Dresden is a city with two different faces- you have the bombastic baroque beauty of the Aldstadt and then you have the grungy alternative feel of the Neustadt. In this 48 Hours in Dresden guide , I share with you the best things to do in Dresden –I’ve summarised what to do in Dresden , where to eat and drink in Dresden plus the essentials: best budget places to stay in Dresden , best day trips from Dresden and getting there and away.
Best things to do in Dresden Aldstadt
1.Wonder aimlessly in Old Town and admire the architecture
One of the best things to do in Dresden Aldstadt and get a sense of the city is to just drift freely and soak in the beautiful baroque architecture. It’s nothing short of a miracle given how the city was carpet bombed by Allied forces , completely reducing the city to rubble by Allied forces. ( Killing thousands of people in the process..such a sad story ) So, the city you see in front of your eyes is a complete reconstruction. One of the highlights of the walk around the Aldstadt is a stroll up Augustusstrasse to admire the ‘Furstenzug’ : the world’s largest porcelain mural. Created by alchemist, Johann Friedrich Bottger , the mural depicts the 35 princes, counts and kings from the House of Wettin.
The thing that stands out for me about the Frauenkirche is the glorious dome which is one of the largest architectural domes in Europe. Reduced to rubble in WW2 bombing, the church lied in ruins during the GDR times as a reminder of the horror and painful consequences of war. After the fall of the wall it was rebuilt , wherever possible using the original bricks of the church. Atop the beautiful cupola is a cross with a special story – it was designed by Englishmen whose grandfather was part of the 1945 Allied air raid on the city.
How to book
Book in advance via GetYourGuide and for €11 entry fee, you skip the line, get a guided tour, climb to the top of the Frauenkirche for a glorious view of the city plus you can get a chance to listen to the church’s famous organ.
Tip : You can also admire an equally impressive view of the city from the church tower of the nearby Kreuzkirche .If you time your visit to Dresden over the weekend, do pop into the Kreuzkirche for their 9:30am Sunday service here where you can listen to one of the world’s oldest boys choirs ( 700 years old) for free.
3.Visit the Albertinum and stopover at the ‘Balcony of Europe’
After visiting the Frauenkirche, head to the top of the Renaissance Fort to walk along Bruhlsche Terrace to have birds eye view of the ‘Balcony of Europe.’ The terrace is also home to Dresden’s premier modern art museum, the Albertinum. The museum has an impressive collection of paintings ranging from Caspar David Friedrich (my favourite German painter) to Ludwig Richter plus sculptures from Auguste Rodin. Plus definitely worth checking out the museum beautiful inner atrium.
How to book
Built in Rococo style and designed by court architect Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann, the Zwinger is one of the most beautiful buildings you will see in Dresden and indeed anywhere on your travels in Germany.
Previously a festival arena and an orangery, today the Zwinger serves as museum complex that contains the Old Masters Picture Gallery (where you can admire Raphael’s Sistine Madonna up close ), the Dresden Porcelain Collection (Porzellansammlung) and the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon.
How to book
Skip the crowds and lines with the 2 day Dresden Museum card via GetYourGuide. The card also covers the Albertinum museum.
If you are on a budget, note that it is free to explore the beautiful grounds of the Zwinger and admire it’s fountain studded courtyard.
5. ‘Elbwiesen’: THE view of Dresden
Cross the river and head to the Elbwiesen -‘Elbe Meadows.’ I’m a big fan of Canaletto and his beautiful Venetian landscape paintings so it was great to discover that his nephew and painter Bernardo Bellotto (who also signed his paintings in his uncle’s name) was a frequent visitor to the city. He left behind some great paintings of Dresden which serve as a memory of how beautiful the city looked before the grave destruction of the city in World War II. None of his paintings are more memorable than his view of Dresden’s Old Town from the Elbe meadows on the river’s north bank. So, once you cross the river do stop at the meadows for a quick photo opportunity of that view. You can see the painting at the Old Masters Gallery in the Zwinger. Also in the summer, the Elbe’s meadows on the north bank are packed with sun worshippers so if its a sunny day, this is the perfect place for a mini-picnic. Pop into any of the local supermarket and pick up the local Radeberger Pilsner and your munchies…boom!
Tip: If you are visiting July and August, there is an open air film festival held here on the banks called the ‘Filmnachte Am Elbufer’ plus they hold a number of concerts here too.
Best things to do in Dresden Neustadt
Dresden Neustadt is actually the oldest part of Dresden and is more than 800 years old. It has a very cool, grungy and alternative feel to it. Tons of character, interesting shops and cool bars make this one of the most fascinating places to visit in Dresden.
6. A street art tour of Dresden Neustadt
I was pleasantly surprised by the rich concentration of graffitti, stencils and murals in the nooks and crannies of Neustadt’s gritty bohemian neighbourhoods. When you think of street art in Germany, you immediately think of Berlin and possibly Hamburg so this aspect of the city for me was a complete surprise.
Few of my favourite streetart pieces from Dresden were
I am the future I am your dream’ and ‘Waited so long’
By local street activist/artist -Schikka
Probably the most famous Dresden street artist, Jens Besser
The Ghost of Harry Gelb
This was favourite – this is a series of small installations made of tiles with printed images on them. Created by artistic duo ‘Harry Gelb’, these printed tiles can be found all over Dresden and cities across the world. The origins of the tiles and their meaning is a bit of a mystery- Danilo has an explanation which you can find out when you take his tour.
7. Pop into the Kunsthofpassage
The Kunshofpassage just off Gorlitzerstrasse in Neustadt is a hidden maze of backyards that have been redeveloped and now houses a number of artsy cool handicraft shops, a garden store, a shop that sells tea and also a number of cool cafe wine bars like the Hofcafe.
I love these retro, B/W photo kiosks in Berlin and glad to discover one in Louisenstraase in the Neustadt. After a few beers, this is the perfect place for some photo-fun.
Cost: Just €2 for 4 photos.
9. Go to the Indoor Flea Market
I love a good old nosey through a flea market or garage sale. If you are like to wade through a whole bunch of junk which includes a ton of GDR memorabilia ( British Museum postcards as seen in the picture ), books and old furniture , then pop into the indoor flea market on Stetzscher Strasse.
10. Visit the Edward Snowden Platz!
Filed under unusual things to discover in Dresden , the city has the unique distinction of having the only square in the world dedicated towards the whistleblower, Edward Snowden. Pop over to Bautzner Strasse 6 to check the ‘square’ which in reality is nothing much really but still a nice gesture.
11. Dresden Panometer
If you want to get a feeling of what Dresden looked in the 18th century, then a visit to the awe inspiring Dresden Panometer is a must. Situated in a collosal former gasworks building on the outskirts of the city, panorama artist Yadegar Assisi ( Inspired apparently by the panoramic painting of Dresden by Canaletto) has created a stunning 360 degree panorama of what Dresden looked like circa 1756. Hard to express in words but for me it really was quite a moving experience for me to be standing standing at the foot of this monumental 105m by 12m painting. The exhibition alternates between medieval Dresden and the haunting visual of postwar Dresden in 1945 when the city was completely destroyed. You can buy tickets in advance for €11.50 or at the door
12. Still a student? How about a night at the Semperoper Dresden for €10
One of the great traditions and highlights of Dresden is a visit to the stunning Semperoper Dresden.
A limited number of tickets are available for schoolchildren and students (valid ID required and under 27 years) for purchase from the 15th of the month for subsequent performances at a price of 10 euros.
Also if you are unlucky not to be in Dresden around the 15th of the month but lucky to be a student , if you arrive 30 minutes before the performance, subject to availability, tickets are offered at a discounted price of 11 euros
Cool day trips ideas from Dresden
1. Visit Meissen on a classic paddleboat steamer!
Meissen was one of the key highlights of our trip to Saxony last year.
The city is just 30 minutes by train from Dresden but there is also another cool way to visit the city- by a classic paddleboat steamer!
The vessel has been lovingly restored and features cozy salons both on the main deck and below deck. While on the vessel, guests can get an open view of the original, oscillating steam engine plus.There are also small windows on the side to view the splashing paddle wheels. Journey time is about 2 1/2 hours. Grab a beer from the vessel bar and enjoy the spectacular scenery along the sleepy Elbe river.
Checkout my guide to Meissen to get an idea of places to see including the world famous Porcelain Factory and also some of my recommended spots for a bite and a glass of local wine. You can return to Dresden by train. Journey time is around 30 minutes and tickets cost around €6.
To book this
Booking via GetYourGuide, a one way trip costs €17.
Or for €24, you can book a return trip, if you prefer to take the paddle steamer back to Dresden with a 1 hour stop in Meissen.
Others day trips from Dresden
An hour’s train ride from Dresden, Bautzen with its impressive fortifications and beautifully preserved old town is a joy to wonder through. Here is my guide to the best things to do in Bautzen. Other great day trips include, Gorlitz, probably the most beautiful city in Germany.
2. Visit Moritzburg Palace
If castles and palaces are your nirvana then a visit to the enchanting Moritzburg Palace situated 13 kms northwest of the city is definitely worth the day trip. Built in the baroque style the palace has 4 round towers that look down onto a huge symmetrical artificial lake and extensive grounds. If time permits, I definitely recommend a visit inside the castle but given the limited time I had to explore, I was happy to wonder around the castle.
Tip: To reach Moritzburg Palace hop on the Regionalbus 326 from Dresden Neustadt. Invest in a VVO one day ticket which covers the whole area. It costs €13.50 for the day and two children ( aged 6-14 ) can travel free with an adult. The other option if you are travelling in a group is to buy the group pass which costs €28.
3. Radebeul–Radeburg Railway
If steam trains and time travelling is your thing, then a journey on the Radebeul–Radeburg Railway is a wonderful experience that will delight people of all ages. One of the oldest narrow gauge railway lines in Germany, without the fail , everyday this classic steam train embarks day on a 16.6 kilometre route from Radebeul Ost to Radeburg via Moritzburg.
I jumped aboard the train from Moritzburg train station which is a 15 minute walk from the castle. I personally love the smell of steam. Acrid sulphurous taste might not be everyone’s cup of tea but for me it evokes a more glamourous era of travel when the journey truly was part of the fun and experience.
The train huffs and puffs its way into the forest and boggy marshlands of Moritzburg before weaving past several fields and meadows before finally stopping at Radebeul. Tickets cost €7.50 one way ( Kids: €3.80) or €14.30 ( Kids: €7.20) return.
4. Go on a wine tour in one of Germany’s best vineyards- Schloss Wackerbarth
Perfect way to end the day out of Dresden is a visit to the fairytale vineyards of the Schloss Wackerbarth. The vineyard produces Germany’s second oldest sparkling wine. I wasn’t aware of the strong wine growing tradition that exists in this eastern corner of the country but for over 850 years, wine growing has been a major industry here alongside porcelain making. The warm, almost mediterrranean style climate here allows the vines to thrive on terraces of the Radebeul slopes. As part of your visit to the vineyard you are shown the different stages of sparkling wine ‘sekt’ production wine The tour ends with the best bit : a tasting of three different types of sparkling wines that allows you to fully appreciate their amazing craft. After the wine tour do explore the fairytale grounds and if you’re hungry for more, they have an excellent restaurant where you can sample more of their wines.
Note that tours run daily on weekdays from 5pm while on weekends at 1pm, 3pm and 5pm. A ticket for the tour costs €12 for adults which includes the tasting session at the end. For kids (7-15), it costs €6 which includes a tasting of their grape fruit juice.
Getting there: From Radebeul train station, it is roughly a 10 minute walk from the station to catch the Tram number 4 [direction Weinböhla] to get Schloss Wackerbarth. From Schloss Wackerbarth there is a number of trams that take you direct to Dresden. The VVO one day ticket will cover you for these journeys.
PS Checkout my brand new guide to the Saxon wine route that starts in Dresden.
Where to eat and drink in Dresden Aldstadt
1. Saxon potato soup lunch at Aha
Inner Aldstadt is packed with mostly expensive cafes and restuarants –avoid these and pop into Aha: fair trade store and café. The coffee is excellent here and the food too. I would recommend trying the local Saxon speciality they make here- Potato Soup with sausages. Garnished with beansprouts and sunflower seeds and served with a hunk of rye bread-this was one of the best soups I have ever tasted. Plus a very generous portion size keeps you going for the day.
Cost: €8 ( Without sausages, €6.60 )
2. Kinh Do
The inner Aldstadt has a few touristy traps but you can’t go wrong with Kinh Do which is probably one of the more decent Vietnamese diners in Dresden.
I had been looking for a bar to watch a Champions League football match involving Bayern Munich and Barcelona and with all the bars being rammed with Bayern supporters I found this restaurant comparatively less crowded and showing the game on a small screen in the corner. Quick glance at the food being served and the happy faces of diners gave me some degree of confidence. I wasn’t really hungry, so I went for their Pho Beef noodle soup. Was delicious. Service was good and for the price of €8, I couldn’t complain.
Where to eat in Dresden Neustadt
1. Curry & Co
Winner in the national currywurst competition Curry & Co is no ordinary currywurst bistro.
You have a choice of 6 sauces ranging from their self made peanut sauce to jalapeño cheese. You can choose from the economy package (€3.80) with fries or if you’re looking for something extra you can upgrade to ‘First Class’ ( €8.90) where you are served prosecco with your currywurst. Fries are fantastic here. Plus they also serve a vegan currywurst which I’ve heard excellent things about.
An alternative place for lunch Dresden Neustadt is the uber cool burger joint, Fettboy on Bautzner Strasse. The burgers are fab here plus they serve their burgers in a choice of a brioche bun or focaccia bread. Plus you have the choice of fries with their seriously delicious plum ketchup. Veggie burgers here come highly recommended. Prices start from €4.30
3. Bistro at Bülow Palais
If you are looking for bistro style dining in a modern elegant restaurant then, highly recommend the Bistro at the Bülow Palais. (Königstraße 14, 01097 Dresden ) From Monday to Friday they offer a daily lunch menu for the price of € 16 per person which is a brilliant value alternative to their Michelin starred “Caroussel” Restaurant which is located in the same building.
4. T1 Bistro and Cafe
Situated slightly off the beaten path in Dresden’s Kraftwork Mitte complex ( city’s former power station) which houses now a cultural centre and also the Kraftwork Mitte nightclub, you can find the cool T1 Bistro & Cafe. Situated in what was the old porter’s lodge in the power station, I loved the 1930’s industrial vintage decor. They serve good selection of beers plus good coffee and a nice selection of cakes. Plus there’s a nice outdoor seating area so this is perfect to visit if the weather is nice.
5. Eis Eis baby- Tiki Bar
Serving locals since 1966, Neumann family who run Tiki Bar during the GDR times were responsible for 100% of the diet ice cream production in the socialist east. Highly recommend their combo of yoghurt blueberry & coconut chocolate.
Cost: €2. Bonus: Excellent free wifi too.
Where to drink in Dresden
1. Beers at Watzke am Goldenen Rieter
If you are looking for a typical German biergarten experience and something a bit local, then worth checking out one of the Brauhaus Watzke’s in Dresden. I visited their Neustadt outpost and found their beers pleasant and the food looked pretty decent. I visited on a Tuesday when they offer a stein Maß beer for €5.50!
2. Lebowski Bar
If you are a fan of the cult classic, The Big Lebowski, definitely worth popping into the Lebowski Bar for one of their excellent white russians. While sipping on your white russians, you can watch the movie on possibly the smallest TV screen known to mankind. The movie is shown on loop throughout the day with English and German subtitles.
3. Blue Note
If you are fan of Jazz and Blues music, pop into Blue Note, a local institution, where everyday for almost 18 years people have pouring in from 8pm for a daily dose of live music listening to everything from soul, funk to jazz and bebop. Best thing is that most concerts are free to enter and the drinks are pretty cheap.
Cost: Radeberger Pills €2.80
Where to stay in Dresden on a budget
If you’re looking for a real backpacker hostel then the Kangaroo Hostel is your go to hostel. The location is fantastic, right in the Dresden Neustadt area which is lively with lots of cool bars and places to eat. You are about a 15-20 minute ( very scenic) walk to the Old Town. There is a lounge where you can meet people and have a chat, a kitchen to prepare your meals and the free wifi is decent. The large lawn allows BBQ nights and crackling campfires at the end of the day. There is an excellent buffet breakfast available for an additional fee of €6. The staff here are friendly and ready to help.
2. Lollis Homestay
Also hostel I recommend is the Lollis Homestay , located in the hip Dresden’s Neustadt district, Lollis The staff are friendly and extremely helpful. This is another typical backpacker hostel, cozy with all the necessities. Guests are offered free tea and coffee all day plus bicycles are available free of charge. They organise a free communal dinner on Sunday and Wednesday, BBQ on Monday while on Tuesday they offer a crash course in German to all guests.The beds are clean and comfortable as is the rest of the building.
3. DJH Dresden Jugendherberge
DJH Dresden Jugendherberge- is another comfortable choice in a good location just 2 stops by tram from the Railway Station. Buffet breakfast is excellent and sets you up nicely for the day. Lack of free internet is a drawback. Bed in a dorm is pricey at €26.25 and if you are travelling solo, definitely worth upgrading to the ensuite, single rooms for the €10 extra. If you are travelling as a couple or with a friend, choose the twin room option you pay a €4 surcharge on top of the €26.25 base rate, per person, per night.
4. Star Inn Hotel Premium Haus Altmarkt
If you have a bit more money to play with and looking for something bit more comfortable and romantic then the excellent Star Inn Hotel Premium Haus Altmarkt is a good option. Hotel enjoys a fab location just a 2-minute walk from Altmarkt rail station and a few hundred yards from the historic Frauenkirche baroque church. The rooms have been recently refurbished and modern with nice beds, spacious ensuite bathrooms and also speedy wifi. Plus they have a really nice espresso machine in the rooms to make your own coffee. The very generous breakfast buffet is an extra €15 but worth the splurge. Hotel room prices start around €70 via booking.com and represent great value for the location and quality.
5. Bulow Residenz Hotel
Another fab mid-range hotel option if you are happy to splurge is the Bulow Residenz hotel. It is an old fashioned but very elegant hotel. Room prices start around the €100 mark on Booking.com
Getting to Dresden and away
Dresden is just a 2 and 1/2 hour ride from Berlin and booking via Deutsche Bahn, you can get fares as low as €35.
Or alternatively , Dresden has it’s own airport which is served by airlines like Lufthansa, Eurowings and Air Berlin.
Public transportation in Dresden
The city has an excellent transport network. If you are blessed with good weather and have good walking shoes it is possible to walk around all the key sights. In colder weather you will probably have stay more indoors, visit many of the city’s excellent museums- in this case I would recommend investing in the Dresden 2 day city card ( €30) which gives you unlimited use of their transport networks.
Further Dresden Resources
Checkout Wanderlust Chloe’s recent guide to things to do in Dresden
Big thank you to Christoph Munch, Betting Burge and the Dresden Marketing Board for their support and bringing me back to Dresden!
Please note: While my trip has been sponsored, the views and thoughts represented in this article are my own.