When it comes to festive city breaks in Europe, there are a few cities that seem to hog the spotlight. But if you really want to experience the Christmas magic, Dresden and the region of Saxony is the perfect sized present you might now know you need.
Boasting eleven Christmas markets in Dresden alone, alongside a whole host of other traditions that complete Christmas, my week-long festive filming session in Saxony transported me to a true winter wonderland.
There was in fact so much festive cheer to see and do, I’ve split this article into two parts. While here I’ll focus more on the city-break side of exploring around Dresden, my second post on Christmas in Seiffen and the Ore Mountains will take you to total Christmas overload.
But first, before taking you through how to make the most of your Christmas trip to Saxony, take a little tour of what is on offer in this short video.
One of the best testaments as to why Christmas is at the heart of Saxony is the year-round production that occurs here: from festive stars to the delicious Dresdner Stollen.
The region of Upper Lusatia which is easy to reach from Dresden is home to many of these traditions, and so I’ve combined them in with this Christmas in Dresden guide. While public transport will take you to most of these places, I highly recommend a car to explore, just remember to park it for the night before sinking too many mulled wines!
Baking Dresdner Christstollen at Wipplers
Just next door to the Pillnitz Palace you’ll find the bakers at Wipplers hard at work baking the Dresdner Christstollen, especially at this time of year!
This world-famous festive treat is part of the regions culinary heritage, and for centuries a select group of pastry chefs and bakers have produced this raisin, butter and almond treat.
Only around 120 bakers are officially allowed to produce the traditional Dresdner Stollen, and here, with a museum and the chance of a tour if booked in advance, is your chance to witness the production first hand. The Wippler bakers have been hard at work for generations, and Andrew who leads the team here alongside his father took me behind the scenes into this perfectly organised operation.
It was incredible to see how fast hands moved here, and producing the levels they do at such high quality is no easy task. A single batch of Stollen has around 180-kilos, and the process takes a few days. From preparing the dough, weighing it out, baking it, buttering it, resting and then the final sprinkle of sugar, in the peak season leading up to Christmas over 1000 Stollen are produced in this small bakery per day.
Meissen and its Markets
The town of Meissen was an unscheduled stop, but it was one of my favourite places to visit in the whole of Saxony.
Famed for its porcelain production, the first thing that will strike you when driving towards the town is the impressive and unmissable 15th-century Albrechtsburg. This castle-come-church has an enviable position perched on a hill overlooking the town and is well worth visiting. A walk up to the castle will provide you with a dreamy view across the rooftops of the town. Be sure to keep an eye out for the artwork painted onto the sides of some of the buildings.
One of the official minority languages of German is Sorbian, and here in Bautzen is the first time I got to hear it being spoken. Lusatia and Bautzen is the homeland of the West Slavic ethnic group who also reside in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Here in Bautzen I really enjoyed the chance to visit a traditional restaurant and dine on the official wedding dinner of the Sorbs, with a focus on meat and potatoes, as well as learn a little more about their culture and history from the local museum. I especially enjoyed seeing the storytelling of local Sorbian legends played out across the coloured glass windows.
Admittedly, I had no idea about the Sorbs history and culture before arriving in Bautzen, but I highly recommend anyone who travels to Saxony to do so, and while German has become a lot more common, you will still find street signs and people talking in Sorbian around the region.
Ecumenical service in the Church of the Holy Cross marking the opening of the Striezelmarkt
If you are lucky enough to be in Dresden for the grand opening of the Stiezelmarkt, be sure to get yourself to the Church of the Holy Cross for a very special service.
The Dresden Kreuzchor is one of the most famous choirs in the world, and at this special event, the 130-strong choir performs the opening ceremony at the church alongside the market before a parade ensues with the miners’ orchestra, finishing at the centre of the market where the Mayor announces its grand opening.