Dresden is an underrated European city for tourists these days, probably due to its reputation as the victim of fire bombings by the Allies in World War II that almost completely leveled the city during three deadly raids. Rebuilt and beautiful, Dresden is cheap, beautiful, and a really great stop between Berlin and Prague for student travelers.
From the rubble, historic chapels, government buildings, statues, and squares have all been rebuilt in structures of multicolored patchwork brick and stone. The combination of old and new, and the historic significance ever present in one’s mind while walking the cobblestone roads presents a breathtaking scene that is both thought provoking and beautiful.
The city is split in two by the Elbe. The Altstadt, or Old Town, is where most of the tourist attractions lie. This is where the majority of the city was destroyed and rebuilt. It’s very interesting to see what survived, like an ancient mosaic wall depicting images of all of the former Kings of Saxony on horseback, and what was destroyed, rebuilt, or repurposed. Somehow, the architects managed to retain the integrity of many of the oldest buildings, like the Frauenkirche Church, the Opera House, the Synagogue, and the Parliament building upon their reconstruction.
Across the Elbe is a completely different experience of Dresden, where the arts, music, and alternative scene flourish in the Neustadt or New Town. Here you will find small record shops, lots of amazing and cheap food, and many bars, clubs and restaurants to choose from. Filled with graffiti and people playing games and music outdoors, the Neustadt is welcoming, fun, and generally safe.
I would recommend sightseeing in the Altstadt during the day, and getting some drinks and food at a more affordable price with a much more fun atmosphere in the Neustadt in the evening. Dresden is about a two hour bus ride from both Berlin and Prague, both of which have international airports (Dresden has no airport). It’s one of the most affordable cities I’ve visited in Europe. I would recommend brushing up on some German words or bringing along a fluent friend as it can be difficult to communicate using only English (mostly in the Neustadt, outside the tourist center).
Photo credit: Amy Wiener