The Elbe Sandstone Mountains (also called Saxon Switzerland) are one of the most beautiful regions in Germany, located just a few miles from Dresden. They were named by two Swiss painters who were impressed by the similarity of the area to the landscapes of their own country. You will see bizarre rock formations, walk through ancient woods and picturesque valleys alongside the winding Elbe River. In the Romantic Era, many painters from Switzerland and England discovered this region with its beautiful wilderness.
The two Swiss painters Adrian Zingg and Anton Graff, both of them teachers at the Dresden Academy of Arts, were among the first to discover the unique beauty of the stones, valleys and gorges in 1766. Together with their students, they spent a lot of time in this area. Soon many other artists followed their steps. The most famous painter from this group of nature-loving artists was the German Caspar David Friedrich (1774 – 1840) with his masterpieces ‘View of the Elbe Valley’, ‘Rocky Gorge’ and ‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’.
In 2006 the 115-kilometre long Painter’s Path (‘Malerweg’) was inaugurated, leading you in the footsteps of these romantic painters.
This is a moderate to strenuous trek, appropriate for experienced hikers. If you are considering more leisurely walks, we also offer easier hikes along the Malerweg Trail.
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Day 1: Arrival Pirna
Welcome to the Elbe Sandstone Mountains! You travel individually to the town of Pirna, which is known as the Gate to Saxon Switzerland. We recommend you to take a walk through the city’s historic centre with its medieval alleys and numerous artfully decorated town houses. The city is also located close to Dresden and can be reached conveniently by public transport from there.
- Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Pirna (Hotel Am Malerweg or similar)
Day 2: Pirna – Lieberthal – Rathen | 17 km
In the morning, you take the local bus to the start of your first walking day right on the Malerweg trail. You will walk through three distinct wild and romantic areas. Passing the city of Wehlen – a peaceful town right by the Elbe River – you will reach today’s final destination, Rathen. But before that, you can enjoy the view from the most famous observation deck of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains: the Bastei Bridge.
- Walking for the day: 17 km, 5-6 hours ↑170 m ↓170 m
- Accommodation: hotel or guesthouse in Rathen (Hotel Amselgrundschlösschen or similar)
Day 3: Rathen – Hohnstein – Altendorf/Kirnitzschtal | 22 km
From the first highlight of today – the Hockstein rock – you have the perfect view onto your next milestone: the city of Hohnstein. Walking through the Polenztal valley, you will reach the Brand viewpoint, offering spectacular views of the Elbe Mountains. You continue your hike taking the 800 steps down into Tiefen Grund valley. Passing Waitzdorf, you reach Altendorf or continue along the Panorama trail, which leads you down to Kirnitzschtal valley.
Day 4: Altendorf/Kirnitzschtal – Schramm-Steine – Neumannmühle | 17 km
Walking on Gratweg trail through Schrammstein massif, you hike uphill to Schrammstein viewpoint. Passing Big and Small Dome, you reach Affensteinweg trail which leads you directly to Lichtenhain Waterfall. After visiting the natural arch Kuhstall, you walk back down to Kirnitzschtal valley in order to reach the monument of Neumannmühle. By local bus, you go back to Kirnitzschtal valley where you spend the night.
Day 5: Neumannmühle – Schmilka – Krippen | 22 km
After taking the bus to Neumannmühle, you hike up to Zeughaus and climb up Großer Winterberg mountain. Then you descend to Schmilka, crossing the Elbe River (ferry-fees are not included), walk upstairs to Schoena and reach Reinhardtsdorf. Enjoy the stunning views of the Schrammstein massif located on the other side of the Elbe River while walking towards Krippen.
- Walking for the day: 22 km, 7-8 hours ↑700 m ↓800 m
- Accommodation: 3-star hotel or guesthouse in Krippen (Hotel Erbgericht Krippen or similar)
Day 6: Krippen – Gohrisch – Königstein | 21 km
Before you reach Gohrisch, you climb up the mesa Papstein and mesa Gohrisch. Along Pfaffenstein and passing by cave Diebskeller you will follow the Malerweg trail until you reach the Fortress of Königstein. If there is still time left, you should not miss exploring the fortress.
Day 7: Königstein – Pirna | 17 km
Your last hiking stage on the Malerweg trail leads you up to Rauenstein massif. From here you can catch a sight of Bastei Bridge on the other side of the Elbe River. In the afternoon you will reach your final destination, Pirna.
- Walking for the day: 17 km, 6-7 hours ↑300 m ↓400 m
- Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Pirna (Hotel Am Malerweg or similar)
Day 8: Departure or Onward Travel
The tour ends after breakfast. Departure or extend your stay with more days in Pirna.
What to Expect
7 nights in 3-star hotels or comfortable guesthouses. All rooms have en-suite facilities. We have carefully hand-picked all places and regularly monitor their quality. We have tried to choose accommodations that offer friendly service, clean and comfortable rooms and local flavour.
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*Hotels are subject to availability. In case a particular hotel is fully booked for your desired dates, we will replace it with a hotel of equal value and quality level. We will provide exact accommodation details to you upon booking confirmation.
Breakfast is included. When no restaurant location is available on the route, lunches and snacks should either be bought from local shops, or packed lunch can be pre-ordered from your hotel the night before. Dinner is available either from the restaurant in your accommodation or restaurants in the village near your hotel.
Difficulty & terrain
This holiday is appropriate for experienced mountain walkers with a sound level of fitness and no fear of heights, total walking is 115 km, on average 6-7 hours per walking day (read more about difficulty grades). The trails are very well maintained and waymarked. We strongly advise you to follow only marked trails and never try to shorten the path through the unknown and unmarked terrain. We will provide you with detailed road notes and maps, and you can call our 24/7 local assistance phone number anytime. More detailed info on route navigation will be included in your holiday information pack.
When to go
This trip is available from April until October, except between 18-21 June. The flexibility of self guided holidays means that there are no fixed dates and you can start your trip on any date in the season – so please indicate desired beginning date when booking. The climate in the region is continental, cold and temperate. Depending on location and altitude, temperatures vary, but, in the June-September period, the daily averages are 15 – 25°C. Spring and autumn are cooler with occasional rain. Expect the weather to change rapidly during the day.
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Our recommended arrival airport for this holiday is Dresden.
By train or bus
You will arrive at Dresden airport. Take the modern airport shuttle train. The platform is situated in the basement of the terminal (signs will indicate the direction). The train S2 (direction: Dresden main station / Pirna) takes about 15/17/20 minutes to get to the stations Dresden Neustadt/ Dresden Mitte and Dresden central station. The airport shuttle train leaves half-hourly at xx.17 and xx.47. Single Ticket: 4.10 € per person.
- Detailed road notes and maps (1 pack per room)
- 7 nights in 3-star hotels or guesthouses
- 7 breakfasts
- Welcome drink in Pirna
- Luggage transfers from hotel to hotel on all walking days
- Tickets for public transport on the 2nd, 4th and 5th hiking day
- 24/7 phone assistance by our local office/representative
- Airfare and connecting land transfers
- Lunches, dinners, drinks and snacks
- Other public transport
- Travel insurance (required – get a quote online)
- Personal expenses
- Any items not explicitly listed as included
Options, extras & supplements
- Supplement applies to members of a group who require a single room / single use of a double room
- This holiday is available for solo travellers; a supplement will be charged as accommodation and luggage transfer costs are not shared (we never mix and match – solo travellers will be accommodated in single rooms)
- Hiking with a dog is possible on request. Any additional costs are payable on the spot only
- Extra nights in Pirna and Dresden
We really enjoyed this holiday. The Malerweg is an interesting trail with lots of variety and spectacular scenery. The hotels and guest houses we stayed at were comfortable and all did a substantial breakfast buffet. We encountered some problems finding places to eat in the evenings as most restaurants seemed to be fully booked by the time we arrived at our destination for the night. The route details were OK but in many cases, it would have been useful to have had some idea how far it was to the next feature on the trail. Also on some days, we seemed to walk quite a lot further than the distances given in the guide, even allowing for detours.