Dresden used to be known for two things in our house: for Granny’s best china and for being bombed out of sight during the Second World War, says Patrick McConnochie.
In fact, Dresden was a byword for the tragic destruction of a beautiful city for long enough.
But after 1989 and German re-unification, its city fathers set to work on the most rigorous of restoration projects: to make this Saxony capital on the River Elbe look as regal as it used to be, and resemble its glorious past.
And such is the end result is that a better example of German efficiency would be hard to find. The Old Town is bursting with so much Baroque architecture it feels like a “mini-me” Munich that has been sandblasted.
And the New Town has a grungy, bohemian feel about it that (East) Berlin is starting to lose as gentrification gathers pace.
For such a compact city of around half a million residents, its array of more than 40 museums, art galleries and stately homes is drop-dead impressive.
With a pristine, highly efficient public transport system (the trams are great), getting around is ridiculously simple although the city is easily explored on foot.
There are enough expansive green and woodland areas for the kids to let off steam in, and the Altmarkt Galerie mall, which wouldn’t look out of place in Dubai, makes coming home empty handed unlikely.
But this is a working city, with a palpable sense of can-do.
It is home to several illustrious research institutes and 10 universities and colleges.
This is a place that sank about as low as you can go. It is no longer forlorn and forgotten but is a forward-looking city that can now hold its (very pretty) head up high.
My favourite place- For me, it’s the Dresden Transport Museum, which can be found in a listed Renaissance building in Neumarkt (the city’s main square, in the Old Town) and offers a veritable odyssey though Germany’s aviation, maritime, rail and automotive heritage. You don’t have to be a historian to bemoan the bygone era of steam engines, and here some of Germany’s most magnificent locomotives bestride the second floor like the totems of transport they once were. Car buffs can peruse the spartan interior of that infamous East German icon of inefficiency, the Trabant, while marvelling at some top-range Mercedes of yesteryear that some hapless chauffeur had to drive Stasi top brass around in. If you’re feeling brave, give the Penny Farthing a spin.
Highlights- The sheer contrast of the Old Town and New Town can’t fail to fascinate. You needn’t be an architecture acolyte to be blown away by the magnificence of the Old Town’s Neumarkt square. Neither do you need to be a beatnik in a black polo-necked jumper to enjoy the labyrinth of streets that makes up the New Town; a haven for hipster cafes, edgy galleries and funky shops. One must-see is, of course, the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) with its stunning dome (from which you can view the city) that dominates the Old Town. The church was only consecrated in 2005 after a 15-year restoration project. Another unmissable attraction is Dresden Castle, to the west of Neumarkt. The eclecticism and opulence of the artefacts to be found in the Baroque royal palace’s Green Vault chamber will simply knock your socks off. It’s a treasure chest of 17th and 18th century jewels, paintings and objets d’art all created with a craftsmanship and artistry that the world will never see again. And the very walkable area around the castle is so replete with Renaissance architecture (restored or otherwise) it stands up to anything you can find in Italy.
Lowlights- The Old Town can be a bit quiet at the start of the week. and most of the shops are closed on Monday afternoons.
Souvenirs- Well, obviously, china. In Altmarkt Galerie, the Newstadt Market Hall and in some of the quirky shops in the New Town, you can find traditional Dresden figurines or Bohemian glassware.
Getting there- By train, Dresden is approximately three hours from Berlin and roughly three hours from Prague (in the Czech Republic), which makes it easy to reach as trains from both cities run every hour. Turkish Airlines and British Airways operate flights from Muscat to Berlin. You can also fly to Prague from Muscat, with Oman Air.
Where to stay- I’d recommend the Hotel Elbflorenz, an Italian-style four-star establishment that is a 10-minute walk or very brief tram ride from the Old Town (the stop is just around the corner). For other hotel options, check out the usual suspects: Trivago, Expedia, Kayak, Hotels.com, Booking.com and the others.
1. Ascend to the top of Frauenkirche for wonderful views of the city
2. Visit Zwinger, a magnificent 18th-century palace and open area
3. Amble along Bruhl’s Terrace on the shore of the Elbe
4. Gaze at the Procession of Princes, a 100m-long mural along city walls
5. Take a break in The Great Garden, with its zoo, heath and woodland