Today we’re taking a trip back to Saxon-Switzerland National Park a.k.a Sächsische Schweiz. One of the most beautiful parts of Germany which also borders the Czech Republic. We were lucky enough to visit there in the summer during our Europe road-trip and it truly took our breath away. Even those who have grown up in Germany, are shocked to discover what amazing natural beauty this country hads to offer. Ever since I first came across pictures of the park, I was determined to make it there and to explore the incredible structures high up in the mountains, and to hike the forests.
You all know by now that I’m a pretty outdoorsy gal who loves getting out in nature. So it made perfect sense for us to start a 3-week road trip off by driving straight to the park for a few days of exploring. We actually explored both on the Saxon-Switzerland National Park side within Germany, and the Bohemian-Switzerland National Park side in the Czech Republic during our two days there and had the opportunity to see a lot. We set out driving the 7 hour trip from Hamburg to the Bastei Bridge – which is halfway between Dresden and the beginning of the National Park – overnight on the Friday. Our goal? We wanted to arrive there first thing on the Saturday morning and really start our two-day adventure at Saxon-Switzerland National Park.
Getting to the park
Saxon-Switzerland National Park is very easily accessible no matter which direction you are coming from. Whether you want to drive, are flying into the country especially, or have to take public transport, there are plenty of ways to reach the park. Just 30km south-east of Dresden, there is an airport in the city plus trains and buses leading directly to the park and stopping in each town and village en route. There is also an awesome network of hiking trails and cycle paths which also stop at the famous Bastei Bridge.
However, I strongly recommend driving to the park like we did, not only does it give you the freedom to explore at your own pace and to choose which hikes/sights you cover, but it also means you have the option to camp or even sleep in your camper van like we did which saved us a lot of money as we prepared all our meals ourselves. There are lots of other accommodation options nearby, from cottages and hotels to B&Bs. For us it was a 7 hour overnight journey from Hamburg, which was pretty lengthy, but it was the start of a much longer trip and wasn’t a journey we would have made just for a weekend.
About Saxon-Switzerland National Park
On the very edge of eastern Germany lies the beautiful stretch of countryside and wild forest known as Saxon-Switzerland National Park. Rock climbers, hikers, and cyclists flock to experience the raw natural beauty of the 93km stretch between Pirna and the Czech border. With more than 700 summits to climb, and 400km of hiking trails, there is plenty to keep visitors busy. Best of all? Access to the whole park, and the Bastei Bridge, is free! So if you’re looking for a budget-friendly weekend away, this is a great place to go and get outside. Head to Nationalparkzentrum Bad Schandau for the visitor’s centre and lots of information about the park.
What to see at Saxon-Switzerland National Park
Words cannot do this place justice. We arrived at 7am, just shortly after sunrise and after a long night of driving. So many times we nearly pulled over in a layby for the night but we just wanted to reach our destination and really start our holiday. The sun was starting to rise as we drove through fields of sunflowers and valleys towards the Bastei Bridge. After seeing photos online, I was so excited to see this amazing structure in reality finally. It didn’t disappoint. We finally arrived at around 7am and walked straight to the bridge where 360 degree panoramas awaited us. We were the first ones there! I had read that it was most spectacular at sunset, but to be honest, I think that writer just hadn’t had the place to themselves at sunrise.
The silence just added to the magical sight of the remains of this bridge and fortress scattered across the peaks. You can actually walk all around the fortress for free and explore every part of it, getting to do this when there are no crowds of hikers and visitors is even better! It was the most perfect start to the trip, and my boyfriend and I really couldn’t believe how lucky we were to have such a beautiful start to the morning. It felt like a dream to walk around this amazing structure, which dates back as far as 1592. The most famous rock formation at the park, I think the pictures really do speak for themselves.
This Saxon bastille is an amazing way to really see Saxon-Switzerland National Park and the surrounding countryside in all its glory. Based near Dresden, it’s a good stop on the way in, or out, of the park. It’s one of the largest mountain fortresses in Europe and dates back over 400 years, well worth exploring and with spectacular views. We made the mistake of stopping there at the busiest time unfortunately so really struggled to get parking with our big van, but we managed in the end! Make sure you go early to avoid the crowds and also make sure you take enough cash with you to pay for your entrance to the fortress so you can walk around the grounds and the very top.
We made it to the top the first time, realised we didn’t quite have enough money – so annoying! We refused to miss out on the views so walked all the way down to the van and back up again – it was worth it!. Definitely walk around the actual fortress outer wall as well as the top, it’s beautiful and very impressive to see the structure from another perspective. The views from the top are amazing, you can see across the forest and valley, into the park and beyond. And once you’re done looking around, make sure to treat yourself to an ice-cream.
If you have enough time to venture over to the Czech Republic side of the park, known as Bohemian Switzerland National Park, don’t miss visiting Pravčická Brána. We nearly didn’t go and we would have really missed out if we hadn’t squeezed it in to the trip. It’s a great hike to get there, heading through the forest and across the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, just a few kilometres and suitable for all abilities. We couldn’t wait to stretch our legs and ended up marching up the track to burn off some energy before our drive to Dresden.
When we reached the top, we instantly clapped eyes on the spectacular natural sandstone arch, the largest of it’s kind in Europe. This was actually where several scenes from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe were shot. Nestled in the corner, you can see the Sokolí hnízdo Inn, which translates as the Falcon’s Nest, an inn build in 1881 to replace the former structure built in 1926. It’s a beautiful building and with an amazing view, but be sure to walk all the way up to the top by heading left when you walk past the point where you pay. The trails at the top actually have a much better view of the whole area.
There’s nothing I love more than finding the best viewpoint when visiting a new place. If you have limited time to explore, it’s the perfect way to see as much as possible, as quickly as possible. We didn’t have long at the park, so we really wanted to make the most of our time by visiting the highlights, but there are lots of other lovely places to explore, and some amazing viewpoints overlooking Saxon-Switzerland National Park. The main ones to check out are Bastei, Lilienstein, Brand & Waitzdorf Mountain, Schrammsteine rocks, Kipphorn, Kuhstall, Hinteres Raubschloss, Goldstein. With endless hiking, cycling and climbing trails, how you reach these points is up to you!
Top tips for visiting Saxon Switzerland National Park
- Get up early. The park attracts around 700,000 tourists and if you visit in high summer as we did (June) you may find spots overwhelmingly busy. Do what we did, get up super early and hit the tourist traps first, and skip the queues, then have a more chilled afternoon.
- Always take plenty of cash. We were caught out at Königstein Fortress by not having enough cash and had to walk all the way down and up again with the right amount. It’s just time wasting and frustrating. either look up the entry prices ahead of time, call ahead to check, or take plenty of cash just in case.
- Plan ahead. Take plenty of water and snacks for walks and plan ahead for meals, some of the restaurants are quite pricey because it is touristy and you could save yourself money, and time, by packing a good picnic.
Have you been to Saxon-Switzerland National Park? Which is the most amazing national park you have visited? What’s your favourite outdoor activity?