Germany is so big and has so many wonderful cities to visit that sometimes really fantastic ones like Dresden are overlooked in favor of Hamburg, Berlin, and Munich. Dresden is the capital of the state of Saxony, largely rebuilt after World War II. But what has risen from the ashes is some of the most beautiful baroque architecture in Europe, along with all the makings of a hip and urban culture. In a day trip, this Dresden itinerary can help you see some of the most spectacular sights and some of the coolest spots in the city. But if you want to spend the night, you can easily extend this into a two-day trip.
Arriving at the train station
If you’re coming to Dresden on a day trip, you’ll most likely arrive by train or bus, which means you’ll be situated at the Dresden Hauptbahnhof. This point is easily connected to the parts of the city you’ll want to see by public transportation. However, the city center is small enough that it’s easily walkable, allowing you to take in more of Dresden outside of its picturesque historical center.
From the train station, you can take a walk down Prager Strasse, which connects the train station to the heart of Altstadt (Old Town). Here you’ll find plenty of shops, restaurants, and cafes to grab a bite. There are also a few sausage stands if you want to take your bratwurst on the go. The street is lined with modern architecture and sculpture before segueing into the older part of the city.
The highlights of Altstadt
The historical center of Dresden is sizable and if you want to enjoy every museum and site at a more relaxed pace, you should absolutely stretch this into an overnighter. However, if you’re content to just sightsee around the beautiful city or tour just one or two of the sights, then one day is plenty of time.
Though Dresden is known primarily for the domed Frauenkirche in Neumarkt Square, there are a handful of beautiful churches in central Dresden that are free to enter and a quick stop if you’re into religious architecture.
Kreuzkirche (Church of the Holy Cross) is the closest to the train station if you’re walking in the direction of the Elbe River. This Lutheran church was built in late Baroque style and is the largest church in Saxony. There are regular organ concerts as well as performances of the boys’ choir, which you can see the schedule for here. Since these are usually held in the evening, this is one good reason to extend your Dresden day trip into a two-day trip. If you’re not visiting for a concert, you can also pay to climb the tower to enjoy the observation deck. If you’re not in the mood for the 259 steps, you might get lucky and hear a little bit of the organ on any given afternoon outside of the scheduled shows.
Dresden’s Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) is truly not to be missed. If you only want to see one church in Dresden, visit this one. It sits in the heart of Altstadt with a large dome that is visible above the surrounding buildings. The inside of the church features a circular nave with several floors underneath the dome. The altarpiece and columns that line the nave feature light pastel colors that are brightened by the light filling the church. Like Kreuzkirche (but for a steeper price), you can walk up to the observation deck, which is 67 meters high.
Note that on weekdays, the church is typically closed from noon to 1 pm. Weekends are even trickier because the church may be closed for religious services and special events. So timing your visit here will be helpful.
Also known as Kathedrale Sanctissimae Trinitatis, the Dresden Cathedral (Katholische Hofkirche) is in a sweet spot of Old Town between Dresden Castle and the Dresden opera house (Semperoper) near the Elbe River. The location of this important cathedral was not an accident; it was built for the royals next door to attend religious services. Its massive exterior is made of sandstone which has since blackened, giving it an even more impressive facade. The interior of the cathedral is very simple, white and bright, with gold accented details. You might catch a free organ concert here as well. Dresden churches are nothing if not musical.
No Dresden itinerary is complete without a visit to Zwinger Palace, which was designed as a baroque setting for royal court festivities. The Zwinger buildings encase a large courtyard that showcases the beautiful architecture, sculpture, and gardens surrounding it. Each wall of the courtyard has an ornate gate to enter, the most beautiful of which is the Crown Gate.
Unfortunately, at the center of the garden, they’ve mounted a huge plastic dome which houses the Zwinger Xperience, a virtual reality attraction that’s supposed to send you back in time to experience your surroundings the way they looked in the 1700s. The idea is only mildly interesting and definitely cheapens the courtyard of the Zwinger, but it still shouldn’t keep you from seeing the Zwinger’s truly spectacular architecture. You can even download a free smartphone audio guide to hear more about the grounds. (Tip: These are available for a few of the gardens and parks in the city.)
Though the Zwinger gardens are free to enter, there is an entrance fee to visit the interior galleries. Inside, you’ll find the Old Masters Picture Gallery, the Porcelain Collection, and the Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments. Tickets can be purchased for the Old Masters gallery individually or for all of the exhibits as one ticket.
Dresden Castle (Residenzschloss) sits conveniently in the center of the city. Recently reconstructed after WWII, it features exterior architecture that is representative of various periods including Renaissance, neo-Renaissance, and of course, the very opulent Baroque style. Outside one of the walls of Stallhof courtyard, you can see the Furstenzug, a long tiled mural depicting the history of the Saxons. All the external architecture of the sizable castle is free to enjoy.
However, if you want to see the treasures and art kept within the walls of Dresden Castle, you’ll have to buy a ticket. The combined ticket permits entrance to some of the castle’s most interesting galleries and exhibitions including the Green Vault, the Giant Hall, and the Coin Cabinet. Precious historical objects are housed within the walls of the castle, including weaponry, costumes, jewelry, as well as art spanning three centuries. An audio guide is free with the price of the ticket. Because of time restrictions on a day trip, you should be prepared for all the exhibits at Dresden Castle to eat up a couple of hours of your day. I certainly wouldn’t do the interior of the castle and Zwinger Palace on the same day.
Bruhlschen Garten and terrace
For a nice break from the busy pedestrian streets of Dresden, the very scenic Bruhl’s Garden might be just the thing. The elevated terrace and park is one of the nicest and closest parks to the most beautiful buildings of city center. You can take a breather on a bench surrounded by colorful flowers as you overlook the river or the nearby buildings of the Academy of Fine Arts and the Albertinum, which is a modern art museum featuring German art from the 19th century onward, including paintings and sculpture.
Going over the Elbe to New Town
New Town (Neustadt) is split up into two sections, Innere Neustadt, which is closest to the Elbe River, and Aussere Neustadt, which is farther from the river. Though Old Town gets much of the tourist attention, I would suggest devoting a good bit of time to New Town. Perhaps the best reason to extend your day trip in Dresden is to enjoy the nightlife in Aussere Neustade, known as one of the best in Germany. If you wanted to stick around for longer than one day, this is definitely where I would recommend you spend the night.
Aside from eating, drinking, and enjoying the atmosphere and street art of cultural spaces like Kulturzentrum Scheune and the surrounding streets, there are a couple of tourist hot spots over in Neustadt that you won’t want to miss.
Crossing the Augustus Bridge
From Old Town, you can take the Augustus Bridge over to New Town on foot. Though trams also connect these two neighborhoods, walking across one of the bridges on foot at least in one direction can give you an opportunity to appreciate the views on either side, but particularly of Old Town. Just on the other side, you’ll be welcomed by the Golden Rider statue. Somehow this statue escaped destruction, so you’ll be looking at the original statue from the 18th century.
The Baroque Quarter
In the Baroque Quarter, you’ll find beautiful homes and buildings on streets lined with perfectly uniform trees. As opposed to the shops in Old Town, you’ll find less generic tourist souvenirs and more independent shops with some unique finds. This is where many local artisans sell their wares. You’ll also find beautiful parks where you can relax or beer gardens, like Augustusgarten, to stop by for a drink. The area is also full of contemporary art galleries. The neighborhood is basically the grown-up classy version of the hipster area of Aussere Neustade. The art is a little more contained to buildings as opposed to sprayed all over the walls.
Though it’s known primarily for the outdoor installation made up of funnels and pipes that play music when it rains, Kunsthofpassage (literally Art Courtyards), is made up of five interlocking courtyards that each have a different theme. The complex was designed to revitalize run-down areas of the city that had no real purpose. And now it’s an adorable little spot to shop for clothes, accessories, and sit down to have coffee or tea. So you should come for the rain wall, but stick around to buy fun postcards.
If you like cheese or dairy products in general, Pfund’s Dairy is a good place and stop and get some samples or pick up your favorite cheese to take to go. Pfund’s is known for its painted tile interior, which adorns the walls and ceiling of the shop. They also have a cafe and restaurant, but it does draw a lot of tourists, so don’t expect to linger here.
From Neustadt, you can take a tram that will take you back to Hauptbahnhof, so you don’t have to do a lot of planning to when you’re ready to leave Dresden.
Get the GPS-guided version of this and other Dresden guides on GPSmyCity here.