Day one: Historic Leipzig
Leipzig’s historical centre sits inside the Ring, which follows the Old Town’s fortifications, with Marktplatz at its centre. Much of the design dates back 500 years, when its distinctive passages were built to save horse-drawn carriages from having to reverse in the courtyards. Drop by St Nicholas church to see where demonstrators once helped bring about the end of the GDR in 1989.
Day two: Wandering Dresden
Dresden merits at least two days. The visitor-focused Altstadt (Old Town) lies on the west bank of the Elbe, alongside the palaces, churches and opera house. Paddle steamers and cruise boats line the riverfront, which is filled with cultural sights. It makes for a painterly skyline. Meanwhile, on the east bank lies the 19th-century Neustadt, reminiscent of hipsterish Berlin and its arty urban nightlife.
Day three: Cultural Dresden
Dresden is rich in historic buildings, but its three powerhouse cultural institutions are unmissable. The big teapot-shaped Frauenkirche is the largest draw, with lunchtime recitals and a tower that offers fine city views. Second is the Zwinger, a Versailles-like Baroque palace that contains an Old Masters gallery featuring artists such as Cranach and Canaletto. And finally, there’s the Albertinum, which has works by the Impressionists and Caspar David Friedrich.
Day four: Head inland
Now to sample the countryside. Rent a car and head south-west for Seiffen, in the Ore Mountains, to investigate its woodcarver workshops. If you prefer public transport, take the train to Bad Schandau and follow the Painters Trail (116km) into the peaks of Saxon Switzerland. Or if you’d prefer to stay local, rent a bike to cycle along the Elbe’s eastern bank from Dresden and visit some nearby vineyards.
Day five: Travel to Görlitz
The grand but echoingly empty train station at Görlitz is the perfect visual appetiser for the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque sights that fill the town. Here you will find some 4,000 listed buildings packed into the squares and streets, creating what is almost an integrated work of art. It’s a bit like Prague, complete with its own astronomical clock, but without the all-consuming crowds.