Are you planning a trip to Germany and interested in exploring outside of tourist hotspots like Berlin and Hamburg? Along the Elbe River in the German state of Saxony is Dresden, a city of elegance and resilience.
Dresden’s idyllic location earned it a reputation as ‘the Florence of the North’ and ‘the Venice of the River Elbe’. Although heavily destroyed by World War II, many of the city’s infamous Baroque buildings have been restored to their former beauty. In addition to the monumental architecture, Dresden is also loved for its many fascinating museums and historic galleries.
Armed with a prepaid Dresden City Card, you can explore the city’s numerous points of interests with ease. Read on for 23 interesting things to do in Dresden, Germany.
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The Dresden Zwinger
One of Germany’s most recognisable Baroque buildings is the Dresden Zwinger. Designed by architect Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann, the complex was built in the early 1700s in the northwestern area of Innere Altstadt. Back in the day, its various courtyards and pavilions were used for royal court festivities.
Your eyes will naturally be drawn to the richly embellished Rampart Pavilion at the centre. An unexpected highlight is the Nymphenbad, an enclosed courtyard and fountain area with a mix-match of fascinating nymph and Triton statues.
Today, the Zwinger is the site of three museums and art collections: the Dresden Porcelain Collection, the Old Masters Picture Gallery, and Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments. You can discover each of these later on, as the extravagant architecture deserves some appreciation of its own.
Sadly, most of the building was destroyed by bombs during World War II. However, thanks to careful restoration over almost 20 years, the Zwinger closely resembles its original pre-war appearance and condition. The complex opens at 6 a.m. and is ideal for your first sightseeing stop of the day.
Near the Elbe River in the Altstadt is the Semperoper (Semper Opera). After the original opera house at this location burned down in 1869, a replacement was designed by architect Gottfried Semper.
The elegant facade blends Renaissance and Baroque Revival with Corinthian Order elements. You’ll also see statues of notable playwrights like Shakespeare and Molière, as well as Greek tragedians Sophocles and Euripides.
Want to see the lavishly decorated rooms inside? Take a 45-minute guided tour through the Semperoper. There are typically only one or two English-language tours per day, so book online as early as you can to avoid missing out.
As one of the oldest buildings in the city, Dresden Castle is a must-see. With origins as a Romanesque keep, it has undergone numerous extensions and reconstructions since the 1200s. As a result, there is a unique mix of architectural styles and influences, most notably Neo-Renaissance and Baroque.
Also known as the Royal Palace, the former residence is now home to five separate museums. Four staterooms reopened to the public in September of 2019, 300 years after their initial construction by Augustus the Strong. The heavenly, historic English Stairway was also reopened in 2010 following years of reconstruction.
Dresden Castle is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Tuesday.
Those searching for things to do in Dresden in winter will appreciate the abundance of world-class museums. The Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe) is a magnificent historical museum within Dresden Castle that you won’t want to miss. Over two separate exhibitions, it allegedly holds the largest collection of treasures in Europe.
On the first floor of the castle, you’ll find the Historic Green Vault. This exhibition displays 3,000 pieces of jewellery, gemstones, carved artworks, gilded silver, bronze statuettes and other precious objects made of amber and ivory. There are nine exhibition rooms in total, as well as the entrance chamber. The largest is the breathtaking Pretiosa Room with completely mirrored walls.
On the second floor is the New Green Vault. This exhibition consists of 12 subtle rooms in order to focus on the beauty of the individual pieces. Here you can admire over 1,000 treasures, from Baroque jewellery to unique pieces by one of Europe’s greatest goldsmiths, Johann Melchior Dinglinger.
Like the Royal Palace, Grünes Gewölbe is open between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. from Wednesday to Monday. To avoid waiting in line, you can purchase a VIP ticket online.
The historic Brühl’s Terrace sits about 10 metres above the shoreline of the Elbe River. Also known as ‘The Balcony of Europe’, it passes or overlooks many of the city’s top landmarks, including the Frauenkirche, the Hofkirche and the Albertinum. Despite being rebuilt in the mid-1900s, it looks almost identical to the original terrace constructed in the 1500s.
Enter from Castle Square (Schlossplatz) towards the west and enjoy a casual stroll. There are some cosy restaurants, cafes and bars nearby if you wish to stop and people watch for a while.
Dresden Frauenkirche, aka the Church of Our Lady, is an extraordinary structure within the Innere Altstadt. The original church collapsed due to damage from firebombing, though its rebuilding became a symbol of reconciliation and recovery. It was restored between 1994 and 2005 using 3,800 of the original stones.
The Frauenkirche remains one of the finest examples of sacred Protestant architecture, and its unconventionally high dome is one of the largest in Europe. The interiors are quite expansive as well, fitting four stories of wooden balconies surrounding the altar. At a height of 91 metres, the church looms over the city and is an emblematic part of Dresden’s skyline.
The church welcomes anyone to stop by and listen to the free organ concerts held daily, coinciding with the midday mass. Evening music performances are regularly held here too, though it is recommended that you book online in advance.
Old Masters Picture Gallery
One of the galleries located inside the Zwinger is the Old Masters Picture Gallery (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister). Located in the Semper Gallery wing are around 750 paintings from the 15th to the 18th centuries. These include Italian Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces by the likes of Titian, Raphael, Correggio and Giorgione. Other notable paintings are works by 17th-century Flemish and Dutch painters such as Van Dyck, Rembrandt and Vermeer.
If you’re interested in seeing these famous pieces up close, keep in mind that the gallery has shorter opening hours than the Zwinger. Stop by between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day except Monday. To learn about the artworks during your visit, you can download the audio guide app, available in English for iOS and Android.
A quirky and unexpected sight to see in Dresden is the Kunsthofpassage. Found off of Görlitzer Straße within the Äußere Neustadt, the area is made up of five courtyards created by local artists and architects. The buildings feature out-of-the-box facades like the Regenwasserspiel, a blue-washed outer wall adorned with a maze of drain pipes. Pop inside any of the indie stores to pick up some handcrafted souvenirs or relax with a cup of coffee.
13 kilometres northwest of Dresden is the Moritzburg Castle, constructed on a rectangular artificial island in the mid-1500s. The castle’s vibrant yellow facade with four cylindrical towers on each corner stand out amongst its scenic natural backdrop. The chapel is one of the finest examples of early Baroque architecture in the region, and the adjacent Little Pheasant Castle is a charming bubble gum pink dreamhouse.
The interior walls are covered in 17th-century golden gilding with a large collection of red deer antlers from floor to ceiling. Within the 200 plus rooms are additional animal figurines and ornate antique furniture pieces, plus beautiful examples of Meissen, Chinese and Japanese china in the historic porcelain quarter.
The castle is open between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day and costs €8 to enter.
Along Augustusstraße, you’ll come across the world’s largest porcelain artwork. This impressive mural is 102 metres long and over 10 metres high. Made up of 23,000 weatherproof Meissen porcelain tiles, the panorama details portraits of the kings, dukes, noblemen and other rulers of Saxony’s Wettin Dynasty from 1127 to 1904. Fürstenzug is a superb quick attraction to check out before or after you visit Dresden Castle.
Dresden Transport Museum
A fascinating museum worth exploring is the Dresden Transport Museum. Under the one roof, you’ll find all sorts of vehicles on display, from railway and road to air traffic. The museum is divided into well-curated exhibition areas showcasing trains, cars, bicycles and motorbikes, aeroplanes, and various sea vessels. You can learn about 1,000 years of sailing along the River Elbe, and take a journey through 200 years of aviation history.
The Transport Museum is located in the 16th-century Johanneum at the Neumarkt, one of the oldest museum buildings in the city. Its focus on Saxon and East German vehicles is what makes the museum unique. Stop by between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday. Adults can enter for €9, with family tickets and concessions also available.
One of Dresden’s most enchanting and immersive attractions is the Panometer. Engage yourself in the history of the city through 360-degree panoramas measuring 27 metres high and 105 metres wide.
The powerful ‘DRESDEN 1945’ exhibition takes you to the aftermath of the World War II bombings of Dresden. From the 15-metre-high visitor’s tower, you will be transported to the top of the Town Hall to witness the destruction and impact.
The second exhibit beginning in 2020 is ‘Baroque Dresden’, an artistic snapshot of the city between 1695 and 1760. The panorama will shift from day to night every 15 minutes to provide an even richer experience.
45-minute and 90-minute private guided tours are offered in English, but need to be organised in advance. A full price entrance costs €11.50, with discounts for children, students and groups. The Panometer is open daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. (or 6 p.m. on weekends).
Looking for things to do in Dresden at Christmas? The best way to get into the festive mood is at Dresden’s most famous Christmas market, Striezelmarkt. Held within the Altmarkt square, the market runs from late November to the 24th of December each year. Held for the first time in 1434, it has grown from a one-day celebration to a month-long event that attracts three million visitors from around the globe.
Within the centre of the market is a 20-metre-high spruce tree adorned with glowing lights. Towards the back, you’ll discover a giant Advent calendar and a wooden castle. There are always fun rides for the kids as well, including a small merry-go-round. Among the 240 stalls, you can peruse or purchase handmade ornaments and gifts to take home with you.
Striezelmarkt provides the perfect opportunity to sample some of Saxony’s traditional treats. While you’re there, try some stollen (Christmas fruit bread), Pulsnitzer pfefferkuchen (chocolate-covered gingerbread) and, of course, glühwein (mulled wine).
15 kilometres from the Innere Altstadt is Pillnitz Castle. This beautifully restored Baroque palace overlooks the River Elbe. While originally a simple residential castle built in the 14th century, it was expanded significantly during the 16th and 17th centuries.
There are three main buildings within the castle’s complex: the Riverside Palace (Wasserpalais), the New Palace (Neues Palais), and the Upper Palace (Bergpalais). Both the Upper Palace and the Riverside Palace house the Arts and Crafts Museum from the Dresden State Art Collections, showing off furniture and ceramics from the 13th to the 20th centuries.
The surroundings are just as impressive, with a 28-hectare botanical park. Here, you’ll come across an English pavilion and a Chinese pavilion. Outside the Upper Palace is a gorgeous Baroque flower garden and a large central fountain.
As with many other attractions, the Pillnitz Castle is open between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday.
Eager to see something a bit more contemporary? The Albertinum is Dresden’s top modern art museum. Located in a divine Renaissance Revival building along Brühl’s Terrace, it houses the Dresden State Art Collections’ Sculpture Collection, as well as the New Masters Gallery. On display are paintings and sculptures from the 19th-century Romantic era until the present day.
There are always fascinating and thought-provoking temporary exhibitions held here too. Check the website to find out what’s currently on and see if anything catches your interest. The Albertinum is closed on Mondays and costs €12 to enter.
Dresden Suspension Railway
See the city from a different point a view by taking the suspension railway. Opening in 1901, it is one of the oldest in the world. Don’t let its age deter you, however, as the 274-metre-long line is supported by 33 pillars. Renovations completed in 2002 also created a new lookout point at the upper station, as well as a quaint cafe.
Reaching the 84-metre-high peak takes less than five minutes and costs €3 each way. While you can’t see too much on the way up, the panorama from the top overlooking greater Dresden makes the trip worth it.
While it’s not a building you’ll enter, the Yenidze is a one-of-a-kind structure in Dresden that’s worth taking notice of. The former cigarette factory from the early 1900s (and current office building) is known for its Moorish Revival facade.
The architecture takes inspiration from mosques, with a 20-metre-high dome and chimneys resembling minarets. There are also a total of 600 eclectic windows. Spot the building from close up on Weißeritzstrasse in the Friedrichstadt neighbourhood.
Museum of Military History
Learn more about Dresden’s involvement in World War II at the Bundeswehr Military History Museum. The museum’s building is largest in Germany, with a total exhibition area of 20,000 square metres. Within a former armoury in the neighbourhood of Albertstadt are displays of German military technology, firearms and uniforms. Along with these relics are art collections featuring paintings, drawings, photographs and postcards.
The Bundeswehr Military History Museum is open between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day except Wednesday, with free admission from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Monday.
Take a short trip from Dresden to experience the magic of Neurathen Castle. The rock castle is found near Rathen amongst the iconic Bastei rock formation, which reaches a height of 194 metres above the Elbe and 305 metres above sea level.
Cross the Bastei Bridge to reach the ruins of Neurathen Castle, which are now an open-air museum. For only €2, it’s worth the hike.
Dresden Botanical Garden
The Dresden University of Technology’s botanic garden is a wonderful place to spend a few hours. Located next to the tremendous Großer Garten are diverse greenhouses and a larger open area with an alpine garden. There are over 10,000 species sorted by geographic region, as well as some friendly squirrels outside.
See fossil tree stumps in the tropical conservatory, discover the aromatic and medicinal properties of herbs, and admire at the Victoria cruziana water lilies. The succulent house is a highlight and an ideal background for some Instagram pics. The gardens are open daily from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Another astonishing building in Dresden is the Albrechtsberg Palace overlooking the River Elbe. Its mid-1800s Neoclassical style stands out amongst the sea of Baroque you’ll quickly get used to. Designed by the Prussian court, there are a total of 10 halls and salons, as well as a charming sun patio. When the palace isn’t rented out for an event, guided tours are available.
Dresden City Museum and Art Gallery
The last two cultural sites you should check out are the Dresden City Museum and the Dresden City Art Gallery. One of the largest and most important in the city, the museum retells the history of Dresden across 800 years. Film installations further demonstrate how the city has drastically evolved across the millennium.
On the other side, the art gallery presents contemporary paintings and sculptures by famous German artists, such as Otto Mueller, Curt Querner, Robert Sterl, Angela Hampel and Hermann Glöckner. All pieces are from the 20th and 21st centuries and offer an artistic perspective of modern life in Dresden.
Both are located within the Dresden Landhaus, a historic Baroque building from the 1700s. You can visit any day except Monday, though admission is free every Friday after midday.
Historic Old Town Walking Tour
Struggling to decide where to begin your sightseeing? Let someone else take care of that for you by joining a 90-minute walking tour. Your guide will take you to see the Zwinger, Dresden Cathedral, the Church of Our Lady and the Theaterplatz square. Ideal for first-time visitors, you’ll gain a little insight into the Dresden’s history while exploring the historic streets of the Innere Altstadt.
Recommended tours in Dresden
- Dresden Walking Tour of the Historic Old Town
- Best of Bohemian and Saxon Switzerland Day Trip from Dresden – Hiking Tour
- Small-Group Bastei Bridge and Königstein Fortress Day Tour from Dresden
- Small city tour by bike
- Magic Christmas Tour in Dresden
- Private Photo Session with a Local Photographer in Dresden
- Panometer Dresden Entrance Ticket
- Street Art Tour Dresden Neustadt
- New Green Vault with Licensed guide
- Dresden private tour with castle visit