15 Best Things to Do in Meissen (Germany)

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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Approaching the city of Meissen in Saxony the first thing that comes into view is the Burgberg rising over the Elbe. Translating to castle hill, Burgberg is where the city’s founder Henry the Fowler put up his fortress against the Slavs to the east in the 10th century.

Now the hill is claimed by a glorious Gothic cathedral and Albrechtsburg, a 15th-century palace. Albrechtsburg, laid out for the ruling House of Wettin, was the first noble property in Germany designed for luxury and style rather than defence.

The name “Meissen” is also eponymous for hard-paste porcelain of the highest quality, manufactured here before anywhere else in Europe and going strong after more than 300 years of production.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Meissen:

1. Albrechtsburg

AlbrechtsburgSource: Shutterstock

A masterwork of Late Gothic architecture, Albrechtsburg, in Meissen’s hilltop ensemble of medieval monuments, held as Germany’s oldest “Schloss”, equivalent to a château.

The palace dates to the second half of the 15th century on a spot that had been fortified since the 900s.

The men in charge at that time were Ernest and Albert (Albrecht) of Wettin, joint electors of Saxony.

No other noble residence of the period had this level of sophistication, from the cellular vaulting throughout, to arched curtain windows and the winding staircase tower that distinguishes the facade.

By the 18th century Albrechtsburg was out of favour and hosted the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory for the next 160 years.

Then in 1873 the palace was restored to its Late Gothic glory, and Gothic Revival murals were painted throughout, documenting the history of the building.

2. Meissen Cathedral

Meissen CathedralSource: Valentin Ivantsov / Shutterstock.com
Meissen Cathedral

Next door, Meissen Cathedral is as pure an expression of Gothic architecture as you could hope to find.

Work started in 1260 and would continue up to 1410. The first thing to do is make for the north wall of the choir where there are two larger than life 13th-century polychrome statues of Holy Roman Emperor Otto I and his wife Adelaide of Burgundy, founders of the diocese of Meissen in the 10th century.

Also astounding is the rood screen from 1260, and in close proximity you’ll find an altar triptych from Lucas Cranach the Elder’s workshop, carved choir stalls and a pulpit all from the 16th century.

In 1425 a new funerary chapel for the Wettins was built for Frederick I, Elector of Saxony.

This is on the west side of the building and houses Frederick’s rich bronze tomb monument.

3. Meissen Porcelain Manufactory

Meissen Porcelain ManufactorySource: tripadvisor
Meissen Porcelain Manufactory

Meissen is a byword for fine porcelain, a legacy reaching back to 1708. It all began when Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland wanted to crack the secret of Chinese porcelain, which had been imported to Europe at great expense for hundreds of years.

He put a team of alchemists, metallurgists and physicists on the case, and by 1708 Meissen’s manufactory was up and running.

Coming to the manufactory entails a visit to the “demonstration workshop”, where a recorded audio-guide explains how each piece is hand-painted and glazed.

You don’t need to be a collector to be awed by the level of workmanship.

Upstairs is a museum with 300 years worth of the finest porcelain in a purpose-built Neoclassical exhibition hall.

4. Burgberg

Mitteltor TorhauSource: footageclips / Shutterstock.com
Mitteltor Torhau

The climb up the hill that hosts the castle and cathedral from the south is like a journey through time: You’ll clamber past Gothic and Renaissance patrician houses on stairways until you arrive at the Schlossbrücke.

Crenellated on both sides, this Romanesque bridge completed in the 1220s culminates with the Mittlerer Burgtor.

This regal gate was originally Romanesque but after being removed in the 1700s it was rebuilt in the Gothic Revival style in the 1870s, and has mosaics depicting St George.

Head through the portal and you’ll be on the Domplatz (Cathedral Square) and marvelling at the castle, cathedral and monastic buildings.

5. Meissen Markt

Meissen MarktSource: manfredxy / Shutterstock.com
Meissen Markt

At the foot of the Burgberg is Meissen’s marketplace, bordered on all sides by Renaissance buildings.

Your eye will be drawn to the apse and 57-metre tower of the Frauenkirche and the white town hall, which we’ll talk about later.

On the east side you can’t ignore the Hirschhaus, which has a fine Mannerist portal dating to 1642. The south side has a delightful row of pastel-painted Renaissance houses including the Markt-Apotheke (Market Pharmacy).

6. Frauenkirche

FrauenkircheSource: footageclips / Shutterstock.com

In the southwest corner of the marketplace is the Church of Our Lady, first documented at the start of the 13th century.

After city fires in the 15th century the church was extended and redesigned as a Late Gothic hall church.

The exquisite altarpiece is from around this period, although its wings, which had been lost, were replaced in the 1900s.

The church has another valuable altar, crafted in 1480 and brought here from Meissen’s Nikolaikirche.

The tower was struck by lightning in the 16th century, when it got its current Renaissance lines and octagonal shape.

This holds the 37-bell porcelain carillon (the first in the world), installed in 1929 on Meissen’s 1000th anniversary and playing a different hymn at 06:30, 08:30, 11:30, 14:30, 17:30 and 20:30.

7. Rathaus

RathausSource: Solodovnikova Elena / Shutterstock.com

Taking up the whole of the north wall of Marktplatz, the town hall is a photogenic Late Gothic building finished in 1478. The building has a high and unusually steep saddle roof, where you can admire its outstanding feature, a row of three highly ornate dormers.

The main portal has a Gothic ogival arch, and above this you can see Meissen’s coat of arms, carved from sandstone in 1865. The doorway on the right led to the Brotbank (a bakery regulated by the town), which is now the Ratskeller, a traditional restaurant common in German historic town halls.

8. Panoramaaufzug Burgberg Meissen

Panoramaaufzug Burgberg MeissenSource: www.heinze.de
Panoramaaufzug Burgberg Meissen

The trek to the top of the Burgberg might be a bit onerous on summer days, so now you can catch a new panoramic lift.

This will carry you in a glass box 33 vertical metres up the slope in 40 seconds flat.

The lift runs from 09:00 to 18:00 and costs €1,00 to go up and is free of charge to come down.

On your short journey you’ll have just enough time to look over the Elbe and its vineyards.

9. Kloster Heilig Kreuz

Wikipedia Tour 2015Source: commons.wikimedia
Wikipedia Tour 2015

By the Elbe, a couple of kilometres north of Meissen are the enigmatic ruins of a Medieval monastery.

The complex is from the beginning of the 13th century and switched between the Cistercian and Benedictine orders.

The buildings were secularised in the Reformation in the 16th century and then demolished in the Seven Years’ War in the mid-18th century.

The revered Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich painted the ruins in 19th century.

The site is now in the hands of Hahnemannzentrum, an organisation for homeopathic medicine.

They have planted gardens with roses, honeysuckle, clematis and some 200 varieties of medicinal and aromatic plants.

Also growing in the gardens is the oldest Traminer vine in Saxony, at more than 150 years old.

10. Stadtmuseum

StadtmuseumSource: commons.wikimedia

Meissen’s city museum occupies a few of the old town’s historic buildings, like a Neo-Gothic house from the 19th century, the gatehouse on Domplatz by the cathedral and the former Church of St Peter and Paul, which is the main venue.

The Stadtmuseum uncovers Meissen’s history from different angles, chronicling the development of the porcelain craft, displaying religious statues and funerary monuments from Medieval times and the Early Modern Age.

In the old church you can view a fun assortment of objects like a giant wine press dating back to 1788, 19th-century bicycles, sewing machines from the 1880s made at Meissen Biesolt & Locke factory, models of ships that navigated the Elbe and 16th-century pistols.

11. Kirche St. Afra

Kirche St. AfraSource: wikimapia
Kirche St. Afra

On the Afraberg hill, a brisk climb up two stairways from the Martkplatz is a church consecrated in the early 13th century and once belonging to an Augustinian monastery.

The Church of St Afra was remodelled in the 15th century, and the Martinsaltar is the thing you can’t leave without seeing.

This was moved here from the Church of St Martin in Weinböhla and was crafted with vivid images of St Martin, St Urban and John the Evangelist.

The early Baroque portal on the south side bears the coat of arms of the Saxon electors, while on the left is a statue of Moses with the ten commandments, and on the right is Paul the Apostle with sword.

12. Wine

WineSource: Shutterstock

Meissen has a winemaking tradition reaching back to the 12th century.

This is the Saxony wine region (one of the northernmost in Europe), with vineyards on the terraced granite slopes of the Elbe Valley from Dresden to Diesbar-Seußlitz, 15 kilometres north of Meissen.

Wineries generally produce dry, lightly fruity white wines using mostly Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris grapes.

There are also a few reds made with Pinot Noir, which also does well in Meissen’s cold winters and warm summers.

Wine taverns and bistros are plentiful in the old town, while the Weinfest celebrates the grape harvest at the turn of October and invites winegrowers from around the region to showcase their latest wines.

On the fairground the Elbe there’s a live music stage with music for all tastes.

13. Schloss Proschwitz

Schloss ProschwitzSource: John Menard / flickr
Schloss Proschwitz

The oldest privately run winery in Saxony, owned by a member of the historic House of Lippe, is hardly five kilometres from the Burgberg in Meissen.

Wine has been produced on this parcel of land since the middle of the 12th century.

The vines at Schloss Proschwitz grow on the south-facing slopes on the right bank of the Elbe, making up for the high latitude, and you’ll be able to tour the estate, soaking up picturesque vistas of Albrechtsburg and the cathedral.

The 18th-century Baroque palace is rented for events, while there are concerts in the park in summer.

On a typical day your main motive for coming will be to visit the winery shop and try a glass or two at a table in the shade of chestnut trees.

14. Meissen Siebeneichen Zoo

Meissen Siebeneichen ZooSource: Peter Keit / flickr
Meissen Siebeneichen Zoo

This animal park is in three hectares of forest not far from Siebeneichen Schloss, which while noteworthy is currently empty and awaiting redevelopment.

The zoo has 85 different species and about 400 animals in total on its three hectares.

Kids will have fun making friends with the tame ponies and rabbits, and there are lots of other farmyard animals like chickens, horses, goats and pigs.

In the aviary are birds of prey like long-eared owls and snowy owls.

And although the park concentrates on mountain and domestic animals there are also exotic species like kangaroos, turkeys, porcupines, parrots, sika deer and alpacas.

15. Meißner Fummel

Meißner FummelSource: audinou / flickr
Meißner Fummel

Meissen has a pastry with EU geographical indication that has been baked in the town for over 300 years.

The Meißner Fummel is a strange delicacy with a back-story.

The pastry is made from dough rolled wafer thin.

When it is baked the Fummel inflates like a balloon, except there won’t be anything inside.

The shell of pastry is then dusted with icing sugar, and the flakes enjoyed as a treat with coffee.

So what’s the point of what is essentially an air pocket? Well, the Fummel was invented by the 18th-century Elector August II the Strong for court carriers to carry with them.

This was done to make sure that they looked after the important documents they delivered by coach between Dresden and Meissen.

The pastry is so fragile that the utmost care would be needed to prevent it from breaking.

15 Best Things to Do in Meissen (Germany):

  • Albrechtsburg
  • Meissen Cathedral
  • Meissen Porcelain Manufactory
  • Burgberg
  • Meissen Markt
  • Frauenkirche
  • Rathaus
  • Panoramaaufzug Burgberg Meissen
  • Kloster Heilig Kreuz
  • Stadtmuseum
  • Kirche St. Afra
  • Wine
  • Schloss Proschwitz
  • Meissen Siebeneichen Zoo
  • Meißner Fummel