The Florence of the Elbe – What to see in Dresden
In the past, Dresden was considered the pearl of European baroque. The Saxon capital flourished under the Wettin dynasty. The prince-electors, among whom two were also kings of Poland, have greatly promoted culture, architecture and art in the Saxon capital. It was the reason why Dresden was nicknamed the Florence on the Elbe.
Similarly there are not many cities in Germany, which were so extremely marked by the second world war. The controversial bombing of the allies at the end of the war caused enormous destruction of the beautiful old town. However, in the last 3 decades, the ancient splendor of Florence on the Elbe has been recovered.
Dresden , like the phoenix, has managed to be reborn from the ashes, today attracting numerous tourists from all over the world. Would you like to explore this fascinating legacy? In this post we are going to introduce you to the 8 monuments you must see in Dresden .
1) Residential Palace
Let’s find out what to see in Dresden with the Residential palace. The enclosure will attract your attention with the majestic tower called Hausmannturm. It has a height of more than 100 meters and is symbolically oriented towards the Elbe. The palace built in different architectural styles suffered extensive damage during the bombing. In the post-war period, the process of its gradual reconstruction began, which continues to this day. What can you find inside?
The prince-electors of Saxony, above all Augustus the Strong (1670-1733) and his son, were well known for their passion for collecting. In addition, they loved the ostentatious parties, receptions, and court entertainments unique to Baroque culture.
In the rooms and cabinets of the palace you will find literally everything: engravings, paintings, numismatic collections, maps, bladed weapons and armory armor. In the Turkish hall you can admire beautiful objects obtained during wars or diplomatic missions to the Ottoman Empire. It’s a blast for art lovers!
The icing on the cake is the exhibit called Grünes Gewölbe (the Green Vault) because of the color of the interiors painted in 1680. In general there are two parts to the collection.
- The historic (Historisches Grünes Gewölbe) consists of a mirror-image treasure chamber of Augustus the Strong. It would be difficult to mention all the wonders, but it is worth highlighting a medieval chalice from Syria, a small ivory box representing the story of Jason or the shark’s teeth with scenes from the life of Christ. The entrance costs 14 euros and one has to book their ticket at an exact time. Click here. You can also buy the combined ticket for all the cameras at the price of 24.5 euros.
- What struck us the most was the so-called New Green Vault. This collection will take your breath away! These are extremely fine and impressive works of art by the court jeweler of Augustus the Strong Johann Melchior Dinglinger. Among the most precious pieces you will not be able to take your eyes off the famous “Delhi Court”. It is a decorative model of 137 figures in various colors adorned with more than 5000 diamonds, rubies, emeralds and pearls!! It’s crazy!! Admission costs 14 euros and includes all the previously mentioned rooms. Except for the Historic Green Vault.
heist of the century
Now when you visit these incredible treasures, you will ask yourself: how much is all this wealth worth? Here is the surprise for you. In 2019, one of the most audacious robberies in German history took place. On the night of November 25, two hooded individuals cut off the electricity. They then entered through a barred window into the exhibit.
Would you think the robbery was very fine in the style of “Mission: Impossible”? None of this, they just smashed a glass case with an ax and stole a few dozen priceless diamond pieces. If you would like to know more about the outcome of this true story, we will tell you about it during our free tour in English through the historic center of Dresden .
2) Zwinger Palace
As we already mentioned, the residential palace could not provide the necessary space for all the parties and events organized by August the Strong. It was decided to erect a new compound – the splendid Zwinger partially inspired by the Parisian Versailles.
To clarify. The palace never served for residential functions. Only the parties were organized there and the rich collections of art were exhibited. What was the most epic party? It was the famous wedding of Augustus III (1696-1763), the son of Augustus the Strong with Maria Josefa of Austria of the house of Habsburg in the year 1719.
The festival held in September has lasted for 40 days making Dresden one of the most important European capitals. Can you imagine the spectacle? The bride and groom arrived at the Zwinger by the Elbe river in a Venetian gondola.
Currently in the palace you can find two important collections:
- Physical and Mathematical Sciences Hall – with various technical apparatus, optical lenses, clocks
- Porcelain Collection – an impressive variety of traditional Asian pieces and Meissen Porcelain – the first European porcelain manufactory
- The Old Masters Gallery – built almost 150 years later by the famous architect Gottfried Semper. Today it houses an opulent collection of paintings of the best European art. We recommend it if you want to see the canvases of Corregio, Titian, El Greco and Diego Velázquez, masters from Niderland such as Vermeer van Delft, Rembrandt or Rubens. German icons like Lucas Cranach the Elder and Albrecht Dürer were not to be missed, not to mention Raphael’s world-renowned Sistine Madonna.
The price of admission is 14 euros per person including all the exhibitions mentioned. On Mondays it is closed.
3) The Court Church – the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
Number three on our list of what to see in Dresden is the beautiful Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. The first question that will surely come to your mind: How is it possible that in the heart of Protestant Saxony there is such a wonderful Catholic church? Here’s the trick.
To become the king of Poland, Augustus the Strong had to change his confession and convert to Catholicism. Because of this, he ordered the construction of one of the largest churches in all of Saxony with the characteristic 86-meter tower. What struck us the most were the 78 figures of apostles and saints placed in the attic of the facades. Can you imagine what kind of ideological manifesto was proclaimed by this “procession” in the Lutheran city?
(We remind you that this protesting confession has rejected the cult of saints and relics).
Where to pay attention in the interiors? You will be surprised by the modesty of its design. A very peculiar feature is a double arcade between the main nave and the aisles. This space was used to participate in processions since Catholics were prohibited from organizing religious parades outside the church. Until 1806 they were not allowed to ring the bells.
Finally, it is worth highlighting the beautiful altar with the scene of the Ascension painted by Anton Mengs. Did you know that the artist was also named the First Painter of King Carlos III of Spain? His paintings to this day can be admired in the Prado and in the palace of Aranjuez. An urban legend says that thanks to his intervention the young Goya obtained the first job in the Spanish capital…
4. The Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche)
Number four on our list of must-see monuments in Dresden occupies the most recognized temple in the city. It is the Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche) located in the Neumarkt square. Built in the years 1726-1743, it stands out with its enormous dome made of sandstone. A little used solution outside of Italy.
During the bombing the Frauenkirche was left completely in ruins. Left as a mountain of rubble in communist times, it was rebuilt after German reunification. The interiors are really beautiful with a decorative altar and numerous wooden boxes. It is worth getting into the basement, where the stages of reconstruction are presented.
Do you know what the most incredible part of this story is? That the British actively participated in this process by forming a special foundation called the Dresden Trust. What is frightening, was the original cross on the top – damaged and bent by the 1000+ degree Celsius temperature caused by the bombing.
Today you can admire the new cross, which tops the church tower at a height of 91 meters. This was a special gift from British craftsman Alan Smith. He had personal reasons for giving this gift. It is one of the most moving stories that we tell you during our free tour in English through the old town of Dresden. Entrance to the church is free.
5. Festung Xperience (Festung Dresden)- Dresden Fortress
The next item on our list of must-see attractions in Dresden is in a spectacular location – below the Brühl terrace. This terrace has beautiful views of the Elbe and the New Town was described by Goethe as the balcony of Europe. Today it is part of the only relics of the old walls and fortifications that surrounded the city.
The museum closed for a few years has recently inaugurated its opening. Today it is one of the franchises of the so-called Dresden Experience (also available in the Zwinger Palace). It has the newest audiovisual technologies to make your visit to the old dungeons more credible. Admission costs 10 euros and is recommended for those who speak German or English well. Will you wonder why?
Because when you enter you will receive headphones that will take you back to the time of Maurice of Saxony (1521-1553), the builder of the fortress. He was a very important character for the principality. Remnants of the fortifications called Mortizbastei have also been preserved in Leipzig. Currently, they serve as a vibrant center of culture, which we show during our free tour in English through the historic center of Leipzig.
Returning to the theme of Dresden, the dungeons have an extraordinary atmosphere. With the original sounds, presentations and music they give you a unique taste of how the soldiers of the time lived. Under the condition that you understand English well because many old and specific words are used in the recording.
Second part is even more interesting. They will take you back to the times of Augustus the Strong and a crucial moment that marks him before and after him in the history of Saxony – the invention of the first European porcelain. In short, it is a fun and enjoyable experience if you understand well what you are hearing.
6. The New Town and Art Alley (Kunsthofpassage)
After crossing the majestic Augustus Bridge (Augustusbrücke), it is worth taking a walk through the Neustadt (New Town) district. First what you find there is a spectacular statue of the Golden Horseman. It represents Augustus the Strong dressed in Roman armor heading towards Poland-his other kingdom situated in the east.
On the outskirts of the New Town you will find a vibrant neighborhood of small bars and restaurants, full of young people and students. A special attraction point that we would like to recommend is the Art Alley (Kunsthofpassage). It has several themed patios painted and decorated with different elements. The one that caught our attention was the facade with numerous stubborn leaks of different sizes and designs. In the enclosure you will find numerous cafes, art supply stores and art galleries.
7. The German Hygiene Museum (Deutsches Hygiene-Museum)
The penultimate item on our list of must-see places in Dresden is this peculiar Hygiene Museum. The exhibition is worth visiting for at least two reasons.
- the building was built in 1930 and represents a very interesting example of German modernism. So, if you are interested in the Bauhaus atmosphere, it is a space point for you
- the glass human – the transparent model of the female body that shows you all the bones, organs and nerves. In addition, you will be able to see different aspects of life dedicated to eating, drinking or sexuality.
The normal ticket costs 10 euros. Mondays it is closed
To complete your exploration of Dresden you should not miss a visit to the famous Panometer. It is a huge round building. It was formerly used as a gasometer. A German artist of Persian origin, Yadegar Asisi, has created a spectacular work – a huge panorama of baroque Dresden from the time of Augustus the Strong and his son. It is a highly recommended experience. Thanks to modern computer graphics techniques, accompanied by sound effects, with great precision and detail you can enjoy the architecture and landscapes of the golden age of the Saxon capital.
In the middle are the stairs that allow you to climb and see the panorama from different angles. In addition, light is played with, recreating the cycle of night and day. A wonderful experience! What to pay more attention to? Obviously in the details that show everyday life. The great contrast between the rich and the poor, exotic animals and playful customs. You can even see a criminal on his way to the gallows!
The entrance costs 13 euros and is worth its price. We give it a 10. The easiest way is to get there by tram number 1 or 2 from le Postplatz to the Liebstädter Straße stop. From there it is a 10 minute walk. The simple price of public transport is 2.5 euros one way.
This ends our list of the 8 must-see spots in Dresden. However, the city has other outstanding monuments. Some, such as the Parade of Princes, the Johanneum Transport Museum, the Stables, we show you during our free tour of the historic center of Dresden.
Other points of interest are located in the most remote parts and can be visited by public transport. In order for you to continue enjoying your stay in Dresden, below we have written some tips that will make this trip one of the best.
- Pfund’s Dairy – the quirky, colorfully tiled interiors where you can sample local cheeses.
- Military History Museum – located in the old armory building features the famous steel wedge by architect Libeskind
- The Blue Wonder (Blaues Wunder) – an impressive steel bridge painted in blue. Connects two banks of the Elbe with the picturesque neighborhoods of Blasewitz and Loschwitz
In addition, the city has good local cuisine, with typical wines and excellent craft beers. Tell us in the comments, how was your visit to this beautiful capital of Saxony? See you in Dresden!