When it comes to tourist attractions, Dresden has much to boast about. It has fabulous museums, art galleries, churches, great cafés and restaurants and a great array of cultural events. There is a great deal of things to do in Dresden, but the city is easy quite compact therefore you don’t need more than 4-5 days to visit it.
Dresden’s great location, make it the ideal base for many exciting day trips, like Bastei Rocks in the Saxon Switzerland. Or the town of Meissen, the birth place of the famous Meissen porcelain. Or the Konigstein Fortress and and the Pillnitz Castle.
- Things to Do in Dresden Neustadt (New Town)
- Attractions in Dresden Old Town
- • Attend a Performance at Semperoper (the Opera House)
- • Visit the Zwinger Palace
- • Visit Frauenkirche (The Church of Our Lady), Dresden’s most beloved church
- • Admire the Fürstenzug (the Procession of Princes Mosaic)
- • Visit Katolische Hofkirche (Dresden Cathedral)
- • Immerse Yourself in Art at the Albertinum
- • Spend an Afternoon on the Brühlsche Terrasse (Brühl’s Terrace)
- • Visit the Green Vault of the Royal Palace
- Tips for Visiting Dresden
Things to Do in Dresden Neustadt (New Town)
The funny thing about Neustadt Dresden (New Town Dresden) is that it’s actually quite old. Until the 17th this part of town was actually known as Old Dresden (Altendresden.)
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 appeared in this part of town.
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.
Although not very ornate, the interior of the church is worth seeing for the beautiful altar piece. The sandstone altar suffered big damage in the bombing of 1945, but has now been 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.
Kunsthofpassage came to life when a group of artists sculptors and designers took a bunch of old buildings and redesigned their façades. Each building and courtyard has its own specific motif and a theme. 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 displays hand painted tiles and enameled sculptures. These sophisticated tiles are 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 swarms with people at all times. Photography is not allowed in the shop and the store keepers are very serious about making you respect this rule. I was able to take a few shots because I showed them my press care.
Tip for photographers: The shop is difficult to photograph because is very small and almost always has people around. But if you wait for the brief moment when a group of visitors is leaving you may be able to catch a few shots.
Attractions 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! The building was designed in 1841 by the German architect Gottfried Semper, but after the bombing of 1945 there was nothing left of it.
In 1985 a massive reconstruction bought the Dresden Opera House to life again. The Opera reopened 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.
Not everybody likes opera though, so if you don’t want to attend a performance, you can still visit the venue. There are 45-minute guided tours (both in English and in German) that talk about the history and acoustics of the Semperoper.
• Visit the Zwinger Palace
A splendid example of German Baroque architecture, Zwinger Palace is one of the most famous castles in Germany. It is also 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?
• Visit Frauenkirche (The Church of Our Lady), Dresden’s most beloved church
Frauenkirche is a symbol of the city and one of the most beloved attraction of Dresden. The church dates back to 1726. 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. But 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. The builders used salved stones from the original church in the reconstruction.
One of the most popular things to do in Dresden is climb 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)
My favorite attraction in Dresden is Fürstenzug (the Procession of Princes), a mosaic mural located on the outside of the Royal Palace complex. The 330 feet long panorama 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.
The original mural was painted on stucco 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 color started to fade away.
In order to make it weather-proof, they covered the original painting 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 also suffered severe damages during the bombing of 1945.
• Immerse Yourself in Art at the Albertinum
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 building of the museum sits 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 for both tourists and locals.
• 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.
Founded by Augustus the Strong in 1723, the Green Vault was named after the formerly malachite green column of the initial room.
The exhibition includes 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 includes 12 rooms where you can see individual art objects.
During the Second World War, the Royal Palace burned down to the ground, but the collection escaped the Allied bombing. The Germans hid it in the Königstein Fortress. The extensive reconstruction process began in 1985 and lasted for almost 20 years.
Tips for Visiting Dresden
The best way to visit Dresden’s attractions is by purchasing a pass for the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus. You can easily explore 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.
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