Germany is the country for fairytale castles and nowhere does this become more obvious than in Saxony. Featuring a good 1,000 palaces, castles and fortresses, often coming with beautiful parks and gardens, the region which borders both the Czech Republic and Poland provides rich grounds for lovers of magnificent architecture and beautiful landscaping.
Visitors will find a wide range of styles in delightful locations, be it Medieval, Baroque or Renaissance structures, and many of them are related to the region’s most famous ruler, Augustus the Strong.
Augustus liked his residences to make an impression. We’ve rounded up our top picks for a perfect castle road trip.
Albrechtsburg Castle, one of the most historic fairytale castles
Towering on a hill above the Elbe River in the town of Meissen, Albrechtsburg is masterpiece of late Gothic architecture and the first castle erected in Germany solely for residential purposes.
Built in the 15th century, it not only became the residence of the Wettin dynasty but, in 1710, also the cradle of porcelain production in Europe when Augustus the Strong established the now world-famous Meissen porcelain factory inside the castle.
Today, with its historical wall paintings dating back to the 19th century, Albrechtsburg presents a true picture book of Saxon history. Tip: Try the HistoPad for an immersive tour of the castle! The device takes visitors through three epochs and – aided by some modern technology – lets you “attend” a farewell banquet given in honour of Frederick the Wise in 1493, when he set off on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
You'll also discover the secrets of Saxon porcelain production in the 18th and 19th centuries and explore the collections of paintings hidden in the castle during World War II.
Moritzburg Castle for a fairytale setting
Looking for a proper fairytale setting? Moritzburg Castle is the one. The pretty Baroque palace near Dresden sits on an island in the middle of a small lake and makes for great photos. Augustus the Strong used it as his hunting lodge and pleasure palace in the 18th century, staging lavish parties there.
The interior design is quite something with leather wallpaper and a “feather room” featuring wall hangings made from natural and artificial feathers. In line with the extravagant and flamboyant taste of Augustus, his countryside retreat comes with a few more extras, namely the Little Pheasant Castle in the surrounding park and a harbour with a jetty and Saxony’s only lighthouse.
Should you be wondering, this was used as a backdrop when re-enacting naval battles, which is how aristocrats got their kicks back then.
Dresden’s Zwinger for Baroque splendour
Dresden’s impressive Zwinger palace is another stunning structure that has Augustus the Strong’s name attached to it. In 1709, he had the Baroque masterpiece built of sandstone from Saxon Switzerland, with the ensemble being intended for representational purposes and the ruler’s art collections.
The masterful architecture merges several buildings, pavilions and galleries into one another, framing a beautiful courtyard. The majority of the rooms inside the palace now house museums.
They include the Old Masters Picture Gallery in the Semper Gallery, one of the world’s major collections of paintings featuring masterpieces from the 15th to 18th centuries, including Raphael's divine “Sistine Madonna”.
Dresden Porcelain Collection, one of the largest in the world, is another highlight. As are the magnificent Royal State Apartments of Augustus the Strong, the Small Ballroom and the so-called Long Corridor.
This impressive ancestral gallery reopened after extensive restoration in 2019 and 2021 respectively. Prepare to be wowed!
Colditz Castle for tracing daring escapes
Going back almost 1,000 years, Colditz Castle is one of Saxony’s oldest and largest castles. Not least because of the black-and-white classic “The Colditz Story”, it is nowadays internationally best known for having been a prisoner-of-war camp for allied officers during World War II.
The castle’s “Escape Museum” showcases their numerous escape attempts including a secretly built glider. However, Colditz Castle on the Mulde river South of Leipzig was already an imperial seat under Emperor Barbarossa and has a colourful history to explore. It also houses a popular youth hostel.
Hartenfels Castle for travelling back to the Renaissance
For an architectural masterpiece of the Renaissance, head to Torgau, also known as “City of the Renaissance and Reformation”.
In the 16th century, the splendid Hartenfels Castle on the Elbe river about 1,5 hrs northwest was the residence of Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. Frederick was one of the most important men at the time of the Reformation, employing and protecting Martin Luther.
Luther also consecrated the castle church as the first new Protestant church ever built. Later, Hartenfels became a Napoleonic fortress and then a barracks for the Prussian army. Don’t miss the stunning “Grosser Wendelstein”, the grand, enclosed spiral staircase is in the inner courtyard. Plus, enjoy glorious views of the surroundings from the Hausmann Tower.
Weesenstein Castle for a journey through different styles
Weesenstein is an interesting mix of palace and castle, perching high on a rocky outcrop above the valley of the Müglitz river in the Ore Mountains and close to Saxon Switzerland National Park.
The architectural masterpiece with eight storeys grew stone by stone over more than 800 years, which is why stylistic elements from Gothic to Classicism can be found there.
As one of only a few buildings of this kind, it has an incredibly well-preserved interior offering great insights into the lives of the noble inhabitants.
Design elements include a 300-year-old gold-leather wallpaper adorning the dining room and a handmade Chinese paper wallpaper. Tip: The adjacent park with its nice layout is a wonderful retreat.
Königstein Fortress for a castle in the sky
Blessed with a spectacular location, Königstein Fortress perches 240 metres above the Elbe valley on a table mountain in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. With its 42-metre-high outer walls, it is Europe's largest mountain fortress and a real bulwark that has never been taken by enemies.
Needless to say, the views of Saxon Switzerland National Park’s unique rocks and river scenery from the fortress are absolutely stunning. Moreover, visitors will find plenty to explore on the sprawling site with 30 buildings.
Tip: In 1725, in a competition to build the largest wine barrel, Augustus the Strong had one built on the site of Königstein Fortress – with a capacity of 238,600 litres.
You can see a modern replica in the wine cellar in the form of an artistic installation made of glass, steel, light and music.
Pillnitz Palace and Park for blissful moments
Pillnitz Palace and Park just outside Dresden on the Elbe river served as a summer residence for the Saxon royal family and is a delightful ensemble of a Baroque pleasure garden, English garden, Chinese garden and three palaces, including two designed in a Chinese-inspired style.
Built by Augustus the Strong, the palaces are surrounded by a magnificent park. Discover a palm house, more than 2,000 trees and shrubs, over 600 potted plants, around 35,000 blossoms in spring, chestnut avenues and a 250-year-old Japanese camellia. Exploring the grounds and sitting by the river is bliss.
Tip: Make sure to arrive in style and take a historic paddle steamer from Dresden for your visit.
This article is brought to you in partnership with Visit Saxony.