One of the many reasons I love to visit Dresden is the city’s proximity to the beautiful region of the Saxon Switzerland. Just about 50 km away from Dresden is one of Germany’s most popular attractions: the Bastei Rocks & Bridge. A day trip to Bastei will put you right in the middle of the spectacular landscape, with giant pinnacles of sandstone rock towering over the Elbe Rive.
Where is Bastei Rocks?
Bastei is a very interesting rock formation in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains of Germany, just 49 km away from Dresden. The rocks are part of the Saxon Switzerland National Park, a 400km² area of stunning landscape. Together with the Bohemian Switzerland in the Czech Republic, the region forms the Sandstone Mountains.
Given its proximity to the Czech’s capital, Bastei Rocks can be easily visited as a day trip from Prague, if you have more than just a few days in the city.
The German word Bastei means “bastion.” And indeed, this gorgeous rock formation truly looks like a bastion. Due to the sandstone formation, this area is a paradise for hikers and rock climbers. However, you don’t need any hiking abilities in order to explore and enjoy this park.
Although very popular with the locals, Bastei National Park is largely unknown to the American traveler, which is a pity. This place is not sufficiently advertised in the US in my opinion.
What to Expect at Bastei
Three of the most visited landmarks in this area are Lillenstein Rock, Bastei Bridge, and Köningstein Fortress. The three objectives are within a few kilometers of each other, but visiting them all on the same trip would be difficult.
You could easily spend an entire day visiting just the Bastei Rocks. The park is packed with shaded trails and gorgeous vista points. We decided to skip the Lillenstein Rock and just do the bridge and the fortress.
Bastei (or the city of stone, as it is also called) sits about 300 meters above the sea level. The area has been a tourist attraction for the past 200 years. The first building in the park offering overnight accommodations was built in 1826.
Later, a wooden bridge was built across these sandstone rocks. It was only in 1851 that the wooden bridge was replaced with the medieval looking stone bridge that still stands today. The bridge soon became the subject for many paintings, poetry, and landscape photography.
Visiting the Bastei Rocks National Park
The scenery is breathtaking, with vertical drops, strange rock formations, trees clinging to cliffs and panoramic views of the Elbe river. Pictures don’t do justice to this magnificent landscape.
There are several short hiking trails that link the Bastei Bridge with beautiful viewpoints. The trails are safe, well maintained. Some of them may seem a little scary, as they go up steep rocks. However, there are tall railings that you can hang on to, so you’ll be in no danger.
Some trails are paved. Others are cut in stone or made of wood. There are also some dirt hiking trails that you can explore. Hiking shoes are not absolutely necessary, unless you plan to venture into the more remote areas of the park. You need however a comfortable pair of good walking shoes for these trails.
Best Time to Visit Bastei Rocks
We visited the park in fall, when the tree color was changing. The yellow, orange, and red foliage was beautifully complementing the grayish-brown color of the rocks.
We arrived at the park a little before 8 a.m., about a couple of hours before the crowds started pouring in so were able to enjoy the pristine wilderness at its best.
Later on in the day we had to wait for the proper moment to take photographs and in some narrow passages we had to wait even longer for big groups of people to pass.
Like at every big tourist attraction, is best to arrive early morning, after the park opens. The light is always better in the morning and there are less people around. Bastei Rocks is beautiful year round, so no matter when you visit it you’ll have a blast here.
How to Get to Bastei Bridge From Dresden
There are several ways to get to Bastei from Dresden. One is to take a romantic boat tour on the Elbe in one of the world’s oldest paddle-steamers.
You can also use public transportation, by taking the S-Bahn train, from Dresden to Rathen. The trip takes about 35 – 45 minutes and there are multiple trains per day. Once in Rathen, you can take the ferry across the Elbe River (about 2€ round trip.)
The easiest and most convenient way is to rent a car and drive here. It will give you a lot of independence and allow you to get an early start in order to beat the crowds. We chose this option and started our trip about an hour before sunrise. The drive is not long, so you have time to stop for breakfast at one of the small country style restaurants along the way.
Practical Information for Visiting the Park
Parking is available on the field of the upper plateau, about 2 km away from the park. From there you can walk or take the shuttle bus to the entrance, or you may continue to drive following the signs for Bastei restaurant.
You can also park at the restaurant next to the park entrance. The costs is 3 € for two hours, but space is very limited and most of spaces are reserved for the restaurant customers.
The walkways and viewing platforms are very safe and well maintained, as are the stairways and metal bridges that grant you access to many of the high peeks and the big rock formations.
Some passages look very scary though because of their height. Not everybody feels secure walking on a narrow bridge with an endless abyss under their feet.
A Final Note
If you are visiting Bastei as a day trip from Dresden, I would recommend combining it with a visit to the nearby Königstein Fortress (just 10 km away). Bastei won’t take more than 2.5 – 3 hours to see, unless you decide to do some serious hiking here.
Atop the natural stone towers in the park you can still see the ruins of an 11th century fortress. At the base of the rocks there is a natural amphitheater with excellent acoustics, used for music performances in summer. If you are ever in Dresden, don’t miss this amazing trip!
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