The Saxon Elbland is a region in the central part of Saxony. The region stretches along the Elbe river that forms diverse landscapes, ranging from rocks in Saxon Switzerland to meadows on highlands of Großenhainer and Lommatzscher Pflege. Saxon Elbland also comprises the Elbe valley and the city of Dresden, the main tourist destinations in Saxony.
- 1 Dresden – Saxony's state capital, its Baroque old town is a must-see
- 2 Freital
- 3 Meißen – medieval cathedral and residence of the Saxon dukes, famous for its porcelain
- 4 Moritzburg – site of a fairytale-like château surrounded by ponds and forests
- 5 Radebeul – wine village turned well-off suburb of Dresden, home town of adventure novelist Karl May
- 6 Riesa – medium-sized industrial town, known for its sports traditions as well as for pasta. Grew as the Elbe-crossing along the Leipzig-Dresden railroad line and still sees ICE service
Saxon Elbland contains the Elbe Valley (also known as the Dresden basin), which is in the central part of Saxony, in the foothills of the Erzgebirge and Lausitzer Gebirge mountain ranges. The valley here is several kilometers wide with flat riverbanks and steep surrounding hills. The typical elevation at the river is about 115 m above sea level, while the hills climb up to 250–300 m. On top of the hills are panoramic views of Dresden and surrounding towns; in clear weather, it is even possible to see the mountain peaks of Saxon Switzerland. These specific relief features bring a mild climate and facilitates intensive agriculture, including numerous vineyards (Saxony wine road) on the northern side of the valley.
Most of the tourist destinations are located on the banks of the Elbe river. Pirna is on the left bank close to the border of Saxon Switzerland. Down the river is Dresden and its suburb Pillnitz (right bank). Further downstream are Radebeul and Coswig, again on the right bank. Meißen and Weinböhla stand at the end of the valley, where the Elbe comes onto more flat land. Freital is a short detour on one of Elbe's tributaries.
The region is arguably the heartland of today's Saxony whose historical nucleus was the Margraviate of Meißen established in the mid-10th century after the area was conquered from the Slavs and colonised by Christian, German-speaking settlers. After the Margraves of Meißen inherited the title of Dukes and Prince-Electors of Saxony in the 15th-century, the erstwhile frontier area became one of the richest and most powerful feudal states in the Holy Roman Empire. The territory's seat of power shifted from Meißen to Dresden around 1500.
Thanks to thriving trade and exploitation of the silver mines in the nearby Saxon Ore Mountains, it experienced its golden age in the late 17th and beginning 18th century under Augustus the Strong. He bribed his way to be "elected" as King of Poland but continued to reside in Dresden rather than moving to Warsaw. During his rule opulent Baroque palaces and other magnificent buildings were erected in Dresden and its surroundings for the king, his many children (allegedly more than 300), his spouse and several mistresses (think of the Countess of Cosel, who was not only the ruler's lover but also a shrewd and powerful politician). In 1708, Meißen was the first place in Europe to bake porcelain. Meissen porcelain, marked with a pair of crossing swords, still is a brand of international renown.
- Saxon Elbland Tourism association (Tourismusverband Sächsisches Elbland), Fabrikstraße 16, 01662 Meißen, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Mo–Fr, 08.00–18.00. Information on sights, events, and accommodation; links to city information web sites.
You will hear a lot of Saxon dialect in this area, which while less strong than in the Ore Mountains can take some getting used to. Unlike in West Germany, English proficiency is rather low, but the Technical University of Dresden does attract a lot of international students and researchers, so you might have more luck with younger people. The region has historically been close in more ways than just geography to the Czech Republic and cross-border tourism and migration means that many businesses will be able to carter to Czech-speakers. The regional word for "yes" ("nu") even arguably has Czech or Slavic routes (modern Czech for "yes" is "ano"). Russian is also widely spoken as it was taught during GDR times and wealthy Russians have long chosen Dresden and Meißen for their shopping trips in Germany - so much so that economic woes in Russia are acutely felt by some high-priced retailers in the region.
Dresden is the regional transport hub. If you are travelling from outside Saxony, it is advisable to come to Dresden first and to continue using local trains or buses. ICE trains from Frankfurt will also stop at Riesa (the region of Großenhainer and Lommatzscher Pflege), while EC trains from Prague stop at Bad Schandau (the region of Saxon Switzerland).
By public transport
In most parts of the Saxon Elbland, public transport is operated by companies which are members of VVO (Verkehrsverbund Oberelbe – Upper Elbe transport system) . Their website (in German and English) provides complete and up-to-date information on routes, timetables, and fares. It also has an online route planner is also available (use the "Advanced search" option; the basic search menu requires you to specify the names of bus/train stops, which may be difficult to find out). Public transport in the region includes trains, buses, trams (in Dresden and surroundings), and Elbe ferries.
The VVO network is rather concentrated around Dresden. It is usually possible to reach any destination in the Saxon Elbland from Dresden within 1½–2 hours. The nearest destinations around Dresden are frequently served during the day and also 2–3 times during the night. In other parts of the region, travel at night is impossible. Most bus routes provide very limited service during weekends and public holidays: two-hour intervals on less popular routes and 2–3 buses per day or even no weekend service for local routes. Some services only run on evenings or weekends if they have been requested in advance by phone. (Anruf services.) Note remarks in the timetables (typically in German only). Trains have more stable and convenient schedule, which is basically the same for weekdays and weekends.
The fare system is based on zones. Each zone includes 1–2 towns and neighboring villages. The zones overlap, which means that you do not pay for a particular zone if your trip just "touches" it. Overlaps are marked by small arcs on bus/train lines on route maps. Ticket machines have complete destination lists and calculate prices automatically, so you usually don't have to worry about counting zones.
The following tickets are available:
- Single-ride tickets: 1 zone (€2.30, valid for 1 hour), 2 zones (€4.10, 1½ hours), 3 zones (€6.20, 2 hours), whole VVO region (€8.20, 4 hours). You can also buy a 4 single-ride ticket for €5.50 and validate one or more single rides depending on the number of zones used.
- Day ticket (valid till 04:00 of the next day): 1 zone (€6.00), 2 zones (€8.50), whole VVO region (€13.50).
- Family ticket (valid till 04:00 of the next day, covers up to 6 people with max. 2 adults): 1 zone (€9.00), 2 zones (€13.00), whole VVO region (€19.00).
- Small group ticket (valid till 04:00 of the next day, covers up to 5 people): €28.00 for the whole VVO region.
- Night ticket (valid between 18:00 and 06:00 of the next day): €7.00 for the whole VVO region. A useful option for late travel.
- Weekly ticket: 1 zone outside Dresden (€17), Dresden zone (€21), 2 zones (€31), 1 zone and all the surrounding zones (€46.50), whole VVO region (€61.50).
- Reduced fares for children (6–14 years) and senior citizens are available.
- You can also purchase combined day tickets (Tageskarte Elbe-Labe) valid for the VVO region and for the border region in the Czech Republic (Ústí nad Labem district): €14 for one person or €27.50 for the group of up to 5 people.
- All the imaginable combinations of the above-listed tickets can be used. For example, if you have a day ticket for one zone, you can travel to any neighbouring zone with this day ticket + a single-ride ticket for one zone.
- Ferries are more complicated. Some ferries have their own fare system and do not accept VVO tickets. Others are part of the VVO system and grant discounts if you already have a VVO ticket. (For example: €0.60 for a single ride on passenger ferries).
All the tickets have to be validated in stamping machines which are at stations and on board buses, trams, and ferries. Unstamped tickets are not valid. Boarding a train, bus, tram or ferry without a valid ticket can lead to a fine. On major lines, ticket inspectors ride nearly every train. Outside Dresden, bus drivers usually ask passengers to present the ticket upon entering the bus.
Tickets can be purchased in ticket machines at train stations (usually DB ticket machines) and at main train/bus stops. On minor railway lines, ticket machines can be on trains, but this never happens on major lines. Bus drivers and ferry operators also sell a variety of tickets. Ticket machines are easy to operate and have detailed instructions both in German and English. Route maps at train stations and bus stops usually include fare information with a complete English translation.
Special public transport (narrow-gauge railways, funicular and cable railways in Dresden, certain Elbe ferries) are not part of the VVO fare system and require additional tickets.
The main transport in the Elbe Valley is the S-bahn system of Dresden. It has three routes:
- S1: Meißen – Coswig – Radebeul – Dresden Neustadt – Dresden Hbf – Heidenau – Pirna – onwards to Saxon Switzerland (Rathen, Bad Schandau, Schöna). This route goes along the river through the whole valley
- S2: Dresden airport – Dresden Neustadt – Dresden Hbf; on weekdays, onwards to Heidenau and Pirna.
- S3: Dresden Hbf – Freital; onwards to Tharandt.
The trains run every half an hour between 04:30 and 00:00.
Buses are scarcely used by travellers due to infrequent service, especially on weekends. The main advantage of buses/trams is the night service on the following routes:
- Tram 4: Dresden Postplatz – Radebeul – Coswig – Weinböhla (every half an hour during the day and every hour during the night)
- Bus 411: Coswig – Meißen (during the night only; the schedule is connected to Tram 4)
- Bus A: Dresden Löbtau – Freital (runs frequently during the day, a good alternative to S3)
- Bus H/S: Dresden Pirnaischen Platz – Heidenau – Pirna (during the night only)
The region has extensive road network. However, motorways are found near Dresden only. In other parts of Saxon Elbland, traffic is usually low.
While the Elbe river is a natural connection within the region, travelling by boat is rather uncommon. Regular tourist service using paddle-steamers is run between Seußlitz and Bad Schandau. The trips are slow, and the prices are high (see Elbe valley:By boat for details). Outside the Elbe valley and Saxon Switzerland regions, the river transport is restricted to occasional tourist trips.
Travelling by boat along the Elbe river is one of the main tourist activities in the region. The service is operated by a special company Sächsiche Dampfschiffahrt (Saxon steam shipping) that runs regular connections from Dresden up and down the river. The fleet includes eight historical paddle-steamers from late 19th century and several motor ships. The routes cover the whole Elbe Valley and even extend to Bad Schandau in Saxon Switzerland or Seußlitz in Großenhainer and Lommatzscher Pflege. However, the long-distance services are infrequent. Most of the ships depart from Dresden Terrasenufer (Dresden Terrace, near Augustusbrücke), every hour or even more often. Some of the ships do simple round journeys without intermediate stops, while others go either up or down the river on longer routes.
The active navigation period is from April to September. During winter time, the services are infrequent and restricted to Dresden area. Paddle-steamers and the focus on tourists make the Elbe boats a very slow and expensive way of travel. For instance, the trip from Dresden to Meißen takes at least 2 hours and costs €12 (compare to 40 minutes and €5.30 for the train, although the impressions are, of course, quite different). The fare system is pretty flexible: return tickets are a very good saver, day and family tickets are also available.
Elbe ferries are a more regular river service. Despite the large number of bridges, there are 7 ferries within the Elbe Valley. Those relevant for the travellers are in Dresden.
Except for the mountainous region of Saxon Switzerland, biking is simple and convenient. Elbe Radweg (Elbe bike path) runs along the Elbe river (on one or both banks) through all the parts of Saxon Elbland. This bike path is well-marked, paved, and avoids same-level crossings with other roads. It is a kind of "bike highway" in Saxony.
Most tourists will come to the Elbe valley to see the historical center of Dresden, the valley and the medieval town of Meißen with its world-known porcelain manufacture. While these attractions undoubtedly constitute the must-see list for the first-time visitor, there are more places to see:
- Dresden architecture is diverse and not restricted to the historical center.
- Medieval historical centre of Pirna is somewhat less-known (yet no less interesting) compared to Meißen.
- The Japanese-style chateau in Pillnitz is very special compared to Saxony's typical baroque palaces.
- Moritzburg Castle, Baroque palace on an artificial island amidst a lake, known as the fairytale castle of the East German/Czechoslovak Cinderella film
- Numerous castles, châteaux, manors and gardens, including the Renaissance water castle of Schönfeld (11 km north of Radeburg), Zabeltitz Baroque palace and garden (9 km north of Großenhain), Seußlitz Baroque palace and garden, Großsedlitz Baroque garden (near Heidenau), Hirschstein castle on a rock overlooking the Elbe river
- Elbe Radweg (Elbe cycle trail): Continued from Saxon Switzerland (Pirna) – Pillnitz Palace – Dresden – Radebeul – Coswig – Meißen – Elbe wine villages Diera-Zehren, Diesbar-Seußlitz and Nünchritz – Riesa – continuing to Torgau and Wittenberg
- Visit numerous museums in Dresden, including the famous Dresden art gallery, the historical Green Vault and the German Hygiene museum.
- See a performance at Semperoper (Royal Opera House) in Dresden. This opera house is one of the world-known theater halls and the architectural landmark of the city.
- Narrow-gauge railways in Freital and Radebeul are still operated by steam locomotives with authentic old cars. These railways are among the most easily accessible narrow-gauge railways in Germany.
Saxon food specialties are widely available throughout the Elbe Valley. Additionally, there is a variety of local pastries, which originate from Dresden baking traditions and are now sold throughout the region. The most known specialties are Dresdner Christstollen (Dresden Christmas Cake), Dominostein (small sweets with pastry, jelly, and marzipan, covered with thin layer of dark chocolate), and Dresdner Eierscheke (a cake with a layer of egg and 'quark'). The meat specialty of the region is Dresdner Sauerbraten (roasted marinated beef). Meißen is also known for Meißner Fummel (a light bread roll, hollow on the inside) and for the local pork. Further information can be found in the Eat sections for the cities in question.
The Elbe Valley is one of thirteen Quality wine regions in Germany (this region is usually referred as Sachsen). Therefore, wine is definitely the drink of choice here. Despite its very northern location (among the northernmost wine regions in the world), Elbe valley produces excellent white wine. The most common varieties of the grape are Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, and Weißburgunder. Red grape constitutes about 10% of the total production, and the red wine is rather uncommon for the region.
The wine region spreads along the right bank of the Elbe river from Pirna to Pillnitz, interrupts in the city of Dresden, and starts again from Radebeul to Weinböhla, Meißen, and further to Seußlitz. The connections between these towns are known as Sächsische Weinstraße (Saxon Wine Road) and Sächsischer Weinwanderweg (Saxon Wine Path). The road runs at the base of the hills through the vineyards, while the path meanders up and down the hills, offering a perfect hiking trail with panoramic views of the valley. Of course, the path and the road pass by numerous cafes, restaurants, and guest houses, where local wine can be tasted. One also finds information tables that describe sorts of grape and the wine production. Note however that the road and the path are not very well marked. At some points, one has to find the way using the map.
Events in the Saxon wine region:
- Tage des offenen Weingutes (open access to wine cellars) – last weekend of August
- Herbst- und Weinfest (Autumn wine festival) – September, Radebeul
- Sächsische Winzerfest (Saxon wine festival) – July, Dresden
The best way to try and to buy local wine is to visit one of the so-called vinotheks('wine merchants'), which are found throughout the region:
- Dresden: Sächsische Vinothek an der Frauenkirche, An der Frauenkirche 13; Salzgasse 2, Dresden, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Wine shop and excursions to vineyards. Tasting is possible in the nearby bar Wettiner Weinlädchen (Terrassengasse 1; open W–M 14.00–20.00; in winter, opening hours may be different). M–Sa 11.00–19.00; Su 12.00–19.00.
- Meißen: [dead link] Haus des Sächsischen Weines, Am Markt 5, Meißen, ☏ . Daily 10.00–18.00. Wine tasting and sale.
- Meißen: Weinhaus Schuh, Zaschendorfer Str. 2, Sörnewitz (between Meißen and Coswig), ☏ , email@example.com. M–F 10.00–18.00; Sa 10.00–17.00; Su 11.00–16.00. A private winehouse of the Schuh family. Wine tasting, sale, excursion to the vineyard, cafe, and a small hotel (guest house).
- Radebeul: Schloss Wackerbarth, Wackerbarthstraße 1, Radebeul, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. 09.30–20.00. Excursions to vineyards and cellars, wine tasting, sale. The on-site restaurant (M–F 12.00–22.00; Sa Su, 10.00–22.00) offers a variety of local wine.
- Radebeul: Vinothek Hoflößnitz, Knohllweg 37, Radebeul, ☏ , email@example.com. Tu–F 10.00–13.00 and 14.00–18.00; Sa Su 10.00–18.00. Wine museum, excursions to vineyards, tasting and sale.
Prices range from €5 to €25 for a bottle of 2-3 years aged wine. Exclusive wines are aged for 7-10 years and cost up to €100. Local wine is also available in regular supermarkets, but the choice is usually limited.
Apart from the regular wine, the region produces champagne and spirits (strong fruit liqueurs). Both are usually available in wine shops. The liqueurs are sold in fancy souvenir bottles and are quite expensive.
In addition to extensive wine production, the Elbe valley also has a long tradition of brewing beer. Breweries are located in Dresden and in Meißen. The best known Dresden brands are Feldschlößchen, Dresden Felsenkeller, Coschützer Pils, and Schwarzer Steiger. Meißen produces Meissner Schwerter. Dresden and Radebeul also have small breweries attached to restaurants, where you can try local beer. Dresden's Neustadt also has Viervogelpils and the Neustädter Hausbrauerei, which is available in most local bars. While many of the former have been bought up by major conglomerates, the latter two are still independent.
- Elbe Valley is generally a very safe region. During the night-time, care should be taken in the Neustadt district of Dresden because of the active night life. Other parts of the region require basic safety measures only.
- While the region has a long tradition of welcoming international guests, in the mid-2010s it became a main field of far-right activities. Hostilities against people looking "foreign" or somehow "different" are sadly more than just singular incidents, but xenopohobes are still a minority and non-whites or adherents of alternative subcultures do not have to feel unsafe in general.
- Floods are possible, especially during the spring. Although these floods cause no threat to travellers, the regular life of the region may be disturbed. The roads along the Elbe banks (including the bike path) may be covered with water and inaccessible. Normally, public transport and tourist attractions are not affected. However, more serious and disastrous floods are also possible (the last event took place in 2002). One finds the levels of high water (Hochwasser) on the buildings in Dresden and other cities of the region.
- Saxon Switzerland, upstream the River Elbe, low mountain range with bizarre sandstone rock formations and picturesque river valleys, popular for hiking, climbing (from beginner to extremely difficult levels), camping under the open sky; Rathen open-air theatre with mountainview; biggest town and gateway to the region is Pirna (20 km southeast of Dresden; 20 minutes by train)