Looking for things to do in Dresden, Germany? No matter what time of year you’re visiting, here are my favorite attractions in this beautiful city.
After obtaining my freelancer’s visa in August, I immediately got to work planning my travels for the rest of the year. I knew for sure I wanted to stay in Germany for the holidays, because I’d heard that no one else does Christmas quite like the Germans (spoiler: it’s so true!). I asked all my Berlin friends for their recommendations on what to do in Germany around Christmastime. My stipulations were that I wanted to stay somewhat close to Berlin and I wanted to visit someplace that wasn’t crazy expensive.
Each friend’s suggestions differed slightly, but they all agreed on one thing: Dresden’s Christmas markets are unbeatable. I did a quick Google search and found out that Dresden is a quick two-hour train ride from Berlin, and that there are so many interesting things to do in Dresden. Sold! Within in an hour, I’d booked my train tickets and began planning my festive trip to this beautiful city.
I’ll share more about my amazing experience with the Christmas markets in a later post, but I first I wanted to jot down all of my favorite things to do in Dresden, Germany. I feel like Dresden doesn’t get enough love online, and I hope to remedy that today. Looking at the beautiful city today, you’d never know that Dresden was reduced to a pile of rubble in the 1945 fire bombings. The historic Old Town was largely rebuilt in the late ‘80s / early ‘90s, and Dresden’s old world charm has somehow been preserved.
If you find yourself traveling through Germany in the future, I can’t recommend Dresden enough! Two to three full days is enough time to see the main sights and soak up the beauty of this historic city. With all that said, let’s hop into my favorite things to do in Dresden!
Visit the Zwinger Palace
I’m starting this list of what to do in Dresden with my personal favorite activity — the Zwinger Palace. Built in the Baroque style, the Zwinger was once an exhibition hall and festival grounds for the Dresden court. It’s now home to three separate museums: the Porcelain Collection, the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon, and the Alte Meister art gallery. You can visit the museums individually or purchase a combined ticket to see all three in a day (which is what I recommend doing). The three museums are all on the smaller side, which I actually enjoyed since each is so niche (I mean, I love home wares, but I couldn’t spend more than a couple hours looking at porcelain plates).
In addition to the three museums, you can also access the ramparts. From there, you have a lovely view of the palace and can get away from the hustle and bustle of visitors in the gardens below. I should also note that the Zwinger is home to a Glockenspiel made from Meissen porcelain. It’s quite beautiful, and it plays different tunes throughout the day (you can see what tunes are played when here). It’s actually so nice to hear them play, and the whole palace goes quiet while everyone listens to the bells.
Give yourself half a day to visit the Zwinger. There’s no need to rush!
Visit the Residenzschloss
Much to my delight, Dresden is home to more than one palace! Once Dresden’s royal palace, the Residenzschloss is now home to — you guessed it — a museum. After being destroyed in World War II, the Residenzschloss has only just been rebuilt in recent years. In fact, during my visit I got to watch the throne room being repainted in painstaking detail. It was fascinating to see the space being refurbished to look as it would have before the bombing of Dresden. So often you visit old castles like this and wonder how artisans managed to create such lavish quarters, so it was a real treat to see the restoration of the Residenzschloss in progress. The entire restoration of the palace is set to be completed in 2024 and I definitely plan on visiting once everything’s finished to see how it all turned out!
The Residenzschloss houses quite a few collections, including an array of Medieval armor and weaponry, the “new green vault” (Dresden’s treasure trove of priceless artifacts), the Turkish chamber, and more. I visited during the workweek and got to the palace right when it opened, which gave me a couple hours of exploration all to myself. I highly recommend grabbing an audio guide from the front desk when you visit; it’s free of charge and goes into more detail about the artifacts on display than what’s written on the plaques.
Tour the Frauenkirche
Like much of Dresden, the famous Frauenkirche was completely destroyed in World War II and was a pile of rubble for decades. The rebuilding of the cathedral wasn’t begun until 1994 and was officially completed and consecrated in 2005. Looking at the baroque-style Frauenkirche today, you’d never know it wasn’t centuries old were it not for the smattering of soot-covered stones on its façade. In fact, if you look at the church closely you can tell which of the stones were recovered from the rubble that survived the bombs. And once inside the Frauenkirche, take a close look at the stunning interior. What initially appears to be priceless marble and stones is actually sandstone that’s been painted to look more expensive than it is. Clever, isn’t it?
If you speak German, definitely sign up for the hour-long tour of the church (to my knowledge, there are no tours led in English). You’ll learn lots more about the church’s history on the tour and will be allowed upstairs to get a better look at the altar. You can also pay to ascend the Frauenkirche’s dome — I recommend climbing the dome early in the morning or close to sunset so you see Dresden at its most beautiful.
Explore the Altstadt
Dresden’s Altstadt (Old Town) is small, but beautiful. Nestled in the Altstadt are the Zwinger palace and Residenzschloss, among other attractions. Take a stroll around the Neumarkt, which is where the Frauenkirche is located. Brühl’s Terrace is another landmark worth visiting. From this terrace, you can see the river Elbe winding past the city. If you’re lucky enough to visit Dresden during the holidays, much of the Altstadt is filled with Christmas markets from the end of November until the New Year. The Altstadt is easily explored on foot, but I recommend wearing sensible shoes since it’s all cobblestone.
Walk the Augustus Bridge
Dresden’s iconic Augustus Bridge connects the historic Altstadt with the more contemporary Neustadt. I walked this beautiful bridge every morning I was in Dresden and walked back over it after night had fallen to return to my hotel. No matter which direction you’re walking in, you’re bound to have a nice view. From the center of the bridge, you’ll have an unparalleled view of the city’s skyline, so definitely hug the side of the walkway to snap a few photos. Note that bikers and pedestrians must share the bridge, so make sure you don’t drift into the bike lane while you’re taking pictures.
Pop into the Dresden Cathedral
Auf Deutsch, this cathedral is called the katholische Hofkirche. Not to be confused with the Lutheran Frauenkirche I mentioned above, the Hofkirche is a Catholic cathedral that was built next to the Residenzschloss. King Augustus the Strong built the cathedral when he converted to Catholicism. Although his entire family were Lutherans (the predominant religion in Germany), Augustus the Strong agreed to become a Catholic so he could be crowned king of Poland, a Catholic nation. Although not as beautiful as the Frauenkirche, the Cathedral is still worth visiting.
Visit the Albertinum Museum
Need a break from historic sites and royal palaces? Spend a few hours at Dresden’s modern art museum, the Albertinum (aka the Galerie Neue Meister), instead. Its art dates back to the Romantic period and showcases a little bit of everything: paintings, photography, sculptures, and more. I visited the museum near closing time so I wasn’t able to see some of the exhibitions, but the ones I did see were lovely. I should also note that the building itself is beautiful, which makes your visit even more special.
Even More Things to Do in Dresden
As I mentioned above, this list showcases only my top picks for what to do in Dresden. However, there are a few more attractions worth mentioning. The following things to do in Dresden didn’t make it onto my shortlist either because they’re seasonal or I didn’t have time to properly explore them (I never recommend attractions I haven’t scouted out myself!). I wanted to mention them though in case you were short of things to do in Dresden:
- Christmas Markets — My whole reason for visiting Dresden in the first place was to see its famous Christmas markets (yes, there are many!). The markets really come alive once the sun has set, and they’re absolutely worth the hype. I loved the Neumarkt Christmas market by the Frauenkirche, and the large Striezelmarkt was also wonderful. A must if you’re visiting Dresden during the holidays!
- Großer Garten — I walked through the Großer Garten on my final day in Dresden, and I imagine it’s beautiful in the summer. There’s a mansion in the center of the park, which you may be able to tour (I’m not sure!), but it was under construction when I was there. If the weather’s nice and you need to rest your legs, the Großer Garten is a few minutes’ walk from the Altstadt.
- Semperoper — I’m so bummed I didn’t have time to tour Dresden’s famous opera house, because it is gorgeous on the outside. It’s next to the Zwinger palace, and you should walk past it at the very least just because it’s so beautiful.
- Neustadt — The newer section of Dresden, the Neustadt is supposed to have good restaurants and bars. The Japanese Palace is also located in the Neustadt, but I didn’t find its museum to be anything special.
- Procession of Princes — Formally known as the Fürstenzug, this elaborate mural was originally painted in the 1870s to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Wettin dynasty (Saxony’s ruling family). The mural is located between the Neumarkt and the Residenzschloss and is impossible to miss.
I hope you have a better idea of what you’d like to do in Dresden now! Its architecture, history, and beauty make it one of Germany’s most enchanting cities.
Tell me: What’s one place in Germany you’d like to visit?
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