My first visit to Dresden, Germany was back in 2014 with my mom and her friend who lived in Dresden at the time. We decided to visit Dresden again five years later as Colin had never been and it’s a quick trip from Prague. And it turns out, there’s a ton of great reasons to visit Dresden! We absolutely loved this city and I would highly recommend it for a quick getaway.
Dresden is just over two hours from Prague by direct train (and two to three hours from Berlin by train). The route is very scenic and, in our experience, not that crowded. We often had a full compartment (six seats) all to ourselves! The tickets were about $30 CAD per person each way. I suspect we would’ve paid even less if we had booked ahead of time or had travelled on a weekday.
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We stayed at the Steigenberger Hotel de Saxe right in the middle of Dresden’s Old Town or Altstadt. Normally, when Colin and I travel, we’ll stay in kind of shabby hotels outside of the city centre. They’re always clean and with good transport links, but they’re never fancy or in a great location, just due to budget constraints. But we got to live the life of luxury on our Dresden trip staying at this very nice hotel in the best location, for only $85 CAD (the room was $135 but we had a $50 free night on hotels.com). Bonus: They upgraded us to a larger room overlooking the town square, set out a plate of treats for us, and even supplied bowls, food and a bed for Ellie! I would highly recommend this hotel!
The main purpose of our trip to Dresden was to shop. Apparently Dresden is to Prague what the Bellingham outlet malls are to Vancouver. Many Czech residents head over to Dresden to get their shopping done where there is more choice, prices are lower, and a Primark exists. Colin was in need of a whole new wardrobe for his hotel job, so we did like the Czechs do and hopped on the train to the shopping mecca that is Dresden.
Hilariously, Dresden really is set up for visitors who want to shop. The main road leading off the train station is filled with all of the shops and a couple of malls. So after checking in, and marvelling at our cool hotel room, we headed out to shop until we dropped and buy Colin all of the dress shirts, pants and shoes he would need. It was exhausting, but I’m glad we had so many options. And I was very glad to be reunited with Europe’s cheapest and most wonderful store, Primark!
Old Town – Altstadt
The best part of Dresden was walking around Altstadt, where our hotel was located and where most of the action is. This area of town is just a 20 minute walk from the train station and borders the Elbe River that flows through town.
Most of Altstadt was actually destroyed during WWII. But Dresden has rebuilt itself, brick by brick. The best way to explore this neighbourhood is just to walk around and get lost amongst all of the beautiful buildings. Our hotel was right next to the giant domed church, Frauenkirche. A short walk away was Zwinger, which houses some galleries and museums, but also has a beautiful garden and courtyard to walk through. From there, head towards the water and marvel at even more structures like Dresden Castle, churches, and Fürstenzug, a long porcelain mural.
We wandered most of this area after dinner as it was starting to get dark. It was nice to not deal with the heat and the day time crowds. But the city was still alive with lots of people along the water and out admiring the sights. The whole area is so beautiful that it even inspired Colin and I to say to one another a few times, “Should we have moved to Dresden instead?”
New Town – Neustadt
The next day we headed out to Neustadt, or New Town, on the other side of the river (which you can explore on a boat tour!). My understanding is that this part of Dresden is actually older, because it wasn’t bombed as heavily in WWII. But they call it New Town because it seems a lot newer than the old buildings in Altstadt.
When you visit Dresden, be prepared to visit two different towns. Altstadt is a historic European village while Neustadt is a hipster version of that. It definitely had lots of Brooklyn/Commercial Drive vibes to it. The buildings were, of course, older than the ones we see in North America. But they were covered in graffiti and there were lots of funky shops and restaurants.
This side of Dresden isn’t nearly as popular as the old town, so you may have a lot of it to yourself. If you’re looking for a more local experience, you’ll find it in Neustadt.
We had a great breakfast at Continental Cafe (so much cheese!) and then walked up to Kunsthofpassage, a quirky little series of alleyways with wall murals, little shops and restaurants. Being a Sunday, most of the shops were closed. The murals were cool, but not as extensive as I had remembered them being from 2014. We also visited Pfunds Molkerei, a very beautiful dairy shop. But they don’t allow photos, so you’ll just have to take my word for it!
Bonus tips & things to do
If you’re only going to visit Dresden for 24 hours, you likely won’t have time for much else besides Altstadt, Neustadt and some shopping. But here are a few more tips and ideas for your visit:
- We noticed that Dresden was a very musical city. There was a stage set up in the square outside of our hotel with music performances, and another stage by the Zwinger with bands performing. There were lots of street performers, including a very talented woman on the clarinet, and a boat party that was blasting some fun music. I don’t know if it was just the weekend we happened to be there, but it seemed like Dresden had it’s own soundtrack wherever you went.
- On one of the squares between the train station and Altstadt, large beach volleyball courts and bleachers were set up. It looked like some kind of tournament. We didn’t stop to watch, because the bleachers had zero shade cover, but it looked like fun and I’m sure a lot of cool things happen in this square.
- We loved that Dresden was a lot less crowded than Prague. It was also a lot cooler, temperature-wise, but that might have just been a fluke. Colin reasoned that it was less crowded because Dresden isn’t the city in Germany. Most travellers to Germany will head to Berlin, Munich or Frankfurt before they visit Dresden. Whereas Prague is usually the only city people even know of, let alone visit, in the Czech Republic.
- Hot tip: If you’re planning to shop or visit churches, you shouldn’t rock up to Dresden on a Sunday. Luckily, we did most of our shopping on Saturday, when stores were open. But we did want to return one shirt the next day, but couldn’t because everything was closed. We also wanted to check out the inside of the Frauenkirche, but weren’t allowed in on a Sunday due to church services.
- Have more than 24 hours in Dresden? Check out some of these awesome day trips from Dresden.
Bringing a pup?
Planning to visit Dresden with a dog? Go for it! We brought Ellie with us and it worked out perfectly. She was allowed on the train for free, since she fits in her carrier. We kept her in the carrier the whole time, but I kind of think we could have let her out and it would’ve been okay. The hotel was pet-friendly – so pet-friendly they gave her food, bowls and a bed. There was an added 20 euro pet fee (a bit steep, but worth it for that hotel!).
We took Ellie sightseeing with us and it all went well, as most of the sightseeing we did was outdoors. I don’t think she would’ve been allowed into any churches or museums. We didn’t take her shopping, but we did see a few dogs in the stores, so I guess we could have! And we brought her out to eat with us, which was no problem at all. We sat on patios when we could, and the one time we couldn’t, she was ushered indoors and even given a bowl of water.
Dresden top three
Can’t miss: Wandering the Altstadt. Give yourself a few hours to just get lost and discover this super cool area of town. Every building is prettier and more interesting than the last.
Maybe skip: If you’re super short on time, I think you can skip Neustadt. I’m sure there are a lot of hidden gems over there, but the heavy hitters are definitely in the old town.
Want to do next time: I want to not visit on a Sunday! Next time we come, we’ll definitely try to avoid being in Dresden on a Sunday when everything shuts down. I’ve also heard that you can do a street art tour of Neustadt, which I would be very interested in. I think that would give the area more context and help to not feel like you’re just wandering without any direction.
And that’s all you need to know to visit Dresden for 24 hours! I think this cute city is perfect for a weekend trip and I would not be surprised if Colin and I made it back at least once more in the next year.
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