Dresden has much to boast about when it comes to tourist attractions, but you don’t need a lot of time to explore it. Although there is a great deal of things to do in Dresden, the city is compact enough to be covered in 4-5 days. There are many fabulous museums, art galleries, churches, as well as an array of exciting events that can justify a longer trip if you have the time. Given the city’s great location, there are also many exciting day trips from Dresden that you can take. Like visiting the Bastei Rocks in the scenic countryside of the Saxon Switzerland. Or the town of Meissen, the birth place of the famous Meissen porcelain. Or the Konigstein Fortress, the market village of Moritzburg, and the Pillnitz Castle.
- 1 Things to Do in Dresden New Town
- 2 Things to Do in Dresden Old Town
- 2.1 • Attend a Performance at Semperoper (the Opera House)
- 2.2 • Visit the Zwinger Palace
- 2.3 • Listen to Some Organ Music at Frauenkirche (The Church of Our Lady)
- 2.4 • Admire the Fürstenzug (the Procession of Princes Mosaic)
- 2.5 • Visit Katolische Hofkirche (Dresden Cathedral)
- 2.6 • Immerse Yourself in Art at the Albertinum – the Museum of Modern Art
- 2.7 • Spend an Afternoon on the Brühlsche Terrasse (Brühl’s Terrace)
- 2.8 • Visit the Green Vault of the Royal Palace
- 3 Tips for Visiting Dresden
Things to Do in Dresden New Town
The funny thing about Neustadt Dresden (New Town Dresden) is that it’s actually quite old. Until the 17th century this settlement on the right banks of the Elbe (right across the Old Town Dresden) was actually known as “Altendresden” (Old Dresden). After a disastrous fire burned down the quarter in 1685, Altendresden received some good renovation and a new name: Neustadt Dresden, or “New Town Dresden.”
The baroque reconstructions done produced attractive streets and sites which can still be see today in the area around Königstrasse. During the Second World War Neustadt Dresden suffered very little destruction, compared to the rest of the city. New Town Dresden is home to some very fine buildings, trendy shops and small bars where you can go out for drinks. Here are some exciting things to do in Dresden New Town:
• Stroll Through the Baroque Quarter
The Baroque Quarter (a.k.a. Inner Neustadt) is located between the Neustadt train station, Albertplatz and Glacisstrasse. The most elegant street in Dresden Neustadt is, Königstrasse. Although not severely damaged during the war, this street fell into complete neglected under the GDR-era.
In the 1990’s, after the fall of Communism, the buildings have been repaired or rebuilt. An array of boutiques,art dealers, galleries and upscale restaurants have been built. Today, Königstrasse is home to the most sophisticated shops in Dresden. Many of the stores and small restaurants are in passageways leading off Königstrasse are also worth visiting.
• Visit Dreikönigskirche (Church of the Three Magi)
One of the must-sees in the Baroque Quarter is the Church of the Three Magi (Dreikönigskirche). The baroque church stands between the Haupstrasse and the Königstrasse. The original building dates back to the 18th century, but its 87-meter high tower was added only 100 years later. The clock tower can be seen from very far away and it’s an unmistakable part of Dresden’s cityscape.
Although not very ornate, the interior of the church is worth seeing for the beautiful altar piece. The sandstone altar was damaged in the bombing of 1945, but it is now restored.
• Listen to the Singing Drain Pipes of Kunsthofpassage
Kunsthofpassage is undoubtedly Dresden’s best kept secret. The passage is actually a series of five small courtyards –not visible from the street– that were turned into an art experiment, called the Ginkgo project. A group of artists – sculptors and designers – took a bunch of old buildings and redesigned their façades, giving each building and courtyard specific motif and a theme of its own. They completed the project in 2001.
Wandering through the small alleys of the Kunsthoffpasage was my favorite thing to do in Dresden.
Tip: To find this place you have to know exactly where it is, since it’s not likely that you’ll stumble upon it. Kunsthofpassage is in Dresden Neustadt (new town), between the Alaun and Görlitzer streets. This neighborhood is also known as the student district, so it’s unlikely that you’ll find in described in the mainstream travel books.
• Grab a Bite at Pfunds Molkerei (Pfund’s Dairy Shop)
This little dairy shop in Neustadt Dresden made quite a name for itself over the years. It wasn’t for the milk products it sells however, but rather for its unusual beauty. I’ve seen pictures of this place before visiting Dresden, so I was very excited to visit it. However, when I found myself in front of it I felt a little disappointed.
I was expecting a bigger, fancier shop. But after stepping inside I was in awe. If from the outside Pfunds Molkerei looks quite insignificant, the interior is an amazing feast for the eyes! Every inch of the walls, ceiling, floor and counters is covered with hand painted tiles and enamelled sculptures produced in the stoneware factory of Villeroy & Boch. No wander Guinness Book named Pfunds Molkerei “the most beautiful dairy shop in the world!”
The dairy shop sells a big range of farm and artisan cheeses, different milk products, wines, chocolate and replica tiles. Upstairs there is a café-restaurant serving food with a strong lactose theme. Due to its popularity, the small milk shop is almost always packed with tourists.
Tip: Photography is verboten (forbidden), but you may be able to take a few shots if you show your press card. The shop is difficult to photograph because it very small and always crowded. But if you wait for the brief moment when a group of visitors is leaving and another one is waiting to get in, you may be able to catch a few shots. But you have to be very fast!
Things to Do in Dresden Old Town
Old Town Dresden it’s a true miracle of rebirth who has risen like a Phoenix from its own ashes. Between the Allied bombing that leveled it to the ground during WWII and the 50 years of Soviet occupation, there was not much left of this great city. Those who visited the city during the Cold War, would not recognize it today. But despite the devastation caused by the Second World War, the city has regained its architectural splendor and charm. There are very few city skylines more striking than that of Dresden.
• Attend a Performance at Semperoper (the Opera House)
You don’t have to be a music lover to like sumptuous building of Semperoper, but for me this was one of the best things to do in Dresden! Built in 1841 by the German architect Gottfried Semper, the building was completely destroyed by the Allied bombing in 1945. After extensive reconstruction the Opera reopened in 1985 with Carl Maria von Weber‘s “Der Freischütz” – the same piece that was performed before the destruction. The beautiful plaza in front of the Opera (Theater Square) is the place where most of the organized city tours begin.
• Visit the Zwinger Palace
A splendid example of German Baroque architecture, Zwinger Palace is one of the most popular attractions in Dresden. The palace is home to first-class museums, like the impressive Old Masters Picture Gallery, the Zoological Museum and the Mathematisch Physikalischer Salon and a fascinating porcelain collection. But as much I enjoyed the inside of the palace, I liked the outside even more.
I started my visit in the inner courtyard. As I was strolling through the beautiful water fountains, taking pictures and trying to make the most of the morning light, 40 Meissen porcelain bells began a sweet three-minute melody. I put my camera away and tryed to see where the music was coming from.
It was the Glockenspiel Pavillion (Carillon Pavilion), the most impressive of the six pavilions of the complex. Like much else in Dresden, Zwinger was built in 1709 by Augustus the Strong, prince Elector of Saxony. I continued my visit up to the terraces garnished with numerous statues of nymphs and tritons. What a beautiful sight! I stayed there trying to imagine this palace in its times of glory. Could it have been even better?
• Listen to Some Organ Music at Frauenkirche (The Church of Our Lady)
Frauenkirche is a symbol of the city and one of the most beloved attraction of Dresden. The church dates back to 1726, but the consecration was 7 years later. George Bähr, Dresden’s master carpenter, designed an impressive 95m high baroque church with a stone dome which became known as the ‘stone bell’.
Although not directly hit by the bombs, Frauenkirche collapsed during the bombing of 1945 due to the heat around it . The church was very dear to the residents of Dresden who wanted to begin the reconstruction right after the war. However, for political reasons, the project was postponed for a long time. As a result, Frauenkirche remained a pile of rubble for almost 50 years. The church reconstruction started after the reunification of Germany, but it ended only in 2005. Most of the funds for the reconstruction came from private donations from all over the world. Around 3,700 stones have been salvaged from the original church and reused in the rebuilding. One of the most popular things to do in Dresden is climbing atop the dome of Frauenkirche. From the viewing platform at the dome you can enjoy spectacular views of Dresden and the Elbe river.
• Admire the Fürstenzug (the Procession of Princes Mosaic)
Located on the outside of the Royal Palace complex, Fürstenzug (the Procession of Princes) is the largest porcelain mural in the world. The mosaic depicts a parade of Saxonian princes, dukes and kings of the Wettin Dynasty. Each ruler’s name is inscribed below his image. We stumbled upon this grandiose landmark on our first night in Dresden. The mural appeared totally unexpected, on the narrow Auguststrasse. It was absolutely breathtaking.
The 330 feet long mural was originally painted in 1876 by artist Wilhelm Walther to celebrate the 800 year anniversary of the Wettin Dynasty. But by the end of the 19th century the new stucco started deteriorating. In order to make it weather-proof, the original decoration was replaced with 25,000 ceramic tiles from the famous porcelain manufacturer in Meissen. The mosaic tiles miraculously survived the devastating bombing in 1945.
• Visit Katolische Hofkirche (Dresden Cathedral)
Dresden Cathedral is also known as the Cathedral of Holy Trinity. This is the city’s most outstanding landmark and one of the must see places in Dresden. Katolische Hofkirche measures 4800 square meters, making it the largest church in Saxony. Commissioned by Frederick Augustus II, Elector of Saxony, the cathedral became the church of the royal court. The Italian Baroque architect Gaetano Chiaveri designed the building plans around 1738.
While visiting the church, don’t miss the crypt that contains 49 tombs of the Wettin princes and kings as well as their families. Dresden Cathedral suffered severe damages during the bombing of 1945. Reconstruction began in 1955 but was not completed until
• Immerse Yourself in Art at the Albertinum – the Museum of Modern Art
Named after King Albert of Saxony, the Albertinum is a modern art museum located on the famous Brühl Terrace. The museum houses the New Masters Gallery which contains more than 2,500 paintings from the 19th and 20th century, and also a vast Sculpture Collection. The Renaissance Revival building of the museum was erected on the foundations of a former armory. At the end of the 20th century, Albertinum underwent massive renovations in 2002, following some severe flood damages.
• Spend an Afternoon on the Brühlsche Terrasse (Brühl’s Terrace)
Brühl’s Terrace is a beautiful promenade that runs for about 500 meters along the Elbe, atop the Dresden Fortress. Built as a ring of walls surrounded by a water trench, the fortress is thought to be the oldest Renaissance structures in the city. Nicknamed “The Balcony of Europe” the terrace offers a gorgeous view over the Elbe river and the monumental buildings of the Neustadt district, (the new part of Dresden).
Brühl Terrace starts in the Schlossplatz (Castle Square) with a monumental staircase and continues all the way to the Albertinum Museum. The staircase is flanked by four bronze sculptures, each symbolizing one season. The promenade is one of the most popular places in Dresden enjoyed year-round by locals and tourists alike.
• Visit the Green Vault of the Royal Palace
Located in the Royal Palace, the Green Vault is a unique museum that contains to one of the finest collections of treasures in Europe. The Green Vault was founded by Augustus the Strong in 1723 and it was named after the formerly malachite greet column of the initial room. The exhibition is composed of the Historic Green Vault and the New Green Vault. The Historic Green Vault has 9 theme rooms, each displaying an impressive array of gem stones, jewelry, works in ivory, and intricate art object of the finest quality and artistry. The new Green Vault is composed of 12 rooms where the art objects are exposed individually
During the Second World War the collection was removed from the Green Vault and hidden in the Königstein Fortress, thus escaping the Allied bombing which devastated the city. The Royal Palace also burned down to the ground during the war. The extensive reconstruction process began in 1985 and lasted for almost 20 years.
The new Green Vault opened its doors only in 2004 followed by the historic Green Vault two years later. There is a wonderful view of the Old Town from atop the Hausmann Tower, so don’t miss it if you visit the royal palace. A visit to the Green Valut requires some planning as only 100 visitors per hour can get inside. Since tickets are valid for a specific time slots only, you have to be there on time.
Tips for Visiting Dresden
The best way to visit Dresden is by purchasing a one-day pass for the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus tour and exploring the sites at your own pace. The tours start in Theaterplatz (Theater Square) and it lasts about 1 hour and 30 minutes. The cost is 20 Euros/person. There are 22 stops throughout the city and 7 guided tours to choose from. The buses audio guide system works in several languages. Just the bus tour itself is very instructive, if you don’t have time to walk. Here is my list of recommendations for attractions in Altstadt (Old Town):
If you are making any plans for a road trip to Germany, make it a point to add Dresden to your itinerary. This largely overseen city has a lot going for it: beautifully restored churches, old palaces, world class museum, any many more. And if you go, remember to visit Neustadt Dresden and discover some of Dresden’s best kept secrets.
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