Dresden straddles the Elbe River, with the attraction-studded Altstadt (old town) in the south and the livelier Neustadt to the north. One of Dresden’s most beloved icons, the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady; Tel 0351-439 3934;http://www.frauenkirche-dresden.de/; Neumarkt; h10am- 6pm) on Neumarkt, was rebuilt in time for the city’s 800th anniversary celebrations. Built between 1726 and 1743 under the direction of baroque architect George Bähr, it was Germany’s greatest Protestant church until February 1945, when bombing raids flattened it.
Leading northwest from Neumarkt is Augustusstrasse, with the stunning 102m-long Procession of Princes porcelain mural covering the outer wall of the old royal stables. Augustusstrasse leads directly to Schlossplatz and the baroque Catholic Hofkirche (1755). Just south of the church is the Renaissance Schloss, which is being reconstructed. Outside, don’t miss the amazing 102m-long tiled mural, the Fürstenzug (Procession of Princes; Augustusstrasse), on the wall of the former Stendehaus (Royal Stables). The scene, a long row of royalty on horses, was painted in 1876 and then transferred to some 24,000 Meissen porcelain tiles in 1906.
On the western side of the Hofkirche is Theaterplatz, with Dresden’s glorious opera house, the neo-Renaissance Semperoper (Tel 0351-491 1496; http://www.semperoper.de/en.html; Theaterplatz; tours €7) – if you’ve watched any German TV you’ll probably recognise it from a certain beer commercial. The opera tradition goes back 350 years, and many works by Richard Strauss, Carl Maria von Weber and Richard Wagner premiered here.
Next door, the baroque Zwinger fortress (Tel 0351-491 4622; Theaterplatz 1; 10am-6pm Tue-Sun) is another great Dresden heavyweight, with no fewer than six museums within its ornate walls. The most important are the Rüstkammer, with its superb collection of ceremonial weapons, and the Galerie Alte Meister (admission €7, incl entry to Rüstkammer), which features masterpieces including Raphael’s Sistine Madonna. The dazzling Porcelain Collection (Tel 0351-491 4622; adult/concession €6/3.50) includes plenty of local Meissen classics.
The imposing block Albertinum (Tel 0351-491 4619; Brühlsche Terrasse) houses many of Dresden’s art treasures, including the Galerie Neue Meister, renowned for its 19th- and 20th-century paintings from leading French and German impressionists. The complex is meant to reopen in 2010 after a massive reconstruction. Sächsische Dampfschiffahrt (Tel 0351-866 090; tours from €16) runs river tours on rebuilt steam ships from the docks below the terrace.
Dresden is synonymous with opera, and performances at the spectacular Semperoper (Tel 0351-491 1496;http://www.semperoper.de/en.html; Theaterplatz), opposite the Zwinger, are brilliant. Tickets cost from €10, but they’re usually booked out well in advance. Some performances by the renowned Philharmonic are also held here.
Around Dresden - Meissen
Tel 03521 / pop 29,000 Some 27km northwest of Dresden, Meissen is a compact, perfectly preserved old town and the centre of a rich wine-growing region. It makes for a good day trip out of Dresden by train or boat and beguiles with its red-tiled roofs and old Saxon charm.
The tourist office is at Meissen-Information (Tel 419 40; http://en.touristinfo-meissen.de/GetContent/33/willkommen.html; Markt 3; h10am-6pm Mon-Fri, to 4pm Sat & Sun Apr-Oct, to 4pm Mon-Fri, to 3pm Sat Nov-Mar). Staff can help find accommodation. The Markt is framed by the Rathaus (town hall; 1472) and the Gothic Frauenkirche, which – fittingly – has a porcelain carillon.
Meissen’s medieval fortress, the 15thcentury Albrechtsburg (Tel 470 70; Domplatz 1; admission €4; h10am-6pm Mar-Oct, to 5pm Nov-Feb), crowns a ridge high above the Elbe River reached by steep lanes. It contains the former ducal palace and Meissen Cathedral, a magnificent Gothic structure.