Going on a trip to Dresden and want to know all the top things to do in Dresden? We have you covered! Below you will find our guide to all the best attractions in Dresden to plan your ultimate trip.
Located by the Elbe River in the eastern part of Germany, Dresden is the perfect place to visit for Baroque beauty, interesting museums and lavish palaces. From the Old Town to the older New Town to the street art to the galleries and history, there is a lot to enjoy here.
The Saxony capital, Dresden is used to being the home of treasures. Once called the “Florence on the Elbe” because of its beauty, this city has a lot to offer visitors. While not as popular with tourists as places such as Berlin and Munich, this makes it all the better for the rest of us.
Of course, you will have the best time if you already understand all the things to do and see in Dresden Germany and that’s what we will help you with here.
Below, you will find our full Dresden travel guide with everything you need to know about the best places to visit in Dresden Germany, the best activities in Dresden as well as the best places to stay for your ultimate Dresden vacation!!
There is also a handy map of the Dresden things to do as well as a full itinerary for what to see in Dresden in 1 day and our experiences travelling in Dresden with kids.
- 1 An Introduction To Dresden
- 2 Top 19 Things To Do In Dresden Germany
- 2.1 Augustusbrücke (August Bridge)
- 2.2 Zwinger
- 2.3 Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Gallery)
- 2.4 Porzellansammlung (Porcelain Collection)
- 2.5 Residenzschloss (Dresden Castle)
- 2.6 Historisches Grünes Gewölbe (Historic Green Vault)
- 2.7 Neues Grünes Gewölbe (New Green Vault)
- 2.8 Fürstenzug (Procession Of Princes)
- 2.9 Brühl’s Terrace
- 2.10 Katholische Hofkirche (Dresden Cathedral)
- 2.11 Verkehrsmuseum Dresden (Dresden Transport Museum)
- 2.12 Frauenkirche (Church Of Our Lady)
- 2.13 Albertinum
- 2.14 Deutsches Hygiene Museum
- 2.15 Gläserne Manufaktur (Volkswagen Transparent Factory)
- 2.16 Dresden Panometer
- 2.17 Kunsthofpassage
- 2.18 Militärhistorisches Museum Der Bundeswehr (Military History Museum Of The Bundeswehr)
- 2.19 Dresden River Cruise
- 3 Best Things To Do In Dresden In December/Winter
- 4 What To Do In Dresden In One Day
- 5 Dresden Attractions Map
- 6 Best Place To Stay In Dresden
- 7 How To Get To Dresden
- 8 Dresden With Kids
- 9 Final Words
An Introduction To Dresden
With a population of over half a million, Dresden is the capital of Saxony and the third biggest city in Eastern Germany. It’s location in the basin of the Elbe River, about 100 kilometres south of Berlin and only about 30 kilometres north of the Czech border.
This beautiful Baroque city started as a Slav village called Drezdzany (Forest Dwellers on the Plain) on the north bank of the Elbe River. The German settlement on the south bank is first found in history in 1216. Even though the Slav settlement is older, it became known as New Town and the German town as Old Town which still continues today.
In its early years, Dresden was passed around a lot. It became the capital of Margrave Henry the Illustrious in 1270 until he died. Then it passed to the king of Bohemia and the margrave of Brandenburg. In 1319, it returned to the margraves of Meissen who were the original settlers of the German town.
In 1485, Saxony was divided by the sons of Frederick II with Dresden the capital of the Albertine Saxon lands and the residence of its rulers.
A terrible fire ruined about half of Dresden in 1491. The city was rebuilt in a Renaissance style and fortified.
In the late 17th and 18th centuries, the electors Augustus I and Augustus II adopted Baroque and Rococo styles as they modernised the city and rebuilt the New Town after a fire in 1685.
Augustus II (also called Augustus the Strong) created the Zwinger complex (which is a must visit on the list of places to see in Dresden coming up) packed full of art as he created his version of an impressive royal capital after visiting Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles. He also imported porcelain from China and Japan which lead to his nearby Meissen works becoming the first place to Europe to manufacture porcelain.
It wasn’t long until Dresden saw more destruction and was 2/3 destroyed in the Seven Years’ War (1756 – 1763). There were several sieges during this war in Dresden as well as occupation by Prussian forces.
More war came in the 19th century thanks to Napoleon. The Battle of Dresden in 1813 was his last big win in Germany.
Dresden became connected to Leipzig and Berlin by rail in the 19th century and the city prospered. Thousands moved from the country side to work in manufacturing industries primary in cigarette, pharmaceuticals and chocolate. In fact, the city grew from 200,000 in 1875 to half a million by 1900.
Before World War II, Dresden was considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and referred to as the “Florence on the Elbe” thanks to its architecture and art. Unfortunately, this all changed during the war with the city almost completely destroyed by bombing raids in 1945 and many of the population killed.
So much was destroyed that there was talk of starting over. Thankfully, the main area around the Zwinger and Residenzschloss in the Old Town was rebuilt. Most of the rest of the city was rebuilt with modern buildings.
Dresden became part of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) after World War II and was also part of the peaceful demonstrations that lead to Germany reuniting. On the whole, it’s prospered since this time.
While basically nothing is original in Dresden, it is still a beautiful city that has much to be enjoyed.
Top 19 Things To Do In Dresden Germany
Here are the best things to do Dresden offers. Read through and select the ones that fit your interests and timeframe. If you only have one day to visit Dresden tourist attractions, find our places to visit in Dresden in one day itinerary below.
Augustusbrücke (August Bridge)
Augustusbrücke is the perfect place to start your explorations of the Dresden places to visit. Crossing the Elbe River in the centre of Dresden, you have views of both the Old and New Towns.
It makes for quite a sight and you’ll be excited to explore more!
Keep walking when you get off Augustusbrücke and you’ll quickly be at Zwinger, one of the Dresden best places to visit.
This impressive palace was originally built between 1710 and 1728 after Augustus II returned from visiting Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles. It was the place to go for parties.
Full of art and with a courtyard full of fountains, this palace is an absolute must visit. Add in ornate decorations and sculptures and you’ll love visiting here.
Look out for the carillon of 40 Meissen porcelain bells which ring every 15 minutes.
There are three museums here – the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Gallery), Porzellansammlung (Porcelain Collection) and the Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon (Mathematical and Physical Salon). The first two are described in more detail below. The latter contains historic scientific instruments.
Each museum has its own entry fee but the courtyard is free.
I highly recommend you visit the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister and Porzellansammlung along with the courtyard. Its opulence is enticing.
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Gallery)
Home to a fantastic collection of 16 – 18th century European Art, the Old Masters Gallery is well worth checking out when you are visiting Zwinger.
Augustus I started the collection but it was during Augustus III in 1746 that much of the collecting took place. Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Flemish Renaissance art is the specialty and there are many big names like Rembrandt, Raphael, Giorgione, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Vermeer, Rubens and more.
At any one time, about 750 paintings are on display which is only about 1/3 of the collection. Make sure you check out the top floor where you can find Canaletto’s paintings of 18th century Dresden.
Porzellansammlung (Porcelain Collection)
Another museum to make sure you check out while at Zwinger is the Porzellansammlung in two converted, curving galleries.
This collection was started by Augustus II in 1715 and is quite a collection. It spans 17th and 18th century Chinese and Japanese porcelain to that produced by Meissen in Europe when porcelain production started here under Augustus II.
It’s a huge collection with only about 2,000 of the 20,000 pieces on display at any one time. Highlights include Tiersaal (Animal Hall) which has hundreds of porcelain animals.
Residenzschloss (Dresden Castle)
Very close by is the next of the essential Dresden Germany tourist attractions, Residenzschloss, otherwise referred to as Dresden Castle.
This Renaissance city palace was home to Saxon rulers from 1485 to 1918. Today, it’s home to many precious jewels, gold and more.
While it needed to be rebuilt after World War II (and in fact wasn’t finished until 2013), this building has much of its original splendor and is a fantastic place to explore.
Much like the Zwinger, it has collections you can explore on separate tickets (or with a combination ticket with other attractions in Residenzschloss). The top two are the amazing Historic and New Green Vaults which are coming up next on this list of things to see Dresden offers.
Also here is the Kupferstich-Kabinett which is home to over a half a million drawings, photographs and prints from the Middle Ages to now including from big names like Rembrandt, Piranesi, Fragonard and Friedrich or the Münzkabinett (Coin Cabinet) which is the place to go for the history of coins in this area including tons of coins on display.
There is also the Rüstkammer (Dresden’s Armoury) which is home to one of the world’s largest collections of weapon and armour. Within here is also the Turkish Chamber which has a great collection of Ottoman art.
There are also other rooms to explore in the palace like the audience chamber and state bedroom which have been restored to how they were when Augustus II furnished them 300 years ago.
The whole site adds up to a big place to visit where you can easily spend hours and really is one of the must see places in Dresden.
Historisches Grünes Gewölbe (Historic Green Vault)
With over 3000 precious items on display, the Historic Green Vault is the place to go for opulent sites! Homed in the western section of the Residenzschloss, these are the treasures of the old Saxony Electors.
It was started by Moritz of Saxony in the 16th century with Augustus II extending on it in the 18th century. He actually turned it into one of the world’s first public museums. He wanted to show power and wealth and I’m sure it would have worked!
The rooms that house it are also opulent and make for quite a sight themselves. The treasures include gold, silver and ivory works. It all makes for an unforgettable experience.
Entry is via timed ticket only and numbers are limited (even before covid). I recommend you book in advance here.
Neues Grünes Gewölbe (New Green Vault)
On the next floor up is the Neues Grünes Gewölbe (New Green Vault). This is a separate museum which is focused on the goldsmith Johann Melchior Dinglinger who worked for Augustus II.
There are around 1,000 objects on display across ten modern rooms and they are impressive.
Some highlights include 132 figurines that are gem studded and represent the Indian Royal Court and a cherry pit carved with 185 faces.
It can get busy with lunchtimes and the end of the day being the best times to visit.
Fürstenzug (Procession Of Princes)
One of the other Dresden things to see is on the east side of Residenzschloss where there is a massive porcelain mural 102 metres in length called Fürstenzug which miraculously survived the War.
Made with over 23,000 Meissen porcelain tiles, it tells the history of the Wettins, Saxony’s ruling family. There are names and dates of rulers along the mural which was initially painted then replaced with tiles to protect it.
It’s a great way to get a quick history of the rules from the Margraves in the 12th century to the Dukes, Electors and finally the Kings in the 19th century.
This is one of the free things to do in Dresden that you won’t want to miss!
When it comes to Dresden top attractions, you won’t want to miss the free and easy Brühl’s Terrace. Located by the Elbe River, it’s a 500 metre terrace with fantastic views across the Elbe and to the New Town. It’s the best place to stroll in Dresden!
Once a private courtyard called the “Balcony of Europe”, it’s now available to everyone.
It’s name comes from the name of the person who constructed a series of opulent buildings here back when the city walls were taken down, Heinrich von Brühl. There are gardens on the east side as well as many sculptures.
It’s located between the Augustusbrücke and the Carolabrücke, and you won’t be able to miss it.
Katholische Hofkirche (Dresden Cathedral)
Located between Residenzschloss and the Elbe, Katholische Hofkirche adds to the Baroque splendor of this area of Dresden. Originally built between 1739 and 1751, it was created to rival the nearby Protestant Frauenkirche after the Albertine Wettins converted to Catholicism during Augustus II’s rule.
The church was rebuilt after World War II and only became a cathedral in 1964. It’s home to 49 members of the Albertine line of the Wettin family including Augustus I and Augustus III. It also has the heart of Augustus II
This church is big – the largest in Saxony – with a floor area of 4,800 metres squared.
You can enter for free, although I personally prefer the outside, so take a walk around as well.
Verkehrsmuseum Dresden (Dresden Transport Museum)
Another one of the Dresden things to do and see around the Old Town area is the Dresden Transport Museum which is a short walk from all the attractions in Dresden Germany in this list so far.
In this museum, there are many vehicles on display and forms of transport including planes, trains and automobiles! The four main exhibits are based on these (so one on aviation and one on each of rail and road transport) plus a shipping one based on 1,000 years of Elbe shipping history.
There are temporary exhibits as well as a huge model railway with over 785 metres of track.
For families, there are specialist children’s activities including in each of the permanent exhibits.
This museum is informative but also a lot of fun, and we enjoyed it more than we expected. It’s highly recommended.
Frauenkirche (Church Of Our Lady)
This picturesque church should definitely be on your list of Dresden Germany things to do. Located on Neumarkt in the Old Town, it is just a short walk from Residenzschloss and the other Old Town attractions.
The original Frauenkirche was completed in 1743. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the 1945 bombing. Initially, the remains were left as a war memorial, but from 1994 to 2005, it was rebuilt using the rubble to replicate the original.
Today, it has all the beauty of the original both on the outside and once you go inside. It’s amazing to think when you are looking at the altar that it was reassembled from nearly 2000 pieces 😮
91 metres high, the huge dome is spectacular and you can pay a fee to ascend to the top viewing platform. The first 24 metres is by lift but the rest of via narrow stairs and a spiralling ramp. There’s also a steep ladder stairway. This activity is only for the fit.
Entry into the church itself is free and it’s well worth a look.
This one of the Dresden visiting places is perfect for art lovers. Built in the 1880s on Brühl’s Terrace, the Albertinum was originally the home of the royal sculpture collection.
This building wasn’t damaged as much as the rest of the Old Town in World War II and housed many art collections for a time while other buildings were restored.
Today, it still houses the sculptures as well as the Galerie Neue Meister (New Masters Gallery) which is a collection of paintings by Europeans from the 18th century to World War II. The rooms are also gorgeous.
There are many famous names here including van Gogh, Monet, Richter, Klimt, Munch, Klee and more. There’s also the impressive sculpture collection from classical antiquity to today.
It’s recommended to buy a ticket in advance.
Deutsches Hygiene Museum
Just outside the main Old Town area, the Deutsches Hygiene Museum is one of the alternative things to do in Dresden to add to your list!
While I originally thought it may be about handwashing and cleaning, it’s actually about human beings. The permanent exhibition is on “The Human Adventure” with seven rooms about aspects of human life created to take you on a journey of every day experience and how that impacts your body and self.
It’s much more interesting than that sounds with many interactive exhibits and tons of information about the human body and being human in a fascinating way.
The downside is that many of the descriptions are only in German. However, it’s still possible to get a lot out of visiting here as an English speaker and you have access to an English audio guide as part of your entry fee.
There are also temporary exhibits and a special children’s museum themed “The World Of The Senses”. It focuses on how to explore the world with our five senses and is targetted at 5 – 12 year olds. It’s lots of fun and informative.
Gläserne Manufaktur (Volkswagen Transparent Factory)
One of the unique Dresden Germany attractions is to visit the Volkswagen Gläserne Manufaktur. Located a short walk from the Old Town, it’s also next to Dresden’s botanical gardens.
If you are a Volkswagen fan like me (I miss my VW beetle!), you’ll definitely want to visit here. You get the opportunity to take a tour of the factory to watch work being done on producing electric Volkswagen cars.
This includes information on the cars being made here as well as the technologies being used. You can also take a test drive through Dresden!
It’s worth booking your tour beforehand if you want one in English to make sure it’s available as most are in German. You can find more information on their site here.
The building is cool, so even if you don’t want to do a tour it can be worth a wander here to take a look and a sneak peek inside before visiting the botanical gardens.
If you want to see the biggest images you’ve ever seen, consider a visit to this unique option among the places to visit near Dresden. The Dresden Panometer is located to the south west of the city centre and was created by the Austrian artist, Yadegar Asisi – the same person who created the Asisi Panometer in nearby Leipzig.
Here, the hollow interior of a disused telegraphic gasometer is used to display panoramic images which are 27 metres tall and 127 metres in circumference. It makes for quite a sight!
The images shown vary over time. At the time of publishing, you were able to see images of Dresden in the middle of the 18th century or in 1945 with the effects of the bombing in World War II – which you see depends on the time of year you go.
Whatever you see, there are exhibits with further information about the times pictured.
It’s incredibly interesting to see these images after a day wandering around Dresden to compare now with then.
It’s finally time to explore the New Town and there’s no better way to start than this one of the Dresden activities.
Kunsthofpassage is a chain of courtyards with quirky and unique patterns on the buildings. Each of the five courtyards was designed by local artists and architects and has their own theme.
An example is the Courtyard of the Animals where monkeys leap above giraffes and crocodiles roam. Or you can check out the Courtyard of Elements where tangled drainpipes are shaped like instruments on the building’s facade and play music when it rains.
It’s a great area to wander, have a cup of coffee and buy some souvenirs.
Militärhistorisches Museum Der Bundeswehr (Military History Museum Of The Bundeswehr)
Located to the north of the city centre, the Military History Museum is a great option of the Dresden places to see especially if you are interested in war and violence and looking at the roots and consequences of it. A
The building itself is massive with 19,000 squared metres of exhibits. It started life as a 19th century arsenal. The museum displays over 10,000 historical items including firearms, German military technology, uniforms, documents, images and more. There are also related art collections.
It’s all there to help you learn about the role war has played in the world in the past, present and future and tells the story of German wars from the Middle Ages to today. It’s also about violence and looks at social and state violence as well.
This is a huge collection with so much to think about. Allocate as much time to it as you can.
Dresden River Cruise
To see Dresden from a different angle, consider a Dresden river cruise aboard the world’s oldest fleet of paddle-wheel steamers.
In summer, 90-minute tours leave regularly from the Terrassenufer Dock which is in between the Augustusbrücke and the Carolabrücke, in front of Brühl’s Terrace.
Find more information here.
Of course, if there is anything else above that particularly appeals, you should edit this list of things to do in Dresden in one day to add it in. Just remove the items that least appeal.
Best Things To Do In Dresden In December/Winter
While most of the things to see in Dresden Germany listed above are possible in winter time, there are also some fun things to do in Dresden Germany in winter you may want to consider.
Dresden Christmas Market
If you are in Dresden over the Christmas period, you should not miss the Christmas Markets. There are many of them! It’s a real highlight of the city.
You absolutely won’t want to miss the oldest one, Striezelmarkt. It’s considered the first Christmas market in the world after having started in 1434. It was originally a one day event but it now takes place over the month preceding Christmas, has over 240 stands and attracts over 2.5 million people a year.
The name comes from a type of cake sold at the market. Today, it is called stollen and is a light fruitcake. There’s never been a better excuse to eat some cake than if you are here 🙂
It’s based in Altmarkt. Just nearby is Prager Straße which is known as a “Christmas mile” of stalls. You can also find a 15 metre high Christmas tree here, Christmas lights and Santa Claus’ house!
Honestly, there are just so many Christmas markets here and things to see, you’ll want a few days just to explore them all and soak it all in 🙂
While you can visit the Semperoper Opera House at any time of year, I especially think it’s a great choice of the Dresden things to do in winter. While it’s cold outside, is there a better excuse to enjoy a show in this famous opera house?
There’s ballet, opera and more. The Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden (Saxon State Opera) is especially recommended.
Click here to find out what’s on when you’re visiting Dresden.
Ice Skating At Palais Taschenberg
For unique things to do in Dresden in winter, get ready to put your skates on! An unusual (but awesome) place for an ice skating rink, the inner court at Palais Taschenberg offers ice skating from around late November to late January.
Skates can be rented at the entrance and there is an entry fee. There are decorations and lights, and it’s quite magical.
What To Do In Dresden In One Day
Only have 1 day in Dresden? What a shame! But it’s ok, it’s still worth going to Dresden if you only have one day.
With a day in Dresden, I recommend you stick to the main attractions in the Old and New Towns. You can explore the following on foot or take public transport to get to Kunsthofpassage.
You can follow the following itinerary of Dresden things to do in a day:
- Start with a walk along Brühl’s Terrace and along Augustusbrücke to enjoy views of the Old and New Towns and the River Elbe
- Start at Zwinger and explore the grounds. If the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Gallery) and/or Porzellansammlung (Porcelain Collection) interest you, be ready to enter when the museums open at 10am
- Next up is a short walk to Residenzschloss (Dresden Castle). If you can spare the time, I recommend entering here with a combination ticket to explore everythingbattle of interest. Read the above so you already know what you are interested in seeing
- Before leaving this area, make sure you check out Fürstenzug (Procession Of Princes) before heading on to Dresden Cathedral. Take a quick look inside
- Frauenkirche is up next. Take a look outside and inside, and if you have the time (this will depend on how long you spent in the palaces) and inclination, take a steep walk up to the top of the dome
- It should be getting towards late afternoon now, so it’s time to head to the New Town. Take a walk or hop on public transport and head towards Kunsthofpassage via Albertplatz where you can see a plaza with two fountains
- If you head up Alaunstrasse from here, you can also see the Graffiti Wall on your way
- After you pick your favourite courtyard at Kunsthofpassage, you’ll be surrounded by eating establishments so take you pick and enjoy a well earned sit down and meal
Dresden Attractions Map
Best Place To Stay In Dresden
When it comes to where to stay in Dresden, there is a great range of hotels and other accommodation options. You won’t have any problem finding somewhere to stay.
Below I’ve listed a few different places to consider depending on what type of accommodation you are looking for.
If you are looking for the best option in the Old Town, look no further than Hotel Taschenbergpalais Kempinski. Located opposite Zwinger palace and close to Residenzschloss, the location can’t be beat.
The building itself was built in the 18th century by August the Strong. It was restored in 1995 to form the luxury five-star hotel it is today.
It’s not just a beautiful palace to call home though. There are a great range of facilities including an indoor pool, luxury spa, fitness centre, multiple restaurants and bars. Parking is available for an extra fee.
In winter, the historic inner courtyard even turns into an ice skating rink (see more about this above).
There are a range of double and suite room options. All are comfortable, well appointed and have air conditioning and satellite TV.
NEW TOWN – Boutique Hotel Rothenburger Hof Review
For a great accommodation option in Dresden’s New Town not far from Kunsthofpassage, consider Boutique Hotel Rothenburger Hof.
This boutique hotel has a good range of facilities with a fitness centre, garden, terrace and parking on site for an extra fee. There’s also free wifi.
There are a range of room types including doubles and one and two bedroom apartments, perfect for people who want to self cater. All rooms have a desk, TV, coffee machine and private bathroom. Some have a balcony. A buffet breakfast is available.
VALUE – Dorint Hotel Dresden Review
Located a short walk from the Old Town area, Dorint Hotel Dresden is an excellent value option when you want great facilities and services for a good price.
Facilities include an indoor pool, sauna, a Mediterranean restaurant, bar and the option to have buffet breakfast. Parking is available for an extra charge.
There are a range of room types including single, doubles, twins, studios and suites. Some have extra sofa beds. All rooms include mini fridge and cable TV.
How To Get To Dresden
We actually had half our family travel to Dresden via hire car and half by train! Either option is easy. Dresden is a major city in this part of Germany and there are plenty of signs (or trains) to get you here.
There are regular trains and buses here. You can find timetables and all your options here.
You can also fly to Dresden. Check out flights here.
Once in Dresden, we found it easy to use the local public transport to go from the Old to the New Towns although most of the time, we explored on foot.
Dresden With Kids
We came to Dresden while our older kids were at camp, so this time, we only explored with our six year old which made things very easy.
Below, we have an option of things to do in Dresden Germany with kids which is more specifically for families but the attractions above work well as well, although there is only so much palace that our son wants to explore.
Some favourites are the Deutsches Hygiene Museum which has a childrens museum part and it’s hard to beat the Verkehrsmuseum Dresden (Dresden Transport Museum) which has so much kids will love, especially six year old boys, including areas like this transport garden. So much fun!
Grosser Garten (Grand Garden) and Zoo Dresden
Dresden’s Grand Gardens are its largest at around two square kilometres. Created in the 17th century, this is the perfect place to come and run out all of your kids’ excess energy!
There is a lot here including a palace built in the 17th century for the Saxon Elector, Johann Georg III. There is also the botanical gardens and Dresden Zoo.
At the zoo, you can find around 1,400 animals from 235 species so there is plenty to explore and discover. Make sure you head to the Africa House with a four metre high viewing platform over the elephants.
I hope you have found this guide to things to do around Dresden useful. It’s a great city to visit with a good range of attractions and stunning streetscapes.
I hope you enjoy it as much as us!