Dresden is the perfect destination for a day trip from Berlin. It takes only a few hours by car, bus, or train, with the latter two conveniently terminating at either the Dresden Neustadt or Hauptbahnhof (the main station or city center). In a few hours, you can be in a new city with rich history, beautiful architecture, and charming atmosphere.
The city suffered much damage over the years. The infamous bombings of World War II (1945) flattened the urban landscape, meaning much reconstruction and renovation was required to piece together its previous majesty. There were four major attacks that ignited a firestorm, ravaging over 39 sq. kilometers and killing between 22-25,000 people. The fires and bombs from the Allies affected the Neumarkt quarter the most. Located in the center of Dresden, it is the most culturally significant neighbourhood. Its reconstruction was overseen by the Soviets, who relayed the stones in a socialist realist style. However, they also left large portions of the Neumarkt unattended to. After the fall of the iron curtain and the reunification of Germany, restorations immediately commenced. Over time, Neumarkt has reclaimed its architectural and cultural prestige of days gone by.
At the central station you’ll find plenty of useful information and free maps of the city. Snatch a free map and begin your exploration of Dresden with a walk down Pragerstrasse, the city’s longest shopping district. Along the way you’ll also see the Centrum Gallery and the Altmarkt Gallery.
We recommend starting your history lesson by visiting the famed Frauenkirche. Formerly a Roman Catholic Church, the Martin Luther statue in front signifies and pays tribute to the metamorphosis of the city. It is considered one of the best examples of Protestant sacred architecture, and also sports one of the largest domes in Europe. Although it initially survived the bombing, it collapsed a few days after a raid and reconstruction of the church wasn’t completed until 2005. Today it is symbolic of reconciliation between conflicts.
From Neumarkt, head towards Schloßplatz and you’ll catch sight of the castle, a structure surrounded by an open square of beautiful architecture. Although most of it is restored it still retains its historical character. One of the most outstanding buildings in the square is the Katholische Hofkirche, a Roman Catholic cathedral.
Be sure to explore the Semperoper, the opera house to the Saxon State Opera, the concert hall of the Saxon State Orchestra, and home to state ballet recitals. Composers Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss both premiered some of their most important works here.
One of the most famous landmarks in Dresden is the Zwinger Palace, opened in 1719. Simply walking around its courtyard gives you a chance to enjoy this spectacular structure, noted for its impressive Rococo style. In addition to the fanciful architecture, there are numerous museums including the Old Masters’ picture gallery, the Dresden Porcelain Collection and the Mathematic-Physics Salon. Be sure to go to the second level where you can see the gardens in the back and the Nymphenbad fountain.
For a bird’s eye view of the city, climb the stairs to the Kreuzkirche (Church of the Holy Cross). You can watch pedestrians crossing the Altmarkt, glimpse at the modern culture palace across the street, and even get a new perspective on the Frauenkirche from an altitude.
Before you head home, be sure to walk along the Elbe river banks to the Neustadt, where most of the trendy pubs, bars, clubs, and restaurants can be found. Try the Rosengarten on the north bank of the Elbe, located on the edge of a park. The view is gorgeous, the food is decent, and it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a hot chocolate or ice cream near the Albertbrücke.
If you have further time to spare, wandering the streets near the Albertplatz will lead you to the Baroque quarter. You’ll be able to find some unique antique shops and artisan boutiques. Many items available here are one of a kind and make a perfect souvenir.
One day in Dresden is really too short, however since the historical downtown area is not very big and is easily navigated by foot, much can be discovered, learned, and enjoyed within a few hours. Dresden is exceptional for its combination of the new and old. The black and burnt buildings against the renovated ones stand in stark contrast to one another, making the city a must-visit for any history fan.