Things to do in Dresden - the 'Jewel Box' of Europe!

Situated on the banks of river Elbe, Dresden is the capital of the free state of Saxony. One of the oldest cities of the region, it's also arguably the most beautiful in the whole of Germany. In fact it was called the Jewel Box of Europe due to the numerous baroque and rococo buildings in the old part of the town, and the massive treasures displayed at the Green Vault.

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Frauenkirchen Dresden
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A baroque building in Dresden

History of Dresden

The golden age of Dresden dates back to the times of Augustus II the Strong (early 18th Century), who made the city his capital and built the numerous architectural landmarks of the city like the world famous Zwinger palace. It continued to be a cultural centre of art in Europe till the beginning of the second world war. Known for it's architecture, the city was also often known as the 'Baroque capital of the world'.

World War II Bombing

During the last months of the Second World War, Dresden was bombed out almost completely, in what is now considered by many as an unnecessary punitive strike. What added to the controversy was the fact that industrial and military installations outside the city were not targeted and only historical buildings were selectively bombed and destroyed almost completely. The bombing was severe that upto 25,000 civilians died.

After the war Dresden became a part of East Germany and reconstruction was a slow and expensive process. In fact even today, the reconstruction work is going on, and much still needs to be done. However, dresden today is a far cry from what it looked like a day after the bombing.

Post re-unification, the city has changed dramatically. From a cultural hub for the artists and  the architects, the city now also has an addictive youthful vibe. The old and the new co-exist beautifully and merge together almost seamlessly. If there are museums and palaces on one side of river Elbe, the other side is a perfect heaven for those who love the German nightlife.

Hofkirchen Dresden in the night dresden italian church
Hofkirchen Dresden in the night

Places to see in Dresden

For many travellers, Dresden is a stop-over location between Berlin and Prague and that's quite a shame as the city has so much to offer. Here are some of my favourite things to do in Germany!

Jewels of the old city:
Dresden is still the cultural capital of Germany and is one of the most amazing places to discover art and history. Here are some of the best places that can't be missed in Dresden - Zwinger Palace, Semper Opera, Brühlsche Terrassen, Procession of Princes, The Catholic Court Church, Brühl's Terrace.

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Semper Opera
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Mural - Procession of the Kings (Fürstenzug)

Dresden Frauenkirche:
The church was completely destroyed in the bombing during the war, and it's only recently that it was rebuilt and opened again. In a few short years, it has once again become the symbol of the city and is a must-visit destination.

Museums:
I love museums and it's the best way to discover a new city for me, and Dresden doesn't disappoint here. Because my knowledge of Saxony was so poor when I visited the city, the museums were my interaction to it's past and rich legacy. If you like museums, it makes a lot of sense to buy a Dresden Museum Card. A single card costs €22 and gives free access to 14 museums with a validity of two days. It's a good idea to book them in advance.

Moving on, here are some of the recommended museums to see in Dresden:
City Museum especially the Green Vault - 10am to 6pm - Wilsdruffer Str. 2, 01067 Dresden
War Museum - 10am to 6pm - Olbrichtpl. 2, 01099 Dresden
Albertinum Museum - 10am to 6pm - Tzschirnerpl. 2, 01067 Dresden
Dresden Transport Museum - 10am to 6pm - Augustusstraße 1, 01067 Dresden
The German Hygiene Museum  - 10am to 6pm - Lingnerpl. 1, 01069 Dresden

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War Museum
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Some roman busts at the museum

Christmas Markets:
Dresden is the home of the oldest Christmas market in Germany and this in itself is a good enough reason to visit Dresden in the months leading up to Christmas festival. Don't miss the legendary Striezelmarkt Dresden and the Medieval Christmas Market in the old city.

A visit to a Christmas market is incomplete without a few glasses of Gluehwein, the hot wine which is typical of these markets. There are tons of shops and almost all of them serve good Gluehwein. As for shopping, I suggest you pick ginger bread and the wooden toys, if you have kids at home. I didn't really buy anything for myself, except a bottle of local wine.

Hang-out at Neustadt:
Just across the river Elbe from the old town, Neustadt is the new and the most happening part of the city. Post reunification of the East and the West Germany, Neustadt has been a symbol of counter-culture and anti-authoritarianism. Visit Neustadt for some great cafes, vibrant street-art and getting the true and youthful vibe of the city.

German Sauna:
East German saunas are typically nude saunas and often mixed . However, as a traveller I would suggest that you don't get scandalised about it and visit one sauna to get closer to the local way of living. I didn't know about them when I went into one, but it didn't deter me from enjoying this unique experince.

If your hotel doesn't have one already, try out this guide, Best 10 Saunas in Dresden, to find one for yourself.

Boat tour of the city:
Another great way to see Dresden and around is through a boat-ride on river Elbe. The routes lets you see many places that you might not be able to cover on foot or on the road, and gives an idea of how large the city actually is. On a weekend boat-ride, it's a common sight to see people lazing around with their dogs on the banks and simply reading a book, or drink coffee.

If you do plan a visit, make sure you also eat lunch on the boat itself. If not, at least have a glass of sparkling white wine as you see some German life passing by.

Read more: Dresden Boat Tours

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Dresden from the boat

The best way to discover the city is through the locals, and I interviewed many locals during my stay. If you are curious to know more, do read my story on my interviews with the Germans here: Discover East Germany through people and their Stories.

Food guide to Dresden

Dresden is a cosmopolitan city and has lots of options to dine out, both the traditional German cuisine as well as world cuisine. Here are some of the best places to eat in Dresden. Unfortunately, I haven't been to many of these and much of it comes from the recommendations of my friend, Seema, there. By the way Seema is also a guide with Saxony Tourism and when you do visit Dresden, check her availability to show you around Dresden and around. She is a truly gem to have around when you travel, plus she is a lot of fun too :)

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A traditional German restaurant in Dresden

To make things simpler, I have broken down the places to eat into four categories, the last one is most relevant for Indian travellers there, but would be great for anyone who loves Indian cuisine :)

Traditional German cuisine:
Pulverturm and Dresden 1900 - both of these are near Frauenkirche and I can personally vouch for desserts there as well!
Alte Meister for nouveau German cuisine. Here's the address: Theaterplatz 1, 01067 Dresden
Sophienkeller - Taschenberg 3, 01067 Dresden
Brauhaus Watzke for traditional Sachen - Kötzschenbroder Str. 1, 01139 Dresden
Dresdner Kaffeestubchen - Salzgasse 8, 01067 Dresden
Genuss-Atelier - Bautzner Str. 149, 01099 Dresden
Wenzel - Königstraße 1, 01097 Dresden
Kurfuerstenschaenke - An der Frauenkirche 13, 01067 Dresden
Pfunds Molkerei - Bautzner Str. 79, 01099 Dresden
Oma & Opa - Cossebauder Strasse 15, 01157 Dresden

Places  to eat in Nuestadt:
Villandry - Jordanstraße 8, 01099 Dresden
Lila Sobe - Alaunstraße 70, 01099 Dresden
Raskolnikoff (this one is an insider's tip) - Böhmische Str. 34, 01099 Dresden
Plan Wirtschaft for GDR ambience - Louisenstraße 20, 01099 Dresden

Vegetarian food in Dresden:
Devil's Kitchen - Alaunstraße 39, 01099 Dresden
Roots for veggie burgers - Hauptstraße 35, 01097 Dresden
Falscher Hase - Rudolf-Leonhard-Straße 3, 01097 Dresden

Indian food in Dresden:
And finally an Indian often loves to eat Indian food outside India as well, and there are a few good Indian restaurants for your desi cravings. Here are some recommended ones:
Kamasutra - Bodenbacher Str. 60, 01277 Dresden
Maharadscha - Kamenzer Str. 62, 01099 Dresden
Little India - Louisenstraße 48, 01099 Dresden


Where to stay in Dresden?

I stayed at all kinds of places including with an airbnb host. I loved staying with a local and he even showed me around the Christmas Markets and gave me tips to use the public transportation in the city. Later I also stated at two really good hotels - Swissotel Dresden Am Scholss and hotel Park Inn. However, if there is one thing I want to recommend it's going to be Swissotel Dresden Am Scholss - it's the prefect location and a hotel with great service.

How many days to spend in Dresden?

Well, my recommendation is to spend at least one week in Dresden. It's going to be enough to see both Dresden as well as many other places around the city.

However, if you are short of time, the city needs at least a long weekend.

Things to do around Dresden

Dresden is the capital of Saxony and is prefect palace to start your exploration of the state. From the beautiful mountains of Saxony Switzerland to the vibrant Leipzig, there is something for everyone in Saxony. Here are some of my favourite things to do in Saxony.

Hike to Bastei Bridge:
Located just about 45 minutes from Dresden by train, these rock formations have enthralled travellers for over 200 years. Right at the top, there is a beautiful bridge called Bastei Bridge.

Moritzburg Palace:
Moritzbug Castle was once a hunting lodge of Saxon royalty, and is now a popular tourist destination, especially on the weekends. It's easily reachable by local transportation from Dresden and is worth a visit during the golden hour in the evening.

Meissen Porcelain factory:
Located at a distance of about 25 km from Dresden, this town of 30,000 inhabitants is known as the 'cradle of Saxony' and is most famous now for invention of porcelain in Europe. Meissen also a lovely town full of old house, and a lovely cathedral on the hilltop.

Glashutte Museum:
Though I didn't know about the luxury watch industry, there is one right in Saxony at Glashutte. A visit to an actual watch factory is difficult, but one can visit the Glashutte museum to know more about the industry and it's history.

Weesenstein Castle:
Built sometime in the 13th Century, Weesenstein Castle has long been the pride of the free state of Saxony. The castle was with the  Bünau family for 12 generations and they are largely responsible for the way the castle has evolved over the centuries.

Wine tasting at Schloss Wackerbarth:
When I visited Schloss Wackerbarth, it waas winters and all the vines were waiting for spring to start thriving again, but I had a fantastic wine tasting session there. Oh, and you can also do a tour of the wine factory as well and if you are lucky, even a word with the Sommelier!

Visit Leipzig:
And finally, a visit to Saxony is incomplete without a visit to its largest city Leipzig. For long Leipzig has been a centre of trade and was well known as a host to World Fairs during it's heydays. It played a huge role in the downfall of East Germany and the first movement for unification actually started in the city square. There is lots of history here, and some of the best nightlife that you can find in Germany.

How to reach Dresden?

If you are flying in from outside the country, it's easy to reach Dresden through direct as well as flights via Frankfurt. The airport is large and fairly active.

Dresden is also well connected to all major German cities by train as well as roads. Located nicely on the highway which connects Berlin to Prague (both popular tourist destinations), it's a great stopover destination.

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Old Dresden 
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Dresden Palace
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Zwinger Palace

Visa for Germany

If you are traveling to Germany from India, and many other Eastern countries, you need a visa. The tourist Shenzhen visa can be obtained without any hassle through VFS. Read more about the documents required and procedure here. It can take upto two weeks to get the stamped visa in your hands.

Comments

  1. Magnificent structures! Loved the way you captured Dresden.

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  2. Loved the architecture. Nice captures, Sid.

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  3. Hey Siddhartha, Dresden is quite beautiful. The boat tour looks interesting especially by looking at the picture you have shared "Dresden from the boat".

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  4. Dresden has such a wonderful history and amazing architecture I can't believe I never visit that city when I used to live in Berlin ! Your post in amazing, so put so many useful informations! Thank you :)

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  5. Wooha! What a city! Never knew that this place existed! looks remarkable. wonderful architecture lovely atmosphere.

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  6. I am not a huge fan of cities of this style, but I have to admit that this one looks pretty romantic and less smothering than cities like Paris ou Vienna. It reminds me a little of Salzburg, which I fell in love with in Austria.

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  7. Definitely seems like Dresden looks worth a visit. You captured some really beautiful photos of the city (I especially like the one of the Opera on the cloudy day). The saunas definitely sound like they could be interesting, but I'm not sure I'm brave enough for that on my own haha :)

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  8. Dresden sounds like a neat place to visit. I’ve always wanted to go to the famous Christmas market, the hot wine sounds like an added charm at the market. I love museums too, so it’s good to know about the Dresden Museum Card if we ever visit!

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  9. Just as you mentioned in your post, I've always heard it said that Dresden is the most beautiful city in Germany and judging by your photos, it really is hard to disagree. Of course, for many people, it is a place that will always be synonymous with the bombing campaign but clearly there's plenty more to lend itself to visitors. Some really thorough tips on how to get there as well as some of the highlights. Great read

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  10. Cool, another place for short trips and just a flixbus ride away! I've never been to any of the cities in the East and I've heard a lot of great things about Dresden and you made it even more enticing! I like boat and FOOD tours! Thanks for sharing this!

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  11. There is so much to see in Dresden. The old city is of course, the prime. Zwinger palace does pique my curiosity as does the church. Could not help but notice the lovely murals along those walls. Another city added to my evergrowing list

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  12. I'll 'fess up and say that I am one of those who almost exclusively associate Dresden with the pounding it took during World War II. I can see now what a mistake this is. Such goregous baroque architecture, a rich history and so many things to do. As a fan of Indian food, the guide to Indian restaurants available there is also very appealing too :-)

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  13. The view of Dresden from the boat is magnificent. The fact that totally amazed me that Dresden was bombed and it was restored with the same beauty. Yet it is a loss that the historical monuments have been wiped off in between wars. Availability of Indian and Vegetarian food makes the travel so much easier.

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  14. Dresden is so full of history. It's sad that it's monuments suffered during the world war. When I visit Germany, I will definitely go visit here. There is so much to do and see, particularly so many museums with rich history

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  15. Dresden seems like an amazing place full of history. Looks like there are so many museums in Dresden. I would love to visit the Zwinger Palace and take a boat tour of the city. Thanks for the detailed guide :)

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  16. Despite the fact I live in Italy, Germany is a country I visited the first time only 2 years ago, and I liked it! So far only Berlin, Koln and Hamburg have been checked out of my bucket list, but since I like 20th century history, Dresden is a must see. War, despite all, it's still a fascinating argument for me.

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  17. For some reason Dresden has never been on my Bucket list, but ... now I am changing my mind. I love the architecture in your pics and I would definitely want to explore it's rooftops.
    I would also love to buy some porcelaine.

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  18. It's really heart-breaking how many beautiful sites were destroyed during the war, but all the more impressive how pretty Dresden is now! I would love to see the city from the boat, it sounds like a fun activity. Having only been to Berlin and Bremen in Germany, I really hope to visit this country again soon, and this time I will be sure to make it to Dresden!

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  19. WOW, stunning photos you've got here!! And that's quite a list of things to do in Dresden! I would love to visit the architectures, explore the christmas market and experience German sauna. I like how you've included things to eat there too - super helpful for foodies :)

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  20. Wow that is definitely one one detailed guide about Dresden. To tell you the truth, before this guide, I had never considered Dresden. Those Baroque styled buildings look so majestic and it is a shame that many of them were bombed during World War 2. Hopefully they are actively working on the restorations of all the buildings.

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  21. I have been reading a lot about Dresden from sometime. What a city with rich history and the architectures are simply breathtaking. You have captured it brilliantly.

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  22. How many days will be required to cover all these?!!! The museums are so many... at least a week has to be set aside for sure. Reading about the sauna concept there for the first time.

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  23. It is really "Jewel Box"! or at least your photographs make it look so. I read about Dresden bombings ages ago. Good to see that a lot of hertage survived that and were restored. Traditional German restaurant with all those weapons... do they also hunt their own food? he he

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  24. I have been to Germany several times but have yet to visit Dresden! Thank you for recommending how long you think is sufficient. I prefer slow travel so I would definitely travel around for at least a week. That traditional German restaurant looks so cool!

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  25. Wow, how sad that it was almost bombed completely. Thank god some of it still remains and that they were able to rebuild so beautifully! Thanks for putting Dresden on my radar, I will bookmark this for the future. Happy travels :)

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  26. Lovelly! With all the hard work, you have compiled a lovely itinerary. I am sure most of it is walkable?

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