I often mention Dresden as a candidate for a place on the list of most beautiful cities. That is entirely due to the fact that the compact central area on Elbe’s waterfront is likely one of the greatest aggregations of monumental architecture anywhere in Europe. Viewed from the river, it is singularly astonishing.
Part of that view, with its own view over River Elbe in the opposite direction, Brühlsche Terrasse ♥♥ was once known as “the balcony of Europe”. There are several great buildings alongside, including the Saxon parliament and the art academy.
Schlossplatz ♥♥♥ and especially the spacious Theaterplatz ♥♥♥ are remarkable squares surrounded by architectural masterpieces restored after World War II. Theaterplatz is home to the imposing Neo-Renaissance Sächsische Staatsoper. As with any grand Opera house, it can be toured in non-performance times.
Also facing Theaterplatz is the Zwinger ♥♥♥, one of the most magnificent museum complexes in all of the Western world. Its beautiful courtyard which was used in the past to stage tournaments and festivals is completely surrounded by galleries that house various collections. Even if you do not plan to visit any of these museums, checking out the stunning Wallpavillon ♥♥ or lingering in the smaller courtyard that houses Nymphenbad ♥♥, an enchanting Baroque fountain, is worth the effort.
The most important museum at the Zwinger is that of Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister ♥♥♥. It is one of the world’s best collections of paintings, with Raphael’s incomparable Sistine Madonna among its treasures that also include an assemblage of Canaletto’s Dresden landscapes and works by Rembrandt, Titian, Velázquez, and others.
Also at the Zwinger, you can tour Rüstkammer ♥, a grand armory; Porzellansammlung ♥♥, an excellent porcelain collection; and Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon ♥♥, a small but fascinating exhibition of scientific instruments. A walk around the perimeter of the complex via rooftop galleries is quite interesting as well.
Two of the most monumental churches in Dresden – Hofkirche and Frauenkirche – are nearby. Both should be worth an interior look following extensive reconstructions in the mid-2000s. Kreuzkirche ♥♥, located on the edge of the central area, is another grand place of worship; its interior is quite unusual, with plaster decorations and trees planted by the altar. The church is very light inside and seemingly devoid of chapels, and the organ is quite impressive as well.
The former residence of the local rules, Residenzschloss ♥, is a complex of buildings in various stages of restoration. Some of its wings are beautifully decorated with sgraffito – a fascinating sight all by itself.
The palace normally houses temporary exhibitions in its various wings, but two of its attractions are of special interest. Grünes Gewölbe ♥♥♥ (“the Green Vault”) is a truly unparalleled collection of jewelry, artworks of precious stones, porcelain, etc., spread across two separate exhibition spaces. The “New” Green Vault can be visited at any time, while the “Historic” portion of the display requires a timed ticket.
The other must at the palace is Hausmannsturm ♥♥♥, a high tower that offers majestic views over the town and the river.
Not far from Residenzschloss can be found Fürstenzug ♥, a 102 meters long frieze on the wall of the building known as Langer Gang (“the Long Walk”), depicting the procession of many Saxon rulers. Originally, this was a sgraffito artwork, but in 1907 it was replaced by porcelain tiles, of which there are 24,000.
Albertinum‘s collection is not too extensive, and if you go to see it after reading about its collection of European impressionists, you may be disappointed. The impressionist section is really limited, and the rest is only for true lovers of modern art.
The tree-lined Hauptstraße is the main boulevard of the New Town on the right bank of the river, pleasant enough with plenty of shops and eateries. There is little to see in this part of town beyond the gilded equestrian statue of Augustus the Strong, Goldener Reiter ♥. However, if you find yourself on this side of the river after dark, you will be able to enjoy the spectacular night lights ♥♥♥ of the main city sights from across the Elbe.
Somewhat further afield is the Baroque Schloss Pillnitz, and another museum that may be worth looking into is Johanneum (also known as Verkehrsmuseum), a potentially interesting transport exhibition.
Getting on a boat for a tour on the Elbe ♥♥♥ is one of the not-to-miss activities in Dresden. It should be noted that as the boat leaves the city behind, there are not many fascinating views to be taken in (although, Blaues Wunder suspension bridge deserves its name, on balance) and 90 minutes is probably a bit much for an excursion of this kind. But it is when the boat returns to the city, slowly gliding in front of all of those monumental edifices along Dresden’s waterfront, that you get your money’s worth.
Browsing the stalls at Altmarkt ♥♥ is another unquestionable delight.
We visited all museums in Dresden on a “day” combination ticket, which at €10 per person allowed us access to every museum in town. We managed to use these tickets at 7 attractions in one day. I suppose that if you plan to visit more than a couple of museums on any given day, this type of ticket would be a worthwhile choice.
Accommodation-wise, any location in Altstadt or Innere Neustadt will put you within 10 minutes of walking to most of the points of interest.
A couple of interesting day trips are within the range of easy options from Dresden.
Festung Königstein ♥ is a tremendous hilltop fortress that is primarily worth the visit for the spectacular views over the Elbe and the area known as Sächsische Schweiz (“Saxon Switzerland”) from its ramparts. Within the fortress walls, there are different buildings and exhibitions that illustrate the life of a military garrison.
Meißen, which dates from the middle of the 10th century, was a veritable capital of the European porcelain industry throughout the 18th-19th century. The charming town has a number of minor attractions, such as the hilltop complex of Albrechtsburg towering over the town. The main point of interest in Meißen is Staatlische Porzellan-Manufaktur ♥. A guided tour, complete with step-by-step demonstrations, will take you through the entire process of porcelain-making. A visit to the Museum of Porcelain ♥ is part of the tour as well.