It was around a year ago that I visited the city of Dresden in eastern Germany. We ended up going there sort of by accident but it turned out to be a wonderful experience. I thought I’d share a bit about our visit in case you are considering a trip to the area and have time to add it to your itinerary.
Dresden is not a city that pops into people’s minds when you mention going to Germany. Even the Swiss flight attendant on our transatlantic flight asked why we chose it for a leisure trip. He seemed very surprised.
Well, we had Prague or Vienna on the brain, but were relying on Aeroplan miles for our flights. That means finding available seats on airlines that don’t levy fuel surcharges on reward tickets so we were limited to options like United, Swiss, SAS, TAP Air Portugal, Turkish (or LOT where the fees are higher but still in acceptable range). No flying Air Canada or Lufthansa across the Atlantic.
When pickings were slim I added Dresden to the search because of its close proximity to Prague and the added bonus of avoiding the higher “Europe 2” redemption level on Aeroplan.
We scored flights on Swiss connecting in Boston and Zurich. Then we booked return train tickets to Prague on the Deutsche Bahn website and capitalized on the advance purchase discount. So, the trip was 3 nights Dresden, 4 nights Prague, 1 night Dresden. (We could not book an open-jaw itinerary because these flights were part of a nested trip that is sadly no longer doable on Aeroplan).
We lucked out with hotels. Initially I was going to use Radisson points for the Park Inn at a low 15,000 points per night. But then the IHG PointBreak list came out and we switched to the new Holiday Inn Express City Centre for only 10,000 points per night.
Our final night was outside the PointBreak availability period so we used 10,000 Choice Privileges points for a large room at the Quality Hotel Star Inn Premium.
If we were low on points it would have been fairly easy to get reasonably priced accommodation in Dresden. Our goal, however, was to do the trip as cheaply as possibly using our various hotel points.
It’s very simple and inexpensive to get to the city centre from the airport. Public transit was easy to figure out and the locals were very friendly and helpful when we needed some assistance on the tram after a route change announcement.
Before the trip I only really knew two things about Dresden – it was heavily bombed by allied forces in WWII and that tourists like to visit something called the “Green Vault”.
Dresden is still being rebuilt. The bombing raids occurred in February of 1945 and damage to the old town section of the city was severe. Much of the major reconstruction did not happen until after reunification including the rebuilding of its centrepiece Frauenkirche church.
In the initial aftermath, it was the female population of the city who did much of the clean-up work. Near our hotel was a statue commemorating their efforts.
When you wander around the old town you realize that it’s not really old. For some tourists, that’s a real downside to visiting the city. The idea that you’re stepping back in time that you get in well preserved European cities is missing. Still, we found the reconstruction quite interesting to see.
A great way to get the backstory of a city is to take a walking tour with a local guide. We learned a lot about the history of Dresden and Saxony.
Something very interesting that survived the war was the large “Procession of Princes” mural on the outer wall of the Royal Palace that depicts the rulers of Saxony. It escaped fire damage because it was made of porcelain tiles. You will find many shops selling porcelain in Dresden.
Historic Green Vault
The Historic Green Vault is the museum where the many treasures of Augustus the Strong are on display. I had read that the timed tickets can sell out in advance but we had no problem buying our tickets online the night before our visit. One must pass through an airlock to enter and exit the museum. There is an audioguide to fill you in on the various exhibits as you proceed through several opulent rooms. Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit the New Green Vault which houses additional impressive exhibits.
This is a nice activity if you want to get a sense of what the city was like during the Baroque period. It’s a huge panoramic painting located in a former gasometer. We stopped in to the little ticket shop and asked if there was still time to buy a ticket and catch the free bus. After we paid she explained where to find the bus and said, “Now, go!”. We made it with a few seconds to spare.
This was a very enjoyable experience and I would suggest you really take your time to examine the details from the various viewing levels. The painting is periodically changed to one depicting Dresden after the city was destroyed in 1945.
Walking distance from our hotel was a Volkswagen assembly plant that offers tours in English. We arrived in the morning and signed up for the first tour of the day. We watched the assembly line of humans along with a few industrial robots assembling the eGolf in a modern ergonomically designed setting. It was quite fascinating. I didn’t think it would be something up my alley but I highly recommend it.
Half-Day Trip to Görlitz
There are a number of interesting options for day or half-day trips. We chose to take the train to the well-preserved town of Görlitz on the German-Polish border. We spent a leisurely afternoon strolling around the town with a little spell over on the Polish side. The scarcity of tourists was astonishing.
Military History Museum
After our return train journey from Prague, we checked into the hotel and took the tram to the Military History Museum. We were lucky that it was the one night of the week when it stays open late. There were very, very few people in the large museum. There were more staff than visitors. When being shown how to use the audioguide, the German fellow somewhat sternly instructed us not to press a certain button. When I asked what would happen if we did, he quickly answered, “it vill explode”. Perhaps he was was expecting a chuckle in response but when he didn’t immediately get one he quickly said “just kidding! just kidding!”.
After our trip, we both agreed that we enjoyed Dresden just as much as Prague. The sightseeing, food and shopping were all terrific and it was one of those pleasant travel experiences one always hopes for. Maybe it made an extra good impression due to the fact that our expectations going in were relatively moderate. Nonetheless, we were very pleased with our choice even if it was not our top pick at the outset of our trip planning. As suggested in the title, due to its location, it’s a great city to add on to a trip to Prague or Berlin.
From my perspective, it also pushes me to cast a wider net when choosing potential travel destinations. Just because a place isn’t on the radar of the average tourist doesn’t mean it won’t be a great addition to your trip.