Where in the world is Bastei Rocks?
One of the many good reasons to visit Dresden is the city’s proximity to the beautiful region the Saxon Switzerland. The are quite a few easy day trips from Dresden that will put you right in the middle of a spectacular landscape, and Bastei Rocks is one of them. Bastei Rocks is a very interesting rock formation in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains of Germany, just about 40 km away from Dresden. The rocks are part of the Saxon Switzerland National Park, a 400km² area of stunning landscape. This landmark is largely unknown to the American traveler, but very popular among the locals. Bastei Rocks are definitely not sufficiently advertised, which is a pity.
The German word Bastei means “bastion” and this gorgeous rock formation truly fits the description. Together with the Bohemian Switzerland in the Czech Republic, the region forms the Sandstone Mountains. 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.
How to get to Bastei Rocks
There are several ways to get there 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 most convenient way though would be to rent a car. We chose this option and started our trip about an hour before sunrise, to catch the best light for my pictures and avoid the crowds. The drive is not long, so you can stop for breakfast at one of the small country style restaurants along the way.
Three of the most visited landmarks in this area are Lillenstein Rock, Bastei Bridge, and Köningstein Castle. We wanted to see all three of them, but we had only one day for this trip. With regret we decided to skip the Lillenstein Rock. We saw it only in the distance, beautifully covered in fall colors. We could have easily spend an entire day at Bastei Rocks, but including the Köningstein Castle seemed logical. The two objectives are within 10 kilometers distance of each other.
What to expect at Bastei Rocks
The city of stone, as it is also called, sits about 300 meters above the sea level and 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.
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. 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.
There are several short hiking trails that link the 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.
The best time to visit the park
We visited the park in late fall, when the color of the leaves was changing. We were lucky to have a bright, sunny day. The best time of the day to visit the area is either early morning or before sunset, when the light falls horizontally on 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.
Parking for Bastei Rocks 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. Parking at the restaurant costs 2 € for two hours, but is very limited and most likely 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.
Everywhere you look there is a beautiful panorama that makes you feel on the top of the world. 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. Basted Rocks makes a great day trip from Dresden.
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