Hiking in Dresden and Saxony

Wandern in Dresden und Sachsen

Hiking in Dresden / Saxony


A hike on the Malerweg Hidden in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxon Switzerland lies Germany's most beautiful hiking trail, according to hikers' voices. When you look at the pictures, you quickly understand why. This part of Germany couldn't be further from Switzerland, but it's called Saxon Switzerland. Why it is like that? Read our detailed blog about the Malerweg, find answers to all your questions and a suitable offer for a hiking holiday in Germany.

Not far from Dresden, on the border with the Czech Republic and on the banks of the Elbe, lies one of the most beautiful examples of German nature. The Saxon Switzerland National Park is home to the Elbe Sandstone Mountains and the Malerweg, a 112 kilometer long hiking trail that can be completed in 8 stages. There are some difficult stages, but you are rewarded with wonderful views. The Malerweg is characterized by the chalk cliffs along the Elbe, forest paths and not forgetting the Bastei Bridge. The nature on the Malerweg has inspired Germany's greatest artists and will not leave you indifferent either. The Malerweg is dedicated to the most famous German artists. Follow in their footsteps and walk the entire Malerweg.

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What is the Malerweg and where is it located?

The Malerweg has to do with the fact that Saxon Switzerland was in the 19th century. In the 19th century it was a popular destination for many artists who sought inspiration. The Malerweg is the most beautiful hiking trail in Germany because it has everything to offer. A varied hiking route, a rich history along the way and the most breathtaking views Germany has to offer. The landscape is not typically German. We are not in the Black Forest, the Eifel or the Alps. The Elbe Sandstone Mountains are unique and that is precisely why painters, writers and poets were drawn to this part of Germany during the Romantic period.

Even the name Saxon Switzerland dates back to the 18th century. century Two Swiss artists, Adrian Zingg and Anton Graff, studied at the Dresden Art Academy in 1766. From their new home they could see the mountains to the east. In their opinion, it showed a strangely flattened landscape, with flat mountains and no really sharp peaks. The landscape reminded them of the Swiss Jura, and in their letters they spoke of the difference between their Switzerland and this special "Saxon Switzerland".

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The Elbe Sandstone Mountains

The Elbe Sandstone Mountains stretch on both sides of the Elbe, from the Saxon town of Pirna in the northwest to the Bohemian town of Decín in the southeast. The highest elevation is the Decinský Snezník on the Czech side at 723 meters. The mountain range connects the Ore Mountains in the west and the Lusatian Mountains in the Sudetenland in the east.

Saxon Switzerland and the Zittau Mountains in the Lusatian Mountains form the Saxon-Bohemian chalk sandstone chain. The eroded sandstone landscape of this region was created from deposits that accumulated on the seafloor millions of years ago. Coarse quartz sand, clay and fine marl sank and solidified layer by layer. This explains the unique landscape of Saxon Switzerland with its flattened peaks.

Saxon Switzerland National Park

The Saxon Switzerland National Park covers an area of ​​almost 100 km² in the central parts of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. The national park was opened on January 1st. Established by the former GDR in October 1990. In the neighboring Czech Republic, the protected area continues under the name Bohemian Switzerland National Park. Of course, the national park is ideal for short and long hikes. The Saxon Switzerland National Park has around 400 kilometers of marked hiking trails, and it's not just the Malerweg that leads through the park. The European hiking trail E3, which runs from Santiago de Compostela to the Black Sea, also leads through Saxon Switzerland.

How do you get to and from Malerweg?

The Malerweg is not just around the corner. Rather, the path is located near the Czech border in the far east of Germany, near Dresden. The starting and finishing point of the Malerweg is in the town of Pirna, directly on the Elbe.

Arrival by plane

It is possible to book a flight to Dresden. From there you can take the bus or train to Pirna.

Arrival by car

You can travel via Osnabrück-Hannover-Magdeburg-Leipzig or via Dortmund-Kassel-Leipzig.

Arrival by train

You can take the train to Berlin. From Berlin take the international IC train to Decin Hl.n and get off in Dresden. From there an S-Bahn goes directly to Pirna.

By bus via Malerweg

The Malerweg begins in Pirna-Liebethal, on the other side of the Elbe, north of Pirna itself. This means that the Malerweg cannot be traveled in an exact circle. Of course you can also reach Liebethal on foot, but most hikers take the bus from the bus station to Liebethal. The bus goes there every half hour.

Buses also run along the rest of Malerweg. The local buses have been renamed hiking buses by the local transport company (RVSOE) and are therefore easy to recognize for hikers. During the season, from April to November, there are more buses than usual. This is very practical.

Malerweg: the route day by day

Day 1) Pirna-Liebethal - City of Wehlen

To start the hike, take a direct bus from Pirna bus station to Pirna-Liebethal. The journey time is around 20 minutes. The hike begins at the entrance to the romantic Liebethaler Grund. The path follows the Wesenitz and leads past the Richard Wagner monument (designed by Richard Guhr, 1933) and the remains of the former Lochmühle. Then we go through the Uttewalder Grund with its famous stone gate. The path is now made of stone. You will pass the remains of one of the oldest castles in the region. The Malerweg follows the Elbe until the end of the first day.

Distance: 11.5 kilometers

Time duration: 4 hours

Altitude: 215 meters

Difficulty level: easy

Day 2) Wehlen - Hohnstein

First we climb up the Schwarzbergweg, where we reach the “Steinerner Tisch” rest area. The building of the same name was built by Prince August the Strong as a resting place for hunting. The path leads to one of the most famous sights in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains: the Bastei. It is one of the absolute highlights of the region and offers breathtaking views of the landscape. The descent is via stairs. Then you pass the Rathen stone plateau with its spectacular natural landscape. Once you have arrived in Hohnstein, it is worth visiting the castle and the Kasper Museum in the tourist office!

Distance: 13.2 kilometers

Time duration: 5 hours

Altitude: 502 meters

Difficulty level: medium:

Day 3) Hohnstein - Altendorf

The day hike begins on a forest path and leads over the fire view. This “balcony of Saxon Switzerland”, 170 meters above the Polenztal, offers a fantastic panoramic view. Then it goes down over 800 steps into the "deep ground". In the last part of the day you can enjoy the view of the Schrammsteine.

Distance: 11.7 kilometers

Duration: 5 hours

Altitude: 512 meters

Difficulty level: medium:

Day 4) Altendorf - Neumannmühle

Today is a slightly longer hiking day. We descend through the Dorfbachklamm into the Kirnitzschtal. Then it goes up to the Schrammsteine, an elongated and sharply structured mountain group. The ascent of the Jägersteig leads over an iron staircase to the Schrammsteingweg, which offers a spectacular view of the Schrammstein. Passing the Lichtenhain waterfall you reach the impressive Kuhstallhöhle.

Distance: 17.6 kilometers

Duration: 7 hours

Altitude: 668 meters

Difficulty level:

Day 5) Neumannmühle - Schmilka

The day begins in the Kirnitzschtal. The path leads past the archaeological remains of a medieval rock castle. A steep nature path then leads to the Großer Pohlshorn. Passing the former spruce stable you reach the arsenal, a former weapons depot. From here the climb to the summit of the Großer Winterberg begins. The 556 meter high mountain was created by basaltic erosion of the Elbe sandstone plateau and is the second highest mountain in Saxon Switzerland. The hike ends in Schmilka, where you can visit the Schmilka water mill. The mill was rebuilt in 2007 and is now fully functional again.

Distance: 13.6 kilometers

Duration: 7 hours

Altitude: 670 meters

Difficulty level: difficult

Day 6) Schmilka - Gohrisch Spa

Today you take the ferry to the Schmilka-Hirschmühle S-Bahn station. From here you hike through small villages to Reinhardtsdorf, where you will find the beautiful village church designed in a rustic baroque style. Then you climb up to the Papststein. From here it goes down to another so-called table mountain: the Gohrisch.

Distance: 16.7 kilometers

Duration: 7 hours

Altitude: 701 meters

Difficulty level: medium to difficult

Day 7) Gohrisch spa - Weißig

Today we hike towards Pfaffendorf. The gorge road leads down to Quirl. You pass the Königstein, a charming stone building. You pass the town church and hike to the foot of the Königstein Fortress. You should plan an additional 2 hours to visit the fortress.

Distance: 15.4 kilometers

Time duration: 6 hours

Altitude: 555 meters

Difficulty level: medium:

Day 8) Weißig - Pirna

Today we hike along the mountain ridge to Naundorf, where the Robert Sterl House, the most important art museum in Saxon Switzerland, is located. The path continues along the high banks of the former quarry to Königsnase. You follow the path to the old town of Pirna. The end point of this hike is the Canaletto House on the market square.

Distance: 12.5 kilometers

Duration: 5 hours

Altitude: 350 meters

Difficulty level: easy

PART 2: Hiking guide Saxon Switzerland National Park

Whether you get lost in the hundreds of labyrinthine gorges or marvel at the vast valleys between the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, Saxon Switzerland will leave you breathless more than once. I visited this national park in Germany and explored its hidden secrets, climbing its gigantic rock pillars and hiking for hours through the dense green forest. I also discovered the best hiking trails, the most beautiful landscapes and the most beautiful sights.

How to get there

Saxon Switzerland is located just 30 km south of Dresden, right on the border with the Bohemian-Saxon Switzerland National Park in the Czech Republic, and makes an excellent nature trip for travelers visiting the cities of Berlin, Dresden or Prague. Its central location and easy access by public transport make the park a popular destination for locals and visitors.

If you want to visit Saxon Switzerland, the city of Dresden is probably the ideal starting point for an adventure. Not only is it the closest city to the national park, but it is also home to one of the most beautiful historical centers in Germany. Dresden is also easy to reach, with trains and buses from all over Germany and Eastern Europe running almost daily.

Although I had planned to reach the park by car, I decided to first take an express train from Berlin to Dresden and arrive a day earlier. The journey only took two hours and I paid no more than 15 euros for a single ticket. With prices like that, it was easiest and most convenient to rent a car in Dresden instead of Berlin.

Visit Saxon Switzerland by public transport

Once you arrive in Dresden, there are several ways to reach the national park. The cheapest and most comfortable option is to take the S-Bahn from Dresden HBF to the towns of Rathen, Königstein, Bad Schandau or Krippen (depending on which part of the national park you want to visit). The train journey takes between 30 and 45 minutes and takes you not far from the main entrances to the national park.

There are also several bus routes that serve certain parts of the park. However, buses do not run regularly, so it is sometimes quicker to walk from the train station.

By car to Saxon Switzerland

As with most of my nature trips, I preferred to rent a car. I've always found this to be the best way to travel when you're on a relatively low budget but want to explore as much as possible. Renting a car in Dresden is not as expensive as it sounds. Smaller vehicles, including insurance and service, are available from 25 euros per day, and as the distances are relatively short, the price of petrol is minimal if you share the vehicle with one or two friends.

When I visited Saxon Switzerland, I rented a motorhome. For me, this was not only the most convenient way to get around, but also a great option to save on accommodation costs and visit a different area every day.

With the many options for renting an RV, I found the best prices and options with the following companies:

Travellers who do not come from Dresden but from Berlin or Prague can find other, cheaper options, such as: b:

Cycling on the Elbe cycle path or hiking on the Malerweg.

A bike tour to the national park is also very popular with Dresden residents. The Elbe cycle path is one of the most beautiful cycle paths in Europe. It extends over almost 1.250 km from the Giant Mountains or the Czech Republic to the North Sea and connects the most important places in the Saxon Switzerland National Park with the center of Dresden. This cycle route to Saxon Switzerland is largely flat and can easily be completed in one day.

A slower but interesting option is the path along the Elbe. In 6-7 hours you will reach the city of Rathen, where you can stay overnight and visit the Bastei Bridge. Other, more experienced adventurers choose the Malerweg, a multi-day hike that can be completed in 7-10 days, depending on your pace and fitness.

Where can you stay overnight?

Although most travelers prefer to visit Saxon Switzerland for a day, explore one or two key sights within easy reach and then move on, the best way to enjoy the park's beauty and magic is to spend several days in the area remains. Not only does this make the experience much more personal, but it also brings you closer to the untouched nature that inspired painters like Caspar David and William Turner centuries ago.

Accommodation in nearby villages

If you want to stay in a hotel, choosing the right accommodation largely depends on how you get to the park. If you're traveling with your own vehicle, you'll find cheaper and more family-friendly guesthouses on the edge of the national park, while if you're only traveling by public transport, you should limit yourself to the small villages where the train or bus stops.

The most popular places are Rathen, Königstein or Bad Schandau, the latter being the closest to the national park area.

With hundreds of inns along the Elbe, it's not difficult to find accommodation, and in most family-run inns you just need to call to see if they have a room available.

However, Saxon Switzerland National Park is one of the few places in Germany where travelers can experience almost any type of accommodation. Luxury hotels, guesthouses, youth hostels, campsites and even wilderness campsites are just some of the options you can try and experience.

Accommodation in Saxon Switzerland

The Saxon Switzerland National Park is a protected area. Therefore there is no accommodation within the national park. However, many hotels are located right next to the national park and you just have to cross the road to enter the park.

The best known of these hotels is the Berghotel Bastei, a four-star hotel located right next to the Bastei Bridge observation deck and ideal for travelers who want to enjoy the best view of the Bastei Bridge before sunrise but don't want to hike.

The park is also home to numerous campsites where dozens of families gather every weekend to stay the night, have a barbecue and start a full day of hiking. The various campsites in the park are listed on the official Saxon Switzerland website. Find the full list and average nightly rates here.

There is one last option if you really want to spend the night in the national park. Wild camping, cave camping or boofen is only permitted in Saxon Switzerland and consists of sleeping under a rock or in a cave within the protected area. However, camping is only permitted in certain places in the national park and you are not allowed to bring your own tent. You only have yourself, your sleeping bag and food for energy.

The best places in Saxony and things to do

Bastei Bridge

From postcards to giant airport posters - the Bastei Bridge is the most famous symbol of Saxon Switzerland. Located just 1 km from the town of Rathen, it is the most accessible point in the park and one of the most beautiful places to watch the sunset.

To get to the Bastei Bridge, you can easily take a bus from Rathen that will drop you off right at the entrance (see Google Maps for timetables), or you can take one of the many hikes that lead to the bridge. The special thing about the Bastei Bridge is not only the magnificent construction of the bridge between the rocks, but also the breathtaking view in all directions that you can enjoy from the viewing platforms.

Entry to the bridge is free, but you have to pay 2 euros on the viewing platform. However, the views on and from the bridge are beautiful and definitely worth a visit.

Swedish holes (Swedish potholes)

The Sweden holes, located right next to the Bastei Bridge, are a must after (or before) a visit to the Bastei Bridge.

Although a large part of the hike involves climbing up or down a flight of stairs (depending on the direction) between huge rocks, the trail itself offers beautiful and extraordinary views depending on which angle you look at it from.

One of the most beautiful moments of the hike is the view of the Hönigstein, which is reflected in the calm water of the Amselsee. Although there is only one spot where this picture can be captured perfectly, its beauty alone is what makes the entire hike so magical.


The hike to the summit of the Schrammsteine, my favorite place in Saxon Switzerland, may not be the easiest, but it is certainly the most rewarding.

The Schrammsteine ​​are located in the southeastern part of Saxon Switzerland and consist of a series of massive sandstone blocks that seem to come to life upon closer inspection. To reach the summit of these 400-meter-high giants, there is a well-marked hiking trail that takes you higher and higher with every step.

In some parts of the path there are also stairs, so that the climb is possible for people of all ages with normal fitness.

Once at the top, there are numerous viewing points that offer by far the best view of the park and the reward of seeing Saxon Switzerland from above.

If you are sufficiently experienced and adventurous, you can climb the Schrammsteine ​​freely and not only enjoy the sun from one of the highest places in Saxon Switzerland, but also climb one of the most fascinating routes in Europe.

Königstein Fortress

As the largest intact fortress in Germany, Königstein Fortress stands out from the mountainous landscape of Saxon Switzerland and is a pleasant retreat for anyone interested in the history and politics of the region from centuries ago.

Inside the fortress you can see various exhibits about the former kings and queens who lived in Saxony, as well as about the prison and hospital times during the wars.

The view from the fortress is also a good reason to climb it, as from here you can see some important places in the Saxon Switzerland National Park as well as some of the surrounding towns and villages.

Pillar of Hercules

The area between Bielatal and Rosenthal, described by many locals as a climbing paradise, offers dozens of hiking trails through fairytale forests, abandoned fortresses and rock formations in the strangest shapes you can imagine.

The hiker not only passes charming little villages with restaurants where homemade food and beer are served, but also huge forest areas with gigantic rock formations that some have climbed. It's a great place for lunch or a snack before a hike.

There are hundreds of huge rock formations in the area. But of all the distinctive rocks in the area, the Pillars of Hercules are by far the most impressive. They are located 800 meters from a parking lot, and their fragile structure makes it feel like one of the boulders could fall at any moment.

Although the view of the Pillars of Hercules is the highlight of the hike for visitors, it is the exploration between the giant boulders and free climbing on smaller rocks to get a view of the nature reserve that makes the experience even more surreal make.

The Labyrinth

The labyrinth is located on the southern bank of the Elbe and can be reached by car. Although it lies outside the Saxon Switzerland National Park, the labyrinth is a protected area in Saxony.

This natural labyrinth of perfectly placed stones in the middle of the forest is a popular retreat for local families with small children and can be considered a natural playground. With hundreds of rocks (up to 5m high), caves, passageways and different levels, it is a great place to go back to childhood and get lost.

In the early morning hours it is a great place for sunbathing and eating, while in the afternoon it is best avoided due to the large crowds.

Other places to visit

Saxon Switzerland offers thousands of magical places to visit and it would be unsatisfying to limit yourself to one or two visits. At the same time, the deeper you go into the park, the fewer people you see and the more personal experiences you have.

Although I spent several days traveling in Saxon Switzerland, I didn't see even 1% of the park's beauty and missed many beautiful places that I would have liked to visit. Picturesque places like the Breite Kluft or the Holy Staircase offer beautiful views of the national park, while the Lichtenhain Waterfall or the Kuhstallklippan offer a quiet break for a short rest.

Saxon Switzerland is probably one of those places that you love more the more you explore it.