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.
Saxon Elbland contains the Elbe Valley (also known as the Dresden basin), which is in the south-eastern 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.
- Tourism association Saxon Elbland (Tourismusverband Sächsisches Elbland), Fabrikstraße 16, 01662 Meißen, ☎ +4935217635-0, fax: +49 3521 7635-40, e-mail: email@example.com. Mo–Fr, 08.00–18.00. Information on sights, events, and accommodation; links to city information web sites.
The transport hub of the region is Dresden. If you travel 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 IC/EC trains from Prague make a stop at Bad Schandau (the region of Saxon Switzerland).
By public transport
In most parts of Saxon Elbland (except for the region of Dübener Heide), public transport is operated by VVO (Verkehrsverbund Oberelbe – Upper Elbe transport system) . Their web site (both in German and English) provides complete and up-to-date information on routes, timetables, and fares. The on-line route planner is also available (don't hesitate to use the "Advanced search" option; the basic search menu requires to specify the names of bus/train stops, which may be difficult to find out). Public transport of 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 Saxon Elbland from Dresden within 1.5–2 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, night travels are impossible. Most of the bus routes provide very limited service during weekends and public holidays: two-hour intervals on basic routes and 2–3 buses per day or even no weekend service for local routes. It is also common to have the so-called Anruf service on evenings and weekends. This means that the bus will run on the route after a special request by phone only. Pay attention to remarks in the timetables (written 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 the respective zone if your trip just "touches" it. The overlaps are marked by small arcs on bus/train lines in the route maps. Ticket machines have complete list of possible destinations and calculate the price automatically, so you usually do not need to care about counting the zones.
The following tickets are available:
- Single-ride tickets: 1 zone (€1.80, valid for 1 hour), 2 zones (€3.50, 1.5 hours), 3 zones (€5.30, 2 hours), whole VVO region (€7.00, 4 hours). It is also possible to buy 4 single-ride ticket for €6.50 and to validate one or more single rides depending on the number of zones.
- Day ticket (valid till 4 am of the next day): 1 zone (€4.50), 2 zones (€7.50), whole VVO region (€11.00).
- Family ticket (valid till 4 am of the next day, covers up to 6 people with max. 2 adults): 1 zone (€6.50), 2 zones (€11.50), whole VVO region (€14.50).
- Small group ticket (valid till 4 am of the next day, covers up to 5 people): €22.50 for the whole VVO region.
- Night ticket (valid between 6 pm and 6 am of the next day): €6.00 for the whole VVO region. A useful option for late travel.
- Week ticket: 1 zone outside Dresden (€14), zone Dresden (€18), 2 zones (€25.50), 1 zone and all the surrounding zones (€38), whole VVO region (€50).
- Reduced fares for children (6–14 years) and senior citizens are available.
- It is also possible to purchase combined day tickets (Tageskarte Elbe-Labe) valid for the VVO region and for the border region in Czech republic (Ústi nad Labem district): €14 for one person or €27.50 for the group of up to 5 people.
- All the thinkable 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 neighboring zone with this day ticket + a single-ride ticket for one zone.
- Ferries are a rather complicated issue. Some of the ferries have their own fare system and do not accept VVO tickets. Others fall into the VVO system and have additional reduced fares for ferry-only tickets (e.g., €0.60 for a single ride on passenger ferries).
All the tickets have to be validated in stamping machines which are installed at the stations and on board of buses/trams/ferries. Unstamped tickets are not valid. Entering the train/bus/tram/ferry without a valid ticket is fined. On major lines, ticket inspectors ride nearly every train. Outside Dresden, bus drivers usually ask to present the ticket upon entering the bus.
Tickets can be purchased in ticket machines available at train stations (usually, the DB ticket machines) and at main train/bus stops. On minor railway lines, the ticket machine can be installed inside the train, but this never happens on major lines. Bus drivers and ferry operators also sell a variety of tickets. The 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 supplied with the complete English translation.
Note that special public transport (narrow-gauge railways, funicular and cable railways in Dresden, certain Elbe ferries) is not included in the VVO fare system and requires additional tickets.
The main transport in the Elbe Valley is the S-bahn system of Dresden with three routes available:
- S1: Meißen – Coswig – Radebeul – Dresden Neustadt – Dresden Hbf – Heidenau – Pirna – further 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, further to Heidenau and Pirna.
- S3: Dresden Hbf – Freital; further to Tharandt.
The trains run every half an hour between 4.30 and midnight.
Buses are scarcely used by travellers due to the infrequent service, especially on weekends. The main advantage of the buses 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 (Saxony steamer ride) that runs regular connections from Dresden both 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 toursits 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 located in Dresden.
Except for the mountainous region of Saxon Switzerland, biking is simple and convenient. Elberadweg (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 in order to see the historical center of Dresden, the valley itself, 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 center of Pirna is somewhat less-known (yet no less interesting) compared to Meißen.
- 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.
- The Japanese-style chateau in Pillnitz is very special compared to Saxony's typical baroque palaces.
- Visit numerous museums in Dresden: the famous Dresden art gallery, the historical Green Vault, the German Hygiene museum, and much more.
- 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.
- Watch a performance at the Felsenbühne Rathen. Open-air arena for nearly 2,000 spectators. Classical concerts, musicals, theatre amidst the scenery of sondstone rocks piling up 100 metres above your heads.
Saxony food specialities are widely available throughout the Elbe Valley. Additionally, there is a variety of local pastries, which originate from Dresden baking traditions and are presently sold in the whole region. The most known specialities are Dresdner Christstollen (Dresden Christmas Cake), Dominostein (small sweets with pastry, jelly, and marzipane, covered with thin layer of dark chocolate), and Dresdner Eierscheke (a special cake with the egg-quark layer). The meat speciality of the region is Dresdner Sauerbraten (roasted marinated beef). Meißen is also known for Meißner Fummel (light bread roll with the hollow inside) and for the local pork. Further information can be found in the Eat sections for the respective cities.
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 (Saxony Wine Road) and Sächsischer Weinwanderweg (Saxony 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 Saxony wine region:
- Die Tage des offenen Weingutes (open access to wine cellars) – last weekend of August
- Herbst- und Weinfest (Autumn wine festival) – September, Radebeul
- Sächsische Winzerfest (Saxony wine festival) – July, Dresden
The best way to try and to buy local wine is to visit one of the so-called vinothek's, which are found throughout the region:
- Dresden: Sächsische Vinothek an der Frauenkirche, An der Frauenkirche 13; Salzgasse 2, Dresden, ☎ +49 351484 52-00, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Wine shop and excursions to vineyards. Tasting is possible in the nearby bar Wettiner Weinlädchen (Terrassengasse 1; open W–Mo, 14.00–20.00; in winter, opening hours may be different). Mo–Sa, 11.00–19.00; Su, 12.00–19.00.
- Meißen: Haus des Sächsischen Weines, Am Markt 5, Meißen, ☎ +49 352140 92-47. Daily, 10.00–18.00. Wine tasting and sale.
- Meißen: Weinhaus Schuh, Zaschendorfer Str. 2, Sörnewitz (between Meißen and Coswig), ☎ +49 352384810, e-mail: email@example.com. Mo–Fr, 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, ☎ +49 35189550, fax: +49 351 8955250, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 09.30–20.00. Excursions to vineyards and cellars, wine tasting, sale. The on-site restaurant (Mo–Fr, 12.00–22.00; Sa, Su, 10.00–22.00) offers a variety of local wine.
- Radebeul: Vinothek Hoflößnitz, Knohllweg 37, Radebeul, ☎ +49 351656 33-79, e-mail: email@example.com. Tu–Fr, 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 the wine shops. The liqueurs are sold in fancy souvenir bottles and are quite expensive.
Despite the extensive wine production, Elbe valley also has long-standing beer traditions. Beer factories are located in Dresden and in Meißen. The most known Dresden brands are Feldschlößchen, Dresden Felsenkeller, Coschützer Pils, and Schwarzer Steiger. Meißen produces Meissner Schwerter. Dresden, Pirna, and Radebeul also have small breweries attached to the restaurants, where local beer can be tasted.
- 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.
- 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, Pirna, and other cities of the region.