If you crave a Berlin experience that goes beyond Checkpoint Charlie and Berghain, venture out of the city centre on a day trip. Discover some of the region’s often-overlooked treasures from lakeside beaches to UNESCO World Heritage Sites with Culture Trip’s picks of the best day trips from Berlin.
While Berlin has made a name for itself as a prime city break destination, one of the key advantages to basing yourself in Berlin is the abundance of day trip options on your doorstep. Thanks to the city’s rail and public transport networks, it’s easy to get out and about around the city. Those willing to explore a little farther will be richly rewarded with unique experiences such as picnicking among peacocks, stepping back to the dark 1930s at Sachsenhausen, and even visiting a tropical resort housed in a former aircraft hangar.
Escape reality at Britzer Garten
There’s a corner of Berlin that champions tulips over techno and park life over partying. Entry to this venue is only €3 (£2.60), and the door policy is open to all – a particularly rare occurrence in Berlin. Britzer Garten is a landscape park in the Britz District, only 30 minutes by S-Bahn and bus from the city centre, but seemingly a million miles away from the fast-paced city. Built in 1985 as an escape for the inhabitants of West Berlin who were cut off from the Brandenburg countryside, the park boasts a rose garden, rhododendron woods, lakes, hills and Europe’s largest sundial. Here you can hop on a rickety old train that takes you through the park where you can spot red squirrels, marvel at absurd sculptures, feed the animals on a mini farm and birdwatch by the luscious wetland area. If you’re peckish, pop into the Hobbiton-esque café built into one of the park’s hillsides and, should you visit on a Sunday, be sure to pay a visit to the local painters who gather to sell their art in the conservatory next to the rose garden.
Directions from Stadtmitte: Catch U6 to Alt-Mariendorf – change to 179 bus towards Buckow – alight at Sangerhauserweg – walk six minutes to Britzer Garten.
Swim with flamingos at Tropical Islands
Want to combine a winter city break in Berlin with sun, sea and sand? Look no further than Tropical Islands. A former aircraft hangar, this colossal paradise is the largest tropical-themed indoor pool in Europe. A mere one-hour train journey from Berlin will transport you to the depths of the Amazon where real flamingos roam free, and turtles and carp swim in rock pools. Real parrots flap and caw over three ginormous waterslides, and the roof is home to a lazy river, rooftop pools, sun beds and a tiki bar. If you need extra time to try out all of the spas, saunas and jacuzzis, you can even stay the night in a luxury suite or beach tent inside the complex. Pro tip: go during the week to avoid the crowds.
Directions from Berlin Hauptbahnhof: catch the RE2 train to Brand Tropical Islands.
Explore historic Potsdam
With its quaint, clean streets and old-town shops and cafés, Potsdam is a true escape from the mayhem of Berlin. Just 35 kilometres (22 miles) outside of the city and accessible by S-Bahn, the town has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site to protect its stunning parks and palaces. Make sure you check out King Frederick the Great’s old digs in Schloss Sanssouci and take a stroll around Neuer Garten, an 18th-century garden of luscious meadows with breathtaking views of the Heiliger Lake (Heiliger See). After you’ve worked up an appetite, pay a visit to Herr Dang for delicious Asian cuisine – serving everything from sushi to pho – or check out our other recommendations for the best dining spots in Postdam.
For a deeper understanding of this historic site, take a Guided Tour of Potsdam. Here you’ll learn all about the Dutch Quarter, Neuer Garten, and Potsdam’s own Brandenburg Gate, The Church of Peace, and the famous Glienicke Bridge (better known as “The Bridge of Spies”) – all with the expertise of a passionate and knowledgeable tour guide.
Directions from Berlin Hauptbahnhof: Catch the S7 train to Potsdam.
Picnic on Peacock Island
Despite its name, Peacock Island (Pfaueninsel), is home to more than just peacocks. Set on the Havel River and only accessible by ferry, Peacock Island retains something of an air of mystery. This feeling is owed to King Frederick William II and his mistress Wilhelmine Encke, who had a small summer palace and a dairy constructed in the style of a ruined monastery at the end of the 18th century. The peacocks for which the island is famous have lived there since Frederick William’s successor, Frederick William III, built a menagerie of exotic animals in the 19th century. The pristine gardens next to the white, straight-out-of-a-fairytale palace make the perfect picnic spot during spring and summertime, where you may well be joined by some of the island’s feathered residents. If you find yourself feeling thirsty while on the island, you’ll find an authentic German beer house near the ferry stop where you can enjoy Flammkuchen (crispy German pizza), knödel dumplings and other local delicacies before you head home.
Directions from Ostbahnhof: Catch the S7 to Wannsee – change to bus 218 and alight at the ferry transfer – passenger ferry leaves every 10 – 20 minutes.
Understand the inner workings of the Stasi
To get a sense of the surveillance during the GDR years, spend a day with the Stasi in former East Berlin. First, head to The Stasi Museum in Lichtenberg (11 minutes from Alexanderplatz) where you can pay a visit to the former HQ of the GDR Ministry for State Security (Stasi). The museum is the perfect place to familiarise yourself with the inner workings of the Stasi and will lay the groundwork for your visit to Hohenschönhausen – a former Stasi Prison a 30-minute bus journey east of Berlin. During the GDR period, Hohenschönhausen served as a detainment and transit camp and later a prison, playing a crucial role in East Germany’s system of political oppression. Having welcomed visitors since 1994, the Hohenschönhausen Memorial is now accessible to the public via guided tours which run in English three times a day. Your guide will likely have some connection to the GDR – whether as a former prisoner or growing up under Stasi surveillance – and so can provide you with first-hand insight into the inner workings of the prison and life during this era.
Directions from Ostbahnhof: Catch the S5 to Lichtenberg and walk for five minutes to the Stasi Museum.
Directions from Stasi Museum: Walk 13 minutes to catch bus 256 from Freiaplatz – ride seven stops and alight at Liebenwalder Strasse – walk six minutes to Hohenschönhausen.
Chill on the beach at Seebad Friedrichshagen
During the hot summer months, you’ll find Berliners cooling off at the city’s numerous lakes. Set on the northern shore of the Müggelsee (Berlin’s largest lake), Seebad Friedrichshagen is a popular spot for swimming and watersports on balmy summer days. Just 30 minutes on the S-Bahn from Ostkreuz, here you can spend an afternoon relaxing, playing beach volleyball, enjoying some traditional German fare from the snack bar (think bratwurst) or trying your hand at paddle-boarding. Pro tip: thanks to its convenient location, Seebad Friedrichshagen can get very busy at the weekends, so be sure to arrive early to grab a prime sunbathing spot.
Directions from Ostkreuz: Catch S3 to Friedrichshagen – change to 60 tram – ride four stops and alight at Josef-Nawrocki-Strasse, which is outside Seebad Friedrichshagen.
Witness dark history at Sachsenhausen
Originally serving as a Nazi concentration camp from 1933 until 1945, Sachsenhausen fell into the hands of the Soviet authorities to become the largest of the “Soviet Special Camps”, where around 12,000 inmates died between 1945 and 1950. Following German reunification in 1990, in 1993 the camp was entrusted to the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation, which opened a museum on the site. The exhibits feature artwork created by inmates, scale models of the camp, archive photographs, documents and other artefacts illustrating life in the camp. Audio guides are readily available at the site, while the Friends of the Sachsenhausen Memorial offer regular public tours for visitors in English at 2pm every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
For the inside track, check out the Sachsenhausen day tour from Civitatis Tours. They’ll pick you up from Brandenburg Gate, and together you’ll get public transport to the camp where an expert guide will talk you through the site’s history.
Directions from Gesundbrunnen: Catch S1 to Oranienburg Bahnhof – take the 821 bus, ride five stops and alight at Sachsenhausen, Gedenkstätte – walk six minutes to Memorial and Museum.
Cruise from Wannsee to Potsdam
If you’d like to see Potsdam from a different perspective, view the beautiful palaces, lakes and gardens from the water on a cruise. The highly recommended Wannsee to Potsdam Three-Hour World Heritage Cruise winds its way through the network of rivers and lakes, during which time you’ll get to know the painter Max Liebermann and the playwright Heinrich von Kleist who both lived and worked in Wannsee. A stress-free and relaxing way to explore the region, your cruise will take you through Peacock Island, Saviour’s Church, Cecilienhof Palace (including its old dairy farm), and the Glienicke Bridge.
Meeting point: Kronprinzessinenweg 3 (a five-minute walk from Wannsee station).
Get lost in nature at the Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Gardens
A nature-lover’s paradise just 40 minutes from the centre of Berlin, the Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Gardens is a lush green oasis. Among the most impressive features of the gardens is the sheer range of plants from around the world – here you can stroll along the high walkway overlooking an Amazon-esque tropical rainforest, before discovering plant life from the Alps, Middle East and Caucasus. Fuel up on refreshments at the quaint café, and pay a visit to the on-site botanical museum to learn more about the history and demanding maintenance of this exceptional collection.
Directions from Gesundbrunnen: Catch S42 to Innsbrucker Platz – ride 10 stops on M48 towards Zehlendorf – alight at Botanischer Garten.
Explore the rich history of Dresden
Dresden, just a two-hour coach journey south of Berlin, is home to a beautiful Old Town, the ancient art of Meisen pottery, the Semper Opera House and Zwinger Palace. The city was so badly bombed during the Second World War that much of the original architecture was destroyed, but what does remain from the grandiose Renaissance period is spectacular. Thanks in part to the Soviet Union overseeing the reconstruction of Dresden, the city’s architecture is an eclectic mix of styles.
To get the most out of the city, take a day tour of Dresden with a coach hired specially for your party. You’ll be guided by a knowledgeable historian who can describe the importance of otherwise overlooked landmarks and give invaluable insight to the history and culture of the city.
Directions from Berlin: Flixbus pick-up from Alexanderplatz.
Understand the Battle of the Seelow Heights
From 16-19 April 1945, just months before the end of World War II, the Soviet military launched an offensive operation designed to displace and conquer the large trenches the German Army used to defend Berlin. The three-day battle was the bloodiest of the war fought on German soil. The Soviets emerged victorious and were able to make their way straight to the capital, conquering Berlin and setting the tone for the end of the war.
This site is easily accessible from Berlin, but a guided tour of the battleground is highly recommended. Offering insight into the history and background of the Battle for Seelow Heights, the tour includes pick-up and drop-off, entrance to the on-site museum and a dedicated guide.
Delve into the heart of Brandenburg
Another beautiful nearby town is Brandenburg, home to historic buildings that date as far back as the 12th century. Here you can gaze at the intricate detail on the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul or visit the parish church of Cathedral Island, built in the early 14th century from the former castle chapel – a must-see for all architecture enthusiasts.
To experience everything the city has to offer, consider booking onto the Brandenburg City Day Tour. A heritage expert will guide you around the city on foot, talking you through the intricate history of all the key attractions and everything in-between – from local folklore to amusing anecdotes.
Explore the waterways of the Spreewald
Set around an hour’s drive south of Berlin, the Spreewald is a verdant landscape of small waterways, meadows and forests, which is protected by UNESCO as a site of natural beauty. Here you can discover traditional log houses in the forest, built between meadows full of wildflowers; orchards and vegetable fields harvesting seasonal fruit and vegetables; and, close by, a labyrinthine network of springs and rivers that’ll make you feel a million miles away from the big city.
Beginning with a comfortable coach journey to Burg, a municipality in the heart of the Spreewald, the Burg Bus and Boat Tour offers the opportunity to experience the wildness of the Brandenburg countryside up close. The tour includes a snack of a traditional Schmalzbrot (bread and drippings) with a gherkin, before setting sail to explore the intricate network of waterways. Your guide will talk you through the local flora and fauna as well as the history of the Sorbs and Wends, local communities who have lived in the Spreewald since the sixth century.
This article is an updated version of a story created by Lily Cichanowicz.
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