Set only about 30 km from Dresden, Saxon Switzerland National Park with its stunning sandstone formations is an eldorado for hikers, climbers and nature as well as history lovers. First explored by the German Romanticists, it is part of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, which stretch all the way to the Czech Republic. The area boasts about 400 km of hiking treks, 50 km of biking paths and 755 climbing locations. What’s more, the area is studded with medieval castles and fortresses which are open to the public today. So lace up your hiking boots and get your camera ready to explore one of the most picturesque nature escapes in Germany.
Things to see and do
The most famous rock formation in the Saxon Switzerland National Park, Bastei (literally bastion), is 305m high and offers a picture-perfect reward for enthusiasts who walk all the way up. The viewing point on top of these jagged rocks can also be reached by car, bike and even horse carriage. The sandstone Bastei Bridge assimilates right into the landscape, connecting the viewing platforms with Neurathen Castle. As you walk on the bridge you might even spot people right next to you climbing up the steep rocks.
Built in the 13th century, Neurathen Castle is a mountain stronghold located right next to the famous Bastei rocks. Even though all that remains today are ruins, it’s an impressive example of medieval architecture, built right into a hard-to-reach location perfect for defense. Once the biggest rock castle in the region you can discover rooms carved into the rocks, cisterns, passages and bar charts. The extensive open-air museum shows the reconstruction of the castle as well as medieval slingshots, catapults and stone shots that were found in the area, some of them even in the Elbe River.
The “Saxon Bastille”, also known as Königstein Fortess, is one of the largest hilltop fortifications in Europe, enthroned on top of the mesa 240m above the Elbe. The vastness of the construction boasts over 50 buildings, the second deepest castle fountain in Europe and a 1800m long rampart. Experience its rich history of over 800 years in an exhibition, from medieval times to its function as a prison until 1922, as a military hospital in World War II, and “re-education facility” in former East Germany. Today it also houses a military history museum.
Lilienstein is a highly distinctive mountain in the midst of Saxon Switzerland and was once the site of a Bohemian castle. At about 415.2m high, the mesa offers a spectacular view of the surrounding area. There are hiking trails that take you all the way up top — or you could climb, of course. There is an obelisk remembering the presence of monarch August II the Strong, who answered the call of this unique mountain in his day, too.