Dresden is not the most well-known city break destination in Germany, but after spending 1 week traveling in Saxony this spring, I might argue that it should be. The city of Dresden is absolutely lovely in and of itself, and I definitely recommend spending two or three days exploring the city. But it also sits in the center of Saxony with an abundance of wonderful things to do in the surrounding areas.
Dresden is an ideal jumping off place for exploring the excellent attractions that this region of Germany has to offer. Many of the museums and castles I list in this Dresden day trip guide can be visited for free or at a discount with the Schloesserland Card. Sam and I both got one for 24 euros, and it pays for itself with 2-3 visits, which you could easily accomplish from this list, as well as other included museums in Dresden. You can buy a version that lasts 1 week or 1 year if you plan to return.
As you’ll see from my day trip suggestions below, many of these attractions are most easily seen via rental car. We rented ours from Sixt at the central train station in Dresden after arriving from Cologne and it worked out nicely. You can also combine a few of these day trips together into one long day if you were short on time during your visit to Saxony. We visited Moritzburg + Meissen on the same day, and Gorlitz + Devil’s Bridge on the same day.
These are the best day trips from Dresden, Germany!
- Distance from Dresden City Center: 20 km
- Mode of Transportation: Train/Bus (1 hour), Car (35 minutes)
- Time Required: 2 hours
For a stunning example of Baroque architecture and grandeur of the Saxon empire, then a stop at Moritzburg is a must-do day trip from Dreseden. This palace is truly something to behold. Surrounded by a colossal man-made pond, the pale yellow exterior is only the beginning of the splendor of this incredible palace. If you have extra time, hop on a rental bike from Moritzburg palace to the Little Pheasants Castle at the end of the canal for more Baroque beauty.
This castle was the primary residence of notorious King Augustus the Strong. I really loved the content and layout of this museum because it tells a simple story — the life and lifestyle of King Augustus — but in an engaging way of ‘debunking’ common myths and depictions of this lively historic figure. You wander through the opulent wallpaper clad rooms of the palace while reading about the real lives of people that happened inside the palace. From sordid affairs to over-the-top feats of human strength, you are bound to learn at least a few interesting stories while wandering through the palace.
- Distance from Dresden City Center: 30km
- Mode of Transportation: Train (50 minutes), Car (30 minutes)
- Time Required: 4 Hours
If you’ve ever been curious about the process of porcelain making, then a visit to the city of Meissen is a worthwhile day trip from Dresden! Meissen was the birthplace of porcelain making in Europe in the early 1700s. The origin of this 300+ year tradition dates back to King Augustus who was an avid art collector, with porcelain being one of his favorite mediums. He started a royal commission specifically for the production and perfection of porcelain in Meissen.
You can learn about the history of porcelain making (along with plenty of other regional history) at the towering Albrechtsberg Palace in the center of town. Similar to the Weesenstein Palace above, you can tour Albrechtsberg on your own without an organized tour. The interior of Albrechtsberg is packed with exhibits and you could easily spend several hours here if you read all of the material. I particularly liked the helpful signage at this museum! Make sure to pop across the river after your visit to snap a great photo of the palace overlooking the charming town.
Once you know all about the history of porcelain, you can see some of the incredible pieces that were made during this period at one of the various porcelain collections and museums around the area. There is a private porcelain museum + factory in Meissen or you can see King Augustus’ collection at the National Porcelain Gallery in the Zwinger Palace.
- Distance from Dresden City Center: 20km
- Mode of Transportation: Train/Bus (1 hour), Car (30 minutes)
- Time Required: 2 Hours
Tucked away in a small town outside of Dresden is one of Germany’s most fascinating castles — Weesenstein Castle. The castle was built over several centuries with new sections and wings added on at different times, which will reveal Baroque, Renaissance and Neo-Gothic influences on the architecture + design styles. The Weesenstein Castle also has a stunning French garden which lures you in immediately as you approach the castle over the bridge.
My favorite feature of the castle’s design were the faux windows painted on the exterior which look almost identical to the original ones, especially from the garden! I also enjoyed the fact that you could tour this castle on your own without a tour (not common in Germany), because it really allowed you to stop and read the signs and take everything in.
One of the most interesting things I learned about this castle was that it was used to store a large amount of art that the Nazis had stolen during their reign of terror. Hitler’s eventual goal was to open the world’s largest art museum in his hometown of Linz Austria, and much of the art that was going to populate the museum was stolen from Jewish people and museums in conquered territory. Because the castle had such a fortress structure at the base, much of the art that was stored here survived the war and was discovered by Allied forces during liberation. Today there is an interactive exhibit tracing the history of some of the pieces that were recovered here.
- Distance from Dresden City Center: 40km
- Mode of Transportation: Car (45 minutes), Ferry (60 minutes)
- Time Required: 1.5 Hours
Plastered across the feeds of several high-influence German travel bloggers are pictures from the Bastei Bridge. It is perhaps the most famous attraction inside Saxony Switzerland National Park — and for good reason! This incredible fortress was built high above the Elbe River on top of a sandstone outcropping overlooking a stunning landscape of rolling forests and jagged rock formations. You can certainly expect this part of the park to be crowded but it is also well developed for day visits with easy access parking and walking trails.
To get the quintessential photos of the bridge, you’ll want to come either at sunrise or sunset. You’ll be able to shoot some great sun flares over the bridge and it will be much less crowded with day trippers. As such, I recommend pairing this day trip with a longer day visit to the whole national park (mentioned below) since you will already be up early or late.
Saxony Switzerland National Park
- Distance from Dresden City Center: 50km
- Mode of Transportation: Train (60 minutes), Car (50 minutes)
- Time Required: 4-6 Hours for Hiking and Exploring
Sprawling across the border between Germany and Czech Republic are the unique and stunning landscapes of Saxony Switzerland National Park. This is a wonderful day trip from Dresden because even if you aren’t outdoorsy, there are plenty of well-marked beginner trails and attractions to explore casually. The national park is divided into two primary sections — the eastern section and the western section — which are not connected.
An easy way to experience Saxony Switzerland National Park without tons of hiking gear is a ride on the historic Kirnitzsch Valley Railway. This charming yellow 1898 tramway makes its way through the most beautiful section of the park, and there are several tram stops along the route if you want to hop off and hike a specific area more directly. There is not a lot of parking inside the national park, so the tram is a great option even for people who rented a car.
Devil’s Bridge / Rakotzbrücke
- Distance from Dresden City Center: 120km
- Mode of Transportation: Car (1h 45 minutes)
- Time Required: 1.5 Hours for photos + walk in garden
A cursory scroll through some of the top travel Instagrammers and you are bound to see a photo of Devil’s Bridge. Rakotzbrücke, as it is known in German, is a beautiful arched stone bridge that reflects almost perfectly into the still pond below, making for a beautiful backdrop for a picnic or photos during any season!
Rakotzbrücke is located inside Azalea and Rhododendron Park in Gablenz, roughly 2 hours away from Dresden. Before visiting, check the website or Google reviews to see if the bridge is visible. There was intensive renovation work during our visit, and the bridge was completely covered in scaffolding and the pond was drained. We didn’t know that because nothing was listed on the website so we rolled up all excited to see it and…. not so much. It was only after reviewing the Google reviews that I saw mentions of it being closed.
The rest of the park was blooming with hydrangeas at the time so thankfully the visit wasn’t a total waste of time. There is not a lot nearby this day trip, and given that it is largely a spot for photos, it should be paired with another day trip stop. I’m not sure it justifies an entire trip.
- Distance from Dresden City Center: 120km
- Mode of Transportation: Train (75 minutes), Car (75 minutes)
- Time Required: 8 hours
Leipzig has been an important city in German history for centuries. Whether it was Bach’s influence on classical music or starting the resistance to the USSR’s rule over east Germany in the 1980s, Leipzig is a great choice for a day trip from Dresden! Leipzig’s architecture in the compact Altstadt is on display with beautiful gilded facades and ornate pedestrian passages. There are plenty of museums and churches to explore during your short visit, or stay for the night to see a little bit more of this historical city — we actually spent 48 hours in Leipzig during our visit.
If you’re looking for a more contemporary vibe in Leipzig, the city is home to some of the most avante garde and interesting art in Germany. It can be seen in galleries and workshops all throughout the hipster neighborhoods in southwestern Leipzig like the former cotton factory turned art + cultural center Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei or the immersive and new media art museum Kunstkraftwerk. Plus this area is packed with delicious vegetarian-friendly restaurants and cool cocktail bars. Make sure to grab one of the local beers, a Gose beer, while in Leipzig!
- Distance from Dresden City Center: 100km
- Mode of Transportation: Flixbus (2 hours), Car (90 minutes)
- Time Required: 4-6 Hours for Walking Around
Görlitz is a town straight out of a movie set. No really, there are a bunch of movies filmed here! It was the primary shooting location for Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel” and has scenes filmed from Inglorious Bastards, Monuments Men and the Book Thief as well. Needless to say, Görlitz is one of the most charming and picturesque small towns that I have visited in Germany.
There are not necessarily ‘famous attractions’ to see in Görlitz per say, but really the entire town is just a cute place to wander around. It feels like a living museum in a way! Around seemingly every corner of the old city is a picturesque scene of candy colored houses, cobblestone streets, and bell-ringing churches. Sample the uniquely flavored regional dish “Silesian Heaven” while in Görlitz. Lightly smoked pork is slow cooked in a light cream sauce with regional fruits, like apricots, plums and apples to create a surprisingly delicious sweet and savory stew!
- Distance from Dresden City Center:
- Mode of Transportation: Flixbus (2h 30 minutes), Train (2 hours), Car (1h 45m)
- Time Required: 10+ hours or as an overnight
Looking to add on a bonus country to your visit to Germany? Take a day trip to the Czech Republic! Prague is one of the most famous cities in central Europe and is a major hotspot for tourism in the region. There is a density of things to do and see in Prague, so a day trip is certainly not enough — but if your time is limited, it is possible. Focus your visit in the old town and riverfront area where many of the highlights are located. Be warned however that this part of Prague is VERY touristy, to the point that it can be unenjoyable. Set your expectations accordingly.
In Prague’s Old Town, you will find an abundance of popular sights, such as the Old Town Square, the Astronomical Clock and the beautiful Charles Bridge. Wander across the bridge to get a lovely view of the city from Prague Castle which sits atop a large hill. This massive complex would take an entire day to explore, as it is the largest UNESCO museum in the world at 70,000 square meters. On your way back down the hill, pop by the Lennon Wall, a graffitied wall dedicated to John Lennon who became a symbol of freedom and peace for Czech people in the 1980s. I would say the Lennon Wall is more of an “Insta-Trap” than an actually cool thing to do, but it is popular in Prague.
Just south of the Altstadt lies the Jewish Quarter which dates all the way back to the 13th century. You can learn about the heavy history of this neighborhood at the Jewish Museum or one of the preserved synagogues. For a sunset view before heading back to Dresden from your day trip, climb up a hill to Letna Park where you’ll be greeted by the lovely Zahradní restaurant + beer garden.