Did you know that there’s an incredible amount of gorgeous castles in Dresden and surrounds? I visited quite a few of them and put together a castle chaser itinerary for you.
**** This trip was sponsored by Visit Saxony. ****
Where is Dresden anyway?
First of all, Dresden is one of the most gorgeous German cities. Full of history, well preserved buildings through the ages and lots of wonderfully restored ones (bombs annhilated most of the city centre during WWII).
Plus, you don’t need to walk far and you’re in the amazing Zwinger of Dresden. But more on that and other fabulous castles in Dresden in a bit.
Dresden is a German city in the state of Saxony, which is located centrally in the East of the country.
You can easily reach it by train and it has its own airport as well: Dresden International Airport. (Though you might arrive at the airport Halle/Leipzig.)
Quick Dresden Castle Overview:
Day 1: Moritzburg Castle – Pheasant Castle – Eckberg Castle
Day 2: Zwinger – Albrechtsburg – Pillnitz Castle
Day 3: Fortress Königstein
Dresden Castles Day 1:
Moritzburg: A German Cinderella Castle
We Germans love Christmas and as much as we love our Christmas markets (and Dresden has amazing Christmas markets too), we love the movie Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel (“Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella”), a Czech version of Cinderella.
It’s a yearly ritual to rewatch it at least once and it’s on on national television almost every day. The movie’s fairy tale castle is German and you can visit it. It’s called Moritzburg Castle (Schloss Moritzburg).
It’s now a museum and has a very unique attraction: a room covered entirely in feathers, from wallpapers to the bed. (Not fun for travelling people with allergies, I tell ya.)
As would become the theme of my Dresden castle tour, the castle had been commisioned by the gloriously eccentric, master playboy and hedonist August II the Strong.
August II the Strong
He was a highly unusual man and insanely rich. Plus, he most certainly liked to show it. I mean, he could afford it, being elector of Saxony and later King of Poland-Lithuania.
Basically, he bought himself the crown after he completed his travels throughout Europe to teach himself architecture.
To pass the time between king duties, he had a harem of eleven official mistresses and dozens of unofficial lovers by his side. Nobody knows for sure how much offspring he produced.
But he not only had Castle Moritzburg built according to his designs, he designed it himself. He was multipassioned and very much accomplished indeed.
The castle is based on symmetry and sits snug in a lake that was created for this purpose. As a counterpart at the end of the grounds, he also had a smaller guest mansion/hunting castle called Fasanenschlösschen (“Pheasnant Castle”) erected.
Here, he liked to re-enact sea battles just for fun. (With actual ships) He even built a light house for that matter. It’s all about the immersive experience with that one.
The grounds are free to visit, to get inside the buildings however, you have to pay the museum entrance. The feather room is included.
The Feather Room
Speaking of the feather room, let’s get into more detail here. Even the linings and beddings were entirely made out of feathers. Imagine sewing all that!
Other parts of the rooms were also matching the hunting trophy theme as was expected of a German pleasure castle back then. High walls were covered in antlers, some of which were naturally disfigured ones.
August had a particular liking to unusual shapes, so that he purposefully shot at growing stags’ antlers just so the antlers would grow out crooked before he would eventually kill them a while later.
A German lingo lesson
Here’s a little essential terminology when it comes to castles in Germany. We have different words for castle.
If you see the word Festung, we mean a fortress, which is commonly dated back to medieval times and therefore purpose built for fortification and defence rather than living quarters.
On the other hand, a Burg is also a medieval construction but used for for living and defense likewise.
Next, a Schloss describes a palace created for amusement and showing off. People did occasionally live in it, but often travelled from one to the next on yearly trips.
A Schlösschen is a smaller castle and usually just a temporary getaway, often for hunting parties.
Sometimes you can see a place that has the word ‘Burg’ in its name. However, it might actually be a castle. This way, you get Schloss Moritzburg.
Originally, it used to be a Burg but over time was constantly rebuilt until it finally became a baroque inhabitable monument worthy of the term Schloss.
Eckberg: Castle Dining with a View
To conclude the day, I recommend checking out Eckberg Castle, which sits on top of the vinyards surrounding Dresden. (I actually started my day here as I stayed on the castle grounds. Yes, you can totally book yourself into a castle.)
Despite all of my many travels, I had never sat in a breakfast parlour from a room in which a duke had lived. Here I was overlooking a neo gothic terrace and private wine slopes of a city that dated back to 1206 (at least it was mentioned for the first time in that year).
Life felt pretty spectacular and I was all ready and set to go out and explore more castles around Dresden.
Dresden Castle Day 2
Zwinger: Open Air Castle
Just a quick ride later I visited my first castle in Dresden, the Zwinger. It’s not a typical castle, more a giant outdoor dance hall within beautifully designed confines.
Sadly, it was destroyed in WWII, but like so much of the city, its citizens had taken great pains to preserve its remains and get them back to old glories. They quite succeeded.
As was originally intended, the Zwinger remains free to visit so the populace could admire the glory and architectural prowess of August. (August liked to throw public parties here as well to show off fashion too.)
If you ever happen to stand within the Zwinger walls, imagine them to be pure white and the coats of arms radiant with gold. Now add 2,000 evergreen orange trees, which was half the total amount in all of Saxony, to the small pillars.
Keep in mind that one orange tree back then had to be imported from Italy and the price for a mere 1.10 m tree was 100-400€.
If you do all that, you get a pretty good idea of how the Dresden castle looked like back in its day. It was quite a sight indeed!
There are tons more grand historic buildings to explore and sights to see in Dresden. But I had a tight schedule with a few more castles near Dresden, so that was for another time. My next leg was in the nearby town of Meissen.
Meißen: Porcelain Production Castle
One thing August II had a problem procuring, however, was the ‘white gold’. He wanted, he absolutely needed porcelain. Getting it all the way to Germany from Japan and China proved even too much for his extensive budget.
So he enlisted clever men to devise him a unique copycat formula, which was entirely different from the original but yielded success. (and proved to be a local hit as well.)
Since he had plenty of castles at his disposal, he used the Albrechtsburg in Meissen as his top secret factory. It really was a well guarded secret for ten years.
That is, until one artist decided to betray him and them come begging on his knees, introducing a newly invented porcelain painter. Thanks to this, painted porcelain became a thing and put Meissner Porzellan on the map worldwide.
You can still buy it nowadays with the addition of ots of merch with the alltime classic patterns and colours. You can buy fabrics with the patterns of the castle, in case you’re looking for a unique travel souvenir.
Pillnitz: Garden and River Views
But those weren’t all the castles I visited. Mind you, there are fifty castles around Dresden, spanning over a area of 18.4 km2.
To get around quicker and more comfortably, I boarded a river cruise and sailed past my castle hotel and two more adjacent castles. My destination was Castle Pillnitz.
August II himself chose the waterway to get to it. But instead of a river cruise, he opted for real Venetian gondolas. What awaited him at Pilnitz Castle were his exotic gardens and yet another one of his parties.
Even today, the grounds are grand, the houses vivid with colour and drawings of how people thought the Chinese looked like (not too flattering, unfortunately).
Plus, it has one curiosity: the oldest living European magnolia with a ripe age of about 244 years can be viewed her, alive and kicking (metaphorically).
The tree has its own portable home so it can be protected from frost and icy winds during the colder months. The big glass cage is set on wheels and actually moves up and over the tree for shelter. I think that is hilariously endearing.
Dresden Castle Day 3
Bastei: A Natural Stone Wall
As the crowning glory of the castle trip around Saxony, we headed to Saxon Switzerland, which is about an hour drive or cruise away.
The mountain peaks have been abused by the weather so much that they form proper pillars rising out from dense forests, making for fantastic photo opps. And crazy hikes. If you’re into that.
I prefer more moderate hikes like through the Saxon Vogtland region or the well laid out paths to the most famous viewing points in Saxon Switzerland.
You might recognise them from the paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, who was a renowned Romantic painter. (Check out “Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer”/Wanderer above Sea of Fog.)
Definitely walk the bridge, which was made to look like a ruin. Because that was all the rage during the Romantics time in Germany.
Although it is man-made, it undoubtedly enhances the whole scene besides making it more accessible. Only kings can think of such an outlandish thing, to put a bridge in the middle of nowhere connecting stones and air.
Königstein: A Natural Fortress
From here, you drive back down to the river and over it towards the Königstein. This fortress was entirely built for defence purposes and to house the current royal family in case of a possible attack (which happened eight times).
As soon as enemies crossed the borders, the castle was put on high alert and cannons were pulled out to line the extremely thick walls. They needn’t have worried because the whole thing was so rock solid (literally) and impenetrable that no one ever dared attacking it.
Even so, the castle was practically self-sufficient with its own livestock, vegetable and fruit gardens, working people, fire brigade and all. And it was quite advanced in its day. It offered a school education for all the kids, even the girls.
Here’s a fun fact: The castle was mainly used for gluttonous balls. If you failed to enjoy yourself properly, you were no longer invited.
To prevent that from happening, you had to gain about 5kg per night during the feast and show it during the previous and afterwards weighing process. Imagine that happening today!
I “only” saw 8 castles around Dresden in 3 days, but I really wanted to dive deep and learn quite a bit about the castles. (More than can be thoroughly discussed in a blog post.)
In total, there are 50 castles around Saxon, not just Dresden. That’s quite a lot and you can totally fill a trip just visiting castles alone. Now my question is: would you like to do that? (I can totally understand why. Castles are fascinating!)
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