15 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Dresden
Dresden, about 30 kilometers north of the border with the Czech Republic, lies in a wide basin in the upper Elbe valley that's long been popular as a place of settlement due to its beautiful setting, agreeable climate, and location on important trade routes. After being reduced to rubble in WWII and after decades of stagnation under communist rule, the city has risen like a Phoenix out of the ashes and today boasts a vibrant cultural and entertainment scene. Most of its wonderful architectural landmarks - many associated with the city's long history as the royal residence of the Saxon Kings - have been returned to their former glory, allowing Dresden to reclaim its title as the "Jewel Box," a name bestowed upon it due to its beautiful Rococo and Baroque city center.
See also: Where to Stay in Dresden
1 Editor's Pick Dresden Frauenkirche
Dresden's spectacular Frauenkirche is one of the most remarkable reconstruction projects ever to have taken place in Germany, if not the world. Completed in 1743, the spectacular Baroque original was considered one of the most beautiful churches in Europe. After its destruction during allied bombing in 1945, the ruins of the old building were catalogued and stored for use in its reconstruction. After the reunification of Germany in 1990, plans to rebuild developed rapidly, and when it reopened in 2005, nearly 4,000 original stones had been included. Topping it all - and as a symbol of international goodwill - was a gold cross provided by Great Britain, whose bombers had wrought much of the devastation. A highlight of a visit is the ascent to the top of the Dome with its wonderful views of the richly decorated interior as well as over the Neumarkt, the city's main square. The cathedral also hosts 180 concerts and musical events each year and has an exhibition hall detailing the reconstruction project. Guided tours are available.
Address: Georg-Treu-Platz 3, 01067 Dresden
2 Zwinger mit Semperbau
The Zwinger - a museum complex housed in a magnificent early 18th-century palace - is one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Germany. Aside from its impressive architecture, the Zwinger is famous for its Dresden Porcelain Collection, the scientific instruments on display in the Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments, and the magnificent art collections housed in the Old Masters Picture Gallery. The Zwinger itself is notable for its extraordinary variety and magnificence of form: the majestic 32-bayed Long Gallery on the south side, the four symmetrically arranged pavilions on the east and west sides, the Wallpavillon, and the Nymphenbad (Bath of the Nymphs) with its graceful fountains and mythological female figures. Other highlights include the Zoological Museum, and the Historical Museum with its displays of weapons from the 15th - 18th centuries.
Address: Sophienstraße, 01067 Dresden
3 Theaterplatz and the Semperoper
Dresden's Theaterplatz, one of Germany's finest public squares, is home to numerous architectural wonders. In the center stands an equestrian statue from 1883 of King John, while the west side is dominated by the magnificent Semperoper, the city's opera house. Built in the style of the Italian High Renaissance, the building can be explored on a guided tour (better still, try to catch a performance). At the southeast corner stands the Altstädter Wache, the Old Town Guard-House, built in 1831 and modeled on the famous Guardhouse in Berlin, while to the southeast is the Taschenbergpalais, a Baroque palace dating from 1711.
Address: Theaterplatz 2, 01067 Dresden
4 The Catholic Court Church
The Hofkirche of Dresden - the Catholic Court Church - was completed in 1755 and raised to cathedral status in 1980. Standing at the end of the bridge over the River Elbe, the church was built in Italian High Baroque style and was fully restored after the war. By far its most striking features are its 85.5-meter-high tower and the 78 statues in niches and on the balustrades. Notable interior features are the processional ambulatories, a magnificently carved pulpit from 1722, the altarpiece of the Ascension from 1751, and the Silbermann organ from 1753. In four burial vaults are the remains of many kings and princes of Saxony, and an urn contains the heart of Augustus the Strong (his body was buried in Krakow). Another church of note is the twin-towered Christuskirche, dating from 1903 and the purest example of Art Nouveau architecture in Dresden.
Address: Schloßstraße 24, 01067 Dresden
5 The Georgentor and the Procession of Princes
The Georgentor, or Georgenbau, was the original city exit to the Elbe Bridge and the first of the city's many Renaissance buildings. On the west side is a doorway from the original building with its rich sculptural decoration, including an equestrian statue of Duke George. Also of interest is the Langer Gang, a long wing linking the Georgenbau with the Johanneum that was built in 1591. Along its inner side is a long Tuscan-style arcade with 22 rounded arches leading to the Court Stables. Its most important attraction, however, is the famous Fürstenzug - the Procession of Princes - a 101-meter-long portrait of the Dukes, Electors, and Kings of the house of Wettin, together with leading German figures from the arts and sciences. Commissioned in 1870, it consists of 24,000 porcelain tiles.
Address: Schloßstraße 1, 01067 Dresden
6 Dresden Transport Museum
In the Johanneum, one of the oldest buildings in Dresden's Neumarkt - the same square as the city's famous cathedral - is the Transport Museum, or Verkehrsmuseum. This excellent museum contains numerous historic vehicles including aircraft, steam engines, cars, and motorbikes, as well as many artifacts related to the country's railroads, urban transport, and shipping. The museum also boasts numerous scale models reflecting the history of transportation through the ages. Nearby is the Peace Fountain, as well as the Bundeswehr Military History Museum, the museum of the German armed forces.
Address: Augustusstraße 1, 01067 Dresden
7 Brühl's Terrace
No trip to Dresden is complete without a visit to Brühl's Terrace, or Brühlsche Terrasse, also known as the "Balcony of Europe." Best approached from the Schlossplatz by a broad flight of steps, this area on the site of the old city ramparts was laid out in 1738 as a private garden (it opened to the public in 1814). Of note are the sculptured groups on the staircase representing morning, noon, evening, and night. Of the original layout, the sole survivor is the Dolphin Fountain from 1749. Also of interest is the College of Art, built in 1894, and the Moritz Monument, Dresden's oldest surviving monument, erected in 1553. Finally, be sure to check out the Terrassenufer on the banks of the Elbe, the main landing stage for boats.
Address: Georg-Treu-Platz 1, 01067 Dresden
8 Albertinum and the Dresden State Art Collections
Built between 1884 and 1887, the Albertinum is as spectacular as the world-class art collection it houses. The museum is best known for its impressive New Masters Gallery with its rich collection of works of the Romantic and Realist periods, as well as French, Polish, Romanian, Hungarian, and Belgian paintings of the 19th century, and German Impressionists and Expressionists. Other highlights are the Sculpture Collection, including examples from Egypt and western Asia as well as Greek, Roman, and Etruscan work.
Address: Skulpturensammlung, Albertinum Tzschirnerplatz 2, D-01067 Dresden
9 Dresden Residential Castle and Museums
Dresden Castle was for almost 400 years the official home of Saxony's electors and kings. These days, the former palace is part of the Dresden State Art Collections, an excellent museum complex that contains some of the city's leading attractions, including the Green Vault, or Grünes Gewölbe, named after the original home of the collection founded by Augustus the Strong. This superb collection includes gold, silver, jewelry, and ivory from the 14th to 18th centuries. Another important collection is the Numismatic Cabinet with more than 200,000 medals and seals, as well as examples of every coin minted in Saxony. Other highlights are the Print Cabinet, a collection of graphic art and drawings including watercolors and pastels by European artists from the 15th century onwards; the Dresden Armory, with a large collection of ceremonial weapons and armor; and the Turkish Chamber, established in 1614 and home to one of the world's largest collections of artifacts from the Ottoman Empire.
Address: Taschenberg 2, 01067 Dresden
10 Landhaus and the Kreuzkirche
Ernst-Thälmann-Strasse, Dresden's main east-west artery, is the beginning of the new city center developed since WWII. Highlights include the old Landhaus, a building in early Neoclassical style with a double Rococo staircase that now houses the Dresden City Museum and the Dresden City Art Gallery. It's also where you'll find the 13th-century Church of the Holy Cross, the Kreuzkirche, the oldest church within Dresden's town walls. Completely destroyed in 1760 during the Seven Years War, it was rebuilt in its present Baroque style between 1764-92 and is home to the famous Dresdner Kreuzchor, the church's internationally acclaimed boys' choir, as well as a rich program of concerts and events. Also of interest here is the Altmarkt, the city's central square since the 13th century.
Address: An der Kreuzkirche 6, 01067 Dresden
11 The Great Garden
The lovely Great Garden (Großer Garten) was laid out in the French Baroque style from 1676 onwards and covers some two square kilometers. Open to the public since 1814, highlights include the Sommerpalais, built between 1678-83 and the earliest and most imposing of the Baroque palaces in the Electorate of Saxony, as well as the Dresden Zoo and the Dresden Botanical Garden. A fun miniature railway, the six-kilometer-long Parkeisenbahn was established in 1950 and is notable for being staffed largely by children (it's also a good way to get from one attraction to another). Another large public park is Dresden Heath, a popular, densely-treed recreation area traversed by numerous small streams and footpaths. Of interest to car enthusiasts is Volkswagen's Transparent Factory, an assembly plant that offers tours of the manufacturing and assembly processes.
Address: Hauptallee 8, 01219 Dresden
12 The Japanese Palace and the Golden Horseman
In the Neustädter Markt in the newer part of Dresden is the statue of Augustus the Strong, depicted in the pose of a Caesar, wearing Roman armor and seated on a horse. Made in 1736, it's commonly known as the Golden Horseman and has long been one of the city's most popular landmarks. Also of great interest here is the Japanese Palace, or Japanisches Palais, a Baroque and Neoclassical-style mansion built in 1737. Richly decked with chinoiserie, the building was built to house Augustus the Strong's collection of porcelain (now the Dresden Porcelain Collection), but now houses the State Museum for Prehistory and the Museum of Ethnology Dresden. Another nearby attraction, housed in the 16th-century Jägerhof, is the Saxon Museum of Folk Art.
Address: Palaisplatz 11, 01097 Dresden
13 Loschwitz and the Blue Wonder
Between the outer districts of Blasewitz and Loschwitz, the River Elbe is spanned by the Blue Wonder, or Blaues Wunder, a steel suspension bridge with a span of 141.5 meters. Built in 1893, it was considered a marvel at the time for its exceptionally long unsupported span. A great way to explore the bridge and the area around it is via the wonderful Dresden Suspension Railway. Built in 1895 and one of the oldest such modes of transport in Europe, it runs up to the residential district of Weisser Hirsch with its great views. Also of note are the three Schlösser (castles) on the Elbe: the late Neoclassical Albrechtsberg, Ligner-Schloss (built in 1850), and the Neo-Gothic Schloss Eckberg (built 1859-61). Also of interest here is the Schillerhaus, home to the famous playwright Friedrich Schiller, and the 252-meter-high Television Tower with its café and viewing platform with far-ranging views of Meissen, the Elbe Sandstone Hills, the Eastern Erzgebirge, and the Lusatian Uplands.
14 The Pillnitz Palaces
The palaces of Pillnitz, each of which can be reached by boat along the Elbe, are among the finest palace complexes created during the reign of Augustus the Strong. On the banks of the river stands the Wasserpalais (Water Palace), and on the opposite side of the Lustgarten is the Bergpalais, or Hill Palace, both built in 1722 in the Late Baroque style. Also of interest is the New Palace built between 1818-26 in Baroque style, along with the Craft Museum (Museum für Kunsthandwerk), home to a fine collection of furniture, musical instruments, glass, pewter, stoneware, and textiles. Two additional museums lie within the palace grounds: the Museum of Decorative Arts and the Castle Museum with its original rooms. Also worthy of a visit is the Schlosspark. Laid out in an English style in the mid-18th century, it boasts an Orangery, an English Pavilion, a Chinese Pavilion, and a famous Japanese camellia more than 200 years old.
Address: August-Böckstiegel-Straße 2, 01326 Dresden
15 The German Hygiene Museum
To the southeast of Dresden's old town is Lingnerplatz, home to the German Hygiene Museum (Deutsches Hygiene-Museum), an institution founded in 1912 to promote health education and healthy living. The museum is more interesting than you'd expect from its name - it's really a museum dedicated to medicine and medical practices. Among its many interesting exhibits are the famous Glass Woman, first displayed in 1930; a permanent exhibit dealing with the human race; and a fun interactive children's museum that focuses on the senses.
Address: Lingnerplatz 1, 01069 Dresden
Where to Stay in Dresden for Sightseeing
The dazzlingly restored old town (Innere Altstadt) contains Dresden's top attractions and is a convenient place to stay despite its crush of tourists in the summer. To be within walking distance of the Frauenkirche and Zwinger but away from crowds, consider the Neustadt neighborhood, just across the river and close to the Japanese Palace and folk art museum. These highly-rated hotels in Dresden are all near the major tourist attractions.
- Luxury Hotels: A few steps from Frauenkirche, in the center of the old town, Hotel Suitess zu Dresden has large well-furnished rooms and superior service. The stylish and almost playful contemporary design of rooms at Swissotel Dresden, between Frauenkirche and the Residenz, is a nice contrast to the surrounding Baroque architecture. A short walk from the Zwinger and historic center, Bulow Palais and its Michelin-starred restaurant are in Neustadt, away from the high-season crowds.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Offering spacious, modern rooms and on-site indoor parking, Innside by Melia Dresden is a few steps from Frauenkirche. Right next to that landmark church is Hilton Dresden Hotel, with a swimming pool and fitness center. A few blocks away and overlooking the popular Altmarkt square, Star Inn Hotel Premium Dresden im Haus Altmarkt has large well-decorated rooms, between the historic and shopping districts.
- Budget Hotels: A block from Altmarkt and a short walk from Frauenkirche, Holiday Inn Express Dresden City Centre is on a main shopping street close to the Hauptbahnhof rail station. Right at the station, InterCityHotel Dresden is a 10-minute walk from the main sights and the zoo/botanic garden attractions, or take advantage of the hotel's free city tram tickets to go everywhere. Ibis Budget Dresden City is close to the museums of the Zwinger and Residenz palaces and has quiet rooms despite its location in a busy shopping district.
Day Trips from Dresden
About 14 kilometers northwest of Dresden is the remarkable Schloss Moritzburg, an Electoral hunting lodge and summer palace in the ochre and white of Saxon Baroque. Begun in 1544 as a modest hunting lodge, this stunning palace was given its present form between 1723-36 with countless Baroque statues added on the balustrades of the carriage ramp and terrace. The decoration and furnishings of the interior, including hunting trophies and paintings, are preserved unaltered.
Address: Schloßallee, 01468 Moritzburg
Stolpen, just 20 kilometers east of Dresden, is famous for its medieval castle and the basalt formations of the hill on which it stands. Some 220 meters long, Stolpen Castle consists of four courtyards, and a well-signposted route takes visitors round the main features of interest. A museum on the history of the castle and the town is on-site, and the well in the fourth courtyard, at 82 meters, is the world's deepest basalt well. The round-topped hill on which the castle stands, with its striking octagonal basalt columns, is protected as a natural monument. The finest columns are to be seen on the west side, while within the castle itself, the columns have the appearance of organ pipes. Also worth visiting is the old town, in particular the Markt, with its Löwenapotheke (Lion Pharmacy) dating from 1722, the old Amtshaus dating from 1673, and the new Amtshaus where Napoleon lodged in 1813.
Address: Schlossstraße 10, D-01833 Stolpen
More than 100 kilometers to the east of Dresden and on the border with Poland is the picturesque town of Görlitz. It's well worth spending the time exploring this town, in particular the Kaisertrutz, a massive round tower dating from 1490 that now houses the Municipal Museum. Even older is the handsome Reichenbacher Turm dating from 1376, with the arms of the Lusatian League of Six Cities, of which Görlitz was a member. The town's medieval Lower Market, or Untermarkt, is surrounded by Late Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque buildings, several open as museums showcasing merchants' houses during the town's economic heyday between 1480 and 1547. Other highlights are the Late Gothic Lange Lauben (Long Arcades), once the shops of cloth merchants; the Baroque Brauner Hirsch; the old Ratsapotheke (Municipal Pharmacy) from 1550; and the Town Hall, the oldest part of which dates to 1378.
Just 30 kilometers west of Dresden, Meissen is home to numerous excellent attractions. One of the most popular is Albrechtsburg Castle, founded in the 15th century and one of the finest secular buildings of the Late Gothic period. Once the seat of the Wettin dynasty, its most notable feature is its courtyard with a large spiral staircase. Inside, the rooms have richly decorated vaulting and ceilings, with paintings dating from 1870. Meissen has long been famous for its porcelain, and a top tourist attraction is the Porcelain Manufactory. Owned by the State of Saxony, it encompasses a showroom and workshops where visitors can view the processes involved in making porcelain. Also worthwhile is Meissen Cathedral, an Early Gothic cathedral from 1260 with a richly furnished interior and many religious pictures and monuments. Another church of note is St. Afra's, built around 1300. The silver mining town of Freiberg, about 40 kilometers southwest of Dresden, is also home to a stunning cathedral, a Late Gothic hall-church with the oldest and largest surviving Silbermann organ in Saxony. The town's historic center is listed as a national monument.
Address: Domplatz 1, D-01662 Meissen