Any recommendations regarding which side of the Elbe to stay? Not too worried about walking as such, however closer to the centre would be, I suppose, an advantage.
Sure, if you can, stay on the downtown side of the Elbe, the south side that is. Or, if you are on the other side, try to stay at a hotel near one of the bridges leading downtown.
That said, it's probably not a catastrophe if your hotel is a few blocks farther away. I haven't had the opportunity to use the Dresden system of public transport much yet, but as far as I've seen, they have a good bus and S-Bahn system.
There are three large IBIS hotels on Prager Strasse a ten minute walk from the Hauptbahnhof , and from there ten minutes more to the center of the Altstadt , the area surrounding the Frauenkirche . Prices are reasonable , and as all IBIS hotels they are clean . and well maintained . If price is not an object , there are other hotels in that immediate area that are quite luxurious . Here on the map - https://www.google.com/maps/place/ibis+Hotel+Dresden+Basteiemail@example.com,13.7323672,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x4709cf6046cd7895:0xf6bcd82d12bcb550!8m2!3d51.043217!4d13.7345559 As far as transit , the principal mode is the extensive Strassenbahn ( Tram ) network
When I’m there for work I usually stay around the Frauenkirche area (south of the river). Most of this area has been rebuilt since the 90s so all the hotels are fairly nice while still relatively inexpensive. For example the Hilton in that area is around $100/night which is cheap compared to other German cities.
You can walk most places in the old city center. There is also a good tram system
You cannot go wrong with any of the three Ibis suggested above. One (maybe all 3) of them has a restaurant too. Walking from the train station to the Zentrum where the famous sights are takes ca 30 mins. There is also a tram going in that direction. I've only stayed in Dresden near the Hbf (main train station), the other side of the river is Dresden-Neustadt, which you could over on foot too.
I heartedly dis-recommend the restaurants in Ibis hotels based on my two experiences with them. Very limited menus, with what's actually available being even more limited (never mind what the menus posted in the elevator say). The second time I ate in an Ibis restaurant I was so sick I had to skip the Cotswolds tour I'd paid for. I am not suggesting food poisoning; I'm sure it was just super oily food. About all they had available that evening (in Bristol) was deep-fried bar snacks. Major ick. Unfortunately, one of the reasons the (otherwise nice) hotel's rate was so low was its location, which was nowhere near other food options except for a stand or two at the train station.
Well, Ibis are budget hotels with good basics. Good bed, enough free tv channels, adequate shower, clean, OK breakfest. I always use them on business trips in Germany, but I wouldn't want to spend my holidays there.
Public transport is quite good in Dresden, so it doesn't matter where you stay. The reconstructed old town offers many new and good hotels, but the area is a bit lifeless since almost no one lives there. On the other side of the river is the 19th century Neustadt area, which is the "young and hip" part of the city. And a few miles up or down the river are the very posh suburbs of Loschwitz, Blasewitz or Radebeul, which to me are the most pleasant parts of the city. From there you need 20-30min to the centre.
I would recommend staying in Neustadt close to the river (eg the Motel One Palaisplatz where I stayed when I visited). You're within easy walking distance of both the reconstructed historical buildings in the centre and the restaurants in Neustadt, with good tram links to places further away.
Note that parts of Neustadt might be a bit intimidating if you're from a small-town background - graffiti, ethnic diversity, punkish hipsters - but it's absolutely safe.
I visited Dresden in the first week of April 2012 and stayed at the Ibis Budget Dresden City (back when it was still called Etap). Room was cheap (32 euros per night, including tax!), clean, and central. I agree with other posters that public transit in Dresden is great; you can stay almost anywhere and not be far from the action!
To elaborate on Martin's post , he mentions Blasewitz and Loschwitz . While I think , on an initial visit to Dresden , these locations are a bit inconvenient for seeing the major attractions in the city center , they are indeed worth seeing . We spent a full day - tram out to Blasewitz , and then a pleasant stroll over The Blue Wonder bridge , and the funicular up to the villa area of Loschwitz , a very lovely place to visit . If you find yourself at Platteleite at the top ( Bautznerstrasse ) you can ride the #11 tram back down through Neustadt to the center of town . Be sure to make a stop at Molkerei Pfund on your way back ( exquisite tile work ) - look here - https://www.google.com/maps/place/Dresden+Plattleitefirstname.lastname@example.org,13.8220366,16z/data=!4m8!1m2!2m1!1sStandseilbahn!3m4!1s0x4709c8faa778b9bb:0x43c0ba88c617c0c7!8m2!3d51.0636195!4d13.8220011 and here -http://www.barnum-review.com/portfolio/the-molkerei-gebruder-pfund-in-dresden/
I'm an older solo traveller and stayed at the Intercity Hotel in Dresden, and would highly recommend it. It's in a great location right across from the main rail station, the room was very modern and comfortable, they served a great breakfast and it's within easy walking distance from Prager Straße, a large outdoor linear plaza with lots of stores and restaurants. As I recall, the hotel provided a local transit pass and there's a Tram stop right outside the hotel.