Photo: Bastei Bridge in Saxon Switzerland, Germany

The Bastei Bridge rises above the Elbe River in Germany’s Saxon Switzerland National Park.

Photograph by Berthold Steinhilber, laif/Redux

Name: Saxon Switzerland National Park

Location: Germany

Date Established: 1990

Size: 36 square miles (93 square kilometers)

Did You Know?

• Border Park Saxon Switzerland National Park borders the Czech Republic’s Bohemian Switzerland National Park. Though a border divides this space its management has long been marked by international cooperation. A hiker’s border crossing was opened in 2003.

• City in Stone The park is known for a wildly eroded landscape of Elbe sandstone formations, created as a seafloor during the Cretaceous period. The cliffs, mesas, gorges, and spires of this “city in stone” are the result of more than 100 million years of work by wind and by the waters of the Elbe River and tributaries as they flow into the North Sea.

• Free-Climbing Saxon Switzerland is an irresistible draw for rock climbers. In fact free-climbing for sport is said to have originated in this region during the mid-19th century. Today schools enthusiastically teach the sport to newcomers.

• Varied Habitats The park’s stark topography creates a mix of diverse natural habitats in close proximity to each other—plateau mountaintops, steep ravines, wildflower-filled meadows, moors, and extensive forests. Rugged, rocky terrain provides a refuge, free from human intervention, for many species no longer found in most of Germany. In the skies above one may spot black storks, peregrine falcons, or horned owls.

• Topsy-Turvy Saxon Switzerland National Park’s climate is turned “upside down” by a phenomenon called climactic inversion. Mixed montane forest is found at the damp, cool lower altitudes in shadowy gorges. This unusual climate has allowed two flowers normally found in tundra climates, the gelbe Veilchen ("yellow violet") and the Sumpfporst (wild rosemary) to survive here since the last ice age.

• Königstein Fortress The heights of this romantic landscape are dotted with castles and fortresses, many of which are themselves fascinating tourist draws. The Königstein Fortress, which dates to at least 1241, is perched dramatically on a towering mesa and affords stunning views across Saxon Switzerland.

How to Get There

The park is about 19 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of Dresden. Trains run to the local communities of Bad Schandau, Sebnitz, and Neustadt. Buses also run to the park through Pirna. The retro-style Kirnitzschtal tram has seven stops between Bad Schandau and the waterfall at Lichtenhain.

When to Visit

Saxon Switzerland’s beauty changes with each season but never really diminishes. Some activities (water trips and rock climbing) are more popular in the warmest months but crowds also tend to peak at such times.

How to Visit

The Elbe created much of the park’s landscape over millions of years. Today it offers one of the best ways to take it all in. Consider hiring a rowboat or riding a historic paddle steamer to enjoy the breathtaking water-level view of dramatic gorges and towering heights.

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