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With 180 kilometres of navigable waterways, Berlin’s rivers are the lifeblood of the city. Even better than being riverside, get out on the water itself on one of the German capital’s best boat tours and river cruises. Jumping aboard a boat is a great way to get a fresh perspective on Berlin and to explore different areas of the city. The bountiful options on offer include a trip through picturesque Potsdam, a do-it-yourself canoe tour and a budget-friendly hop across the River Spree.
A boat tour through the centre of Berlin is a great way to get acquainted with the city – or simply to get a different perspective on iconic landmarks. Making its way along the River Spree, the boat passes by historic landmarks such as Museum Island, the Reichstag building, Berlin’s oldest residential quarter Nikolaiviertel and the ever-present Fernsehturm (TV Tower), which looms 368 metres high above Alexanderplatz in Mitte. Highly recommended are tours by Reederei Riedel, which run between the main train station and Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW). Live commentary provides historical and cultural context during the journey, which lasts 60 to 90 minutes. If the weather calls for it, get a seat on the rooftop deck.
Berlin is packed with reminders of its former division during the Cold War era, which saw East Berlin controlled by the Soviet Union and West Berlin under American, French and British control. To get a taste of this period, travel along sections of the former border on a 2.5-hour Berlin Wall boat tour with Stern und Kreis. Departing from the Berlin Cathedral in Mitte, the tour passes Friedrichstraße train station, the Reichstag building and the East Side Gallery, where more than one kilometre of the former Berlin Wall still stands and is now covered in murals. The ‘Border Stories of Divided Berlin’ audio guide, which is available in 12 different languages, is well worth the extra €2.
Sorry, Venice, but Berlin has more bridges than you – in fact, the German capital has over 900, more than double the Italian city. Duck your head and take in around 60 of them on a bridge boat tour that travels along the River Spree and Landwehr Canal, passing through Mitte, Tiergarten, Kreuzberg and Neukölln on a 3.5-hour journey offered by Reederei Riedel. From the modern Crown Prince Bridge to the 19th-century Moltke Bridge, this boat tour takes in an exciting route with points of interest for history and architecture enthusiasts. A highlight is the double-deck Oberbaum Bridge, which links Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg and is often said to be Berlin’s most attractive – look out for its distinctive Gothic-style towers and the yellow carriages of the U-Bahn zipping across its upper level.
Wind down after a day of exploring with an evening cruise along Berlin’s tranquil waterways – the perfect way to spend golden hour. To combine sightseeing and gastronomy, hop aboard one of Van Loon Restaurantschiffe und Reederei’s intimate three-hour buffet dinner cruises, departing from the Urbanhafen on the Landwehr Canal in Kreuzberg. Van Loon has two small boats that it uses for these relaxing, romantic evenings, as well as a popular ship restaurant that is permanently docked on the canal. Fish is a mainstay on the menu; try the marinated salmon with potato pancakes or the signature fish soup.
For a more hands-on approach and a rather more energetic excursion, jump in a canoe and get paddling. With the city’s TV Tower and Oberbaum Bridge in the distance, the Walking on Water canoeing tour offered by Backstage Tourism heads down the River Spree and Landwehr Canal. You’ll pass the Molecule Man, American artist Jonathan Borofsky’s 30m-tall aluminium sculpture of three human figures leaning towards one another, the bodies filled with hundreds of holes to represent “the molecules of all human beings coming together to create our existence”; the Island of Youth, a small island and popular picnic spot accessible by bridge from Treptower Park, hosting live music every Sunday; and the Badeschiff, Berlin’s floating swimming pool on the River Spree; before turning off onto the tranquil and leafy Landwehr Canal in Kreuzberg. This particular stretch of the canal is a popular place for people to sit or stroll, especially when the sun’s out. The 2.5-hour tour departs from the pier at Funkhaus Nalepastraße, on the eastern side of the Spree.
Situated on the Havel River, Potsdam is the picturesque capital of Brandenburg and a popular day trip from Berlin. A boat tour is a great way to see the area, with palaces and gardens along both banks. Highlights include the 114-hectare Babelsberg Park, in which you’ll spot the Flatow Tower, which was completed in 1856 and used by Kaiser Wilhelm I as a guesthouse; Glienicke Bridge, which connects Potsdam with the Berlin district of Wannsee; and Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island), a UNESCO World Heritage site in the middle of the Havel that is home to, unsurprisingly, peacocks, as well an 18th-century royal castle. Schifffahrt in Potsdam offers 90-minute Potsdam tours as well as a variety of speciality cruises themed around music, food and culture. Potsdam is located approximately 35km southwest of Berlin and easily reached by train.
Undoubtedly the most budget-friendly (and not to mention the cutest) boat ride in Berlin, the F11 ferry route costs just €1.70. Part of the public transport network, the admittedly short F11 (Wilhelmstrand to Baumschulenstraße) is one of the city’s six passenger ferry routes, but the only one close to the centre. After biking or walking through Treptower Park and Spreepark, head to the ferry terminal at the southern end of the latter for a jaunt over to the other side of the river, arriving a stone’s throw from the Funkhaus Nalepastraße – a mammoth broadcasting facility that was home to the radio broadcasting organisation for the German Democratic Republic (GDR) from 1952 until German reunification. Today the Socialist-era building serves as a complex of recording studios and houses an experimental performance venue that regularly welcomes international DJ headliners. Top tip: taking your bike onboard the F11 will cost a little extra.
This article is an updated version of a story created by Megan King.