While Berlin has made a name for itself as a prime city break destination in itself, 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 further will be richly rewarded with such unique experiences as picnicking among peacocks, stepping back to the dark 1930s at Sachsenhausen, and even visiting a tropical resort housed in a former aircraft hangar.
There’s a corner of Berlin that champions tulips over techno and park-life over partying. Entry to this venue is only €3 and the door policy is open to all – a particularly rare species 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 picturesque 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.
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 outside of 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.
With its quaint, clean streets and old-town shops and cafés, Potsdam is a true escape from the mayhem of Berlin. Just 35km 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.
Directions from Berlin Hauptbahnhof: Catch the S7 train to Potsdam.
In spite of its name, Peacock Island (Pfaueninsel), is home to more than just hundreds of peacocks. Set on the Havel River and only accessible by ferry, Peacock Island retains something of an air of mystery. This sense 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 pristine gardens next to the white, straight-out-of-a-fairytale palace make the perfect picnic spot during spring and summer time, where you may well be joined by some of the island’s feathered residents: 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. 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.
To get a sense of surveillance during the GDR years, spend a day with the Stasi in 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 set a 30-minute bus journey into the deep 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 – so can provide you with 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 Liebenwalderstrasse – walk six minutes to Hohenschönhausen.
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 an immensely 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.
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.
Directions from Gesundbrunnen: Catch S1 to Oranienburg Bahnhof – ride five stops on 821 bus and alight at Sachsenhausen, Gedenkstätte – walk six minutes to Memorial and Museum.
A nature-lover’s paradise just 40 minutes from the centre of Berlin, the Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Gardens transport visitors to 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-walk 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.
This article is an updated version of a story created by Lily Cichanowicz.