Home to more parks than any other city in Europe, Berlin is full of tranquil spots that seem far removed from the fast-paced city. Whichever neighbourhood you pick, a day in one of the German capital’s most picturesque parks is a day well spent.
Berlin’s parks are an integral part of the city’s culture, many home to intriguing historical monuments, opportunities for outdoor activities and quintessential German beer gardens. In addition to well-known names such as Tiergarten and Tempelhofer Feld, among Berlin’s most spectacular green spaces are the lush Grunewald Forest, historic Volkspark Friedrichshain and the gardens of Charlottenburg Palace. If you want to go green, Berlin is the place to do it.
With miles of winding paths among lakes and little hills, the popular Britzer Garten is Berlin’s most varied park. In the diverse Neukölln area, it’s a couple of euros to enter – good value if only for the various playgrounds (some featuring water or mud huts) and for the themed spaces, including the fern-filled fairy garden and the gothic ruins of the witch garden. Seasonal highlights include a rainbow of spring tulips and rhododendrons and a fiery blaze of some 7,000 dahlias in autumn. There’s a cafe in the arty Karl Foester Perennial Garden where you can stop for coffee and cake. Meanwhile the glass-walled Italo-Bistro on central Kalenderplatz, near Europe’s largest sundial, serves up Britzer Garten pizzas (fresh tomato and rocket) and salad with salmon. Treat the kids to Smartie-spangled ice creams – and yourself to a colourful Berliner weisse mit schuss (classic sour beer with syrup) on the lakeside terrace.
Mauer Park, Gleimstraße
Market, Memorial, Park
The mauer (wall) in question was the Berlin Wall, of course, and this park was once the no man’s land, or death strip lying between the wire-topped concrete barriers that divided the city for nearly 30 years. It’s now a cherry-blossoming park, where clumps of blue sage and wild roses, clouds of marijuana and barbecue smoke soften the view of this long stretch of concrete, continually re-adorned by young street artists with aerosol paint. On Sunday afternoons, the area hosts a huge flea market along with (in)famous karaoke sessions. Ramshackle stalls sell vinyl, vintage clothes and vegan wraps at bargain prices, and buskers draw small crowds of barefoot dancers.
Gärten der Welt
Mostly built in the ‘80s, the grim plattenbau (prefab-concrete) apartment blocks of the former East German district of Marzahn could hardly be a bigger contrast with the leafy Gardens of the World nearby. Opened in 1987, to celebrate Berlin’s 750th anniversary, they comprise 19 internationally themed areas that lead visitors through a global adventure. Drink flowery tea in the Chinese Garden’s pondside pavilion, surrounded by bridges and weeping willows; or Earl Grey with scones in the rose-ringed, thatched-cottage cafe of the English Garden, opened in 2017. Stroll through the loggias, fountains and statues of the Italian Renaissance Garden or the Hampton Court-style maze of yew hedges. For a couple of extra euros, the day ticket can include a ride on the cable car to get a bird’s-eye view of the whole extraordinary creation.
Named after German art patron (Henri) James Simon (1851-1932), this park with cafes under the railway arches is just over the river from Berlin’s famous Alte Nationalgalerie and the Pergamon Museum: aka Museum Island. When you’ve had your fill of the Grecian urns, grand Babylonian gateways or Romantic landscape paintings, cross the bridge near the domed cathedral and turn left along the Spree to reach this little tree-lined triangle of grass. Berlin is a city of parks but the Mitte District, where the museums are, is right in the city centre and green spaces are rarer; so this is a popular place for visitors to relax after a hard day of sightseeing and culture. Watch out for rabbits grazing nearby in the early evenings.
On the bank of the Spree, just north of James-Simon Park, Monbijou Park has a kids’ swimming pool, basketball court and barbecue area. The Rococo palace that gave this park its name and the old church that used to stand here were bombed in the war and knocked down in the 1950s. A 2007 revamp turned it into the stylish merrymakers’ magnet that it is today. At the deckchair-lined beach bar near the theatre, couples gather every spring and summer evening for swing-dancing, salsa or Argentine tango as the sun sets over the neoclassical cityscape.
Art Gallery, Park
In the quiet backstreets of Southern Neukölln is one of Berlin’s most underrated green spaces. On sunny days, Berliners ignore the “don’t walk on the grass” signs and head to park themselves amid the perfectly manicured lawns. Formerly a gravel pit, Körnerpark is approximately 7m (23 ft) below street level, and therefore sheltered from the surrounding streets – a perfect place for a peaceful picnic, with its dappled sunlight. The Galerie im Körnerpark hosts a changing programme of exhibitions by local and international contemporary artists, while music lovers are drawn by its free outdoor summer concert series and indoor Salonmusik series in spring and autumn.
A little further out, Grunewald is a beacon of greenery that attracts droves of hikers, runners and cyclists. At 3,000ha (7,413 acres), it is Berlin’s largest green space, home to the city’s oldest palace – the Jagdschloss Grunewald Renaissance hunting lodge – as well as the Teufelsberg Cold War-era listening station. Schlachtensee, one of its numerous lakes, is easily accessible, with an S-Bahn stop right beside it, so it’s well worth arriving early to secure one of the sheltered spots along the shoreline. For a bigger adventure, hike from S-Bahn Grunewald to Grunewald Tower – built in the late 19th century as a tribute to King William I – then reward yourself with a drink in the adjacent sunny beer garden, looking over the sparkling Havel River.
Running along part of Berlin’s River Spree on the eastern side of the city is Treptower, where there’s plenty going on in summer. The park, dating from 1888, is designed in the style of an English garden. In it you’ll find a rose garden, shaded avenues of plane trees and a riverside track tailor-made for cycling and jogging. Treptower is also home to Haus Zenner, a 200-year-old beer garden; sip a pilsner here while watching people lounging on the Insel der Jugend (Island of Youth) across the water. Don’t leave without visiting the imposing Soviet War Memorial, a striking monument to 7,000 Soviet soldiers who perished in WWII. Top tip: see if you can spot the abandoned Ferris wheel, part of the former Spreepark amusement park, located near Treptower’s Archenhold-Sternwarte Observatory.
Charlottenburg Palace Gardens
Park, Shop, Historical Landmark
If you don’t have time for a full tour of Charlottenburg Palace, a stroll through the magnificent gardens should be enough to give you a feel for its 17th-century opulence. Dating back to 1695, they combine Baroque elements with English-landscape-garden features – hallmark aspects of aristocratic landscape design from the past 300 years. As you wander along pleasant paths, among picturesque ponds and perfectly maintained rose gardens, it’s hard to believe that these extensive gardens and their grand symmetrical grounds are actually in Berlin rather than Paris.
Just northwest of Tempelhofer Feld in Kreuzberg is Viktoriapark, known for its majestic artificial waterfall, built to resemble a cascade in the Krkonoše Mountains, on the border between Poland and the Czech Republic. If you look directly up the waterfall, you’ll see the tip of the towering Prussian National Monument for the Liberation Wars. As you stroll around, you may find yourself eventually in Golgatha; and you’ll be pleased you found it if you’re peckish – at this family-friendly beer garden the barbecue fare is as good as the brews they sell.
Famed as Berlin’s oldest public park (it was officially opened in 1848 on the site of a former vineyard), Volkspark Friedrichshain has witnessed some of the city’s most significant historical moments. Head to the west side to find Märchenbrunnen, also known as the Fountain of Fairytales, which was damaged severely in WWII. Restored, it is an elaborate Neo-Baroque creation, depicting statues of Grimms’ Fairytales characters. The swimming pools built during GDR (German Democratic Republic) times are long gone, but if you’re looking for something a little racier than a gentle stroll, you’ll probably appreciate the sports complex, which has facilities for beach volleyball, skateboarding and rock-climbing.
Located in Gesundbrunnen, Humboldthain – the lesser-known, younger sibling of Volkspark Friedrichshain – played a key role in WWII. Home to a flak tower, one of the Nazi-built anti-aircraft gun towers, it became a major air-raid target, and was left scarred by bomb craters. Head to the top of the tower today and you’ll be rewarded with exceptional panoramas across the city. In the heat of summer, you can cool off at the Humboldthain open-air swimming baths, while in winter you might join crowds of Berliners at the park’s toboggan run, now known as the Humboldthöhe. The park also has its very own vineyard, which produces around 200 bottles of wine a year for official occasions.
Look southwest from within the famed dome of Berlin’s Reichstag building and you’ll get an idea of just how expansive the Tiergarten’s sprawling greenery really is. Extending over 210ha (520 acres), the park runs alongside some of Berlin’s most prominent landmarks, including the Brandenburg Gate. Head in and look out for the Siegessäule, or Victory Column (completed in 1873), which marks the Prussian defeat of the Danish in the Second Schleswig War of 1864. You can also find Germany’s oldest zoo and many small ponds, which become impromptu ice rinks in sufficiently cold winters. For a little light mid-afternoon refreshment, stop by the beautiful thatched tea house in the English Garden.
Building, Park, Historical Landmark
It might not be the most picturesque of Berlin’s parks, but Tempelhofer Feld is undoubtedly among its most fascinating. Once a military airport and parade ground, Tempelhof ended its life as an aviation hub in 2008. Since then, its former runways and surrounding areas have evolved into one of the prime outdoor recreation destinations in the city. Where planes used to take off, now Rollerbladers and skateboarders do laps in the shadow of the colossal hangars and terminal building (open to the public for tours). Cyclists, too, revel in the vast open space – hire a set of wheels at Rent a Bike 44 and join them on the 6km (3.7-mile) cycling trail.
Phoebe Taplin and Megan King contributed additional reporting to this article.
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