There are few city silhouettes more striking than Dresden’s. The classic view from the Elbe’s northern bank takes in spires, towers and domes belonging to palaces, churches and stately buildings, and indeed it's hard to believe that the city was all but wiped off the map by Allied bombings in 1945.
Dresden is surrounded by a trio of fabulous castles as well as the porcelain town of Meissen. If you only have time for one castle, then Schloss Pillnitz has the best garden, Schloss Moritzburg has the most interesting interiors and Schloss Weesenstein the most romantic location. Alternatively, Meissen offers a castle, cathedral and its immense porcelain heritage.
Like most of eastern Germany’s cities, Chemnitz had to reinvent itself post-Wende, and has done so with some measure of success. Known from 1953 to 1990 as Karl-Marx-Stadt, the GDR gave it a Stalinist makeover, and smokestack industries once earned it the nickname of ‘Saxon Manchester’.
A gateway to the Erzgebirge (Iron Ore Mountains), Zwickau has written an important chapter in German automobile history. It is the birthplace of the Audi brand (in 1910) and the GDR-era Trabant, which began rolling, very slowly, off assembly lines in 1957. The town’s sparkling car museum is a must for anyone even remotely interested in the subject.
About 40km south of Dresden, Saxon Switzerland (Sächsische Schweiz, aka Elbsandsteingebirge or Elbe Sandstone Mountains) embraces a unique and evocative landscape. This is wonderfully rugged country where nature has chiselled porous rock into bizarre columns, battered cliffs, tabletop mountains and deep valleys.
The charming village of Königstein has a cutesy town centre, a gorgeous location on the banks of the Elbe and is crowned by a massive citadel built on a tabletop mountain some 260m above. It's an excellent base for walkers, with most of the best walking in the national park within easy striking distance.