The Essential Guide to Saxony

Saxony is best known for its stunning Baroque capital, Dresden, which was completely rebuilt after World War II. However, the region’s largest city, Leipzig, is equally vibrant, with a strong cultural legacy (Wagner was born here, Bach worked here) and impressive architecture galore. Nicknamed the “Motherland of the Reformation,” Saxony also features a variety of attractions for history fanatics, as well as plenty for nature lovers, including the Erzgebirge Mountains, Saxon-Switzerland National Park, and several palace gardens dotted throughout the region.

Sophienstraße, 01067 Dresden, Germany
Dresden’s architectural and cultural highlight, the Zwinger was commissioned by Augustus the Strong and built between 1710 and 1728 by architect Matthäus Pöppelmann in cooperation with the sculptor Balthasar Permoser. Originally designed as an orangery and setting for court festivities, it’s one of the best examples of late Italian Baroque architecture in Germany. Today, its cultural treasures are immense, ranging from the two-floor Semper Gallery (full of Old Master paintings, including Raphael’s Sistine Madonna) to a royal porcelain collection with Chinese, Japanese, and Meissen examples. Visitors will also find a Museum of Mathematics and Physics (with antique sextants and globes), the Nymphs’ Bath (one of Europe’s most beautiful Baroque fountains), and a gilded gate flanked by long, arched galleries. The venue also hosts musical and theater performances, among other events.
Str. des 18. Oktober 100, 04299 Leipzig, Germany
Constructed from concrete and granite porphyry and inaugurated in 1913, this 300-foot-tall sculpture is among Europe’s largest memorials—and one of Leipzig’s most striking historic monuments. Located close to Napoléon’s former command post, the monument houses a visitor center and the Forum 1813 museum, which tells the story of the Battle of the Nations through rare weapons, uniforms, pieces of equipment, and personal mementos. Also on-site is a crypt full of depictions of mourning soldiers, plus a second floor with a Hall of Fame for acclaimed Germans and a viewing platform that offers panoramas of Leipzig and its surroundings. A nearby park and its large water basin are currently under construction but are expected to be completed in 2020.
Theaterplatz 1, 01067 Dresden, Germany
Open to the public since the middle of the 18th century—and subsequently expanded by various Saxon Electors and museum curators—this celebrated museum contains one of Germany’s finest collections of Old Master works. Housed in the magnificent Dresden Zwinger, the museum spans three floors, focusing mainly on European painting (specifically the Italian Renaissance) but also featuring Dutch and Flemish masters like Van Eyck, Dürer, Holbein, Rubens, and Rembrandt. Highlights include Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, and Bellotto’s depictions of Dresden’s historic city center. Also worth checking out is the collection of Cranach paintings—the largest of its kind in the world.
Grimmaische Str. 2-4, 04109 Leipzig, Germany
One of the oldest eateries in Leipzig—and there’s quite a lot of competition—Auerbachs Keller dates back to 1525, when it functioned as a wine bar. Today, it’s famous for the fact that Goethe wrote part of Faust here and even featured the restaurant in his tragic play, though the top-notch German cuisine isn’t too shabby either. Made up of three distinct spaces, the restaurant features the vaulted Grosser Keller (for hearty Saxon dishes like goulash soup, roast pork, and wild boar), the Historische Weinstuben (four former wine taverns decorated with lavish murals, statues, and antique furnishings, where guests can enjoy more upscale fare and set menus), and the Mephisto Bar (which offers coffee during the day and cocktails come night). Whichever you choose, expect a memorable experience. As locals have always said, “If you traveled to Leipzig for Mass without going to Auerbachs Keller, keep silent, because that proves you did not see Leipzig.”
Bastei, 01847 Lohmen, Germany
Located less than an hour from Dresden in Saxon-Switzerland National Park, the Bastei is a jagged outcropping of sandstone rocks that once served as the foundation for Neurathen Castle. While the castle is mostly gone now, its bridge (known locally as Basteibrücke) remains one of the park’s major highlights. Initially made of wood but rebuilt with stone, it clocks in at 250 feet and leads directly to the castle ruins, offering peerless views of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, the Elbe River, and the Königstein Fortress. For a small entrance fee, visitors can walk its length, then refuel at the Panorama Restaurant on the other end. Active travelers may even want to attempt the Golden Triangle hike between the Bastei, Wehlen, and Kurort Rathen, which also passes the ruins of Stadt Wehlen Castle.
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