Striking Dresden is perhaps one of the most famous cities in Germany, and not only for its exciting regal past, but perhaps more somberly for its devastating destruction as a result of the carpet bombings during WW II, which destroyed more than 75% of this incredible city and brought the capital of Saxony to its knees.
Starting off life as a city in 1206, well over 800 years ago, Dresden was the lavish home to many Saxon’s King and Prince – including the legendary Augustus the Strong or August der Starke. Perched on the banks of the winding Elbe River, Dresden is heaving with an abundance of cultural icons and historic landmarks that brings some 10 million visitors annually to visit.
An eerie facet in and around the pulsating heart of the city is the remnants of some of the post war buildings, that have not as yet been restored and are still black and gloomy – a sober reminder of the devastation that the city faced, losing a documented 30,000 residents – the exact number still unknown today. But Dresden picked itself up and has spent decades rebuilding the city that now closely resembles its former regal glory.
One of the most distinctive rebuilt landmarks in the city that is an iconic symbol for peace is the Frauenkriche – painstakingly restored from ruin as a symbol of unity and reconciliation. With an astounding art collection and some of the world’s most breath taking panoramas, tourism is experiencing a boom, as people flock from all over the world to experience the sights and sounds of historic Dresden.
Best Time to Go to Dresden
The wonderful mild and moderate climate makes the city of Dresden perfect for visiting all year round, but during the summer months it is certainly very busy. There is something on right throughout the year, and every season has its own exciting line up; all you have to decide is how much money you are willing to spend and how many people you are willing to share the city with.
From May to October the city is heaving with people, the weather is great and peak season hits the city, along with the crowds and the high prices. Although it can get quite hot during the middle of summer, it’s worth braving the heat to experience the Dresden Museum Summer Night. Everything including the museums stay open all night and there are other events to be enjoyed over that time as well such as Stadfest in August in the Old Town.
Christmas is great: The snow is thick, the mood is festive, the mulled wine is flowing, the Christmas markets have arrived and the holiday season is in full swing. But if you like mild weather, lower prices and less people then fall and spring are your best times of the year to visit. The weather is moderate, most visitors have just left or are leaving and the hotel and flight prices take a nice dip, which will suit the traveler on a budget. Also it is nice not to have to stand in queues to see all of the attractions and get into historical sites as well.
Getting Around Dresden
Dresden is easy to get around by foot, bicycle or bus and tram and there is no need for visitors to hire cars, which can be a stressful way to navigate the city if you are just passing through. Old Town is easiest on foot and there are dedicated cycle paths all throughout the city and cycling is most certainly the fastest way to get around especially in gridlock traffic. But you should take care in the older sections of the city where there are cobblestones as they can be very slippery when it has been raining and uncomfortable to ride on in general.
If you are travelling some distance, you can pop your bike on the tram as you make your way through the city, just don’t forget to buy a separate ticket for your bicycle.
The Straßenbahn is a combination of local transport all rolled into one system – trams, busses and trains. It can be very busy during the day time, but after the rush hour and at night it is much quieter, making it the perfect mode of transport if you are going out for dinner or the evening. Its good value for money and if you are traveling with your family you can get a Family Day Ticket that will take you all around the places in the city that you wish to see up until 4am the following day.
If you are after a little bit of romance or something different, you can hop on a horse-drawn carriage which will take you on a tour around the city. Or book a biketaxi, which is great for a short distance, but you can also book guided tours with them as well, which is one exciting option to see the sights of the city.
Major Attractions and Sights
Dresden is not called the Florence at the Elbe for nothing. This city gem owes much of its glory to its gorgeous location on the banks of the Elbe River, as well as its abundance of stunning architectural feats of genius, fascinating museums and elegant air of Baroque romance felt everywhere. Many of the highlights are within walking distance of each other, which is great for any visitor doing a self-guided tour of the city.
Frauenkirche : The Church of Our Lady has a poignant past that all started with WW II. When the city was under attack, the Church was part of the almost 80% of the city that was completely destroyed by bombs. The majestic old dame was crushed, collapsing into a heap of debris some 42 feet high, during one catastrophic air raid attack on the city. And what is even more heartbreaking is that the grand lady stayed that way for some 50 years, until private financiers from all over the world started contributing money to rebuild what is now an iconic landmark of international peace in Dresden.
The Semper Opera is one of those unforgettable venues and also sadly one of those structures that were totally destroyed by the air raids in 1945. It too has been beautifully restored and was re-opened in 1985 with a moving performance – exactly the same one that was performed just before the theatre was bombed.
Brühl’s Terrace (Brühlsche Terrasse) is located between the Old Town and the River Elbe and was once part of the city’s original embankment until it was made to be the Royal Palace garden. Bordered by 4 monumental bronze statues, the majestic staircase will bring you to the top where you can walk along the boardwalk of the Balcony of Europe.
The Green Vault or Grünes Gewölbe, can be found in the treasure chamber of the Dresden Palace. Commissioned by August the Strong, the 18th century treasure trove is filled with ivory, bronze, gems, silver, amber, opulent artworks, gold and enamel. Here you will also be able to see the biggest green diamond on the planet.
The Zwinger Palace was built in the early to mid-1700s and was a fine venue for tournaments and festivities hosted by the royal court. Probably one of the most magnificent specimens of the romantic Baroque architecture in all of Germany, the complex now houses some of the world’s most famous museums, such as the Old Masters Gallery. Explore the galleries, sweeping pavilions and secluded courtyards.
Pfund Molkere – Pfund’s Dairy is in the Guinness Book of Records as holding the title of the most beautiful milk store in the world. Having gone from strength to strength since being opened by the Pfund brothers in the late 1800s, it is ornately decorated in opulent inlaid hand-painted porcelain tiles that line the shop from floor to ceiling in a true neo- Renaissance feast. Make sure you try their fresh buttermilk, homemade ice cream and cheese.
The Albertinum Museum is a stunning fine art exhibition showcasing masters like Monet, Degas and van Gogh. There is a comprehensive collection of sculptures and paintings from the 19th and 20th century.
The Procession of Princes (Fürstenzug) is a colossal porcelain mural, in fact the biggest of its kind in the world. Portraying a parade of princes and dukes from Saxony, the mural commemorates the Wettin empire reign of some 1000 years. Made from some 25,000 Meissen tiles, the mural is a whopping 330 feet long.
Shopping in Dresden
There are loads of shopping opportunities in Dresden, even though many of the places are still undergoing some reconstruction. The area of Altmarkt in the historic centre is a great place to be, and there are plenty of sidewalk cafes and restaurants to enjoy a good cup of coffee and a nice meal while waiting for the markets to open, or after they have closed.
Extending all the way from Ferdinandplatz to Wildsdruffer Straße, there is just about everything you could possibly want from groceries, big department stores, cinemas, cafes, restaurants, bars, some boutiques, clothing and specialty stores.
If you are looking for vintage markets, bargains, books and bric-a-brac, you should head out of Alberplatz to Äußere Neustadt. The high end stores with big name brands and exclusive price tags are located more on the Innere Neustadt side between Elbe and Albertplatz.
Eating Out in Dresden
If you have a love of food, then Dresden will not disappoint. The local cuisine is full of rich, hearty dishes; comfort food at its best. Sweet potato pancakes, marinated beef, eierschecke – a rich German cheesecake, plenty of German beer and lots of sweet pastries. The city is full of modern eateries, offering menus from the classic and traditional right through the modern and international palate. Christmas time in Dresden is a real treat with all sorts of traditional Christmas dishes coming out of the woodwork, accompanied by much mulled wine and cheer.
High tourist sections of the city like the region around Frauenkirche are going to be expensive for food, and you would be better off for both your pocket and your palate, to head down to the northern bank of the Elbe and Blaues Wunder for good food and good prices.
Look out for the doner kebab which can be picked up at many restaurants cafes and sidewalk markets – a delicious kebab served with salad and sauce in pita bread including sold by Arabian restaurants.
Make sure you make a turn at Lila Sosse, tucked away in the Kunsthofpassage. Cozy, quaint and welcoming, the atmosphere is warm and friendly, the surroundings homely, the food is great German cuisine and all served in jars, making you feel like an old friend and less like a tourist.
Planwirtschaft is another one of those relaxed places to hang out, chill out, grab a beer and a bite to eat and loll around under the leafy trees in the summertime.
Nightlife in Dresden
Dresden is the party animal’s enthusiastic playground and no matter what your party style, Dresden has it all. Fancy a leisurely evening at a biergarten or an elite wine bar, or a place to groove the night away to R & B tunes, click your heels up a bit at a salsa club, go out for a boy’s night at a traditional German pub or hang out with the slick people at trendy cocktails bars? Nobody will leave the city disappointed, there is something for everyone. Steamy clubs that have all night parties till dawn with every possible genre of music makes Dresden the ultimate party destination.
Katy’s Garage is the perfect place to chill out in the beer garden when the weather is nice and then just move into their own rock music nightclub after 10pm. When you have been partying all night and are looking for something to line the stomach or you are on your way out and looking for some party cocktails, then head to Café Europa. They are open 23 hours a day and have the perfect post-party breakfast on the menu.
Of Local Interest
Every year in August, the Stadfest is the biggest cultural, artistic and music festival held all over the city. With performances being held on 4 different stages and operating in more than 16 different areas, the city is flooded with over half a million visitors for this weekend event. The Old Town venues make the concerts and venues so much more special.
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