Dresden is one of my favourite cities in Europe. It’s beautiful, close to amazing natural sights, and full of history. And yet, despite being on the busy train route between Prague and Berlin, it has a refreshing lack of English-speaking visitors. Travel onwards, unimaginative tourists! Let me keep Dresden for myself.
There are countless reasons to pick Dresden as a destination. Here are five of the ones that keep me coming back:
1. The Laid-Back Vibe
Germany is probably my favourite country in Europe, partly because of German efficiency and know-how. However, when it comes to Dresden efficiency is hardly the word that comes to mind. I don’t know if Dresdeners are just so organized that they have lots of time on their hands or because they learned very un-German-like habits under communism. Either way, the residents seem to find plenty of time to hang out by the Elbe, sit in beer gardens, and generally enjoy themselves. The suburbs, like well-heeled Radebeul with its villas and vineyards, are equally tranquil and set up for easy living.
2. The Canaletto Skyline
Bombed without mercy by the Allies in February 1945, Dresden’s famous skyline disappeared for half a century. After decades of rebuilding work, both during the communist years and after, the destroyed Old Town was steadily restored and now the skyline is back and as beautiful as ever. Last time I was in Dresden, I stayed at the Westin right on the Elbe and was able to see the Old Town skyline from my bed. Perfection.
3. Easy Access to Saxon Switzerland
One of Germany’s most underrated areas of natural beauty, Saxon Switzerland is a compact but extraordinary area of sandstone peaks to the east of the city. It can be easily reached on the S-bahn and is the perfect place for bikers, hikers, and climbers to enjoy an active day out. The most popular destinations – Bastei Bridge and Königstein Fortress – are also accessible for less active tourists.
4. Beautiful Castles
Germany has its fair share of castles but in Saxony – as in neighbouring Poland and Czech Republic – they suddenly become inescapable and I love their friendly scale and cheerful colours. Schloss Pillnitz is a popular daytrip down the river from Dresden (reachable by both boat and bus) but my favourite castle to visit from Dresden is Schloss Moritzburg. Thanks to a popular 1970s Czech-German film (Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel), there are generations worth of children who know and love this place as Cinderella’s castle. It also features beautiful grounds, a secondary castle, and the only lighthouse in (landlocked) Saxony. What really cinched it for me were the white geese strolling the grounds – what could be more fairy-tale-esque?
5. Language Immersion
The majority of tourists (approximately 80%) in Dresden are German. After that, you’re most likely to find tourist information in Czech and Polish (not surprising given that these two countries are both less than an hour’s drive away). So unlike most of Europe these days, once you get away from the major tourist sites and international hotels you rarely hear English. For me, that’s a great thing because it forces me to use my German in ways I might wuss out of in other more multilingual places. Does it sometimes lead to confusion and lots of miming? Absolutely, but that’s half the fun. If you’re looking for German-language immersion, Dresden is the place.
Dresden is not perfect. Right now, far-right and anti-Islamic groups are flourishing there which could make it uncomfortable for some visitors. But politics and tourism rarely have to mix and it remains a safe, attractive, and shockingly affordable place to visit – definitely somewhere I’m eager to return!