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My Favorite 15 Things to do Dresden – Understand
Dresden is the town I grew up in and will always have a special place in my heart. This city is a great stopover on your travels to or from Berlin or Prague. It has a pretty, baroque city center that has been almost perfectly rebuilt from its WWII destruction. Dresden in summer shows off a lovely mild weather that you can enjoy with the many Elbe meadows and baroque-style gardens.
Despite its size, Dresden does not have a ton of things to do besides that and suffers from xenophobic locals who despise entrepreneurship. It is a closely guarded city that leaves you feeling more like you’re in Yekaterinburg than nearby polyglot mega capitals like Prague and Berlin.
For reasons I will never understand, almost nothing in this city is climate controlled, making the sticky, hot, summer days unbearable. Offices, coffee shops and even shopping malls have decided against installing an AC – a mystery to me.
My Favorite 15 Things to do Dresden – Get Around
Germany does not have Uber and the local taxi apps still charge exorbitant taxi rates. Taxis are very expensive here, bar short rides with four people in a group. The good news is that the tram system goes everywhere and is fast. The bad news is the cryptic ticket system it uses and the requirement for you to bring super-small change at any point both make it a big hassle.
It might be a good idea to just purchase a multi-day ticket when you arrive and then use the train system for any transport; the trains are on time, clean and fast.
Renting a car is an option too but makes no sense to explore the inner city – just the outskirts.
My Favorite 15 Things to do Dresden – Safety
Dresden (as with most parts of Germany) is an exceptionally safe city. The biggest danger is being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being mixed up with the (minority) neo-Nazis. There are public protests organized by the extreme right wing in Dresden; avoid such gatherings at all costs and double-check travel to towns towards the Czech border, as some of which have mayors from the extreme right-wing NPD party.
My Favorite 15 Things to do Dresden – Sights
Dresden’s baroque old town skyline put the city on the map back in the 18th Century. After careful restoration, it’s now almost back to its former glory.
The old town houses a number of museums that showcase treasures from the major collection that the local king accumulated in the 18th Century. I find the museums rather boring and expensive and generally only recommend them if you have a specific interest in those times and historical events.
Dresdner Schloss (Dresden Castle)
This downtown castle has been rebuilt from ruins during the last 30 years and blends in well into the overall old town structure.
Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady)
This is the symbol for Dresden’s rise from the ruins, after a successful nationwide campaign to raise 200 million or so from private donors to rebuild the church. It’s a lovely white and yellow sandstone church on a major square and it looks more Italian than German. The interior is more disappointing though and I find the walk up not worth the entrance fee.
Semperoper (Opera House)
I’m no fan of the opera (anymore) but this historic building has been beautifully restored and is illuminated at night. The opera tickets here are surprisingly affordable especially when you buy last minute, so try it out if you have time.
Dresnder Zwinger (Zwinger Palace)
Another museum that I find less of an attraction. However, the grounds are beautiful on a sunny day and should be on your list of places to explore.
Elbwiesen (Elbe Meadows)
The meadows on the northern side of the Elbe serve as a wonderful position to enjoy the 18th Century panorama. Bring some alcohol (yes, you can drink outside in Germany) and enjoy a late summer sunset.
Grosser Garten (Greater Park)
This aptly named big park is a huge place that attracted a car factory (but a really fancy Volkswagen one) that was turned into an exhibition space called Transparent Factory.
There’s also a miniature train, several beer gardens and just tons of space where you can marvel at baroque features. It used to be my favorite place for a late night workout and the many trails and historic features really drive home the vibe of this place.
Schloss Moritzburg (Moritzburg Castle)
This castle used by the former king as a hunting residence is about 20 miles outside the city. You guessed it – there is a museum inside. The castle sits in the middle of a lake and is rather pretty.
Dresden is dominated by the river. A great way to discover the city and its neighborhoods further down and upstream is to rent a bike and go on a trip along the perfectly maintained cycling path on a warm day. It is a treat in urban exploring!
My Favorite 15 Things to do Dresden – Eat & Drink
The lack of entrepreneurship and general xenophobia do not help the culinary climate in Dresden. In general, the city’s more outward-looking inhabitants reside in ‘Neustadt’. This is the best hunting ground for food and coffee. The city only has two Starbucks and there has been no talk of extending that and espresso drinks are NOT a local specialty.
This American-style coffee shop is an espresso oasis in Dresden. The drinks menu has every espresso drink you can think of and the pastries are excellent. I did not like the sandwiches but both coffee and pastries are fantastic, though expensive. The WiFi is fast and free and the environment is clutter-free. There is also a huge patio for the nice summer days.
Sprout specializes in vegetarian cuisine and has a number of pre-cooked curries on offer. You can also select ingredients for your veggie bowl yourself and it will be assembled in front of you. I liked the vibe and the value I got here, but I was hoping for more taste!
Scheunecafe (Barn Cafe)
The area around the ‘Scheune’ often becomes an ad hoc outdoor party space after 10PM. Until then, grab a table on the lovely patio and enjoy their surprisingly authentic Indian cuisine with a German beer.
This small Indian cafe surprised me with a fantastic Indian thali for lunch. I went back for dinner which was a mistake, though, as the curries were stale and barely edible for a price tag that was much too high.
This vegetarian restaurant sits in a pretty spot, hidden way in a small alley with a lovely patio. The dishes we tried were creative and tasted good, but it is VERY expensive here and the staff are grumpy.
Neustadt is full of a number of Italian restaurants that all bake a decent pizza for well under $10. They are all mostly reasonable but none will warm your heart much.
If you haven’t already had enough beer in Germany, try out this brewery; the beer is just OK but the vibe is rustic and original. There’s also a ballroom here!