It’s a proven fact that everybody loves Germany.
The culture, the landscape, the beer and the people make the country a popular port of call on trips around Europe – not to mention the appeal of Berlin, Munich and Hamburg as budget city break destinations.
But one corner of Germany that most visitors seem to miss is Saxony. I spent three months living in Leipzig and Saxony quickly became my favourite part of Germany. Here are 10 things to do in Saxony, my adopted Heimat.
1. Dresden’s old town
I’ve made no secret of my love for Dresden – as shown in my post on 6 overlooked and underrated cities in Europe. The city’s old town is simply incredible. Entirely rebuilt from rubble at the end of the World War II, Dresden’s moniker as the Florence on the Elbe is certainly justified. The huge Frauenkirche, ornate Semperoper opera house, and former royal palace Der Zwinger, will drain your camera battery as you try and get shots from every angle. It truly is the one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen and is best viewed from the opposite bank of the Elbe.
2. Meißen (Meissen)
Meissen is another ridiculously photogenic town on the Elbe, just north of Dresden. Most visitors seem to be interested in the porcelain made here which put the town on the map, but Meissen is a great place to spend the day, regardless of your love of crockery. The cathedral and castle are definitely worth the steep trek up the hill for some amazing views over the rooftops.
Meissen is best reached from Dresden by a leisurely hour-long boat trip up the Elbe.
3. East German history
Leipzig is the only destination for anyone interested in the history of the GDR, the former East Germany. The headquarters of the Stasi, the secret East German network of spies and informers, was based in Leipzig in the ‘Runde Ecke’, which is now home to a fascinating exhibition on the extent of the government’s paranoia. The Zeitgeschichtliches Forum, also in Leipzig, is a much flasher, free museum which chronicles the entire life of the former East German Republic, including the Monday demonstrations – a peaceful revolution that began with weekly protests at the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig in 1989, and is attributed to helping to bring down the Berlin Wall and communism in Europe.
Leipzig is a must for any fans of Das Leben der Anderen, or the book Stasiland.
4. Cospudener See
Cospudener See, or ‘Cossi’ as it is affectionately known, is a lake and artificial beach just south of Leipzig. Packed at evenings and weekends in summer, the lake is an easy and scenic bike ride from Leipzig and is a great place for BBQs, sun-bathing, swimming, boating, or – if you’re German – just chilling stark-bollock naked.
5. Königstein Fortress
Königstein fortress is one of the largest fortresses in Europe, situated in the heart of Saxon Switzerland (named after its similar appearance to Switzerland), a few kilometres from the Czech border. The mammoth complex makes a nice day trip from Dresden and offers some amazing views of Elbe valley below. The fortress also has a ridiculously deep well (the second deepest in Europe) and a few little exhibitions on the history of the place.
6. Leipzig’s heritage
Though certainly not as beautiful as Dresden or Meissen, Leipzig is a city with a lot to offer. Apart from its turbulent East German history, the city has also played residence to historical figures such as musical legends Bach, Wagner and Schumann, literary genius Goethe, and all-round icon Angela Merkel. The influence of Bach in the city is clear, with busloads of tourists arriving at the Thomaskirche to pay their respects to the composer. You can also find Auerbach’s Keller, setting of Goethe’s Faust, in the city centre.
7. Basteibrücke and the sandstone mountains of Saxon Switzerland
Claiming to be the oldest man-made tourist attraction in the world, the Basteibrücke is a bridge built into the Bastei, a rock formation in the sandstone mountains of Saxon Switzerland. The area is definitely a tourist trap, but offers some great views of both the Elbe and the mountains, and is just a short trip south of Dresden.
8. Dresden’s Neustadt
Across the Elbe from Dresden’s old town lies the city’s new town or Neustadt, which thanks to WWII, is now older than the old town. The Neustadt is painfully bohemian and where you’ll find Dresden’s coolest bars and restaurants and most of the city’s hostels. The Neustadt even declared its independence during the period of German reunification. Die Bunte Republik Neustadt or the Colourful Republic of Neustadt, 1990-1993, featured Mickey Mouse on their coat of arms, and the Neustadt is now the host of a three-day street festival every June held in honour of the former country.
9. Monument to the Battle of Nations
Europe’s largest monument, and potentially its least aesthetically pleasing, the Monument to the Battle of Nations, or the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, is a monolithic structure just outside Leipzig in remembrance of the 1813 Battle of Leipzig – a huge conflict where Saxony, Prussia, Austria, Sweden and Russia defeated Napoleon. Climb to the top for views over Leipzig.
10. Cruising the Elbe
The Elbe runs through Dresden and is a great way to get around in summer. We took a river cruise for up to Meissen for about €12 one-way (it’s quicker to get the train home), but there are also routes to the Bastei and Königstein, among other places. It’s a great way to see a bit of the surrounding Saxon countryside, and if you’re lucky – get burnt to a crisp.