What to do in Dresden: Palaces, Old Masters and paddle wheels

What to do in Dresden: Palaces, Old Masters and paddle wheels

by Erin McGann

Updated November 7, 2022

The beautiful East German city of Dresden offers visitors lots of things to do and places to visit – from art museums to paddle wheel cruises on the Elbe. The rebuilt Frauenkirche and Royal Palace bring to mind the near total destruction of the city during the Second World War, and the international reconciliation that made it possible to rebuild. Here are ten things you shouldn’t miss when sightseeing in Dresden:

Learn languages at your pace

1. Dresden Frauenkirche

An iconic part of Dresden’s skyline, the Frauenkirche was originally built in 1726-43, and destroyed during WWII. After reunification, the immense planning began to rebuild the structure and it was completed in 2005. It stands as not only a place of worship but a monument to international reconciliation, as the funds for the project from many nations. Visit on the weekend for a morning service and hear one of the oldest boys choirs in the world perform. 

2. Neumarkt

The market square directly outside the Frauenkirche is worth spending some time in as well. Have coffee or a meal at one of the restaurants and cafés lining the square, or just sit with your back against Martin Luther’s statue in the center and pick out all the architectural details on the Baroque buildings. 

This Baroque wonder was built in the early 18th century, originally for court celebrations and events, it now houses the Old Masters Gallery, Porcelain Collection, and the Museum of Mathematics and Physics. If you only have time to visit one, make it the Old Masters Gallery. With important works like Rubens’ Leda and the Swan, Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, van Eyck’s Dresden Triptych, and Rembrandt’s The Abduction of Ganymede, all displayed in the beautifully, rebuilt Semper Gallery, the gallery wing of the Zwinger Palace.

4. Brühl’s Terrace

Originally part of the city walls, Brühl’s Terrace was rebuilt in the early 19th century to serve as a place for the public to promenade along the Elbe. Many years later, locals and visitors alike enjoy this riverside space to relax and take in the view. You can also visit the Brick Gate down below the terrace, and get a sense of how the city protected itself in the Middle Ages. 

5. Albertinum

Along Brühl’s Terrace you will find the Albertinum, an art museum that features the New Masters Gallery and the Sculpture Collection of the Dresden State Art Collections. In the New Masters Gallery there are works by Monet, Richter, Manet, Klimt, Dix, and Kirchner, among others. The sculpture collection is presented alongside the paintings in some parts of the gallery. The Albertinum’s focus is on works of art produced from 1800 to the present. 

Learn languages at your pace

6. Dresden Royal Palace

This palace complex was first mentioned in the 14th century, although it burned down in 1701 and was promptly rebuilt. During WWII, it was reduced to rubble, and in the 1980s it was rebuilt again. Now, it houses some of the Dresden State Art Collections including the Collection of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, the rebuilt New Green Vault and the Historic Green Vault with their incredible displays of treasure and jewelry. 

7. Paddle wheel cruise on the Elbe

Take one of the paddle wheel boats moored below Brühl’s Terrace for a tour along the Elbe, or even to the nearby sights of Pillnitz Palace or the postcard-worthy rock structures of Saxon Switzerland. There are special lunch and dinner cruises as well, but these will need to be booked in advance. 

8. Striezelmarkt

The Dresden Christmas Market, or Striezelmarkt, is the oldest in Germany, and started life as a one-day market in 1434. However, it has grown in size and popularity, and today it’s a very popular market. Try the Pflaumen Toffel, a little figurine made of dried plums, traditional Stollen or get a bird’s eye view of the market from the Ferris wheel. 

9. Dresden suspension railway

To get up the hillsides of the Elbe Valley, the city of Dresden came up with a unique solution: a suspension railway. It first began moving people up the hillside in 1901, and has become a tourist attraction. The top station of the railway offers a beautiful view over the Elbe Valley, it’s a perfect photo spot so make sure to time your ride up the hillside for golden hour.

10. Kunsthofpassage

This stretch of five themed courtyards features interesting street art you can only see by walking through. The most famous is probably the musical drain pipes that cover one external wall in the Courtyard of the Element, and make pleasing sounds when it rains. Be sure to visit the eclectic selection of shops and cafés to get the full experience of this artistic area. 

Is Dresden worth visiting?

For sure! Whether you spend your vacation time in Dresden at the cafés of the Neumarkt, strolling along Brühl’s Terrace, cruising along the Elbe or inside one of the many museums and historic buildings, you’re sure to enjoy this fascinating East German city. Try combining your Dresden trip with a stop in Leipzig, it’s only an hour  away by train. Still undecided about where to spend your German vacation? Maybe Frankfurt, Hamburg, or Cologne are more your speed. 

Learn languages at your pace

Erin McGann is a Canadian freelance writer focusing on travel, living abroad, parenting, history, and culture. After nearly a decade living in the UK, Erin settled in Heidelberg, Germany with her husband and son. Dragging her family to every castle and open-air museum is a favorite activity, along with sewing, cooking, and weaving. You can check out her travel blog, and follow her obsession with half-timbered houses on her Instagram account.

Related articles