Dresden: The Jewel Box of Europe

I’ve already sung Dresden’s praises but, as it turns out, have shared very little of what I actually did while in one of my new favorite cities in Europe. Let’s remedy that.

My day – besides arrival and departure at the train station – centered around the heart of Dresden’s old city, a pedestrian-friendly area crammed with historical treasures and baroque architecture. One highlight was the sprawling Zwinger Palace, originally built in the early 18th-century and today home to a collection of impressive museums.

While you can find all types of artwork, from porcelain to ceramics, at the Zwinger, I knew I could never see it all in one morning and decided instead to pick one exhibit to focus on. I chose the Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, or Old Masters Picture Gallery. Even just sticking with this one “small” section of the Zwinger, there was still a vast collection of artwork to see, my personal favorites being Vermeer’s Procuress and Rembrandt’s Rembrandt & Saskia.

Equally as intriguing were the Zwinger’s exterior areas. The building’s front facade is home to towering sculptures and a piazza perfect for admiring the surrounding baroque buildings (not to mention enjoying a bit of mid-morning gelato).

The Zwinger’s inner courtyard was even more beautiful, with its peaceful fountains and well-manicured gardens.

But my favorite thing by far about the Zwinger Palace was its ramparts. From the palace’s main courtyard, a climb up a few flights of stairs landed me in a sea of sculptures and provided some pretty sweet views of the Zwinger itself and of the surrounding city. I cannot recommend this enough as a way to while away a sunny Dresden morning.

Dresden is known as “The Jewel Box” or “The Jewel of the Elbe” (the Elbe being the river that flows through the city), and it’s not hard to see why. Not only is the Zwinger home to spectacular treasures, but the nearby Grünes Gewölbe, or Green Vault, takes the term “treasure” to another level entirely. Housed in Dresden’s Royal Palace, the Green Vault is home to over 3000 jewels, gems, and precious objects. Though the museum releases a small amount of tickets each morning, I would recommend reserving a ticket and time slot online well in advance of your visit, as this isn’t something you want to risk missing.

Pictures are strictly forbidden once inside, and while I was bummed about this at first, I think it was all for the best – not only in terms of preserving the treasures housed here, but also in terms of allowing me to focus and soak it all in rather than being obsessed with capturing the perfect shot.

How to describe the treasures of the Green Vault? In my journal, I wrote “Incredible!!!!” (yes, with exactly four exclamation points), but that doesn’t even scratch the surface. In the Green Vault, I found room after room of treasures, organized roughly by type – think a room of ivory, a room of bronze, a room of silver, and so forth. There were vast displays of gemstones, and what impressed me most was their sheer volume; for example, I wouldn’t just spy one gigantic emerald ring, I’d find thirty! There were also collections of whimsical, jewel-encrusted statues, like sea horses and ships, and mirrors everywhere, giving the illusion of a collection that stretched into infinity (which it well might). If it’s not already clear, let me be blunt: I was crazy impressed by what I saw inside the Green Vault.

Also impressive was Dresden’s Neumarkt Square, which I mentioned in my last post. What I did not mention, however, was what I found on the way to the square – the Fürstenzug, a gigantic porcelain-tiled mural depicting Saxony’s rulers. And when I say “gigantic,” I mean gigantic – the mural spans the length of Augustusstrasse, measuring 334 feet long and 34 feet high. So, in short, it’s like most everything in Dresden: splendid and grand.

I finished my day in Dresden with a relaxing meal, eating outdoors at Coselpalais, a restaurant I admit I chose for purely aesthetic reasons: it’s literally located in the shadows of magnificent Frauenkirche and is housed in a beautiful baroque building constructed in 1765. The restaurant also boasts a lovely courtyard, complete with fluffy orange blankets to keep warm when dining al fresco on a chilly day (which I was).

At Coselpalais, I sipped a grapefruit prosecco – which happened to perfectly color-coordinate with the restaurant’s decor – and indulged in classic German comfort food: schnitzel and apple strudel. It was a delicious, indulgent meal, and Coselpalais proved the perfect place to relax, people watch, and soak up ever more of Dresden’s charm.

If you’ve only got a day to spend in Dresden – which was the case with me – you will have plenty of time to see the city’s major sites. Yet, what I found was that I loved Dresden so much, I would not have minded lingering longer to stroll along the river, to poke around the historic streets, or to gawk at the amazing architecture. I’m not too concerned that I didn’t have more time to do those activities, though, because I’m almost certain I’ll be back to Dresden one day; Europe’s “Jewel Box” is most definitely a city worthy of a return trip.

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