By Casey Snook
Germany has no shortage of beautiful nature and while the Alps and the Black Forest might come to mind first, one of the best natural areas in the country is Saxon Switzerland. While you might assume it’s located in Switzerland, Saxon Switzerland National Park is actually in the far east in Germany on the border with the Czech Republic. (The park gets its name from two Swiss men who were reminded of the landscapes of their home country.) Although a bit under the radar as far as tourist destinations go, its a wonderland for lovers of the outdoors. The park was founded in 1990 and today, it includes more than 100 km² of protected natural land.
Saxon Switzerland is most famous for the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, huge rock towers that are scattered across the entire park. They’re absolutely massive in some places and create a unique experience for those exploring them. If you’re near their base, you’ll be weaving in between canyons and caves. If you take a few hikes, you’ll soon be on top of these monoliths with views the stretch across the pristine landscape of the Saxony region. This is the only national park in the country with these unique rock features.
Simply put, Saxon Switzerland is gorgeous. The rolling green hills look like the storybook version of German and the rugged wilderness in between makes for a stark contrast. In the middle of it all, the Elbe River snakes through the park and a number of historic landmarks stand nearby as well. Not a lot of travelers put Saxon Switzerland on their bucket list, but especially if you’re a nature lover, make sure to add it right away.
Things To Do In Saxon Switzerland National Park
Incredible hiking trails are one of the main reasons visitors come to Saxon Switzerland. There are over 620 miles of hiking routes and each of them is unique. In fact, trail diversity is something that makes Saxon Switzerland stand apart from many other more famous national parks in Europe. There is something to fit every level of fitness, from short, flat walks in the woods to near vertical hikes that involve ladders and railings. The shortest hikes will take you around 30 minutes while the longest route in the park is a giant 8-day loop.
One of the very best hikes in Saxon Switzerland is the short but rewarding Schrammsteine hike. You’ll need to hike in for about half an hour from the main road to reach the trailhead. From there, the flat path leads you around the base of the sandstone columns to the start of the steep section of the climb. You’ll clank up wiggly ladders and grip carved footholds for dear life as you make your ascent to the top. You’ll arrive at a precarious lookout point that gives you a 360-degree view of the park around you. From here, you can even see as far as the Czech Republic. If there’s one hike not to miss in Saxon Switzerland, Schrammsteine is it.
Visit the Königstein Fortress
The Königstein Fortress is an awesome place to visit if you’re more interested in the history of the area. This massive hilltop stronghold is right next to the Elbe River and its hight allows visitors to see to the horizon. Königstein was used as a prison for quite some time but before that, it was a military establishment as well as a place occupied by royalty. Inside, you’ll be able to take an audio tour through the open-air museum to learn about the fortification’s past.
Ride a Bike
Cycling in Saxon Switzerland National Park is something quite special. While there are some places to bike on the road, most of the best trails lead through the woods and around the sandstone towers. The paths are rugged and adventurous, perfect for those who love adrenaline. Make sure to rent a sturdy off-road bike to traverse these routes safely.
Explore the Bastei Bridge
Perhaps the most unique attraction in the park, the Bastei Bridge is one place you can’t miss in Saxon Switzerland. The handbuilt stone bridge connects two pillars of sandstone together, allowing visitors to cross from one side to the other on foot. At the bridge, you’ll find the remains of an old castle and its stables. Make sure to hike the short trails nearby to catch panoramic views of the bridge. Only a short hike away, you’ll find the Swedish Holes, a series of peaceful, moss-covered slot canyons. You can do a hike to visit both attractions by going in a loop.
Try Rock Climbing
If you’re feeling daring and want to try something extra adventurous, try your hand (and feet) at rock climbing. There are over 17,000 rock climbing tracks inside the park and avid climbers come from all over to scale the massive limestone columns that Saxon Switzerland is so famous for. While there are some restrictions in place to protect nature, climbers generally have free range of the entire park. Just like the hiking trails, the climbing routes are incredibly diverse with everything from perfect beginner routes to ones exclusively for experts.
If you’re a lover of nature and the outdoors, Saxon Switzerland must be added to your bucket list. It makes a great weekend trip from the cities of Dresden, Leipzig, Berlin, and Prague, and is easily accessible by both car and train. Make sure to book your stay in one of the quaint and cozy towns near the park such as Rathen or Bad Schandau. Once there, take your time exploring on foot and seeing the best of what the park has to offer – you won’t be disappointed!
Casey Snook is a native Bostonian currently living in Berlin. She’s an obsessive travel magnet collector and is on a mission to find the best sushi in every city she visits. Casey loves getting outdoors when she’s traveling and is always trying to dive deeper into local cultures while abroad. You can read more about her adventures at CarefreeCompass.com.