behind the Frauenkirche and close to the Bruhl’s terrace, so you can walk everywhere.
The unassuming facade, hides a 180 room hotel, with an internal courtyard bringing light to the ground floor reception, bar and restaurant. The courtyard also serves as an outdoor terrace where you can have breakfast, meals or drinks in warm weather. There are some fabulous night time views of the Frauenkirche dome from the Twist Skybar on the 6th floor.
If you’re driving as we were, the hotel has an underground car park which is quite small and places cannot be reserved but if it’s full there’s another underground public car park nearby, both costing €24 per day. Our bedroom at the 4 star INNSIDE by Melia was contemporary in neutral colours with flashes of colour and arty photos of local landmarks. The bathroom was filled with glass and marble, and a powerful shower.
The buffet breakfast is served on the ground floor restaurant with a wide selection of dishes including some regional produce and Asian dishes. Overall we found the hotel a very stylish and comfortable place to stay. More information on the INNSIDE by Melia Website.
To compare prices and book, you can check out more hotels in Dresden here.
Read More from articles this trip
Visitor Information for your trip to Dresden, Germany
Guided Tours: Check out some of the fun tours that are available in Dresden, such as this Hop on Hop off Bus tour, Scavenger Hunt through Historic Dresden or the Dresden Baroque Virtual Reality Experience.
Where is Dresden in Germany?
Dresden is the capital of Saxony, one of the federal states of Germany, which between 1949 and re-unification in 1990, was part of the former GDR (East Germany). Dresden sits in the heart of Europe close to Saxony’s other major town of Leipzig.
The state of Saxony is bordered by 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 these regions 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 Dresden in Germany
The closest airport for international flights to Dresden is Dresden airport or Leipzig airport, with larger international airports being Prague, Berlin or Munich. We recommend Skyscanner to easily identify the best connections and cheapest deals.
When staying in Dresden you do not need a car to see most things, since the main sights of the old town are within easy walking distance and many streets are pedestrianised. However, a hire car is an excellent option if you are taking a road trip and visiting places close to Dresden, giving you the option to easily reach all the main towns and attractions of Saxony.
If you prefer not 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.
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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
This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here