Saxony’s small wonders: Captivating travellers with historic town centres and sweeping landscapes

Saxony in eastern Germany captivates global travellers with its historic town centres and sweeping landscapes.
Canaletto's View in Pirna (Photo: Amrita Das)
Canaletto's View in Pirna (Photo: Amrita Das)

Dresden is Germany’s easternmost state, Saxony’s capital city, and small towns around it add to the state’s beauty and history with their uniqueness.

Travel 30 km from Dresden’s Baroque architecture to Pirna — the gateway to Saxon Switzerland’s Elbe Sandstone Mountains. The medieval town centre was popularised by 11 paintings of Bernardo Bellotto or Canaletto.

Get immersed in: Explore Canaletto’s Pirna on foot. Start at the Gothic Canaletto-haus (Tourist Service) onto the cobbled-stone streets to Gothic House, Kern’s House (facade rebuilt in 2001 from Canaletto’s painting) and Renaissance Devil’s Oriel House.

Take the Castle Steps which branch off midway to Canaletto’s Path (a part of Malerweg or Painter’s Way hiking route). Enjoy views of the town as you walk around the castle premises.

Return to town to Kirchplatz’s rich mix of Renaissance and Gothic houses.

The oldest, Tetzel’s House, is on Schmiedestrasse. End your walk at the historic market square with a glimpse of the unchanged Canaletto’s View painting from 1753. 

Eat: At Wirtshaus Marieneck or Ratsherrenstuben — both serve German food, and are located around Am Markt

Don’t miss: Pirna’s ornate sandstone inscriptions, which tell a story through its pictorial carvings.

<em>Bad Schandau (Photo: Amrita Das)</em>
Bad Schandau (Photo: Amrita Das)

Spa town Bad Schandau has the oldest spa in Saxon Switzerland. Many Germans are also seen dressed in their hiking gears or with their bikes, kayaks and skis in the hour-long train ride from Dresden, to explore the rewarding outdoors. 

Get immersed in: Plan beforehand on a comfortable day hike and take the kirnitzschtalbahn (tram) to the corresponding stop.

Alight either at Beuthenfall and hike to impressive Idagrotte, or alight at Lichtenhainer Wasserfall to hike to Kuhstall, the largest rock gate in Saxon Switzerland.

Alternatively, take a stroll around the town’s market square or immerse yourself in one of the many thermal pools here. 

Eat: At the restaurant Zur Schlossbastei on Kirchplatz

Don’t miss: Strongly recommend the moderate four-hour hike to Idagrotte, which unveils the picturesque panorama of Saxon Switzerland.

<em>Bautzen City View (Photo: Amrita Das)</em>
Bautzen City View (Photo: Amrita Das)

The view from Friedensbrücke (Peace Bridge) encapsulates the beauty of Bautzen.

However, there is much more to this city than this magnificent view. Bautzen is home to the Slavic tribe, and it first finds mention as early as the year 1002.

Since then, it has become the cultural capital of the Sorbs, the ethnic group of Slavic people. 

Get immersed in: Many towers of Bautzen unfold along the River Spree. Start exploring these with Reichenturm (Leaning Tower).

Further on Hauptmarkt, Gewandhaus is on one side and Rathaus on the other.

Continue towards the river to Lauenturm, Mönchsbastei (Monk Bastion) and Michaeliskirche.

Mühlbastei (Mill Bastion) and Burgwasserturm (Castle water-tower) are next.

Get a glimpse of Sorbian history and culture in Sorbisches Museum en route to Matthiastrum.

Conclude the walk at Nicolaiturm (St Nicholas Tower), taking the trail to Nicholai Kirchenruine (St Nicholas Church ruin) and Nikolaifriedhof.

Or walk ahead to Gerberbastei and Schülerturm (Scholar’s Tower) to return at Reichenturm

Eat: At Bautzener Brauhaus on Thomas-Mann-Strasse — a beer garden and great German food. 

Don’t miss: Sunset on the Friedensbrücke, overlooking the town’s panorama. 

<em>Stadtverwaltung Görlitz, St Peter's Church</em>
Stadtverwaltung Görlitz, St Peter's Church

The first records of Görlitz go back to 1071 when it was a part of a trading route. In 1945, the city was divided into the German Görlitz and Polish Zgorzelec. 

Owing to its vibrant mix of late Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance and Art Nouveau histories, Görlitz has been a set to many a movie like The Grand Budapest Hotel and Inglourious Basterds

Get immersed in: Walk into the historic town centre from Obermarkt (upper market) to Untermarkt (lower market) unravelling Görlitz’s medieval architecture.

Rathaus (City Hall) is unmistakably the most impressive structure, and its adjoining clock tower has two faces.

Exactly opposite is the Silesian Museum painted in an earthy rust colour, which was once the seat of Schönhof — the oldest civil Renaissance building in Germany.

Now, the museum narrates 900 years of Silesian history, including art and crafts from 17th-19th century. 

A little beyond, perched on River Neisse is the Church of St Peter and Paul. The imposing Gothic arches and solar choir grace the interiors of this 13th-century church.  

Eat: At restaurant Lucie Schulte, beyond Flüsterbogen (Whistling Arch — where whispers from one side of the channel can be heard clearly from the other end.)

Don’t miss: The Oberlausitzische Bibliothek der Wissenschaften (Upper Lusatian Library of Sciences) is one of the most beautiful and photographed libraries in the world.

<em>Umgebinde house en route to Oybin (Photo: Amrita Das)</em>
Umgebinde house en route to Oybin (Photo: Amrita Das)

Oybin, a part of Zittau Mountains, is a beautiful blend of the Romantic and Gothic periods. 

Get immersed in: Perched atop a steep cliff, the ruins of Oybin Castle and Monastery possibly date back to the 13th century.

Walk through the three castle gates and castle courtyard to the Wohnturm (Residence Tower), which is the oldest part of the medieval castle.

Explore the Kaiserhaus (emperor’s residence), Unterkirche (crypt) to walk towards the magnificent Klosterkirche (Gothic monastery church), which was consecrated in 1384.

Return to the Library Window, which has been a muse for many romantic painters including Caspar David Friedrich.

The ruins also include the former bridge, which allowed access to Mount Oybin, and Älteste Befestigung, which is the oldest fortification here. 

Eat: At Potter’s Mountain Inn on Töpferstrasse

Don’t miss: Bergkirche, the Evangelic-Lutheran ‘mountain church’ which dates back to 1708. The church surprises visitors with its painted wooden ceilings, stone-laden steps and gorgeous altar. 

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