Berlin has attractions for every day of the year, but visitors that leave the city can experience everything from canoeing peaceful canals to summer palaces fit for a king. Within a few hours from Berlin, travelers can utilize the area's excellent public transport or go on their own by renting a car.
From wellness and nature to culture and history, these Berlin day trips are great escapes from the big city.
When Frederick the Great wanted to escape the formalities of his city life in
Berlin, he retreated to his summer palace in Potsdam. Visitors looking for elegance and relaxation should do the same.
After a short local train ride from Berlin, commoners can enjoy the opulence of the rococo style palace known as Sanssouci, A more compact version of France's Versailles (French for "without worries") it is surrounded by 700 acres of ornate royal gardens. The site is one of Germany's top visitor sites and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
After you leave the palace, there is more to see in this quaint city on Berlin's outskirts, from the Dutch and Russian quarter to the infamous Cold War landmark of the Bridge of Spies.
This UNESCO protected forest just southeast of the city is known as the
“green lung” of Brandenburg. Over 200 human-made canals crisscross
the area. The best way to explore the natural beauty of the Spreewald is in the summer by canoe or traditional boat, but in the winter, the canals become sleek lanes to ice skate.
Though most people visit for the nature, the towns of Lübbenau, Lübben, Leipe, Schlepzig and Burg (Spreewald) showcase the local Sorbian culture. Look out for the hand-painted eggs and famous Spreewald pickle, as well as the one-of-a-kind aquarium with its resident penguins.
Pfaueninsel: An Island Fit For Peacocks
This destination is still within Berlin’s city limits and borders nearby Potsdam but promises scenes right out of a fairy tale.
A passenger-only ferryboat trundles back and forth across the Havel, shuttling the many visitors to Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island). This majestic nature reserve promises peacocks stalking the grounds and a dreamy 18th-century castle built for a Prussian king and his favorite mistress. The grounds are just as lovingly designed with its many memorials and fountains. It has even been the site of several German films based on the works of Edgar Wallace. This is still one of the best day trips for a romantic stroll or a picnic.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp: Memorial to Berlin's WWII History
Germany's World War II past is never far from the surface, and a short trip on public transportation takes visitors just outside of Berlin and into the heart of the darkest chapter of German history.
The memorial site Sachsenhausen, a former concentration camp in
Oranienburg, is a must-visit for anyone interested in learning more about the Holocaust. The camp was erected in 1936, and until 1945 more than 200,000 people were imprisoned here by the Nazis. Sachsenhausen was in many ways one of the most important concentration camps in the Third Reich. It was the first camp established under Heinrich Himmler (Chief of the German Police). Its architectural layout was used as a model for almost all concentration camps in Nazi Germany. It was primarily a labor camp for political prisoners, but it still contained a gas chamber, a medical experimentation area, and was a horrible place to try and exist.
After World War II, its brutal history continued as a political prisoner camp used by the Soviets. Today, Sachsenhausen is open to the public as a memorial to the many crimes and atrocities committed here.
Werder (Havel): Fruit Wine and Country Times
Once a year in May, rowdy groups of visitors make their way to this small agriculture hamlet for Baumblütenfest (fruit wine festival). One of the largest drinking festivals in Germany, this is the only time many city folks make their way to this peaceful town. Carnival rides and small stands selling local fruit wine enliven the sleepy town on the Havel River.
However, with cheery blossoming trees and a tranquil atmosphere the rest of the year, Werder is really worth a visit when it isn't overrun with tourists. Walk or cycle along the water's edge, or hike your way up the hill for fabulous views of the year from the fruit orchards.
Bad Saarow: Heal Yourself at the Spa
Bad Saarow is a small spa town 37 miles east of Berlin. Located on the shore of Scharmützelsee and surrounded by hills and farmland, this is the ideal spot to relax and connect with nature. The town is known for its healing hot springs and mineral-rich mud, making its state-of-the-art thermal salt-water spa one of Germany's best.
Once you have nourished your body, refill your belly at one of the many restaurants—or Biergarten—like The Buehne restaurant. Conveniently located next to the train station, it specializes in regional cuisine in the sophisticated atmosphere of the 1920s.
Gorlitz: a Film & Architecture Lovers Destination
This East German town had almost been forgotten before attracting the attention of a nostalgic filmmaker. Its abandoned Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) shopping mall became "The Grand Budapest Hotel" in Wes Anderson's popular film. The mall and many of the town's other captivating features became a must-see not just for Instagram-obsessed millennials but architecture lovers as well. Its highlights include Schönhof (a Renaissance structure), Reichenbacher Turm (the last of the ancient fortifications), and St. Marienthal Abbey. The town has also been used as a film location for "The Book Thief," "Inglourious Basterds," and "The Reader."
Those wanting to tick another country off their list can stroll over the border here. The river divides the city with one half in Germany, the other in Poland.
German Coast: Hit the Beach
You may not think of a "beach vacation" when you picture German's coastline, but its miles of access to the Baltic Sea are a hot commodity in the summer months. Silken sand lies beneath sun worshipers' feet, and Strandkorb (beach chairs) protects from the wind. The water may be chilly, but Germans don't seem to mind. If you have more time, keep traveling over the water to Germany's best islands from Rügen to Sylt to Usedom.
Trains can take visitors all the way north to the beach, although driving is much quicker. Depending on the destination, there are large resorts with modern amenities or quirky little beach huts to turn your day trip into an overnighter.
Wolfsburg: Get Your Auto Fix
Some people come to Germany just for the cars, and these people should make their way out to Wolfsburg for its massive Volkswagen factory. The company claims this is the largest auto plant in the world. Visitors are welcome to tour parts of the factory and learn more about one of the world's most popular car brands.
Nearby is Autostadt (car city), an automobile theme park that offers everything from a car museum, pavilions dedicated to various VW cars, plus driving-themed rides. There are also plenty of dining options and the largest outlet mall in reach of Berlin.
Brandenburg an der Havel: An Old World CIty
You can also follow the town's medieval walls to the four remaining
watchtowers or take a look at Germany's recent past with a visit to the
Brandenburg Euthanasia Centre, a small but concise museum focusing on
the treatment of the mentally ill and other "undesirables" during the
National Socialist regime.
Brandenburg an der Havel is a medieval town located about an hour away from Berlin on the River Havel. A quiet village with a 1,000 plus year history, most of the Altstadt is just 15 minutes walking distance from the train station.
The Altstädtisches Rathaus (Old Town Hall) is a late Gothic red brick building with an impressive 5.35m statue of the knight Roland erected in 1474. The tourist office (and a public bathroom) are also located just off the square.
Visitors can follow the town's medieval walls to the four remaining watchtowers or take a look at Germany's recent past with a visit to the bleak but informative Brandenburg Euthanasia Centre, which focused on treating the mentally ill and other "undesirables" during the National Socialist regime.
Few things define Berlin's summers more than a trip out to the lakes. Berliners are always searching for the perfect See (lake), the one with waters so clear you can see right down to the bottom. This search could go on all summer as idyllic lakes surround Berlin.
Among the city's most popular lakes, Liepnitzsee might just be it. Surrounded by cooling forest, the waters are crystalline up to 10 feet deep, and a tantalizing island (Großer Werder) in the center is reachable by ferry—or ambitious swimmer. Walking around the lake, visitors also find a bit of GDR history. Party elites once flocked here, and many of their elegant homes in the Waldsiedlung (summer house colony) are still just as fine.