Dresden, halfway between Berlin and Prague, is a 2-1/2-hour train ride from both cities; 4-1/2 hours from Frankfurt. For information, contact the German National Tourist Board...

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Dresden, halfway between Berlin and Prague, is a 2-1/2-hour train ride from both cities; 4-1/2 hours from Frankfurt.

For information, contact the German National Tourist Board, 212-661-7175, or see www.germany-tourism.de. See also www.dresden-tourist.de (German only) and www.dresden.de (click on “English”).

Orientation:

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Augustus the Strong, king of Poland, and his son Augustus III, transformed Dresden into one of the most exquisite royal residences in Europe.

Most of the museums, theaters, government buildings and monuments are concentrated within walking distance of each other, around the Theaterplatz in the Altstadt or Old Town on the southwest side of the Elbe River.

On the other side of the river is the Neustadt or New Town, a lively quarter with restaurants, cafes, boutique hotels and clubs. The Inner Neustadt is roughly the area west of Albertplatz; the Outer Neustadt is east of there. Dresden has little crime, and all of these areas are safe to walk around in at night.

Where to stay:

Contact the German tourist board for a booklet listing hotels, guest houses and youth hostels. Private rooms can be booked in people’s homes. (Reserve through the tourist office in the town center.)

The Dresden Tourist Office offers two and three-night hotel packages with a card for free admission to museums and use of public transportation. Call 011-49-351-49192-120 or e-mail dresdendays@dresden-tourist.de.

Most tour groups stay in one of the modern hotels in Altstadt; the Neustadt is popular with younger people and independent travelers.

A good choice near Köningstrasse, an Inner Neustadt street of restored Baroque buildings, boutiques and restaurants, is the Hotel Martha Hospiz, Nieritzstrasse 11, with 50 rooms and an easy walk to the Altstadt. Doubles range from $119-137, based on current exchange rates, with breakfast and private bath. Phone: 011-49-351-81760. Web: www.vch.de

More upscale and a good value for the money is the 339-room Westin Bellevue, Grosse Meissner Strasse 15. Quiet riverside location and the best views of any of the big hotels. Doubles start at $145. Phone: 011-49-351-8050. Web: www.westin.com

My favorite was the Guest House Mezcalero, Königsbrücker Strasse 64, in the Outer Neustadt. Twenty-three spotless rooms, all decorated in a Mexican theme, include apartments, rooms with private and shared baths and dorm rooms. Rates are per-person depending on the room. A double with bath is $70; $5 extra each for an ample breakfast buffet served until noon. Phone: 011-49-351- 810770. Web: www.mezcalero.de

Transportation:

Trams, buses and the S-Bahn commuter railway go to all the major sites and Dresden’s outskirts. Most fares are $1-$2. The tourist office sells a City Card ($16) good for 48 hours of bus and tram travel, plus admission to museums and sight-seeing discounts.

The Dresden Stadtrundfahrt is a roving tour bus that lets you get on and off at any of 18 stops. English explanations. Tickets are $21. See www.stadtrundfahrt.com

A group of young entrepreneurs operates Trabi-Safari. They’ll drive you around town in one of the boxy little Trabants once made in East Germany. Prices from $14 per person for a 45-minute tour. See www.trabi-safari.de

Sites:

Dresden is rich with museums and architectural treasurers. Consult a guidebook for a comprehensive list. The best one I found is “Dresden: Saxony’s Royal Residence ($8) for sale at the Dresden tourist office.

Here’s a sampling of what there is to see:

Semper Opera House, Opulent structure modeled after the late Renaissance style. Destroyed during the war and rebuilt.

Zwinger Palace: Baroque residence of Saxony rulers, now a museum complex with fountains and gardens.

Brühl Terrace: Known as the “Balcony of Europe” and famed for its sweeping view of the Elbe valley. Damaged in the war and rebuilt, it’s lined with outdoor cafes.

Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), in the center, across from the Dresden Hilton. Guided tours are free, and there’s a Visitors’ Center with models and photos of how the church once looked and the plans for reconstruction due to be completed for the city’s 800th anniversary in 2006.

Volkswagen’s Transparent Factory, Lennéstrasse 1, in the Altstadt near Groser Garten Park, is open for to the public for tours. See www.glaesernemanufaktur.de for information.

Kunsthofpassage, between Gorlitzer Strasse and Alaunstrasse, in the Outer Neustadt. Connecting passageways with art galleries, restaurants, shops with unusual sculptures and building art in the public spaces. See www.kunsthof.com (German only).

Yenidze (Tobacco Mosque), Weisseritzstrasse 3 on the western border of the city center. Not a mosque, but a former tobacco factory, built in 1908. Now an office building with a rooftop beer garden.

Side trips:

Day-trips to towns around Dresden can easily be made on the paddleboat steamers that ply the Elbe, or by bike, tram, bus or the S1 line of the S-Bahn.

Boat rides are scenic but take the most time. Trains run along the river every half-hour, going in one direction to Meissen, a 1,000-year-old town and home of Meissen porcelain, and the other to Saxon Switzerland, a natural area with craggy sandstone cliffs and wooded ravines, popular with hikers. Both trips take about 45 minutes.

A old steam train rumbles along narrow-gauge tracks from the Radebeul Ost station (10 minutes from Dresden on the S1 S-Bahn line), to the Moritzburg Castle, a Baroque hunting lodge on an island, about 30 minutes away. There are buses from here to Meissen.