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What to do in Dresden in 2 days? Palaces, museums, bicycling and beer

Please only travel when it’s safe to do so.

So you’re planning a trip to Germany and wondering about visiting Dresden.

Naturally, you want to know what to do in Dresden and how much time you should allocate to staying in the city.

Can you see Dresden in 2 days?

Dresden in 2 days
There are many beautiful places in Dresden to see!

Dresden in 2 days

What to do in Dresden in 2 days? Check out our ultimate Dresden itinerary!

In short, yes.

Consider that two days in Dresden doesn’t actually mean just 48 hours in Dresden. It really means a three-night stay in Dresden (with travel on either side) – at least the way we calculate trip time.

And you probably want to see other top cities in Germany, like Berlin (1 day at least!) and Munich (3 days).

So you have to be practical about budgeting your holiday time.

Not to worry though.

You can certainly experience the best of Dresden in a couple of days. (And if you have more time, so much the better!)

Here’s our guide on what to do in Dresden in 2 days.

2 Days in Dresden: Itinerary

Day 1: Castles, Museums, Churches and the Old Town

Morning of Day 1:

Dresden Castle

Historic Green Vault

New Green Vault

Afternoon of Day 1:

Zwinger Palace

Frauenkirche

Bruhl’s Terrace

Dresden Altstadt (Old Town)

Day 2: Bicycling and Beer

Bicycling the Elbe Cycle Path

Radeberger Brewery

Dresden hotels

Where to Stay in Dresden

Yes, you can hit the major highlights of Dresden in two days
Yes, you can hit the major highlights of Dresden in two days

Bombing of Dresden

First, before we get into our Dresden itinerary, let’s wind the clock back to 1945 so you can put Dresden in perspective.

You probably know that near the end of WW II, Dresden was virtually reduced to rubble by an Allied fire-bombing campaign.

People still debate whether the bombing raid was justified, coming so late in the war.

The German city was one of Europe’s most beautiful – dubbed “Florence on the Elbe” for its lovely Baroque architecture.

In the raid, more than 75,000 buildings were destroyed and over 25,000 people killed.

Dresden today

Dresden architecture: Dresden is famous for its old-new Baroque buildings.
Dresden is famous for its old-new Baroque buildings

Today, Dresden has been nearly completely rebuilt.

Most buildings have been reconstructed to look the way they did before the fire-bombing.

Dresden attractions - beautiful baroque buildings
The Baroque buildings that were destroyed in the war have pretty well all been rebuilt (Credit: German National Tourist Board)

Everything looks old, but shiny and “new” old.

If you didn’t know, you’d think you’re looking at palaces and churches that have withstood centuries of time (but clean ones).

Now rebuilt, Dresden is one of the most beautiful cities in Germany

The city is once again beautiful.

Very beautiful.

Dresden sculpture
These cherubs are just some of the charming sculptures you see in Dresden

And it’s not just its Baroque skyline that is beautiful.

In addition to its Baroque architecture, other Dresden attractions include its setting on the leafy green banks of the Elbe River.

It’s one of the most tranquil and scenic settings anywhere.

One of the major rivers in Central Europe, the Elbe River rolls through Dresden.
One of the major rivers in Central Europe, the Elbe rolls through Dresden

Really, you’ll love visiting Dresden!

Okay, let’s get on with what to see in Dresden in 2 days now, shall we?

The Dresden Academy of Fine Arts
The Dresden Academy of Fine Arts is just one of Dresden’s eye-catching buildings

Morning of Day 1: The Green Vault

Gilded goblets made from ostrich eggs, bejeweled swords, shimmering crystal and agate bowls – and the largest, most exquisite green diamond in the world (a whopping 41 carats of glittering green light and color). 

Yes, there’s some serious bling to be eyeballed at the Green Vault!

The Dresden Green Vault comprises two museums, found in the Dresden Royal Palace.

Also known as the Dresden Castle (or “Dresdner Residenzschloss” in German), the palace houses one of Europe’s most sumptuous collections of treasure in these two museums: the Historic Green Vault and the New Green Vault.

When planning a European city itinerary, people will pencil in Dresden specifically for the Green Vault.

Visiting the Green Vault (“Grunes Gewolbe”) is one of the top things to do in Dresden – so naturally, it will be the first place you want to see.

Dresden Castle:

The Dresden Royal Palace today is a stunning museum complex (Credit: Tieul, for Wikipedia)

In 1697, Augustus the Strong became ruler of Saxony, one of the largest territories in Europe (bigger than the present-day German state of Saxony).

Like King Louis XIV of France, Augustus embarked on an extravagant building spree.

In Dresden, he erected magnificent Baroque castles and palaces, including Dresden Castle.

In particular, Augustus commissioned a series of grand rooms and halls in the Dresden Castle, his palace, to showcase his valuables for visiting nobles and paying guests.

The Green Vault is thus one of the oldest museums in the world.

For centuries, the kings of Saxony lived in Dresden, Germany.
For centuries, the kings of Saxony lived in Dresden

Museum lover? Read next: What to see at NYC’s Met Museum if short on time

Historic Green Vault:

To enter the Historic Green Vault (downstairs in the palace), you pass through a state-of-the-art airlock, which keeps the air and humidity conditions constant in the museum.

We could only enter through the double-sealed doors as a maximum group size of four persons.

We entered through one door, stood in a little cubicle, then waited for the second door to open. It all felt quite futuristic!

The nine rooms and one entrance chamber in the Historic Green Vault are museum-quality themselves.

Dresden attractions - Historic Green Vault
Some original rooms in the Green Vault were painted a greenish color, hence the name (Credit: Dresden State Art Collection)

In one mirrored room, adorned with gold leaf and a painted ceiling, we gaped at intricate ivory sculptures.

In another, we saw a dazzling display of rubies, diamonds, and jewel boxes.

All told, the Historic Green Vault has more than 3,000 bronze statuettes, gemstone vessels, jewels, shell tumblers and other precious objects to drool over.

Many are set out on cabinet shelves and tables (not behind glass) – allowing really up-close viewing.

Dresden attractions - Historic Green Vault
Mirrors and gilded objects in one room of the Historic Green Vault (Credit: Dresden State Art Collection)

Fortunately, rooms in the Historic Green Vault sustained little damage during the fire-bombing of WW II – they were protected by huge metal window shutters and doors.

And the treasure had been transported to a fortress at the beginning of the war to keep it safe.

(The Soviets ferreted everything away to Russia at the end of the war – but returned it all to Dresden in 1958.)

New Green Vault:

The New Green Vault upstairs comprises 12 rooms.

It has an equally jaw-dropping collection of jewels and gorgeous objects, but the rooms themselves are not part of the museum collection, and here the items are behind glass.

This is where you see the Dresden Green Diamond – considered the “sister” stone to the famous Blue Hope Diamond, which is similar in size.

Dresden attractions - Green Diamond
The Dresden Green Diamond

The Green Diamond probably came from India and, in 1768, was set in a hat ornament, surrounded by more than 400 smaller diamonds.

You might also be tempted to trade in your Starbucks for a cup of coffee from the Golden Coffee Service.

The court jeweler Johann Dinglinger created a fantastic coffee pot and pyramid of enameled cups.

Ornamented with precious stones, it rises from a gold platter decorated with ornately carved ivory figurines.

Dresden attractions - Golden Coffee Service
Not your ordinary coffee set; the Golden Coffee Service (a fancy pyramid of cups, saucers and figurines) dates from 1697 to 1701 (Credit: Wikipedia)

A good way to impress your guests, don’t you think?

Dresden Green Vault

The Green Vault is part of the world-renowned Dresden State Art Collection of 14 museums.

Hours: The Dresden Castle (where the Green Vault is located) is typically open every day, except Tuesdays, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.

Historic Green Vault tickets: The number of visitors allowed into the Green Vault each day is limited, so be sure to book your tickets (reserved for a specific time) in advance.

More information: See the museum’s website for more details and to buy tickets.

Afternoon of Day 1: Zwinger Palace, Frauenkirche and Old Town

Zwinger Palace:

You’re going to get your fill of Dresden castles and palaces today!

But not to worry. The Zwinger Palace is quite different from the Dresdner Residenzschloss above – and also very much worth visiting.

It was also built during the reign of Augustus the Strong (in the early 1700s). Augustus envied Louis XIV’s palace of Versailles and wanted something equally lavish for himself.

So he ordered the construction of the Zwinger Palace (“Dresdner Zwinger”), complete with an orangery, to be used for tournaments, parties and other court activities.

In 1719, the palace was used for the wedding of Frederick August and the Hapsburg emperor’s daughter, the Archduchess Maria Josepha.

The Zwinger Palace is one of the most famous of the Baroque buildings in Dresden
The Zwinger Palace is one of the most famous of Dresden’s Baroque buildings (Credit: German National Tourist Board)

Today, the Rococo-style palace is home to three superb museums (also part of the Dresden State Art Collection of museums).

The Porcelain Collection displays the world’s largest collection of porcelain, while the Old Masters Gallery is a showpiece for European paintings by Titian, Raphael and Correggio.

The third museum contains a collection of telescopes and other early scientific instruments.

Even if you don’t check out the museums, do walk through the palace’s Crown Gate and pop into the magnificent fountain-studded courtyard.

What started as an orangery on an old fortress became the vast Zwinger Palace
What started as an orangery on an old fortress became the vast Zwinger Palace (Credit: German National Tourist Board)

The Zwinger Palace also hosts music and theater performances.

Maybe you can catch an evening event if not too pooped from your day’s outing?

Zwinger Palace, Dresden

Hours: The palace is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.

Zwinger Palace tickets: It’s free to enter the courtyard, but tickets are needed for the museums.

More information: See the palace website.

Got a crush on castles and palaces? Read this: A regal day trip to Drottningholm Palace is one of the best things to do in Stockholm!

Frauenkirche:

The rebuilding of Dresden's Frauenkirche was financed almost entirely by private donors around the world.
The Dresden Frauenkirche was originally built in the 18th century as a large Baroque monument

Now you’re going to church – really!

The Church of Our Lady (“Frauenkirche”) is the city’s signature building and one of the must-see tourist attractions in Dresden.

The rebuilding of Dresden’s Frauenkirche was financed almost entirely by private donors around the world

Originally built in the 18th century in Baroque style, it was completely destroyed during the fire bombing of Dresden.

The pile of blackened stones remained as they were for the next 45 years during the city’s Communist rule.

Then, after the Berlin Wall fell, funds were raised to rebuild the church, using the original materials.

The Frauenkirche altar was rebuilt using 2,000 pieces of the original altar
The Frauenkirche altar was rebuilt using 2,000 pieces of the original altar

Today the rebuilt church stands proudly in the center of the city, crowned by one of the largest church domes in Europe.

Climb to the top of the Frauenkirche tower for great city views!

The Church of our Lady is a popular tourist attraction in Dresden.
The Church of our Lady is a popular tourist attraction in Dresden

Frauenkirche, Dresden

Hours: Open church hours are normally Monday to Friday in the morning from 10:00 am to 12 noon, and then again 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm. You can also visit on weekends, depending on events and services.

Tours: Guided tours are offered (by donation).

More information: See the Frauenkirche website.

Bruhl’s Terrace:

Bruhl's Terrace at dusk...
Bruhl’s Terrace at dusk…

You still have time for a stroll before dinner.

Located north of the Frauenkirche, you’ll find Bruhl’s Terrace (“Bruhlsche Terrasse”).

Nicknamed “the Balcony of Europe,” this pedestrian promenade stretches along the Elbe River. Check out some of the striking buildings and sculptures linking the walkway, as you enjoy the views of the Elbe.

Old Town, Dresden:

Neumarkt Square is lined with many restaurants, shops and stores
Neumarkt Square is lined with many restaurants, shops and stores (Credit: Dresden Information GmbH)

You may want to wander around the Altstadt or Old Town of Dresden too.

Here, along with the Dresden Castle and Zwinger Palace (above), you’ll find the Semper Opera House, Academy of Arts and Neumarkt Square, with its typical gabled houses and buildings.

It’s not a good idea to peek at the chocolates and cakes in the windows of some of the shops if you’re hungry though, because they’ll just make you drool.

Day 2: Bicycling and Beer

Peaceful scenes are found everywhere along the Elbe River outside Dresden
Peaceful scenes like this are found everywhere along the Elbe River

Now that you’ve visited the most important urban Dresden attractions, you can sample the city’s outdoor delights – followed by some of its famous beer!

Elbe Cycle Path:

Bicycling on the Elbe River
It’s easy to cycle along the flat Elbe Biking Trail – and look at the views!

If you love two-wheeling, you’ll love bicycling along the Elbe Biking Trail (or Elbe Cycle Path). 

The trail runs about 725 miles (1,165 kilometers) all the way along the Elbe River from the Czech border to the North Sea.

One of the top Dresden attractions is the Pillnitz Castle.
You can bicycle along the Elbe, past villas and vineyards, to Pillnitz Castle

In Dresden, there are plenty of bike rental shops where you can rent bikes.

We cycled a 16-mile (26-kilometer) level stretch from Radebeul to Pillnitz Castle, a former summer residence for the Saxon kings.

Pillnitz Castle in Dresden was once the summer home of the Saxon royal court
Pillnitz Castle has a lovely location on the Elbe River

And it seemed like everyone and their dog was out this warm and sunny autumn day!

People were running, walking, cycling and pushing baby strollers.

We pedaled past villas and vineyards – where leaves on surrounding maple trees painted the landscape vivid gold and red.

Autumn leaves outside Dresden
The colors of fall along the Elbe River

The steamships that travel up and down the river were also a colorful sight as they ferried onboard daytrippers, sightseers and bicyclists.

These ships are part of the oldest and largest steamboat fleet in the world.

Historical steamboats offer sightseeing Elbe River tours from Dresden.
Historical steamboats offer sightseeing Elbe River tours from Dresden

Recommended reading: It’s fun to go two-wheeling on the best river and ocean cycling cruises!

Radeberger Brewery:

Everyone loves beer in Dresden – especially Pilsner-style beer!

After, we toasted our bicycling expedition with beer from the Radeberger Brewery.

Founded in 1872, it was the first brewery in Germany to brew beer in the traditional Pilsner style that Saxons prefer.

Two fun beer factoids

1) Saxons invented the use of the beer coaster.

2) The average Saxon drinks 150 litres of beer a year.

Today, there are over 600 breweries in the Saxony region.

(And in case you’re not sure what a Pilsner-style beer tastes like, we can tell you it’s kind of sweet with a dry bitterish finish.)

Other things to do in Dresden?

We’ve covered the must-see Dresden highlights to include in a 2-day Dresden itinerary.

But there are still more interesting things to do in Dresden. And more Dresden tourist attractions to see.

The Dresden Clock Tower
Fiery autumn leaves contrast starkly with this Dresden clock tower

If the Green Vault and Zwinger Palace museums aren’t enough, there are actually some 50 or more museums in Dresden you could explore.

And then there are the singing drain pipes of Kunsthofpassage. This is a colorful network of drain pipes that makes music when it rains.

Some day in the not-too-distant future, we’d love to return to the city to explore some of the other places to see in Dresden.

And we’d love to take another peek at that Green Diamond!

More information: What to do in Dresden

Visit the official website for Dresden Tourism (Dresden Information GmbH)

Where to stay in Dresden

Hotel Taschenbergpalais:

Built for one of Augustus the Strong’s mistresses, the historic century hotel has 213 rooms (Credit: Hotel Taschenbergpalais Kempinski)

You can’t go wrong with the luxurious Hotel Taschenbergpalais Kempinski Dresden, located right in the heart of the historic Old Town.

A former 18th century palace, this 5 star Dresden hotel boasts elegant rooms with antiques and an indoor pool. Simply put, it’s one of the best hotels in Dresden.

Check rates and availability for the Hotel Taschenbergpalais Kempinski.

Vienna House QF Dresden:

The boutique Dresden hotel, with 95 rooms and suites, is slickly mod in design inside (Credit: Vienna House Dresden)

Close to the Frauenkirche, this boutique hotel in Dresden is bright and modern, with an eye-catching glass elevator.

Rooms are spacious and kitted out with extremely comfortable king-size beds and Italian stone bathrooms.

Check rates and availability for the Vienna House QF Dresden.

Experience more of Germany!

Read our posts on:

Bonn | From visiting Beethoven’s house to ogling the pretty Poppelsdorf Palace, you’ll love these delightful things to do in Bonn.

Baden-Baden | There’s an art to bathing naked at the Friedrichsbad! Think 17 stages of bathing pleasure.

Berlin | What can you see and do in Berlin in a day?

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Dresden itinerary: What to do in Dresden in 2 days

Photo credits: 4, 8, 9, 11, 24 to 31 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 6, 7 courtesy Andrea Norrie, Janice’s sister-in-law


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the owners and founders of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, luxury hotel reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

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Carol

Thursday 29th of October 2015

Okay, you've sold me on Dresden. You've also sold me on a huge green diamond.

Frank

Saturday 24th of October 2015

Beautiful! We were in Dresden for 5 days last summer and were so impressed. So many incredible things to see in a small area. We ended up actually missing the Green Vault, sometimes we get museum-ed out and it's too much of a commitment. But in this case looks like we really missed out on something. Frank

Janice and George

Saturday 24th of October 2015

You're right, Dresden is packed with lots to see - we missed out on some palaces, as you can see from our post. But the Green Vault is really special. You'll just have to plan another trip there!

Evelyn

Tuesday 8th of September 2015

Dresden is a "must see." I never cease to be amazed at how cleverly and expertly the buildings destroyed in WW2 were rebuild and restored. Luckily many of the treasures in those buildings were safely stored during the bombing raids. Still have relatives of my mother living in Dresden to further enrich a visit to this historic cultural mecca. Thanks for the beautiful photos and informative descriptions and insights.

Janice and George

Saturday 12th of September 2015

Glad this post resonated with you :-). (And yes, it's fortunate these priceless pieces of history survived such a tragic war.)

Anda

Tuesday 8th of September 2015

Isn't Dresden a charming hidden treasure? I loved this city! We've spent a week there two years ago and also visited the Bastei Rocks and the Fortress of Königstein nearby. Did you get to see the Kunsthofpassage in Neustadt? You have great pictures from Dresden.

Janice and George

Saturday 12th of September 2015

You know what? That Kunsthofpassage doesn't ring a bell :-). This is the series of courtyards in Dresden where the funnels, pipes and gutters gracing the buildings play "rain-music" where it rains. Fun! Too bad we missed it...

Jenna Francisco

Monday 7th of September 2015

This looks just lovely. I almost visited Dresden when I was living in the Czech Rep. We knew it was just on the other side of the border and was supposed to be a beautiful city, but we never made it there. I'd especially love to bike the Elbe bike trail. Pinning for a future Germany trip (my older son and husband really want to go there!).