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This is the second post in a three-part series about my recent trip to Europe to see a few Christmas markets. Today, I’m going to tell you about Dresden, Germany. I’ll be honest, I never really had a desire to go to Dresden. In college, I read some book about Dresden during the Industrial Age and it sounded really blah. Then, a few years ago, I started seeing more and more photos from Dresden. I did a little research on the history and looked at photos, and knew I wanted to go there. Some additional research into their Christmas markets meant this was an ideal stop for our Christmas Market adventure.
We began our trip from Wroclaw, Poland. Initially, we’d planned to take the train, but it required two train changes and we decided with our large bags (yes, we packed big bags so we could bring stuff back with us.), to just use Daytrip. Now for anyone that isn’t familiar with Daytrip, I’d recommend giving it a look. It’s like a long-distance Uber. I read a lot of online reviews about the service, and it has mostly good reviews (so long as you don’t get the extra stop options because these are drivers not tour guides.) Our driver showed up right as scheduled and had a nice car with a very large sunroof. He was pleasant and a good driver, and it made the 3 hour journey a good one. It rained off and on along the way so the drive was not all that exciting, but I did enjoy seeing random churches dotting the Polish countryside.
We arrived in Dresden around 11 a.m. We dropped our bags off at the hotel and then went to explore. It was a bit colder than we were anticipating so it made the walk along Bruhl’s Terrace (overlooking the river and all the beautiful buildings) a bit chilly. We walked through one of the Christmas markets in the old part of town. I was so excited seeing all the little wooden creations and looking at the gingerbread and big pretzels. We decided to go have lunch at the Augustiner restaurant right near the Frauenkirche. We were seated upon arrival, and I was excited to order a radler (mix of beer and lemonade.) Yes, it sounds weird, but I’ve only ever been able to get good ones in Germany and Austria so was very excited about this. I was also excited about my spaetzel. Both were delicious. Chris’ pot roast, not so much, and he left disappointed sadly.
From there, we decided to explore town and walk around and look at all the old buildings. We saw the exterior of the Royal Palace, the Procession of Princes mural, the Opera House, and of course we went into the Frauenkirche. It was packed. So many people, so many people carrying on loud conversations. They apparently forgot that this is a place of worship. Similar experiences happened at the Dresden Cathedral and the Holy Cross Church.
We stumbled upon the Medieval Christmas Market. So Dresden has apparently eight Christmas Markets. We made it to five of them. The Medieval Market, what can I say about this? Why? Why is it there? I don’t understand the point. You have people dressed up in medieval garb making things. OK, but are these items you really want to buy for loved ones? Honestly, it just seemed like a good place to grab some mulled wine (or 10).
Then, we went over to the Dresden Striezelmarkt. There was a Ferris wheel and the most beautiful decorations throughout. Each booth had some sort of décor on the top. The place was huge! I can tell you we went to this market many times and sometimes you’d try to find a specific booth again and couldn’t! It has all sorts of things – from all the wooden handicrafts to delicious treats like these chocolate nougat things, langos, German donuts, and mulled wine galore. We would later come back both evenings to enjoy this place, and it’s where we did the majority of our shopping (and eating).
After getting checked into the hotel (more on that later), we headed back out to the Christmas markets, first stopping at the one in Old Town for a big pretzel and some mulled wine. They had so many different flavors, but the one thing I will say about the bartenders is that their math skills were pretty non-existent. A few times I would order and of course you pay the deposit on your mugs (and can keep them if you want or return them for the deposit). A few times they tried to overcharge me on the wine, but then when I questioned it, they undercharged me. The wine was supposed to be 4 euros each, but for some reason, they would try to charge me 9 total, but then it ended up 7.50? I still don’t get it.
In between the Old Town Market and the Striezelmarkt, was another market that had some handicrafts, but was mainly focused on food. I had a delicious serving of langos (the Hungarian bread). This came with sour cream and cheese. A weird combination but oddly tasty.
The next day, we visited a bakery by our hotel before setting off to walk around the Zwinger Palace. The exterior of this place was incredible. I love the architecture. Granted, it’s all been rebuilt since it was completely destroyed in World War II, but it is still interesting to see.
Then, it was off to the Royal Palace. Everyone says to see this and that the Green Vault is incredible. OK, it was pretty cool. (Do get the audio guide because there are no descriptions in the vault. You’ll be left guessing what everything is.) But I’ll be honest, I’ve seen better treasures elsewhere. The rest of the Palace had a lot of unique artifacts and treasures, but I guess I was hoping to see more about what their rooms looked like back then rather than some antique suit of armor.
From there, we checked out the Romantic Christmas Market located on the castle grounds. This was interesting, though not a lot of stuff for sale, mostly food and wine. We popped into an Italian restaurant to grab some lunch before journeying around the area some more. I enjoyed the mural on some building near the Striezelmarkt that was devoted to the Soviet times.
We then opted to do a tour of the Semper Opera House. English language tours are available at 3 p.m. each day. There were about 10 of us on the tour and the guide was very knowledgeable. I learned that this was actually the fourth opera house and much of it was an “illusion.” In other words, plaster instead of wood, etc. It was cool to see inside the Opera House as they were getting ready to put on a show. I’ve always regretted not seeing the Opera Houses in Vienna and Budapest, and while I’m sure this is not as beautiful in comparison, I still enjoyed it. They also have a unique five-minute clock. Who knew there were such things?!
Soon it was time to go back to the Striezelmarkt to finish our German Christmas shopping. I had some German donuts for dinner (the langos line was too long) and Chris had a ½ meter sausage. I can’t get over how big that thing was! While some of the items at the market were a bit pricey, given that Germany is a bit pricey, I found the quality to be good and the selection to be good as well. Hint – look around at a lot of booths because they all do carry pretty much the same things, but the price can differ drastically between booths. I was happy to also see that the majority of the items were made in Germany or in Europe.
Christmas Market – We went to five of the eight. Two were really good. The rest were kind of meh. I think it is all after the experience you want to go. Are you looking to drink wine in a big square surrounded by twinkling lights and the bells of the Frauenkirche? Then one of the two near there are your thing. The big Striezelmarkt has much to offer and you can’t go wrong visiting that. Apparently, it’s the oldest in Europe. The day after we were there, they were having a big festival devoted to Stollen (the cake). I was OK with missing this because as much as I love festivals, I’m not in love with stollen.
Dresden Itself – Well, Dresden has beautiful architecture. Granted all of these buildings are relatively new because they were destroyed and rebuilt. Read more about Dresden’s history here I thought there was enough to do to occupy a day or two. I don’t know that you’d need a lot more than that. I am 100 percent glad I went, but I don’t think I’d go back.
Where to stay – I wanted to stay in the Hilton but they were booked up the minute I started looking. After much debate, I selected the Innside by Melia. OK, so the location of this hotel was excellent. Within a few minutes walk, you are wherever you need to be. The hotel lobby is stylish – it’s that modern décor. The bar on the top floor also looked nice, though we didn’t have time to stay for a drink. The room was a large size and clean, and they have a few mini bar of soda, juice and water which is refreshed daily. This is a nice touch. The bathroom was also a good size and a good layout. A few issues – first the Wi-Fi is terrible. It’s slow and you can’t really go anywhere quickly. Second, the beds are kind of hard, but worst yet, the pillows are non-existent. I had to fold my pillow into a cube (Yes folded it into a cube) and it still provided no support. I feel like you need about 16 pillows there to make one actual pillow. A nice touch though was on the morning of St. Nicholas Day, they left little chocolate Santas outside everyone’s rooms.
Where to eat – We ate mainly at the markets other than a lunch at the Augustiner and an Italian restaurant called Enotria Da Miri and a little bakery. Dresden seems to have a variety of restaurant options and cuisines available, so just seek out what suits you.
How to get there – We arrived via the Daytrip driver, but they do have good connections at the train station. (We took a train from Prague when we left.) I think their airport is pretty small, so it is better to come in via train from elsewhere.
Coming up next time, my thoughts on Prague. Will it outshine my favorite city of Budapest? Stay tuned.