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This article is a Dresden itinerary for 1 or 2 days. It includes the best free things to do in Dresden.
Dresden is known far and wide for its ravishing streets, the architecturally delightful buildings, the art and a rich history. While its offbeat location in East Germany might seem a little inconvenient to some, it’s without a doubt one of the best, most beautiful cities in Germany and worth a visit. Hipster and classy vibes go hand in hand in Dresden – the capital city of the state of Saxony and the fourth largest city in Germany. Just one day in Dresden might not be enough so I suggest spending 2 nights in Dresden at the very least. However, if you’re an art, architecture or history lover, you will most likely be tempted to spend many more days here. Coming to its geographical location, Dresden is located on the banks of the river Elbe, south of Berlin and north-east of Munich which makes it easy to visit from any one of these major cities.
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History of Dresden Germany
It’s important to know a few quick facts about Dresden before your visit there to help you understand the significance of the city a little more. Dresden has its roots all the way back till the 12th century. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Saxon ruler of Dresden built the now-famous baroque landmarks like the Zwinger palace and the Frauenkirche. Skipping ahead to World War 2, Dresden was infamously bombed by the Allied forces who dropped over 2000 tonnes of bombs and completely destroyed the inner city. Today, the rebuilt city stands tall, a confluence of culture, history and art.
How Many Days to Spend in Dresden?
If you’re wondering how many days you should spend in Dresden, Germany then the answer to that depends on what all you wish to see. To see all the places to visit in the Dresden Altstadt, you will need just one day in Dresden. Within a day, you can cover all the attractions in Altstadt such as Zwinger Palace, Bruhl’s Terrace, Frauenkirche, Theaterplatz, Schlossplatz etc. To explore more of the city such as the Neustadt across the river, you will need to spend 2 days in Dresden. My Dresden itinerary was to wake up early, finish off the Altstadt and then to head over to the Neustadt. However, to achieve this you’ll need to be up early in the morning and willing to walk a lot quickly. So I suggest spending two nights in Dresden to visit all the attractions comfortably.
How to Reach Dresden, Germany
The Dresden Airport is an international airport, a mere 13 km from the Dresden Altstadt. You will find cabs, trains and buses from the Dresden airport to the city easily. Other nearby airports include the ones near Leipzig and in Berlin.
Travelling to Dresden by Train
Dresden has a great public transportation network within the city and is well-connected to other cities by train. You can take the ICE from Berlin to Dresden which takes 2 hours to ply, without having to change stations. However, to go from Munich to Dresden, you may have to change trains.
Driving to Dresden
It is super easy to drive to Dresden from anywhere in Germany given the vast and fast network of the great Autobahn. So if you’ve rented a car in Munich or Frankfurt then reaching Dresden by car will take under 5 hours from either of these cities whereas Berlin to Dresden takes 2 and a half hours. Finding a spot to park the car in Dresden might not be easy, like in any major city. Ask your hotel or Airbnb host to guide you to the nearest free parking or cheap parking lot. We found a great parking spot in Dresden near the Dresden Altstadt costing us 6 Euro for 24 hours which was quite the deal.
Map of Things to do in Dresden Germany
Top Free Things to do in Dresden in 1 Day
1. Dresden Zwinger Palace – Top attraction in Dresden
The Zwinger Palace is one of the best places to visit in Dresden. Not just that, it is also one of the most iconic must-visit structures in Dresden. There are many ways to start your Dresden itinerary for the day, but I recommend starting here. The Dresden Zwinger Palace is a massive compound with a beautiful garden in its midst. If you come here early enough, you will get to enjoy the entire complex and it’s baroque style architecture without many people around. Keep in mind that there is no entry fee to room the Palace Grounds and the terrace.
If you exit from the North East side of the Zwinger Palace then you will find yourself in the Theaterplatz. Now, though this is just a square, it’s one of the unmissable places in Dresden simply because of the many historic buildings that are all around it including the Semperoper about which you can read in the next section. The Theaterplatz is a delightful place to be on a nice summer afternoon with an ice cream in your hand, not to mention the many pictures that you will get for the gram here.
The Semperoper is a circular shaped building located in the Theaterplatz, right next to the Dresden Zwinger Palace. It is an opera house and while it was constructed in 1841 it had to be rebuilt again in 1878 after a devastating fire. While you may not be able to visit the structure from the inside, you can’t miss seeing one of the best places to visit in Dresden at least from the outside. The grand architecture of the Semperoper and it’s convenient location next to the Dresden Zwinger palace make it one of the top free things to do in Dresden.
Let’s move on to the next top free things to do in our Dresden itinerary. If you’re standing with your back against the Semperomper, you will see the Schlossplatz directly in front of you across the road. The Schlossplatz or Schloßplatz is a smaller square compared to the Theaterplatz but just as beautiful or maybe even more. One of the main reasons why I specifically love this square is because it’s the starting point of both the Brühl’s Terrace and the Fürstenzug, but more on that later. On a warm summer day, you can sit on the steps and enjoy the architecture, the views of the Elbe river, the status of Albert of Saxony, and the magnificent buildings within the Schlossplatz.
5. Dresden Cathedral
The Dresden Cathedral is one of the must see places in Dresden because of its impressive architecture. You’ll get a good view of the cathedral from the Theaterplatz and an up-close view from the Schlossplatz. The unique design, grand structure, and the splendid views from the top make this important building one of the best things to do in Dresden in one day, if you only have time to visit the Dresden Altstadt.
6. Fürstenzug – Underrated attraction in Dresden
Moving on to my favorite and one of the top free things to do in Dresden. The Fürstenzug is a road with a large rectangular shaped mural paying a tribute to the rulers of Saxony on one side. It was originally painted in the 1800s and made weatherproof in the 1900s. Not only is it one of the largest porcelain artworks in the world, but it is also one of the best places to visit in Dresden, that too for free. The painting on the Furstenzug shows 35 noblemen on horseback accompanied by soldiers on foot. You can come here by exiting the Schlossplatz and while you’re walking along this road, you will see the famous Frauenkirche towering ahead.
Now, while the Münzgasse is just a simple road, I have included it in my list of the top free things to do in Dresden because of how beautiful this road inside the Dresden Altstadt is. Moreover, you can confirm that if you walk to the North end of the road, and climb on the steps to the Brühl’s Terrasse. From the terrace you’ll get epic views of the Münzgasse with the iconic Frauenkirche in the background. I don’t recommend you to visit the Münzgasse only because of how good it looks but also because of the many nice cafes where you can chill and take a break from all the places to visit in Dresden in your itinerary for the day.
8. Brühl’s Terrace
Also known as the balcony of Europe, the Brühl’s Terrace is one of the most popular attractions in Dresden. Constructed in the 16th century, the terrace is 500 m long with a width of 10-40 m. If you’re walking along the terrace, you will see many beautiful buildings, art galleries, museums and the Munzgasse on the south facing side. On the other hand, you will get a panoramic vista of the Elbe river and the Neustadt on the North facing end of the Brühl’s terrace. Just in case you fall in love with the view from the terrace, there are benches set up here to relax and take in the fantastic surroundings. Naturally, a visit to the terrace is completely free of cost, making it one of the top free things to do in Dresden Altstadt.
If you exit the Brühl’s Terrace from the East end and walk towards the Frauenkirche, you will come across the Coselpalais. The building was destroyed during the bombing of Dresden during the WWII and its reconstruction was recently finished in the year 2000. A stellar example of the baroque style of architecture, the palace now serves as an office building and also contains a restaurant within its premises. It is highly recommended to make a booking beforehand at the restaurant to grab good seats.
10. Frauenkirche Dresden
You can’t come to Dresden and not see the iconic and one of the best places to visit in Dresden which is the Frauenkirche. There used to be Catholic Church where the Frauenkirche now stands which was replaced by a Baroque style Lutheran church in the 18th century. This new church was destroyed during the bombing of Dresden and and left as it is as a war memorial. However, the church was recently reconstructed in 1994. Today, the church is a landmark in Dresden and also contains one of the largest domes in Europe.
11. Elbe River
The Elbe river is one of the most important rivers in central Europe. It originated in the Czech Republic and stretches across Germany, finally flowing into the North Sea at Cuxhaven, northwest of Hamburg. Enjoy the best views of the Elbe river in Dresden for free of cost from Bruhl’s Terrace on a clear day. If the weather permits, you can even take a walk alongside the river.
12. Neustadt Dresden, Germany
The Dreden Neustadt is in some ways the complete opposite of The Dresden Altstadt in terms of the vibe. While the Altstadt has an old World historic charm, the Neustadt, on the other hand, is hip, cool, and quirky. The Louisastraße, in particular, is the place to visit in the Dresden Neustadt if you’re looking for hip cafes, street art and bohemian vibes. Located north of the old city across the Elbe River, you cannot miss visiting the Neustadt if you have more than one day in Dresden, Germany.
Speaking of funky and cool things to do in Dresden Neustadt, you’ve got to check out the Kunsthofpassage. Kunsthof is a courtyard in the outer Neustadt, a mere 300 m walk from the Louisastraße mentioned earlier. There is an impressive facade inside the Courtyard known as the Kunsthofpassage. The striking blue walls adorned with gray down-pipes make an interesting free thing to do in Dresden. This building is also one of the most Instagram worthy places to visit in Dresden, for obvious reasons.
Dresden in Winter
I can give you one great advice for visiting Dresden in winter because that’s when I visited the city – don’t go. Me and my husband did an impromptu 2 day trip to Dresden in late November and we hated how cold it was! It’s not easy to enjoy the stunning buildings or take your hands out of the glove for a picture when it’s freezing cold outside. Moreover, you cannot take a walk alongside the Elbe river in the harsh winter of Dresden Germany or enjoy delicious ice cream whilst walking around the many city squares whilst admiring the architecture. So, in my honest opinion, you should avoid visiting Dresden in winter unless you are willing or accustomed to bearing the cold.
Day Trips from Dresden
If you have a few extra days in Dresden then you can take some exciting day trips from Dresden. Leipzig is another big and important city in East Germany that you can visit as a day trip from Dresden. Reaching Leipzig from Dresden takes 1-hour 30-minutes by road and less by trains which ply frequently between the two cities.
However, there is another more exciting day trip to Bastei Bridge from Dresden. The Bastei Bridge, also known as Bastei Brucke, is one of the main attractions in Saxon Switzerland. A stone bridge constructed among tall rock formations not only offers a spectacular sight but also has many hikes that you can do around the rocks to get better views of the bridge. You can easily reach Bastei from Dresden within 45 minutes by car or bus.
Where to Stay in Dresden, Germany
Because Dresden is architecturally and historically significant, it is one of the most visited cities in Germany. There are a ton of hotels and hostels in Dresden. You will even find plenty of airbnb options to stay within the city and in its outskirts.
Steigeberger Hotel de Saxe – A classic hotel almost directly next to the Frauenkirche with clean and modern rooms. Given how nice the hotel is and its perfect location right in the Altstadt, a stone’s throw from all the Dresden attractions, the price is too good to be true!
Holiday Inn Dresden – City South – Another clean, modern and top-rated hotel. While it’s not located right inside the Altstadt, it’s only 3 km from the Dresden Zwinger Palace and all other places to see in Dresden.
Limehome Dresden Tannenstraße – If you’re looking for a top-rated, extremely budget-friendly option in the Dresden Neustadt, then this is the place for you! If you’re looking for the cool pubs, beer gardens, and street art, then book these spacious rooms.
Where to Eat in Dresden, Germany
Finding a good place to eat in Dresden is super easy given the fact that it is a large city full of locals, tourists and students. During my first day in Dresden, I saw a bunch of cute cafes, good-looking restaurants and pubs in the Dresden Altstadt. During our first night in the old city, me and my husband grabbed dinner at Alex – a popular chain of mid-range restaurants in Germany. The vibe of the restaurant was classy, the waiters were friendly and spoke English and the drinks were knockout though I wasn’t a big fan of the food. On our second night in Dresden, we ordered takeout from an Indian restaurant.
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