Germany's most scenic region by steam
Boasting winding valleys and rugged mountain ranges, Saxony is among Germany's most scenic regions. We discover its prettiest towns and its beautiful scenery on excursions by historic narrow-gauge railway.
Meet your group and Tour Manager at our dedicated St Pancras Departure Office where you catch the Eurostar to Brussels. Here, we join the high-speed service via Frankfurt, to Nuremberg where we stay overnight.
Today, we enjoy a guided tour of Nuremberg before boarding the rail service to Dresden. Nuremberg has always been an important city in Bavaria and indeed, in the whole of Germany, mostly thanks to its key position on a variety of trade routes. Much of the wealth that came with traders went into the city itself, and as a consequence, Nuremberg's streets are filled with impressive townhouses, grand castles and reverent religious buildings.
The indisputable highlight of this city is the imperious Nuremberg Castle which sits high over the city. What impresses about this fortress is its sheer scale and impregnability. It is considered by many to be one of Europe's most indomitable fortresses and with its enormous tower, and immense fortifications, this comes as no surprise. Having been originally built by the Holy Roman Emperors and improved by consequent rulers, today's castle is a true delight for those with a keen interest in history.
Today we embark on a guided tour of Dresden, visiting its many famous sights before an afternoon at leisure to explore at your own pace. Characterised by stunning cityscapes, Dresden is a beautiful homage to German civilisation. The city is formed by predominantly Baroque architectural styles, though not exclusively. Mansions, town houses, palaces and churches built with impeccable taste and sophisticated touches each offer something different, but it is the sheer grandeur of these royal and imperial streets which make wondering the streets an experience awash with elegance and luxury.
The Royal Buildings are always highly regarded by visitors. Submerged in Baroque charm, the Zwinger Palace is a wonderful edifice with gracefully manicured gardens and babbling fountains acting as the introduction to a marvellous royal building of arches, windows and balconies.
Dresden has been painstakingly rebuilt after it was almost completely destroyed by allied bombing raids towards the end of the Second World War. Dresden was an important military asset for the Nazi war machine, with many workshops, factories and barracks maintained here. This made the city a target for both the British and American air force, and sadly, along with the tragic deaths of many civilians, much of the beautiful old buildings which lent Dresden its glittering charm were destroyed by incendiary bombs.
This morning, we travel to Freital, where we board the Weisseritz Valley Railway and climb up into the mountains, travelling 10 miles through the wild Rabenauer Grund Valley to the town of Kipdorf, where we have free time. The scenery here is impressive, and it is not hard to imagine how this landscape inspired the Brothers Grimm and their tome of dark fairytales.
We take a historic paddle steamer along the Elbe today. This is an exceptional way to experience both the river and the small towns which sit on the riverbanks. Sit back and enjoy the tranquillity of a river cruise, accompanied by the gentle thump of a genuine paddle steamer's wheels. These are real paddle steamers, and this provides a truly fascinating way to experience the gentle Elbe and the people who call this place home.
The boat passes the beautiful city of Dresden, and continues into the picturesque Elbe Valley. A former UNESCO World Heritage site, the Elbe Valley is a pretty and serene part of Germany, with surrounding flat meadows contrasting with forested foothills. The fields are often prone to flooding here and this makes the Elbe Valley a haven for all manner of wildlife including white storks and even the enormous, majestic sea eagle can be found in these parts. Travelling by boat down this river means that we are in a perfect position to try and see these birds and more in the water and on the banks.
We travel past treelined hilltops on our way to Meissen. Notably famous for its own ceramic styles, Meissen is a fairytale city, capped and crowned by the superb Albrechtsburg Castle. Built in the late-gothic style in charming orange and white stone, this castle was constructed back in 1471 and was, and still is, intended as a residence rather than a military fortification. During our excursion, we visit the famous Porcelain Manufacturer for a guided tour, with time to explore the idyllic Old Town at Meissen's heart.
Porcelain and Meissen has been an association which goes back centuries. There is a specific kind of porcelain known as Meissen porcelain which is renowned as the first European hard-paste china, a kind of porcelain which was first created in early Chinese history. The pioneer of this kind of ceramic was Johann Friedrich Böttger, who was commanded by the king of Poland to produce the porcelain from the Albrechtsburg Castle. So as to identify genuine Meissen products, Böttger and his workers used what is widely regarded as one of the first trademarks in existence; each product had a pair of crossed swords painted or fired on, and these would consequently fetch much higher prices when sold.
Today's excursion takes us by rail to the medieval town of Zittau. A town with a truly European feel to it, Zittau is characterised by charming cobbled squares, townhouses of various German architectural styles and its noble religious buildings. Traditionally a trading town, specialising and occasionally producing beer and textiles, Zittau is now a popular place for students with two educational institutes, one being the University of Zittau.
Here we enjoy a journey on the steam-hauled Zittau Railway through the pretty wooded hillsides and dramatic rock structures of the Zittau Mountains, as we head to Oybin. This is a nostalgic treat for anyone who enjoys the sights and sound of a steam engine as it pulls through exquisite Saxon countryside of fern-green forests and traditional villages. The train itself, a glorious old steam engine makes for a sight straight from past railways of history, with a proud black chimney and a dark green body, blending in with the trees behind it. The stations along this route are also worth mentioning, with many having stood for decades and others reconstructed in traditional railway station style. Tonight we enjoy a farewell dinner back in Dresden.
Leaving Dresden by rail on Day 7, we head to Cologne via Frankfurt for an overnight stay. On Day 8 we take the train from Cologne to Brussels. Here we join the Eurostar service to St Pancras International.
Please note that while every departure of this tour will feature the same excursions, the order may differ from that shown above.
For this tour, we recommend arriving to, and departing from, London Gatwick or London Heathrow airport (LGW or LHR). London Gatwick is approximately 30 miles from your start and end point, and London Heathrow is approximately 19 miles from your start and end point.
It is your responsibility to check and fulfil the passport, visa, health and immigration requirements applicable to your itinerary. We do not accept any responsibility if you cannot travel, or incur any other loss because you have not complied with any passport, visa, immigration requirements or health formalities. You agree to reimburse us in relation to any fines or other losses which we incur as a result of your failure to comply with any passport, visa, immigration requirements or health formalities.
You may check in at the first hotel on your itinerary anytime after 14:00; your Tour Manager will be available between 16:00 and 18:00. However, if you are arriving later, you can meet your Tour Manager before dinner from 19:00.
An escorted experience and travel during your tour
Comfortable accommodation in your destination
Delicious meals included
Exciting excursions and free time to explore
of travellers would recommend this tour
based on 4 verified reviews
A wonderful tour in great company. The overnight hotels in both Nuremburg and Cologne were acceptable as overnight stays. The main hotel in Dresden was excellent, lovely rooms, fabulous food. Well organised by Great Rail. Excursions were all excellent. We felt the Tour Manager treated us all rather like schoolkids but it didn't spoil the tour. Would certainly recommend.
Everything was perfect except I found the first day journey all the way to Nuremburg extremely taxing. I think it was too far St Pancras to Nuremburg in one hit. Also such a short time in Nuremburg seemed little reward for the time taken to get there. I did find manipulating my luggage on escalators on stations wearing. (I knew loading onto European trains would be challenging).
Very enjoyable tour. We did not get off to the best start on Eurostar as we assumed that we would be served breakfast on the train as we have always had on previous tours. However we discovered that we should have upgraded for this and it was stated in the brochure. We checked this on our return and it was there proving we should not take things for granted even with Great Rail. This was our eighth tour with you. I used the swimming pool at the Hotel in Dresden and at checkout at the end of the tour I was asked to pay a charge for that. I was not impressed with this along with the other members of our group who had used the pool. It was an expensive hotel and one assumed that such facilities should have been included for guests. Furthermore we had to ask for coffee at the end of dinner as we were not offered this. Many of our group had the same sentiment. However, the tour was good and there were many positives.
Great tour, lovely area of Germany and very good tour manager
it was a well organised tour. I have no specific points to make either for or against the tour.
A thoroughly enjoyable tour in a fascinating area of Europe - centred on Dresden, a remarkable city
Good tour manager, great places to visit and see, enjoyable rail journeys, good hotels, excellent river cruise, but not enough time to see Dresden
The hotel GRJ booked us into in London was quite a distance from St Pancras Station, which forced us to take a taxi and did not provide us with any form of breakfast. (Incidentally our information named the hotel Tour Inn whereas in fact it was The Crown Plaza - confusing!) The first two days of the tour involved several fairly rushed train changes, dragging our cases with us, and many hours travel. By the time we got to Dresden we were quite tired. We didn't arrive until about 10.30pm although that was due to train delays rather than bad planning. However, once the tour proper commenced we felt it was well organised and nicely balanced between trips and free time. All hotels were excellent and we ahd a wonderful time
Everything about the tour was good - made even more excellent by our Tour Manager (John Levick)
Nothing is perfect. The hotel was good but charged outrageous prices for drinks and for the use of the pool. The tour of Dresden should have been scheduled for when the museums were open.
Germany's most scenic region by steam