Discover Dresden: Must-See Attractions in the Altstdat, Saxon Switzerland National Park, and Pillnitz Palace

Dresden | Introduction

Dresden, the capital of the German state of Saxony, is situated on the banks of the Elbe River. The city is renowned for its magnificent Baroque and Rococo architecture. Before World War II, it was considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and was also known as the "Florence on the Elbe". A visit to Dresden is incomplete without a brief understanding of its history. Dresden was the capital of the Kingdom of Saxony in the 19th century, enjoying several centuries of cultural and artistic prosperity. To this day, the Baroque architectural ensemble established during the Saxon monarchy remains the city's main attraction for tourists.

Dresden | Trip Planning

To fully experience the charm of Dresden, I would recommend scheduling a trip of at least three to four days which includes the following attractions:

  • Altstadt: 1-2 days. Enjoy the Baroque city architecture and visit several important landmarks on the southern bank of the Elbe River, such as the Zwinger Palace, Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), Dresden Castle, Semperoper (Semper Opera House), the Baroque palaces and gardens of Zwinger, Hofkirche (Court Church), Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady). Cross the Augustus Bridge to the north bank and return to the southern bank near the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) in the southeast in the evening. There are many museums in Dresden, so if you are passionate about visiting museums, you should plan at least two days here.
  • axon Switzerland National Park (Sächsische Schweiz Nationalpark): Half-day to one-day duration, hike the Bastei Bridge and surrounding attractions.
  • Pillnitz Palace (Schloss Pillnitz): Spend half a day to a full day enjoying the tranquility and beauty of the palace gardens.

Dresden | Transportation

Dresden has a well-developed public transportation system, including trams (Straßenbahn), buses (Bus) and regional trains (S-Bahn). Walking is the main recommended way to get around Dresden, with trams and buses providing a convenient way to get around. You can use the Dresden Transportation Company (DVB) app or purchase tickets at the station.

To get to Saxony's Little Switzerland National Park and the Pilnitz Palace, you can either drive, take the S-Bahn, or just join a day tour. I think Dresden is a very suitable city for driving, and it is a very comfortable outdoor trip to enjoy the idyllic scenery of the East of Germany. The drive from Dresden to Saxony's Little Switzerland National Park is about 50 minutes, and it should take about the same amount of time on the S Bahn, but you'll need to take a boat to cross the river, so it's a little faster to drive. Car rental is also very convenient. Hertz, Avis and Europcar are common car rental companies in Europe and the US, so it is recommended to book in advance.

Dresden Car Rental

Saxon Switzerland National Park Day Trip

Dresden | Accommodation

It is recommended to choose to stay near the old town area of Dresden, where there are numerous comfortable hotels and inns, making it convenient to visit the main attractions. You can make day trips to the nearby Saxon Switzerland National Park and Pillnitz Castle, and it is even possible to arrange to complete both in one day.

Find a stay in Dresden?

Dresden | Attractions


Altstadt is the heart of the city and is rich in history and cultural heritage. Before World War II, Dresden was known as Florence on the Elbe. During World War II, the Great Bombing of Dresden by the British and American forces, destroyed most of Dresden, which was then ruled by the communist government of East Germany. It was not until the last two or three decades that the German government began to spend considerable effort on restoring the city to its original state, and the Old Town area of Dresden was successfully rebuilt, preserving its rich cultural heritage and historical features.

If you only have one day, it is recommended to start your tour with the museums inside the Dresden Royal Palace and the surrounding attractions. Walk past several key sites on the south bank of the Elbe River: the Semper Opera House, the Baroque palace and gardens of the Zwinger. Then cross the Augustus Bridge to the green spaces on the north bank, and look back at the Baroque architectural complex on the opposite side. Finally, in the evening, return to the area around the Frauenkirche, slightly southeast on the south bank. This arrangement will allow you to take a tour around the old town area.

Dresden Royal Palace (Residenzschloss)

The Dresden Royal Palace is one of Dresden's oldest buildings. It was constructed as early as 1200 and served as the palace of the Saxon kings in the 19th century. Originally a Romanesque structure, it was largely rebuilt in the Baroque style during the 18th century as history evolved. Over centuries of expansion and renovation, it has incorporated various architectural styles, including Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. From the Zwinger Palace to the west, you can view a panoramic scene of the Dresden Royal Palace.

Dresden Palace Tour

The palace originally housed various rooms for preserving treasures, such as the Heraldic Room, the Jewel Room, the Silver Room, and others, all of which were destroyed during World War II. Fortunately, the collections were sent out of the city early in the war, so they were preserved. Today, the remaining Dresden Royal Palace contains several important museums:

  • The Historical Green Vault (Historisches Grünes Gewölbe) is one of Germany's oldest museums, housing over 3,000 precious artworks and artifacts, including gold and silver items, gemstones, ivory carvings, and enamel pieces. These treasures showcase the luxurious lifestyle and artistic tastes of the Saxon electors.
  • The New Green Vault (Neues Grünes Gewölbe) exhibits more modern treasures and artworks. Its collection includes the world-famous Dresden Green Diamond.
  • The Dresden Armory (Rüstkammer) displays weapons and armor from the medieval to the Baroque periods, providing insights into the military history and craftsmanship of those times.
  • The Prints and Drawings Museum (Kupferstich-Kabinett) houses Germany's most important collection of paintings and prints, with over 500,000 works, including pieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Albrecht Dürer.

For those with limited time, it is recommended to primarily visit the Green Vault. Photography is not allowed inside, but you can still enjoy the opulent halls adorned with gold and precious items.


The Courtyard in front of the palace, known as Schlosshof, is the central courtyard within the palace complex. Surrounded by different buildings of the Royal Palace, this courtyard lies at the heart of the entire palace area and has witnessed numerous historical events and aspects of court life. Built during the Renaissance period, it was originally designed as the central activity space for the court, and is encircled by Gothic and Renaissance-style buildings.

The square features a statue of Frederick I and often hosts impromptu street art performances. When we passed by, we enjoyed an exceptional violin performance.


Located next to the Royal Palace, the Hofkirche is one of the largest Catholic churches in Germany. Situated on the banks of the Elbe River, it served as the religious center for the Electorate of Saxony and was once the royal church of the Kingdom of Saxony. It was originally built because Augustus II converted from Protestantism to Catholicism in order to become the King of Poland, making it one of the largest churches in Saxony. The interior of the church is lavishly decorated, and it frequently hosts concerts and religious events.

Stallhof und Langer Gang

Heading east to Augustus Street, you'll find the Stallhof Tournament Grounds, which is part of the Dresden Royal Palace. Located on the northern side of the palace, it is one of the few remaining Renaissance-era equestrian arenas in Germany. Built in the 16th century, it was originally designed to host equestrian competitions and knightly tournaments. The surrounding area has been completely reconstructed to reflect its medieval appearance. The architecture of the Stallhof Tournament Grounds blends Gothic and Renaissance styles, featuring elaborately decorated arcades and columns. These arcades once served as the viewing areas for spectators watching the tournaments.

On the northern wall of the tournament grounds, there is an important mural called the Fürstenzug. This mural is a mosaic made up of 24,000 Meissen porcelain tiles, and it is the only historical monument that miraculously survived the ravages of war intact. The impressive mural, which stretches 102 meters in length, depicts a procession of Saxon monarchs and is the largest porcelain mural in the world.


The Semperoper is one of Germany's most renowned opera houses, located in Theater Square. It is named after its designer, Gottfried Semper, and was originally built between 1838 and 1841. However, it was destroyed by a fire in 1869. Subsequently, Gottfried Semper's son, Manfred Semper, rebuilt it according to his father's design, and it reopened in 1878. The opera house was damaged again during World War II but has since been meticulously restored.

The architecture of the Semperoper is in the Neo-Renaissance style. The exterior is adorned with ornate sculptures and reliefs, including gods and musicians from Greek mythology. The interior is equally luxurious, with elegantly designed audience seating and stage areas, superb acoustics, and murals and ceiling paintings that create a majestic atmosphere. The Semperoper has been the venue for many opera premieres and regularly stages world-renowned operas, ballets, and symphony concerts.


The Zwinger is a Baroque-style palace complex built in the 18th century. In German, "Zwinger" refers to the outer ward of a castle. The location was originally used as a fortification to defend the Dresden Royal Palace. In 1689, Augustus II the Strong, Elector of Saxony, decided to build a palace as magnificent as Versailles and chose this site, which was no longer needed for defensive purposes. The Zwinger was inaugurated in 1719, and its interior was completed in 1728, but the overall construction was never fully completed during Augustus II's lifetime. What we see today is the result of post-World War II reconstruction. Inside the Zwinger is a vast garden, and there is still a moat surrounding the exterior.

Most of the interior of the Zwinger is now home to museums and art galleries, including the Old Masters Gallery (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister), the Porcelain Collection (Porzellansammlung), and the Mathematics and Physics Salon (Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon).


The Frauenkirche is a Lutheran church and one of Dresden's most renowned landmarks, often considered a symbol of the city. The church is famous for its enormous and spectacular dome, which rises to a height of 91 meters, making it one of the largest sandstone domes in Europe. The history of the Frauenkirche dates back to the 11th century, but the current Baroque-style building was constructed starting in 1726. Visitors can pay to enter and explore the dome. In the square in front of the church, there are street performances and cafés, providing opportunities to slow down and enjoy a moment of tranquility next to this historic site.

Augustusbrücke Bridge

The Augustus Bridge (Augustusbrücke) is Dresden's oldest and most famous bridge, spanning the Elbe River and connecting the Old Town (Altstadt) with the New Town (Neustadt). This bridge is not only an important transportation artery but also a historical and cultural landmark.

The Augustus Bridge was originally built in the 12th century as a wooden bridge. From 1731 to 1732, Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony, ordered its reconstruction, transforming it into a stone bridge and naming it after himself. During World War II, the Augustus Bridge suffered significant damage but was restored after the war. The design of the Augustus Bridge blends Baroque and Neoclassical styles. Constructed from sandstone, the bridge features nine arches and has a total length of approximately 390 meters.

Visitors can walk or cycle across the Elbe River on the Augustus Bridge, enjoying the scenic views on both sides. The bridge also offers several viewpoints, making it an excellent spot to overlook the Elbe River and the architecture of the Old Town.

Crossing the Augustus Bridge to the north bank of the Elbe River, you will find a riverside park with a very relaxed atmosphere, making it a worthwhile place to stop and rest for a while. From here, you can enjoy a panoramic view of all the important buildings in the Old Town across the river.

Goldener Reiter

Crossing the Augustus Bridge, you actually enter the Neustadt (New Town) area. The Golden Rider is located at the beginning of Hauptstraße in the Neustadt. This gleaming, gold-leaf-covered bronze statue commemorates Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland.

Sächsische Schweiz Nationalpark

Saxon Switzerland National Park is located about 30 kilometers southeast of Dresden, near the Czech border. This area is part of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains and features unique sandstone formations, the only such landscape in Central Europe. The Elbe River meanders through the park, with towering jagged rocks and idyllic countryside scenery on either side, creating a unique and picturesque landscape. It is one of the most popular hiking and climbing destinations in Germany and Europe.

The name of Saxon Switzerland National Park originates from the 18th century when two Swiss painters, inspired by the beautiful scenery, found the landscape reminiscent of the Swiss Alps and named it Saxon Switzerland.

To reach the main attractions, simply follow the signs marked "Bastei." If you walk at a brisk pace, you can complete the route in about half a day, and it is not very difficult. The path from the parking lot is a gentle uphill slope, making it quite easy to walk. Many local visitors even walk the trail in sandals.

Saxon Switzerland National Park Day Trip

Bastei bridge

Following the path upwards, you will soon reach the iconic Bastei Bridge. This is the most famous attraction in the park, spanning a series of spectacular sandstone peaks. The stone bridge was built in 1851 and has stood for over a century, originally replacing a wooden bridge. From the bridge, you can overlook the majestic rock formations of the Elbe River Valley.

Felsenburg Neurathen

Continuing forward, you will inevitably pass by Neurathen Castle, a medieval rock castle perched atop the spectacular sandstone peaks. Visiting the castle requires an additional entrance fee. Built in the 13th century, it served as a defensive fortress high above the Elbe River Valley, offering a commanding view of the surrounding area. After the 15th century, the castle gradually lost its military significance and was abandoned over the following centuries. Today, only partial ruins remain, but visitors can still catch a glimpse of its former grandeur.

The ruins of Neurathen Castle are composed of a series of natural sandstone peaks, between which wooden bridges and fortifications were once constructed. Although the wooden structures no longer exist, the pathways and the foundations of the bridges between the rocks are still visible. Modern visitors traverse the rocks via a series of steel bridges and walkways, offering breathtaking views of the canyon and the surrounding natural landscape.

Elbe River Observation Deck

Continuing along the path to the end, you will reach a viewpoint overlooking the Elbe River. Along with the Rhine, the Elbe is one of Germany's two major rivers, originating in the Czech Republic and flowing through this mountainous area before heading towards Hamburg and eventually the sea. Across the river, you can see towns and pastoral landscapes. The view is magnificent, and despite the presence of many tourists, there is still a sense of tranquility.

Schloss Pillnitz

Pilnitz PalaceOn the outskirts of Dresden, on the banks of the Elbe, is a picturesque palace and garden complex. Once the summer residence of the Elector of Saxony, the present structure is largely the result of a remodeling ordered by Augustus the Great in the 18th century. He wanted the palace to be his summer residence and palace entertainment, and the design is a blend of Chinese and European Baroque styles, a unique architectural style that makes the Pilnitz Palace a special presence in European palace architecture.

The Palace of Pilnitz consists of three palaces: the Water Palace (Wasserpalais), the Mountain Palace (Bergpalais) and the New Palace (Neues Palais). The Wasserpalais, directly facing the Elbe, was built in 1723 and is inspired by Chinese architectural style, which can be seen in the mix of Chinese and European styles, with oriental elements in the roof and decorative details. The Mountain Palace is located opposite the Water Palace and is built on the mountain, forming a symmetrical beauty with the Water Palace. The Palace is also designed in a combination of Chinese and European styles, and its interior is lavishly decorated, making it suitable for all kinds of palace events and banquets. The New Palace, the newest part of the Pilnitz Palace, was built in the 19th century in a relatively rustic architectural style, but the interiors still retain the luxury of the Saxon court.

In front of the Water Palace, there is an exquisite pond and garden. In the past, Saxon nobles would travel luxuriously by boat from Dresden along the Elbe River to enjoy this place. Today, visitors can also take a boat ride to appreciate the beautiful scenery of the Elbe River or relax by the pond for a leisurely afternoon.

Dresden | Restaurants


  • Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Price: $$

Paulaner's is located just behind the Dresden Royal Palace. When we visited in the afternoon, it wasn't crowded, but the food was excellent, and the staff were very friendly and patient in answering our questions about the menu. The weather was great that day, so we chose to sit outside, and the atmosphere was quite pleasant.


  • Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Price: $$

Augustiner is located next to the Frauenkirche, right in the central square. The atmosphere is very lively, and if you visit at the right time, you can enjoy live music performances. The food is also quite good.

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