The Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz, Dessau, Germany
Describing this World Heritage Sites as a ‘kingdom’ seemed odd before I arrived. Now that I’ve seen some of it for myself, the word makes sense.
The Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz takes up an enormous amount of space around the German city of Dessau – about 140km2, in fact. But it doesn’t feel like one single site. It feels, as the title suggests, like an entire realm stretching out in every direction with royalty, citizens, businesses and land for agriculture and recreation.
The kingdom was conceived in the late 18th century during a time known as the Age of Enlightenment. It was the idea of Prince Leopold III of Anhalt-Dessau who had just returned from a grand tour of Europe with an architect friend. He was inspired by what he had seen across the continent and his vision was to integrate art, education and economy throughout the landscape in a harmonious way.
To achieve this, the design moved on from the more formal Baroque concept of gardens, popular in Germany at the time, to achieve a more naturalistic impression of boundless landscapes. And that’s just what you can see today – gardens becoming parks, parks becoming forests, forests becoming fields, fields becoming towns.
In all of this flowing natural greenery, particular sites have come to define a visitor’s experience of the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz. Because although the aim was to have it seem boundless, the reality is that boundaries have formed around specific highlights. There’s the Dutch-inspired Oranienbaum palace and park, the modest but idyllic Luisium house and gardens, the Georgium landscaped gardens with its sculptures and English style, and the Rococo palace of Mosigkau.
But the most important part of the realm is Wörlitzer Park and Wörlitz Palace within it. It was one of the first English gardens in continental Europe and large parts of it were open to the public from the very beginning. An expansive artificial lake in the centre of the park is the focus of the design, with the palace built at a key position near the shoreline.
Although I can see some people boating on the lake, and others walking through the gardens, I don’t have a lot of time to explore the large area properly. I decide to focus my time on the Wörlitz Palace, which can only be visited as part of a guided tour.
The palace was finished in 1773 and was used as the residence of Prince Leopold III and his wife. The tour takes me through the ground floor rooms with their stunning design, artwork and other collections. Each room has a slightly different style and it’s the intricacies that exist which really bring them to life. Whether it’s the way the walls have been painted, the artwork hanging on them, the furniture or even the crockery in the dining room, so much of the ideals of the whole kingdom are encapsulated in this home.
Visiting the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz
The kingdom site is so large, you could easily spend several days seeing all the main sections of it. If you’re keen to do that, the best way to approach it is to do one section each morning and one each afternoon. If you do a tour of the main building in each area, there won’t be much time to squeeze much more in each day.
If you only have one day, the best approach is to visit Wörlitzer Park and one other area. Wörlitz is out of the centre of Dessau and travelling there and back takes some time.
The Georgium Palace is another highlight and is much closer to the centre of town. The Luisium is also easy to reach from Dessau. It might be possible to do both of them in a morning or afternoon if you are relatively efficient.
Regardless of how you choose to spend your time exploring the Garden Kingdom, it is advisable to plan ahead to make the most of your visit.
All the things you need to know
Wörlitz Palace is open at the following times:
April and October: Tuesday – Sunday, 1100 – 1700
May – September: Tuesday – Sunday, 0800 – 1700
November – March: Closed
Entrance to Wörlitz Palace costs €6 for adults and €4 for concession.
If you're interested in a family-run guesthouse with a beer garden (who isn't?) then have a look at Landhaus Dessau.
For a really nice modern hotel, NH Hotel is a great four star place. And another great alternative for four star accommodation is Radisson Blu Fürst Leopold Hotel.