Which city to Visit: Leipzig or Dresden?
I wrote about our very short stay in Leipzig: Leipzig and the Worst Airbnb host in the World. We were barely in Leipzig for 24 hours. But it was enough to give us a pretty good feel of the city.
Dresden on the other hand is a city that I’ve been to twice now. I know it well.
If you have to compare the two cities or chose one over the other, you’re looking at two cities that are VERY different from each other. One of the common questions I see (they’re usually from people thinking of taking a 1 or 2 day trip from Berlin) is which city to visit: Leipzig or Dresden? The answer might depend on what you are looking for.
Leipzig is a city to live in. You see that right away. There are lots of restaurants and cafes, it’s young and vibrant. It’s a bit gritty compared to many German cities. But it is lively with a mix of both locals and tourists. It has a lot of shopping arcades in the center, some right next to Market Square and some of the city’s famous churches (Thomaskirche and Nicolaikirche). There is no definition between old town and new town, Leipzig feels like a real city. As far as tourist sights go, they probably won’t blow your socks away. They didn’t blow ours away. It’s not a place where you’ll walk around saying “wow”. On the other hand, Leipzig is known for its museums and music.
As I say, we weren’t in Leipzig for long. And our Airbnb experience (along with dreary weather) left us with a bad taste in our mouths. So maybe I’m biased in my opinion.
Our friend Patricia however has a much more favourable opinion of Leipzig: “It definitely has the vibe of a city that is making a comeback. They have excellent public transportation and the main train station is itself a destination. Their history is amazing. Napoleon was defeated there and the monument commemorating that event, The Monument to the Battle of the Nations, is one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. Even if you don’t like classical music – and I’m not really a fan – the city’s association with composers such as Bach and Mendelssohn are fascinating. It also has associations with famous writers including Faust and Schiller. Protests there in 1989 were instrumental in the downfall of communism. It’s a university town, which means young people and international students, both of which contribute to the great vibe. Lots of great shopping, restaurants, cafes and bars. Beautiful architecture, both old and new. Very affordable (for now) and has been rated the most livable city in Germany. I could easily live there. Oh, and they have fabulous Christmas markets!”
So there you go.
Accommodation in Leipzig
Top end: the gorgeous Steigenberger Grandhotel Handelshof Leipzig. Good value mid-range options: Best Western Plus Royal Suites or the Adina Apartment Hotel Leipzig (which has a small kitchen).
Dresden is almost the opposite of Leipzig. The city was totally decimated in World War II. Prior to that Dresden was called “the Florence on the Elbe” and was considered one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.
It has been largely restored and today it has a magnificent and spacious Old Town on the banks of the Elbe river. Its highlights are numerous and incredibly impressive. I wrote about them in my post 10 things to Do and See in Dresden. Dresden IS a place where you’ll walk around saying “Wow”.
However, unlike Leipzig, Dresden feels like an artificial city. The old town is like a living museum. It’s not a place where people live. Restaurants and cafés are there for tourists. Outside the old town you’ll find stores and Eastern European style apartment blocks. That’s where people live.
Accommodation in Dresden
We stayed at the Aparthotels Münzgasse An der Frauenkirche on our 2nd trip and we recommend it highly. Try to stay there if you can. On our first stay we were at Maritim Hotel Dresden: also nice with competitive pricing.
My thoughts on which to visit
If you’re looking to see “sights” then Dresden is the place to go. It’s very impressive. It’s not a big place though and after 2 visits (totalling 7 days) I’ve walked the same streets over and over. I don’t need to see Dresden again.
But if you’re looking for a lively German city then Leipzig would be the better choice. Although we were only there 24 hours, I saw lots of local and international restaurants as well as some great cafés. It had a cool, happening vibe. It’s a city I would come back to just to explore properly the 2nd time around.
Have you been to Leipzig and/or Dresden? Would love to hear your thoughts.
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Hi, I actually live close to Dresden, so I think I’m kind of biased, too 😉
But I live walking around the old town, I love the views going across the bridges, and the views from the castle or church towers. And I do go to some of the cafes in Old Town. But yes, as other people commented, there are more vibrant places in Neustadt.
Don’t forget the areas around dresden! Take the train or a boat tour to Meißen (old town&castle) , Radebeul (vineyards), Pillnitz (Castle grounds) or Saxon Switzerland (great hikes with small towns and impressive rock formations). I also love going to Moritzburg Castle.
Thank you Ela for the recommendations. We’ve tried going to Saxon Switzerland a few times from Prague and it always seemed too complicated. I know it’s easier from Dresden. Next time, I’ve been told it’s very special.
If you want a lively vibe in Dresden you need to cross the river towards the Neustadt, this is a great historic area with cafes parks lots of people etc. Nobody lives in the historic center, but there are lots of residential neighborhoods around with a lot going on maybe similar to Leipzig
Thanks Ben. Agree with that, we were there our first time around and just as you say.
When we were mapping our extended trip through Europe (by train) I sought the advice of the travel guru, Rick Steves, who posed the same question.. Leipzig or Dresden? We chose Dresden and we loved it. I agree with everything you say, it did have a Disneyesque vibe to it. I think what sealed the deal for us was the free walking tour we took. There were only 5 of us in the group and our guide was a walking history book so she told us about everything our eyes couldn’t see. Both of us are history buffs, so this was great for us. We spent 5 days in Dresden and while I probably wouldn’t go back, it wouldn’t be because I don’t think I’d enjoy a return visit, it’s more along the lines of there is always somewhere new to see. I have very nice memories of Dresden.
I was “very” surprised by Vienna. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t a fast-paced high end shopping mecca. Another 5 day stay that also included a day trip to Melk, which was probably our favorite day in the city. We enjoyed Vienna, but in our book it was just another big city and not somewhere we’d go again.
Thanks for the comment Patti.
Agree with everything you say about Dresden.
I also agree about Vienna which we found too sterile. I wrote a post about it comparing it to Beyonce (you know, the soulless eyes…). It was beautiful but ehhh. We actually took a daytrip to Bratislava which while not beautiful felt authentic.
Good to know you enjoyed Melk. The Austrian town we really liked was Reutte where we visited ruins in the mountains (about 20 minutes from popular Neuschwanstein). We have to see more of Austria though…
Robert f Barta
Also, with Dresden the neighborhoods to the east of the restored old town along the Elbe are pretty nice, Blasewitz and Loschwitz, many beautiful, renovated buildings that survived the bombings. Definetely worth seeing.
Thanks again Robert. Not familiar with those neighborhoods.
I must go to Dresden one day. I passed through it in 1999 and it was just covered in cranes and construction. Would like to see it now it’s restored!
It’s a beautiful place Andy. Though we saw a lot of cranes and construction on this visit as well (I think they spend the off season restoring…)
Thanks Frank. I like this kind of post. I’ve had similar thoughts recently. My wife and I start in “discovery mode” whenever we visit a new place. It is a bit tiring, but curiosity drives us. We almost always agree on the places that we will certainly return to stay for a longer period of “living mode.” Generally places with a lot of tourist attractions don’t make that list. For instance, we were happy to spend a week in Venice, but have zero interest in returning. But there are exceptions (e.g., Paris).
I am particularly interested in how context can change our perspective. For instance, I’ve been to Prague once and despite being in the shoulder season, the volume of tourists and kitsch left a bad taste. Yet, other people return again and again. On the other side of the coin, we met friends in Vienna and had an amazing time, but upon reflection, the city seems like a poor match to the places we typically enjoy.
Thanks for taking the time to comment TJ.
You’re very right about context. A touristy place isn’t necessarily a place you ever want to come back to and some “non-touristy”places make for great bases. We can appreciate both but with our lifestyle I’d say that we do appreciate a city to “live in” more than a place that has “amazing highlights”. I have to say though that I don’t agree with you about Prague because there is tons to see outside the very, very touristy center. I think on our last long-term stay we actually only crossed the Charles bridge once. It’s a place we come back to regularly because we get everything done there. But as far as the old town you are perfectly correct – it’s too much. We were just back a few weeks ago and it was crazy. Spoke to a friend who’s a tour guide in Prague and she said it’s gotten too much, locals don’t go to the old town anymore. And I totally agree with you about Vienna.
Always interesting to compare notes about places. And things change very quickly…
Re: Prague. I expected you to push back. 🙂 It’s an example of a city that I want to return to despite a negative first impression. Some friends of mine had a similar experience to yours. Heck, if people come to my city, Seattle, and see only the most touristy areas, they will have missed virtually all of what the locals love about this place.
thanks for helping keep our eyes and minds open
Ah, you’re from Seattle!
I’ll always defend Prague but I have to admit that we really didn’t enjoy our sightseeing into the old town on our last visit. Actually thought “I’ve been loving Prague so long on the blog that I’d hate people to come here and see Prague like this”. We’ve been there 7 times now, for a combined 7 months, and never felt that way about it.
And I’m in Split Croatia as I write this and I’m afraid we’re feeling the same way on a different level. Crazy prices, unfriendly locals, dirtiness…and very busy even in October.
Tourism ruins places.
So I always appreciate when people write who want to see more than just sights. And glad to know you enjoyed Paris, we want to finally get there (I was last there over 30 years ago…)
Thanks for the thoughtful comments TJ.