Saxon Switzerland

View of the Lilienstein in Saxon Switzerland

View of the Lilienstein in Saxon Switzerland.

Saxon Switzerland (GermanSächsische Schweiz) is a hilly climbing area and national park around the Elbe valley south-east of Dresden in SaxonyGermany. Together with the Bohemian Switzerland in the Czech Republic it forms the Elbe Sandstone Mountains.

Saxon Switzerland alone has some 1,000 climbing peaks, as well as several hollows. The area is popular with local and international climbers.

The administrative district for the area is Sächsische Schweiz-Osterzgebirge. The fortress of Königstein is a well-known landmark.

Bastei bridge in Saxon Switzerland.


The German name for Saxon Switzerland, Sächsische Schweiz, appeared in the 18th century. Two Swiss artistsAdrian Zingg and Anton Graff, were appointed in 1766 to the Dresden Academy of Art.

From their new, adopted home they look eastwards and saw, about a day’s walk away, a hill range. It had a strange, flattish profile, without any actual summits […]

— according to Lothar Kempe

They felt the landscape was reminiscent of their homeland, the Swiss Jura, and reported in their exchange of letters on the difference between their homeland and “Saxon Switzerland”. Previously, the Saxon part of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains had merely been referred to as the Meissen Highlands (Meißner Hochland), Meissen Oberland (Meißen Oberland) or Heath above Schandau (Heide über Schandau).

The description became popular through the publication of the name by Wilhelm Lebrecht Götzinger. In his books he described the area as Saxon Switzerland and made the term known to a wide audience.

In English the usual translation is “Saxon Switzerland”. However other sources call it “Saxony Switzerland” or even “Swiss Saxony”.

Sunset in Saxon Switzerland from the top of the Papststein. The three large hills are Gohrisch (l), the Königstein Fortress (c) and the Lilienstein (r).


As a rule, two types of hill may be distinguished.

Numerous rock formations in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, in both Saxon Switzerland and Bohemian Switzerland, are known locally in this region as Steine (“rocks”). Prominent examples are the Königstein, the Lilienstein, the Gohrisch and the Papststein. This description does not, however, include the dome-shaped Kuppen such as the Waitzdorfer Höhe or the Großer Winterberg, whose bedrock is made of volcanic basalt or granitic material.

The Cretaceous sandstone formations soar above the so-called “levels” of their surrounding area, the former level of the River Elbe, and represent the remains of an old peneplain. In the course of the Late Tertiary, uplifting of the Ore Mountains and sideways pressure from the Lusatian Highlands shattered the sandstone plate along lines that intersected like a grid and this, combined with the simultaneously increasing stream velocity of the Elbe and regressive erosion in its side valleys, offered new lines of attack and new routes for the destructive power of water. Initially the larger table hills (Lilienstein), or those already deeply fissured like ZirkelsteinKaiserkrone or already forested (Kohlbornstein), remained, but these too broke up later as a result of erosive destruction into long ridges (Schrammsteine) or even into individual rock pinnacles (Torwächter). Morphologically harder sections of strata, that resisted karstification longer and more successfully, generally form the uppermost layers. The collapse of rock structures is usually therefore a result of erosion from below or from the flanks.

The Barbarine at Pfaffenstein.

Physical map of Saxon Switzerland.


To the east, Saxon Switzerland transitions into the Lusatian Highlands and, to the west, into the Ore Mountains. The adjacent Czech part of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains is known as the Bohemian Switzerland. The highest elevation in Saxon Switzerland is the Großer Zschirnstein at 562 m above sea level.

View from Carolafelsen into the Elbe sandstone mountain ranges.

The Bastei ca. 1900

National park

View of the Elbe near Rathen

In September 1990, even before the reunification of Germany, a national park was created in Saxon Switzerland in order to protect the unique natural character of the hill range. The 93 km² area covers two physically separate regions: one near Rathen – the region of the BasteiPolenz valleyBrand and Uttewalder Grund – and the other embracing the whole Saxon Switzerland Hinterland (Hintere Sächsische Schweiz) between the Elbe and the state border with the Czech Republic and including the SchrammsteinenGroßer WinterbergGroßer Zschand and Kirnitzsch valley.

The Lilienstein at dusk

Points of interest

Agricultural fields are typical of Saxon Switzerland

Read more here at Wikipedia

Festung Königstein


  1. ᛋᛠᛉ · July 13, 2020

    Looks like a mighty good hike.

    I’d try it.


  2. Pingback: Bastei | VikingLifeBlog
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