Dresden, located in the East of Germany, is also called "Florence at the Elbe", thanks to its idyllic location on the banks of the Elbe river, and its excellent examples of Baroque architecture and world-class museums. Although 80% of Dresden’s historic center was destroyed in World War II, all important landmarks have been rebuilt to their former splendor.
Here are the top ten things to do that no Dresden traveler should miss; almost all of these highlights are in walking distance from each other, located in Dresden’s Old Town.
Dresden’s Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche) has a moving history: In World War II, when air-raids wiped out the city center, the grand church collapsed into a 42 feet high pile of rubble. The ruins were left untouched until 1994, when the painstaking reconstruction of the church began. Almost completely financed by private donations from around the world, the people of Dresden could celebrate the resurrection of their Frauenkirche in 2005.
2. Brühl's Terrace (Brühlsche Terrasse)
Brühl's Terrace (Brühlsche Terrasse) is set between the river Elbe and the Old Town. Also nicknamed “The Balcony of Europe”, the terraced promenade was part of Dresden’s original rampart, until it became the garden of the Royal Palace.
Climb a monumental staircase, which is flanked by four bronze statues, and take a walk along the promenade; it is lined by some of Dresden’s most beautiful historic buildings, including the Royal Art Academy and the Albertinum Museum.
3. Zwinger Palace
The Zwinger Palace is one of the finest examples of late Baroque architecture in Germany. Built between 1710 and 1728, the Zwinger was used for court festivities and tournaments. Today, the Baroque complex of pavilions, galleries and inner courtyards is home to first-class museums, including the Old Masters Gallery (“Alte Meister”), which displays the famous Madonna Sistina of Rafael.
4. Semper Opera
Spend an unforgettable evening in the lavish Semper Opera, built in 1841 by the German architect Gottfried Semper. Set at the Theater Square in the heart of Dresden, the portal of the Opera depicts famous artists such as Goethe, Shakespeare, and Molière. The Semper Opera was completely destroyed by Allied bombing in 1945; after extensive reconstruction, the Opera reopened in 1985 - with the same piece that was performed last before the destruction.
5. Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe)
Dresden’s Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe) is home to one of the finest royal treasures collections in Europe. Housed in the Dresden Palace, the treasure chamber was founded by August the Strong in the 18th century; it is filled with elaborate artworks of gold, silver, gems, enamel, ivory, bronze, and amber, and includes the largest green diamond in the world. Get your tickets well in advance.
6. Historic Paddle Steamers
Take a boat trip on one of the historic paddle steamers on the river Elbe. You can embark on a “coffee cruise” in the afternoon (where you can eat as much German cake as you want), glide down the river to the town of Meissen, which is famous for its porcelain, or take a cruise through the scenery of Saxony Switzerland.
7. Pfund’s Dairy (Pfund Molkerei)The Guinness Book of Records lists Pfund’s Dairy (Pfund Molkerei) as the most beautiful milk shop in the world. Opened in 1880 by the Pfund brothers in the Neustadt quarter, this unique dairy is elaborately decorated from floor to ceiling with hand-painted porcelain tiles from the neo-Renaissance period. It’s a feast for all senses – don’t leave without trying some local cheeses, home made ice cream, or a glass of fresh buttermilk.
8. Elbe River Banks
The river Elbe, which flows right past Dresden’s Old Town, is lined with wide, grassy riverbanks, which offer stunning views of the Old Town - a unique place to relax, stroll, and barbeque. In summer, you can join the locals, who come here to watch movies al fresco in one of the largest outdoor theatres in Germany (“Dresdner Filmnaechte”, July– September).
9. Albertinum Museum
The newly designed Albertinum, one of Dresden’s best fine art museums, reopened in 2010 and is home to the New Masters Gallery (Neue Meister) as well as the Sculpture Collection (Skulpturensammlung). The New Masters, from Caspar David Friedrich to Gerhardt Richter, showcase paintings from the 19th and 20th century, including works from Dix, van Gogh, Monet, and Degas. The Sculpture Collection holds masterpieces from the classical antiquity to today, with an emphasis on artists from the former GDR.
10. Procession of Princes (Fürstenzug)
The Procession of Princes (Fürstenzug) is the largest porcelain mural in the world, depicting a parade of Saxonian princes and dukes to commemorate the 1000-year long reign of the Wettin dynasty. 330 feet long and made out of 25,000 tiles from the porcelain manufacturer Meissen, the mural covers the exterior of the Royal Mews in Auguststrasse.
Come here at night, when the mural is illuminated.