While Dresden has a lot of things to offer, the entire state of Saxony is chockfull with grand views, grander castles and cute little towns. To give you an idea of where to go for Dresden day trips, I’ve compiled a list for you.
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Pro tip: For those who don’t want to join tours but explore by themselves, the local Dresden Regio Card includes public transport and discounts at museums, restaurants, etc. You can get order and print your tickets for 1, 2 or 3 days here*.
One of the must see castles around Dresden, Moritzburg is quite a beautiful sight to behold! It sits snugly in the midst of a perfectly symmetrical lake/moat and can hardly be missed with its coral colors and round tower domes.
It was one of the many castles of King August the Strong as he was majorly into beautiful architecture and hunting. (It was originally built for a Duke Moritz, however.) As such, the castle’s main purpose was to be a base for his hunting sprees and consequent entertainment of his guests.
The grounds are vast and at the other end, you can find the smaller castle (which is more like a mini mansion), called Fasanenschlösschen (“Pheasant Castle“).
This one overlooks a lake with Germany’s only domestic light house. That one was more like a prop for his reenactment of sea battles. The King was rather hedonist.
If you want to go a step further in immersing yourself in German culture, watch the all-time classic Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel* (“3 Wishes for Cinderella”), a Czech-German coproduction that plays on loop over Christmas on German TV stations. It’s a fantastic fairy tale and I love it.
Join a Dresden boat cruise along the Elbe river and lazily get carried over to Castle Pillnitz. It’s a gorgeous palace with carefully manicured parklands and vivid flowers. The most interesting one is Europe’s oldest living magnolia.
The grounds are free to visit, only entering the greenhouse or castle requires an individual fee. Day tickets including all the entrance fees are available. You can view the map of the grounds here. The area is even and easy to walk as well as wheelchair accessible.
If you’d like a guided tour around the castle and grounds, you can get a personal guide here* (who’s also in costume!). Tours last 90 minutes and languages provided are German, Spanish, Dutch, English, French and Russian.
One of the most picturesque places in Germany and particularly renowned among hikers is the Saxon Switzerland. It’s a mountainous region shared by Germany and the Czech Republic and you can easily spend multiple days here. There are so many hiking trails!
One of the most scenic is the Schrammsteine walk, which starts outside of the town Bad Schandau and leads you through the most iconic formations of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains.
Do you know the painting “Wanderer above the sea of fog“ by the Romanticist German painter Caspar David Friedrich? He drew it from a ledge overlooking the now standing Bastei Bridge. This one is a definite must see.
There’s a parking lot and restaurants a little further up so you can easily reach it and also start a hike from here. The views over the quiet valley, river and lush forests are divine!
In case you haven’t rented your own set of wheels, you can join a tour as it’s very walk intensive to get around the high mountains and deep valleys of the main spots around Saxon Switerzaldn.
I found a day trip from Dresden that lasts 5 hours and comes with an English speaking guide who will pick you up from your hotel. Along the route, you get to see the Bastei Bridge, Pravcicka Gate, Kamenice Gorge and the Elbe Canyon. Book it here*.
While we’re still in the Saxon Switzerland, do plan a visit to the impressive Fortress Königsstein. It was built on a huge rock and has never been captured. It’s free to visit and there’s a big parking lot. On busy days – such as during German vacation times, you might find it tricky to get a spot, so come early.
Once you enter through the massive gates, you can walk around the grounds and along the fortifications, which allow for vast views over the surrounding area.
There’s a restaurant serving traditional German cuisine as well if you’re hungry. To satisfy your thirst for history, enter the castle museum and peek behind the solid walls.
You can easily combine your Dresden day trip with other sights, such as the Bastei Bridge or the town of Pirna. (More on the latter below.)
Leipzig has a very pretty city center with a historic guildhall, marketplace and gorgeous townhouses. There are many hidden passages and chic arcades abound to stroll through as well. Look up for ornamental details on Art Deco houses, such as the giant elephant head.
But it’s not just the historical aspect that makes Leipzig such a tourist magnet. There’s also the huge zoo, which constantly extends their grounds to allow the animals as much space and hideaway spots as possible. The giant indoor landscapes of Gondwanaland is a visitor favorite as it almost feels as if you’re left the continent.
What’s more, there’s a huge cultural offering with plenty of live events, performances, concerts, museums and the autumn festivals.
In December, Leipzig is especially beautiful thanks to the wonderful Leipzig Christmas market locations around the center. Some are even internationally themed!
If you’re a fan of trains and train stations, know that the Leipzig train station is Europe’s largest Kopfbahnhof (terminal station). It’s also among the top 15 most frequented train stations of Deutsche Bahn.
In case you’re interested in a guided walking tour, here’s* a good selection focusing on various topics and activities, such as exploring the Old Town center*, scouring the hidden passages* of the city center and even doing a 3-hour canoe tour*.
The city of Meissen (or Meißen, as it is written in German) is only a 35 minute drive away from Dresden and it is deemed the birthplace of the state of Saxony. Already in 929, a castle was erected here, around which a town had developed by the 12th century.
Castle Albrechtsburg became a major porcelain manufacturer from 1710 onwards when King August the Strong relocated the factory into the castle beside the Gothic Cathedral to hide the new recipe. Even today, the Meissen porcelain is a well known, high quality brand.
The Old Town itself is extremely charming and you can walk around for a while, admiring the gorgeous historic architecture. If you visit in December, you can check out the Meissen Christmas market right in its center.
Pro tip: You don’t even need to take a car or train over to see the castle. It’s possible to join a laid back boat 3-hour tour from Dresden past the regions most scenic views, wine tasting at a vineyard included! Reserve your spot here*.
Are you into gorgeous little towns that make you want to never put down your camera for fear of missing out on shots? That was Görlitz at the Polish border for me. It’s absolutely adorable and particularly its historic doors provide excellent photo opportunities.
Do also visit the grand Cathedral and then stroll across the river and into Poland. The town Zgorzelec and Görlitz used to belong together but were split among the two countries.
Besides the iconic doors, what makes Görlitz so special? Visit the historic market place with the guildhall in Old Town and you will instantly understand. The surrounding buildings span various epochs, from late Gothic all the way to Art Noveau and rank among the to the best preserved in Central Europe.
Prague, Czech Republic
A super popular idea for a trip from Dresden is to Prague. The capital of the Czech Republic has so much to offer, you might actually want to stay for a few days if your time allows.
If not, make sure you know where the main sights are and plan in a bit of walking. (This includes stairs as the views from the castles and surrounding hills are absolute stunners!) To make it super convenient for you, hop on a day tour from Dresden to Prague, such as this 10-hour long small group tour*.
The tour guides speak Slovak, Spanish, Czech, English, German and Russian and there are booklets available in Spanish and English, too. Plus, you’ll get to stop by the Saxon Switzerland on your way. Another hotspot near Dresden ticked off in one go.
How do you feel about red castles? You can see one that is quite similar to Moritzburg in style in the town of Bad Muskau. Look for the Fürst Pückler Park (“Prince Pückler Park”), which artfully blends English-style landscaping and garden art on 830 hectares.
Both the castle and garden design are from Prince Pückler himself, who dabbled in all kinds of disciplines and loved a hands on approach. Inside the castle, you will learn lots more about his vibrant life and unbelievable stories. I really enjoyed it. There were some interactive elements (such as receiving one of his letters) as well.
Plus, you can stroll through the park and suddenly you’re in Poland as the larger part of it is actually in the neighboring country. The park is listed in the World Heritage catalogue.
Another nice spot for your Dresden day trip is Bautzen. The city center comes with historic houses, a huge tower and medieval city walls, all overlooking the river Spree. Fun fact: It’s seen as the cultural center of the Sorbs (even though not that many are living here.)
There’s really quite a bit to see in town and outside, such as the former river dam in the North and the mountain Drohmberg in the South. In the center, take it slow and admire the intricate details of the well preserved and restored Baroque townhouses, such as the gate of Domstift Bautzen or the houses around the marketplace.
The main attraction, of course, is the castle in Bautzen, which is known as Ortenburg. It towers on a rocky plateau and you can easily overlook the Old Town from the tower Matthiasturm.
Chemnitz was known as Karl-Marx-Stadt in the GDR from 1953 to 1990. Now, it’s a modern city with an old heart. Right by the historic market square, you will find both the New and Old Townhall (Alte und Neue Rathaus am Chemnitzer Marktplatz) with the big tower that is possible to climb.
The city has also preserved the Red Tower, which used to be part of the former city walls. Fun fact: Chemnitz has both the world’s second largest model head and the second largest portrait head: that of Karl Marx. It’s set up in front of the Karl-Marx-Forum.
The city was significant for industrial productions and therefore it’s no surprise to find the Industry Museum in Chemnitz. In it you can find all kinds of temporary exhibitions and the main one, which is devoted to 220 years of industrial history in Saxony. Note that it’s closed from 1 January to 24 April 2020.
Did you know that to get around the region of Spreewald in northern Germany, you have to use a gondola? It’s a little bit like Venice, only that you’ll be boating through forests.
A highlight of the region is its vibrant culture. Traditions and folklore are very dear to the locals here and the Sorbs have enriched the culture. The best time to visit is during the Sorbian Carnival (Zapust), when everyone dresses in traditional costumes and there’s dancing.
Likewise Easter is a great time. Learn more about the delicate art of painting Easter eggs, see villages being all decked out and watch Easter horse riding in Zerkwitz.
Another picturesque city near Dresden with medieval architecture and a grand castle is Altenburg. Known as Skat City, as the game was invented here. Naturally, there are many local skat clubs around town and you can admire both historic and modern cards in the Game Card Museum, which is part of the castle museum.
Speaking of castle, it’s such a beautiful one and the rooms are simply gorgeous. Each has been restored to its original look with historic furniture, tapestries and busts, to name just a few things.
After your visit, be sure to stroll through the old town center as there are many more pretty buildings to look at. The best view over everything can be had from the castle.
You might see a pattern here, because here’s another charming town with a historic center and pleasant old houses. Really take a closer look because on every corner in Pirna you will find artful gables, bays and sitting nooks.
Many of the buildings are made from local limestone that was cut from the nearby Elbsandsteingebirge (Elbe sandstone highlands). From Pirna you have great access to the Saxon Switzerland, which is why it’s also known as the “Gate to the Saxon Switzerland”.
In town, you should visit Castle Sonnenstein and the Marienkirche (Church of Mary). When it comes to museums, do stop by the GDR Museum as well as the Richard-Wagner-Museum in Graupa.
For Germans, distances of more than 2 hours are “rather far” and aren’t typically classified as a day trip. However, if you’re no stranger to driving longer distances and are pressed for time, you can easily do a day trip between Dresden and Berlin.
The connection is as easy as can be, German trains and buses operate multiple times a day between the two cities. To make it even easier for you to see the main attractions, there are guided day tours, such as this one from Berlin*.
Berlin, of course, is well known for being the governmental seat of the country, for the Berlin Wall and trabant tours* as well as Museum Island. For edgy experiences, check out local street art, shop at flea markets, do bar hopping or go clubbing at night.
There’s so much to do in Berlin, it would not fit in this article on day trips from Dresden.
One of the most instagrammable spots in Germany is the Rakotzbrücke in Kromlau. It’s a super round bridge crossing the lake of the same name. On days when the water is perfectly still, the bridge becomes a circle thanks to the reflection.
The bridge is part of a large country park called Azaleen- und Rhododendronpark Kromlau, which is 200 hectares big. It’s the largest azalea park in Germany and is free of charge.
Besides the bridge, you can also see historic mansions and sights, such as the Kavalierhaus, the castle (Herrenhaus) and the Basaltorgel (basalt organ). When the park was created, the stones were carried via ox cart from the Saxon Switzerland.
Note that at the moment, restorations on the bridge, grotto and organ stones are taking place and the lake level has been reduced, therefore not allowing for those perfect pictures. The process is estimated to be completed in 2020.
Fun fact: the name Rakotz is derived from Sorbian and means “cancer”.
Liberec, Czech Republic
Being this close to the Czech Republic, you can easily go on a day trip from Dresden. Liberec is the largest and most important town of Northern Bohemia and there’s so much to admire here!
For starters, you can go on hikes around the Ještěd, which is the highest point of the local mountain range of the same name. On top there’s an iconic TV tower in a rather unusual shape.
It kind of resembles those incense pyramids you get in the Ore Mountains or the top of a rocket. There’s a ropeway going up the mountain to the tower. Another mountain to hike around or do some serious skiing is Jizera.
Are you competitive? Then you can try and take part in the Hundreds Competition. The person who can climb the mountain 100 times and faster than everyone else wins. All the participants will be given a badge and their names are engraved in a beer mug. There’s also the option to compete for a badge for doing it 1000 or 5000 times.
Besides this, Liberec is also for non-hikers. The city center features pretty historic buildings, like the City Hall, the tomb of the Liebig family or the lookout tower.
Oberlausitzer Heide- und Teichlandschaft
For nature lovers, the biosphere reserve of Oberlausitz (of which Bautzen and Gorlitz are a part) is a must. Before you venture out into the heath and water landscape, stop by the information center for maps and local tips. You can find it Wartha near Guttau and it’s labeled the “Haus der 1000 Teiche“.
The UNESCO listed reserve has been protected since 1994 and is central Europe’s largest interconnected pond landscape. There are over 350 ponds!
Some rare species that are under protection are the firebellied toad, barbastelle bat, Eurasian otter and the grass Coleanthus subtilis.
Entry is free. Wild camping isn’t allowed. But there are designated camping spots and local BnBs around.
For more historic German architecture, visit the small town Muhlberg/Elbe. Like the Spreewald, the town is located in the state of Brandenburg. The earliest discoveries from archeological diggings date back to 600 BC, when it was a Slavic settlement.
Nowadays, you can find quite the list of local monuments and historic buildings. For one, there’s the Nunnery Marienstern from 1228. Since 2002 it’s been used by the order of the Claretians. Next, there’s a priory from 1547, which has been turned into a museum.
The town also has a castle, called Schloss Mühlberg. It’s not grand, rather a simple water castle but has been standing since 1272. Over the years, the castle has served various purposes. At one point, it was a prison, school and youth club. Now, people have homes in there. A hotel and restaurant are being planned.
Monument to the Battle of the Nations
The Monument to the Battle of the Nations (Völkerschlachtdenkmal) is actually still part of Leipzig but deserves its own mention for its sheer hugeness.
It was erected to commemorate the battle of 1813 that lead to a defeat of Napoleon at the hands of Russian, Austrian, Prussian and Swedish troops. (Germans fought on both sides.)
That battle was the largest battle of history until WWI happened. The cornerstone was laid 50 years later but construction didn’t start until the end of the century.
Now, the monument is 91 meters tall and you can climb 500 stairs to get to the viewing platform. If you’re too lazy or are unable to walk this, you can use the elevator that allows you to get up to 57 meters.
Don’t just gaze at the monument from the outside but step in, too. Here you’ll find a domed ceiling painted with horse riders and statues guarding the pantheon, which represents Germans virtues that were celebrated during the wars (bravery, faith, patriotism and martyrdom).
More Germany travel tips
- 50 cool things to do and see in Jena
- Where to eat in the state capital Erfurt
- Check out this German dumpling museum
- Why visiting Schwerin in the North is a must
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