Magnificent palaces, world-class museums, and historic churches—here are the best spots to add to your itinerary in Dresden.
Dresden is one of Germany’s most intriguing capitals, with a rich, complex history that dates back more than eight centuries. It was the seat of Saxony’s kings, who constructed a city of magnificent baroque palaces, fanciful opera houses, and elegant spired churches along a scenic stretch of the Elbe River. Virtually destroyed in World War II then plunged into decades of communist rule, Dresden has slowly managed to rebuild and regain its former glory. Discover the reconstructed Altstadt (Old Town), explore world-class museums, or just enjoy the city’s lovely riverside location—here are eight of the best ways to make the most of your visit. Bonus: most are within walking distance!
Architect Matthäus Pöppelmann and sculptor Balthasar Permoser collaborated to design this ornate baroque pleasure palace for the 18th-century Saxon king, Augustus the Strong. Surrounding a huge central courtyard dotted with pools and fountains are six connected pavilions, each lavishly adorned with fantastical sculptures and elaborate portals. Every façade is a feast for the eyes, while the Glockenspielpavillon, with its ringing Meissen bells, also offers musical delights. You can download a free audio guide on your phone to find out more about the history of the Zwinger and other area castles.
Old Masters Gallery – Gemäldegalerie Alter Meister
See masterpieces including Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna” (with its famous twin cherubic angels), Giorgione’s “Sleeping Venus,” and Johannes Vermeer’s “The Procuress” at the Old Masters Gallery, tucked inside the Semper wing of the Zwinger. The royal collection counts 3,800 priceless works of art from European masters such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Eyck, and Velázquez. And don’t miss Bernado Bellotto’s landscapes of an 18th-century Dresden unaltered by war or modernization.
INSIDER TIPThe refurbished first- and second-floor galleries will reopen in February 2020; currently, the 55 top works from the collection are on view on the ground level.
Royal Castle – Residenzschloss
Give yourself plenty of time to explore the wonders of the vast royal residence of the Royal Castle, originally constructed in the 16th century and almost entirely destroyed in the Dresden bombing of 1945. Start in the Royal State Apartments (Paraderäume), the lavish series of rooms designed in 1719 under August the Strong and only recently restored and reopened; they include an audience chamber with an elaborately painted ceiling and the king’s throne and a royal bedroom with an imposing imperial bed. Book well ahead for a timed visit to the Historisches and Neues Grünes Gewölbe (Historic and New Green Vaults), two sets of ornately decorated rooms bursting with all manner of royal treasure: gold, silver, amber, ivory, and jewels. (It’s hard to miss, but be sure to seek out the Dresden Green, a 41-carat natural green diamond.) Other collections in the castle include the Kupferstich-Kabinett (Cabinet of Prints, Drawings and Photographs), the Türckische Cammer (Turkish Chamber), featuring an enormous 17th-century Ottoman tent of silk and gilded leather, and the Rüstkammer (Armory), packed with 13,000 historic war-related items such as firearms, swords, and armor. And from April to October, you can climb 327 steps to the observation deck of the Hausmannsturm (Castle Tower) for amazing views over Dresden.
Frauenkirche – Church of Our Lady
This early-18th-century baroque church—where J.S. Bach played an inaugural organ concert in 1736—remains one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Following the bombing of Dresden, it was one of the few structures in the historic center-left partially standing; its huge dome burned for days before the entire building collapsed into a pile of rubble. It lay in ruins for five decades until it was rebuilt—about one-third of the stones used were from the original church—and reopened in 2005, in time for Dresden’s 800th anniversary. The Frauenkirche is free and open to the public and there are audio guides available (in English) for a small fee. You can also climb up in the dome and out to its viewing platform, with sweeping vistas 220 feet above the city.
Military History Museum – Militärhistorisches Museum
Set across the Elbe River in Neustadt (New Town), the Military History Museum raises eyebrows right from the outset. Jutting out from the staid 19th-century neoclassical building (and former arsenal) is a massive, five-story wedge of glass and steel, a thoroughly avant-garde addition created by architect Daniel Libeskind. Inside, rather than shelves of dusty weapons and memorabilia, you’ll find insightful juxtapositions of various wars, from the Middle Ages to World War II to the present day. Interactive maps and photos enliven the narrative, and you’ll be wowed (and unsettled) by the full-scale models of warplanes, torpedoes, and air-raid shelters housed inside the stark concrete walls.
Brühl’s Terrace – Brühlsche Terrasse
One of the most delightful spots to wander when the weather is agreeable is Brühl’s Terrace, set high above the Elbe River on the remains of the ancient city fortifications. Enter from the Schlossplatz (Castle Square) and walk up a stone staircase framed by bronze statues to reach the treelined promenade. As you stroll, you can take in lovely views of the Elbe and Dresden’s remarkable architecture on both sides of the river, including the stately Saxon State Ministry in Neustadt. Lining the terrace you’ll find the beautiful domed Academy of Fine Arts complex, inscribed with the names of famous artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, and the Albertinum, home to Dresden’s fabulous collections of modern and contemporary art.
Elbe River Cruise
One of the best ways to see picturesque Dresden is from the water. There are a number of different cruises along the Elbe River, including a 90-minute tour that includes vistas of Dresden’s Old Town, the neighboring villa-filled Loschwitz district, and the famous Blue Wonder bridge. If you have time, consider a longer trip to see the nearby castles, including a stop at Pillnitz Castle, a restored palace built as a summer residence for Saxon royals and surrounded by lovely flowering English and Chinese gardens.
Pfund’s Dairy – Dresdner Molkerei Gebrüder Pfund
Elaborate hand-painted porcelain tiles from the famed Dresden factory Villeroy & Boch cover every inch of Pfund’s Dairy, from floor to the counters to the ceiling. No surprise then that it was named the most beautiful milk shop in the world by the Guinness Book of Records. Founded in 1880 by the Pfund brothers, today’s store isn’t so much about milk or cheese (though it is for sale) as it is a place for kitschy milk-related gifts like chocolate or milk soap. But the glorious interiors alone—which survived the Dresden bombing unscathed—make it worth the trip over the bridge to Neustadt.