When Paul and I decided to spend Christmas overseas last year I had one stipulation: we spend it somewhere Christmassy. We’d previously spent Christmas Day in South Korea and India, countries which barely acknowledged Christmas, so this time I wanted to go to a place which had tinsel in the street, festive songs on the radio, and mulled wine quickly to hand.
Budget and time constraints limited us to a few days in Europe so I decided a good place to start was by Googling “best Christmas markets in Europe.” As I scrolled through the search results and looked at pictures of Old Town Squares lit up in gold, a name kept cropping up. Dresden.
I didn’t know anything about Dresden, aside from that it was in former East Germany. We had visited several cities in Germany before and loved every one but we initially thought Dresden wouldn’t be an option as there were no cheap flights there from Glasgow. Then we discovered it was just a two hour bus journey to Berlin Airport (where there were cheap flights to), with buses every hour. On learning this, we looked at accommodation and quickly found a cheap hotel. Bingo. Our Christmas trip was booked.
Here’s what it was like to spend Christmas in Dresden.
Christmas in Dresden
One of the things that appealed to me about spending Christmas in Dresden was that it is not a huge city. Usually I love nothing more than submerging into the crowds of a massive metropolis and and trying to cover the multitude of things to see and do, but I wanted this Christmas trip to mainly be spent relaxing, soaking up the festive atmosphere and visiting the Christmas markets.
Dresden is roughly split into two parts; the Old Town (Altstadt) and the New Town (Neustadt) which are separated by the River Elbe. The city is very manageable and it only takes around half an hour to walk between the two. If I was to completely generalise each one in a sentence, I would say the Altstadt is the traditional, touristy part of the city and the Neustadt is the contemporary, cool part of the city. No surprises for we wanted to stay: the Neustadt.
Striezelmarkt, Dresden’s main Christmas market (the one I kept stumbling upon in my Google search) is spectacular and fully deserves its reputation as one of the best Christmas markets in Europe. It takes up the entire huge Altmarkt Square and is a sea of gold lights, fairground rides, and stalls selling Gluhwein, bratwust, gingerbread and traditional wooden toys, with a huge Christmas tree in the centre. It looks like it’s from the pages of a fairytale and fully lived up to all my German Christmas market expectations. Outside the Striezelmarkt, smaller Christmas markets are dotted all around the Altstadt; we would walk up an alley or stumble upon a square to find another market. It’s worth taking a note that the Christmas markets are not open on Christmas Day – they close on Christmas Eve.
But despite the Striezelmarkt being my first incentive for visiting Dresden, I actually ended up preferring the Christmas market in the Neustadt, the Augustusmarkt. It was much smaller but had more of a laid back, neighbourhood feel. It was still lovely, with stalls serving Gluhwein and glittering lights overhead.
One thing that surprised me about Dresden is how beautiful is it – the Altstadt is spectacularly beautiful, with opulent churches, squares, palaces and opera houses. The line I kept saying to Paul was “this is like Prague without all the tourists.” Unbelievably, much of the Altstadt has been restored after it was bombed heavily during World War 2 but you could never tell by looking at it. The buildings are pristine without looking too perfect or fake like some restored buildings can.
Dresden’s Neustadt is like a hipster neighbourhood. It had a number of cool bars, cafes, shops and restaurants all contained within the close proximity of a few streets. Many of the buildings are covered in wall art. It has an alternative, grungy vibe and is a fun area to hang out in.
Undoubtedly, our favourite Dresden experience was a bar in the Neustadt called Katy’s Garage. Before our trip when I read articles listing the best bars in Dresden, Katy’s Garage was always mentioned – it appeared to be something of a Dresden institution. However, as all of the articles made a point of waxing lyrical about the bar’s beer garden, I wondered if we were visiting at the wrong time of year to fully appreciate it. I was wrong. Katy’s Garage was making the most of its beer garden in the winter by building a bonfire in the centre of it, arranging chairs around it, and serving Gluhwein from a little stall beside it. Ending each day sitting around the bonfire with a hot mug of Gluhwein between our hands was heavenly. One of the things I loved about the Katy’s Garage experience was that the visitors were a mix of ages; I remember one couple who strolled in with their young child at around 10pm, sat by the bonfire with a drink, and strolled off. I love this about Germany; that people are trusted to drink responsibly with their children in a pleasant atmosphere.
Christmas in Germany
Christmas in Dresden was wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that we’ve planned another German Christmas this year – this time in Berlin.
How Much Our Trip To Dresden Cost
For both me and Paul:
Return flights to Berlin (Easyjet): £207
Return bus from Berlin Airport to Dresden: £45
Three nights in this hotel: £131