Dresden wasn’t what we expected. We were actually blown away by this pretty city.
First of all, it is much smaller than expected. The population is just over 500,000, that’s around the same population as Quebec City (just to put it in perspective for our Canadian readers). The center is also very compact with all the major sites concentrated in quite a small area. It’s a very easy city to visit. We spent 4 days there but could, had we pressed ourselves, seen Dresden in 2 full days. We were happy to spend the extra few day however as we found the city enjoyable and relaxing.
There are many things to see and do in Dresden. But here are our favorites.
10 things to see and do in Dresden:
Originally built in 1726-34, this church is considered the most important protestant Baroque church in Germany. The sandstone dome is the largest stone dome north of the Alps (approx 12 tons). Like most of Dresden, the church was destroyed in 1945 by Allied bombings. In 2005 (after 11 years of work) the reconstruction project was finished. Note that there is a tower that you can climb; but it will cost you 8 Euros (which I found expensive. Tip: you can climb the nearby Kreuzkirche for 3 Euros and have equally impressive views).
2. Brühl’s Terrace
Brühl’s Terrace (Brühlsche Terrasse) is nicknamed “The Balcony of Europe”. The promenade is lined by some of Dresden’s most beautiful buildings including the Royal Art Academy and the Albertinum Museum. You get great views of the river on one side (including where the steamers moor) as well as the Frauenkirche on the Old town side. Go to the western end of the Terrace for some incredible sunset views (see under 6 Schlossplatz).
3. Zwinger Palace
The Zwinger Palace is one of the finest examples of late Baroque architecture in Germany. Built between 1710 and 1728, the Zwinger was used for court festivities and tournaments. Today, the Baroque complex of pavilions, galleries and inner courtyards is home to museums, including the Old Masters Gallery, the Mathematical-Physical Salon (featuring historical clocks and astronomical instruments) and the Porcelain Collection (it holds the largest collection of Japanese porcelain outside Japan).
4. Semper Opera and Theatreplatz
Originally built in 1838, restoration of the Semper Opera was completed in 1985. It is known as one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world. Outside, in the Theatreplatz (Theater Square) is the statue of King Johann who was a fan of the arts and who translated Dante’s “Divine Comedy” into German. The Square has great views over of Dresden Cathedral (Cathedral of the Holy Trinity) as well as the Residenzschloss (Royal Palace) which are on the opposite site of the square from the opera house.
The Procession of Princes (Fürstenzug) depicts a parade of Saxonian princes, dukes, queens, scientists and soldiers and was commissioned to commemorate the 1000-year long reign of the Wettin dynasty. It is 330 feet long and is made out of 25,000 tiles. It is the largest porcelain picture in the world. The Fürstenzug might actually have been our highlight of the city, it is that impressive.
6. Schlossplatz (ie. “Castle” Square)
The Castle Square (Schlossplatz) is, in our opinion, Dresden’s most attractive square. It overlooks the Dresden Cathedral (Cathedral of the Holy Trinity) and the Residenzschloss (Royal Palace) on one side and leads to the Augustus Bridge on the other. The stairs on the eastern end of the square lead up to Brühl’s Terrace and a great viewpoint, especially as the sun is setting. Also leading off from the Schlossplatz is the Fürstenzug corridor.
7. Cross the Augustus Bridge
The Augustus Bridge is the most famous bridge across the River Elbe and connects the Old Town to the New Town. It was first mentioned in 1287 and is thus the oldest stone bridge north of the Alps. The Bridge located here today was built in 1907-1910 and was constructed to allow for shipping traffic (the original had 17 arches. Unless you had a canoe you might have had a hard time getting your boat through).
8. Walk through the Newtown (“Neustadt’)
The Neustadt does not have the architectural highlights of the Old Town – it is however peaceful, with a large tree-lined pedestrian street (Hauptsresse) with many small cafes and shops. You won’t see too many other tourists. See the Dreikönigskirche (church with another tower you can climb) and have a beer in the pretty biergarten below. Head back towards the river along Königstrasse (the most prestigious business address in Dresden) to the Japanese Palace (which has the State Museum of Ethnology). The Japanese Palace has an attractive promenade along the banks of the Elbe (continuation below).
9. Walk the banks of the Elbe
The Banks of the Elbe are very pretty from the Japanese Palace up to the Augustus Bridge. Residents of Dresden walk, have picnics, or ride their bikes along the path on this side of the river. There is also a Biergarten with great views on the river and the Old Town on the other side.
10. Take a river boat cruise
Take a boat trip on one of the historic paddle steamers on the river Elbe. There are all kinds of itineraries available including evening tours or tours down the river to the town of Meissen (where the porcelain for the Fürstenzug came from). They even go as far as Bad Schandau (about 6.5 hours one way).
We stayed at the Maritim Hotel Dresden: Pros: Great location, nice room, competitive pricing for Old Town location. Cons: Weak wifi (they want you to pay extra for higher speed), expensive mini bar/room service, maids who enter the room without knocking. Still, a 4 out of 5 and we would stay here again.
Getting here from Prague: 2 1/2 hours by train. Trains go Prague – Dresden every 2 hours.
Eating: Restaurants/bars at par with North American prices (ie. about double what we pay in Prague). Dresden quite an upscale destination and there are a lot of expensive food options. The basement floor of the Altstadt-Galerie has some great cheap eats as well as a large market where you can pick up wine/food supplies. We often made ourselves sandwiches in the room. Sometimes you just get tired of always eating out.
Have you been to Dresden? What did you think of it?
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