Dresden was the primary reason that Sam and I traveled to the state of Saxony, Germany on a one week itinerary. If you aren’t super familiar with Dresden, then you might be wondering why this seemingly random city sparked an entire one week vacation to the eastern region of Germany? Well, I had heard from several trusted travel friends that Dresden was an awesome city with tons of impressive architecture and interesting neighborhoods, two of our favorite things to explore on our city breaks around Europe. Plus, it is a fairly under-the-radar city for North American travelers like us, so we were excited to be surprised by all of the things we discovered for ourselves in Dresden!
Although much of the city was destroyed by American fire bombing during WWII, there has been significant restoration and rebuilding of the most famous structures in Dresden in the years since the war. Dresden now looks similar to how it did pre-war, serving as a nice example of the prosperity of eastern German provinces during the 1700 and 1800s.
Once known as the “Florence of the North,” Dresden is a beautiful German city with a curious mix of old world and new world blending together almost seamlessly. There are plenty of things to fill a visit to Dresden for 4-5 days, but I think a 48 hour visit is a minimum. Three days is even better because you can fit in a visit to the interesting attractions surrounding Dresden.
This is my ideal 3 day itinerary for seeing the best of Dresden, Germany!
Morning: Wandering the Altstadt
The old town of Dresden is absolutely packed with cultural sights to explore in a very compact and easy to navigate area. A good place to start a walking tour of the Altstadt is the massive Neumarkt square. This unmissable plaza is one of the main gathering areas in Dresden with the remarkable protestant Freunenkirchen church serving as a backdrop. Definitely go inside the church, whose interesting exterior architecture is almost as lovely as the unique pale pink and blue interior. Martin Luther, of the protestant reformation in the 1500s, was born and preached in this area of Germany, so you’ll see a statue in his honor in the center of the square. If you happen to come to this square later in the day, grab a beer at Freiberger Schankhaus which has a big patio and an even better selection of craft beers from the region.
When in Dresden’s Altstadt, you will inevitably find alluring streets to meander down and there is no need to have a destination in mind as you admire this area. A few buildings to note for architectural beauty are the Academy of Fine Arts and Albertinum Art Museum both of which back up to the lovely Brühlschen Garden along the Elbe river. Sometimes called “the balcony of Europe”, Brühlschen Garten offers stunning views of both old and new Dresden. It is especially pretty at sunset if you remember to come back!
From this park, walk on the old city walls along the waterfront until you reach the blackened exterior of the city’s main Catholic church on Schlossplatz. There was pretty extensive construction happening in this area during our visit in spring 2020 so the ambiance wasn’t great, but this square is surrounded by significant buildings in Dresden history all of which have beautiful exteriors to admire. Just south of the square along the outside of the Stallhof building is a dramatic porcelain mosaic mural (called the Fürstenzug) that stretches the entire length of the block. Made with tiles from the nearby city of Meissen which specializes in porcelain production, this mural depicts a centuries’ long history of Saxon rulers shown in chronological order.
Afternoon: Historic Green Vault in Residenzschloss
If you follow the morning itinerary I laid out above, then you will be standing almost directly in front of the Residenzschloss at this point in the day. Formerly the royal palace for Saxon kings, this massive museum complex can easily take up an entire day with its art collections and exhibits. Grab a bite to eat at the cozy Café Schinkelwache across the street before heading into the museum. There you can sample Eierschecke, a local cake speciality which is composed of layers of sponge cake, egg custard and vanilla pudding.
Even if you’re not a museum person, one collection that you shouldn’t miss inside the Residenzschloss is the historic Green Vault. This vault was commissioned by the extravagant King Augustus to house his personal collection of unique treasures from around the world. After extensive damage from the war, the vault was restored to its colorful original splendor, now housing one of the most impressive collections of ‘treasures’ I have ever seen. There is a silver room, jewelry room, ivory room and lots more!
You can only visit the vault on a guided tour with a ticketed timeslot. You need to make a reservation online ahead of time. It is best to reserve a few days in advance — it is worth all of this work I promise! There are no photos allowed inside the vault, and the ones you see below are from the museum’s website. The reason being, in 2019 the vault was actually robbed in one of the biggest jewelry heists in modern history and the investigation is still ongoing.
Evening: Dinner + Golden Hour at the Zwinger
Sunset at the Zwinger is another must-do activity in Dresden because the lighting is absolutely stunning as it bounces around the courtyard of this historic baroque building. The central pools make perfect reflections of the building, and you’ll definitely be inspired to snap some creative shots. You’ll see plenty of other people taking photos around the garden and crowned tower of the Zwinger at golden hour, but thankfully the palace is big enough to get uninterrupted photos regardless of any crowds.
Once you’re done shooting, wander through the northern gate of the palace to find an ideal dinner location at Alte Meister Restaurant. Situated on the edge of the palace overlooking the Dresden opera house and theater square, the ambiance here is hard to beat. Thankfully dinner at Alte Meister is more than just a pretty face — the food is legit too! If you have extra time after wandering the Zwinger, pop into the opera house whose impressive interior design is sure to please the eye.
Morning: Porcelain Museum at Zwinger
Return to the Zwinger Palace the next morning for a quick meander through the national porcelain collection. This might sound like a snooze to anyone whose mother collected porcelain statues as a child (mine certainly did) but trust me — this museum is so much more than little figurines. The porcelain collection at the Zwinger includes many pieces from one of Saxony’s most notorious kings, Augustus the Strong. His love for porcelain was seemingly boundless and some of the pieces are absolutely huge. He commissioned an entire zoo featuring life-size animals made of porcelain which you’ll find inside this museum.
Afternoon: Exploring Neustadt
The new city of Dresden, Neustadt, has developed over the years on the opposite side of the Elbe river from the old town. It is almost like rivaling cities because the vibes are completely different! Neustadt is where you’ll really get a sense of what Dresden is all about today. Similar to exploring Altstadt, you don’t need much of an agenda in this area. Simply wander around and find things that speak to you!
If you need coffee before starting your walk around the neighborhood, there are two fantastic options in this area of Dresden. Phoenix Coffee Roasters has won awards for their freshly roasted and intensely flavored brews. Their shop is coffee only, so if you need a snack or full service lunch, pop into the stylish Café Oswaldz down the street. This hipster hangout brews Phoenix’s roasts to perfection and you’ll be happy with any of the deeply delicious sandwiches and snacks they offer. Sit out in the private garden behind the cafe if you can!
Also worth a stop on this street is Molkerei Gebrüder Pfund. Serving as the inspiration for Mendl’s Patisserie in Wes Anderson’s film Grand Budapest Hotel, this cheese shop is covered from floor to ceiling in hand painted blue and green tiles. It is quite something! The experience of shopping in the store can be unpleasant, since it is very popular and usually crowded, but it is a beautiful store. There are no pictures inside the shop (despite what you might see on Instagram) and the one featured below is borrowed from the shop’s website. Make sure that you support them with a purchase as many people just come to snap photos clandestinely.
A few spots that I particularly liked in Neustadt were the charming women’s clothing store Lindegruen and the antique furniture and flower purveyor Fux und Fertig. Grab a snack at one of the street food vendors parked in front of the Kulturzentrum Scheune or continue walking down Louisenstrasse to find one of the best currywurst stands in Germany — Curry & Co. With options for vegans and meat lovers alike, this hole-in-the-wall stand lets you customize your sauces and toppings, a unique option for currywurst places.
You are bound to notice A LOT of street art while walking around Dresden’s Neustadt. In fact, it is one of the things this neighborhood is most known for! Kunsthofpassage is an entire alley dedicated to murals and street art connecting Gorlitzerstrasse and Alaunstrasse. It has become so popular that little restaurants and cafes popped up inside the alley.
Evening: Dinner + Beer Bars in Neustadt
Continuing your adventures in Neustadt, plan to spend the evening eating and drinking in this lively neighborhood. Some of the city’s best bars and restaurants reside here, and you will see how much the area changes from day to night. It has a completely different vibe!
Two restaurant options I would recommend are Planwirtschaft and Lila Soße. Planwirtschaft focuses on fresh regional cuisine prepared with inventive ingredients and top-notch craftsmanship. The cozy patio is very romantic! Lila Soße is what would happen if a Spanish tapas restaurant and small-town German brauhaus got together and had a baby restaurant. The small-plate menu feels familiar, but then the food comes out a total surprise packing intense but clean flavors. The ambiance is very quaint making it a nice place for a date night.
Neustadt is one of the main nightlife areas in the city of Dresden with a staggering number of clubs and bars coming to life once the sun goes down. Altes Wettbüro has a chill beer garden vibe with a nice selection of drinks and cocktails. If you’re drinking with a beer lover, Zapfanstalt is a must-visit bar because their tap list is superb. You’ll find rare imports and styles that are hard to come by in Germany. Sam LOVED this place. For a local dive bar, pop into Die 100 which typically has live music and allows patrons to smoke indoors.
Morning + Afternoon: Take a Day Trip!
For your final day in Dresden, I would recommend taking a day trip to one of the many interesting attractions outside of the city. Dresden has been the capital of Saxony for centuries, but this German state is absolutely worth exploring too. My husband and I were pleasantly surprised by the amount of cool things to do in this region of Germany, as these attractions are not super well known for international tourists, especially those originating from North America.
There are day trip options to suit every kind of traveler! From beautiful national parks to charming German towns, I summarize all of my favorite day trips from Dresden in a separate blog post. I would honestly recommend any of them, and if you leave Dresden in the morning, you could reasonably see a few of the places on my list.
Evening: River Patios With A View
End your last night in Dresden with some great views along the Elbe River. Walking on the north side of the river between the Marienbrücke and Albertbrücke is a wide grassy park with sweeping views of the Dresden skyline. It is especially night at sunset! If crossing over the Elbe river on the Augustusburg bridge from the Altstadt, definitely stop by Augustusgarten beer garden to a beer (or four). This patio is popular with locals and tourists alike, making it great for people watching.
If you’re up for a longer walk, choose the brewery at Waldschlösschen as your destination. This German restaurant housed inside a boutique hotel has hands-down the most spectacular birds-eye view of Dresden. Their house brew isn’t half bad either! The lovely beer garden offers live music on weekend nights. You can also return to the Brühlsche Terrasse in the Altstadt for a nice view and lively vibe.