When most people think about visiting Germany, there are a few places that typically come to mind — Berlin, Munich, Bavaria — but the state of Saxony is not usually at the top of the list. Located in eastern Germany along the Czech border, Saxony is a lesser-known destination in Germany but not due to a lack of amazing things to do.
My husband and I took our first trip after Germany’s COVID-19 stay-in-place orders were lifted, and we decided to keep it domestic within the country. We had heard great things about Dresden, which was the main inspiration for our trip. Little did we know how much we would love the rest of our one week itinerary in Saxony!
Saxony has a deep and rich history that I was largely unfamiliar with prior to visiting. This imbues the state with a sense of pride and culture that is palpable. Saxony also has a dense assortment of fairytale castles and palaces, as well as stunning natural areas to explore. Saxony is an unexpectedly diverse destination in Germany where you can experience historic cities, delicious regional cuisine, incredible national parks, and thriving local art scenes all at once.
The Ideal Itinerary for Spending 1 Perfect Week in Saxony, Germany!
Day 1 + 2: Leipzig
Leipzig is steeped in Germany’s cultural history, particularly in regards to art and music. A visit to the Bach Museum will teach you about his importance on classical music. Try to catch one of the nightly 7pm organ concerts at St. Thomas Church across the street to hear some of Bach’s music played on one of his original instruments.
As a flat and spacious city, Leipzig is perfect for cycling and it is one of the best (and most inexpensive!) ways to see the city in a short time frame. I crafted an entire 48 hour itinerary for Leipzig to help you see the best of the city on a quick visit.
Make sure to try some of the local beer of Leipzig — Gose. Gose are typically light in color with a citrusy sourness and an herbal clean finish. You’ll find Gose at most of the restaurants in the Altstadt but I particularly liked the Bayerischer-Bahnhof Brauhaus, which was built into a former train station with a beautiful tree covered garden. To sample the original Ritterguts Gose, head to Kaiserbad, a beer garden and restaurant in the trendy Plagwitz neighborhood.
Day 3 + 4: Saxony Switzerland National Park
Sprawling across the border between Germany and Czech Republic are the unique and stunning landscapes of Saxony Switzerland National Park. After being cooped up during the COVID quarantine, we were reallllllly looking forward to some outdoor time, this national park was a perfect choice for a few days of natural surroundings during our one week trip in Saxony, Germany.
Now don’t get Saxony Switzerland National Park confused with the country of Switzerland — they are nowhere near each other. The name stems from the ‘discovery’ of this area by Swiss people who thought it looked familiar to their homeland. The national park is divided into two primary sections — the eastern section and the western section — which are not connected. The eastern part spills over into Czech Republic where it is called Bohemian Switzerland.
The whole area is appealing to hikers and rock climbers, thanks to the copious trails and unique sandstone rock formations. You’ll see plenty of people decked out in serious outdoor gear, but if you aren’t outdoorsy (like me), don’t worry. There are plenty of well-marked beginner trails and attractions to explore for a casual day or two.
Perhaps the most famous attraction in Saxony Switzerland National Park is the Bastei Bridge. 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. You can reasonably see the bridge and surrounding area in 2 hours.
I would recommend paying the extra 4 euros for a ticket to the Felsenburg Neurathen inside the bridge area. This is now an open air museum displaying the remains of the ancient fortress that once stood here; there isn’t much to see of the fortress, but what you’re really paying for is access to the viewpoints. There are several good views of the bridge as well as the surrounding landscapes inside the ticketed area. If you want an uninterrupted photo of the bridge, you’ll need to arrive very early in the morning as the bridge is open nearly 24 hours a day.
Another easy way to experience Saxony Switzerland National Park without tons of hiking gear and equipment is a ride on the historic Kirnitzsch Valley Railway which has been running since 1898. Starting in Bad Schandau, the town located at the entrance of the national park, ride the charming yellow tram through the park until you reach Lichtenhainer Wasserfall. The tram 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 intensely. 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.
End one of your two days in Saxony Switzerland National Park with dinner and a drink at Wachbergbaude in Saupsdorf. The view from this beer garden and restaurant is absolutely spectacular, especially as the sun sets. Plus, the food and beer is a delicious reward to celebrate two great days in one of Germany’s most beautiful national parks.
Day 5: Görlitz
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. This city is so famous for films that you can even do a “Görliwood Walk of Fame” which takes you to various locations around the city that have appeared in famous German and international films.
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’s like walking through a living museum! The Altstadt area, as you can expect, is the densest area of historic architecture and facades. Around seemingly every corner of the old city is a picturesque scene of candy colored houses, cobblestone streets, and bell-ringing churches.
Görlitz is located directly across the Neisse river from Poland, and the two countries are connected by a pedestrian footbridge. Pop over to Poland during your visit! 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!
Day 6-7: Dresden
If there is one city on this Saxony travel itinerary that you shouldn’t miss, it is Dresden. Once known as the “Florence of the North,” Dresden is one of Germany’s most beautiful cities with a curious mixture of old and new. Although much of the city was destroyed by American fire bombing during WWII, there has been significant restoration and rebuilding of the most famous structures in Dresden with lots of construction still happening today!
For your first day in Dresden, plan to spend the entire day exploring the history and architecture of the Alstadt area. From the Zwinger palace to the historic Green Vault to the Freuenkirche, there are several key museums and cultural attractions to see. For the second day in Dresden, wander around the Neustadt neighborhood on the opposite side of the Elbe river. This part of the city feels so different, almost like Berlin in a way. The streets are painted with graffiti and murals and it is packed with young, tattooed residents dressed in perfectly on-trend European street wear.
By seeing both sides of Dresden, you will really get a sense of this old and new juxtaposition — it really encapsulates modern German cities. To help you jump into your last two days in Saxony, I summarize all of my favorite things to do in Dresden in a separate post!
Travel Tips for 1 Week in Saxony
When to Visit Saxony
Although you can visit Saxony throughout the year, a few times during the year are more ideal than others. For weather, the best months are typically early summer like June or early fall like September. To avoid crowds, July, August and December (because of christmas markets) are the busiest times of the year. However, Dresden and Leipzig both have excellent Christmas markets so that might actually be a GOOD reason to come and visit during that time.
I would recommend using a combination of trains and a rental car to get around Saxony. If traveling from elsewhere in Germany, you’ll arrive by train at Leipzig’s stunning art deco Hauptbahnhof. There are train systems which connect the major cities in this region, so we took a train from Leipzig Hauptbahnhof to Dresden Hauptbahnhof and picked up a rental car there. We used the rental car for the days in the national park and Görlitz, and then dropped it off again before we started exploring Dresden. Leipzig and Dresden can be easily explored on foot or with city transportation, so you don’t need a rental car. Plus parking can be a challenge, especially in Dresden.