If you ask me, Dresden in Saxony, Germany, is one of the most gorgeous cities in Germany. I love returning over and over again, be it in summer for castle hopping in Saxony or Dresden’s many Christmas markets in December.
But if you’re new to town and you want to see Dresden in 1 day, these main sights are an absolute must for your Dresden sightseeing. And they’re all in walking distance!
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Is one day in Dresden enough?
I hope you no longer wonder what to do in Dresden but how to stop wanting to add things to see in Dresden to your wishlist. The thing is that 1 day in Dresden definitely doesn’t cut it. It can only serve as a basic orientation and introduction to this charming federal capital city.
There are simply too many places to discover in Dresden. At least three days in Dresden are a good idea if you can spare the time during your Germany travels. But I will give you an overview of the best sights and activities in Dresden.
Zwinger Palace is one of the most elegant and over-the-top Baroque palaces in Central Germany. It was originally built in the late 16th century as a space for decadent court festivities and is THE must see in Dresden!!
Popular hedonist King August II the Strong was all about that partay life and had multiple castles built just so he could it spice up with more extravagant locations. The Zwinger he opened to the public during the day, so his people could admire the splendor.
Here, a maze of richly decorated gardens and pavilions mesh with galleries full of lavish art. A large hollow fountain surrounded by sculptures of nymphs is one of many focal points of this extravagant palace.
Zwinger Palace is certainly huge and houses several of Dresden’s best art collections and museums. Should you want to really experience some of that old pompous magic, attend a gala concert at the Zwinger. Tickets are available here.
If you’re on a budget and get to visit in May, attend the ‘Orange Festival’. It’s one of the many popular things to do in Dresden and an annual tradition. Over winter, nearly 80 decorative orange trees are kept in the orangery but over the warmer months, they take their original place.
Back when the Zwinger was built, those trees were pure decadence as they had to be imported all the way from Italy and cost a fortune each. Hence, they were a bold display of the King’s fortune.
Conjoined with Zwinger’s Palace is one of the world’s most impressive collections of Italian, Dutch, Spanish, and Flemish Renaissance art. The collection is constantly rotating, with about 750 paintings on display at any given time.
Waltz through art history as you explore rooms and halls full of work by internationally renowned artists like Rembrandt, van Eyck, Rubens, Titian, Raphael, Vermeer, and tons more.
Pro tip: The city center is very walkable and there’s public transport too. But in case you don’t want to figure out the routes and tram/bus networks and want the convenience of being dropped off right at the main sights in Dresden, get a hop on hop off bus ticket. Order your printable one online here*.
Dresden Porcelain Collection
Located in the southern halls of the Zwinger Palace, this massive porcelain collection was started by Augustus II the Strong in 1715.
The exhibit includes pieces from ancient China and Japan, spanning from the 14th to the 20th centuries. Furthermore, it also displays impeccable local porcelain decorated in oriental and Rococo motifs.
If you’ve ever wanted to marvel at the world’s best porcelain, this is the place to do it. It’s also a great idea to visit the city of Meissen.
This is where the King had his very own kind of porcelain researched and secretly produced. Now it’s world renowned for its quality. Plus, Meissen is only a short day trip away from Dresden.
Whether you get to attend the immensely popular ‘Opernball’ (opera ball) or not, the Semperoper is one of the most iconic sights in Dresden. The stunning opera house is located around the corner of the Zwinger and the Elbe River.
The building was originally built in 18341 by Gottfried Semper, hence the name. It has been the site of many a world premiere, including musical pieces by Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. Besides opera and concerts, you can also attend ballet performances.
Entrance is not free, but you can get a ticket and guided tour together to make your visit as informative as possible. Tickets can be purchased here.
The Green Vault lives on the first two floors of the Dresden Residenzschloss (Dresden Castle), and they host a truly magnificent trove of treasures from the Saxony Electors.
This Dresden attraction was started in the 16th century and greatly expanded upon in the 18th century when Augustus II the Strong turned it into one of the first public museums in the world, with the intention of showing off his wealth and power.
The first floor of the Green Vault is overflowing with over 3,000 gold, ivory, amber and silver masterpieces. The second floor functions as a different museum that focuses on the work of renowned goldsmith Johann Melchior Dinglinger.
Another notable feature of the castle in Dresden is the striking tower, known as Hausmannsturm. It’s the oldest existing part of the original castle. It’s octagonal and its top is covered in copper.
This 18th century Catholic cathedral of Dresden (Katholische Hofkirche) was designed in an Italian baroque style by famous architect Gaetano Chiaveri. Destroyed during World War II, the Dresden cathedral was rebuilt and granted cathedral status in the 1960s.
Underneath the cathedral is a massive crypt where all 49 members of the Albertine line of the Wettin family, the royal Polish family who commissioned the building, are buried. Do come and check out this incredible, multicultural cathedral during your visit to Dresden.
Frauenkirche is one of Germany’s best examples of remembering the past while moving forward with the future.
One of my favorite scenic spots in Dresden is the Bruhl Terrace. It fringes the historic center of Dresden and overlooks the Elbe river with its bobbing boats.
In fact, it’s only a short walk to the Zwinger, the Gopera, the cathedral or Frauenkirche and therefore a great place to include in your Dresden tour.
It offers amazing views over some of the prettiest and historically most significant places in Dresden and at the same time is a good place to rest and do people watching.
Germany doesn’t have a big mural culture, so it’s all the more impressive to see a mural in Dresden this big and this old!
The Procession of Princes measures 335 ft (102 meters) in length and is the largest porcelain artwork in the world! The entire thing was created in the late 19th century as part of the 800th year celebration of the Wettin Dynasty.
The original mural wasn’t made from porcelain but since it wasn’t exactly waterproof, it was repainted on 23000 tiles made in Meissen.
Do stroll along the entirety of the mural, which is right behind the historic stables. It’s beautiful in its details and each of those convey special meanings.
See the pretty flowers and suddenly there’s a thistle? That’s because the respective Prince was super unpopular. He was known for being wasted and wasteful.
In total, the Dresden mural portraits 35 margraves, electors, dukes and kings of the House of Wettin that ruled from 1127 to 1904.
Since the mural is outside, it’s another one of Dresden’s free things to see.
Albertinum was built in the 1880s to serve as a place for the royal sculpture collection to live. The museum is home to an impressive five millennia of art, from Classical Antiquity, all the way to the 21st century.
The building itself is a magnificent work of art in its own right, and definitely should not be missed on your trip to Dresden, Germany.
Frauenkirche is a church in the heart of Dresden that boasts Europe’s biggest church dome. The church was initially built in 1743, but was completely destroyed in the war in 1945.
The entire city center of Dresden was demolished and covered in ashes and debris with only Frauenkirche standing as the last speck of hope. But as quick as people were touched by this seeming sign, it collapsed into a heap as well.
For several decades, the rubble from the destruction was left behind as a war memorial, but plans to resurrect it to its former glory had remained. Thanks to generous donations by locals, Germans and people from all over the world, Frauenkirche was eventually restored in the 1990s.
You can still see old and new stones blended into the Baroque design. A big, beautiful new gilded cross from London sits on top of the dome as a symbol of reconciliation, while the damaged, original cross rests to the right of the church’s altar.
Located on the right bank of the Elbe river, Neustadt is a district that was rebuilt after a deadly fire in the 1730s.
The neighborhoods that make up this district are famous for their mix of street art and quirky vibes, and old architectural landmarks like the Japanese Palace and history museums.
There are tons of restaurants and bars to explore here. Neustadt is often considered to be one of the best places to go out in all of Germany.
Whether you’re looking for a chic cocktail bar, a rock club in a former industrial building, a vegan cafe, or an elegant art gallery, Neustadt has you covered.
Alternative Dresden nightlife tip: In case you don’t like to drink and have a thing for the morbid and scary (like yours truly), join a haunted tour around Dresden. Most seem to be in German but this one I found offers English guiding as well.
Pillnitz Palace and Park
This palace was the summer residence for the Kings and Electors of Saxony. Pillnitz Palace is actually made up of three different palaces: The Waterfront Palace, the Upper and the Neues Palace.
The Waterfront Palace and the Upper Palace are home to the estate’s vast art collections, which include ceramics and textiles that date back as far as the 1200s.
After exploring the three decadent palaces, be sure to spend some time wandering through the property’s expansive gardens. And look out for Europe’s oldest camelia.
You can reach Pillnitz by boat or public transport.
What would you want to see in Dresden, Germany the most?
More Germany travel tips below:
- What to see in Schwerin, North Germany
- Where to find a Chinese Garden in central Germany
- Celebrating the Japanese cherry season in Bad Langensalza
- Why Castle Kochberg makes for a great day trip
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