When visiting Germany make sure you leave some time for Dresden. We know you probably hear this often about many places but…as you will see below there are tons of great things to do in Dresden.
Dresden lies along the Elbe River and is the second largest city in Germany’s Saxony state. Located on the Eastern border near the Czech Republic, Dresden is home to many famous sites including the Frauenkirche, Residenzschloss and the grand Zwinger Palace.
With roots dating back to the 12th Century, Dresden has been an important city in the history and development of Germany and modern Europe as it is known today. Built as a fortification town, Dresden has always been a city that needed to be on the defensive. Whether it was against attacks from Prussians or as a base during a successful battle in the Napoleonic wars, Dresden has played an important role throughout history.
During World War II, inner city Dresden was almost completely destroyed by military bombings, most notoriously by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Army Air Forces. Reported deaths were in the tens of thousands and were mostly women and children. The firebombing of Dresden goes down in history as one of the biggest massacres of our times. And yet, Dresden as a whole survived, and today it thrives.
While most people tend to see Dresden as a stopover city there is actually a lot to explore. A single day might not be enough to, and spending the night in Dresden while exploring Germany is not a bad idea at all, if you ask us.
Best Things to Do in Dresden
Dresden’s Old Town, or Altstadt, is where most of the historical sites are located including the Frauenkirche, Residenzschloss and the Zwinger Palace. Much of Old Town Dresden had to be rebuilt after the Allied bombings. As you’ll see in the pictures below, the results of the rebuild are absolutely stunning! Old Town Dresden itself warrants at least a few hours of walking around, and many more if you take time to enter museums, climb up into towers, look into churches, or sit out in one of the squares having a coffee.
Alternatively, across the Elbe River to the North, is the New Town, or Neustadt, which is home to the quirkier side of Dresden. Street art can be seen on almost every corner, and the famous Neustadt Market Hall, an indoor market filled with shops and restaurants is among the most popular attraction.
We’ll break this article up into two sections, one about the old town, and one about the new. We hope we will help you all discover the joys of both faces of Dresden!
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Things to Do in Altstad (Old Town) Dresden
The Frauenkirche and Neumarkt
The Church of Our Lady, or Frauenkirche, is an Evangelical-Lutheran Church in the heart of the city’s main square, the Neumarkt. You will inevitably find yourself in this square while exploring the relatively small Old Town. We highly recommend taking a seat in the square having a coffee or beer while you try to imagine what the last 80 years has been like for Dresden.
As for the church it was completely destroyed during WWII and was left as a memorial of the war for 50 years. The church, and the square itself, serve as a timeless reminder of the destruction of the city and how Dresden rebuilt itself in the years following the war.
The stunning Dresden’s Royal Palace, lies in the heart of the city, and is one of the oldest buildings in Dresden. It houses many other interesting sites including museums, an armory, and The Procession of Princes. Bombed during WWII, the palace was left roofless, but reconstruction began in the 1960s with an official reopening slated for September 2019.
We personally visited it, and it was absolutely worth while. Definitely one of the top things to do in Dresden, so don’t miss stepping inside during your trip!
The Grünes Gewölbe
Otherwise known as The Green Vault, Grünes Gewölbe has one of the largest collections of relics and treasures in the whole of Europe and visiting it is one of the best things to do in Dresden.
Split into the Historic and New Green Vaults, notable works include jewels from Russia along with the most valuable jewel, The Green Diamond. The museum is located on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the Residenzschloss.
The Procession of Princes is a 101 meter long mural that runs along the Stallhof (Stables) of the Residenzschloss and depicts the history of Saxony’s ruling family, the Wettins. The wall remained almost miraculously untouched from the War, and consists of over 23.000 Meissen porcelain tiles.
The names and dates of rule are marked along the length of this impressive mural. Have a stroll along its length when exploring Dresden.
Located on the other side of the Procession of Princes this street is pure eye candy. Once used for horse shows and jousting competitions its splendid alabaster arches now host cultural events. If you’re looking for a sweet Instagram photo in Dresden we reckon this is one of the most unique and picturesque streets to photograph.
Things to Do in Dresden – Explore The Zwinger and Its Garden
A baroque palace complex in the center of Dresden The Zwinger was , built in the 1100s. The complex includes an orangery, exhibition gallery, the Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments, and a festival arena.
The immaculate garden is home to fountains, lavish decorations and beautiful architecture. Spending some time walking and taking in the opulence of this complex is an absolute must-do when visiting Dresden. If you go on a nice sunny day you’ll feel like royalty yourself.
Galerie Alte Meister
The Old Masters Picture Gallery is housed in the Zwinger Palace’s Semper Gallery wing. With over 750 paintings by artists from all around Europe, the collection dates from the 15th to18th centuries and even features works by Italian Renaissance artist, Raphael.
For theater enthusiasts the Semperoper should be on the top of your list of things to do in Dresden. Whether is be a play, opera, musical or ballet, shows for all are on the docket at Dresden’s opera house.
The building itself is another marvel of architecture, and adds some serious weight to the impressive nature of Dresden’s Old Town. The statue of Dionysos atop the main entrance is spectacular to look upon in person.
The Albertinum is a modern art museum in the heart of Dresden. Works are from the 19th to 21st centuries and feature pieces and relics from famous German artists. As you can see in the picture above you can visit the museum itself, or sit outside underneath it’s grandiose presence and gaze out over the Elbe riverbank.
This open plaza is the perfect location for photographing the River Elbe. Additonally, across the river there is a clear view of the Neustadt.
Previously a private courtyard, deemed the “Balcony of Europe”, it has been opened up for the public to peruse and enjoy so be sure to take advantage and add it to your list of things to do in Dresden!
Dresden River Cruise
Cruise along the Elbe River and learn about the history of Dresden on a boat tour. This 1.5 hour river cruise takes passengers past significant landmarks and offers perfect views of the famous Loschwitz Bridge.
To enjoy a panoramic view of Dresden without the danger of extreme heights, the Panometer Dresden is the perfect compromise. Transported back in time, 360 degree views are projected of Dresden from 1945 until present day. Since Dresden was significantly destroyed during WWII, the panorama depicts the tragedy of the bombings and gives clarity to how the city has been rebuilt in the past 75 years.
Shopping in Dresden
Shopping in Dresden is some of the best in Central Europe with many malls and outlet stores. High-end fashion, sporting equipment, children’s clothing stores are a dime a dozen. You can find shopping opportunities on both sides of the river, if you as so inclined and there are streets lined with shops waiting for visitors. Many folks from neighboring Poland and Czech republic visit Dresden for shopping purposes, and if you may want to as well.
Things to Do in Neustadt (New Town) Dresden
While roaming the streets of the New Town, it may be difficult to try to find the Kunsthofpassage. Laying in what would otherwise be an unremarkable inner courtyard, this artistic and musical experience is a must-see and one of the best things to do in Dresden. An inner wall of the courtyard is covered in blue paint and affixed with metal pipes that play music as rainwater run through them. So for once, feel free to pray for rain while traveling!
Although not well known for its extensive nightlife, Dresden’s cocktail bars, clubs and dive bars are a noteworthy exclusion while exploring all the city has to offer. Most local clubs and local bars can be found on the North bank of the Elbe River in Neustadt.
A bold sight, that cannot be missed is the Golden Horseman. Located near the Neustadt Market, there is a significant statue emblazoned in gold leaf. The statue depicts Augustus the Strong, King of Poland, atop a rearing horse.
This is the shiniest statue we’ve seen to date, and it makes for a quirky attraction to stare at for a minute.
The center of Dresden’s New Town for food and shopping, Markthalle was constructed in 1899. Sadly, as the story goes for much of Dresden, the majority of the building was destroyed during WWII. It has been returned to its former glory, and reopened in 2000 with over 200 shops and restaurants.
Dresden’s Jewish Cemetery
The Jewish Cemetery of Dresden in the oldest in the Saxony region of Germany, dating back to 1751, is located in the residential part of Neustadt.
Things to Do in Dresden During the Offseason
It may seem that there aren’t as many things to do in Dresden during the offseason, but this is not the case. All of the same sites are open, including the following noteworthy additions.
Dresden Christmas Markets
Not only is it stunningly beautiful, but it is the oldest in Germany. Open from the end of November until the 24th of December, stalls pop up selling tiny trinkets and intricate ornaments. Sip on mulled wine, nibble on a sausage and admire the light display while browsing through the market.
If that strikes your fancy check out our article for more amazing Christmas markets in Germany!
Ice Skating in Palais Taschenberg
Each year, from the end of November through the end of January, an ice skating rink appears with festive decorations and illuminations to match in the inner courtyard of the Palais Taschenberg. Skate rentals and tickets can be purchased at the entrance. Enjoy a hot wine and a few laps around the rink to ring in the holiday season!
Winter sports in Altenburg
A 1.5 hour drive from Dresden, Altenburg, provides a plethora of winter sports activities – even apres-ski for those less athletically inclined. Spas, ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, hiking, cross-country skiing, tobogganing, and sleigh rides are among the options in Altenburg.
How to Get from Prague to Dresden
No matter the departure city in Europe, getting to Dresden is very convenient. While there is an international airport, many train and bus stations are located throughout the city.
When traveling to Dresden from Prague, it is possible to take the train or bus, both will arrive in less than 2 hours. In the direction of Prague to Dresden, there are buses that leave the UAN Florenc bus station or Hlavni Nadrazi, the main train station, every 1-2 hours. Return tickets can average around €25.00 Euro.
Alternatively, traveling from Prague to Dresden by train is also possible. Trains leave every 30 minutes – 1 hour from multiple stations around the city. Return ticket prices range from €20.00 to €60.00. The shortest trains take between two and two and a half hours.
By bus or by train, Dresden’s Hauptbahnhof, or main train station, will most likely be the final destination.
Where to Stay in Dresden
When choosing where to stay in Dresden, there are tons of options. From five-star hotels, to boutique hotels and hostels; there is something for everyone.
If you are looking for a place to stay, check out our article on the best hotels and hostels in Dresden, Germany, or have a look at a few choice selections below.
Hyperion Hotel Dresden Am Schloss
One option when staying in Dresden is the Hyperion Hotel Dresden Am Schloss, located in the heart of Altstadt. The Hyperion Hotel has a 9.3 rating on Booking.com and features a gym, spa and on-site restaurant. It is in the middle of everything and amazing sites, including the Residenzschloss and Fürstenzug, are steps away with other major shops and restaurants in close proximity.
Hotel Indigo Dresden – Wettiner Platz
Another option in Dresden is the Hotel Indigo Dresden – Wettiner Platz. More moderately priced, but still with a 9.2 rating on Booking.com, this boutique hotel is stylish yet practical, located just a few minutes from Dresden – Friedrichstadt train station and a few minutes from the heart of the Old Town.
With unique and individually designed rooms to suit every taste, the Hotel Indigo is a great choice and also includes a gym and daily breakfast.
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