Dresden is a city in eastern Germany and capital of the state of Saxony.
It is often referred to as “The Florence of the Elbe”, due to its many gorgeous architectonic monuments and its location along the Elbe river.
The cultural patrimony of the city together with the beauty of the surrounding Elbe Valley, which is itself a UNESCO World Heritage site, have made of Dresden a top destination not only in Germany but in Europe as well.
We visited Dresden during our Interrail trip through Europe, coming from Polish cities of Wroclaw and Krakow.
A SAD PAST
Sadly Dresden is also known for its unfortunate history.
It burned down in a vicious fire in 1491 and was destroyed by Prussians in 1760.
Above all it was chosen as a target by Allies forces in WWII and repeatedly hit during the infamous bombings of Dresden, from 13th to 15th February 1945. Over 90% of Dresden city centre was razed to the ground with incendiary bombs, and estimated figures of the number of dead range between 35,000-100,000 people.
The post-war industrial boom allowed to rebuild many of Dresden’s historic buildings. Today the city is a gem attracting visitors from all over the world.
Let’s see the best places to see in Dresden.
HOFKIRCHE – DRESDEN CATHEDRAL
Katholische Hofkirche is the most important Catholic church of Dresden and the city’s Cathedral. It is impossible to miss, in the very heart of the old town, just a few steps from the Elbe river. The large Schlossplatz (Castle Square) in front of it allows beautiful views over the Cathedral.
FURSTENZUG – PROCESSION OF PRINCES
Literally around the corner from the Cathedral, the Furstenzug is the largest porcelain artwork in the world, with an impressive length of 102 metres and height of 10 metres. It is an outdoors piece created on the external wall of the Stallhof (Stables Courtyard), depicting portraits of 35 dukes, princes and kings of the House of Wettin, which ruled Saxony for centuries.
The masterpiece was originally a mural, painted in 19th century.
23,000 porcelain tiles were later used in order to make the Procession of Princes waterproof.
TIP: the street in front of the Furstenzug is a pedestrian area. Take your time to walk up and down and admire the piece from different perspectives.
Heading on the same direction you’ll reach Neumarkt Square, dominated by Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady). This Lutheran church withstood the bombings of Dresden for two days, before eventually crumbling to the ground on 15th February 1945.
Reconstruction claims went on for decades until 1989, when fundraising and donations from Germany and beyond finally allowed the rebuilding project to come to life. The foundation stone was laid in 1994, and the new Frauenkirche was officially completed in 2005.
Despite being a contemporary church, it displays some materials belonging to the original building. The old stones darkened by the fire damage are in fact clearly visible, in contrast with the new brighter ones.
TIP: access to the church is free of charge, whereas the ticket to visit the dome costs 8€ (open daily). We strongly recommend to experience the ascent to the dome and enjoy the 360° views over Dresden. (see picture at the top of the post)
SEMPEROPER – DRESDEN OPERA HOUSE
Situated between the Elbe river and the Zwinger, Semperoper is another stunning attraction. The Opera House of Dresden is home to both the Saxon State Opera and Orchestra. Besides, the Semperoper Ballet performs here too.
The Zwinger is arguably the most famous building of Dresden.
Around year 1700 King Augustus the Strong, ruler of Saxony, returned from a journey to France, bewitched by the Palace of Versailles. So he ordered the construction of a likewise majestic mansion.
Initially the building had an open side towards Semperoper Square. Then the same architect of the Opera House enclosed the Zwinger later in 19th century, designing his Semper Gallery to fill the unoccupied area.
The Baroque palace suffered the same destiny like the other constructions of Dresden in 1945. However, it was restored rather quickly in the following years. Luckily its art collections were moved out and saved in time before the bombings.
Today the Zwinger hosts staging music and theatre performances, other than multiple museums. The most prestigious one is the Old Masters Picture Gallery, exhibiting works by Raphael, Correggio and Vermeer.
TIP: Access to the buildings and exhibitions requires a ticket, however it is free to walk on the terrace and within the courtyard.
Augustusbrücke links the old city to Dresden Neustadt, the new city. Crossing the bridge allows to reach the opposite bank of the Elbe, where nice green areas as Palaisgarten and Rosengarten are.
If you have more time to spend in Dresden, consider a visit to some interesting aspects of Neustadt. A good example is Kunsthofpassage, a series of quirky building facades, courtyards and shops. The new city also offers art galleries, museums, vintage shops and a wide choice of nightlife locations.
Brühlsche Terrasse or Bruhl’s Terrace is the best place where to relax in Dresden. With wide views over the river, the terrace features architectural elements as well as cafès and bars. Come here for a break during your visit.
STRIEZELMARKT CHRISTMAS MARKET
Dresden is worth a visit in any season, but it’s a particularly special place in Winter. Dresden’s Striezelmarkt is indeed considered the first authentic Christmas one-day-market in the world, dating back to 1434.
Nowadays the Striezelmarkt takes place every year from late November to early January in Altmarkt, the Old Market Square.
Thanks to its location in the middle of the Elbe Valley, Dresden is a perfect base for nature related trips and excursions. Some notable destinations are Saxon Switzerland National Park and the vineyards of Radebeul.
This ends our guide to the best places to see in Dresden, east Germany. To combine Dresden with other destinations nearby, check our blog posts about Berlin and Wroclaw.
We hope you enjoyed the read and have fun in Dresden!
WHERE TO STAY IN DRESDEN?
- Penck Hotel Dresden: modern design hotel, a 10-minute walk from Zwinger, good prices for a 4-star hotel;
- Cityherberge: multi purpose facility, 5 mins from city centre, suitable for every budget;
- you can pre-book all your stays with free cancellation in Dresden e in Germany here.
HOW TO GET AROUND?
- Dresden city centre is easy to explore on foot, all the main sights are nearby;
- There are two main train stations: Dresden Hauptbahnhof and Dresden Neustadt, each at about 10-minute-walk from the centre.
High speed and international trains leave from both stations, connecting directly main cities like Berlin, Frankfurt, Prague;
- Dresden Airport is 9 km’s from the city. S-bahn trains cost 2.40€ and take 15 minutes to city.
- Frauenkirche Dome: open daily 10am-6pm, adults 8€;
- Zwinger Royal Palace: 14€ (access to Zwinger terrace is free);
- Old Masters Gallery: will reopen on Feb. 29th 2020.
- Never leave home without a reliable travel insurance. Even if you trust yourself, you can’t always trust others. Better safe than sorry! Get your quote here.
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