Berlin Day Trip Inspiration: Hiking the Pfaffenstein in Saxon Switzerland
Last year, I had the opportunity to spend 6 months in Switzerland, and although I missed Berlin and ultimately decided to come back to Germany, this small country’s majestic beauty struck me. Now I know that, if I long for the Alps, a Pfaffenstein day trip is just the right medicine.
Last weekend, with lockdown regulations loosening up, we discovered Switzerland’s lookalike in Germany. Actually, we were planning to visit another mountain range in the area. But our plans changed at the last minute, and, serendipitously, we ended up in the Sächsische Schweiz, trekking up the sand stone mountain Pfaffenstein.
Saxon Switzerland in Brief
Saxon Switzerland is a mountain range in the state of Saxony, only 2.5 hours from Berlin and 30 minutes from Dresden. Human activity in these mountains dates back 3000 years. As of the Middle Ages, several trading routes crossed through the range, which explains the presence of fortresses. Several of these fortifications remain intact and can be visited today.
Why Go On a Saxon Switzerland Day Trip?
Call me good old-fashioned smitten, but since getting back to Berlin, I can’t stop thinking about my day trip, and I’m already plotting to go back. In no particular order, here are the main reasons why you, too, should visit Saxon Switzerland and Pfaffenstein:
- The views are simply spectacular
- It actually looks like Switzerland
- You can skip your workout the next day
- Hiking meets adventure
- Nature meets history
- You’ll have plenty of trail choices
- When you’re done hiking, explore traditional villages
- Easily get to Saxon Switzerland from Berlin
- Go solo or take a tour – experience Saxon Switzerland your way!
1. The Views
As you’ll know from my last post on the most Instagrammable spots in Berlin, I’m always looking for new scenery to shoot. And Pfaffenstein provided new material in spades. From narrow pathways between boulders to sweeping cliff-top views over rapeseed fields, there was natural beauty at every turn of our 3-hour hike. I could write more on this topic, but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll leave the rest up to these shots.
2. A Swiss Lookalike
If you’ve been to Switzerland, you’ll remember the rolling hills and lush pastures, the rugged Alps and wooden chalets. While the peaks aren’t as high, the Saxon landscape is shockingly similar. As an added bonus, if you’re coming from Berlin, you can skip the long drive.
3. Skip Your Next Workout
Hiking up the Pfaffenstein is not easy, but the views and experience make it worthwhile. To reach the top you don’t actually have so many steps to count, but the way up is steep. As someone who works out 3 to 4 times a week, I was surprised at just how tough it was. (Although, in all fairness, I was recuperating from a mild knee injury). But with a good workout comes the post-workout high, and this trek definitely got my adrenaline pumping. Objectively, I’d say climbing Pfaffenstein is quite manageable for people with a moderate fitness level.
4. Hiking Meets Adventure
As you make your way towards the summit, don’t just expect a pebbly path. Instead, the hike up Pfaffenstein consists of narrow, 1-person width passageways between boulders. Sometimes, the way up is so steep that ladders replace stairs. Of course, there is an even more adventurous way to reach the top: Pfaffenstein is a top rock climbing destination in Saxony.
5. Nature Meets History
As you reach the Pfaffenstein plateau, you’ll have unknowingly witnessed over 3000 years of human culture. Over time, archeologists unearthed many ancient artefacts and tools, from ceramic pots to axes. Although I only found this out researching the blog post – and am now frustrated I missed it – you can still see a 200 meter-long Bronze Age rampart not far from the Bequemer Aufstieg trail. Something for next time!
6. Trails for All Fitness Levels
If you’ve gotten somewhat intimated by my description of the trek up Pfaffenstein, don’t be! Your Pfaffenstein day trip can be as relaxed or as intense as you like. As we only found out on the way down, there are actually two ways to reach the summit. The easy trail is conveniently labeled Bequemer Aufstieg, or Comfortable Climb. For your own orientation, here is a map of Pfaffenstein.
7. Cute, Rustic Villages Abound
After you finish your hike, unwind in the village of Königstein at the base of the mountain. Set on the banks of the majestic Elbe, the colourful town is filled with quaint shops, cobblestone streets, ice cream parlours and cafes. A small, tributary river cuts through the village to meet the Elbe, its many bridges adorned with hanging flower pots, also very much in Swiss alpine style.
8. Easily Access Pfaffenstein from Berlin
Drive directly to the Pfaffenstein base from Berlin in just over 2.5 hours. Alternately, if you fancy an extra bit of exercise, you can park your car in Königstein and walk up to the Pfaffenstein base, which adds 45 minutes to your hike. If you’d rather take public transport, a mix of ICE and S-bahn service takes you to Königstein in roughly 3 hours. If you catch the 7.16 am ECE train, departing Berlin Central Station, you can even make it to Königstein in 2.5 hours.
9. Self-Guided and Group Tours Take You Further
Update: some of this blog’s followers have asked me recently if there were any Saxon Switzerland guided tours. I did a bit of digging, and yes, there are! You can either make your way to Pirna or Bad Schandau yourself, or join a guided tour departing Dresden. Here a few standout options:
Will You Go on a Pfaffenstein Day Trip?
As you can see, there is really no excuse not to go on a Pfaffenstein day trip! Has this blog post convinced you? Let me know in the comments, and happy hiking!