Last Updated: May 3, 2022
Dresden is the capital of Saxony and is located only a couple of hours away from Berlin by train and car. Also known as the “Florence on the Elbe”, Dresden is filled with incredible Baroque buildings, treasure chests (literally), and excellent museums.
What was once the cultural center of Germany, Dresden has shown its strength through the test of time after being completely destroyed by the bombing raids during WWII. The city has risen from the ashes and now shines bright as ever.
We stayed in Dresden for 2 days in the fall of 2019, and it quickly became one of our favorite cities to visit in Germany.
Even if you can only visit for one day, you will have plenty of time to see a few of the main sites.
Here are the best things to do in Dresden.
20 Things to do in Dresden
1. Visit the Altmarkt (Old Market)
At the center of the Old City is the Altmarkt (Old Market). This is where the annual Christmas market is held, as well as other festivities throughout the year.
When we visited Dresden in early September, the Harvest Market was happening in the market square. At the market, you could buy drinks, food, crafts, and even ride a Ferris wheel. They had fall decorations up and festive food to try – it was a fun way to celebrate the transition from summer into fall!
If you are visiting during the springtime in April and May, you can attend the Spring Festival where they also sell local food, drinks, and crafts.
2. Walk Around Neumarkt
In the middle of February in 1945, over the course of several days, the U.S. and British Air Forces bombed the city of Dresden. This resulted in a fast-spreading fire that ultimately decimated the Old City in Dresden, especially those buildings in Neumarkt.
Most of the historical buildings surrounding this square were destroyed in the bombing raids. Since the war, the city has made many efforts to rebuild this historic center to its original state. The construction is still ongoing, but you will see that their efforts are well underway and many buildings look as if they have been there for hundreds of years.
One of our favorite things to do in Dresden was to walk around Neustadt and try to take in all of the histories that it has experienced. Walking around the Neumarkt is heavy and hopeful. You can feel the sorrow that people must have felt when their city was destroyed but seeing it come back to life is inspiring.
3. Visit the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady)
The Frauenkirche is a beautiful, Baroque Lutheran church located in Neumarkt. The church was originally built in the 11th century – over 1,000 years ago.
The Baroque building that you see today was constructed in the 18th century during the time of Augustus the Strong. The dome, designed by George Bähr, was added on during this reconstruction and took 17 years to complete. Prior to this, it was a gothic cathedral.
The Frauenkirche was destroyed as a result of the bombings in 1945 and ultimately collapsed due to the heat of the firestorm that ravaged the Old Town. The church sat as a pile of ruins for many years in Neumarkt until the city was able to fund its rebuilding in the 1990s.
In 2005, the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche was completed. You’ll notice a bunch of black stones on the exterior of the building intermixed with lighter stones. Those black stone were part of the original church that they built into the new one. They tried to use as much as they could from the remains of the church that was destroyed. I love that they added this bit of history to the new building as a reminder of the past.
The interior is even more incredible than the exterior. The pastel decor and lavish alter display the beauty of the classic Baroque design. Fun fact – the walls look like they are covered in pastel-colored marble, but it is actually an illusion to make it seem like it was made from marble.
4. Enjoy the Views from Brühls Terrace
At the edge of Old Town high above the Elbe river is Brühls Terrace. This terrace sits on top of the city’s old fortress and is now a place to relax and enjoy views of the river.
We stopped here to eat a Bratwürst for lunch and to take a break from our sightseeing.
5. Walk Around Theaterplatz
Theaterplatz is the entrance into the Old City and is at the center of several of Dresden’s main attractions. The Zwinger Palace, Opera House, Catholic Church, and Royal Palace all border this square.
6. Explore the Zwinger
The Zwinger is a palace that was built by Augustus the Strong to rival that of Versailles in Paris. I can’t say it’s quite as grand as Versailles, but it’s pretty close.
Today, the palace holds some of Europe’s most important treasures. Luckily, these treasures were hidden during WWII and were not destroyed during the bombing raids – the palace itself did not survive though.
The Zwinger was rebuilt in the 1960s and has since become home to several of the most important museums in Dresden.
Here are a few sites that you cannot miss at the Zwinger:
The Glockenspiel is at the center of the courtyard of the Zwinger. It is made up of 40 porcelain bells that play a melody every 15-minutes. You can walk up close to the tower to see the bells play their lovely song.
8. Dresden Porcelain Collection
The Dresden Porcelain Collection contains one of the most impressive porcelain collections, including Chinese, Japanese, and Meissen porcelain.
In the early 18th century, Augustus the Strong created the first European porcelain factory in Meissen – a town just outside of Dresden. You’ll find a large collection of Meissen porcelain at this museum.
9. Old Masters Gallery
The Old Masters Gallery is filled with incredible works of art from the 15th to 18th centuries. From important Renaissance paintings to significant French and German artworks, the galleery contains an impressive collection of art.
10. Bath of Nymphs
The Bath of Nymphs is a beautiful fountain perfectly placed at the center of a pavilion. Sadly, the fountain was turned off when we were there, but it was still worth seeing to appreciate the architecture.
11. Roof of Palace
Walk along the roof of the palace and enjoy incredible views of the courtyard, the Bath of Nymphs, and statues that line the top of the roof.
12. Mathematics & Physics Salon
A salon filled with an impressive collection of gadgets and inventions. You’ll find telescopes, clocks, globes, and many other curiosities here.
13. Semperoper (Opera House)
The Semperoper or Opera House is one of the most splendid buildings in Dresden. It reopened in 1985 after being destroyed in WWII. Today, the opera house hosts ballet, theater, and musical performances.
If you want to visit the interior of the building, then you can purchase tickets to a performance or book a tour. Tours cost €13 for adults.
14. Tour the Hofkirch (Catholic Cathedral)
Sitting opposite the Opera House, across Theaterplatz, is the Catholic Cathedral of Dresden. Inside of the church, you’ll find the heart of Augustus the Strong and burial sites for other members of the Saxony royalty.
15. Tour the Residenzschloss (Royal Palace)
The Residenzschloss was the home of many kings and electors for hundreds of years. The palace was rebuilt several times – from Renaissance to Baroque to Neo-Renaissance architecture in the 20th century.
Like many other buildings in the Old City, the Royal Palace was destroyed in the bombing raids. The rebuild began in the 1960s and is still an ongoing process. Several rooms were just opened to the public in 2019.
The gem of the Residenzschloss is the Green Vault. Inside this Baroque room, you will find some of Europe’s largest and one of its most important collections of treasures. Lavish tea sets, a rare green diamond from India called the ‘Dresden Green’, and many other beautiful artifacts – the room is literally a treasure chest.
You’ll also find a coin collection, portrait gallery, and an armory inside of the palace.
Tickets are €14 for adults. You can find more information about your visit here.
16. See the Fürstenzug
The Fürstenzug is a mural made up of 23,000 pieces of Meissen porcelain. The mural shows the procession of rulers in Saxony from the 12th to 20th century.
You’ll notice the difference in time periods as you admire the mural. I loved how you could see the style of clothing and weapons change throughout time.
17. Walk Around the Grand Garden
Visiting the Grand Garden was one of my favorite things to do in Dresden. It is only a 20-minute walk from Neumarkt. We spent a couple of hours wandering around the woods and enjoying the manicured gardens near the Baroque palace that sits at the center of the garden.
The Dresden Zoo and Botanical Garden are also located in the garden.
18. Walk Around Neustadt (New City)
Across the Elbe river from the Old City is Neustadt (New City). Surprisingly, the New City is actually older than the Old City because it was not as heavily bombed during WWII.
Neustadt feels very different than Altstadt – it’s hip, has a cool restaurant scene, and hails a much younger and less-touristy crowd. We stayed in this area and loved it.
Here are a couple of stops to make in Neustadt:
19. Eat at Pfunds Molkerei
Pfunds Molkerei is “the most beautiful milk shop in the entire world” – it’s true. The interior is decorated with hand-painted blue tiles, and they sell a selection of delicious cheeses and other dairy products.
You can dine in at their formal restaurant upstairs or at the cafe on the main floor.
20. Find the Courtyard of Elements
Make your way to Kunsthofpassage, and you’ll find a small alleyway that has been transformed into an outdoor gallery. Murals on the walls and other art installations line the alleyway, but the real show-stopper is the Courtyard of Elements.
The Courtyard of Elements is a wall that has been covered in drain pipes, so when it rains, it creates a beautiful song. Sadly, we were not there during a rainstorm, but it was still worth a visit.
Getting Around Dresden
Dresden is a very walkable city. Once you are in the Old City, you can walk to all of the main sites very easily.
If you are staying in the New City, then you might want to take a tram to the Old City. It’s definitely a doable walk – it just takes a bit longer. Since we stayed in New City, we opted to take the tram to save us some time.
The tram system is convenient to use. There are stops all around the city. Just buy a ticket at one of the machines at a tram stop or you can buy a one-day pass online here.
Dresden Welcome Card
Dresden offers several discount cards to make it cheaper and more convenient to get around during your stay. There are several offers – one includes free transportation and another offers discounted museum tickets. You can learn more about the different card offers here.
Let us know if you have any comments or questions about your trip to Dresden in the comments below!