Meissen stands on both banks of the River Elbe in Eastern Germany, 16 miles northwest of Dresden and about 60 miles east of Leipzig. Famed for the discovery of porcelain in Europe, and for the first factory in Europe to produce it, Meissen is home to a porcelain-ware brand of the same name. Aside from this heritage it has a wealth of history to its name and is one of the oldest towns in the Saxony region, dating back to 929 when it was founded by the German king Henry the Fowler.
Meissen is a city overflowing with history, where diners at the stone-walled Schloss Taverne and the old-world Restaurant Vincenz Richter will find themselves surrounded by the guns, armour and dark period woodwork of old Saxony. The view from the river Elbe is dominated by Castle Albrechtsburg and the adjoining Meissen Cathedral, while the cobbled streets of the city are lined with the neat, solid Renaissance architecture of traditional cafes and shops.
Visitors may have the chance to disembark and visit the Meissen porcelain factory, founded in 1710 and the first factory of its kind in Europe – now a global brand in jewellery, interior design, artwork, fabric and tableware. You can even tour the museum and see the porcelain plates, bowls, tea sets and classical figurines being hand-made, and stamped with their distinctive mark of the blue crossed swords.
Tours may continue into Meissen’s Old Town to show you around the cobbled streets and Castle Hill, where Albrechtsburg Castle and the impressive Meissen Cathedral share a cramped space overlooking the town. As such, the cathedral is one of the smallest in Europe, but no less beautiful and dramatic for it – being one of the most definitive examples of the elaborate, decoratively-arched Gothic style and a true landmark of the region.
Meissen certainly has no shortage of wine taverns, despite its location in the smallest wine region in Germany – and the town’s September wine festival is testament to the quality of the local vineyards, where the Gold Riesling grape flourishes. Other seasonal attractions include the Musik-Marathon and the Pianoforte Festival, but it’s in December when the Old Town really comes into its own. Meissen’s historic guildhall and Church of Our Lady frame the scene of a beautiful Christmas market, where fairy-lit market booths offer all the sights, sounds and smells of the season. Even the guildhall itself becomes an enormous advent calendar, with each of its window shutters revealing festive surprises for the 24 days up to Christmas.
Meissen truly comes alive during the festive season, so visiting it as part of a Christmas markets river cruise is an especially rewarding experience. Whatever time of the year you visit however, it presents the perfect opportunity to pick up some quality porcelain for the collection, too.