Bastei, the Natural Wonder in Saxon Switzerland, Germany

Bastei is the famous rock formation in Saxon Switzerland National Park Area, Germany. The highlight of the national park is the Bastei Bridge.  Between the Czech Republic and Germany on both sides of the border, the Elbe Sandstone Mountains is a unique landscape. More than 100 million years ago, this area was the bottom of a shallow sea. Over long periods, rivers carried sand and eroded debris into this sea. The deposition accumulated to a hefty sandstone slab up to a thickness of 600 metres. Due to the earth movements over millions of year, the slab was lifted and formed the Elbe Sandstone Mountains.

Quite a while ago, I saw a picture showing the Bastei Bridge before the dawn. The picture caught my attention right away. The view was so remote and attractive. During my trip to Dresden, I managed to make a day trip there. It is around 40 kilometres away from Dresden. And, the good news for the budget travelers is that the entire national park area is free and open year around. Here are the highlights of my day trip to Bastei:

  • Bastei panoramic view platform
  • The breathtaking views from the famous Bastei Bridge
  • Neurathen Castle, the largest rock castle in Saxon Switzerland
  • Felsenbühne (Open-Air Rock Theater)
  • Panorama Restaurant with the view of the Königstein Fortress

Why is it called “Saxon Switzerland”?

You might be confused with the name Saxon Switzerland. Bastei is in Germany, but why is Switzerland also part of the name? Back to the 18th century, two Swiss artists Adrian Zingg and Anton Graff were appointed in 1766 by the Dresden Academy of Arts. They saw a table mountain range without actual summit east of Dresden.
The area reminded them of their home town, Switzerland. To distinguish from their home country, they mentioned in their correspondence the area as Saxon Switzerland. Previously, the Saxon part of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains was only called Meissner Highlands.

Bastei panoramic view platform

The first place I went straight to see is the panoramic view platform. The platform is on top of a giant rock formation. Due to the erosion of the sandstone, it is no longer accessible. But from the side, I could also have the view of it the giant rock with the view of the Elbe river. Besides, I could take pictures of the giant rock and the Elbe river. The contrasting shaped rock formation is so amazing that one can easily take nice pictures without knowing many photograph principles.

The viewing platform in Bastei, Saxon Switzerland National Park, Germany
The viewing platform in Bastei, Saxon Switzerland National Park, Germany

The breathtaking views from the famous Bastei Bridge

The trail to the Bastei Bridge is well sign-posted. Along the trail, there are some places where I can see the Elbe River from different angles. Having come across many spectacular scenes, I noticed that on some rocks there are several memorial information. One inscription says that Herman Krone who was born in Breslau, a photographer from Saxony, Germany,  took the first landscape photograph in Saxony here in 1853. The picturesque nature has inspired many romantic artists over the years, such as Caspar David Friedrich, the German romantic painter, who painted “Rocks in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains”.

Built in 1824, the Bastei Bridge used to be a wooden bridge. It was replaced in 1851 and was made of sandstone. The Bastei Bridge is only 76.5 metre-long and connects the rock formations. To walk on the bridge is not as thrilling as to view it from distance. The Bastei Bridge leads to the rock castle (Felsenburg Neurathen).

View of the Elbe River betwenn the rocks in Bastei
View of the Elbe River betwenn the rocks in Bastei
The famous Bastei Bridge in the Saxon Switzerland National Park, Germany
The famous Bastei Bridge in the Saxon Switzerland National Park, Germany

 

Neurathen Castle, the largest rock castle in Saxon Switzerland

The rock castle Neurathen is the ruin of a medieval rock castle in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. It was the largest and the most impressive object in Saxon-Bohemian Switzerland. I paid a small fee at the ticket booth to get into the castle. Among historical sites are well-maintained walkways. I had to follow the signs to see all the sites.

The castle was first mentioned in documents in 1289 and was owned by various Bohemian noble families. In 1426, it finally became the property of the Saxon electors. The castle complex was either carved out of the rock or built as half-timbered buildings. Its widest point of the castle was about 100 metres.

The original Neurathen Castle atop the rocks
The original Neurathen Castle atop the rocks
The giant catapult used those stone balls to defense the castle during the attacks.
The giant catapult used those stone balls to defense the castle during the attacks.
The giant catapult used those stone balls to defense the castle during the attacks.
The giant catapult used those stone balls to defense the castle during the attacks.

Today, only the courtyard, the cistern, passages, and traces of the rooms carved into the rock have survived. Among many sites, the replica of the catapult is worth to see. The giant catapult used stone balls to protect the castle. There are some stone balls displayed on the castle premise.

The cistern was carved directly into the rock. Rainwater collected from the buildings, rocks, and roofs was led along with a guttering system into a covered basin. Such construction could keep the cistern clean and free of algae. Inside the clay-insulated double-layered stone wall was a wooden pipe with a valve. Then, the water could pass through the pipe and the gravel pit filter. Afterward, the water was available for the inhabitants.

Felsenbühne (Open-Air Rock Theater)

Felsenbühne is an Open-Air Rock Theatre below the famous Bastei rocks and Neurathen Castle. It contains around 200 seats. Built in 1936, the Rathen community used it for the performance of plays and music. From the rock castle, it is possible to see this rock theatre.

Between May and September each year, there are up to 90 performances by the Landesbühnen Sachsen. The programs are such as theatre plays and musical events. From September 2019 to April 2022, the modernization of the Open-Air Rock Theatre will take place, with millions of euro investment. By all mean, Felsenbühne is regarded as the most beautiful natural theater in Europe.

Panorama Restaurant with the view of the Königstein Fortress

Having walked around for a couple of hours, I settled myself into the restaurant of the Berghotel Bastei. To my surprise, the panorama restaurant has a wonderful sunset view over the Königstein Fortress.

Related post: Medieval Castles in Dresden and the City Surroundings

The panorama restaurant offers fresh salads, the different variations of poultry, fish, and game. The regional cuisine combines with fine Saxon wines or a freshly tapped Radeberger Pilsner (a type of regional beer). It also features a bar, fireplace, and terraces which brings every comfort to the guests.

The panorama restaurant in the Berghotel Bastei
The panorama restaurant in the Berghotel Bastei

Hiking in the Saxon Switzerland national park

In history, artists sought inspiration for their timeless works. Numerous artists reached the Bastei from different locations, thus formed the Elbe Sandstone Mountains Malerweg trail. For the outdoor activity seekers, the trail is one of the most picturesque hiking trails in Germany. The 112 kilometres trail leads through the region’s fascinating rocky landscape.

The most recommended trail is the Bastei-Hike from Wehlen via Bastei to Kurort Rathen. It takes around three hours and requires some hiking skills.

Where to stay

Most hiking trails start from Bastei. Some trails take a day to complete. The Berghotel Bastei is the perfect choice for those who come to make hiking activities. The location of the hotel is unbeatable, just a very short walk to the famous Bastei.  To stay at this hotel can keep you away from the hustle. Besides, the view of nature wonders changes from the morning to the evening.

You can have breakfast in the restaurant featuring panoramic views of the River Elbe to start the day. At the end of a hiking day, you can also relax in its sauna and spa. The hotel is available at booking.com and hotelscombined.com.

Berghotel Bastei
Berghotel Bastei (source)

Suggested tours

Walking tour

Both Dresden and Prague are not far from Saxon Switzerland. But it takes some efforts to reach the park form both cities. If you want to cover the two countries in one day, take a look at this Bohemia and Saxon Switzerland full-day tour from Prague. Starting from Prague, the journey includes the visit to Bastei Bridge, Pravcika Gate on the Czech Republic side of the national park,  Kamenice Gorge, the colorful village of Hrensko at the confluence of the Kamenice and Labe rivers.

If you wish to start the trip from Dresden, please take a look at the Bohemia and Saxon Switzerland day trip from Dresden. The journey covers the same sites as the one starts from Prague.

Boat tour

However, if you want to settle back and pass through the stunning landscapes in a relaxed atmosphere, then you should take a half-day boat trip to discover Saxon Switzerland. The journey will discover the bizarre and impressive sandstone formations, the romantic villages between Pirna and Bad Schandau and learn more about the unique mountains along the riverbanks.

How to get there

Hiking

If hiking is an option for you, there is a beautiful hiking trail Bastei-Hike from Wehlen via Bastei to Kurort Rathen.

By car

The famous Bastei Bridge is reachable by car. The distance from Dresden is around 30 km. If you use a navigation system, enter the address “Bastei, 01847 Lohmen”. However, during a usual day, it is difficult to find a parking place so close to Bastei.

But at the beginning of Basteistrasse (just behind the petrol station), there is another parking place. The address is P+R Bastei, 01848 Hohnstein. From there you can walk around 3.5 km to the Bastei or take the shuttle bus. At the time of writing, the shuttle bus costs one Euro one-way and 1.50 Euro for a return journey. Be prepared to park at this place when you come from Dresden.

S-Bahn

Take S-Bahn (line S2) train from Dresden Central railway station to Pirna and then take the Bus 237 to the Rathewalde P+R-Platz, Hohnstein. This is the parking place where you can take a shuttle bus to Bastei.

 

11 Comments

  1. I’m glad you clarified why Switerzland was in the name because that did confuse me immensely. I would argue that the duo could definitely have thought of a better name to not confused future tourists! 😉 You certainly right in saying that the views from the bridge are breathtaking. I’m not surprised that some former ruler thought this site with the ideal location for a castle. You definitely can’t beat that view. I found the ruins that you visited fascinating and I’m itching to learn more!

  2. Bastei looks so beautiful. The rock formations are so lovely. I was initially intrigued reading the name Switzerland but as I read through your post, it became clear why ‘Switzerland” figured in the name of the place. I am really intrigued looking at the boulders used by the giant catapult to protect the place.

  3. Giant rock formation like Saxon Switzerland always makes me speechless! Imagine if you can dive deep into the ocean, and this is what it would be look like without water. And the views from the bridge and the platform are just breathtaking. The rocks framed your pictures naturally. Love it!!

  4. Those rock formations look stunning!! The view from the Bastei Bridge is simply breathtaking. I would love to see the performances in the open-air theatre. The location as well as the Berghotel Bastei itself looks very beautiful – definitely a lovely place to stay in the midst of nature.

  5. What an incredible rock formation and bridge too! I’ve never heard of this bridge before, which makes me think I need to return to Germany and explore it better! I also love the Panorama Restaurant; there’s nothing better than having a meal with a fantastic view!

  6. The Bridge is incredible. The views from the bridge and surrounding area are spectacular. I have not visited this region but I will certainly plan to if I am close by. I am very impressed with the size of the stone balls used in the catapult. The Berghotel Bastei is definitely the place I would consider staying when visiting this region.

  7. Wow this place is amazing and definitely a geographical marvel! For a moment, I was confused on whether this post was on Switzerland or Germany until you clarified on the origin of the name. I’d love to visit the park one day, and will definitely include the river and the castle in my visit. Thanks for the detailed post. 🙂

    1. Hi Eunice,

      Thanks for the comments. Yes, the park is quite big and there are many hiking routes at all levels. Many tourists go there for a hiking trip. We are also thinking of go there again soon.

      Mijia

  8. The rock formations around the Bastei Bridge are incredible! I would love to see it one day. It’s very nice that the park is free as well, definitely not always the case with beautiful places like this. Pinned!

  9. Wooow, those rock formations are impressive! They must have been even more amazing when there was a castle too!

    I’d love to stay in Bastei and hike around this beautiful area!

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