Thinking about traveling to Dresden, the charming city in Saxony nicknamed the “Florence of the North?” Here are pictures of Dresden from my recent trip to help you decide if you should visit Dresden. Hint: the answer is yes.
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Dresden is a City in Two Pieces
Historically, Dresden has been considered one of the most beautiful cities in Germany. Because of the extensive damage that was done to the city when the Allies bombed Dresden in World War II, Dresden was left in ruins, with the Altstadt almost completely destroyed.
Today, the Altstadt has been rebuilt to look like it did before the war, while Neustadt is a mix of original Baroque buildings that survived the war and communist blocks the further out you go.
The Altstadt is Old Beauty Reconstructed
The Frauenkirche was one of the main symbols of Dresden’s destruction. Hollowed out, with only pieces left standing, it was a daily reminder of what Dresden lost during its Nazi era. Today it has been rebuilt, standing proudly and elegantly above the city.
While the Neustadt is about Enjoying Modernity
While the focus in the Altstadt has been to return the city to its former grandeur, the Neustadt is embracing its quirky and cool reputation by embracing street art in the form of murals and fantastical art installations.
Life in the Altstadt seems to be built for tourists, while the Neustadt is where locals come to enjoy their city.
This Split Personality is Solidified by the Elbe River
Many cities have these different sections laid out, with the old city given over to tourism while hip neighborhoods pop up for the locals. In Dresden, this dichotomy is exacerbated by two factors: the damage from the war and the River Elbe.
Crossing the River is Like Stepping into a Different World
No matter which side of the river you are on, you’re keenly aware that there’s something entirely different on the other side. And you know that an entirely different kind of adventure awaits you, as soon as you make your way to cross.
Yet Wherever You Are in Dresden, the Other Side of the River Beckons
When in the Altstadt, you can’t help but feel that there’s some kind of amazing shenanigans happening on the other side that you’re missing out on. You simply must be there.
Yet while you in the Neustadt, the Altstadt’s magical skyline draws you in.
Offering a Glimpse of the City’s Other Half
The best part about visiting Dresden, in my opinion, was being able to go back and forth. Seeing one, and then seeing the other. A visit to Dresden simply wouldn’t be complete without both experiences.
Tourists Flock to the Altstadt
Even on a cold November weekday, the Altstadt is full of tourists. Far less than in the high season, but still, they are there. And of course, as one of them, I know that much of this glamour and elegance is for me. Dresden is experiencing a tourism boom, and many of these rebuilt palaces and churches are part of the draw.
Where They Can Explore The Legacy of the Saxon Kings
Saxony might not be as famous as Bavaria when it comes to international awareness of Germany’s states, but it does have its own reputation for wealth and style. The Dukes and later Kings of Saxony ruled the region until the early twentieth century. During their dominion, they focused on building projects that turned Dresden into a city internationally renowned for its beauty.
At Beautiful Palaces
Dresden Castle, the Baroque and Neoclassical masterpiece, is impossible to miss. While today its nearly impossible to think about Dresden without the palace, its reconstruction was only completed in 2013.
And Royal Gardens
Inside the Zwinger, visitors will find three world-class museums. However, the gardens in the middle are also a draw, with Baroque fountains and beautifully manicured lawns.
While the Neustadt Lures You to Cross the Elbe with Its Quiet, Confident Cool
Being insanely cool without being pretentious, Dresden Neustadt achieves a balance that many city neighborhoods attempt but fail. While its baroque arcades are a highlight for many tourists, the heart of Neustadt lies somewhere between its cafe culture and its interesting bars.
It’s Insane Street Art
While I found some street art in the Altstadt, Neustadt embraces it. It’s everywhere: in the passages, on the sides of buildings, and on restaurants. And its an eclectic mix of styles, colors, and themes, including both the dark and whimsical.
And Its Insanely Delicious Cheeses
It’s hard not to love a neighborhood who’s most famous point of interest is called “the most beautiful dairy in the world.” Any place that believes that cheese samples should be served under chandeliers is all right in my book.
While Dresden is Noted for Its Beauty
This gorgeous building on the Elbe is the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. I can’t imagine studying in a building this beautiful. Can you?
It has Some Tricks Up Its Sleeves
Another beautiful Dresden building, this one is way more than meets the eye. What appears to be a mosque at first glance, was actually built to be a cigarette factory.
And of Course, It has a Dark History
It’s impossible to understand Dresden without understanding the war. And that means more than understanding the bombing. It means also grappling with the factors that lead the Allies to target it in the first place.
But the tourism increase has also drawn attention to the fact that Dresden doesn’t only have a dark past, it has a dark present. Foreign tourism isn’t increasing at the rate of domestic tourism, partly because of the anti-Islamic groups’ use of Dresden for their demonstrations.
Followed by Decades Spent Behind the Iron Curtain
Red Tourism, or tourism to formerly Communist countries to learn about the history and visit the sites, is a growing phenomenon. Dresden’s answer to this is the Die Welt der DDR museum, which offers a glimpse into what life was like behind the Iron Curtain.
In a funny way, Dresden’s dedication to rebuilding left it void of many of the Communist monuments famous throughout the rest of the parts of Europe that were closed off behind the Iron Curtain. But for travelers who believe there’s not enough attention paid to this part of Dresden’s history, there are several companies who help explain this chapter with private tours.
It’s a City that has Spent Decades Rebuilding
The rebuilding projects that took place over the past fifty years happened across the city at different rates. While some buildings were restored by the 1980’s others were only completed in the past few decades.
And at Times It Seems as If the Rebuilding will Never End
But the truth is that Dresden is still rebuilding. There are construction projects all over the Altstadt, including the Augustus Bridge. Nearly every skyline picture I took included these cranes. While my instinct was to photograph around them or crop them out, I realized that they are as much a part of Dresden as the architecture or the river. Until the entire city has been put back together, the construction is an important part of Dresden’s puzzle.
Though Between the Never-ending Construction, there’s Amazing Beauty
Yes, there’s a lot of construction. But there are also many small corners where you see the work has been completed. It’s the blend of the two, the complete and the incomplete, that is the real Dresden and has been for decades.
And Dresden Allows for a Pinch of Quirkiness, Even in the Middle of Its Most Elegant Squares
Even in the Altstadt, where they have spent so much time and energy putting their beautiful Wes Anderson dreamscape back piece by piece, there are still touches of personality, like this quirky art installation across from the Frauenkirche.
Pictures of Dresden Don’t Do the City Justice
Yes, pictures of Dresden are beautiful. But they can’t tell the whole story. Walking through Dresden is like walking through a puzzle that’s nearly finished but not quite.
But Seeing Dresden’s Unique Beauty Up Close will Stir Something Within You
There’s just something about it that I can’t put my finger on, but it’s different than anywhere I’ve ever been before. It’s softer, lovelier, and honestly a hint scarier. It is a complicated beauty. I’m a person who likes complicated cities, but even so, there’s something about Dresden that I both love and don’t understand.
The Way that Seeing a Stunning Sunset in Person Leaves You Changed
Some places are great places to visit, and others are emotions. I’ve waxed on before about how “Italy at Night” is an emotion all it’s own. Well, I think Dresden is an emotion. It’s happiness tinged with fear and regret. It’s joy mixed with a pinch of melancholy.
And While You Might Feel Silly, Walking Around Dresden is an Emotional Journey
While I didn’t love every moment of my time in Dresden, I felt connected to the city in a way that was vastly different than my normal travels. When a city takes you on an emotional journey, you can’t help but be grateful. I was happy in Dresden, but in a different way than a day on the beach or a picnic in Paris. It was the happiness of someone who’d just enjoyed a sad film in a beautiful theater. I felt triumphant in the face of my own demons.
I Promise You that Your Experiences in Beautiful, Complicated, Dark, and Resurgent Dresden Will be Overwhelming, But They Will Be Something You Treasure
It’s easy to feel small in Dresden. There are so many different aspects of the city to contend with and learn about, that it is easy to see how insignificant one person is in the face of that. Yet, the story of Dresden is one that needs to be understood, and when you know it, it will change you.
And while you can hear about it, read about it, and see pictures of it, you can’t really understand the story of Dresden until you’ve walked its streets. Until you’ve looked at a building completed forty years ago, and heard about the painstaking work that went into crafting it to be a carbon copy of an original. Something Dresden lost due to its own sins but also in one of the most horrific acts the Allies committed.
However you feel about Dresden now, a visit will amplify that feeling. It will also challenge it. You’ll leave with more knowledge and less certainty. And that’s what all good travel does to a person.
More Dresden Travel Resources
- What to Pack for Germany: the Ultimate Germany Packing List for Women & Men
- 17 of the Most Instagrammable Places in Dresden, Germany
- 21 Things to Know Before Traveling to Germany: Tips & Advice
- 7 Dresden Tours You Should Book & One to Avoid!
- 13 Quirky & Enchanting Things to Do in Dresden Neustadt
- Dresden Street Art: 15 Famous Pieces and Offbeat Gems
- How to Get from Berlin to Dresden on the Cheap & Hassle-Free
- How to Get from Dresden to Berlin
- 10 Reasons to Travel to Germany in Fall
5 Things to Pack for the Trip to Dresden
Planning a trip to Dresden? Make sure you don’t forget these!
- The Lonely Planet Germany guidebook for your trip. I’ve been looking for a hard copy here since I don’t like getting stuff delivered to me in Bulgaria, and I can’t find one. Definitely get your guidebook ahead of time.
- Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut wrote this novel about his experiences in Dresden during the war. You can get a paperback, Kindle, or Audible copy. I’ve been listening to it on Audible while I walk around the city.
- Dresden Welcome Card If you’re going to explore the city’s sites for more than a day, this two-day city card will save you money by giving you free admission to many of the city’s major sites and discounts to many others.
- A Camera since Dresden Neustadt is super photogenic. I used a mix of my Nikon D810 and my Samsung8 smartphone.
- Travel Insurance Policy information, because things happen on the road. I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’re going to be doing any hiking or outdoor activities in Germany.
I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for travel insurance for two years, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance when participating in outdoor activities. Even in the cities, though, you’ll be happy when you’re able to replace your stuff if it’s lost or stolen.