So you’re planning a trip to Germany and are 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.
Is two days in Dresden about right?
In short, yes.
What to do in Dresden in a two-day stay
Consider that two days of exploring really means a three-night stay in Dresden. And you probably have other cities, like Berlin, that you want to see, 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 two days.
Bombing of Dresden
First, 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.
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 clean ones).
The city is once again beautiful. Very beautiful.
And not just for its Baroque skyline.
In addition to its Baroque architecture, other Dresden attractions include its setting on the leafy green banks of the Elbe River – one of the most tranquil and scenic anywhere.
Really, you’ll love visiting Dresden!
Okay, let’s get on with actually visiting Dresden now, shall we?
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.
Naturally, visiting the Green Vault (“Grunes Gewolbe”) is one of the top things to do in Dresden – it will be the first place you want to see.
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.
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, rising from a gold platter decorated with ornately carved ivory figurines.
A good way to impress your guests, don’t you think?
Afternoon of Day 1: Zwinger Palace, Frauenkirche 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 (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.
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?
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 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.
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!
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:
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
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).
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 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 a vivid gold.
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.
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.
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 city highlights to include in a 2-day Dresden itinerary. But there are still more interesting things to do in Dresden…
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!
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.
Check rates and availability for the Hotel Taschenbergpalais Kempinski.
Vienna House QF 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.
More Germany travel inspiration
Read a couple of our other posts on Germany…
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Photos 3, 8, 9, 10, 12 and 25 to 35 are © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | Photos 1 and 5 to 7 courtesy Andrea Norrie, Janice’s sister-in-law