It might surprise you to learn that Saxon Switzerland National Park is nowhere near Switzerland. In fact, the park is nestled just against Czechia. Don’t let that deter you from planning a visit, though. The park is captivating, mountainous and scenic (which how it got its name…it offers jaw-dropping views, just like Switzerland, but you’re also a few minutes’ drive from Czechia, where a dinner for five won’t break you financially, unlike Switzerland). So get ready for magical forests, incredible sandstone spires, canyons, a fantastic river, and all the adventure you can handle!
Outdoor options for everyone
Saxon Switzerland National Park offers excellent year-round outdoor activities. With more than 1,200 kilometers of waymarked trails, the park is fantastic for hiking during any season – even winter.
Speaking of the cold months, Saxon Switzerland is particularly well suited for families who have never skied before. There are a handful of small ‘winter sport resorts’ that offer downhill skiing, cross country skiing, and snowboarding for beginners. Parents (and non-parents, too) can enjoy spa treatments and delightful dinners out, as well. As a bonus, Saxon Switzerland tends to be far less crowded than actual Switzerland.
During spring, summer, and fall, though, the park shines. The Malerweg Trail bills itself as Germany’s most popular one, and with good reason. It winds through picturesque valleys, forests, and mountain passes, and passes a wide variety of attractions along the way (more on those later). At nearly 120 kilometers along, it offers options for day trips or multi-week adventures as you navigate through the Elbe sandstone mountains and track the Elbe River. Multiple options for lodging are available, from basic to campsites to resorts. High season for hiking is June through September, though the trail is open and accessible year-round.
The park also offers expert options for outdoorsy types, especially for climbers. Billing itself as ‘the birthplace of free climbing,’ the park does have some amazing spots for adrenaline junkies. Metal gear is not allowed (the sandstone is too soft for it), and strict requirements are in place for the use of bolts and ropes. But if you’re into climbing, this is one of the best places in Germany to visit.
One special bridge, one spectacular castle ruin
The Malerweg Trail also leads to the famous Bastei Bridge, which is a 250-foot long pedestrian bridge that spans a sandstone-spire-packed canyon. The amazing landscape resembles a German twist on something you might find in Zion National Park in the U.S. The bridge is an absolute highlight – one of the best sightseeing/selfie-taking spots in Germany. And the views will make you want to stick around for a while and just…watch the world.
Even better, the bridge goes somewhere. It leads, in fact to the ruins of Felsenburg, or the Neurathen Rock Castle. This isn’t your typical Rhine castle, even though it offers a similar history to many of Germany’s other castles. It’s been around for more than 800 years, and was captured, sacked, rebuilt again and again for several hundred more years. Finally, it gave up the ghost for good, but left behind some epic rooms and passages carved in the sandstone rocks near Bastei Bridge.
Go to hike, stay for a theatre performance
Another reason why Saxon Switzerland National Park is special? It offers the Felsenbühne Rathen open air theatre, which is one of the most spectacular outdoor venues in Europe. Set in a natural rock amphitheater, the Felsenbühne Theatre offers outstanding performances all year long. Visitors can see operas, music festivals, live music performances, plays, readings, artistic interpretations, and much more.
Getting to Saxon Switzerland National Park
By car, Saxon Switzerland National Park is six hours from Kaiserslautern, five hours from Wiesbaden, and 5.5 hours from Stuttgart.