So you’re planning a trip to Germany and wondering about visiting Dresden.
Nestled on the banks of the Elbe River, Dresden is a beautiful European city, packed with amazing museums and gorgeous Baroque buildings.
What are the best things to do in Dresden? How much time should you allocate to staying in the city?
Read on! We’ve visited Dresden and we’ve got you covered with our itinerary and guide below.
Best things to do in Dresden, Germany
Dresden in 2 days
How many days in Dresden should you stay? Is a couple of days enough?
Short answer, 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 too – like Berlin (1 day at least!).
And maybe you also want to go to Munich (3 days)?
So you have to be practical about budgeting your holiday time.
Not to worry though.
It will be a busy (though exhilarating) Dresden visit. But you can certainly experience the best of Dresden in 2 days.
Here’s our guide on what to do in Dresden in 2 days.
You can adapt it if time is short and you only have one day in Dresden.
And if you can spend 3 days in Dresden, so much the better! (See the additional fun things to do in Dresden at the end of our 2-day Dresden itinerary.)
First, before we get into our the top Dresden activities, let’s wind the clock back to 1945 so you can put the city in perspective.
The capital of the state of Saxony, Dresden is located in east Germany (close to the city of Leipzig).
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.
Is Dresden worth visiting today?
Today, Dresden has been nearly completely rebuilt.
Most buildings have been reconstructed to look the way they did before the fire-bombing.
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 cleaner ones).
The city is once again beautiful.
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.
So Dresden is absolutely worth visiting!
Okay, let’s get on with this guide.
You’ll discover at least 25 fabulous things to do in Dresden below.
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).
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 Dresden Castle (or “Dresdner Residenzschloss” in German), the palace is one of the oldest buildings in Dresden. (It was bombed during the second world war but has since been restored to its former glory.)
It 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 best things to do in Dresden. So naturally, it will be the first place you’ll want to hit!
About Dresden Castle:
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, as showcases of his valuables for visiting nobles and paying guests.
The Green Vault is thus one of the oldest museums in the world.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A good way to impress your guests, don’t you think?
Procession of Princes:
Another one of the most interesting things to see in Dresden is the 335-foot-long mosaic mural on the outside of the Royal Palace complex.
Made with more than 24,000 Meissen porcelain tiles, the Procession of Princes (Furstenzug) is the largest porcelain mural in the world.
Kings, princes and dukes are depicted walking and riding on horses in this princely parade, representing the history of Saxony’s Wettin dynasty.
The original mural was painted in 1876. But the color quickly faded.
To make it waterproof, it was replaced with ceramic porcelain tiles in the early 1900s.
Afternoon of Day 1: Zwinger Palace, churches and Old Town
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.
Today, the Rococo-style palace is home to three superb museums. (They’re also part of the Dresden State Art Collections.)
Dresden Porcelain Collection
The Porzellansammlung (Royal Porcelain Collection) displays the world’s largest collection of porcelain – more than 20,000 pieces
Augustus the Strong was obsessed with porcelain, which he called “white gold.”
His early collection consisted of blue-and-white porcelain from the Ming and Qing dynasties he acquired from China.
Later in 1710, he founded the first porcelain factory in Europe (in Meissen) and supplemented his collection with exquisite Meissen porcelain figurines, life-size sculptures of animals, vases, plates and other pieces.
Old Masters Picture Gallery
Located in the palace’s Semper Wing, the splendid Old Masters Gallery (Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister) is a showpiece for some 700 European paintings by Titian, Rembrandt, Raphael, Rubens, Correggio and Anthony van Dyck.
The gallery recently underwent an impressive $50 million renovation.
Spanish and French art is now hung on bright blue walls. Italian art is displayed against a deep crimson background. And a rich green color is the backdrop for German and Dutch paintings.
If you love art, viewing Rembrandt’s Ganymede, Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, the Sistine Madonna by Raphael and Titian’s Zinsgroschen will be among the Dresden highlights you won’t want to miss.
About 420 sculptures are now displayed in the revamped gallery as well.
Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments
The third museum contains a collection of telescopes, historic clocks, astronomical devices and other early scientific instruments dating back to the 16th century.
More things to see and do in Zwinger Palace
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.
The Zwinger Palace also hosts music and theater performances.
Maybe you can catch an evening evening gala concert if not too pooped from your day’s outing?
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!
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.
Originally built in the 18th century in Baroque style, it was completely destroyed during the allied 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 Lutheran church. More than 3,800 stones were salvaged from the original church and used in the reconstruction, along with new stones.
Today the rebuilt church stands proudly in the center of the city, crowned by one of the largest church domes in Europe. It has a unique look, as the older stones are darker in color than the new ones.
Climb to the top of the Frauenkirche tower for great city views!
Another one of the churches you must see in Dresden is the Dresden Cathedral (Katholische Hofkirche), also known as the Cathedral of Holy Trinity.
Measuring 52,000 square feet, this famous landmark is the largest church in Saxony.
The heart of Augustus the Strong is buried in the crypt, along with the remains of 49 other royal family members. (Augustus’ body was buried in Poland’s Wawel Cathedral in Krakow.)
Old Town, Dresden:
When sightseeing in Dresden, you’ll naturally be drawn to wandering around the Altstadt or Old Town of Dresden.
Here, along with the Dresden Castle and Zwinger Palace and famous churches (above), you’ll find the Semper Opera House, the Academy of Arts and Neumarkt Square, with its typical gabled houses and buildings.
Shopping in Dresden:
Lots of cute shops also beg you to pop inside.
The shopping in Dresden is some of the best in central Europe, and visitors from neighboring Poland and the Czech Republic love to shop in Dresden. You might want to also!
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.
You may 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.
Dinner in Dresden
You’ve earned your dinner today! Here are a couple of great choices:
How would you like to taste typical Saxon food from the 18th century?
Sophienkeller in the heart of the Old Town serves up dishes like Saxon potato soup, spit-roasted suckling pig and duck with red cabbage and dumplings.
Its setting is amazing too. Seated in a vaulted cellar, you’re entertained by a lute-playing bard and ladies in costume telling stories of times gone by.
This Michelin one-star restaurant is the place to go for creative German food in a fine dining setting.
You can order à la carte at Genuss-Atelier.
But you really want to choose one of the multi-course menus (from a 4-course tasting journey all the way up to an 8-course menu). Maybe start with the optional summer truffle or duck liver?
Day 2: Bicycling and Beer
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:
If you love two-wheeling, you’ll love bicycling along the Elbe Biking Trail (or Elbe Cycle Path). It was one of our favorite things to do in Dresden!
The trail runs about 725 miles (1,165 kilometers) all the way along the Elbe River from the Czech border to the North Sea.
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.
And it seemed like everyone and their dog was out that warm and sunny autumn day! People were running, walking, cycling and pushing baby strollers.
And what gorgeous views we were treated to!
We pedaled past villas and vineyards – where leaves on surrounding maple trees painted the landscape vivid gold and red.
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.
Recommended reading: It’s fun to go two-wheeling on the best river and ocean cycling cruises!
After, we toasted our bicycling expedition with beer from the Radeberger Brewery – a great way to end our day trip!
Founded in 1872, it was the first brewery in Germany to brew beer in the traditional Pilsner style that Saxons prefer.
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 top things to do in Dresden, Germany?
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.
This splendid modern art museum is found on the Bruhl Terrace.
The Albertinum (another one of the Dresden State Art Collections) is home to two of the state collections: the Sculpture Collection and the New Masters Gallery.
Pillnitz Palace and Gardens:
Remember we mentioned bicycling past Pillnitz Palace (above)?
Augustus the Strong had this Baroque palace built in the 1720s on banks of the River Elbe as a summer palace.
It was basically a “pleasure palace” with Chinese-inspired décor – a venue for costume parties and sporting events.
You can tour the charming riverside palace and its beautiful gardens (which include one of Europe’s oldest camellia trees).
There are also several museums inside the palace. The Arts and Crafts Museum is one of the Dresden State Art Collections and contains musical instruments, furniture, pewter, textiles and porcelain.
The best way to get to Pillnitz is to take one of the historic paddle steamers that ply the Elbe River. (You can book your boat cruise to Pillnitz here.)
And then there are the singing drain pipes of Kunsthofpassage – one of the funkiest places to see in Dresden.
The Neustadt Kunsthofpassage (art courtyards) is a series of five courtyards in an artistic neighborhood in the student district of Dresden’s new town.
One is the courtyard of music. Against a turquoise wall, there’s a network of artistic drain pipes that makes music when it rains.
More fine Dresden museums:
If the Green Vault, Zwinger Palace and other museums we’ve covered aren’t enough, there are actually some 50 or more museums in Dresden in total you could explore.
Three more excellent museums you might like:
- Dresden Panometer – A spectacular panoramic painting of Dresden is displayed inside a disused gasometer.
- Dresden Transport Museum – See cars, bicycles, ships, planes and other forms of transportation in a 16th century building. A great place to take boys!
- Turkish Chamber – This museum contains one of the most important collections of Ottoman art, tents and bejeweled weapons outside of Turkey.
Founded in 1880, Pfunds Molkerie is the world’s most beautiful dairy shop!
It’s partly about the array of specialty cheeses, handmade natural soaps, cream-based liquors, chocolates and other milk products that are sold here.
But it’s also partly about the fact that the walls, ceiling, floor and counters are completely decorated with hand-painted Villeroy & Boch ceramic tiles.
Indeed, the Guiness Book of World Records called it the “world’s most beautiful milk shop.”
Dresden Christmas market:
Founded as a one-day market in 1434, the Striezelmarkt in Dresden’s city center is considered the oldest Christmas market in the world.
The annual event runs from the end of November until December 24.
Sip on mulled wine and nibble on fruit loaf as you browse the stalls selling unique crafts and enjoy the festive atmosphere and light display.
Where to stay in Dresden
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.
Hotel Taschenbergpalais Kempinski: Check rates and availability
Vienna House QF Dresden (or Townhouse Dresden):
Close to the Frauenkirche, this boutique hotel in the heart of 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.
Vienna House QF Dresden: Check rates and availability
More Germany travel information
Also see the official website for Dresden Tourism (Dresden Information GmbH).
That’s a wrap on the best places to visit in Dresden and itinerary!
Some day in the not-too-distant future, we’d love to return to this beautiful city to explore some of the other places in Dresden that we missed.
We’d also love to take another peek at that Green Diamond!
And we’ll make sure to spend more than 2 days in Dresden to really have time to take in all that the city offers.
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Photo credits: 4, 8, 9, 11, 22, 24 to 31© Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 3, 5, 7 Andrea Norrie, Janice’s sister-in-law