City break Dresden – romantic Florence on the Elbe | H-Hotels.com
Dresden is affectionately known by locals and visitors as “Elbflorenz”, or Florence on the Elbe, and it is one of the most popular destinations in Germany for a multi-day city break. Both the wonderful old town and numerous museums offer an opportunity to combine your visit to Dresden with a fascinating cultural programme. Well-known events like the atmospheric Christmas “Striezelmarkt” also lure in large numbers of visitors. Whether it's a romantic break for two or a trip with friends, the city of Dresden on the banks of the beautiful Elbe River has something special to offer at any time of year.
In our detailed travel guide, you will discover the attractions that await you on a city break to Dresden. We also cast a glance back at the turbulent history of this state capital of Saxony. Start your trip to Dresden well prepared and enjoy a varied stay.
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The Hyperion Hotel Dresden am Schloss is centrally located in the middle of the historical old city. Famous sights such as the “Frauenkirche”, the Semper Opera House or the “Zwinger” are within walking distance and you are invited to an extended exploration tour. The modern Hyperion Hotel with its stylishly furnished rooms and suites is also the ideal starting point for a shopping tour of Dresden.
City break Dresden: what are the must-see attractions?
Dresden combines elements of the past, present and future in an interesting way. Many of Dresden’s tourist attractions were destroyed during the war, including the historic old town. Dresden was largely rebuilt following this period. Today, your trip to Dresden allows you to experience a reconstruction of this historic city. During a sightseeing tour, you will learn lots about the turbulent past of this city on the Elbe. Present and future are evident when you see the Volkswagen Transparent Factory at Großer Garten.
The Zwinger Palace is one of the city’s best-known landmarks. This collection of buildings is one of Germany’s most important baroque constructions. It was built in the 18th century. The name is derived from the location of the Zwinger Palace: in the Middle Ages, the part of the fortifications between the inner and outer walls was referred to as the “Zwinger” or “outer ward”. The Zwinger Palace includes the Kronentor, Semper Gallery, Nymphenbad and Glockenspielpavillon. The magnificent grounds are open to visitors from 10 am to 6 pm and are definitely worth visiting on a trip to Dresden.
The Semper Opera House in Dresden is one of Germany’s most famous concert venues. There is a continuous programme of top-class operas and operettas being performed there. Unlike many other buildings that were destroyed in the Second World War, the Semper Opera House was already rebuilt during the GDR period. This is where the renowned Dresden Opera Ball takes place each year. A guided tour of the Semper Opera House will take you into the magnificent inner hall. There are various tour options, some of which even take place in the late evening.
As a symbol of the reconstruction of the old town, it is hard to rival the Frauenkirche in Dresden. Completely destroyed in the Second World War, a private fund-raising initiative launched in the mid-1990s ensured the church was restored to its former glory. Since 2005, visitors from all over the world have been able to experience this magnificent building up close. The Frauenkirche is thus one of the city’s key landmarks and is a real magnet for visitors.
Alongside the Frauenkirche, Dresden Cathedral is one of the most significant churches in the city. This baroque church is located between Theaterplatz and Schlossplatz. Dresden Cathedral is just 300 metres as the crow flies from the Frauenkirche.
The Residenzschloss Dresden (also known as Dresden Castle or the Royal Palace) is a classic Renaissance building. It is actually one of the oldest buildings in the city. However, the palace was another building to be burned down during the Second World War, leaving only the foundation walls. After reunification, the building was rebuilt according to the original plans. Today Dresden Castle is all about art and science. Amongst other things, the building is home to the Green Vault Museum (Neue Grüne Gewölbe), the Rüstkammer armoury, Kupferstichkabinett art collection and Münzkabinett or Coin Cabinet. There are also spaces for special exhibitions.
The Neumarkt is one of Dresden’s central squares and dates back to the 16th century. It is located in the inner old town between the Elbe and Altmarkt. The Neumarkt is adjacent to the Frauenkirche, Kunstakademie and Johanneum. Particularly in summer this square attracts lots of visitors. The Neumarkt is a popular tourist hotspot with a view of the Frauenkirche.
Dresden’s baroque Großer Garten reflects the pomp of an entire era. It covers an area roughly 1.8 kilometres square and is almost two kilometres long. While you are in Dresden, you should definitely make sure to visit this very special garden, which is located to the east of the city centre. If your feet need a rest, you can travel around the Großer Garten in an open carriage on the Dresden park railway. The ride is supervised by child volunteers and takes roughly 30 minutes. During this time, the train covers a total of six kilometres and stops at five stations.
The VW manufacturing facility known as the Transparent Factory is just a ten-minute walk from Dresden’s old town. Visitors are taken right through the middle of the assembly line. You are also given a glimpse of the latest automotive innovations. Up until 2016 the VW Phaeton was produced at the Transparent Factory. Since then, the electric Golf has been rolling off the lines.
Dresden’s historic old town
The Second World War left visible traces in Dresden. This city in Saxony experienced aerial bombardment on a massive scale, which cost many people their lives. Most of the historic old town was destroyed. Due to the partition of Germany after 1945, any reconstruction work was faltering or non-existent. It was only after reunification in 1990 that a commitment to rebuilding the historic old town was made. The first step was reconstruction of the Frauenkirche, which began in 1994 and was only completed in 2005.
Today, Dresden’s old town shines in all its former glory, making it one of the city’s main attractions. A good example is Brühl's Terrace (Brühlsche Terrasse), which was also destroyed in 1945. This architectural ensemble is roughly 500 metres long, stretching along the river Elbe in the city centre. After being restored, it is now one of many tourist attractions Dresden has to offer. Thanks to its grand and attractive design, not to mention the view over the Elbe, Brühl's Terrace is a key reason why the city of Dresden earned the nickname “Florence on the Elbe”. The terrace is also often referred to as the “The balcony of Europe”.
We recommend Dresden Welcome Cards for your city break to Dresden. These cards come in different designs and offer lots of special deals and reductions for a wide range of attractions, museums and so on. We recommend the Dresden City Card, which gives you free travel on buses, and trains, as well as discounts on restaurants, museums and sightseeing tours. The card can be credited for a small price for one, two or three days — perfect for a city break!
Where do you get the best views of Dresden?
Dresden is a magnificent city. It is worth climbing one of the numerous vantage points in town to enjoy the panorama during your stay. One great option is the Frauenkirche tower. The ascent to the cupola and viewing platform takes place in two stages. Firstly, a lift takes you to a height of 24 metres. The next stage is on foot, as visitors ascend the so-called “donkey passage” (Eselsgang). The platform itself is roughly 67 metres high. The view over the Neumarkt and old town is simply breathtaking.
Another viewing platform can be found in the Kreuzkirche tower. This is also in the old town. You will need to tackle precisely 259 steps to reach the 54-metre viewing platform. It is worth it for the view over the old town and Altmarkt.
The renowned painter Bernardo Bellotto (Canaletto) was already familiar with the finest viewing points in Dresden back in the 18th century. He painted his famous Dresden cityscape in oil from the Elbwiesen meadows along the banks of the river. This painting is now at the Alte Meister art gallery in Dresden. You can enjoy the famous “Canaletto view” of Dresden from the right bank of the Elbe, below the Augustusbrücke.
The painter also immortalised this special view of Dresden in an etching, which is also on display in the Alte Meister gallery. As you will see, you do not always have to head upwards to appreciate the best of this city on the Elbe.
The best museums in Dresden – unique artistic treasures
Dresden offers an impressive number of museums that you should definitely visit during your city break. The Dresden State Art Collections (Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden) include 15 museums and other institutions. Among these are the Green Vault, Dresden Porcelain Collection and Alte Meister gallery. The exhibition spaces are located in several places (including Leipzig) and include Dresden Castle, the Zwinger Palace, Albertinum, Jägerhof and Japanisches Palais (Japanese Palace).
Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe)
The Green Vault is part of the Dresden State Art Collections and is located at Dresden Castle. Visitors will enjoy a visual journey through time to the magnificent baroque period. The name itself reveals that green plays a very important role in the collection.
The Green Vault was first open to the public as early as 1724. Today the vault holds artistic treasures from all over the world and many different eras. The permanent collection of jewellery and goldsmithing is particularly impressive. There are also lots of special exhibitions.
Alte Meister art gallery
The Alte Meister art gallery is one of Dresden’s most important museums. Like the Green Vault, it belongs to the Dresden State Art Collections, but this collection is at the Zwinger Palace. After several years of renovation work, the museum was reopened in February 2020. Since then, visitors have been able to view artworks created up to 1800 by renowned painters and sculptors. These include the Sistine Madonna by Raphael and Rembrandt’s Abduction of Ganymede. Make sure your city break in Dresden allows time to take in these masterpieces.
The Dresden Panometer allows you to discover the world from a completely new perspective. Travel through time in this 360°-panorama museum. Centre stage is enjoyed by various panoramic paintings created by artist Yadegar Asisi, which stand 27 metres high. Some of these artworks take you to baroque Dresden. At the same time, there are panoramic paintings that show Rome in the year 312 after Christ, for example. The exhibitions change regularly.
German Hygiene Museum
The German Hygiene Museum is more than simply an exhibition space. The museum sees itself as a kind of forum for all sorts of different topics from science, society and culture. With around 280,000 visitors, the museum is one of the top attractions in Dresden. It was founded in 1912.
Perfect for two: romantic locations in Dresden
Dresden offers a beautiful setting for any romantics and is a great romantic city-break destination. The winding, narrow alleyways, magnificent buildings and long promenade along the banks of the Elbe are an ideal place to saunter and explore together as a new couple or if you need a romantic getaway. Particularly in the evening, the city has a very special atmosphere.
The floodlit roofs and façades create a romantic ambience with enticing little restaurants and cosy bars. This is particularly true in the trendy neighbourhood Äußere Neustadt with its Gründerzeit houses and quirky rear courtyards, which offer a large number of particularly charming locations.
Dresden is a very green city. It has a total of 623 parks and green spaces that are perfect for relaxation. Popular options include the Bürgerwiese, Blüherpark and of course the Großer Garten. In addition, the Elbstrand beach on the river is a great place to sunbathe and swim, such as in the Johannstadt district.
Banks of the Elbe
Take a walk with your companion along the banks of the Elbe. This is definitely one of the most romantic locations in the city. As soon as twilight falls, the illuminated backdrop of Dresden’s old town lights up. The same is true for the Elbwiesen area along the Königsufer.
The Frauenkirche cupola contains an observation deck, offering views over Dresden. Discover the full beauty of the city from here with your partner. The panorama is ideal for couple selfies.
Dresden’s suspension railway (Schwebebahn)
A ride together on Dresden’s Schwebebahn offers stunning views. This suspension railway connects the districts of Oberloschwitz and Loschwitz, which are at different heights. Although the line is just 274 metres long, it covers a change in altitude of 84 metres.
The Carolaschlösschen is in the heart of the Großer Garten on the Carolasee. This has been a popular romantic destination with its own catering since the late 19th century. Hire one of the little rowing boats and row out over the lake together. In fine weather, lots of couples take advantage of this option for exploring the lake. The Carolaschlösschen will happily pack up a little picnic basket to take with you. Make sure you reserve a rowing boat in plenty of time if you are planning a romantic short break in Dresden.
Nymphenbad at the Zwinger Palace
There are lots of different fountains around Dresden’s Zwinger Palace. But the Nymphenbad is regarded as one of the finest. Couples should definitely make sure they pay a visit here. Despite its opulent design, relatively few visitors find their way to the Nymphenbad. As a result, you can often enjoy an intimate time at this romantic fountain. The name “Nymphenbad” is initially rather misleading. This is more like a form of water theatre, which entertains visitors with a variety of water displays.
Schloss Moritzburg is about 17 kilometres from Dresden and will delight the romantically inclined. The castle was used as the setting for the German film “Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel” (Three Gifts for Cinderella). This film has charmed generations since the 1970s and is a genuine German and Czech fairytale classic. Spend a day of your city break at Schloss Moritzburg and enjoy the very special ambience that surrounds this building. A little tip: you can also celebrate your wedding here.
Dresden’s Striezelmarkt: a highlight of the Christmas season
The Striezelmarkt in Dresden is one of the finest and oldest Christmas markets in the world. Huge numbers of visitors head to Dresden during the Christmas period specifically to enjoy the Striezelmarkt. The first one took place in 1434. The word “Striezel” is a local term referring to a pastry made from a yeast dough and is synonymous with German Stollen cake. Over 2.5 million visitors come during the Christmas period thanks to the very special atmosphere at Dresden’s Altmarkt.
The world’s largest stepped pyramid structure, typical of the Erzgebirge region, forms the focal point of the market. Everywhere you go, you can smell freshly roasted almonds and lots of other delicious Christmas treats. Craftspeople from the Erzgebirge region showcase their Christmas arches, nutcrackers, Christmas pyramids and plenty more.
There is an extensive programme every day. The Dresden Stollenfest is a definite highlight. This forms the climax of Dresden’s stollen season, celebrated with a parade through the old town. A few days before Christmas, the market has a particularly special atmosphere at the Dresdner Lichterabend festival of lights. If you are visiting the Striezelmarkt and want to combine this with a city break including an overnight stay in Dresden, we recommend booking a hotel well in advance.
City break to Dresden: facts about this historic city on the Elbe
Dresden is the regional capital of the federal state of Saxony. The city has over 554,000 inhabitants and covers an area of 328.48 square kilometres. The Dresden municipal area includes ten boroughs and nine communities.
As this Dresden city-break guide has already described, the city has a long and eventful history. This goes back to the 5th millennium before Christ, when the first Neolithic settlements were established on the site where the city stands today. The first documented mention of Dresden is at the start of the 12th century.
From the 15th century, the city gradually became one of the most important cultural centres in Europe, subsequently resulting in the very diverse cultural life enjoyed by the city today. This is why many of the buildings were constructed between the 17th and 19th centuries. Dresden has had to overcome some significant blows of fate. In 1685, a fire almost entirely destroyed the city. The devastation of the Second World War continues to leave its mark today.
Since reunification, Dresden has experienced a cultural renewal. Lots of historic buildings have been lovingly restored. This has made Dresden a real tourist hotspot for city breaks. And this is confirmed by the accommodation figures. In 2018 alone, there were 4.8 million overnight stays in the city.
Lots of famous people were born in Dresden. These include Erich Kästner (1899), Karin Enke (1961) and Jan Josef Liefers (1964). The German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich died in the city on the Elbe in 1840. The artist was associated with Dresden during his lifetime. You can see some of his works today at the Galerie Neue Meister.
If you want to arrange a trip to Dresden, you can reach the city by train, aeroplane or car. The airport is in north Dresden and is used for domestic flights. National rail connections from all over Germany arrive at the main station near the old town. Dresden is easily accessible by car via the A4 motorway. Parking is provided in designated parking areas, which require electronic parking tickets that can be bought via a smartphone.