Dresden is only two hours away from Berlin by train, but do try to find time to spend at least one night in this beautiful Saxon city. Here are 11 reasons why:
1. Altstadt (Old Town) and Brühlsche Terrasse
Until World War II, Dresden was considered one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Sadly, it was mostly destroyed by Allied bombing in 1945. However, the city has been carefully restored to its former glory.
Brühl’s Terrace is a half-kilometre stretch along the river Elbe, lined with beautiful buildings, including the Albertinum art museum. Once part of the old town wall, this was once parading ground for Dresden’s society, see and be seen. And it’s still an excellent spot for people-watching. The terrace is poetically named The Balcony of Europe, attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Also in the historic centre is Semperoper, Dresden’s lovely opera house.
2. Schloß Dresden
In the Old Town, you’ll also find Schloß Dresden, the former royal palace and home of Dresden’s many princes. This castle really needs at least half a day to cover, there are so many interesting exhibitions, perhaps most famously the Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault), the world’s largest treasure chamber, including Martin Luther’s signet ring and his drinking goblet. He preached to the Saxon royal court in the chapel here on many occasions.
I liked the Armoury, where you’ll find one of the world’s most valuable collection of medieval weapons. Inside the armoury is the Turkish Chamber with artworks from the Ottoman Empire, as well as a full nomad tent.
One of my favourite items at Schloss Dresden is this quirky ‘piano’. This is no mere clavichord, you see. This contains a sewing kit, a board game, a card game, toiletries, writing appliances, apothecary utensils, scientific instruments, various exotic objects and an ingeniously designed folding chair. This, my friends, was IKEA in 1628.
3. Fürstenzug (The Procession of Princes)
On the outer wall of the Stables Courtyard of Schloss Dresden, you’ll find a 102-metre long historical mural, painted on 23 000 porcelain tiles from Meissen, a panorama of the 35 rulers of Saxony from 1127 to 1904. The Procession of Princes is not a replica, as it survived the bombing. The people in charge of recreating the Old Town after World War II must have been very grateful for that.
Frauenkirche has Europe’s largest protestant cupola. It reminds me a bit of the Radcliffe Camera at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, one of my favourite buildings. In fact, Dresden is reminiscent of Oxford in many ways, there’s even a Bridge of Sighs.
After the bombing of Dresden, the ruin of Frauenkirche was left standing as a war memorial. The present-day church was built only after German Reunification. Frauenkirche looks like it might be a bit gloomy inside, but like so many German churches, it’s light and pretty in pink and gold. Can’t show you, unfortunately, as photos aren’t allowed inside. There’s a Luther memorial in front
The baroque palace complex Zwinger is one of the most photogenic spots in town, and that’s really saying something in Dresden. You’ll find the Old Masters Gallery here, as well as the Dresden Porcelain Collection and the Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments.
This gorgeous baroque fountain is part of Zwinger, but is a bit of a secret, in a ‘behind the courtyard, up a stair, down a stair’-sort of way. On a hot August day, this was an oasis.
6. Food, glorious food
Let’s talk food. And wine! Very close to the fountain is Alte Meister Café & Restaurant, where you can try delicious seasonal, local fare, excellent Saxon wines (the Grauburgunder Kabinette is now in serious competition with my all time favourite New Zealand whites), and where owner Kai-Marten Graul might sit down with you for a bit of conversation.
Top right: buffalo mozzarella with lemon-mint oil, grilled watermelon and grissini
Middle right: saddle of rabbit (no, I didn’t eat Peter Rabbit, but have it on good authority that it was tasty)
Bottom right: gurnard with cucumber curry and spicy rice
Bottom left: Mango and semoulina roulade with black cherries
Outside Dresden city centre
Let’s head out of town, to wine country and beyond. On the way, you’ll pass the infamous Waldschlößchenbrücke, the bridge that caused the Dresden-Elbe Valley to be stricken off UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
7. Schloss Wackerbarth
Wine! 10,000 bottles of Saxon delight! That’s what you’ll find at the baroque castle Schloss Wackerbarth, about 11 km from Dresden city centre. And you can sample the goodies, too! Did you know that the bottles of sparkling wine must not be shaken, but just gently rocked?
8. Schloss & Park Pillnitz
A little further out, about 15 km from Dresden, you’ll find Pillnitz Castle and Park. The castle complex here is beautiful, and the park is lovely for an afternoon walk. And there’s cake.
Cake, you ask? Why yes. I recommend trying the local speciality Eierschecke, a layer cake with apple, poppy seeds, and an eggy, creamy glazing. Goes very well with strong, black coffee.
Even further out, about 27 km, is the village of Meissen, the 1000-year-old cradle of Saxony. I suggest lunch in the very pretty Altstadt. Preferably with a glass of Saxon wine. Remember “If you want to find the truth in wine, you can’t give up after one glass.”
10. Albrechtsburg Castle
In the early 1700s, Meissen’s white gold (porcelain) was manufactured in Albrectsburg Castle. This late-Gothic castle is Germany’s oldest. Splendid views over Meissen and the River Elbe from here, and the castle halls are beautiful.
Also on castle hill, adjacent to Albrechtsburg, is Meissen Cathedral with its impressive and pretty interior.
11. Meissen Porcelain Factory
The world famous Meissen Porcelain Manufactory is the oldest of its kind in Europe. Everything is handmade by craftsmen. It is so interesting to watch the process – from a mass of clay-like substance to the most intricate works of art. The tiny details are especially intriguing, like the minuscule finger nails of a tiny angel.
I was particularly fascinated by the more unusual works of art, like porcelain paintings and pieces like this one.
Where to stay in Dresden
I stayed at Swissotel Dresden am Schloss, and will happily recommend this beautiful hotel. The old town location is perfect, just across the street from Dresden Castle. Large, lovely rooms with very comfortable beds. Also, I could have breakfast here every day – and I don’t even normally eat breakfast! Heaps of healthy, delicious choices: fruits, veg, eggs, birchermüsli, yoghurts, salmon, cheeses, breads, meats; lots made to order.
PS: Haven’t had enough of Martin Luther? Dresden University Library has a hand-written copy of his first lecture as a professor.